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Decorah Trip No. 2a57fd

Yup.  Just made up a hexadecimal number because I have no idea how many times I’ve written about trips to Decorah and I’m too lazy to figure it out.  Besides, who really reads hexdec anyway?

Anyway, Lindz and I made one of our regular trips to our old stomping grounds.  We stopped by the StoryPeople studio to pick something up and I ran across what I can only assume is one of the limited edition wood paintings.

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A bit more subdued than Brian’s usual work, but I like it.

For those that are curious, the story printed on here is Living Memory.  Speaking of my old workplace, I just found a new sculpture that I got quite a kick out of:

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You can find it here on the StoryPeople website.

What would a trip to Decorah be without eating at La Rana?

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The smoked salmon salad. All local produce. All awesomeness.

Really not a lot to say.  It’s a fun little bar with a great atmosphere and great food all at a small town price.

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A Pickled Snack

A couple of months ago I had a free weekend, so I decided to head north to visit the fam.  Specifically, to visit Grandma.  She gets lonely sitting in the nursing home even though Mom and everyone else tries to pop in on her as often as they can.  If I’m away too long, Grandma starts to bug Mom about whether I’ve called or not.  So, it just makes everyone’s life easier when Grandma is happy.  I don’t mind though, she keeps me on my toes.

Unfortunately, Lindz wasn’t available for this trip (Grandma wasn’t happy about this, she likes it when Lindz visits).  But just to let Lindz know what she was missing out on (food-wise, that is), I sent her a picture of a snack I cobbled together out of the fridge.

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Food that’ll put hair on your chest: pickled herring and pickled turkey gizzards.

Lindz was amused, she sent back a picture of pizza rolls and juice and told me that I was missing out.  Although, I did get the impression that she didn’t feel like she was missing out on anything with my snack.

Ice Fishing and God’s Twisted Sense of Humor

Due to a screw-up in the work schedule, we ended up with a couple of unexpected days off this past week.  What does one do in Minnesota in the middle of winter when it’s 15 degrees out and a wind chill of 5?  Go ice-fishing, of course.

My boss (Steve), a co-worker (Clint), and I decided that we needed to go sit on some ice for a day and see what happened.  Since the St. Croix River is only a handful of miles from Steve’s place, it made sense to find a spot right off of Bayport.  Clint, being an avid fisherman, knew the area pretty well, so that sealed the deal.

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This is what I stared at for 7 hours.

Clint and I started the day on the Wisconsin side of the river, but we had absolutely no luck.  By the time Steve showed up, we were desperate and ready to move.  So we called our friend Matt (a fanatical fisherman) to see where we should go.  The short of it was we were on the wrong side.  We were good on the north and south, we just needed to be on the west bank instead of the east.  In fact, even before I got my line in the water, Clint pulled up the first fish of the day: a nice sized smallmouth bass.

Of course this got everyone excited, and in fishing terms means that we didn’t see another fish for an hour.

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For the longest time the was the whole of our catch.

After a few beers, one feels nature’s call.  Basically, as soon as I was indisposed, both Clint and Steve reeled in a nice crappie each.  While excited that we finally got more fish, I was beginning to feel left out.

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Stretching my legs, grabbing a beer, and getting out of a 5′ cube crammed with 3 guys.

After several fish nudging my bait, but never taking it, one finally started pulling on the line.  I quickly set the hook and started cranking it in.  Everyone was confused as my “catch” came up to the hole.  Once it popped out, there really wasn’t any less confusion.  Then it slowly dawned on all of us that I just pulled up a mudpuppy.  Or in slightly more scientific terms an aquatic salamander.  Considering that a large one will measure 13″ to 16″, the 10″ one I caught at least was decent sized.

So, not only did I get dubbed with the “good luck leak” moniker, I also got the “ugliest fish” award.  But as Steve pointed out, I didn’t get skunked.

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The ugliest thing I have ever reeled in.

