Door County Fish Boil

Door County Fish Boil fireBoiled fish?! My first reaction is, “Yuck!” But here in Door County, Wisconsin, the fish boil is a tradition.

Originally designed to serve large numbers of lumberjacks or fishermen, this simple meal has become something of an art form. The art is not in the ingredients, I hasten to add. Potatoes, onions, fish, salt, nothing could be simpler – or more boring. The art comes in the work of the ‘Boil Master’. And the Boil Master here at Rowley’s Bay Resort is Dan Cegelski, an acknowledged expert at the craft.

Door County Fish BoilWe sit in a circle in front of the inn. Set dramatically at its centre is an open fire of logs, atop which bubbles a huge cauldron of water. Why do I feel tempted to chant, “Double, double, toil and trouble”?

Our Master of Ceremonies for the night is Don Makuen, a venerable character, who keeps us entertained with stories, periodically interrupted as the Boil Master adds each new ingredient to the cauldron. First salt, then potatoes, then onions, and finally a huge colander of whitefish pieces. It frankly looks fairly unappetizing. My mental reservations continue.

Fishy Tales

Door County Fish Boil Don Makuen tells storiesMakuen however, makes up for any concerns about the taste, adding a distinct flavour of his own in the form of historical tales. He relates the tale of the resort’s namesake, Peter Rowley, the first real settler in the area, and the two women with whom he moved to a remote part of the county in 1836. It’s likely that one was his mother-in-law, but with a sly wink, our storyteller manages to give the tale a slightly salacious air. It’s all good fun.

Door County Fish Boil the Doors of DeathThe first European to discover the Door Peninsula, in 1634, was a Frenchman, Jean Nicolet, who erroneously thought he had found China. Door, Makuen explains dramatically, comes from the French name for the treacherous straits linking Green Bay to Lake Michigan – Porte des Morts (Door of the Dead). It is said to have more shipwrecks under its apparently calm waters than any other section of fresh water in the world.

But it’s a sad moniker for an area that is remarkably beautiful, with picturesque limestone outcrops of the Niagara Escarpment and rolling dunes.  Pretty little towns with evocative names like Egg Harbour and Fish Creek dot the county, which also boasts the first state park in America, Peninsula State Park.

Door County Fish Boil village of EphraimThe charming village of Ephraim was founded by breakaway Moravians led by Andrus Iverson, who built the first school in the area (both the school and his home are historic sites).

Door County Fish BoilTrue to its roots, it’s the only dry village in the county, a dubious claim as it simply means that liquor isn’t sold here. Consumption is a whole other matter, says Makuen with another wink.

But the end of his tales is near. The Boil Master steps forward again and warns us all to move well back. Then with a quick judgement of wind direction, he pours kerosene onto the flames, stepping quickly back.

Door County Fish Boil boil over of water

The water boils over taking scum and fat with it

For several minutes the cauldron is engulfed in a raging inferno, its contents bubbling over. And this is where the art comes in. It must boil over enough to take with it the scum, the grease – and the fishy taste. Beats the heck out of hand skimming the pot, but don’t try this at home!

The colander of fish and vegetables are lifted from the pot and served at the buffet inside the inn, along with plenty of other choices I gratefully observe (my reservations are full throttle now). But to my surprise, I like the delicate flavour of boiled whitefish, laced as it is with onions and lots of salt. Nonetheless, the best part of this meal is a hearty serving of Door County’s famous cherry pie.

The thin layer of soil atop the dolomite bedrock in this peninsula seems to be perfect for growing the fruit for which this county has become famous – sour cherries. Cherry wine, cherry jam, cherry salsa – cherries go into everything here. But there’s one cherry specialty you’ll have to talk a local into sharing with you.

Although Cherry Bounce predates Door County’s orchards (Martha Washington had her own recipe for it), it has become a local specialty. This simple infusion of cherries with alcohol (typically vodka or gin) and sugar, has become a seasonal favourite – but not cherry season.

“You start when the cherries are ripe, and it’s ready for Christmas,” explains Bob De Lautenbach, owner of  Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market. “The alcohol gets a distinctly cherry flavour.”

Door County Fish Boil cherr tree

Young cherries are just beginning to ripen at Orchard Country Winery

Most of the cherries in his orchard go to make their distinctive wines. But there’s always plenty for the cherry spit, a less than genteel competition. I tried and only managed a paltry 12 feet. The reigning female champion, can spit a cherry pit more than 38 feet! But, I ask myself, is this really a title I covet?

