New books: Lake Superior, cottage cooking

Time to gas up the car for Memorial Day weekend or begin planning summer vacations. Here are four new books to help you stay entertained while close to home.

“Lake Superior: the Ultimate Guide to the Region” (Lake Superior Port Cities Inc., $16.95) is an alphabetical guide to the communities associated with this moody Great Lake. It is about the best places to eat and sleep, plus the range of attractions and magnificent scenery.

The author is Hugh Bishop of northern Minnesota, a longtime writer for Lake Superior Magazine who also has written three other books about lake life and history.

“Ultimate Guide” was a 25-year project and covers all sides of Superior. There are lessons in history, directions for picturesque drives, notations about significant seasonal events.

An especially nice touch: At the end of larger city descriptions is “What’s Next,” to help travelers stay on course and think about their next tourist stop.

So head to Finland, Minn., for a meal and brew at an old railroad trestle. Get to Paradise, Mich., for the annual Blueberry Festival in August. Or visit Ontario’s Slate Islands, formed because of an asteroid or meteor strike a billion years ago. It’s all here.

“Weird Wisconsin: Your Travel Guide to Wisconsin’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets” (Barnes & Noble Books, $19.95) is an extremely offbeat collection of what sets the Badger State apart from the other 49. That includes places to visit as well as pieces of history to learn (or forget).

This hardcover creation of Linda Godfrey of Elkhorn and Richard Hendricks of Madison is better suited for a coffee table instead of a glove compartment It is not a travel guide but a conversation piece – short stories about bizarre and/or sensational events, places, people.

Consider some of the chapters: Roadside Oddities (giant animal, six-pack and food statues), Personalized Properties (from a purple Raisin House in Oconto to the Prairie Moon Sculpture Gardens near Fountain City) and Cemetery Safari (circus performers buried in Delavan, beer barons at rest in Milwaukee’s Forest Home).

There are many odd and lighthearted entries, plus tales of notoriety (Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer) and the paranormal (assorted ghosts, monsters, UFOs).

The third edition of “Moon Handbooks Wisconsin” (Avalon Travel Publishing, $19.95) was released this spring. It is written by Thomas Huhti, who was a globe trotter for five years before he realized how much he loved his home state of Wisconsin.

This guidebook demonstrates his fondness and recommitment to the state. It is a comprehensive approach, with extra-special towns and sites marked with the Moonbook “M” for easy reference.

If you have lived in Wisconsin for a while, the “can’t miss” attractions will be reminders, not surprises. We’re talking about things like the Elroy-Sparta bike trail, the state Capitol in Madison and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

But the state’s smallest burgs get attention, too. This is where to learn about the old-fashioned malts at Westby Pharmacy, the much-lauded Kewpee burgers in Racine, the char-broiled steaks at the Branding Iron in Hurley.

New for this edition are five- to 21-day travel itineraries, to get better acquainted with the state’s dairy industry, natural history, family adventures or outdoor rec opportunities.

Huhti’s 21-day “Best of Wisconsin” tour begins with the lakefront museums and parks of Kenosha and, at the halfway point, cuts up to the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. From Granddad’s Bluff in La Crosse to Harley Davidson’s engine plant in Milwaukee, the tour is about diversity as well as geography.

Simply heading to the cottage this summer? “North Woods Cottage Cookbook” (Trails Books, $16.95) by Jerry Minnich is full of recipes to give you more time to loaf instead of break a sweat in the kitchen.

The Madison author is a longtime restaurant critic and food writer. Here, his preference for gourmet ingredients and painstaking food prep techniques take a vacation, for the good of a good life that is simple.

“You want to eat well at the cottage, but you may be forced to revert to earlier, more primitive, cooking methods,” Minnich writes.

Why? “What would you rather be doing at six o’clock in the evening – whipping up a roux for the seafood-stuffed pasta shells, or watching the loons on the lake, with a gin and tonic in hand?”

So recipes such as Chopstick Tuna Casserole, Beer Can Chicken and Fly Fisher’s Secret Pot Roast become a matter of quality control (to protect your free time, that is). Swallow your pride, adjust your palette’s expectations and settle back in that hammock.

Some of us cook like this all year long and make no apologies.