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:


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:


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?!?


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:


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:


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:



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.


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.


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:


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


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:


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




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.

Happy June

Hot damn! It’s been years. I sit here at 11:28 p.m. on a Friday night because tomorrow is June 1st and there isn’t a month that has gone by since I started writing here that I haven’t posted at least one thing. And I haven’t posted one thing this whole whirlwind month (but I have been writing a little…).

So as Dan sits outside by the fire with a beer and our cats, I sit here on a pile of clothes, staring at dust bunnies, wondering where to begin. And because tomorrow (in several minutes) is the first day of June, I’ll just tell you about grilled mushroom burgers. A year ago my friend Sam invited us over for a cook-out (sometimes a dreaded event for vegetarians) and served grilled portabella mushroom burgers. She marinated portabella mushrooms in crushed garlic cloves, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire, apple cider vinegar, mustard and olive oil. Then her husband Matt grilled them while their dogs photobombed each other and looked adorable.



The mushrooms can be topped with cheese and served on a bun or eaten by themselves. With a side of grilled asparagus and a cocktail, it makes for a scrumptious, meat-free cook-out.


Happy June.

Stout: It’s not just for brunch anymore

Back in December when the skies were thundering with snow and the Packers still had a chance at a championship, I fell into an abyss of stout beer. It all started with the Narwhal from Sierra Nevada.


Dan brought home a four pack of this turbidly decadent beer to celebrate the recording of his latest album, Small Batch (to be released in April!), and there was no looking back.

Next came Breakfast Beer, an oatmeal stout from the folks at One Barrel Brewing Company. And then the nostalgically 80s-named Care Bear Stout. Goblets of this dark, sweet beer have me visiting this bar most Saturdays (and some Thursdays). I love these guys- not only is their beer delicious and brewed locally, they donate money to the Humane Society and declare “Go Pack” on their chalkboard the day of the Super Bowl even though Green Bay lost in the second round of the playoffs.


Stouts swirled around me into January and February. There was Luna Coffee Stout from Hinterland served with a post-skiing brunch, Colorado’s Left Hand Milk Stout, Lake Louie’s Mr. Mephisto’s Imperial Stout and last weekend in Milwaukee, after a trip to the art museum to visit a photography exhibit- where I found out no cameras were allowed- I discovered Central Waters’ Peruvian Morning Imperial Stout at Sugar Maple in the Bayview neighborhood. Holy hell. That is one beer.*


And somewhere in that stout blizzard I found this recipe for boozy stout brownies. The original recipe is vegan but I de-veganized it (mainly because two of my favorite people in the world- my mom and Dan- threatened to stop cooking for me and break up with me, respectively, if I went vegan and I didn’t want to give either of them the wrong idea.) I also doubled the amount of stout. I kind of thought the brownies would taste a little more like beer, but they were deliciously chocolatey and gooey. And who doesn’t love baking with beer?


Lake Louie Milk Stout Brownies

De-veganized from Vegetarian Ventures by way of Chickpea Magazine

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup canola or coconut oil
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup soy yogurt
  • 1/2 1 cup stout beer (I used Lake Louie Milk Stout)
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a 8×8 pan with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and cocoa powder. In another bowl, combine the brown sugar, oil, yogurt, and beer. Make a well in the center of the dried ingredients and add in the wet ingredients. Fold dry into wet until a thick batter has formed. Lastly, fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and cook for 30 minutes or until the center has set.

Let cool slightly and serve warm!


It’s up to you if guzzle a goblet of stout on the side. I chose a jar of milk. (Cow milk, mom, not that crazy hemp milk. No way.)

Happy baking.

*If I attempt to write about beer again, I promise to read some beer reviews- I have no idea how one reviews beer.

