Fun with pets (West Coast version)

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!

This man trains cats. He was awesome, and had two friendly pets on display.

This is Happy Speckles. After talking to her, I warned a nearby Chihuahua about an eagle that I had recently seen in the vicinity. He heeded the warning.

Seriously? This fence hates pets for no reason!

This is Miguel. We became fast friends. If he ran for mayor, I pity the fool who runs against him. He’s that popular.

This dog was very friendly and alert. His breath, sadly, was appalling. Made up for it with moxie.

Although not pets themselves, these charitable cupcake saleswomen gave me the skinny on the neighborhood’s pets. Oddly enough, we saw these same kids at a Mariners game where I overheard one of them say to her friend,”He bought a cupcake from our bake sale. He really likes cats.” That really happened.

While lulling this pet into a false sense of security, I moved too quickly and it ran under a couch while his cat friend in the house looked longingly on while standing in close proximity to a disco ball.

Boldi the Corgi and Greta the Shepard were outside of a grocery store. Greta speaks fluent German, but if you scratch her, Boldi tries to either bite Greta’s face or your face. Lots of face biting with these two.

Poor Walter. He lives with a giant flailing dog named Josie, so, alas, he spends a lot of his time under stuff, like this couch.

The adorable Josie in a rare non-flailing moment. Lots of energy!

Sena and I participated in a chicken naming contest at a chic mercantile. They had pet chickens there. Note the extreme amount of thought being showcased by us. Naming pets is a serious endeavor not to be trifled with. I wanted the chick to be “Elka” if it was a girl or “Bjorn” for a male. Sena chose the name “Gordon Lightfoot” for the chick regardless of gender.In one of the world’s greatest miscarriages of justice, they opted not to select our names.

This dog runs his own knick knack store! Enterprising lad, this one! I bought a belt buckle from him.

This is Peter Tosh. He gets his name because he has dreads and is a little bit ornery. Very mellow when not being manhandled by strangers, though.

This is Nellie Mae (actual name on her necklace). She is surprisingly skinny for a cat that eats out of the dumpsters behind a Mediterranean restaurant. She ran away when she got spooked by the mail man crashing into a “No Parking” sign.

This is Martin (pronounced (Mar-teen). He gets his name because he walks gingerly like former NFL kicker Martin Grammatica. His hobbies (the cat not the kicker) include walking on sidewalks, being way fluffy, and allowing strangers to maul him. Sena looks on.

Look closely. No, closer. Ah, that’s better. Yes! A snail, but not just any snail. Oh no, this old boy was out for a walk. Why not? It was about 65 degrees and sunny! We were overjoyed to meet this pet.

Meet Mocha. We were having an intense argument about whether it was more fun to drink beer at the beach or chew on sticks at the beach. Lucky for us, we saw an otter and realized that life is too short to bicker about petty issues like sticks vs. beer. Thanks otter. We needed that.

You might think there are no pets in this picture. Wrong! That was a Beavare that we spotted on Lummi Island.   A puported mythical creature assumed to be a West Coast relative of the Hodag, we spotted this particular Beavare on the beach. Myth busted!

If Chester were a professional athlete, his scouting report would be “moves well for a big man.” Case in point, he has survived a bear attack and several beavare maulings. Ok, ok. The bear part is true, though. Well done Chester!

Another of the enterprising Seattle pet-set, this demure puppers owns a soap store. She is a pretty soft sell, though. Erica bought some soap and a soap dish with a whale on it for our “Nantucket Sleighride” themed bathroom.

Picked up this dicey dame at The Waterwheel Lounge. Her owner, although very creepy and reportedly on Mescaline (that’s what his even creepier sidekick told me), was one heckuva ping pong player.

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.

May Day

I love May. The magnolia trees are blossoming, summer is on its way and my birthday is in a couple of weeks.

When I woke up Sunday morning I looked outside, saw the sunshine and decided that I wanted to make dinner for some friends whom I hadn’t seen awhile. They said yes. I love improptu, Sunday night dinner parties. A couple of weeks ago when I was in Seattle (it feels like a lifetime ago already) I got to meet one of my writing idols, Ms Molly Wizenberg. I will save the details for a future post, but it was a magical moment that left me buzzing for awhile. In honor of this encounter, I decided to make a meal from her book, A Homeade Life.

There is this French yogurt cake that I had been wanting to make (and when I re-read the description on Sunday afternoon Molly wrote that it is the sort of cake that French grandmothers make on Sunday afternoons. Well, perfect…) and I flipped through the index for a main entree. A spring salad caught my eye. Radishes, check. Cilantro, check. Feta cheese, check. Molly mentioned that she likes to serve this as a light dinner along with a hunk of bread or roasted potatoes. Done.

