Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background

I had hoped to capture a shot for this week’s challenge while at the cabin this past weekend, but no such luck.  Pick had challenged us to:

Take a picture of yourself or someone else as a shadow, a reflection, or a lesser part of a scene, making the background, or — as in the example above — the foreground, the center of attention.

I turned to my photo archives from a few years back, and found this one I took while hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park – just me and my shadow, standing on top of Day Hill looking toward the lighthouse.

Split Rock Lighthouse from Day Hill Overlook

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”In the Background” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

The Cure for the Extended Winter Doldrums

It snowed again.  And again.  That was our weekend, and our start to the week.  I really shouldn’t complain, but misery loves company, and Northern Minnesota has a lot of miserable company as April continues its snowy reign.

Because my faithful four-legged friend was short-changed for exercise this week, between work and family activity schedules . . . (high school track season has begun — of course, the first outdoor meet was canceled due to snow on the track) . . . I promised him a nice hike Sunday afternoon at Gooseberry Falls State Park rather than our usual local routes.

Before heading up the North Shore, I decided to call the ski venue where I lost my prescription sunglasses at a nordic ski meet earlier this winter, and remarkably, they had found their way to lost and found — when they had not emerged in the days following the race, I had written them off as lost forever!  So, a change of plans, with an afternoon loop up to the Iron Range, then down the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway, and finally along the North Shore to Gooseberry Falls. With no other interested day trippers in the family, my favorite lab and I headed out the door and hit the road.

Northern Minnesota's highways

We took the more scenic route for our “lost and found” errand — mile after mile of evergreen-lined highways with some fresh snow still precariously clinging to the tree branches, blue sky finally breaking through the layers of gray that blanketed the landscape for days — was that a sense of optimism I could feel stirring?

A quick break at a roadside pullout, retrieve sunglasses, briefly check messages on the phone before looping on to our hiking destination, and . . . optimism gone — how could we possibly owe that much in taxes?  A first-world problem, I know, but one that soured my afternoon, nonetheless.  I sat in the car, debating whether I wanted to spend the next 90 minutes winding our way down to Gooseberry, with another 45 minutes or so home after that.  “Screw it,” I thought, “we can just head back home now, and walk one of our usual routes.”  But, have you ever looked into the face of a hopeful lab, sure that the next time the car door opens, paradise awaits?  How could I say no?  Sour mood and all, we continued on our way.

Minnesota's Sawtooth Range in the distance
Minnesota’s Sawtooth Range in the distance

I have rarely driven the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway.  On this Sunday afternoon, we passed perhaps two cars traveling in the opposite direction during our time on the byway.  It was peaceful.  We saw a beautiful bald eagle perched in a tree alongside the highway.  The road twisted and turned, with the Sawtooth Mountains (remember, we are in Minnesota, use the term “mountain” loosely) appearing on the horizon, letting us know Lake Superior was not far beyond.  I found myself smiling as I enjoyed the scenery, chatted with my furry friend, and listened to my favorite music through my iPod.

Then my trusty friend threw up.  No, really.  My smile gone, I finally dared to glance into the back seat.  He had seemed a little antsy, but I figured he just needed a few minutes to run off some steam and make himself comfortable again.  We found a spot near a nordic ski trailhead, just off the highway, and as soon as he jumped back into the car, and I sat down in the driver’s seat, he threw up.  He was so embarrassed and apologetic about it, poor guy.  Perhaps the ugly tentacles of the winter doldrums had reached his gastrointestinal system?  I cleaned it up best I could (OK, I admit to feeling some gratitude for the snow about then), and we once again hit the road for the remaining drive as the afternoon hours turned to evening.

Lake Superior in the distance
Lake Superior in the distance

The novelty of catching that first glimpse of Lake Superior as we come over a crest of the road never grows old — no matter where we travel from, that big body of water captivates a person like few things do.   Once again, glimmers of hope and optimism struggled to emerge, reminding me to be grateful for scenes like this so close to home.

Gooseberry Falls is a much-loved, heavily trafficked State Park.  Pulling into their large visitor center parking lot and seeing only three cars is a rare sight, one that we welcomed. Not so sure the pair grazing under the bird feeder welcomed the sight of my four-legged companion and me, but we only briefly disturbed them by pausing for a photo, before we continued on down the path to the Falls.

