There’s nothing wrong with Nashville

My recent decision to plan a trip to Nashville began as most good ideas do, with the feeling that my living room walls were closing in on me while a Todd Snider song played on the local community radio station. Within a couple of hours I had booked four nights at a cozy East Nashville airbnb with a huge backyard and a potbellied pig named Abby. I’ve never spent much time thinking about Nashville, but it’s only 9 hours away by car and I suddenly had the urge to hear a southern accent. It wasn’t long before my sister decided she needed to hear one too, so she booked a flight.

I fell fast for this city, and long to go back… Today. Nashville in April is warm and green. The city is laid-back and friendly. Every single person we passed on the street said hello, including a shirtless jogger who took out his headphones to take the time to say, “How y’all doing.” If you tell someone in Nashville that you like something of theirs, they give it to you! (I am now the proud owner of a button with a picture of Obama smoking a cigarette.) In Nashville, there is a hardware store where cats sleep in a basket of flowers in the window, and a taco joint where women share a pitcher of margaritas at 8 pm on a Sunday while their kids play with my little ponies. This is my kind of town.

IMG_9368

We spent most of our time in East Nashville, which was really easy to do. We ventured out a couple of times- including an unsuccessful attempt at getting into the Bluebird Cafe and a successful field trip to the Pinewood Social, a giant place with delicious greyhounds made with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, a bowling alley and $7 coozies- but we spent most of our time eating, drinking and walking around on the east side of town. Here are a few of our favorite things in East Nashville. Many of these recommendations came from Abby the pig’s family, our lovely hosts for the week.

IMG_9351

High Garden Woodland Tea House: At High Garden you can buy tinctures, eat miso soup, and order a kombucha flight. And the woman pouring the booch has a roommate from somewhere in Wisconsin, so she’s no stranger to Wisconsin cheese, one of our favorite topics.

Two Ten Jack: Sake and wine on tap, a forgiving waiter who may have gotten sprayed in the eye with water by a certain toddler, and the BEST vegetarian ramen I have ever had in my life.

IMG_3134Turnip Truck: A natural grocery store with a juice bar, lots of organic food, emergency drinking beer, and pimento cheese spread.

Ugly Mugs Coffee Shop: This unpretentious coffee shop was within walking distance of our place and had outdoor seating, hot coffee, granola with yogurt and breakfast sandwiches.

IMG_3253

Barista Parlor: This pretentious coffee shop had a record cabinet built out of wooden pallets, $5 cups of (really delicious) coffee, and the most tasty breakfast biscuits with an egg and cheese. Totally worth the denim-apron clad male baristas wearing girl power buttons.

Southern Grist Brewing Company: We had lots of fun sitting at a picnic table in the parking lot of this brewery. We made friends with the other parking lot dwellers, including some sweet dogs, and loved Southern Grist’s unique and tasty beers. And the pimento cheese snack, of course.

IMG_3223

The Treehouse: That photo is of The Treehouse’s grilled pineapple mule. They have grilled pineapple mules on their cocktail menu.

Sky Blue Cafe: A small, busy diner with lots of breakfast choices. My favorite is the homemade granola served with yogurt and berries. So delicious.

Jeni’s Ice Cream: This delightful ice cream shop smells like waffle cones and they make flavors like lemon buttermilk frozen yogurt and goat cheese with red cherries.

IMG_9644Mas Tacos: Pineapple cilantro aguas frescas, free pickled carrots and other veg at the counter, and tacos like fried avocado and sweet potato with quinoa. And there’s a patio out back with a hot pink-painted cement brick wall. Cash only.

You stole our hearts, Nashville. We hope to see you soon.

*Many of these photos belong to our travel partner, my sister Sena.

 

Advertisements

So lucky

Hello from this side of October. With everyone else asleep on the couch, I’m reminiscing about yellow rafters discovered at a coffee shop last week on our vacation to Door County.

