Farmer Brown’s garden

I love the progression of spring. The first brave plant to push through the sleeping earth is the purple crocus. Next come daffodils, tulips, irises and lilacs. One by one the birds start singing and bunnies are hopping around, waiting for the first green things to munch. In the vegetable garden, it’s the chives that signal warmer days are ahead and then everyone starts talking rhubarb.

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Around this time rhubarb starts popping up everywhere. In your garden, at the farmer’s market, in a bag from a friend or neighbor. While most people think rhubarb was destined for pie, Madison darling Quince & Apple– maker of small batch syrups and preserves- has bottled this sour perennial, pairing it with bitter hops, turning it into a syrup perfect for a spring cocktail.

Just like the start of baseball season and playing in rain puddles, when I was growing up springtime also meant Easter and elaborate egg hunts with clues written by my dad, followed by a basket full of pastel-colored candy. This year I hope to host a spring-themed brunch party with radish sandwiches, deviled eggs, a delicious carrot ginger tea cake with lime glaze from the March 2016 Sunset magazine (it’s so good!) and beer cocktails made with Quince & Apple’s Rhubarb Hops syrup. This month I had so much fun experimenting with the rhubarb syrup- which can be mixed with anything from prosecco to vodka to club soda- but found that it tastes delicious with beer. Also, it’s nice to serve something at brunch that won’t get people feeling too bubbly so early in the day! My inspiration for this drink was the French Monaco, a beer cocktail either served to adults at children’s parties, or drank by French children at brunches (I still haven’t figured this out) but either way, it seems quite charming.

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Per the recommendation of the helpful people at Star Liquor on Willy St., I chose the new (and so tasty) spring farmhouse ale from Door County Brewing Company. As a nod to the smell that would permeate our house when we dyed Easter eggs, I rinsed the glass with a swirl of cider vinegar, which really brings out the tart flavor of the rhubarb. Add a green spring of thyme for some green herbaceous-ness and voila! Farmer Brown’s Garden- the perfect spring brunch beer cocktail.

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Farmer Brown’s Garden

Makes one cocktail

IMG_9130Ingredients:
1 ounce Quince & Apple Rhubarb Hops Syrup
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces farmhouse ale or pilsner
Splash cider vinegar
Sprigs of fresh thyme

Instructions: Pour the syrup and fresh lemon juice into an ice-filled shaker (or a jar with a lid) and shake vigorously. Rinse a glass with a small splash of cider vinegar and strain the syrup and lemon juice into the glass. Top with beer and garnish with a fresh sprig of thyme.

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Happy spring.

This post was in partnership with Quince & Apple.

Keep me on my toes

This post started as one thing and now has turned into something else entirely, but that’s how things go sometimes, isn’t it? I was going to write about potato salad, but fate intervened in the form of a mobile half-moon, and now I am going to tell you about rhubarb shrub (the drinking vinegar, not a bush.)

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Half-moon has been cruising around for a little while now, but he’s really gotten interested in everything lately and has a certain hankering for the cat food bowl, beer bottles, kitchen cabinets, the contents of the blender, dresser drawers and dirt. Now for a montage.

So this morning when I had my back turned, half-moon happened upon a bottle of fancy club soda and by the time I got to him, he had somehow managed to partially open it. Not wanting it to go to waste, my mind worked quickly (not something that happens much lately)… I have rhubarb!* I have vinegar! There is ice in the freezer!

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And that’s how I ended up typing one-handed, listening to this much-needed spring rain, and sipping a delicious and refreshing rhubarb shrub and club soda. If I didn’t have yoga later, you can bet there would be some booze in it.

*All credit goes to my friend Allison, whose wonderful neighbor, Tom, gave me the rhubarb last weekend and Allison for suggesting I make a shrub out of it.

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Rhubarb Shrub

Ingredients:

5 or 6 large rhubarb stalks, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup (organic) sugar
club soda

Directions:

Place rhubarb, vinegar and sugar in a medium-sized sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring a bit, until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20-30 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the liquid into a bowl and allow to sit for about 30 minutes to make sure you get all the liquid. (I plan on saving the rhubarb mixture to mix into yogurt.) Mix the liquid (the shrub!) with club soda- half and half or to your liking- add a splash of gin or vodka if you please, serve over ice and enjoy! Keep the leftover shrub in the fridge for whenever you
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I hope something is keeping you on your toes these days… you never know what unexpected good things might come from it.