I would eat arugula in a boat

Arugula is the new kale. Lately I just cannot get enough of this spicy green. I’ve been putting it on pizza. I’ve been devouring it raw with a simple vinagrette of mustard, olive oil and lemon juice. I eat it with eggs. I’ll eat it on the bed. I’ll eat arugula in the kitchen. I’ll eat it playing with a kitten. I’ll eat arugula in the rain. I’ll eat it in the dark. And on a train. I’ll eat arugula near a deer. At Sardine I’ll eat it with a hoppy beer.

It may have been my inundation lately with children’s literature (not that I don’t love it) that drove me to Sardine on Saturday for brunch;  a place I can feel like an adult and maybe even an adult who has found herself on vacation. And so I found myself this past Saturday at Sardine with Dan, but only after a trip around the Square for- drum roll here- Harmony Valley arugula and Bleu Mont cheese curds (you knew there would be cheese).

With its high ceilings, wooden beams, white tile walls, and squares of butcher block paper draped over an iron rail, Sardine oozes a certain sophistication, but despite this, I still feel at home. Except now I live somewhere on the coast, where they serve oysters and I do things like go to happy hour without staying the whole night.

If you go to Sardine for brunch, try to sit at the bar (or outside, if a table is available and the weather allows it). The bartenders are quietly charming and if you pay attention, it’s a tutorial on drink-making. You can also play the game that I invented this past trip to the bistro- if you had to consume one of the garnishes in the rocks glasses that line the bar (oversized-green olives, lemons, limes, gurken, sugar- the raspberries, orange slices, and cucumbers didn’t count) in one minute, which one would you choose? See, I may pretend to be sophisticated, but these are the things I think about.

On to brunch. I started with a greyhound in a tall glass and pondered the menu. I usually opt for the caesar salad but this time my eyes landed on the arugula salad: Arugula, shaved shallots, blueberries, hazelnuts and farmer’s cheese dressed in a lime vinagrette. Boosh.

I have to admit, when my salad arrived it paled in comparison to the appearance of Dan’s grass-fed burger with bleu and frites. I may have even uttered something disparaging about the size of the salad. But then I took a bite. Citrus, salt and pepper flavors took charge and I quickly ate my words. This salad may have looked small, but what it lacked in quantity it made up in flavor. I was unable to identify the salt source (the cheese? vinagrette?), but this salad definitely had that, dare I say it, umami. And paired with a hoppy beer from Three Floyds Brewery my brunch was out-of-sight.

I like arugula. I do!

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Under the Iowa sun

In my pretend life, the one where I write for a living, plan dinner parties with hand-written menus and cloth napkins, eat peaches by the bushel and have never heard of the common core standards, I found myself in Tuscany this past weekend. While suspended in real life in my new striped hammock, I spent hours imagining myself in a terraced farmhouse with white-washed walls and windows wide open to the wasps, butterflies and wafts of lemon trees. I was so moved by the descriptions of the long lunches followed by siestas, that I declared to Dan that next summer will be a summer of Tuscany (which Dan quickly deemed ‘Under the Madi-sun’) as I reclined awkwardly in my hammock trying to eat/drink my inspired lunch: hunk of blue cheese, end of bread, garden tomato drizzled with olive oil and poor-woman’s sangria (red wine, flat Pelligrino, squeeze of lemon, ice).

It may not be Tuscany, but I did get to go with my family to our cottage in Iowa in late August. And while it wasn’t perfect- there was my mom’s cracked wrist and the loud air conditioner on the ugly house next door where there used to be wild flowers (picked for bouquets placed in tin can vases)- it was just quite. There is simply something about the corner of Iowa where we spent our summers growing up. The air is softer and the light glows more golden than anywhere else I’ve been before dusk. A light gust will make you hold your breath and remember an evening squeezed between your grandparents on a bench swing at a nearby county park.

Nostalgia surrounds you.

The wooden roller coaster, the nutty bar stand, crickets, the sheep. An empty lot where the Fun House used to be. A stone bench that bakes all day in the sun. The roll-up cupboard hiding the green glass jar used for Country Time lemonade.

