Carlson’s—Smokin’ Good!

I am about to eat the last of the smoked lake trout I purchased at Carlson’s Fishery while on vacation in northern Michigan. This makes me sad. Very sad. Because it’s very good.

Carlson’s was founded by Norwegian immigrant Nels Carlson several generations ago (a fifth-generation Carlson is now at the helm). Located in historic Fishtown, the old fisheries center of Leland, Michigan (on the Leelanau Peninsula), Carlson’s can turn the day’s lake catch into smoked delicacies, including a spicy hot smoked whitefish sausage. They also sell (naturally!) fresh fish, such as whitefish and trout. But, as I have a predilection for All Things Smoked, it was the smoked fish that I had to buy and transport home to Indiana. They also produce a fine smoked fish pate, the sort of thing I’d spread on a few crackers until I realized that I could get a strong fish buzz if I eliminated the flour platform and just ate the pate with a spoon.


If I lived close to Carlson’s, I’d probably develop fins and gills from eating so much fish!

Smoked fish can serve as the focal point of appetizers or, if you eat enough of them, a meal. I like to combine seasoned cream cheese, cucumbers, and smoked fish two ways—as rounds or stuffed. Instructions found below.

What You’ll Need

  • 1 cucumber, peeled if desired
  • 3-4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

What to do

  1. Mix the cream cheese with some onion powder and garlic powder (to your own taste). Add salt and pepper if desired.
  2. Slice the cucumber into rounds or halve it and scrape out the seeds.
  3. If using rounds, spread some of the cream cheese mixture onto each cucumber slice. If using hollowed halves, stuff each half of the cucumber with half of the cream cheese mixture.
  4. Top each round or cucumber half with smoked trout.
  5. Eat and enjoy!
    1. SmokedTroutWithCucumber
      Lunch–The Musical!

      Anyway, should you someday find yourself in Leland with a cooler, be sure to stop by Carlson’s and load up on some fine fish. And, if you’re buy the fresh fish, cooking it on the grill is pretty simple. My next post will feature a recipe for simple packet-grilled whitefish.


Something’s Fishy Around Here!


Leland, Michigan, on the Leelanau Peninsula, has always been associated with fishing, even prior to white settlement (or, some might argue, white occupation). The Ottawa Indians, who built a large village on what is now Leland, found excellent fishing here. Later, white inhabitants moved in and established a fishing industry, aided by the damming of the Leland River by John Miller and the Manseaus—Antoine Sr. and Antoine Jr.—which generated Lake Leelanau from several previously existing lakes. Commercial fishing here has been in existence for over 120 years.

Fishtown, the historic center of the fishing industry, is as much a tourist destination as it is a center of commercial fishing enterprise. While a visitor can buy some excellent whitefish and lake trout at Carlson’s Fishery, the same visitors can amble amongst cute little shops which have little to do with history. That said, history IS important and the Fishtown Preservation Society, Inc. is dedicated to ensuring that this historic location is preserved.


So, what IS Fishtown today? There is still some commercial fishing, as well as charter sport fishing, going on. The place itself is a collection of shanties, smokehouses, boats, and the like, a connection to the history of Great Lakes fishing. You can wander around, encountering drying nets as you smell whitefish and trout being smoked. In fact, the aforementioned Carlson’s (a fifth-generation fishery) sells fresh lake fish (and smokes some of the day’s catch!) Should you find yourself in Leland, be sure to get some of their excellent smoked lake trout (I practically cried the day I ate the last of what I brought back from vacation) and some of the smoked whitefish sausage (with a nice kick of spice!)

Drying Nets

Fishnets (not of the stockings variety) drying in the sun


Upland, Indiana’s Claim to Fame: Ivanhoes!

There really isn’t much going on in tiny Upland, Indiana (pop. 3845, as of 2010). It’s a small, rural town, the kind which are disappearing quickly as the United States becomes more and more urbanized, with younger generations leaving for jobs and excitement elsewhere. But that isn’t to say that there isn’t ANYTHING going on in Upland. Labor Day parades, Christmas festivals, and baseball—the events and pasttimes associated with small-town America—are still very much alive here. It’s a pleasant place that harkens back to our perceptions of times less complicated. It’s also the worst place in the world for someone who has difficulty making decisions.


Huh??? What on earth do I mean by that? Well, dear readers, by “that”, I mean Ivanhoes, Upland’s claim to culinary fame. Burgers, breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, tater tots that they’ll fry extra-crispy for you if you ask them—as fun to eat as those things are, though, it’s the ice cream selections that can immobilize even the most disciplined, most decisive person. Ivanhoe’s, you see, offers 100 different shakes and 100 different sundaes. To wit:

  • Black Forest Shake: a chocolate shake with chocolate cookie crumbles and maraschino cherries
  • Muddy Snickers Shake: a shake with chopped-up Snickers&#174 and fudge
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Sundae: soft vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, peanut butter, and crushed pretzels
  • Strawberry Flip Shake: strawberry shake topped with a scoop of strawberry ice cream topped with more strawberries
  • GRReat Scott Sundae: vanilla ice cream with frosted flakes and butterscotch
  • S’mores Shake: vanilla ice cream/marshmallow sauce blend with crushed graham crackers and chopped Hershey’s&#174 bar

If the sampler above has put you in the mood for a challenge, you could always join Ivanhoes 100 Club, in which you’re given a card with 100 numbers. Order a shake or sundae and the staff will validate your card for that particular choice. Successfully eat all 100 varieties and your name is added to the 100 Club plaque displayed at the eatery. This accomplishment will also net you a 100 Club t-shirt so that you can proudly show the world that you have mastered the art of sundae/shake eating. The rules do also state that YOU must be the person eating these, so no collaborating with your friends or family.