Door County offers much more than boiled fish and cherries. It has become a Mecca for artists and artisans, and in this small area, you will find two remarkably professional theatre companies – the Peninsula Players and the Northern Sky Theatre. Both produce first run plays in spectacular natural settings.

Door County Fish Boil In addition, the students and internationally renowned instructors at Birch Creek Music Camp present concerts regularly – classical, jazz and my favourite, a steel drum concert by the students.

Door County Fish Boil kayaksBest of all, Door County encourages ‘silent sports’ like sailing, cycling, hiking and kayaking, making it a wonderful retreat for those seeking peace and quiet. The history and boiled fish are the cherry on top.






Cruise Alaska but Don’t Stay Aboard

Alaska Juneau from ship

Spectacular views of glaciers right from the comfort of your ship.

A relative neophyte to cruising, I wondered why on earth anyone would want to see Alaska from a cruise ship. The scene above is why. Yes, Alaska has glaciers to climb, lakes to paddle around, and vistas to be seen from mountain peaks. But I managed to do all these things as well, leaving the comfort of my stateroom aboard Holland America‘s  Volendam for each day’s excursions. I loved my cruise to Alaska and no, I wasn’t paid to say that. I paid my own way.

The weather was rainy but the rain made the views that much more dramatic.from the helicopted Alaska

It cleared a little in Juneau, enabling our excursion to the glaciers. .Skipping through the sky in a helicopter through mist and cloud is wonderfully dramatic.

helicopter on glacier Alaska

We landed on a glacier and hiked to find some places where the glacier had given way to crevasses and we could see the unbelievably blue water flowing underneath.

glacier hike Alaska

It was cool outside so we bundled up. But our helicopter pilot’s jacket provided a lovely contrast to a blue and brown landscape.

pilot at crevasse Alaska

At a spot where the glacier had recently calved – a part of it crumbling away into the water – the open scar shows a bright glacier blue as do some of the floating pieces. We actually watched this process of calving ( an odd word which refers to a cow having a baby) from the deck of our ship as well. It happened several times as our ship moved through the Inside Passage of Alaska.

calved glacier Alaska

In Skagway, I found the best smoked Alaskan salmon I’ve ever tasted, and the strangest Freemason’s Hall I’ve ever seen. Its rather bizarre front is made of twigs and branches. No one could tell me why it has A and B on the front but it was built in time for the new Millennium – the 20th century!

Skagway Masons Hall Alaska

We arrived in Ketchikan early. It’s a small town with a remarkable totem pole standing tall in its centre.

Ketchikan Alaska

From here, I was able to take a small plane high above the scenic mountains. It was misty but again, the clouds made a spectacular backdrop for mountains and glaciers. I got to play co-pilot.

co-pilot Liz Alaska

We landed on a small lake and climbed aboard a boat to return by water affording two very different views of some of the same landscape, including this tiny island or is it a volcanic plug?

island from the air Alaska

the island from the air

Island from the water Alaska

the same island from the water

We passed close to a small rocky outcrop where seals had patently decided to bask in the brief sight of sunlight. They paid no attention at all to our little boat.

Basking seals Alaska

Wherever I turn in this remarkable state, the landscape is powerful and almost theatrical in its beauty. Below a tiny boat seems to be inconsequential with a spectacular glacier as its backdrop.

boat and glacier Glacier Bay

As we returned through the Inside Passage once more, everyone left the dining room to rush to the deck. A pod of orca were swimming alongside the cruise ship, playing in the wake. Here’s another sight you won’t see on shore.

orcas playing in wake Alaska

Cruising has me hooked. What a wonderful way to see so many different places at once. Stay tuned for more cruise adventures.


Deep Fried Heaven at The State Fair of Texas

Big Tex, the 55 foot-high symbol of The State Fair of Texas, waves a welcome to the crowd. “Howdy,” he says. “This is Big Tex.” Continue reading

Tucson’s Heirloom Farmers Market


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Brownville, Nebraska – A Piece of American History

Mark di Suvero's unusual sculpture is a perfect reflection of the whimsy and history inside the Flatwater Folk Art Museum in Brownville, NE

Mark di Suvero’s unusual sculpture is a perfect reflection of the whimsy and history inside the Flatwater Folk Art Museum in Brownville, NE

Brownville, Nebraska has 10 museums.

Now this might not seem odd, but what makes it odd is that this small hamlet has a population of 142. That’s one museum for every 14 residents! Continue reading