IMG_3465

Dan and I decided to take Half-moon on a little September adventure. Thanks to the generosity of friends and their families, we stayed at a cabin on Kangaroo Lake near Bailey’s Harbor and in a beautiful apartment on Washington Island. We drank coffee from an adorable cabin with a strange name and beer from the hippest new brewery on the mainland.

IMG_3476 IMG_3471 IMG_3467 IMG_3769  IMG_3775 IMG_3766

We had crazy delicious sandwiches and gelato from Door County Creamery in Sister Bay.

IMG_3420 IMG_3422 IMG_3430

We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the gardens of Wickman House, thanks to my old friend- and gardener- Adam, and ate there that night for our first dinner in a restaurant since Half-moon joined the picture. Never have I eaten more delicious pasta dish in a restaurant- ravioli with preserved lemon and capers. The whiskey drink I nursed throughout the night wasn’t too shabby either.

IMG_3501

And then we boarded the ferry to Washington Island. What is it about ferries? I wish I had a reason to take one every day. On The Island we ate lots of pizza, drank lots of beer, dared each other to dunk into Lake Michigan at Schoolhouse Beach and had fires at sunset at one of the most beautiful spots in the world.  Half-moon flipped himself over onto  his stomach-surprising himself and us- and laughed up there for the very first time.

IMG_3525 IMG_3583 IMG_3611 IMG_3637

What luck.

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:

Image

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:

Image

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?!?

Image

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:

Image

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:

Image

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:

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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:

Image

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

Image

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:

Image

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

Image

Donkey!

Image

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.

Asheville over easy

Dan and I recently returned from a road trip to the Asheville, North Carolina area. We drank lots of hoppy beer, ate lots of good food and spent most waking hours soaking in a cedar tub overlooking the snowy farm where we spent several nights. Ah, spring break.

People in Madison always like to compare our city to the other hip ones: Austin, Texas. Portland, Oregon. Burlington, Vermont. “You know, people always say Madison is a lot like ________ (insert hipster/ progressive/ beer or bike-friendly city here). But I’ll tell you what Asheville’s got that Madison ain’t: Breakfast places where the default side dish is raw kale salad. Not bacon. Not toast. Kale salad. And, while we’re talking about it, in Asheville they use compostable containers for to-go food. Ahem, Madison…

The place where I would eat breakfast every day of the week if I could is Over Easy Cafe on Broadway in downtown Asheville. I stumbled into the bright and noisy cafe at about 9:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. It was a reprieve after emerging from our very clean, but very dark and claustrophobic, windowless private room at the hostel. I took a seat at the bar and lolled over the juice menu, ordering one for “waking up:” Apple, celery, greens and ginger.

IMG_1050 IMG_1053

Next I pondered food. Tempted by the grits, biscuits with vegetarian herb gravy, and lavender french toast, I decided to try the breakfast tacos: Corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs, green onions and southwestern tempeh, topped with ginger-lime slaw and cilantro. Raw kale salad and pickled carrots on the side. As I waited I sipped my juice and coffee, people-watched and sang under my breath to the 80s playlist. (“I Want to Know What Love Is” is still a really good song.)  Pretty soon I got company at the bar- a gentleman with a newspaper and a cap who sat down on his stool and ordered a carrot juice. He spoke to me about every 5 1/2 minutes, inquiring about my juice, what I ordered, how many apps I have on my phone (“zero- it’s a flip phone”) and to tell  me that race car drivers are acting like kids- getting into fights. Just as my food arrived he was scoffing at the man at the end of the bar who he didn’t think had the moxie to finish his double order of pancakes. “You’re too skinny!” I stopped listening as I admired my colorful plate for a few seconds before devouring my first taco. It tasted fresh, healthy and delicious.

After taking care of my check I said so long to my neighbor and went to rouse Dan from the bat cave- we went back 30 minutes later and again on Friday.

IMG_4630

See ya next time, Over Easy.

