Minnesota

Bass versus walleye: lake fish smack-down

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“Well that won’t do us any good,” I overheard my dad saying last week into his phone, “Molly won’t be here then to cook it for us!”

That comment may make him sound like an opportunistic slave-driver, but it really was very sweet. He and a friend were making plans to hire a guide to take them fishing for walleye pike on a neighboring lake that actually has more then two or three of the coveted lake fish. They are experienced and avid fishermen who were looking to mix things up a bit from the bass and northern pikes they catch-and-release on our lake all the time. Plus, walleyes are known for being awfully tasty.

They came back with plenty of walleye. We invited seven people to dinner. Beforehand, my dad and I took a swim while Ernest fished off the dock. We were quite aways away when we heard a shriek. We saw my mom helping Ernest hold up the line with a really rather large fish on the end. We clapped our hands as we tred water and then headed back to see the prize.

It was a three-pound bass. It had pretty completely swallowed the lure. My dad removed the fish from the line as gently as he could. He moved the fish forward through a water a few times to give it a chance. He let it go and it tilted to its side. He grabbed it and coaxed it forward again. He let go and the fish started to float. No chance. He pulled it from the water and, luckily, I had been planning to take pictures of Ernest fishing and my camera was on the dock:

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He and Ernest headed to the other dock and my dad showed my son how to clean a fish:

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He gutted it and filleted it and rinsed it in clear lake water and handed me the fillets to add to our dinner.

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And I was there to cook it and so I did the best thing I know of to do with delicate lake fish fillets: I pan-fried them. Sure, deep-frying works too, but the control and bit of moisture and cracker-crumb or cornmeal crust you can add so effectively – not to mention the lack of a giant vat of hot oil – makes pan-frying ever-so-much-more appealing.

Before you pan-fry, however, you must coat the fish with something to protect its delicate flesh from the heat. I did a triple-dip of flour, and then egg, and then cornmeal.
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I worked up a guide to How to Pan-Fry Fish, with step-by-step photos taken on the cabin kitchen counter with my tri-pod set up quite precariously in the sink. Most people would then pan-fry on the stove, or, if camping, over a fire. We took a large cast iron pan and put it on a hot charcoal grill because who wants to wipe down the entire kitchen? We had everyone get their plates, grab a chair on the deck near the grill, and take the fillets as they came out of the pan.

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I kept the bass separate so Ernest would be able to taste the fish he caught. We each had at least a bite and agreed: Walleye may be venerated state-wide, but the bass was tastier.

Ernie eats
Minnesota
fish

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Wild raspberries!

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It’s been a banner berry year so far here at the cabin. Do you see those berries? Red and plump for their small size and so ripe they are almost falling off the bramble. We have a few raspberries near the cabin that my parents planted. They have some berries on them – enough to plop on top of cereal or for a quick snack. But for a real haul, for a serious amount of berries, for enough berries to serve as dessert to guests, a girl needs to head out to the road, walk or slowly bike or very slowly drive, and keep her eyes open for spots of red.

Those handfuls of wild blueberries Ernest and I found? Child’s play. On Wednesday we picked this in about half an hour:

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And by “we” I really mean “I” since Ernest eats everything he picks. I can hardly blame him.

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These berries were so ripe and so sweet and so lovely that when I served them with very lightly sweetened whipped cream and then offered everyone sugar to sprinkle on top not a single person took me up on the offer.

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Minnesota
raspberries

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Louie’s Bucket of Bones

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Last week I dropped Ernest off at the day camp in town he goes to when we’re in Northern Minnesota. I had some errands to do in the bigger town of Brainerd and so ended up driving through Ironton, not something I do much. Boy am I glad I did because I saw an addition to the town since I last drove through – whenever that might have been. As you might guess from the picture above, it rather captured the eye. I can barely describe the extent to which this flame-covered building with its bright reds and oranges and yellows stands out in a small town in Minnesota lake country. The folks here are practical, utilitarian, pragmatic people. Energy must be conserved for the long winter that always looms in the background. Colors are muted, speech is reserved, and blending in is highly valued.

Upper midwest culture firmly embraces (and enforces) a no-tall-poppy policy. Garrison Keillor has documented it extensively. Don’t stand out. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Who do you think you are? It is an aspect of the region that has not always served yours truly very well. I know what it takes to stand out here. I know the snarky comments and dry-humored back-handed compliments those flames attract.

