Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Spartans is a documentary about Yvan, a mixed-martial arts champion who grew up in the projects of Marseilles, France, coaches boys and girls from his neighborhood with the hope of teaching them enough discipline to keep them in school and out of trouble. It starts out promising, but by the middle of the film I’d already had enough of Yvan’s lectures and tough-guy talk. I guess I have to accept that “If you don’t stay in school and respect your mother, I’ll tear your head off!” can be effectively motivating to somebody, because it seemed to be working on these kids, but it got old pretty fast. Way too much of Yvan talking, not enough of Yvan getting results.

Spartans | 8:11 am CST
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Friday, April 10th, 2015

My Darling B experienced a sustained moment of panic last night when she discovered that she couldn’t shut off her smart phone. B is a stickler for rules, so when the theater captain asks everyone to “shut off” their phones and I’m only silencing mine, B shuts hers all the way down – power off, cold as a stone, needs to boot up to make a noise or flash any lights.

But last night when she tried to shut her phone off, it wouldn’t respond. The screen remained blank, although a little blue flashing life-light kept blinking, so obviously it was powered up. I tried calling her and texting her, and even though I could hear it ringing through my phone, her phone gave no clue at all that I was trying to contact her. She sat through the movie with the phone in her hand, terrified that it would light up and start bleating in the middle of the show. It never did, so she got lucky. The guy sitting next to her, though, had a phone that made a noise so crazy loud that he just about jumped out of his skin trying to shut it down.

We did a hard reboot to it later by pulling the battery, waiting a minute or two for it to completely die, then reinserting the battery and powering up. Works like a charm now.

smartypants | 10:29 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I feel pretty lucky that My Darling B talked me into going to see Uncle John, the second film we saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year. Uncle John is a heartwarming story about death and murder and the grim determination to hide your dark secrets no matter how many people you have to kill. And family. Togetherness. New love.

Really a well-made movie, it was shot mostly in farm country just north of Madison and looked it. The cinematography was top-notch, the casting was superb, the story was intriguing and suspenseful and the writing was engaging. Rarely does a movie as dark as this one hold my attention any more.

Uncle John | 7:49 am CST
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I feel really awkward about not liking Results, the first film of the Wisconsin Film Festival. I was so bored with it that I came close to walking out on it two or three times. Then the audience would laugh at something they thought was pretty funny but went right by me, and I’d sit there wondering, Now why didn’t I get that?

And they did that a lot. It didn’t all go over my head. There were a few moments where somebody did something that made me smile. For the most part, though, it was like watching a crowd. People came in, they did stuff, some of it was interesting, occasionally it was funny, and then they left. I like people watching. I do it all the time. And I have to say that it’s more interesting than this movie was. I think that’s because people-watching is supposed to be random, but I think this movie was trying to tell a story. Or maybe not. I could be wrong about that.

Whatever. Not my cup of tea.

Results | 7:40 am CST
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Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Our last stop during Madison Restaurant Week was Johnny Delmonico’s Steakhouse. This was our first visit to Johnny’s and to make it an extra-special celebration, we met good friends Becky and John there.

My appetizer was Flash-Fried Calamari tossed in sweet and spicy chili sauce and crushed peanuts. I can’t remember the last time I had calamari as delicious as that. Everybody but Johnnie was ohhhing and ahhhing over it except John, who couldn’t bring himself to eat octopus and went with the Caesar salad instead.

Becky and I had Alaskan Cod and Shrimp for our entree: wild-caught Alaskan cod and shrimp poached in a spicy tomato and saffron broth, served with grilled bread. Not bad at all, but a little soupier than I thought it would be. My Darling B ordered Certified Angus Beef Short Ribs: tender port-braised short ribs served with creamy polenta, roasted root vegetables and demi-glace. Johnnie went with the New York Strip: sliced certified angus beef New York strip served with garlic mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus and bordelaise sauce.

For dessert, I had German Chocolate Cake served with chocolate sauce and shaved coconut. It was so gobsmacking good I don’t even remember what the others had.

Johnny Delmonico’s | 11:15 am CST
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Friday, January 23rd, 2015

By now, you’ve noticed that our third meal in our whirlwind tour of Madison Restaurant Week venues has been missing from this drivel. “What the hell?” You were thinking. “Has he forgotten his duties?” It’s a natural reaction, and I have a good reason: I’m lazy. I started to write it up, but didn’t feel like finishing it. It happens to me all the time. Like right now. I started to make fun of myself for not finishing the drivel I wrote about going out to eat, but I don’t have any ideas for a way to finish the joke and I’m not sure I want to any more. Well. Anyway.