I did sort of redeem myself later when I pulled in a big crappie on Steve’s line, but it still felt a little bittersweet.

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My “share” of the catch.

All in all, it was a decent trip.  Spent some relaxing BS time with my co-workers, got out and enjoyed nature, and even brought home a couple of fish for supper.  The grand total for the day was 2 smallmouth bass, 4 crappies, and a mudpuppy that got thrown back.

Oh, and by the way, the crappies were quite tasty.  I just gutted, beheaded, and scaled them before throwing them in a pan of hot oil.  They didn’t even need any seasoning.  Although I probably would have been better off filleting them, but I didn’t have the energy to do it.  I’ll consider it for the next time.

Lake of the Woods

Since the weather has been attempting to freeze my vitals off at work, I’m going to reminisce about a warmer time.

Every summer my family goes up to Lake of the Woods to visit and fish at my uncle’s cabin for a long weekend.  This was an odd year for a couple of reasons.  Work was a mess, so I couldn’t take off on Friday like everyone else, so I ended up driving six hours by myself after putting a full day.  Caffeine and MPR Classical made for relaxing trip.  I didn’t get up to the cabin until 2 a.m., but Lindz was a sweetheart and stayed up to wait for me.  Also, this was the first year that Grandma Bert couldn’t make it up.  She had just gone into the nursing home a couple of months prior.  The whole weekend just felt a bit off because of it.

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The view off the end of the dock. Lake of the Woods is behind the reeds on the horizon (behind the boats).

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Dennis and Patty’s dog, Charlie.

If I remember right, everyone came close to limiting out Saturday.  (I only went out on Sunday).

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The walleye and sauger from Saturday’s outing.

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Cole with the monster 30″ walleye he reeled in.

As has been the custom for the last I don’t know how many years, we do a huge fish fry and meal on Saturday night.

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Saturday’s catch filleted and ready for breading and the frying pan.

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One pan down and many more to go.

My uncle Dennis has a really sweet set-up for frying fish.  He’s got a large propane burner set up on a stand and a 18″ cast iron skillet.  You can fry a lot of fish very quickly.  Like I said, sweet set-up.

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My contribution to supper.

While most of the crew was out on the lake, I made some guacamole for supper (and to snack on while waiting for them to return).  I was a little bit bummed out that most of the people weren’t too crazy about it.  But I got over it pretty quickly by eating some more guac.  I was also a bit confused about the so-so reaction because these are the people that regularly eat head-cheese, kraut, pickled pigs feet, herring . . . .

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The token veggie tray.

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Homemade coleslaw with Grandma Bert’s dressing recipe.

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Fresh sweet corn and boiled new potatoes.

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Pickles and cream.

Pickles and cream is basically sliced cucumbers and onions done up as refrigerator pickles.  Then you add heavy whipping cream and a bit of sugar (to taste) for the cream part.  Now, this is going to sound really weird, but it is unbelievably delicious.  You take the pickles and cream and put them on mashed potatoes and enjoy.  Without a doubt, this is my favorite topping for taters.  I like it even better than chicken gravy and I think chicken gravy is what the Greek gods referred to as ambrosia.  Yes, the potato and pickles and cream combo is really that awesome.

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I’m sure that I love my sis for more than her baking skills, but staring at this picture, I’m having a hard time coming up with any other reasons.  J/K, Chell.

Quasi-fake mint Oreo type cookies and monster cookie bars were the desserts that made it up north this year.  To no one’s surprise, they disappeared by the time we left on Sunday afternoon.

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The snacks of choice while out on the lake.

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Sunday’s catch.

Like I mentioned, I went out fishing on Sunday.  We finally found a hot spot when we ran into a little engine trouble.  Well, more of an electrical fire.  Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  There was a short in the wiring by the battery and it melted a bunch of the plastic insulation around some wires. Since the battery is in the same well as the engine, there was a whole lot of concern when smoke was spotted coming out of the hatch.  The only thing affected was the down riggers, so we made it home without further incidence.  But that did cut the fishing short.  Oh, well.

