Monday, September 23, 2013

Summertime in Minnesota

It is that time again...hope you are all enjoying those last days of summer...

As summertime leaves quietly, it is time to review some of the highlights of living and playing in Minnesota...

Our form of whale watching...loon watching
Loon spotting
Where did those loons go? Wait...what's that in the background?
Family vacation pictures serve as a wonderful reminder of times that our family comes together to play, and act as inspiration for others who may be longing to have more meaningful connections with family and friends. Spending a week around campfires, playing in the outdoors and just "being" together does wonders to develop deeper realtionships. We began this annual tradition of gathering as many family and friends around a week at the lake "up-north" 26 years ago when after listening to my husband's family talk about how great their times were they went fishing when they were kids...why not now?...was the question that I asked. From that simple question, we began with 9 of us crowded into one cabin to filling 4 cabins this year, 26 years later.
Turtle races

One of our big winners this year at the turtle races

Every year at the lake our family has a Murder Mystery night
this year's theme was 1950's...can you tell who did it?

Relaxing around the campfire is a family favorite...
hey when did we start getting internet at the lake?
Each year, we have a different collection of friends and family depending on schedules, life and death. Cousins get to play in a way that they used to decades ago when extended family lived on the same block. There are no heightened expectations about gifts, holiday traditions, financial stresses related to extravagant gestures found during the typical holiday family gatherings. Cabins take turns hosting the dinner for the group, bringing potluck together for dinners or supplying the fish for the fish fry. Kids play, adults play and sometimes we just sit around the fire reading, or writing or playing games. Laughter fills the air, volleyballs fly and canoes and kayaks offer alternative water activities.

Come on Grandpa - when do I get to take this thing out for a spin?
The lazy peaceful

Having fun fishing - something for everyone

The start of a great fish fry

Our record holder for largest fish
 We go to a lake near Perham, Minnesota which offers turtle races every Wednesday and sometimes someone in our group even wins the race - the prize is a $1 bill. On Wednesday our tradition is to host a Murder Mystery and everyone dresses for the occasion - this is always a highlight. Over the years our family and friends have come and gone and have created lasting memories.

Show me one more time Grandpa how it's done

That's how it's done
A stop at the local bookstore after the turtle races offers
something for everyone
Perhaps the greatest highlight is that we come together, we share time together, we laugh and play a lot, but mostly...we just "Be" together. You too can make this happen for your family and friends...e-mail Mama Caruso for sample itineraries, tips for creating a successful family and friend week experience and menu planning suggestions, or stay tuned for upcoming posts outlining how you too, can create an experience that will offer lasting memories.

It's hard to believe that our summer got pushed back a little by this snow fall in May
Next week's post is about some awesome activities and experiences the helped to finish off the summer with a bang, picking grapes at a local vineyard and an Indian curry cooking class...until then, from my table to yours...enjoy...Mama Caruso

Friday, September 13, 2013

Creating a happy shore memory 1,000 miles from the shore

My book club reads to eat. For the past eight years we have met monthly rotating between each other’s homes and December is my month because it is lobster fest. Every December. In my selfish attempt to create a fond memory of the shore, now that I live in the Mid-west, I suggested the book “ Lobster Chronicles” several years ago so that we could eat lobster. We read to eat, and select food themes based upon the book we are reading and “Lobster Chronicles” seemed like a great way to introduce my friends to lobster, which many of them had never experienced.

I grew up on the East Coast where eating lobster, clams, shrimp, oysters, and crab was a was just part of my experience – from Maine to Maryland I expected a special weekend meal to include some kind of fish that had been caught nearby. Hosteling on Cape Cod, camping on the beaches in Maine or escaping a hot kitchen in Baltimore and cracking crab claws on the picnic table out back, there was always fantastic food and friendship shared. Holidays included lobster, with New Year’s Eve featuring a lobster salad made from leftovers, family gatherings in Maryland ensured crab feasts, and weddings often featured hog roasts with a clam bake. My fondest childhood memories are related to family, friends and food and the extra special memories added the shore to that mix.

