Wisconsin Film Festival

I love the Wisconsin Film Festival.

This year I saw seven films: Five documentaries, one mockumentary and one fictional story about a messed-up road trip. I saw one film in Norwegian, one in German and one in Russian. I attended films in four different theaters and collected three buttons. Two movies made me cry, six had me laughing out loud, and only one made me fall asleep (but it wasn’t the movie’s fault- it was near midnight and had been a long day.)

Over the course of the weekend I learned that during times of political turmoil in the former USSR they used to broadcast “Swan Lake” on all of the television stations, that there was an all-Black punk rock band emerging out of L.A. at the same time as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and that there are people in a small coastal village in Ireland right now fighting to save their way of life against a Shell Oil project to build a pipeline through their community.

Although the seven films that I saw this past weekend covered a vast part of the world and a variety of topics, I started to sense an underlying theme: In a world that seems to be dominated by money and greed, you have to follow your dreams and figure out what makes you happy. It’s all you’ve got.

And it’s something that I have been wondering about more since all of these protests started happening in Wisconsin… When you have more money than you know what to do with, what really makes you tick? What inspires you? When all you think about is how to get more money, does anything small ever make you happy? Like seeing a corgi riding around in a bike basket? Or opening a fresh bag of coffee beans? I guess what I’m really wondering is, have either of the Koch brothers ever squealed at the sight of a dog in a bright yellow rain slicker and chased after it to take its photo? And with that, I present to you my review of the documentary, Bill Cunningham New York.

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        Bill Cunningham New York

          There is a 10-second clip in Bill Cunningham New York that probably would have gone unnoticed at the Wisconsin Film Festival a few months ago: Photographing an event for The New York Times‘ Style section, Bill Cunningham is seen snapping a photo of one of the now infamous Koch brothers. The audience at the Wisconsin Union Theatre Thursday evening let out a collective groan. It was the perfect juxtaposition: The billionaire Koch brother versus Cunningham, a photographer in his 80s who at one point in the film playfully curses New Yorkers for being so “extravagant and wasteful” while he fixes his rain poncho with tape.

          Full of moments that make you grin ear-to-ear, laugh out loud or try to hold back the tears; Bill Cunningham New York is a delightful and moving documentary chronicling the life of the notoriously private, bike-riding New York Times fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham, who lived in Carnegie Hall in a tiny studio apartment for over 50 years (until he was kicked out and unwillingly moved into an apartment with a view of Central Park). Some of the best scenes in the film are the ones of Cunningham taking photos for the ‘On the Street’ feature in the Sunday Times. Standing on a street corner, or biking down a busy New York boulevard, Cunningham looks unassuming until he deftly whips up his camera strung around his neck and furiously snaps one or two photos when he sees something that catches his eye. His subject could be a bright red purse or a woman in a multi-colored rain slicker; a young man with his pants hung low or a group of women wearing black high heels. According to Cunningham, he takes to the streets to discover new trends because, “The street is the best fashion show… You stay on the street and let the street tell you.”

          Don’t doubt that the Wisconsin Film Festival can change your life. A few months after seeing Food, Inc. at the festival two years ago, I became a vegetarian. Finding myself in a bit of a clothes rut, I was hoping for the same sort of results from seeing this film. I even had a headline for this review going in to the film: ‘Bill Cunningham New York or Why I Will Never Wear Dansko Clogs Again.’ And while the film is about fashion, it is more about following your obsession and finding what makes you truly happy. During one especially poignant part of the film we learn that Cunningham used to ceremoniously rip up his paychecks in the office of the magazine where he worked. Cunningham explains his actions: “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do. Don’t touch the stuff. Money is the cheapest thing; freedom… liberty, is the most expensive.” And that is the real message in Bill Cunningham New York: We should not envy people with money; we should aspire to be lucky enough to be passionate about what we do and seek beauty in our everyday lives.

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Here’s to something small making you smile today. Cheers.

Just a bit outside

Happy Opening Day.

The sausages getting ready to race at the spring training game that Dan and I attended last April in Arizona

Bob Uecker back calling the plays on my radio as I hang out in my kitchen at night chopping vegetables and sipping a beer is a sure sign of spring. Other signs of spring are all around us. As I sit typing this I can hear the birds chirping away outside and I am starting to feel guilty for being inside. At all times. The Wisconsin Film Festival is underway (I am seeing my first movie tonight!) and the Farmer’s Market starts next weekend. I’m not much for making resolutions in January- there are no visual cues that this is a time for change- but reinventing oneself in the spring is something that I can get behind. Spring is a time of renewal. The days are longer. The flowers are starting to peek out of the dirt. Animals are crawling out of their holes. And there is that day coming up where all of a sudden everyone is outside; playing frisbee, grilling out, strolling around and looking prettier. You know. That day.

