The sacred waters of Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin played a vital role in the lives of the Indian tribes who inhabited this area for thousands of years. Burial grounds were found by accident on Gary Henschel’s farm when his great grandfather was farming the land and his horses fell through a mound, unearthing the sacred Potawatomi ceremonial site. Gary and his wife Rosalie have set up the fascinating Henschel’s Indian Museum and archeological dig to preserve the history of their hallowed land, and I highly recommend a visit. http://www.henschelsindianmuseumandtroutfarm.com/museum.html
The Osthoff Resort, which sits on the edge of the lake, was drawn to the energy of the land in its planning; and embraces many sacred healing traditions. Lola L. Roeh, the General Manager of the resort, along with her daughter Shannon Roeh, who manages the spa, and a loyal well-trained staff, has created a very special place of calm serenity. The Osthoff is the recipient of Travel & Leisure‘s 2012 Reader’s Choice Award as the #1 resort in the Midwest, and: Lola Roeh was named Innkeeper of the Year by the Wisconsin. Hotel & Lodging Association Two honors, both the resort and Lola well deserve.
I begin my days meditating on the beach to honor the Native American people who were born and died where I now stand. I stretch up to the heavens, down to the earth and out to the winds of time … thanking the Universe, Mother Nature and the Native Americans who in blessing the lake with healing powers, left their spirit behind.
Fluffy white clouds drift by, no doubt hiding secrets of their own. Dare I release my body into the cold waters of October? A flock of geese, in a V formation glide by, cawing out to each other. The trees are ablaze with the vibrant colors of autumn: orange, crimson, burgundy, and shades of yellow and green. It is the harvest of pumpkins, apples, squash and cranberries …the same colors as the leaves on the trees. My fingers are cold; an invigorating breeze blows off the lake, sending tears down my cheeks. Locals walking their dogs stop to chat; I can feel winter struggling to settle in. Soon the trees will be bare as Mother Nature once again balances the seasons. I explore the grounds, lush with flowers, planted like a botanical garden. It is a glorious day, and the golf course and tennis courts are in action. After a fast paced walk along the lake path, I return to my spacious tastefully decorated terraced two bedroom lakefront suite for a quick shower, and then head to Otto’s for breakfast. I am expected in the Aspira Spa at 9:00 for a full day of indigenous rituals, and I don’t want to be late. .
The Village of Elkhart Lake
A Neighborhood Dine-Around
It is a ten minute walk from The Osthoff to the center of the village, and Lola has organized a dine-around-town that begins at Vintage, a funky wine shop and tasting bar. Owner Jacylyn Stuart, an accredited sommelier, pours three wine classics we sip with handfuls of cheesy gourmet popcorn. We cross the street to The Paddock Club, for appetizers. Once the town tavern, it is now owned by sisters Cheri Hau and Lynn Chisholm. Lynn the chef blows us away with her crunchy salads … pan seared scallops with porcini mushrooms and shaved parmesan … crispy pork belly with honey apples and sweet corn flan … and butternut squash ravioli with sage, shallots, cheese and black truffle oil.
We continue on to Lake Street Café where owners John and Lynn Shovan are waiting to serve us their house specialties: Wisconsin Beer and Cheese Soup, Tilefish with charizo and potato hash, New York strip steak with gorgonzola cheese and duck sausage quesadillas. I find a treasure to hang on my kitchen wall in Nicola’s gift shop; it is a tin sign in the shape of a wine bottle that reads: “stay calm; drink wine”
Late Season Italian Pasta Cooking Class
A Culinary Journey
Scott J. Baker runs the L’Ecole de la Maison Cooking School at the Osthoff. Classes are held in a state of the art commercial kitchen with long stainless steel prepping tables. Today our group is preparing a medley of pastas. We begin chopping colorful vegetables that will be braised with a variety of meats. Scott works with two nearby farms that are extremely passionate about how they care for and feed their animals. He thinks out of the box with pastries and deserts, but keeps his main dishes as close to classic and as simple as possible, starting with good ingredients. He tells me: “There are so many untried recipes out there that are unavailable to home cooks that I want to share, bringing the test of time to these recipes by teaching our guests to understand the root and process behind what they are making”. His philosophy: “classic cooking is like learning to play an instrument; you need to make decisions in the process of making a dish”. After three hours of chopping, boiling, blanching, braising and saucing, we share the joys of eating made- from -scratch Italian pastas, paired with a few exceptional wines.
Later that afternoon, Lola takes us on a tour of neighboring farms that supply the Osthoff restaurants and cooking school with fresh organic products to supplement the squash, garlic, heirloom tomatoes and zucchini grown in the hotel’s vegetable and herb gardens which will be extensively expanded with the spring planting.
At Golden Bear Farms, I feed grass fed grunting pigs red apples … drink non pasteurized milk, fresh from the milking, at Grassway Farm … and don surgical booties, cap and coat at Saxon Homestead Creamery to learn how cheese “flavored by nature” is made. .
Lola’s on the Lake
A Gourmet Celebration
Lola’s on the Lake restaurant and bar is both cozy and sophisticated. Chef Benjamin Sommerfeldt, and his award winning culinary team, intent on tantalizing our taste buds with his eclectic new fall seasonal menu, takes us on a memorable gastronomy journey. We begin with a selection of small plates that include: Apple Walnut Stuffed Quail, followed by Lola’s trio of: hot soups: Five Onion, Roasted Butternut Squash and: a thick savory Shrimp and Lobster Bisque. We each select an entrée, and then pass the platters family style for all to taste and share: Horseradish Brioche Crusted Salmon is served with sweet potato puree, and braised Swiss chard …Pan-Seared Rainbow Trout with spinach ricotta gnocchi and sautéed bell pepper… Pork Chops with tea-poached apple and buttermilk blue cheese butter … Grilled Filet Mignon … Dry -aged Sirloin with baby potatoes, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, cipollini onions, roasted garlic and rosemary compound butter …Grilled Bone-In Rib eye served with Yukon gold potato puree and a cipollini onion bordelaise sauce … and my favorite, succulent, Stout-Braised Kobe Short Ribs with a blueberry Syrah demi sauce.
The restaurant’s wine list is impressive and reasonably priced and we have a pairing with each course. It is a festive evening ( the last of my visit) with Gary, Lola’s charming husband, and Shannon, their innovative daughter who manages the spa, joining us; The Elkhart Lake Wine Club is having a wine tasting dinner in a private room, and members stop by our table to greet Lola and meet her guests.
My Final Farewell
I return to the lake to bid my final farewell. The wind ripples the water into gentle movements; it foams when it reaches the sand. Colorful leaves, blown from lofty boughs, sink to the bottom of the shallow sacred waters. I breathe the crisp dry air deep into my lungs. The silence is reassuring; the moment inspiring. This is Americaat its purest; this is what our forefathers planned for our future. I feel nurtured by the simple truth that we are all born with peace and love in our hearts. I feel blessed to be here. Thank you Lola, Shannon, Mindy Marena, Rebecca, Lori, Scott, Benjamin and Gary You have all touched my heart … and made me laugh, cry and love..
The Osthoff has its own story to tell, and I suggest you go to:
www.osthoff.com to read more.
Photos by: Manos Angelakis