Gooseberry Falls State Park Visitor Center

Ahh, the joy of a black lab galloping in the snow!  He was right that we needed to continue on our way, and not let the doldrums of daily life and our extended winter interfere with finding joy.

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry River ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park

After crossing the Gooseberry River, we headed up the often snow-packed, sometimes slippery steps to the river overlook trail.

Gooseberry Falls State Park - trail to the Falls overlook

Other than a photographer capturing a close shot of the semi-frozen falls, we had the park to ourselves it seemed. The rushing water had only begun to emerge from beneath its frozen winter crust.  Another warm day or two, and the bulk of its winter coating would melt and wash down the river.

Gooseberry Falls ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls

I remember hiking this path when my boys were young.  The trail is quite narrow and precarious in spots, high above the river valley.  Rambunctious, danger-oblivious boys and girls were the motivation behind the prominent warning sign on the overlook trail.

Gooseberry Falls State Park ~ Falls overlook trail

The views are why it is a trail that one can hike again and again, never growing tired of the changing scenery as it moves from one season to the next, as the water runs high or low, as the lake in the distance shines blue or blends into the gray horizon.  What a gift.

Gooseberry Falls overlook trail

Best of all was our departing scene.  A pinkish glow separated the lake from the sky above it, off in the distance at the end of the winding, frozen river bed.  We walked past the visitor center and its interesting “River, Lake, Falls and Forest” nature art column crafted from a 100+ year-old fir timber, with plant and animal images hand cut out of recycled copper, aluminum, and brass.

"River, Lake, Falls and Forest" nature art column ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park

And then, silently standing just beyond the column, was one of the friends who greeted us as we arrived.  He (or she) stood as if he were part of a winter postcard scene, so beautifully framed by the birch as the river valley opened up behind him.  I felt a sense of peace and contentment as we said goodbye, and was reminded of what was important in life.

Deer at Gooseberry Falls State Park,  Minnesota

Ciao! ~ Kat

Life is Short, and Food is a Lovely Part of It: Six Courses at the Chef’s Table

Life is short, and food is a lovely part of it.  As Julia Child is noted to have said, ““The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”  (However, I really must notch up the running again next week . . . ).

To celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary, we decided to try the Chef’s Table dining experience at the Ledge Rock Grille, a cozy restaurant on the North Shore of Lake Superior, just south of the town of Two Harbors.  The restaurant is located on the same property as the Larsmont Cottages.  As the years go by, it is easy to treat one’s wedding anniversary quite casually, particularly when we are not the type that typically celebrate birthdays big, and have often found some home improvement project that needs completing rather than exchanging gifts to mark a special occasion.

Dining Room at Ledge Rock Grille

Life is busy at this stage of life, between work and family obligations.  It makes it even more important sometimes to find that time to do something special to mark occasions which should be celebrated.

Ledge Rock Chef's Table Menu

Making reservations to enjoy the six-course menu at the “Chef’s Table” was definitely a way to mark a special occasion.  It promised to be a leisurely dining experience, which we chose to enjoy with wine pairings, on a quiet weeknight as spring kicked off its snowy start (unlike summer weekends when a reservation at the restaurant is sometimes impossible to obtain and the resort is full of guests).

The Chef’s Table seats up to four guests at a counter-height spot adjacent to the open kitchen.  On a night when the restaurant is quiet, it is as if you have your own personal chef and waiter, allowing for a relaxing evening, with the dinner courses paced over two hours.

Seared Scallops with Blueberry Balsamic

The first course featured one of my favorite foods — scallops!  Blueberry balsamic was drizzled over the plate, serving as a cushion for the lightly broiled seafood bites.  A Pinot Grigio nicely paired with this dish.

Arcadian Apple Salad

ledge rock salad dressing 2013








The salad course was a unique blend of flavors I had not expected — Arcadian spring greens, amaretto apples, feta, and candied spiced walnuts, with an apple cider vinaigrette.   The apples had been soaked in amaretto and club soda, I believe.  It resulted in a very light taste, with the amaretto acting almost as the second layer of flavor behind the apple, rather than overpowering it.  The candied walnuts were spiced with many notes, including cumin, cayenne, and paprika.  My husband, the real cook in our house, tried to dissect each layer of flavor and guess the different ingredients that created it.  The slightly heavier Chardonnay was a great flavor partner for these layered tastes. 

