There’s a band practice happening in my living room and the snow outside is calling my name, so let’s make this speedy, shall we? A million years ago- or last month- Dan and I loaded up the car with groceries and headed up north to Chetek for a long (-er than expected) Thanksgiving weekend.
Chetek, tucked between Bloomer and Rice Lake, is where relatives on my mom’s side of the family settled their lake homes. After a long hiatus (I have early memories of picnics with my cousins on the ice, a yellow and white checked vinyl tablecloth and beds with electric blankets), I have rediscovered this place, thanks to the hospitality of Nancy and her family.
Summers on Lake Chetek are full of waterskiing shows, treading water for hours with cans of beer and a sleeping porch that might be my favorite spot in the world to sleep, but winters there offer more quiet isolation. Dan and I read by the wood-burning stove and went for long walks looking for animal tracks in the snow.
We did venture into town for some adventure one night and met Betty, the bartender who could not understand what we were possibly doing there after we told her we were neither hunting nor ice fishing. She cracked our bottles of Leinie’s and went about her Christmas decorating while I plugged money into the jukebox for us and the guy in the corner at the gambling machine. No matter the time of year, here is my rule about Chetek- I always stay an extra day then I intend to. I suggest you do the same.
And while I have a feeling that food is the last thing in the world that you want to hear about right now, I do want to share a couple of recipes with you. Dan and I had a lot of fun cooking our vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. It was the first time that I planned and prepared one, ever.
We had mushroom gravy, sage and onion stuffing, bread from Madison Sourdough Company and a crazy delicious kale salad which I will tell you about now. No matter how much you have eaten in the last month, there’s always room at the table for kale salad.
Raw Tuscan Kale Salad
From 101 Cookbooks
1 bunch Tuscan kale (for ex: black or lacinato)
2 thin slices country bread, or two handfuls good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs
1/2 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup (or small handful) grated pecorino cheese, plus adiitional for garnish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Trim the bottom few inches off the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl.
If using the bread, toast it until golden brown on both sides and dry throughout. Tear into small pieces and pulse in a food processor until the mixture forms coarse crumbs, or crumbs to your liking.
Using a mortar and pestle or a knife, pound or mince the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a paste. Transfer the garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss very well (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves).. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the bread crumbs, additional cheese, and a drizzle of oil.
And the other recipe is for a cocktail, because you can’t possibly be tired of those yet- we still have New Year’s Eve to deal with. I adapted this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, also, altering it to include my favorite winter citrus fruit, meyer lemons.
Meyer Lemon Gin Sparkler
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 bay leaf
gin (I used Death’s Door)
Combine the water, sugar, rosemary, and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, or long enough for the sugar to dissolve, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a jar to cool completely.
In the meantime, juice and strain your lemons.
To make each drink combine 1 1/2 ounces gin and 1 1/2 ounces lemon juice and a bit of rosemary syrup in a tall glass. Stir to combine, fill glass 2/3 full with ice and top off with 1 1/2 ounces of tonic water. Stir again and garnish with a rosemary sprig.