So I have made a few spring renewal-olutions. I want to focus more on my writing. The last few months have been a revelation for me as to what truly makes me happy. And I have found (I’ve really known it all along- it just needed to crawl out of the dirt and make me notice it again) that it’s writing. To that note, I have a new project that I am really, really excited about. I want to be more punctual. I want to worry less about germs and everything (soaps, water, lotions, nutella, blueberries, mascara, shampoo, plastic cups, cans, etc.) being poisonous (a strange phenomenon that took over me the last few years). We can only control so much and I do the best that I can. And I want to start trying more new recipes. I feel like I have been in a bit of a cooking rut. My spring goal is try one new recipe a week. And I would like to tell you about the ratatouille that I made recently with some delicious zucchini and eggplant, but that would make me late. So, another time. Go Brewers.

The luck of the Kashubs

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.

Muffins, continued

Happy Saturday morning! It’s sunny here in Wisconsin, the birds are singing, it smells like dirt and I no longer have to park my car on alternate sides of the street. In other words, Spring has sprung.

Flowers!

Right now I am listening to Taj Mahal, on round three of coffee and waiting for a call from my protestor-in-crime, Dr. Hotbody, to figure out our rallying plans for the day. It’s also a lovely day to enjoy a muffin for breakfast and maybe dust off the ol’ bicycle. Here is that recipe I promised for whole wheat muffins. I love this recipe because it is adaptable depending on your mood*, the season or what you have in your kitchen. When I made these muffins this past week I used mashed bananas, coconut chips, chocolate chips and dried pineapple. I also substituted plain Sugar River yogurt for the buttermilk. Delicious.

Melted butter, yogurt and mashed bananas

*Looking back on that morning I made these muffins, I was in a mood. I  just realized the date of that post… Beware the Ides of March.

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Whole Wheat Muffins

From The New York Times, Published: February 5, 2010 

1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, more for greasing tins

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, preferably pastry flour

3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed or puréed banana, sweet potato, apple, zucchini, cooked or canned pumpkin, or other fruits or vegetables

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup buttermilk.

 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease two 6-cup muffin tins or fill with liners. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, banana, egg and buttermilk. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined.

2. Fill muffin tins or liners; bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top. Serve warm if possible.

Yield: 12 muffins.

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Today I am also trying to not think about the fact that Clovis Mann is rocking the Wonder Bar in Casper, Wyoming tonight and, more importantly, getting to have a cook-out with my best friend, Meagan, her family and a bunch of our Wyoming friends. Luckily I have a show at the High Noon Saloon tonight to distract me. And it’s going to be one helluva show- The Smokin’ Bandits and Honest Monday. And there is a full moon rising. It’s all happening.

Don’t mistake baking for weakness

The following is a guest appearance on ‘Wisconsin Fun Next Exit’ by Dan Walkner
 
Alice's Manderin Orange Cake awaits its impending demise.

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.)

Alice, Daniel, and William Walkner after a bike ride contemplating Mandarin oranges.

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.

Crunch Layer

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. 

Cake

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.

Frosting

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. 

Love,

Dan

So good. Thanks, Ma.

Mad-as-hell puttanesca

After three weeks of feeling the love and staying optimistic about winning the fight against the soulless tyrant now ‘leading’ my state, Tuesday night I finally gave in to the anger and was mad as hell. I needed to bang some pots around, wield knives and curse in the kitchen. I needed a recipe to match my fiery mood. I present to you, ‘Mad-as-hell puttanesca.’ It’s salty, spicy, tangy and impossible to screw up too badly (this part is key, considering I was cooking with blind rage and not paying much attention to what I threw in the skillet).

Fiery pepper flakes and garlic burning in the oil

I was first introduced to puttanesca by my friend Derek (the Packer owner). Derek told me that legend has it that Italian ‘women of the night’ would make a batch of spaghetti alla puttanesca to put on their windowsills to beckon suitors. I love to picture the open windows and curtains wafting in the breeze while a pot of spaghetti sits steaming on a dark Italian night. Derek makes a more traditional puttanesca sauce with anchovies and herbs (I always forget about those pesky herbs). I never follow a recipe when I make it, but always include a few essential ingredients: olives, capers, and tomatoes.

Muir Glen tomatoes, salty olives and capers

Between tirades delivered to Dan and the stove, a captive audience, this is what I cooked up the other night:

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Mad-as-hell Puttanesca

Ingredients:

tomatoes (crushed, diced or whole)- I like Muir Glen organic

tomato sauce

olives- cured black olives work well

capers

garlic

olive oil

kale

red pepper flakes

wine (red or white)

whole wheat pasta (spaghetti or penne)

parmesan cheese

Directions:

Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a skillet over low-medium heat. Add chopped garlic and red pepper flakes- I like a lot of heat, so I add a lot. Depending on how many you are serving, add some canned tomatoes and the juice (I added half a can for the two of us). I had some leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, so I added some of that, too. Pour in some wine- red or white works fine. To add a little color and up the health ante I added some kale that I tore into bite-sized pieces. Let this simmer and bubble for a while over low-medium heat. Boil water for the pasta. Rant and rave. Cry. Take a sip of beer. Chop olives, wave knife in air, curse. Heat oven for bread. Salt the boiling water. Add pasta. Take a breath. Add the olives and capers to the simmering sauce. Put bread in oven. Dress the salad. Stir pasta into the sauce. Take bread out of the oven. Serve the pasta in bowls with freshly shredded parmesan cheese from the state that is boiling with turmoil. Serve and attempt to enjoy.