So perhaps you can imagine how happy those flames made me as I drove (blah) through to do errands (double blah) on a gray day (triple blah).

And when I saw that this extremely tall poppy houses Louie’s Bucket of Bones, a rib joint and smokehouse (custom smoking available!), I nearly fainted with pleasure. Stenciled lettering promotes the establishment’s ribs, chicken, and catfish, as well as tacos and lasagna. A little something for everyone, I suppose.

Over the weekend I sent my brother to pick up ribs, both St. Louie style and baby back. Both were, in their unique way, fabulous. The tender, unctuous baby backs were preferred by half our group and the dryer, chewier St. Louie by the other half, so peace was maintained as we gnawed our way through our order until we had, indeed, created a bucket of bones.

Minnesota
ordered it
ribs

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Grilled lake trout

We started with these:

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Lake trout, two fillets sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil (for the record, this was my suggestion on how to prepare them) and one lightly spread with hoisin sauce (for the record, not my idea and not, in the end, the best combination).

They were caught and cleaned by:

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My Uncle Denny, griller of chicken and smoker of fish. In this case he merged these impressive skills and helped my father and my husband (how many dudes does it take to grill some lake trout? it ends up quite a few more than you may have guessed) cook the fish thusly:

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And then we had:

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I made the coleslaw and the potato salad (my trick for such delicious potato salad? dress the warm potatoes with vinegar and let cool to room tmeperature, then add whatever else you like in your potato salad – be it mayonnaise and hard-boiled eggs and bread-and-butter pickles or olive oil and capers – and serve at room temperature without ever refrigerating the potatoes), my mom made her famous corn pie. It involves canned corn and canned cream of corn and corn meal and it is very corny and quite amazingly delicious.

The extra nice touch is that we ate the lake trout that my uncle caught and cleaned and helped grill on placemats his wife, my Aunt Nancy, made and gave to us more years ago than any of us might care to calculate.

Minnesota
fish
grilling
was served

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Wild blueberries!

ewithblueberriesI owe many thanks to a good friend. She visited Ernest and me in northern Minnesota this past weekend and gave us two incredible gifts.

First, in response to me saying that it was too bad we didn’t have an ice cream maker or I would make her some of the awesome buttermilk ice cream I’ve been obsessed with, she told me she makes ice cream all the time with a bowl and a whisk (and a freezer, of course). So I gave it a try. OMG. Why do I own an ice cream maker? Why do I make space for it in my limited storage space? It worked great – just pour the cooled mixture into a large metal bowl, cover it, and whisk it up every 20 minutes or so until it’s ice cream. Side-by-side I’m sure ice cream maker-ice cream would be smoother, but without direct comparison, an ice cream-lover would find nothing lacking in the results of this low-tech method (which I wrote up step-by-step at Local Foods).

Second, she got Ernest into the idea of building a fort in the woods. Yesterday afternoon I went to the site with Ernest and something small, blue, and low to the ground caught my eye. There weren’t many of them, but they were delicious.

“Mama,” Ernest said as he crammed his tiny haul into his mouth, “the blueberries from the store are bigger, but these taste better.”

True that.

Ernie eats
Minnesota
blueberries
ice cream

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Chiles, wild rice, and lefse grills

Like last year, I am fortunate enough to find myself in Northern Minnesota for a few weeks this summer. I love it up here. I love the clear lake water. I love that Ernest has the freedom to go outside all by himself. I love that the local grocery store has four different options if you’re looking for wild rice. I love that since last summer that same store has decided to start carrying fresh jalapeno chiles.

And I love that in a town of less than 600 people the hardware store stocks lefse grills. Yes, that is plural. They have more than one. If I were back in San Francisco and got the yen to grill up some lefse, I would call ahead to Sur la Table to make sure they had one before heading down. I imagine I just might have to special order it. But here? I can just drive into town and pick one up. Not just pick one up, but get one for a neighbor as well if I were so inclined.

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What’s lefse, you ask? It’s a potato-based Norwegian flat bread cooked on a griddle. It’s large, round, and delicious. I’ve never made lefse. As you might imagine, I’m thinking pretty seriously about driving into town, buying one of those grills, and getting busy. Anyone out there made lefse? Have a recipe? Tips?

Minnesota
wild rice

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