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.

51 meatless things to try in Madison before Lake Mendota thaws

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Several weeks ago I stumbled upon Andre Darlington’s blog where he listed 50 things that are quintessential Madison. And then last week I discovered this blog and a woman named Holly who took Darlington’s list on as a challenge. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. And that somebody is not me (too meat-centric). However, I have decided to riff on their idea and simultaneously one up them with my list: 51 Meatless Things to Try in Madison Before Lake Mendota Thaws. And because it is one of my favorites, I will borrow Darlington’s #15 and make it my #1.

51 Meatless Things to Try in Madison Before Lake Mendota Thaws

1) Walnut Burger at Harmony Bar (add blue cheese and fried onions)

2) Veggie Ramen at Umami Ramen and Dumpling Bar

3) Blueberry Scone at Lazy Jane’s (or Raspberry or Blackberry)

4) Whiskey Old Fashioned Press at Weary Traveler

5) Three Cup Tofu at Natt Spil (the best tofu dish in Madison, in my humble opine)

6) Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar at Batch Bakehouse

7) Sweet Potato Fries with Tarragon Mayo and Jalapeno Blackberry Jam at Alchemy

8) Margherita Pizza at Pizza Brutta

9) Popcorn at Graze

10) Cesar’s String Cheese at Willy Street Co-op

11) Black Bean Tacos at Burrito Drive (don’t forget to add pickled onions!)

12) Any Tapper (preferably post-Packer victory) at Laurel Tavern

13) Butter (really more like savory frosting) at Tornado Club (bread optional)

14) Spinach Nan at Taste of India

15) Bottle of Miller High Life and Bag of De-lish-us Chips at Old Duffer’s (a hop, skip and jump from Madison out Highway 18/151)

16) Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Avocado at Lazy Jane’s

17) Plantains at Cafe Costa Rica

18) Big Country Bread from Cress Springs Bakery at Dane Co. Farmer’s Market (tastes even better if you take it home and eat it while listening to ‘In a Big Country’ by Big Country)

19) Warm Beet Salad at Graze

20) Frites at Jacs

21) Margarita at Pasqual’s

22) Asian Slaw at Restaurant Muramoto

23) Pineapple Curry with Tofu at Lao-Laan Xang (Atwood location)

24) Rejected Truffles (any flavor) at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier (free samples!)

25) Macaroni and Cheese at The Old Fashioned

26) Sardine Caesar* at Sardine (*has anchovies, which technically could be considered meat… I guess I like to live on the edge)

27) Bottomless Cup of Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee (and a game of cribbage or Scrabble) at EVP

28) Wedge Salad at Tornado Club

29) The Ramblin’ Vegan’s Chili at Weary Traveler

30) Sake Bomb at Karaoke Kid (where I once witnessed a rousing rendition of aforementioned ‘In a Big Country’ in the VIP lounge)

31) Bella Burger at Alchemy

32) Steamed Tofu Dumplings at Ha Long Bay

33) Dark & Stormy at Cafe Costa Rica

34) Aloo Chana at Taste of India

35) Onion Bagel  at Bagels Forever

36) Sexy Fries at Mickey’s Tavern

37) The Smell at Fraboni’s (just walk in and inhale.. you’re welcome)

38) Frozen Cheese Pizza at Crystal Corner

39) Kale, Lemon, Green Apple and Ginger Juice at Willy Street Co-op Juice Bar

40) 2% Latte at Bradbury’s* (*only attempt if you have the moxie to attempt the maze of hipsterdom)

41) Maize Salad at Alchemy

42) Egg Sandwich (hold the bacon) at Crema Cafe (so good I had to eat it twice this weekend)

43) McLovin Irish Red Ale at Vintage Brewing Co. (go on a Wednesday and check out the Madison Blues Co-op blues jam!)

44) Vegetarian Antipasta Platter at Greenbush Bar

45) Whole Wheat and Cheddar Scone from Cress Springs Bakery at Dane Co. Farmer’s Market

46) Mediterranean Plate at Jacs

47) Red Beans and Rice at New Orleans Take-Out

48) Veggie Empanada at Victory

49) Cucumber Salad at Sa-Bai Thong

50) Gruyere-Filled Roll at Batch Bakehouse

51) Rathskeller Ale and Bag of Popcorn at Memorial Union (watch the ice thaw)

Did I forget anything? Please add any favorites in the comments!

I’ve got a black belt in keeping it real

On a recent rainy (football) Saturday, Dan and I ventured right into the belly of the beast; the eye of the storm. I had a hankering for miso soup and cupcakes and no crazed badger fans nor a lack of parking for a 3-mile radius was going to stop me. We negotiated the sea of red and white with my station wagon as our trusty vessel and headed straight for Monroe Street. Our destination? Macha Teahouse. We miraculously found a parking spot and sloshed our way (opposite the crowd) through the puddles and into the dry and warm tea lounge.

