Land of 10,000 lakes, Hubert Humphrey, soaring eagles, giant mosquitoes, the Twins, the Lakers, Harmon Killebrew, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken, Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, Bob Dylan, Sinclair Lewis, Garrison Keillor and a whole lotta fish of various shapes, sizes and styles.
Oh yeah, and one more thing...
For the uniformed and disinterested alike, cheese curds are a tasty bi-product of the cheese-making process. Sometimes known as "squeaky cheese," curds are essentially the solid part of soured milk. They have a firm, kind of rubbery texture and a mild flavor, and are generally served fresh, deep-fried or as part of regional dishes like poutine, a heart-stopping delicacy that combines curds, french fries and gravy.
I always assumed the rubbery little devils were strictly a Wisconsin favorite, but it turns out that eastern Minnesota is pretty darn proud of the wonderful things they can do with sour milk, as well. That's where we were last weekend, off on a quick
northbound jaunt to meet up with older son, Colin and his wife for Fathers' Day weekend. In an effort to spare us both from the 639 mile drive between Galva and Moorhead, Minnesota, we agreed to meet halfway. The challenge was to determine a spot that would split the difference between our two homes, while providing adequate lodging, nourishment and entertainment for five adults, two grandsons and a dog, without driving one of us into the poorhouse or the madhouse.
Especially if it rained.
Which it did.
After determining that Rochester was too dull and Spirit Lake too far out of the way for both of us, I finally discovered a heretofore-unknown-to-me vacation spot called Lake Pepin, which is actually an extra-wide spot on the Mississippi River, and located about 60 miles downstream from Saint Paul. While it really is part of the big river that separates Minnesota and Wisconsin, it has all the beautiful features of a big, big lake, and even boasts a Loch Ness-style monster of its own, with the somewhat unfortunate name of Pepie. I booked us a cabin called--wait for it--The Lunker Lodge at a lakeside fishing resort, and the die was cast for a wonderful dads' day weekend.
But back to the most important part of the trip.
Back to the cheese curds.
We had our first encounter when the grandma-lady, son Patrick, the two grand-boys and I stopped for a late supper Friday night. I prefer not to hype specific national dining spots, but suffice it to say that the initials of this place were D and Q. While the little boys and I plotted ways to convince the responsible adults in the party that ice cream is a good, nutritious meal all by itself, Paddy scanned the menu.
"Wow," he said.
"Yow," he said.
"Cheese curds," he said.
Thus began the weekend that will go down in family lore as "The Night (and day) of the Living Cheese Curd." We ate them hot, cold, fresh and deep-fried. They were served to us in upscale lakefront bistros and mom-and-pop bayside bars morning noon and night.
Man, they were tasty.
What's more, it was quickly discovered that high concentrations of ingested cheese products have the ability to literally shut down most normal digestive systems, a handy side effect when sharing close quarters and tiny, fishing-cabin bathroom facilities. By Sunday morning, son Patrick claimed to have his first-ever cheese curd hangover, but nothing stopped us as we clamored for more.
Finally, the weekend was over.
I truly enjoy it when my two sons have a chance to get together. Paddy's life is hectic with his boys and his job at the bank, while Colin manages a busy retail operation that often demands much of his time seven days a week. It was a wonderful Fathers' Day gift for me as I watched them talk, laugh and re-establish the bonds that make them the best kind of brothers.
Who could ask for anything more?
Our last meal together was at a cool riverside winery and creamery that featured great local wines and cheeses, plus incredible homemade ice cream.
Oh, and one more thing.
Gourmet cheese curds.
Like I said, who could ask for anything more?