We went to Sardine on Tuesday night. Sardine is one of our favorite places to eat, and ironically so, because we so rarely go there. It’s got great food, the staff is very nice, very professional and very fast, and the bar is well-stocked with any kind of wine, booze or beer you could think of. Well, that I can think of. Maybe you can think of a lot more than I can.

My appetizer was fish soup or, as it’s known when it’s the soup du jour, “soupe de poisson.” Don’t ask me why “soup” doesn’t have a silent e and then it does. I don’t know French so I asked The Google, and I just wrote down what it told me. So. This may be the first time I’ve ever had fish soup. Every time the option of fish soup was presented to me before I thought, Fish is an odd thing to make soup out of, and I didn’t get it. But Restaurant Week is all about trying new things, so I tried it and I liked it. B’s appetizer was a goat cheese and onion tart with black olives and oven-roasted tomatoes. B loves a good tart.

My entree was a grilled Norwegian salmon because, when I see salmon on the menu, nothing else has a chance. They served it with French lentils, sautéed spinach, portobello mushrooms, tomatoes, and beurre blanc. That’s a sauce made of butter. Don’t be impressed that I knew that. I asked The Google again. B’s entree was a French casserole that foodies call Cassoulet, which seems weird to me because “casserole” is a French word. Why would the French have two words for the same thing? Turns out they don’t. “Casserole” comes from a word that means “saucepan,” so you’re eating a saucepan when you call it a casserole. B loves her saucepans, but she loves Cassoulet even more. The Cassoulet at Sardine was braised white beans, lamb, garlic sausage, duck confit and bread crumbs. She let me taste some of hers. Oh my.

For dessert, I asked for Gianduja Crunch, because the menu described it as chocolate-hazelnut ganache on a crunchy feuilletine crust, caramel sauce and hazelnut brittle tuille. I don’t know what half of that means, but I didn’t have to ask The Google about any of it because you had me at “chocolate-hazelnut ganache.” B had the Crème Renversée au Caramel. Ditto hers, except you had to get all the way to “caramel” to hook me.

Sardine | 5:48 am CST
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Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

We had dinner tonight at Quivey’s Grove, our fourth meal during Madison Restaurant Week. It’s a comfy restaurant, we’ve enjoyed the meals we’ve had there before, and the menu they published looked enticing.

For an appetizer, I asked for the roasted garlic and cauliflower soup served with parmesan cheese croutons. Very tasty. B enjoyed Wisconsin raclettes, a dish made of Roth Kase Raclette cheese, baby red potatoes, baby dill pickles and pickled onions. B loves her appetizers hot and gooey.

For the entree, I went for the lamb shank, an impressively large shank of lamb slowly braised in Wollersheim Domaine du Sac red wine until it was fall-off-the-bone tender, served with root vegetables in pan juices and a generous helping of rosemary garlic mashed potatoes. Very nicely done. B went for the Pork Trio: pork tenderloin medallions on caramelized apple with cider cream sauce, a pork shank lollipop (no, really, that’s what they said it was) glazed with honey mustard sauce on bacon and caraway kraut, and cottage pie made with braised pork cheek and mashed potatoes – sort of a tiny little shepherd’s pie served in what looked like a soup bowl.

I was especially looking forward to dessert: their published menu promised chocolate sauce cake, rich and gooey chocolate cake baked on chocolate sauce, upended in a bowl and served warm with vanilla ice cream. “Not so pretty, but just try to stop eating this!” they bragged. And that’s all they did, because chocolate sauce cake wasn’t on the menu when we got there. I had to settle for a so-so standby in vanilla flan. B’s dessert wasn’t on the published menu, either. It was some kind of whipped cream and chocolate sauce confection in a cocktail glass. Put up or shut up next time, Quivey’s.

Quivey’s Grove | 8:40 pm CST
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Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

On day two of Madison Restaurant Week, we had lunch at Roast, one of the newer pubs and restaurants along State Street, new enough that we’d never been to or even heard of this particular one before. Getting out to try new places like this is why we look forward to Restaurant Week.

Roast appears to have been carved out of the space between the shoulders of the two buildings on either side of it. It’s got the bare brick walls and iron furnishings of many other industrial-chic restaurants.

For my appetizer, I had the New Orleans-style seafood gumbo, a bowl of shrimp, oysters and crabmeat, served over rice and lightly seasoned, something of a surprise as I normally expect that almost anything called “New Orleans style” will set my mouth on fire. This was pretty tame compared to past experience. Not that that’s a bad thing.

B went with Arugula and Shaved Pear Salad for her appetizer: arugula, thinly-sliced pear sections, candied pecans, pomegranate seeds and warm crispy goat cheese, all drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette. This is so totally B’s kind of salad, and she happily scooped up every last little bit of it.

For my entree, I went for the Caribbean Marinated Pork Shoulder, a sandwich of slow roasted Caribbean pork shoulder, cherry-infused BBQ sauce, pickled red onions and just a touch of feta cheese on a baguette, served with the crispiest house-made chips I’ve ever enjoyed. It paired up nicely with a goblet of Blackout Stout from Great Lakes Brewing.

B wanted to try the Foie Gras Burger, a grass-fed ground beef patty with slices of seared foie gras, caramelized onion jam and goat cheese on a Madison Sourdough bun. Again, this is exactly her kind of kitchen experiment. But wait! There’s more! It came with a side of duck fat fries seasoned with truffle salt. I don’t even know what truffle salt is.

For dessert, I went with Streusel Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. Because apple pie. B enjoyed a chunk of Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake.

Roast | 8:54 pm CST
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Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Today is the first day of Madison Restaurant Week, and once again we began with lunch at Inka Heritage. It’s solidified into our traditional starting place partly because we’re sentimental, but mostly because we love the food and the service.

For an appetizer, I picked Spicy Tuna Causa: potatoes that a bohemian like me would call “mashed” but according to the menu are “whipped” – whichever, the potatoes are flavored with chilis called aji amarillo and pressed into circular cakes about the size of half-dollar coins. A dollop of spicy tuna salad is spread between the two cakes, like a sandwich cookie, and garnished with a tiny wedge of boiled egg and avocado. My Darling B just loves this stuff, but instead chose the Cilantro Soup. Just what it says on the tin, it’s a cilantro base with chicken, peas, carrots and white rice. I’m one of those people who can’t abide cilantro – it tastes like soap to me – so I didn’t try it.

My entree was Adobo Arequipeno: three tender chunks of marinated pork served with cooked Peruvian red chilis, carrots, onions, tender beans, and a cake of white rice that I broke apart right away and used to sop up all the yummy juices pooling around the pork.

Adobo Arequipeno

B’s entree was Pescado a la Chorrillana: lightly fried fish seasoned with chilis called aji panca, and served with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and a garnish of boiled egg and olive. This also came with a cake of white rice to soak up all the yummy juices.

Pescado a la Chorrillana

Two of the desserts offered on the menu were described as being drenched in milk and cream, which is my kryptonite, so I went for the third dessert, Alfajores: two sandwich cookies with a rich caramel filling described in the menu as dulce de leche and thickly dusted with powdered sugar. Don’t inhale while you’re taking a bite. And wear a bib. Bearded men are advised to excuse themselves to the bathroom and take a good look in the mirror after.

B wanted Copa de Tres Leches Cake and Frutos del Bosque, a light cake covered with three milks and mixed with reduction of berries. Unfortunately, either our server misheard her or the kitchen got the order wrong, because B got Four Milk cake, and was too kind-hearted to say anything to the server about it. Four Milk cake turned out to be, duh, a mixture of four milks poured over a light cake – that would’ve sat inside me for maybe five minutes before I asploded. B lapped it up like a happy little kitteh. Until the people at the next table got their order of Copa de Tres Leches Cake and Frutos del Bosque, and then she became somewhat covetous and maybe even a little pouty. But she and I both left with our sufficiency surensified and looking forward to lunch tomorrow at Roast, our next stop during Restaurant Week.

Inka Heritage | 3:49 pm CST
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Saturday, September 6th, 2014

It’s the traditional photo of us in front of the hops vine at Karben4’s annual Dilly Dally:

The Dilly Dalliers

We weren’t all that impressed by the beers at the Dilly Dally this year. They were all pretty good, but last year most of the brewers prepared something special for the event, if I recall correctly, and this year they didn’t bring anything that wasn’t normally on tap in their tasting rooms.

Dilly Dally 2 | 5:08 am CST
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Sunday, July 27th, 2014

The grand finale of our tour of new restaurants during this summer’s iteration of Restaurant Week was dinner at Tempest Oyster Bar on Friday night. It was hands-down the best dinner we ate all week, and probably the most enjoyable dining experience, partly because our friends Becky and John joined us for the evening and partly because the food and the venue were just that good.

We already had a table by the time our friends came in and even had a plate of oysters Rockefeller waiting for them. None of us had eaten oysters before. I don’t know about the others, but I have a general rule that I won’t eat anything that I can’t distinguish from snot. My Darling B felt, however, that if we were going to an oyster bar, we pretty much had to eat oysters.

I told her that under no circumstances would I be slurping down a raw oyster. There might be enough alcohol in the world to get me drunk enough to do it, but I’m positive that at my age I don’t have the fortitude any more to survive being that drunk. B kept egging me on, and I kept saying no until she ran across a menu item billed as oysters Rockefeller: broiled oysters on the half shell. I could raise no objection to eating cooked boogers. She knows I’ll try anything anybody passes off as cuisine so long as it’s cooked. I’ve eaten slugs, bugs, tentacles and I can’t even remember what else, so I agreed to a plate of oysters Rockefeller.

And you know, they were not bad. I wouldn’t say I’m crazy about them, and I wouldn’t go out of my way for another serving, but as one of those things to try just to say I did it, it wasn’t bad. It reminded me of the dark-meat scallops we used to get at restaurants in Japan with the guts and all the rest of the tripe still attached, not the clean, white scallops typically served here in the States. Chewy. A little gristly. I’d describe the taste as muddy. We all tried them and I think we all had about the same opinion: they were okay, but nobody raved about them. But we ate oysters at the oyster bar. Bucket list item checked off.

Oysters Rockefeller was actually the pre-appetizers appetizer, an extra treat we ordered because it was a special night out. The appetizer from Tempest’s prix fixe menu for Restaurant Week was a choice of she-crab soup, whitefish cakes, or a Caesar salad. Becky and I had the whitefish cake. It was wonderful. Nice and flaky, just a little creamy, and just a little bit sweet. John had Caesar salad. I think B had crab soup (not sure, too lazy to go upstairs to ask her).

For the main course, Becky and My Darling B had the marlin. For the longest time I didn’t think anyone ever ate marlin. I thought people fished for marlin just so they could have a stuffed marlin on the wall to tell stories about. Reading Hemingway will do that to you. He made it sound like catching a marlin was pretty tough to do, but I suppose they don’t reel them in on a line any more. It’s a tasty fish, but much meatier than any of us expected it to be. Each bite was a solid mouthful of food that had to be chewed like steak. It was a long way off from a nice, flaky walleye fillet.

I had salmon, cooked to perfection. Salmon is so easy to get right and yet it seems that somehow almost everybody overcooks it. Not the case here. My salmon was nice and crispy outside but soft and smooth as cream inside.

John had hangar steak with fried oysters; he said the steak was good but that he liked the oysters more.

For dessert, Becky and I each ordered a slice of the richest chocolate pecan pie I’ve ever eaten – five stars! It was so very rich that Becky could get only halfway through hers. I’m not the sensitive flower that she is, though; I garbaged mine down toot sweet and rubbed my happy belly. B had the key lime pie. She loved it. John had the apple rhubarb crumble and it was delicious, too.

I think we all gave the place A-pluses with a big, happy smiley face, and I already know I want to take B back for a special treat some time.

Tempest | 6:52 am CST
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Friday, July 25th, 2014

We were pleasantly surprised by our fourth pick for Restaurant Week.  I figured Luigi’s pizzeria was pretty much exactly what it looked like: a strip mall pizza place. Happily, it’s much better than that. The walnut red pepper dip that B ordered for an appetizer was so scrummy that we ate every little bit of it, even after we ran out of garlic bread, by spreading it on our pizza crusts. I ordered pepperoni pinwheels for appetizers, which were also pretty tasty, but I was lovin’ that red pepper dip.

I had wild mushroom ravioli for the main course; delicious but, again, not as delicious as the grape and gorgonzola pizza that B had. I would never in a million years have thought of pairing grapes and gorgonzola cheese; maybe at a wine tasting, but certainly not on a pizza. My mistake.

At least I got the dessert right: the blackberry tarragon apple crisp was so good I was still craving it at bedtime. Should have ordered an emergency backup as a midnight snack.

