Before we left the cabin in Minnesota we had what may have been the champion of leftover dinners. Fridge and freezer and cabinets were raided to create the semblance of a meal. Want to hear the truly crazy part? We invited guests.
My mom defrosted the smoked whitefish she put in the freezer after we couldn’t eat the entire fish my mother-in-law hand-carried from Zabar’s last Christmas. It was a little tough. So I scraped it and mixed in some mayonnaise, some mustard, a spring onion a neighbor had dropped off from their garden the day before, and the two mini sprigs of dill my mom managed to scrounge from her own garden. Plenty of freshly ground black pepper later and we had a pretty tasty dish.
While I was doing that, my mom put the last bits of cheese on what was left in an open box of lavosh crackers for a little appetizer:
As you can see, they got a wee bit burnt. We used some nasturtiums from the garden to distract people from the burnt sections and put them out anyway. Guess what? They were pretty good. Good enough so I had to swipe them off the table to get a picture. Good enough so we had to stop Ernest from snarfing down all of them himself.
Along with these delights were some beet greens, a warmed-up baguette, a salad with an avocado vinaigrette (thus using both the remaining lettuce and the half avocado in the fridge) and some ears of corn that hadn’t made their way into the pot the night before (or perhaps the night before that?) or the sweet corn pancakes. It wasn’t at it’s best. It was tough instead of tender, starchy instead of sweet, and the Minnesotans, who know from corn, just let it be:
Was the whitefish salad actually good? Were the crackers really edible? The uneaten corn is an argument in their favor, but as a whole we were a hungry crowd who were likely to eat most anything put in front of us. We’d had a big day. You see, my mom, aunt, uncle, and I took Ernest to Paul Bunyan Land. It’s a rite of passage for youngsters in the Brainerd Lakes area. I have an intensely clear memory of the giant talking statue welcoming “Molly and David Watson from Minneapolis” when my brother and I went as kids and wondering how on earth he could possibly know our names. I continued to think this even as I turned around to ask my mom how he knew our names and she was lagging behind us, having obviously whispered our names to the ticket-taker as we went ahead. But I had an impressive ability to allow myself to believe what I wanted to believe as a child (Santa Claus? I was fully on board with that in the third grade. The third grade people!), so I ran ahead to the first ride instead of connecting the dots.
Paul Bunyan Land has a new owner and a new location since I was a kid. It is less grand than I remember, has fewer rides, and is on a pasture between a corn field and a junk yard a few miles outside of town instead of on a concrete-slabbed brightly lit lot in Brainerd proper. It is bleak yet charming, a tricky combination that is partially achieved by staffing the place with a carefully maintained balance of surly teens and cheery retired guys. The whole thing was, to quote my aunt, “a hoot.”
Ernest liked the rides –
And my uncle liked the various Paul Bunyan-inspired sculptures –
But Ernest did not like the creepy giant statue saying his name. In fact, he didn’t like the creepy giant lumberjack statue sitting in a tree at the entrance at all. He didn’t like it so much that he refused to eat at a table near it. So we sat to the side while Ernest ate a hot dog, the grown-ups picked at a shared order of nachos, and everyone sipped a soda. I mean a pop. We were in Minnesota, after all.