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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

At the Lake

Mixing Up Sweet Cornbread Salad with Lemony Herb Vinaigrette

Every once in a while I find myself rethinking my place in the universe over the most ordinary of situations.

Summer holidays on the water are a Minnesota tradition. Summer cabins, modest to magnificent, rim virtually every body of water in the state and all are loaded with water worshiping visitors from the first sign of warm weather onward. We are no strangers to this phenomenon, living in a northern lake resort town that boasts all of 900 winter residents and swells to 3000 during the summer months. Tourists come to the northern lakes area to enjoy the water, woods, golf courses, drag races and the non-stop summer nightlife at places like Zorbaz on Gull Lake.

What do we do on holidays with all these tourists about? We, go further north, of course. We spent the Memorial Day weekend visiting family and friends just north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota at my husband Woody's childhood home on Lawrence Lake.

Did somebody say fish fry?

Maggie, our mostly fearless Golden Retriever, went straight for the water. Ah, nothing like starting off a holiday weekend with that wet dog smell. Sister in law Karin was there with her two boys (When did Tiler start looking like a man?). Kurt, a college friend of my husband, met his sister Jen 10 years ago and they have been together since. Their daughters, Baylee and Tia, now 16 &17, brought a carload of friends dressed in colorful sweatshirts bearing high school names like Princeton and Big Lake and kept the place lively throughout the weekend. Razz, a college friend of Kurt and Woody's whose band plays each July at a giant rock festival called Moondance Jam, brought along his guitar and joined us with his lovely daughter, Bella.

On Saturday, neighbors of 30 or more years, Bob and Janet stopped in to invite us all to their 50th wedding anniversary in July. They have known these adults since they were the kids running in circles in this very yard. Having no children of their own, they talked about how much they enjoyed it when 'the kids' rode their bikes over for summer visits and what good times they had shared with their parents at events just like this one, years ago.

Dinner time
Not much later, Woody's high school classmate and longtime neighbor Bob showed up with Ruby, a 10 week old glossy-black lab puppy. Bob is a breeder and Ruby is the last of her litter of seven. She was an instant celebrity upon arrival and her bloodline was evident even at this adorable my-feet-are-too-big-for-my-body stage. After her initial play she sat quietly and observed from her masters lap, seeming to take in all the details of the conversation. Bob and Woody talked at length about school days, where other friends ended up and promised to get together more often.

I slowly began to realize something as I sat and listened to these conversations during evening cocktails around the fire. We are now the 'old people'. Kids and dogs for hours raced in circles, played volleyball, paddle-boated, showed off class rings, chased each other and piled on hammocks together comparing texts from friends partying elsewhere. We 'old people' sat and talked and talked some more: old times, good times, scary times. Recounting the days past. As I listened, I became keenly aware that the kids around us were building the very memories that were being recalled around the fire by an older generation. 


As it got dark, s'mores made with peanut butter cups (a truly inspired idea) were devoured around the fire as Razz entertained us with his guitar. Kids and dogs, friends and family, the old 'been-in-the-family-forever cabin by the lake' seems almost too good to be true. But it was true. And what fun to know that someday, when they are the 'old people' cocktailing around the fire that those same kids will be recreating with their families as we were, something classic, something sappy, just like the generation of oldsters before them.

A Minnesota Fish Fry
 When it came to dinner plans on Saturday it was an easy choice: a Minnesota Fish Fry. If you have never experienced this most classic of lake-country summertime meals, it is one of life's simple pleasures. Piles of fresh fish dredged in seasoned flour, then raw egg, then in your own special-recipe-crispy-coating and fried over an open fire. Traditionally served with fried potatoes and onions, I opted for something lighter.

Sweet Cornbread Salad with Lemony Herb Vinaigrette
As I pulled together the ingredients for a summery bread salad to accompany the fish, I caught sight of a loaf of cornbread. Hmm. Cornbread Salad? Why not? A huge hit and perfect accompaniment to fish.

1 ear Sweet Corn, fresh cut and oven roasted (or frozen, thawed)
¼ c Celery, chopped
¼ c Red Onion, thin sliced
6 large leaves Fresh Basil, julienne cut
½ c Cucumber, diced
1 c Cherry Tomatoes, halved
Salad Girl Lemony Herb Dressing (see notes)
3 -4 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
1 loaf cornbread, torn into bite size pieces
Romaine Lettuce, chopped

Place chopped romaine on a large platter.

Cut the corn from the cob, lay on a cookie sheet and oven roast at 350 degrees until it just begins to brown. Watch carefully. Cool and place into a large bowl. (Alternately, steam corn lightly and cool).

Add celery, red onion, basil, cucumbers and tomatoes to bowl with corn and toss well. Add Salad Girl dressing and mix to coat (use ample dressing). Add the crumbled goat cheese and cornbread pieces and toss again. Pour mixture over romaine and serve.

Sweet Cornbread Salad with Salad Girl Lemony Vinaigrette Dressing

Recipe Notes
  • This would also be great with the addition of black beans, bacon, avocados and chili peppers in a chili-lime dressing. Experiment!
  • Salad Girl is an organic, gluten-free salad dressing line made in Minnesota by my good friends Pam and Jim Powell. Now available in most of the U.S.
  • And those s'mores made with Reeses peanut butter cups? Crazy good. But what about slicing fun size Snickers in half too? Or using Nestles Crunch Bars? This could be dangerous.

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