Bob Uecker back calling the plays on my radio as I hang out in my kitchen at night chopping vegetables and sipping a beer is a sure sign of spring. Other signs of spring are all around us. As I sit typing this I can hear the birds chirping away outside and I am starting to feel guilty for being inside. At all times. The Wisconsin Film Festival is underway (I am seeing my first movie tonight!) and the Farmer’s Market starts next weekend. I’m not much for making resolutions in January- there are no visual cues that this is a time for change- but reinventing oneself in the spring is something that I can get behind. Spring is a time of renewal. The days are longer. The flowers are starting to peek out of the dirt. Animals are crawling out of their holes. And there is that day coming up where all of a sudden everyone is outside; playing frisbee, grilling out, strolling around and looking prettier. You know. That day.
So I have made a few spring renewal-olutions. I want to focus more on my writing. The last few months have been a revelation for me as to what truly makes me happy. And I have found (I’ve really known it all along- it just needed to crawl out of the dirt and make me notice it again) that it’s writing. To that note, I have a new project that I am really, really excited about. I want to be more punctual. I want to worry less about germs and everything (soaps, water, lotions, nutella, blueberries, mascara, shampoo, plastic cups, cans, etc.) being poisonous (a strange phenomenon that took over me the last few years). We can only control so much and I do the best that I can. And I want to start trying more new recipes. I feel like I have been in a bit of a cooking rut. My spring goal is try one new recipe a week. And I would like to tell you about the ratatouille that I made recently with some delicious zucchini and eggplant, but that would make me late. So, another time. Go Brewers.
I’m not Irish, but I am a Kashub. And I am also about a week behind with this post. Time to get caught up and stay up. But back to St. Patrick’s Day…
The weekend before St. Patrick’s Day I listened to a voicemail from Jimmy, a dear (Irish) family friend. Jimmy said that my (Scandinavian) mother had called him up to tell him that I would be all alone on the holiday and would they invite me if they were going to do anything to celebrate? To tell you the truth, I had not yet pondered my alone-ness on St. Patrick’s Day (Dan was on the road with Clovis Mann), but when faced with this apparently sad reality, at least according to my mother, I realized that, indeed, I would be alone on this day of all days. And so this is how I found myself trotting down the bike path on a warm, muggy almost-Spring evening last Thursday wearing my cowboy boots and favorite green top and swinging a brown paper bag containing a block of Kerrygold Irish cheddar cheese from the Willy Street Co-op.
Upon arriving at the party, I was delighted to find a warm group of family friends and a selection of delicious appetizers, including olives, grapes, crackers and cheese, and, of course, beer. The soda bread was out of the oven and the cabbage sat waiting on the counter for its’ turn.
The dinner menu included corned beef for the meat-eaters and vegetarian-cooked potatoes, carrots and cabbage (with a side of horseradish) for those of us who avoid the meat. The soda bread, with butter, was hearty and delicious. Dessert included lime popsicles, various flavors of green-shaded gelato and sherbet and cookies. We talked about politics (how could we not?) and St. Patrick Days past (I couldn’t make some of these stories up if I tried…). It was a lovely evening. Thanks to my hosts- and my mother- for inviting me.
Happy Saturday morning! It’s sunny here in Wisconsin, the birds are singing, it smells like dirt and I no longer have to park my car on alternate sides of the street. In other words, Spring has sprung.
Right now I am listening to Taj Mahal, on round three of coffee and waiting for a call from my protestor-in-crime, Dr. Hotbody, to figure out our rallying plans for the day. It’s also a lovely day to enjoy a muffin for breakfast and maybe dust off the ol’ bicycle. Here is that recipe I promised for whole wheat muffins. I love this recipe because it is adaptable depending on your mood*, the season or what you have in your kitchen. When I made these muffins this past week I used mashed bananas, coconut chips, chocolate chips and dried pineapple. I also substituted plain Sugar River yogurt for the buttermilk. Delicious.
*Looking back on that morning I made these muffins, I was in a mood. I just realized the date of that post… Beware the Ides of March.