We cooked in the yellow kitchen, a meal my mom remembered from The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac. It’s the perfect meal for a late summer harvest. I’m almost sure they would serve it in Tuscany, but I bet it tastes even better in Iowa.


Casserole of Summer Squash

From The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac

About 2 lbs. of summer squash, washed and cut into cubes or small slices

1 white onion, peeled and chopped

3 large (or 5 or 6 medium) tomatoes, quartered

2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper

1 Tbs. salt

2 Tbs. sugar

1 tsp. dry mustard

1 Tbs. dried oregano*

1 cup breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs

1 cup grated Vermont cheese

4 Tbs. butter

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Parboil squash for 5 minutes, then drain. Put olive oil in 3-quart baking dish or casserole. Put in squash, onions and tomatoes. Mix together the salt, pepper, sugar, mustard, herbs, breadcrumbs, and one-half the grated cheese. Spread mixture over top of the vegetables. Dot with the butter. Cover the casserole and bake for 50 minutes. Remove cover, scatter the other half of the grated cheese over the top, and return uncovered to the oven until cheese is melted and browned. Serves 12.

*At this point I should tell you that we revised the recipe- we added cubed eggplant and used an old baguette for the bread (ripped into bite-sized pieces). We used fresh herbs and a variety of cheeses, none of them from Vermont. It was delicious.


Two nights ago my mom gave me an extra copy of The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac. When she opened it she found a poem copied by my grandma on the inside cover with the note, “I love this poem!”

Portrait by a Neighbor by Edna St Vincent Millay

Before she has her floor swept, or her dishes done,

Any day you’ll find her

A sunning in the sun!

It’s long after midnight

Her keys in the lock

And you never see her chimney smoke till past 10 o’clock

She digs in her garden

with a shovel and a spoon.

She weeds her lazy lettuce

By the light of the moon

She walks up the walk like a woman in a dream,

She forgets she borrowed butter and pays you back in cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow and if she mows the place

She leaves the clover standing and the Queen Annes lace!


It’s no wonder I daydream of words all day.




First and foremost, happy May.

Second of all, happy birthday to me.

It’s late and I don’t have too much to write here, but I wanted to spend the midnight hour doing it anyway. Tonight I feel lucky for blueberry cake made by my mom and vintage candle holders out of a well-worn box from Iowa, happy hour banjo lessons, and glass jar lanterns lit outside for the first time as a surprise. A bright yellow orange kitchen where I get to watch Dan make a pizza, listen to Uecker on the red radio and feed spinach to my cats. I feel grateful to have a small garden with tomato plants, blooming irises and the possibility of bee balm.

May your year be filled with dear family and friends, good music, nourishing food and the possibility of bee balm.

I can’t help falling in love with you

Madison, I’ve fallen madly in love with you all over again. Although our love affair never really ended, things had started to feel a bit stale. But you snuck up on me yesterday and reminded me of what I loved about you all along. It really started on the bike path. I had almost forgotten what it feels like to leisurely cruise past (still dormant) community gardens, smiling strangers, friends having fires, chirping spring peepers and corgi duos. And then there was the pitcher of Lake Louie Scotch Ale– possibly the world’s greatest beer- and the small order of sexy fries shared with a spiritual hero (Lauren, I will pack the boyfriend and cats in a camper and see the country!) on Mickey’s back deck. Today there was another trip on the bike path, lunch at a vegetarian restaurant

where a Jameson and orange blossom lemonade cocktail was on special

and the bar next door was hosting a meat raffle.

Now I’ve got jeans drying on the clothesline, two happy cats sunning themselves in the yard and iced coffee in my jar. Ah, Madison. It’s good to have you back.

A good day

I hope you had as good a day as my feline roomates who broke into their stash of catnip and most likely took naps in my basket of clean laundry. They are now asleep on my bed where they will soon launch a pounce attack on my feet while I sleep. Welcome to the new Wisconsin Fun Next Exit where I now simply talk about life with cats. But check back tomorrow… I might, just might, have a recipe for peanut sauce.