Let’s cut to the chase

There’s a band practice happening in my living room and the snow outside is calling my name, so let’s make this speedy, shall we? A million years ago- or last month- Dan and I loaded up the car with groceries and headed up north to Chetek for a long (-er than expected) Thanksgiving weekend.

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Chetek, tucked between Bloomer and Rice Lake, is where relatives on my mom’s side of the family settled their lake homes. After a long hiatus (I have early memories of picnics with my cousins on the ice, a yellow and white checked vinyl tablecloth and beds with electric blankets), I have rediscovered this place, thanks to the hospitality of Nancy and her family.

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Summers on Lake Chetek are full of waterskiing shows, treading water for hours with cans of beer and a sleeping porch that might be my favorite spot in the world to sleep, but winters there offer more quiet isolation. Dan and I read by the wood-burning stove and went for long walks looking for animal tracks in the snow.

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We did venture into town for some adventure one night and met Betty, the bartender who could not understand what we were possibly doing there after we told her we were neither hunting nor ice fishing. She cracked our bottles of Leinie’s and went about her Christmas decorating while I plugged money into the  jukebox for us and the guy in the corner at the gambling machine. No matter the time of year, here is my rule about Chetek- I always stay an extra day then I intend to. I suggest you do the same. 

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And while I have a feeling that food is the last thing in the world that you want to hear about right now, I do want to share a couple of recipes with you. Dan and I had a lot of fun cooking our vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. It was the first time that I planned and prepared one, ever.

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We had mushroom gravy, sage and onion stuffing, bread from Madison Sourdough Company and a crazy delicious kale salad which I will tell you about now. No matter how much you have eaten in the last month, there’s always room at the table for kale salad.

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Raw Tuscan Kale Salad

From 101 Cookbooks

1 bunch Tuscan kale (for ex: black or lacinato)
2 thin slices country bread, or two handfuls good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs
1/2 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup (or small handful) grated pecorino cheese, plus adiitional for garnish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Trim the bottom few inches off the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl.

If using the bread, toast it until golden brown on both sides and dry throughout. Tear into small pieces and pulse in a food processor until the mixture forms coarse crumbs, or crumbs to your liking.

Using a mortar and pestle or a knife, pound or mince the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a paste. Transfer the garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss very well (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves).. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the bread crumbs, additional cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

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And the other recipe is for a cocktail, because you can’t possibly be tired of those yet- we still have New Year’s Eve to deal with. I adapted this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, also, altering it to include my favorite winter citrus fruit, meyer lemons.

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Meyer Lemon Gin Sparkler

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 bay leaf
meyer lemons
gin (I used Death’s Door)
tonic water

Directions:

Combine the water, sugar, rosemary, and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, or long enough for the sugar to dissolve, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a jar to cool completely.

In the meantime, juice and strain your lemons.

To make each drink combine 1 1/2 ounces gin and 1 1/2 ounces lemon juice and a bit of rosemary syrup in a tall glass. Stir to combine, fill glass 2/3 full with ice and top off with 1 1/2 ounces of tonic water. Stir again and garnish with a rosemary sprig.

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Happy holidays.

Fun with Pets : Dixieland Jubilee edition

(Guest post by Dan Walkner)

Ah, pets.  Are they truly everywhere? What about the southern United States? Are Southern pets as cute as, say, pets of the Northwest or Midwest? I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and walking shoes and walked to our rented car and drove down south to answer these ever pertinent and burning queries.  Join the Jubilee!

Our journey took us to Asheville, NC.  While there, we were looking for the art district that we would ultimately find a week later, which upon finding the brewery that we HAD TO GO TO OMG, IT’S SOOOOO AWESOME wouldn’t serve me, we got lost(ish). As we puzzledly scratched our respective noodles and gazed about, I saw a poodle holding a cat as though it were a baby doll.  For real.  Erica slammed on the brakes and reversed the half block to the scene of the whatever-the-opposite-of-crime-is place, and we got out and captured some of the magic.  Dig:

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That’s love.  These pets show what teamwork is all about.  What sport you ask? Hmm, I’ll have to think about that.  While I do, here’s another gem of these pet diversity acceptors:

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Yeah it’s a little fuzzy, but maybe, just maybe, tears of joys fell on the camera-look-at-stuff-glass-part-thingy of the camera.  Sorry for the science jargon.  Moving on.

We arrived at our cabin and immediately found a crafty sasquatch in the hot tub! Scary, right?!?

