I took the fam up to northern Michigan this weekend to visit some of Sarah’s (my wife) family. They live in a beautiful house in the middle of a mature poplar forest. They had a 2-3ft snow base, and despite the cold, the 2 older boys loved being outside. We rode around a bit on snow mobiles, built most of an 11ft wide igloo, got trounced at Settlers of Catan, and—my favorite part—took the boys on a “camping” adventure. Willard (Sarah’s cousin) has a yurt (huge tent) set up in the middle of the forest. It isn’t exactly roughing it, as the thing has a wood burning stove and camp cots.

However, it was literally sub-zero outside, and I don’t think my 4 and 2 year-olds would have been too keen on spending the night outside otherwise. We had such a nice time. The boys were warm and comfortable enough that it was nothing but giddy excitement for them, and that was fun to watch. There is something intensely gratifying about beginning to introduce your children to something that has brought you great joy. I hope it is the first of many winter camping trips with my boys.


Nature was calling at about 3am, so I got out of the cot, stumbled to the door, and slipped outside. Stunning. The moon hadn’t risen yet when we nodded off, but it was now high in the perfectly clear night sky. The air was eerily still, but the blue light from the moon reflecting off of the snow made the night forest as visible as day. The tall, thin poplars stretched forever over rolling hills. I just stood—taking in the bright, silent night for as long as I could tolerate the breathtaking cold. It was one of those moments that words fail and photos couldn’t capture. I’m grateful I saw it.

The next morning, Willard and I collected snow with which to make the boys oatmeal and hot chocolate. Willard also convinced me that snow coffee was a must. I respect coffee enough that I won’t tolerate sins against it too often. This one seemed to be pushing the limits of what I should allow, but curiosity was nagging at me. This was Sunday morning. The coffee was roasted on Thursday. The grind was undoubtedly too fine to use in a percolator, but that was the only brewing implement we had. We crammed the percolator full of snow, let it melt down and added more as necessary. It had snowed 3 inches since we arrived Friday, so there was plenty of trustworthy snow from which to choose. It takes a while to go from snow to 212 degrees, but finally, it began boiling atop the wood burner. I added the percolator basket—now full of coffee. About 3 minutes later, I removed the percolator from the stove. I let it sit a minute or so, poured, cooled a bit, and sipped. Now, I often criticize people for allowing their surroundings to influence palate objectivity. I tried really hard not to unfairly evaluate this coffee. But admittedly, I expected that the combination of snow, a percolator (not an ideal brewing method), and a grind appropriate for drip, would render this coffee a shade better than mud. Shame on me. It was really, really tasty. I am not sure how the stars aligned, but I kept drinking it expecting foulness only to find pleasure. I thought you’d like to see the “rustic” approach to coffee.

gourmet coffee

Left to right: Willard’s son and my two boys drinking their snow hot chocolate!

gourmet coffee

A watched pot literally never boils!


It looks thick here, but I promise, it was really tasty.