Despite what you may have heard,* Macha Teahouse is not owned and operated by the black belt and civil engineer-former manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Ken Macha. But it is run by these friendly folks. We were greeted immediately upon entering and directed to take a look at the chalk board menu of teas. The selection may seem a little overwhelming, but don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. Dan prefers his tea coffee-flavored, but I like to embrace my Scottish roots and drink tea occasionally, especially in the afternoon (it’s tea time!). We ordered a variety of black tea, two cups of miso soup and a dark chocolate and zucchini cupcake. Our host inquired if it was our first visit to Macha, which it was Dan’s- I had once ordered an iced tea to go a couple of years prior which I felt validated my comment, ‘Oh no, I have been here before’ (after living in a tourist destination for several years I have a heightened sensitivity to coming off as a gaper). But because it was Dan’s, we also had a few tea cookies thrown in with our order to sweeten Dan’s first visit.

The atmosphere at Macha is serene…

…yet eclectic.

I love manatees.

We took our tray upstairs to a room painted pink where we sat at a low wooden table with pillows as our seats.

Our tray came with a sand-timer hourglass that kept track of the minutes that our tea was to steep in its shiny ceramic black pot. I recommend that you feel free to use this time to discuss your favorite storyline from ‘Days of our Lives,’ which leads me to the first-ever poll featured on Wisconsin Fun Next Exit.

Thank you for participating.

As soon as our tea was ready to drink, our timely host arrived with our miso soup. I opted for a scoop of rice in mine, and it also featured shiitake mushrooms and bok choy.

The soup was hot, healthy and it hit the spot. It was just what I was looking for after a few nights of holiday weekend indulgence. The tea warmed the soul and the chocolate cupcake was nothing short of divine. The thai basil lemon tea cookies were also a welcome addition.

I look forward to returning to Macha and sampling more teas and cupcakes. That Saturday it was a much-needed rejuvenating late lunch that gave me just the boost of energy that I needed for sticker shopping at Orange Tree Imports (a rare but favorite pasttime of mine).

Happy tea drinking.

*Okay, so that was the rumor that Dan and I tried to start.

Macha Teahouse+Gallery on Urbanspoon

Sake hammered

Okay, so I didn’t get hammered on sake last night. But while eating at what is probably my new favorite restaurant in Madison, Umami, Dan and I decided that sake hammered would be a good name for a band. Or, at the very least, a post (considerably better, said Dan, than my original name for it, U-yum-i).

If you haven’t been to Umami yet, I think you should go. The dumplings with smoked tofu and boky choy are delightful and cooked to perfection and last night we splurged and also had the special- vegetarian buns, a spin on their popular pork buns. The spongy ‘mantou’ (steamed) buns were filled with hoisin sauce, pickled cucumbers and crisp tofu (“the best ever” said Dan-the-meat-eater). I hope these find their way on to the permanent menu. This was all before the main entree, a bowl of veggie ramen that is the epitome of comfort food. I don’t know how they make the earthy mushroom/ seawood broth, but I could eat it morning, noon and night (with a spicy bomb on the side). Interestingly enough, the locally-made (3 blocks away) ramen comes from RP’s pasta where I once worked as a waitress when there was still a restaurant associated with the pasta factory. It’s also home to one of my favorite moments in waitressing history when one of the cooks, fed up with habitually being yelled at by another cook, washed his hands at the sink, declared “No more work,” and walked out the door as I stood by, cheering him on for fulfilling one of my waitressing fantasies. It was brillant. While the restaurant end at RP’s had its issues, they produce wonderful pastas and the fresh ramen noodles employed by Umami are delectable (to think that I once thought ramen came in a brown and orange package with a packet of msg powder… I’m glad my definition has changed).

In addition to the consistenly-delicious food at Umami, I love the ambiance.

Sit in the bar area and pretend you are on vacation. Somewhere where the word ‘recall’ still means, “Hey Dan, do you recall the time B.J. Raji intercepted that ball during the playoff game against the Bears, ran it back for a touchdown and then shook his buns in the endzone?”

In other awesome news, tonight I disovered that one of my furry roomates, we’ll call him ‘Tuff Puff,’ loves kale. This came to my attention during dinner when he dug his claws into my leg as he swiped a piece of the nutrition-packed leafy green that had fallen on my lap and then devoured it (pepper flakes and all). Also, yesterday Dan came home with a bunch of new (to us) records, including Van Morrison, The Band and this one:

And finally, I made the peanut sauce from this, one of my new favorite blogs, tonight again for dinner and oh yum, is it tasty. I hope your week is off to as banner of a start… Cheers.

Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon