The following is a guest appearance on ‘Wisconsin Fun Next Exit’ by Dan Walkner
I own pets. I love pets. Pets are where it’s at. Got a pet? Sweet! No pets? Poor you! Whenever I see a pet in the wild, I often talk to or scratch said pet. I generally make up a new name for the pet. For instance, in our neighborhood I have made up the following nicknames for a few of the cats: Ahman Green, Cruddy, Cinnabon, Orange Roughy, Sir Spicy Kickers, and many more. When encountering a pet, if the owner is friendly, or not looking, I often pick up the pet to see how heavy it is and have Erica snap a picture for posterity’s sake. I call this activity “Fun with Pets.” I recently played FWP in Seattle, and here are some of the results!
Ah, pets. Appreciate them. Love them. And if you see a friendly-looking man hoisting your pet in the air and a cute feisty brunette snappin’ a picture of it, rest assured that these people are not deranged weirdos bent on pet destruction. They are uplifters of not only pets, but pet culture. I. Love. Pets.
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.
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.
With Dan on the road with Clovis Mann this weekend, I found myself cooking for one. When this happens I always think about my mom’s cookbook from the 1960s entitled, ‘Saucepans and the Single Girl.’ I have always thought that this is one of the all-time greatest cookbook titles. While the inspiration for the book was to bait bachelors with downhome cooking (think beef stroganoff), I just wanted to make myself a healthy and delicious meal that would go well with the bottle of red wine (“Wisconsites love Malbec,” I was told) that I had just picked up at Star Liquor. Not able to get enough of roasted cauliflower lately, I whipped a pasta dish that featured this delicious vegetable, along with my old favorite, kale. Addicted to olives, I added those, too. Here is my recipe for Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Pasta:
Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Pasta
A couple handfuls of cauliflower
5 stalks kale
red pepper flakes
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
whole wheat pasta
freshly shredded parmesan cheese
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss cauliflower with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Roast the cauliflower until it starts to brown (about 15-20 minutes).
While the cauliflower is roasting, boil a pot of water. Wash the kale and rip it into bite-sized pieces and when the water is boiling, steam the kale until tender (about 2-3 minutes).
Place kale aside, salt the boiling water and add the whole wheat pasta (I like to use penne but only had linguine the other night, so I used that in a pinch.) When using straight pasta I have heard that a general rule is to use about a quarter-sized handful per person. While the pasta is cooking, place the roasted cauliflower (along with the olive oil from the baking sheet) in a skillet, turn the heat on medium-low and season with red pepper flakes, freshly ground pepper and coarse salt.
Add the kale to the pan and give it a stir. After eating about 17 olives and taking a sip of wine, slice up a few olives (I like to use the ‘whiskey’ olives from the Willy Street co-op olive bar- I don’t know the official name) and throw those into the skillet. After the pasta has cooked a few minutes, drain it and add it to the skillet. Give the pasta another stir and adjust any seasonings. Serve the pasta with some freshly shredded parmesan cheese on top.
I recommend serving this meal with a glass (or two) of wine, a crusty piece of bread and a few squares of this candy bar for dessert:
A meal fit for a single girl.
P.S. If you need a movie suggestion, I think this winter meal goes great with ‘Beautiful Girls.’ If you haven’t seen this movie in awhile (or never) it is one of my all-time favorites. With Matt Dillon and Michael Rapaport as snowplow drivers, this movie features ice shanties, whiskey drinking, a great soundtrack (including ‘Will it Go Round in Circles,’ by Billy Preston) and a bar scene where Uma Thurman mentions one of my favorite holidays which happens to be coming up this week (hint: it’s not Valentine’s Day). Speaking of Valentine’s Day, I’m off to Monroe Street to buy a heart-shaped cookie cutter and a sifter. I’m making cookies and this time I’m going to do it right… Happy Sunday.
At some point over the long weekend I had that sense of impending doom where you know that you are about to get clobbered over the head with a cold.
Before the cold hit I enjoyed a lovely Friday evening at Mickey’s Tavern with Dan (due to a rare Clovis Mann bye weekend) where I mowed a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing (minus the bacon) and macaroni and cheese (sans the kielbasa) and discussed politics and pets with our friend, Dr. Hotbody (who showed up part way through our meal). It was snowy outside and cozy and warm inside the bar- especially with the amount of cheese that I consumed.
After dinner we walked to Alchemy where we enjoyed Pearl Street Lava Java Stout and I amazed a new friend with the contents of my large bag (“Look, I even carry a cribbage board in here!”) and bequeathed him my green tea breath mints which I believe had been in there untouched since 2008.
Saturday belonged to the Packers. Dan and I performed our pre-game rituals and gathered, as tradition states it (unless we are at Lambeau), in front of my 13-inch television. We ate green olives and Wisconsin cheddar cheese, drank Hinterland Pale Ale from Green Bay (via Star Liquor on Willy Street) and cheered our Packers on to the NFC championship game. It’s going to be one hell of a game on Sunday.
By Monday I was in the thick of it. Ransacked with a cold I sat on the couch and stared out the window at the fat snowflakes. I wondered about the origin of the term “under the weather” and drank tea. I felt sorry for myself and listened to sad songs by Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons and Hank Williams. Finally, I baked banana bread. And you should, too.
Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
6 tablespoons butter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon slat
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9 by 5 inches) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.
Put the butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in the preheated oven. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crysatallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. The same fork works fine for this.) Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top.
Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick insered into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If the loaf seems to be browning to quickly, tent with aluminum foil. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip it out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing- unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, in which case, dig in.
Note: Fully cooled, this bread freezes beautifully. And it tastes delicious cold, straight from the freezer. To protect it from frost, wrap it in plastic wrap and then again in aluminum foil.
I also added some chopped walnuts. It was delicious and is getting better with time. I think I will have a thick slice for breakfast with some medicinal tea. Here’s to getting back out into the weather.
It’s a bye week which is probably good for the Packers, but bad for the fans. Unless you had a baby shower that you had to attend that some good fan strategically scheduled for the bye week. Otherwise you are stuck silently suffering as you wonder how many sacks Clay Matthews has while you pretend to ooh and ahh over a diaper genie or baby bjorn (which you have no idea what these are or their intended use). This has not happened to me, but I bet it has happened to someone.
Do you think people in other states dress up their cats in onesies with their favorite sports team’s logo? This leads me to the photo of the day…
In other news, I’m super proud of Dan’s band Clovis Mann and all of the great press (like this article on the local sounds magazine site)that they have been getting for their latest album, Metamorphic. It is also exciting because the picture on the cover is one that I took last summer at the Bandit County Fair (and it is my third album cover)!
Apparently like a squirrel hoards nuts for the winter I am doing the equivalent of this by storing whole wheat pasta and cheese in my stomach. Tonight I am trying a recipe for mac-n-cheese that I found on the New York Times website. I’ll let you know how it goes. Go Pack.