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Come morning, that sizzling bacon that helped rouse me was paired with scrambled eggs cooked with goat cheese. Add a side of granola and goat-milk yogurt and, well, we were feeling fat and happy.
Ours was a group who loved to eat, the kind who anticipated the next meal as we dabbed the corners of our mouths from the last. Do local foods taste better? Well, it depends on the cook as much as the food, though as Dooley noted, “Everything tastes better outside.”
Hitting the water
After breakfast, we were off to the kayaks. Sand Island, part of the Apostle archipelago, lay directly across from our beach. We donned the wet suits, a name that particularly applied since they were still damp from the day before, and had a few lessons in paddling before we slipped the 21-foot sea kayaks into the water. With the wind in my face, sun on my arms, droplets of water splashing on me (and on my kayak partner at the stern), I couldn’t stop smiling. Paddle, paddle, splash.
Two miles later, we pulled up onto the beach of Sand Island, where guide Suzanne Schefcik broke out the lunch: more cheese, with fresh bread, smoked fish, hummus and beef sticks, all local.
The water was too rough to explore the nearby sea caves, so we hiked 2 miles to the lighthouse, where a volunteer guide had, moments before, fallen down the steep spiral staircase. “Is there a doctor in the group?” (Yes, people really do say that), and sure enough, we had one. After a rescue boat picked up the bruised guide, we crossed the island to our kayaks.
The waves had kicked up for the return to the mainland, creating a choppy paddle that added excitement to the excursion. All the better to build an appetite, right?
All’s well that ends well
By the time we headed to Meyers Beach for a fish fry that night, we were hungry, again. Dooley took whitefish that had been caught in Superior just hours earlier, dredged it in flour, then fried it over the driftwood fire. Earlier that day, she had prepared a roasted beet salad, a green salad with herbed vinaigrette, green beans in citrus vinaigrette, potato salad with pickled eggs and a tangy yogurt dressing.
We dug into the picnic fare, sand between our toes, water hlapping on the shore as the sun set, the pink sky fading into deeper and deeper shades of blue. As the flames died down from the campfire, we did what every camper does — or should do. We looked for sticks to stab marshmallows for the traditional end to a beach dinner: s’mores. Ours had an artisanal twist, made with biscotti with dried cranberries and blueberries, and gourmet chocolate.
By morning we were — you guessed it — hungry. French toast with fresh blueberries fit the occasion. A storm overnight had left Lake Superior too wild for another trip to the islands, so we paddled through the winding water path that is Bark Bay Slough. Hugging the shoreline with our kayaks, we found a place to eat. More meat and smoked fish, more hummus, more cheese. I do not think this combo could ever become tiresome.
By dinnertime, we had spiffed up for our last outing, the Bayfield Shores Barbecue, held at Blue Vista Farm in the rolling hills above Bayfield, overlooking Lake Superior. The once-a-summer community fundraiser benefits the Bayfield Regional Food Producers Cooperative. This clearly was the spot to be on that idyllic summer evening. White canopied tents sat among rows of bee balm and black-eyed Susans, where hummingbirds flitted from flower to flower, and blueberry fields, which enticed us to pick the berries (who could resist?). Musicians strummed, children scampered, farmers dished up their homegrown food: pulled pork, smoked beef brisket, grilled trout, corn on the cob, lavender berry ice cream and the proverbial much more.
The whole town seemed to have shown up at the old farm to celebrate the season’s plenty in a scene that could have been plucked from a barn raising more than a century ago. It served as a reminder that good food — and company — never go out of style.
Today’s sustainable, often organic, efforts may have taken root decades ago in these hills, but with the skills, perseverance and passion of the farmers, they will continue to feed our bellies, as well as our souls, long into the future.
The waters of Lake Superior drew us together; the farmers kept us well fed. That’s a perfect match by any standard.
Lee Svitak Dean is food editor at the Star Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @StribTaste.