3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed or puréed banana, sweet potato, apple, zucchini, cooked or canned pumpkin, or other fruits or vegetables
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease two 6-cup muffin tins or fill with liners. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, banana, egg and buttermilk. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined.
2. Fill muffin tins or liners; bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top. Serve warm if possible.
Today I am also trying to not think about the fact that Clovis Mann is rocking the Wonder Bar in Casper, Wyoming tonight and, more importantly, getting to have a cook-out with my best friend, Meagan, her family and a bunch of our Wyoming friends. Luckily I have a show at the High Noon Saloon tonight to distract me. And it’s going to be one helluva show- The Smokin’ Bandits and Honest Monday. And there is a full moon rising. It’s all happening.
I woke up with the weight of the world on my shoulders. As I stood over a sinkload of dishes (still trying to catch up from a month straight of protesting) I stared out the window and pondered the cosmos. Should I flee the state or stay here and fight like hell? Is trying to get a job as a teacher like strapping myself to a sinking ship or a noble idea? On the verge of a mini-meltdown, I decided to make whole wheat muffins and put on some music. Thank you, Mark Bittman, Florence + The Machine and coffee for saving my morning.
After a quick inventory of ingredients, I started mixing.
The following is a guest appearance on ‘Wisconsin Fun Next Exit’ by Dan Walkner
I’m a guitar player. I have a blog about my band but if I started talking about cakes and other trifles, I may lose all of my already limited street cred. I rarely cook. Never do I bake. My mom used to bake a lot when I was little. Bread, cookies, potpies (is that baking?), all that stuff. I remember when I was about 4 or 5 and both my brothers were in school, my mom and I would trudge through huge snow drifts to get to the store. We had to walk because we couldn’t get the car out of our glacial wall of a driveway. Once, specifically, I remember helping push a grocery cart full of provisions home through dunes of white powder between Bill’s Red Owl and our house. Five blocks of it. At some point my mom started baking this Mandarin Orange Cake for every holiday and birthday and any other occasion where sugary delicassies are required. If anyone didn’t love it, they were keeping quiet. Similarly, she made the “mistake” of making the world’s greatest 7 layer salad at some point and now has to make one about every 3 days to appease her loyal following. (Slight exaggeration, but it’s the best, and I punch anyone who says otherwise. Also, if you use Bacos in 7 layer salad, there is a special place in hell for you. Not you Aunt Joan, it was just that once and we all forgive you.)
All right. I started compulsively thinking of the Mandarin Orange Cake for about a week straight. I called up my Ma and she wanted to mail me the recipe. I told her it couldn’t wait. She read me the recipe, and here it is:
Alice’s Mandarin Orange Cake
This has a few steps, but I guess most recipes do. The main parts are the crunch layer, the cake, and the frosting. You can do it all from scratch, or cheat, or both. I cheated and made some alterations. If you tell my mom I’ll tell her you lie.
1 cup graham crackers (I got the Co-op hippie kind, but the regular kind are fine)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 chopped walnuts
1/2 cup melted butter (I used slightly more.)
Combine the dry stuff and dump in the butter. Don’t use a microwave. Use the burners. They get lonely and won’t fry your chromosomes. Just make sure the butter and brown sugar get mixed up pretty well or you may have some sticking to the pan. (A little bit of sticking is okay, as you will soon find out!)
Using two 8 inch circular cake pans, line the bottoms with half the crunch stuff. Smash it down with the nearest dull object. I used a pint glass, but you could use a balpeen hammer, butt of rifle, etc.
1 yellow or vanilla cake mix
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
Here, follow the box directions, except when it calls for water, substitute 1/2 of it with orange juice. So the eggs and oil is the same, but generally it will be a 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup OJ. Also, for the orange peel, you don’t need a lot or maybe you need more I don’t know. If you like stuff orangy, go nuts. Put it in the mix, though.
