Not a food blog

I talked to my mom a couple of days ago and she said she really enjoys reading my blog but that it doesn’t always have to be about food. “You used to write about other things, too,” she said. “Like… Two Rivers.” So this is not a post about food (but doesn’t everything always go back to food?*), it’s a post about pictures.

I have always had a thing for pictures. Growing up my dad turned all of his kodachrome film into slides (thousands and thousands of slides) and one of my favorite things was our family slide shows. We would gather in the living room for the event. I remember the excitement I felt as my dad clicked the tripod screen into place. I remember the whir of the projector as it warmed up and the dust particles that danced in the lightbeam. My dad would sit on a chair next to the projector, beer in hand, and click the slide tray into place. My mom, sister and I gathered on the couch with popcorn. There was usually a theme: “Moscow, 1977,” “sunsets through the years,” “birthday parties,” “camping trips,” “California,” or “road trips.” I’m sure I always begged for one more tray of slides when the screen went blank.

At some point I got my first camera and my parents happily supported my new hobby, even as I had a habit of overshooting the same subject. I remember developing an entire roll of film of the Statue of Liberty, looking approximately the size of a flea in the photos, that I shot from the deck of the Staten Island Ferry. There was also the time that my dad paid upwards of $40 a roll to develop my pictures for me when we were in Slovenia (thank goodness I now use digital.) I still have a tendancy to fixate on certain subjects with my camera, like the time I took 300-400 photos just of the golden retriever at a family reunion in Montana.

But I love photography, as amateur as I may be. I love taking pictures of floors and what’s under my feet.

 

I love taking pictures of my feet.

 

I love taking pictures of other people’s pictures.

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And recipes.

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I love taking pictures while traveling.

And closer to home.

Apparently I love taking photos of blue stools.

And I love taking pictures of food (*see- it all comes back to food).

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a food photography workshop at Drunk Lunch led by freelance photographer Paulius Musteikis known around Madison for his beautiful photographs often gracing the covers of Isthmus and Madison Magazine. Paulius, a self-taught photographer, offered lots of practical advice, like read your camera manual- something I have not yet done, and more artistic advice- where is the light coming from? What shapes do you see? What is the story your photo is telling?

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I loved his presentation and then enjoyed playing around taking lots of pictures of these plants.

And what I learned is, I have a lot to learn. But isn’t that true for most things? I feel lucky that my family instilled the love of pictures in me. Just like writing, it makes you look at the world differently. We all have a story to tell.

Jam on johnson

I never lived on Johnson Street, but my cats did. So did my sister and her cat, Guinness, who is now the unofficial mayor of a neighborhood in Seattle. Long the home of rentals, one-way traffic, a liquor store and a rock shop, Johnson Street is being lit up by new businesses. Forequarter- with its delicious cheese boards- led the way, and now Macha Tea Company, a shop named after the best kind of lunch and a new bar with kegged cocktails are joining the party. Last Friday night Half-moon, my friend Sam, and I went to Jam on Johnson to celebrate this street’s new life.

We started at Juneberry Studio and Marketplace, where Sam bought some Wisconsin art and I was charmed by a pink octopus that looks just like my favorite hotmail emoticon.

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We crossed the street and headed for Drunk Lunch (sidenote: one of my favorite drunk lunches took place in Seattle and involved my sister and old roomate Brett from when I lived in Wyoming. We ate crab salad sandwiches and drank pomegranate mimosas- the second round’s drinks were considerably larger due to the fact that we weren’t “annoying” our waiter, like his other tables.) While there were no drunks or mimosas to be found at this new style shop, we did glimpse Santa and some sweet taco-related keychains.

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Next up was the Good Style Shop (one of my favorite thrift stores) where we found Chad Vogel (Barmadillo!) and some of his kegged Strawberry Hibiscus soda. Chad’s new bar The Robin Room, will be opening up a couple of doors down from Good Style in December or January.

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We were waiting for a table at Salvatore’s, so we headed to the new Macha Tea Company where we chatted with the owner and sampled some teas.

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Next we headed for Salvatore’s Tomato Pies where we met up with Dan and sipped on creamy 3 Sheeps Pale Ales (on nitro!) and waited for our table. The pizza I had been thinking about all week came topped with crispy kale and tangy banana peppers. Oh yeah.

Jam on, Johnson Street.

 

Spectacular contentment revisited

A couple of months ago, I meant to tell you about cucumbers. I had a simple recipe, a photo, a title.

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I wanted to tell you about the day in July when I made these cucumbers while visiting our friends in Cheyenne, the last stop on a western road trip that started at a campsite in Wall, South Dakota and took us to the sea and back.

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Lingering over familiar coffee mugs, not your mug, but one you know well enough to anticipate the exact weight of it in your hand, we discussed that evening’s dinner menu. With that settled, we jotted lists and designated trips to the store. Free of shopping duties, Meagan and I decided to take a walk to the park with her daughter. We strolled through an area known as the peace garden, a place where quotes are etched into flat stones. One of these quotes caught my eye and I read to myself again and again, memorizing it and trying it out. “The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment” this stone told me a man named Doug Larson said.* And never was a stone more adept at reading someone’s mind. We made our way to the herb garden where I picked dill for the cucumbers and Meagan and I talked about our lives. Choices are made about where to live and jobs to have, but there is a nagging voice always questioning. Is this the right thing? Would I be happier if…?

Skies threatening, we walked back home and fixed lunch, opening a cheap bottle of rose wine to mix with fizzy water.

I meant to tell you all of this a couple of months ago and then… And then my job started back up. The one where I get to write poems with nine-year-olds and read books by E.B. White. The one where I have to test the nine-year-olds more than anyone should be tested and feel the weight of the world to get these kids “where they are supposed to be” according to someone else’s standards. Enter the voice… Is this the right thing? Would I be happier if? What if I lived in the mountains? On a farm? What if I wrote for a living? Or worked the land, a speckled cow dog by my side?

To paraphrase Lloyd Dobler, all I know is that I don’t know. But here is what I think: By all means, have dreams, go to lengths for spectacular happiness, don’t fight against yourself and what you know is right, but allow yourself those moments of contentment while you try to figure it all out. Familiar coffee mugs. Cheap wine. Marinated cucumbers. Old friends. As my dad always says, it will all come out in the wash.

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Marinated Cucumbers

To make marinated cucumbers, combine equal parts water, sugar and apple cider vinegar to cover thinly sliced cucumbers and onions. You can also add dill, if you like. Let sit at least a few hours before serving. These will keep in the fridge for a few days.

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*When I looked him up, I learned that Doug Larson was a newspaper man from Door County, Wisconsin.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.*

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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?

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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!

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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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