I used to tease my brother, Scott, that he was the Country Mouse and I was the City Mouse. As the years go on though, I start yearning more for the tranquility of Nature’s melodies than for the sounds of the energy bursting from the bustling city. I don’t think I would ever completely trade the skyline for clear sky but I can appreciate more now, what a sweet life country living would be.
Last month, Tom and I went to Minnesota for a family reunion. My Grandpa, on my Mother’s side, grew up in Hager City (“City”, current population 338), Wisconsin, which is just a stone’s throw across the mighty Mississippi from Red Wing, MN. It had been over thirty years since I last visited; my Great Grandmother had still been alive. One of my cousins, Sabrina, ended up marrying a gentleman there and now lives on a large farm that houses some of Wisconsin’s premiere dairy cows, supplying milk to the creameries that produce those famous Wisconsin cheeses.
I had the opportunity to accompany Sabrina’s husband, “Farmer John”, while he made his rounds at milking time (PM that is, I’d have only been in bed mere hours before AM milking). I had never milked a cow before and didn’t realize what an interesting operation the whole thing was. He let us (me and a half dozen bright eyed wee ones) milk a cow, although I wouldn’t say It was of any help to him, or the cow. In fact, I felt like an intruder, knowing that the cow was being burdened by my/our inexperienced technique. It was not as I expected either. It looked so easy when he showed us.
When I went to place my hand on the cow’s teat, I expected it to be soft and squishy but it was so much larger than I thought and was taut beneath my skin, requiring a swift pull that I did not deliver well. The warm liquid shot out sideways as I did not control my grip.
Right before we went into the barn, my sister-in-law, Irma, told me how they used to milk the cow’s milk right into a glass, pour in a shot of tequila and drink it fresh on the spot; (her family has a ranch back in Oaxaca, Mexico). When I saw the liquid squirt out toward me sideways, I couldn’t imagine having an aim good enough to hit a small opening on a glass, let alone wanting to drink it. Watching it hit a pail though (as someone more experienced did) it was cloudy white with frothy bubbles as if it had been warmed to place in a shot of espresso, so the image of their drink seemed like an intriguing ritual.
In addition to milk, one of their main crops is corn.
Looking around the property, corn stalks surrounded us for as far as you could see. They were bigger than I would have imagined, perhaps twelve or fourteen feet tall. Other than the corn, the only tall structures where the barns and the silos. At night you could hear the whisper that the stalks made as they blew easily in the nights breeze. The only light came from the moon as it lit up the sky, and the flicker of the fire pit around which came good conversation accompanied by wine, until the rain came in and cleansed the earth for the next day.
Tom and I (being ones to elevate every travel experience) stayed at the historic St. James Hotel in Red Wing. My Mom fondly remembers my Grandmother taking her there for lunch as a young child. Then, she wore her white gloves, was taught the proper placement of silverware and to say please and thank you. Our room looked out over the River and the train tracks were nearby (well, across the street). The startling and frequent blowing of the whistle both excited and lullabied us as the trains raced past. Tom didn’t even use ear plugs after the first night (shocking!).
There was deep-rooted history there, but apparently, no food served after 10:00 pm. Our first night got us in past this hour and we dined on Chex mix, pretzels and Manhattans (classy, right?).
With no coffee pots in the room (gasp!), Tom went down for cappuccinos in the mornings while I showered. We would meet on the veranda where he sat, waiting in a rocking chair with the newspaper, his coffee and a wonderful view of the river, boats and folks.
Later, the scratch Bloody Mary’s would come, served refreshingly good, with a chaser of light beer. A (not so) light breakfast set us up for a day of family and fun.
So, this trip brought us from city to farm and back again.
Milky Corn Broth with shrimp meat, sweet tomato and avocado
Needless to say, we were sent home with many ears of fresh corn so when we got back I made a long-time summer favorite, corn broth; it is a broth that eats like a soup. It is refreshing and pure, tasting deeply of corn which mingles happily with it’s favorite comrade, shrimp. The sweetness of the corn is offset nicely by the subtle, sweet saltiness of the shrimp and further enhanced by the creamy avocado and textural nuances of tomato.
As I was straining this through my chinois, the liquid resembled the milk from a cow, slightly warm and bubbling as it pooled out and into the bowl. The final liquid is milky, sweet and gold. I can’t imagine a more fitting recipe (of mine) than this, to illustrate the influence and coupling of these two commodities; even though there is not actually dairy in this soup (unless you count the butter), it tastes of fresh cream kissed with corn.
The amount of salt and lemon juice will depend on the sweetness of the corn. If overly sweet, the salt and lemon juice help to balance it out.
5 ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed
1 large (or 2 medium) sweet onions, chopped
2 TB butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups dry white wine or vermouth
4 cups water
1-2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
Lemon juice to taste (perhaps 1-2 TB)
Garnish: Per person, approximately 2 oz shrimp meat (Oregon or Canadian if you can), 1 wedge avocado (diced), 3 sweet baby cherry tomatoes (cut in half or quarters).
Remove the corn from the cobs and reserve the cobs.
In a large pot, sauté the onion, garlic and corn in the butter until soft, approximately 5 minutes. You don’t want it to brown though so keep the temperature slightly low.
Add the white wine, water, reserved cobs to the pot and bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and turn the heat down. Let it simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. The lid should help the liquid to keep from evaporating. I like to participate in the process so I check in pretty often to see how the flavor is coming along. I might remove the lid if I feel if it seems too watery and as long as the liquid is not going away altogether, I let it simmer as long as 1 1/2 hours to allow the aromatics to really permeate the liquid. There is not an exactness to the amount of time or liquid quantity, just taste and instinct.
Remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly. I like to leave it sit until the cobs are cool enough to handle but that is not necessary. Remove the cobs from the pot with tongs and set in a bowl. Pour the rest of the contents into a chinois placed over a bowl and push on the solids to extract all the liquid and flavor. When the cobs are cool enough to handle, use a knife to squeeze whatever liquid you can from them and add it to the bowl.
Return the liquid to the pot season with salt and lemon juice. Simmer a little more to thicken it slightly. It will be broth but should thicken enough to look like cream.
Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Place the shrimp meat in the bottom of individual bowls. Ladle the corn broth over the shrimp meat. top with the avocado and tomato.
If you had a bit of crispy bacon (say left over from breakfast), that might taste good as well (says Tom).
BONUS: Corn Butter
I recently got a Blendtec. It competes with Vitamix and as far as I know, works every bit as good, if not better. Plus, it fits under my cabinet and is easy to clean. I usually throw out the mash of solids after pressing them through my chinois but, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to add them to my Blendtec and put the switch on soup mode. I ended up with a lovely bowl of corn butter. It is delicious on toast and I imagine many other things I have yet to discover.
And lastly, while we were in MN, we went to a park that had a special place just for monarch butterflies. This shot is for Sheri at Unfettered Fox, I thought of her as I followed this fellow (and it’s friends) from spot to spot.
And when a late Summer storm passes through when the special guests need to be escorted to their vehicles, creative pop-up valet service ensues…