With a vacation home on Isla Mujere, off Cancun, it is not hard to imagine why Dan and Michelle Gillette built a cantina Mexican-style boathouse at their last home on Lake Monona. Dan’s blonde hair and thin frame also point to why they named the boathouse Gringo Dan’s Boathouse, with his favorite foods being fresh fish ceviche and simple street tacos made from the freshest local ingredients found. Dan was a native Madisonian, Michelle was raised in Belleville and California.

So, how did the Gillette’s end up living on a 110-acre horse ranch, with a sprawling home, barn, and several out buildings just southwest of Baraboo on Highway W?

The question leaves them both giggling with Dan answering, “I don’t know a darn thing about horses and my wife knows just a bit more than me. But, our youngest daughter, Bella, who is 10, loves riding so we started looking for a few acres to put a horse on.” Michelle chimed in, “We thought we would end up with seven acres in Middleton. When we first saw Wild Rose Ranch, it was just curiosity that brought us here. But, Wild Rose was our dream on steroids. We love Baraboo and we have never looked back.”

Both husband and wife have a flair and creativity for all sorts of things, including decorating, buying and selling property, and cooking. Dan does most of the cooking in the family and he finds that it is quite the creative outlet. Michelle says she needs a recipe to follow.

The couple also loves to host parties and events, so when their eldest daughter, Erin, decided to get married she asked if the wedding could be held at the couples’ ranch home last year.

“Our daughter’s wedding was great fun. We made the centerpieces, planned the ceremony, creating a whole weekend of family memories,” said Michelle. While planning the wedding, Dan and Michelle got the idea to share the property with others by hosting other weddings.

There were some permitting problems due to concerns about noise and such, but last year the couple was granted a conditional-use permit, and so far they have hosted six additional weddings.

“Our friends in Madison, especially on Lake Monona, thought we were crazy when we said we were moving here. When they saw the place and saw how interesting the spaces throughout the sprawling property were, they got it,” said Michelle. “We had a great property in Madison where we went boat hoppin’, walked throughout the neighborhood, and had great friends, but look at this view,” Dan said as he reached his arms out in both directions at the 360 degree panoramic vistas of the blazing Baraboo bluffs surrounding the family ranch.

Michelle likes the process of helping people plan a memory, not just to provide a place for a wedding. “We want to help people have a full wedding experience, not just an in and out place for a wedding.” It is down-home, yet has country elegance. Everything fits in beautifully in the horse stable that converts into a wedding space, complete with a beautiful bar and scenic view of the bluffs, as well as a stable that was converted into a bridal suite, complete with a beautiful bedroom and bathroom.

Food is an integral part of every family event, wedding and party the Gillette’s host. The Gillette’s, admitted “foodies,” both feel food is quite meaningful in family life.

“Food is interesting and different in every location you visit. I just happen to love our vacation home in Mexico, so I am always trying to do things that are from that area,” said Dan. Both the Gillettes love watching travel and food television with Dan always looking for new recipes and types of Mexican food to try. Their Mexican vacation home is an island known for local fishing so Dan tends to like to try all different kinds of fish.

Dan’s favorite food, though, is simple skirt steak tacos. Just a quick grilled steak, good salt, a touch of lime, grilled veggies with the freshest hot corn tortillas. He serves that with coleslaw salsa with Mexicana serranos. “In everything we do, from our work as property managers, to decorating, to our new ranch, to helping with weddings, to cooking, we always want to do it with art and passion. We want to create memories.”

Tacos de Pescado Para Mis Amigos (Fish Tacos For My Friends)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 4 minutes

Servings: 4

Calories: 264 per serving

Percent from Fat: 19%

Cuisine: Mexican

Course: Dinner

Food as medicine ingredient: Halibut


¾ pound skinless firm fish fillets, such as Pacific halibut or striped bass

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided

1 teaspoon ground cumin, divided

½ teaspoon ancho chili powder

½ teaspoon salt, divided

½ cup light sour cream

1 teaspoon chipotle hot sauce

1 16 ounce package cole slaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)

½ cup chopped cilantro

8 corn tortillas, warmed according to package directions


Cut fish into ¾ inch chunks. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, ½ teaspoon cumin, the chili powder and ¼ teaspoon salt over fish. Toss well and let stand five minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the sour cream, remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice, chipotle hot sauce, remaining ½ teaspoon cumin and ¼ teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix well. Add cole slaw mix and cilantro and toss well.

Cook fish in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat three minutes or until fish is opaque, stirring frequently. Serve fish in warm tortillas topped with a little of the cole slaw mixture. Serve the remaining cole slaw on the side.

Nutritional analysis

Total fat (g): 6; Fat calories (kc): 50; Cholesterol (mg): 45; Trans fatty acids (g): 0; Saturated fat (g): 2; Polyunsaturated fat (g): 1; Monounsaturated fat (g): 0; Fiber (g): 5; Carbohydrates (g): 31; Sugar (g): 7; Protein (g): 22; Sodium (mg): 430; Calcium (mg): 132.

Rebecca Powell Hill is a New York Times best-selling author, co-creator of ChefMD and a marketing consultant. She lives in Baraboo. Her column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis opinion, treatment or services and is for educational purposes only.