Hawaiian Pork Kebob

The Hawaiian Pork Kabob that “our” chef, Nate, prepared ended up being our favorite course.  My husband already was scheming how to replicate it before he had a second bite.  The teriyaki sauce did not overpower, but was a nice light glaze companion to the grilled pork tenderloin and pineapple pieces.  A Pinot Noir was poured with this course.  Nate kindly shared with my husband the general ingredients for the teriyaki glaze recipe and I look forward to my husband’s rendition of this tasty dish in the near future!

Raspberry Sorbet and Champagne

The fourth course was an “intermezzo” course, meant for cleansing the palate.  An intermezzo course often involves a sorbet, as it did at Ledge Rock’s Chef’s Table.  But, instead of a side accompaniment of prosecco or champagne, the sorbet was served in a small glass of it — an elegant sorbet float!  It was incredibly refreshing without being too filling before the main entrée.

Beef Medallion and Shrimp Skewer

The next-to-last course is what most would call the “main” course or entrée.  Our menu presented us with a Beef Medallion and Shrimp Skewer.  Nate prepared the medallion perfectly, in accord with our tastes (medium-rare, more rare than medium).  The beef was completed by a strawberry demi-glace which provided a nice hint of flavor for the tender cut of meat.  The pairing of Cabernet wine was a natural choice.  The two large shrimp were wrapped in applewood bacon on a skewer and then topped with strawberry chutney with accents of cilantro.  Fresh green beans and a sweet potato side completed the colorful plate.  Just roll me home now.

But, wait there is still the sixth and final course.

S'mores Cake in the Wood-Fired Oven

I have to admit that when I saw that the final course was a “S’mores Cake” I was thinking I might just have that course boxed up to bring home to my boys.  Yes, having a “s’more” treat a couple times every summer when enjoying the campfire at the cabin is something I look forward to, but marshmallow and chocolate treats otherwise are not usually my thing. (I can do without those memories of marshmallow bunnies in the Easter basket.)  But, my opinion quickly changed as the marshmallow bubbled in the wood-fired oven and the chef drizzled chocolate over the top . . .

S'mores Cake at Ledge Rock Grille









How could I resist a Northwoods dessert served on a personal-sized cast iron plate?  I should have, but I did not.  It was as sweet and delicious as it appeared.  A special treat for a special occasion.

My husband and I decided perhaps we should use our anniversary as an excuse to reserve two seats at Ledge Rock’s Chef’s Table on a quiet weeknight in March each year. It gives us 364 other days of the year to work off the calories until the next six courses.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lost in the Details

The North Shore of Lake Superior is a place where one can easily get lost in the details.

North Shore of Lake Superior in winter

While its beauty is great when taking in the broader view, it is when one gets down on hands and knees, and really examines the shoreline up close, that the exquisite designs of nature are discovered.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” ~ Albert Einstein

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Lost in the Details” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

As I sat listening to the noteworthy performances of our high school’s music ensembles at their annual holiday concert this weekend, I could not help but reflect on how life is so very delicate.  In the photo below, my son is no older than those innocent children in Connecticut whose lives were taken in Friday’s horror-filled events.  Several times during the holiday program, I felt tears well in my eyes thinking of all the families who would not have the opportunity to see their children play and sing . . . who would not have them to hug and hold this holiday season.  The loss and sorrow that the community of Newtown is feeling is unfathomable, and my heart aches for them.

North Shore of Oahu

For all the times I have viewed this photo in the years since I took it, I do not believe I ever noticed the little bird, perhaps some variety of sandpiper, running across the sand in the foreground.  This tiny little creature is just going about its daily life, my 7-year-old son is staring out at the vast ocean as the waves roll into shore, licking closer to his shoes with each turn, and the tides keep time with the moon and the sun . . . . reminders of the delicate balance of the forces and creatures of the natural world, including all of humankind.  The shocking headlines remind us how quickly the delicate balance of life can be shattered, and how each day is more precious than we care to imagine.

Thoughts and prayers going to all affected and touched by Friday’s events in Newtown, Connecticut. ~ Kat