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The reason for my anger? After days and days of peaceful protests the governor illegally shutdown the Capitol to prepare for his budget address. For the first time there was an orange fence keeping protestors away from the state building in an attempt to keep the noise out of his lethal budget speech.

While we stood outside in the cold, the heartless and cowardly governor told a crowd of supporters (ushered secretly into the Captiol) inside that he plans to cut nearly $900 million dollars from Wisconsin’s public education system. He wants to take this money and give it to the people who fix roads. The same people who donated to his campaign and got him elected. On Tuesday I just couldn’t take it anymore and I erupted with sadness and rage. But now I’m back to feeling optimistic because, in retrospect, the governor is scared. I’m still mad as hell, but I also realize that the governor is working so hard to silence the voices of dissent because he knows that he is doing something wrong. I will continue to fight. And I hope you will join me.

The food that fueled a revolution

All of this protesting has been making me hungry!

Ian's Pizza: Feeding the masses

While Ian’s Pizza is now known around the world and will probably be opening a franchise in Cairo sometime soon, I wanted to mention a few other places where I have been fueling up to fight the good fight.

Ground Zero Coffee, 744 Williamson Street

Ground Zero

Dan and I have been stopping at Ground Zero every day for coffee to go as we walk to the Capitol. There are always friendly people inside who want to discuss our current state of affairs and the oat fudge bars are out of this world.

Roman Candle Pizza, 1054 Williamson Street

Roman Candle

About a billion years ago, Dan and I went to Roman Candle after our first night of protests at the Capitol and discussed the possibility of a teacher “sick-out” with some other teachers who were sitting at another table. Since that night, Roman Candle has started offering a 10% discount to union members and teachers. In a show of solidarity, my cousin, a teacher in the Denver public schools, and her colleagues ordered my elementary school staff Roman Candle pizzas for lunch last week. My favorite protest pizza? Make your own: Firecracker sauce, banana peppers and green olives. Yum.

Lazy Jane’s, 1358 Williamson Street

Lazy Jane's

It’s all good, really, but my favorite is the grilled cheese and avocado sandwich on wheatberry bread. Put sriracha on the potato chips and order a pineapple juice with fizzy water to quench your thirst from yelling, “This is what democrazy looks like” about 412 times. The bakery items are delicious, too. Yesterday I had an orange coconut white chocolate chip scone that was fresh out of the oven and oh so good.

I’m off to school and then back downtown to check out the scene, so, for now, Solidarity through scones!

This is what Democracy feels like

I can’t sleep. I’m too fired up.

And I have this great cookie recipe to share. I wanted to tell you all about how I burned out the motor on my handheld mixer trying to whip all of the delicious organic butter and how I found myself jogging one of the ingredients- 2 Tablespoons of booze, in the form of kirsch- in a jam jar down the slick bike path in the dark on Monday night, but something else came up. Late Tuesday afternoon as I was wrapping up a Social Studies lesson (naming South American countries with second graders) I was handed three versions of a letter (in Hmong, Spanish and English) to be sent home with the kids right away. The letter warned families of the possibility of excessive teacher absences over the next few days in response to a budget repair bill that had been introduced by Wisconsin’s governor. This was news to me. I attended the rally at the Capitol Tuesday night and received word at 11:30 p.m. that school had been cancelled the following day. Wednesday’s protest was eye-opening. I’ve never personally witnessed such a diverse group of people (and pets) coming together for a common cause. I’ve said the word, “solidarity” more times in the last few days than in my whole life and chanted something in a large crowd besides “Go Pack Go” for probably the first time ever. People keep asking me for reports of the Capitol rallies and all I can really say is, “It’s amazing.” And now the ‘Wisconsin 14’ have fled the state because they believe this legislation is moving too fast and that our voices deserve to be heard. Their bold action gives me hope. Watching my teachers and mentors chanting along with a new generation of teachers makes me proud. Hearing a firefighter declare to a crowd of thousands that we are all in this together makes me believe that we are. This isn’t about making more money or whining over pensions. Nor is it a fight between public and private employees, like they would like us to believe. It’s not even about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about basic human rights and one man’s power-hungry move to try to take them away.

I will share that cookie recipe when this fire burns down, but for now, Solidarity.