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He quickly calmed our nerves by creating a mini snowman mascot for us. Crisis averted.

Our cabin was on a darling little farm.  There seemed to be a lot of dogs around.  How did I know you ask? Well, barking was happening a lot.  We decided to investigate further. Here are the findings:

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AHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!! Intruder alert! Oh wait, it’s just a little yellow dog who ran up the hill, took a leak on a snowy shrub, licked my face, accepted some scratches, and ran away. Ok, back to the pet search:

You know what? All this pet stuff made me want to go get some vintage western wear. (This is a common symptom of pet searching, or, well, me leaving the house.)  Tum-te-tum, Dum-de-dum…

BOOSH! This just happened:

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I forget this little cuteness nuke’s name, but he tricked me into buying a $30 shirt.

Then he wanted to do a Sam Kinison impression, so I figured what the hay?  Let her rip, buddy:

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Impressive.

Farms need pets, too.  Some to work, some for morale building, and some for both. Our tour of the farm led to all of the above of these aforementioned and viable pet vocations.

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What dear reader? Those are only stupid sheep a.k.a. non-pets? Look again my skeptical friend. Eureka! You see it now? The white wookie-esque friend?  That is one hard-charging pooch!  Sleeps outside for the love of her sheep homies. Dedication makes a farm go.

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You’re probably wondering if that dog has a sibling that also has a best cat friend that hangs around, aren’t you? You were? I know. Yup, it’s kind of a gift I have. As promised:

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I know, I’m way ahead of you. How much does the cat weigh? This many:

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See Big Whitey’s paw? Yeah, the one that trudges around in, well, grody farm dirt all day? He played a little joke on me right after this photo and stuck his paw in my mouth! Heyyyy! Here’s a shot of me not barfing but spitting a lot as he retracts his soil smasher:

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Silly new friend, oh how could I stay mad at you? Answer? Can’t!

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Donkey!

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All this pet stuff made me thirsty and wondery. I put on my Minocqua, WI thinking cloak and got some delicious beers at Wicked Weed Brewing.Image

Then I started thinking about my own pets. They can be weird at times. Are other people’s cats as weird as mine? Do they eat tape, too? Lick the sides of LP records? Get their head’s stuck in kitchen chairs? Climb cacti? Then P. McMahon’s time machine from 1997 pulled up.

ImageAh.  Thanks, P.

What a whirlwind tour of a single southern city that I’ll be basing all of my fact-finding on! What did we learn? Lots, duh! First, southern pets may bark a little slower and more confusedly, but they still get their point across. Don’t forget to look closely: southern pets are masters of disguise! Keep your mouth closed when tormenting an enormous dog’s best feline friend or be prepared to test the pH of the farmstead soil. Of course, when thrift shopping, fall for the canine wiles and just buy the damn shirt! It’s green and it’s awesome. Finally, no matter what color a pet is, or what part of the world it comes from, he, she, or neuter just wants to spread the love and maybe get a little scratch on the ol’ pet tums. These are jubilous pet times we live in: embrace them or eat dirt.

Cucumber luge

I am going to cut to the chase: This post is hopelessly passé. I planned it for the end of March, when the bone luge (drinking sherry out of a bone) was all the rage. I’m sure no one hip has thought about a bone luge since the time it still rained in Wisconsin. But I mentioned it here, and I intend to follow through. Here was my issue: Vegetarians want to drink booze out of random vessels, too.  This must have really been nagging at me back in March because I woke up at 6 a.m. the first morning of my vacation in Boulder pondering it. Aha! I would create the first vegetarian bone luge.

Dan and I mapped it out over lunch at Pizzeria Locale. We had to replace the bone with something unoffensive to non-meat eaters. Our first thought was celery, but then we moved on to cucumbers. A plan was in place. We recruited our hosts, Mary and Jeffrey, who were mildly intrigued by our probably misdirected passion for this project. We bought the necessary supplies and embarked on our adventure. The first step was hollowing out the cucumbers in order to create a proper runway.

Step two involved coming up with the proper technique for pouring a shot of vodka down the cuke slides into our mouths (this was spring break 2012 after all). Dan took the lead on this one, working out the perfect angle. Needless to say, chaos- and a bit of a mess- ensued. But so did a delicious dinner of cucumber and pineapple salad, salmon (so I’m really a pescatarian at times, but I still don’t want to drink out of a bone) and grilled kale. It was a heck of an evening. And while that fleeting trend may be long gone, don’t be afraid to hollow out a cucumber this evening, pour a shot of your favorite liquor, and toast to the rain.