Over Easy Cafe on Urbanspoon

The good land

In September on a gorgeous late summer weekend, Dan and I went down the road to visit our friends, Nora and Nate, in Milwaukee. As a kid growing up in Madison, trips to Milwaukee meant one of two things: a ballgame at decrepit- but lovable- County Stadium to watch Rob Deer, Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper lope around in baby-blue uniforms or a “we’re tired of winter and need to get out of the house and feel humid air” trip to the domes. This time around, upon arriving at Nora and Nate’s attractive and sunny hard-wood floored apartment across from the river, we abandoned our car for bicycles and pedaled unchartered (by us) Mill-e-wah-que territory. I believe I said aloud more than once: “I never knew Milwaukee had this many trees!”

Our first trip on the wooded bike path took us to Lakefront Brewery, home of one of my all-time favorite beers, Fixed Gear Red Ale. Our tour guide was an interesting combination of angry and cheesy, yelling at participants for talking but also leading us in a somewhat-inspired rendition of the theme song from ‘Laverne and Shirley.’ But, as all good brewery tour guides do, he kept us in the beer throughout the proceedings.

After the tour we traded our tokens for various samples of Lakefront’s offerings and sat next to the river until they kicked us out for a wedding.

Giggling as we were ushered away from the brewery, we hopped our bikes for the beach, weaving through the neighborhood where our cat, Danger Boy, was found mewing under a porch as a kitten. We made our way to Bradford Beach where our friend, Craig, was singing on a stage set up on the sand a hundred feet from Lake Michigan.

I reveled in the feeling of being on a surprise get-away as we cruised away from the beach past parks, old pavilions and people out enjoying the air. Dinner came next. Nora and Nate wanted to take us to their favorite restaurant, Roots. I traded shorts for bell-bottomed jeans, french-rolled my pant leg, threw our headlamps in my purse and we were off- another trip down the bike path took us to the restaurant on the hill, overlooking downtown. I believe I said aloud more than once: “I never knew Milwaukee had this many hills!”

Upon arriving at Roots, we noticed a nervous energy filled the air. Soon the news floated down to us- this was the last night this extremely popular farm-to-table restaurant would be serving dinner. Nora and Nate were crushed with the news, but we decided to live it up. We sat outside and were lucky to have their favorite waiter, a charming man with an even more charming South African accent. He and I must have thanked each other a thousand times over the course of the evening. We sipped on red ales and started with mussels nestled in a tomato broth that I sipped as a soup long after we divvied up the meaty mollusks. Next came the main course- Nora, Nate and Dan all opted for the grass-fed steak as I decided on the vegetarian succotash. I almost didn’t order this dish as the word ‘succotash’ for me conjures up images of a bad summer camp meal full of frozen corn and mushy lima beans, but in the end, I went for it, mainly on the recommendation of our waiter, who at this point in the meal I felt ready to trust with my life. The succotash was, in a word, heavenly. I can’t really describe it much more, except to confide in you that, in the middle of this fine-dining restaurant, I looked around to see if anyone was paying any attention before I picked up my plate and licked it clean.

I have only done that (in public) once before and it was the plate of the chocolate bread pudding at the Rendezvous Bistro in Jackson, Wyoming. If you’ve had it, you understand. (Additionally, that night our waiter in Wyoming informed us we were in the plate-licking section so it was okay.)

After the succotash we ordered dessert, but I honestly don’t remember what it was. I do remember, however, that Nora ordered tea, knocking the socks off our waiter when she asked for rooibos tea, apparently a favorite in his native South Africa. Delighted, he brought us a full tea service, complete with tiny pitchers of milk and honey. It was the perfect end to a beautiful dinner- sipping hot tea as the evening air grew chillier. We bid Roots goodbye and put on our headlamps, biking home through the quiet dark in the middle of the city.

The next morning Nate made us a delicious meal of eggs and bunsen burner coffee. We lazed around before deciding on one more adventure before Dan and I had to make our home. We were off to the biergarten. We headed the opposite direction on our bicycles two miles and landed in this magical place next to the river where I could spend every Sunday afternoon from here to eternity.

There were steins of beers, pretzals with mustard, good friends, corgis and a two-piece band featuring an accordian player from Slovenia. Alice Cooper was right. Milwaukee is the good land and I can’t wait to go back.