1 can vanilla frosting
1 cup whipped topping (Cool Whip style, not whippets)
3 tablespoons grated orange peel
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
11 oz. can of Mandarin oranges, drained
Beat frosting in midair til fluffy. No, actually, you should use a small bowl. Add whipped topping. Fold in orange and lemon peel.
Oven should be heated to 350 degrees. Pour the cake batter equally over the two pans with crunch layer. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until you can pass a toothpick in and it comes out unscathed.
VERY IMPORTANT (my mom yelled this, so I took it seriously): let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of not getting the cakes out of the pans. Take them out and put one crunch side down. Scrape the remaining crusty parts into a small bowl and hang on to them.
Frost the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting. Stack the other layer on, also crunch side down. Frost the bejeezus out of the sucker. Top with the Mandrin oranges. Then, this is my crowning glory that I thought of on my own, sprinkle the crusty crunch layer remnants over the top. Maybe my mom does this too, but I can’t remember, and until she corrects me I’m taking credit for it.
Thanks Ma, for making this when I was little and inspiring me to obsess over it in the modern era.
After three weeks of feeling the love and staying optimistic about winning the fight against the soulless tyrant now ‘leading’ my state, Tuesday night I finally gave in to the anger and was mad as hell. I needed to bang some pots around, wield knives and curse in the kitchen. I needed a recipe to match my fiery mood. I present to you, ‘Mad-as-hell puttanesca.’ It’s salty, spicy, tangy and impossible to screw up too badly (this part is key, considering I was cooking with blind rage and not paying much attention to what I threw in the skillet).
I was first introduced to puttanesca by my friend Derek (the Packer owner). Derek told me that legend has it that Italian ‘women of the night’ would make a batch of spaghetti alla puttanesca to put on their windowsills to beckon suitors. I love to picture the open windows and curtains wafting in the breeze while a pot of spaghetti sits steaming on a dark Italian night. Derek makes a more traditional puttanesca sauce with anchovies and herbs (I always forget about those pesky herbs). I never follow a recipe when I make it, but always include a few essential ingredients: olives, capers, and tomatoes.
Between tirades delivered to Dan and the stove, a captive audience, this is what I cooked up the other night:
tomatoes (crushed, diced or whole)- I like Muir Glen organic
olives- cured black olives work well
red pepper flakes
wine (red or white)
whole wheat pasta (spaghetti or penne)
Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a skillet over low-medium heat. Add chopped garlic and red pepper flakes- I like a lot of heat, so I add a lot. Depending on how many you are serving, add some canned tomatoes and the juice (I added half a can for the two of us). I had some leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, so I added some of that, too. Pour in some wine- red or white works fine. To add a little color and up the health ante I added some kale that I tore into bite-sized pieces. Let this simmer and bubble for a while over low-medium heat. Boil water for the pasta. Rant and rave. Cry. Take a sip of beer. Chop olives, wave knife in air, curse. Heat oven for bread. Salt the boiling water. Add pasta. Take a breath. Add the olives and capers to the simmering sauce. Put bread in oven. Dress the salad. Stir pasta into the sauce. Take bread out of the oven. Serve the pasta in bowls with freshly shredded parmesan cheese from the state that is boiling with turmoil. Serve and attempt to enjoy.
The reason for my anger? After days and days of peaceful protests the governor illegally shutdown the Capitol to prepare for his budget address. For the first time there was an orange fence keeping protestors away from the state building in an attempt to keep the noise out of his lethal budget speech.
While we stood outside in the cold, the heartless and cowardly governor told a crowd of supporters (ushered secretly into the Captiol) inside that he plans to cut nearly $900 million dollars from Wisconsin’s public education system. He wants to take this money and give it to the people who fix roads. The same people who donated to his campaign and got him elected. On Tuesday I just couldn’t take it anymore and I erupted with sadness and rage. But now I’m back to feeling optimistic because, in retrospect, the governor is scared. I’m still mad as hell, but I also realize that the governor is working so hard to silence the voices of dissent because he knows that he is doing something wrong. I will continue to fight. And I hope you will join me.