On the plus side, I did pull in a couple of decent sized walleyes.  Unfortunately they were in the size slot where we needed to toss them back (19.5″ to 28″).  The one that got me was the one that measured 27.5″  I was sooo close to my own trophy walleye.

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This is the one that I’ve decided to brag about.

Czeck-Mass (not to be confused with Czeck-mas)

My family is Catholic (with the stray Lutheran or two), so when my Grandfather Mike passed away back in ’76, a mass was said for him.  That has turned into a yearly tradition which has been going strong ever since.  As other relatives have passed away over the years, they have been added to the remembrance.

The mass is held at my parent’s church (which also used to be my grandparents) and afterwards, everyone heads over to the farm to BS and eat lunch.  So I thought it would be fitting to use this as a post on the one year (-ish) anniversary of starting this blog.  The reasoning is pretty simple.  Family gatherings like these have been a major influence on my life, both culinarily and communally.  I look forward to this event each and every year because it’s one of the few times that I get to see a large portion of my family.  That and the food.  The Czecks love to eat.  And they love to eat good food.

As usual, Mom set out some munchies for when people showed up. In this case, mixed nuts, candy corn, butter mints, and coffee.

I just want to point out that the food has been scaled back significantly as the years have gone by.  The food this year completely covered the kitchen table and the desserts took up a decent portion of a counter.

Okay, this is going to take awhile. Starting upper left and working counter clockwise around the perimeter of the table: bread / dinner rolls, pasta salad, veggie pizza, a creamy pasta salad, cottage cheese, wild rice salad, and roast pheasant. The inside loop consists of cheese, bread and butter pickles, watermelon, and kale salad.

As noted in a previous post, my nephew Cole helped me make a kale salad (I really promise this post is coming soon).  My aunt Rosie (and hubby Gary) went to the State Fair this year and she sat through a twenty minute demonstration in order to get this wild rice salad recipe (at least I think this is the recipe).  I’m glad she was patient because it was very good.  It had avocado, steak, wild rice, and all sorts of other goodies in it.  One of my other aunties, Mary Ann, had a freezer full of pheasant, so she used this opportunity to get rid of some of it.  Much to everyone’s delight I might add.  She fried off the pieces, made a pan gravy, and finished it off in the crockpot.  She had some of the younger kids come up to her and tell her how good it was.  It was really cute.  Some of those kids have never had pheasant before.  It warmed my heart that they were willing to try something completely new and even more that they liked it.

Now this is looking the opposite way down the table. Here I’m just going to list the things not previously listed. A veggie tray, sausages, another pasta salad, and ham

Mom was the one who made the sausages.  She picked up five pounds of the polish at Thielen’s (as usual) and it all disappeared by the time everyone was through eating.  It really is that good.  I can’t talk up that meat locker enough.

The good stuff! Michelle kept everyone happy and made an apple coffee cake. I’m not sure what kind of pie, but I would hazard a guess of apple.

I think there may have been a riot if my sis, Chell, didn’t make coffee cake.  (I’ve posted the recipe before.)  I don’t even care that she didn’t make the poppy seed version because she sent a whole apple one home with Lindz and me.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very easily bribed with food.  It’s even easier when it’s really good homemade food.

Popcorn balls drizzled with chocolate and chocolate chip bars.

I was joking with my cousin Jon about the popcorn balls that he brought.  I asked him if he was trying to class up the Czeck gatherings by drizzling chocolate over them.  He just smiled sheepishly and chuckled.  Good enough of an answer because they were a chocolate-caramel delight.

They may be adults, but Sara, Jill, and Jon still ended up at the kid’s table. That’s one problem with being the “babies” of the family. Of course, they may have been entertaining Mason (his mom, Kathy is watching from the back).

Lindz catching up with Dad’s two younger sisters, Rosie and Annette.

Dave, Dad, Bea, Kyle, and Janey talking and eating. As it should be.

Mary Ann eating and keeping Mom company while she fusses around in the kitchen.

I’ve tried for years to get Mom to sit down, relax for a minute, and grab a bite to eat.  But she is having none of it.  At this point, I ask the token question of if she needs help and then let her do her thing.  For the record, I do gladly help when she asks for it.

As a final note, I am endlessly amused watching people on the farm.  It started out many years ago with my cousins.  They would run around like wild animals crawling over the hay bales, running through the woods, sitting on the tractors, chasing the cats, mooing at the cows, and spooking the chickens.  Or what I would call a normal day.  Now that my cousins are older and have kids of their own, I get to watch the next generation do the same thing.  And you know what?  It still hasn’t gotten old.

The two that started all of this: Grandpa Mike and Grandma Rose (circa 1971)

RI: Heading Home

This post is really just to put a bookend on the whole Rhode Island adventure.  The trip home was mostly uneventful and I covered all the non-Minnesotan things in the Eastbound post.

The two things that happened of note is that Lindz’s Corolla tried to take me out with a hubcap when I was following her.  It was my turn to drive the guys’ car, Matt was playing around on his phone in the passenger seat, and Dave was in back dozing off.  They both came quickly to attention when I yelled out “Oh, Crap!” (this may have been edited to keep it around a PG level) and the hubcap bounced in front of us and then rolled on by.  There was a bit of confusion when we used the walkie-talkie to ask the girls if they ran over a hubcap.  And then more confusion when we said that Lindz lost one.  Apparently we didn’t make it clear that we didn’t want to turn around and find it, we just wanted to make sure they weren’t going to blow a tire.

Did you know that Toyota wants $80 for a replacement hubcap? They must be really proud of those plastic disks.

The other thing is that we passed through a beautiful storm front in western Wisconsin.

This picture really doesn’t do the front any justice. The thin sliver of white stretched from horizon to horizon and was as sharp as a razor.

And finally after another two days and 1400 miles worth of travel, we all were safe and sound back in St. Paul.  The end.

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RI: Shady Harbor

While staying at the beach house, we pretty much took it easy and really didn’t wander around too much.  But we did get around the neighborhood a little bit.  The very first day we were there, three of us went out for a spin around the salt pond.  Dave took the kayak, and Matt and I took the canoe.

Growing up in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you would think that I would be a decent swimmer. Nope. I swim about as well as a rock. Hence, the life vest.

Except for the salt water, this could be any number of lakes that I’ve fished as a kid. Beautiful view.

One morning during the week, Matt made us breakfast sandwiches.  They were way better than any I’ve had at a restaurant.  Boy’s got some skills.

Yes, I scarfed down half the sandwich before it occurred to me to take the picture. Yes, I’m aware that I’m having a Coke with breakfast, and yes, I know that it’s bad for me.

On our final full day there, it was my last chance to take a walk around the neighborhood.  Dave had taken off early that morning to get his car emissions tested for NY and to spend a little time with his family.  So Matt, Janessa, Lindz, and I took a walk around.  Other than the lilies, I have no idea what most of these flowers are, I just know that they are pretty and I wanted a picture of them.

This one I’m calling the “pretty little purple one.”

Like I said, I know the lilies.

This is “the little blue rimmed ones.”

Another lily. There were a lot of them around.  As a side note, I was playing around with the depth of field on this picture.  I think it turned out great.

A nice bunch of red roses.  Mom would be envious.

“The pretty purple ones all in a row.” Again, playing around with the camera on this picture.

This one I’ve dubbed “the big lavender ones.” I love the blue sky in the background here. It really makes the flower stand out.
I’ve just been informed by Dave that these are Ragusas, a.k.a. Beach Roses

This one is “by far my favorite.” I don’t know how they bred this color in a lily, but I love it.

Oh, I really should show you a picture standing on the beach right by the house.

One of the features on my new toy lets me take panoramic shots. Have I mentioned how much I love it? Especially how much I love Lindz for figuring out how to pay for it?