Books for Blizzards: Land of 10,000 Lakes by Patrice Johnson
Land of 10,000 Lakes mixes recipes and stories with Minnesota heritage to cook up a book that’s equal parts sentimental and practical. Although she gives a nod to the bland Scandinavian style of Minnesota traditional food, author Patrice Johnson steps boldly into “seasonings outside the Holy Midwest Trinity of salt, pepper, and ketchup.” To wit — the very first recipe is Hmong Hotdish, which she first tasted at the Minnesota State Fair. The second recipe, following several pages of fun philosophical musings on food and family, is an elegant New Year’s Eve Fondue. Garlic and Old Bay Seasoning are common ingredients, along with alternatives to canned cream soup, ensuring that no taste buds shall go unstimulated. Spam takes its place in the undying salute to Depression necessity, but here it is paired, astonishingly, with caviar. Just reading about that is bound to bring a chuckle.
There is as much creativity in the book itself as in the recipes, beginning with a break from the tradition of organizing by types of food to arranging chapters by season, starting and ending with that luscious Minnesota get-together, the State Fair. “Life Beneath the Snow” is followed by the first garden products of spring — asparagus, rhubarb, and radishes. “Lazy Heat” feed our summer cravings for fish, farmers markets, and refreshment, then we complete the cycle in autumn with “Back to School Biscuits” and harvests of pumpkin, wild rice, and apples. The book design is fun with plaid tablecloth fabric, dinnerware edged with seasonal symbols, and plate-shaped text boxes. Even the Acknowledgements are a good read.
Here is Ms. Johnson’s recipe for Cream-of-Something Soup Substitute (replaces 10.75 ounce can of commercial condensed soup):
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp very finely chopped white onion
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk (or broth; or half broth / half milk for a lighter soup) at room temperature
For mushroom soup add 1/3 cup finely chopped mushrooms
For celery soup add 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
A condensed version of the instructions: Melt butter in a large skillet. Add vegetables, cook until tender. Add flour, cook 2 minutes whisking. Add 1/2 the liquid, whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the liquid, whisk and simmer until thick.
And, lastly, here are some ingredients for a good life, found in the final chapter:
Count your blessings [as her mother often reminded her]. Take part in your community’s ice fishing competition or Jell-O cook-off. Make peace in your own small borrowed place in this world. Recycle. Be kind to one another. Buy organic raspberries and Native-harvested wild rice. Get yourself to the Minnesota State Fair. Start the tough conversations. When all else fails, sit down together over a delicious hotdish.
Check out the recipe for No-Can Tater Tot Hotdish from Patrice Johnson’s Land of 10,000 Plates.