The sea breeze, sounds of the waves, the gulls calling out, the taste and smells that lets you know that you are somewhere alive, vibrant and salty…and the sand; cold, wet, dry, hot, rough, soft, ever-present, thousands and millions of grains of sand that come together to provide a place for the waves to connect. The shore, oh boy…do I miss the shore here in Minnesota.  So I’ve decided to recreate my happy shore memories, right here with my family and friends…now all I need is the food and the ambience and my book group is all in.
So here is how I made it happen – the recipe for creating a happy shore memory 1,000 miles away from the shore:

  •        Lobster – I begin by ordering the lobster, which includes talking to the local grocery department meat department to find out when they receive deliveries of lobster and how long they will hold them (so I can select the date)
  •         Shrimp for a shrimp cocktail
  •          Cocktail sauce
  •          Butter
  •          Corn on the cob
  •          Vanilla ice cream

I have selected the shellfish which are successful here. Clams and crab are very difficult to get fresh, and even though I have tried to order steamers, I usually end up with huge clams which are only good chopped into chowder - so lobster and shrimp it is. There are no cheddar biscuits, no fork food – part of the fun in the sharing of a feast like this is formalities go out the window. I am trying to create an experience of sitting around a picnic table, with newsprint spread out on the table, paper towels act as napkins and no one cares how much Old Bay ends up on the beer bottle. The only worry is whether or not the butter will make the wine glass too slippery. Jeans are expected apparel and dish towels act as bibs.

  •         Plastic table cloths
  •        Bucket for shells
  •          Claw crackers
  •          Picking forks – like skinny fondue forks for pulling meat out of the claws
  •          Rolls of paper towels
  •          Dishcloths for bibs
  •         Large platters for each individual to act as a plate
  •          A large canning pot for cooking the lobsters
  •          Butter warmers

Growing up by the shore, I fully expected that all kitchens have claw crackers, and crab mallets and picking forks and small sharp knives to cut through tough shells – so for those of you reading this who would also have the same expectation, make no assumptions and plan ahead, some of this equipment may be difficult to find – and while you can substitute with common items lying around the house, it will be far more enjoyable and create a closer experience to fond shore memories to have the appropriate equipment.

  •          One CD player playing sounds of the sea recordings, if you can find one that has an occasional gull calling out – that is fun, I usually pick out a few from my local library
  •          A second CD player playing fun music that you can envision dancing on the beach to – you can’t go wrong with Reggae
  •          Serve beer from a barrel
  •          Put a few fans around to simulate a breeze
  •          Encourage guests to bring flip flops and wear shorts, sunglasses as headbands
  •          A bowl of lemons, rolls of paper towels on the tables and a large serving platter for the lobster
  •          Pictorial instructions about how to eat a lobster
  •          I splurge and turn up the heat for the night

Each of these components will help you create a new shore memory. Have fun with it, put yourself in the experience and you and your friends and family might even forget that you are miles away from the shore. Friends, family gathering around food at the shore, it just doesn’t get much better than this...from my table to yours...enjoy.

What is your favorite beach/shore memory? 

I had been wanting to write this post for a while and then an opportunity came up to submit stories to a group collecting stories and recipes as a fundraiser to support the rebuilding efforts of the Jersey Shore. Because this is not about the shore, I do not know if it will be included, but I will encourage all of you to subscribe to their feed and support their efforts by purchasing their book when it is published.

Here's some information about their work: Savoring the Shore is a cook and memory book in the works to celebrate all things delectable at the Jersey Shore. Shore lovers including home cooks and chefs are asked to share their recipes and anecdotes in this cookbook. Proceeds benefit Sandy relief and rebuilding efforts for the Garden State. For more information about purchasing their memory book contact them on Twitter @savoringtheshore,