51 meatless things to try in Madison before Lake Mendota thaws

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Several weeks ago I stumbled upon Andre Darlington’s blog where he listed 50 things that are quintessential Madison. And then last week I discovered this blog and a woman named Holly who took Darlington’s list on as a challenge. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. And that somebody is not me (too meat-centric). However, I have decided to riff on their idea and simultaneously one up them with my list: 51 Meatless Things to Try in Madison Before Lake Mendota Thaws. And because it is one of my favorites, I will borrow Darlington’s #15 and make it my #1.

51 Meatless Things to Try in Madison Before Lake Mendota Thaws

1) Walnut Burger at Harmony Bar (add blue cheese and fried onions)

2) Veggie Ramen at Umami Ramen and Dumpling Bar

3) Blueberry Scone at Lazy Jane’s (or Raspberry or Blackberry)

4) Whiskey Old Fashioned Press at Weary Traveler

5) Three Cup Tofu at Natt Spil (the best tofu dish in Madison, in my humble opine)

6) Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar at Batch Bakehouse

7) Sweet Potato Fries with Tarragon Mayo and Jalapeno Blackberry Jam at Alchemy

8) Margherita Pizza at Pizza Brutta

9) Popcorn at Graze

10) Cesar’s String Cheese at Willy Street Co-op

11) Black Bean Tacos at Burrito Drive (don’t forget to add pickled onions!)

12) Any Tapper (preferably post-Packer victory) at Laurel Tavern

13) Butter (really more like savory frosting) at Tornado Club (bread optional)

14) Spinach Nan at Taste of India

15) Bottle of Miller High Life and Bag of De-lish-us Chips at Old Duffer’s (a hop, skip and jump from Madison out Highway 18/151)

16) Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Avocado at Lazy Jane’s

17) Plantains at Cafe Costa Rica

18) Big Country Bread from Cress Springs Bakery at Dane Co. Farmer’s Market (tastes even better if you take it home and eat it while listening to ‘In a Big Country’ by Big Country)

19) Warm Beet Salad at Graze

20) Frites at Jacs

21) Margarita at Pasqual’s

22) Asian Slaw at Restaurant Muramoto

23) Pineapple Curry with Tofu at Lao-Laan Xang (Atwood location)

24) Rejected Truffles (any flavor) at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier (free samples!)

25) Macaroni and Cheese at The Old Fashioned

26) Sardine Caesar* at Sardine (*has anchovies, which technically could be considered meat… I guess I like to live on the edge)

27) Bottomless Cup of Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee (and a game of cribbage or Scrabble) at EVP

28) Wedge Salad at Tornado Club

29) The Ramblin’ Vegan’s Chili at Weary Traveler

30) Sake Bomb at Karaoke Kid (where I once witnessed a rousing rendition of aforementioned ‘In a Big Country’ in the VIP lounge)

31) Bella Burger at Alchemy

32) Steamed Tofu Dumplings at Ha Long Bay

33) Dark & Stormy at Cafe Costa Rica

34) Aloo Chana at Taste of India

35) Onion Bagel  at Bagels Forever

36) Sexy Fries at Mickey’s Tavern

37) The Smell at Fraboni’s (just walk in and inhale.. you’re welcome)

38) Frozen Cheese Pizza at Crystal Corner

39) Kale, Lemon, Green Apple and Ginger Juice at Willy Street Co-op Juice Bar

40) 2% Latte at Bradbury’s* (*only attempt if you have the moxie to attempt the maze of hipsterdom)

41) Maize Salad at Alchemy

42) Egg Sandwich (hold the bacon) at Crema Cafe (so good I had to eat it twice this weekend)

43) McLovin Irish Red Ale at Vintage Brewing Co. (go on a Wednesday and check out the Madison Blues Co-op blues jam!)

44) Vegetarian Antipasta Platter at Greenbush Bar

45) Whole Wheat and Cheddar Scone from Cress Springs Bakery at Dane Co. Farmer’s Market

46) Mediterranean Plate at Jacs

47) Red Beans and Rice at New Orleans Take-Out

48) Veggie Empanada at Victory

49) Cucumber Salad at Sa-Bai Thong

50) Gruyere-Filled Roll at Batch Bakehouse

51) Rathskeller Ale and Bag of Popcorn at Memorial Union (watch the ice thaw)

Did I forget anything? Please add any favorites in the comments!