May Day Dinner Party

First course: White wine, beer, green olives, crackers

Main course: Sliced spring salad with avocado and feta (pages 246-247), Bellingham roasted potatoes (look for this recipe tomorrow), wholewheat sourdough bread, beer

Dessert: French-style yogurt cake with lemon (pages 204-205)

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French-style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

From A Homeade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole-milk yogurt

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola

For the syrup:

1/4 cup powered sugar, sifted

1/4 lemon juice

For the icing:

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep stirring, and it will come together into a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (after buttering, I sometimes line the bottom with a round of wax or parchment paper, and then I butter that too).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan. Combine the syrup ingedients in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the warm cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup. Cool completely.

Combine the icing ingredients. Whisk well to dissolve the sugar completely. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake.

Serve immediately- the icing will be soft and a bit juicy- or wait until the icing has firmed up, about 1 hour. Whichever way you like.

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Happy May.

It’s always sunny in Seattle

Hello Wisconsin.

Yesterday as I got out of my car in the cool, drizzly rain my neighbor welcomed me to Seattle. Ironically, I told him, I just got back from Seattle and it was warm and sunny every day. Not to brag. Our conversation ended in solidarity signs and promises to keep fighting the good fight. Before I left for Seattle I kept catching myself holding my breath. While driving, doing the dishes, sitting at my computer. I noticed that I was doing it again yesterday and it occurred to me that this did not happen to me once while I was visiting my sister in the Pacific Northwest. I believe that it has gotten hard to breath here in Wisconsin the last few months. My state, my values and my current chosen profession are under attack. For one magical week I got to forget about all of this and simply indulge. I got to see old friends and make new ones. I am a very lucky woman. As I write this my sister is riding a ferry to the location where she will be working for the day. I can’t help but feel a tad bit jealous. This summer when I am sitting at the Union terrace drinking a beer or eating dinner out on our screen porch listening to the crickets I know that she will feel a tad bit jealous of me. Should we explore and expand our life experiences by moving to a new place or should we stay home and cultivate our roots? This is what I’m thinking about this morning. After last week, don’t be surprised if the new title of this blog becomes “Seattle fun next exit.” I’m just kidding… sort of. While I loved being in Seattle last week, I’m home now and I’ve got a line on a used canoe for this summer. I will keep fighting the good fight and wait for the sun to come out. I will feel happy to be home.

In the meantime, I bring you my picks for the Best of Seattle, April 18-23, 2011:

Favorite Coffee Shop: Makeda Coffee, Phinney Ridge

I thought that it would be appropriate to start with coffee, considering that this is Seattle. My sister’s favorite (and now mine) hangout is Makeda Coffee. I loved the relaxed environment and friendly owner. They have delicious coffee, lattes and treats, including squash bread and gluten-free, organic doughnuts (I love Seattle). There are excellent tables for playing cribbage and I love that they will give you a dollar off wine or beer on Friday evenings if you play a board game. They also have live entertainment, and Dan could have played over the weekend, but we had to hit the road… Next time.

Oh delicious 2% latte

Makeda Coffee

Favorite Cupcake Stand: Those two girls sitting in their driveway, Phinney Ridge

When Dan and I had finished our cribbage game at Makeda Coffee we decided to leave my sister alone for a few minutes so that she could get some work done. It was a beautiful day so we took a walk around the ‘hood. We were playing the game that I invented while babysitting, Cats versus Dogs (you count the cats, you count the dogs), when we spotted the bake sale. Dan said, “Whatever those girls are selling, I’m buying one.” It turns out the girls were selling homeade and home-awesomely-decorated cupcakes and donating half of the proceeds to Japan. Dan bought one and donated a little extra. We chatted with them for a little while and they gave us some information on the neighborhood cats. We said our goodbyes, but as you will read later, this was not the last time we had the chance to see these sweet two girls who give you faith in humanity.

Bake sale

Cupcakes!

Favorite Cocktail Bar: Oliver’s Twist, Phinney Ridge

Not only does this bar have the widest selection of bitters that we have ever seen (lavender bitters?!), they also make the most sinful and rich garlic truffle popcorn that tastes like heaven during happy hour. And although I do not drink a lot of cocktails (I like beer), I think that if I lived near Oliver’s Twist, I might. My sister recommended the Bullseye- tequila, mint, lemon, ginger beer, and a couple of other things that I had to look up in the menu’s glossary. It was refreshing and oh so good. Dan tried the Presbyterian- bourbon, soda and ginger ale. Yum. We went back the next night like old regulars.

Bullseye

The Presbyterian

Upon our obvious intrigue, the bartender pulled out all of her bitters for us to see

Stay tuned for more of my favorites, including my favorite Major League Ballpark in Seattle, favorite bar to avoid getting into a brawl over ping pong and my most serendipitous moment of the trip.

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.

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.