Upland is just a short drive off I-69, so if you are headed north to Michigan or south to Indianapolis, it’s worth the short detour. Just a note—on a beautiful day, don’t be surprised to see the line out the door.


Upland, Indiana
Even Garfield enjoys ice cream at Ivanhoes!

Martha’s Leelanau Table—a Suttons Bay, Michigan Gem

In a county (Leelanau) blessedly devoid of fast-food restaurants, local and independent eateries have taken up the slack. This refreshing lack of Burger Kings, Taco Bells, McDonalds, Arbys, even Starbucks and the like, sort of creeps up on one—you drive along scenic M-22 or interior roads, through towns and lakefront and bays, trying to put your finger on what, exactly, is missing. No, not missing, but what exactly is different. A couple of hours later it dawns on you that you’ve not seen signs or billboards for any national get-‘em-in-and-get-‘em-out-fast places. The landscape is cleaner, less cluttered, and you realize just how blighted fast-food restaurants can make a place look. NOT seeing them seems like a psychological burden has been lifted off your shoulders and the world looks more vibrant. Well, at the very least, everything is tidier, since crumpled bags and empty soda (or pop, for you natives) cups don’t overrun the sides of roads.

Okay, maybe I’m waxing overly poetic (or maybe not) and I do understand that the previous paragraph is simplistic and doesn’t address the classism that results in the proliferation of what may be the cheapest food alternatives for many people. I know that the area in question (Leelanau Peninsula of northern Michigan) is both a tourist destination and a center of wealth (one needs only to look at some of the enormous lakefront homes), but when you see fast-food restaurants day in, day out, their absence is almost blindingly stark and revitalizing. And it does give local establishments a more visible presence.

One such eatery is Martha’s Leelanau Table, a nationally recognized café in Suttons Bay, Michigan (along, naturally, Suttons Bay!). Located on St. Joseph Street (the main drag in Suttons Bay), the restaurant features many local Leelanau products, such as raclette from Leelanau Cheese. Indeed, the menu definitely has a Leelanau vibe to it, a plus in my book. The lunch menu (I was there for lunch) features soups, salads, sandwiches, plus coffee drinks and exquisite-looking pastries for dessert. I ordered the Land of Delight sandwich, a filling concoction of turkey, bacon, thinly sliced apples, cheese, and flavored mayonnaise; the sandwich was served with a large amount of potato chips and a pickle spear. A nice touch was the bread—cherry bread! The Leelanau Peninsula is, of course, Cherry Central, so that added yet another localism to my lunch. And the meal was very filling, certainly more than enough food to keep me satisfied until dinnertime, and, at a cost of $12, reasonably priced (especially considering Suttons Bay is a bit of a tourist town).


What?? No Golden Arches??

Martha’s Leelanau Table offers both indoor and outdoor dining. Given the utterly gorgeous day, I ate outside on the patio. An herb garden is also part of the restaurant, no doubt incorporated into their dishes. Clean, fresh tasting food with some locally sourced ingredients—this is definitely one place I’d visit again.


Creamed Kohlrabi

What You’ll Need

  • knife and cutting board
  • large saucepan
  • small saucepan
  • colander
  • spoon for stirring

Ingredients: For the kohlrabi:

  • 6 cups diced kohlrabi (about a ½” dice)1
  • 1 cup finely chopped kohlrabi greens2
  • Salt

Ingredients: For the white sauce:3

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¼ onion
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons white flour

Cooking the kohlrabi:

  1. Bring a saucepan of water (one large enough to hold the kohlrabi) to a boil and add salt. Stir to dissolve the salt—don’t be shy with the salt. The water should taste like seawater. You can actually add the salt and dissolve it before boiling.
  2. Add the kohlrabi and cook until tender enough that a wooden skewer pierces a cube, about 4-6 minutes, depending on the size of your dice.
  3. Take off the heat and add the chopped kohlrabi greens. Let stand for about a minute (to heat the greens), then drain in a colander.

Make the white sauce:

  1. Stud the onion with the cloves. In a small saucepan, add the milk, onion, and bay leaf.
  2. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat (or turn on very low—stir or whisk occasionally to keep the milk from getting a skin, but if it does, just stir it back in).
  4. In another saucepan (this can be the same saucepan you cooked the kohlrabi in—don’t worry if a few bits of greens are left), melt the butter over medium-low heat, then add the flour, stirring constantly.
  5. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, just enough to smell the roux (butter-flour mixture), but don’t let it brown—you only want to cook it enough to get rid of the raw floury taste. Slowly whisk in the warm milk.
  6. Cook until the sauce thickens to your liking. Season with salt and pepper.

Putting it all together:

  1. Add the drained kohlrabi and greens to the white sauce.
  2. Mix thoroughly and make sure the kohlrabi are heated through. Serve immediately.

1To prepare the kohlrabi, cut off the outer-space-like “tentacles” and peel the outside. Save a few of the greens, preferably the smaller and more tender ones. Cut each kohlrabi in half before you dice them—it’ll be more stable that way on a cutting board. If you have a larger kohlrabi with a woody center, just use the “unwoody” part—no need to discard the whole thing!

2Kohlrabi greens have a flavor somewhat akin to kale. Remove the green part from the stalk—the green part is what you want to chop up finely.

3This white sauce recipe is from the 1999 edition of Joy of Cooking. You can certainly make a simpler version without the onion, cloves, and bay leaf.