Luigi’s | 5:58 am CST
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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The day was still eighty degrees and damp as a dishrag when we got home last night. I mowed the lawn anyway, something I had planned to do tonight but that was before I knew I was going to eat a dinner so spicy that I would need to walk it off or risk lying awake most of the night wondering, not for the first time, what a heart attack felt like when compared to indigestion.

The dinner was good, just rather spicy, but then I suppose I should have expected that at a place called The Bayou that serves Cajun cuisine. Nobody would believe it was New Orleans style if they served mildly spiced dishes. The Bayou was restaurant number two on our list of places to visit during Madison Restaurant Week. This time around we decided to visit only places we’ve never been before, except for our first stop at Inka Heritage on Sunday afternoon for lunch, which has become our customary way to kick off the week.

All the dishes that The Bayou was serving for Restaurant Week sounded delicious, so I picked my main course based entirely on the fact that it was the most fun to say out loud: shrimp jambalaya chimichanga. The other dishes had fun names, too: andouille crusted mahi mahi, and (B’s choice) lobster chipotle alfredo pasta. Fun, but not as much fun as jambalaya chimichanga.

The food was delicious, the portions were generous enough to save half for lunch, the company was effervescent and the beer was cold and relaxing, just what I needed after work on a Monday.

The Bayou | 5:46 am CST
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Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

I only had ten beers, honest! And I feel just fine!

We stopped by Harmony Bar after work for a free beer tasting they were hosting as part of craft beer week. I tried six or eight beers (it may have been as many as ten, but I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging) – just tried them, mind you, no more than a sip or two, because I wanted to taste (and smell) each of them, but I’m not an idiot.

Not only did we discover new beers, one of the people in the crowd showed us a nifty Android app, Untappd, we can use to keep track of the beers we taste, make notes about what they taste like, where we found them, who we were with (it’s not an app if it’s not somehow social). So we passed a happy two hours sampling beer, playing with our smart phones and eating pizza. Not bad for a Tuesday night.

tasters | 8:31 pm CST
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Sunday, May 4th, 2014

So they do the ticket sales a little different at the Cork & Barrel. The guy from the guild came by at eight to give us a little slip of paper with numbers 104 and 105, marking our place in line. That’s the way it’s always been before, but then he ran through the rules of engagement:two tickets per person, cash only, line re-forms at quarter til twelve.

Wait, what? We can leave?

Turns out that yes, we can leave and come back! Such a deal!

Not ones to waste an opportunity, we packed up our camp chairs and drove over to Stalzy’s Deli for breakfast. Beats sitting in line all morning long.

interregnum | 9:42 am CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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This is going to sound crazy, but we got out of bed at five o’clock this morning in order to buy tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest. We’ve gotten up early before but, if memory serves (and I’m not saying it does) this is the earliest we’ve rolled out of bed to get these tickets. (“That must be some good beer!” said the woman out for a smoke on her front porch after I told her why all these people were lined up on the sidewalk in front of her house.) And this is the first time we lined up somewhere other than outside Star Liquor. We’ve always had good luck there in the past, but they always had 600 tickets before; they were allotted just 400 this year and the line was just as long, so we drove on to try our luck at Cork & Barrel. Our chances looked much better there; B counted about 120 people and empty chairs in line ahead of us.

And we discovered we’re not nearly as hardcore as we thought: the people in line behind us drove three hours from central Illinois to get tickets! Talking to them, we felt pretty sure we would get tickets; they said they usually ended up further down the line and still got in before, so we hunkered down and started counting the hours…

Update: We got 104 &105!

lined up | 7:18 am CST
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Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

It’s Madison Craft Beer Week!

wide-eyed

We stopped at Next Door Brewing after work to get something to eat and OH MY GOODNESS I’VE NEVER SEEN IT SO BUSY! The place was wall-to-wall beer-drinking and conversating customers! We had to wait at the bar for a table, but only for fifteen minutes or so and, as always, the food was worth the wait. And the beer.

surfacing

Craft Beer Week | 8:08 am CST
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Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Just last night we saw a trailer for le week-end, one of the movies we watched at the film festival. The trailer made it look like a feel-good rom-com about a couple on an impulsive weekend in Paris where they reignite the flame of passion for their long marriage. I have rarely seen a more misleading movie trailer.

In the actual movie, the husband scurries after the wife, pathetically begging her for sex while she points out at every opportunity just how pathetic he is and occasionally cussing him out for no really good reason other than, I think, they’ve been married so long that she can get away with it.

If there was a high note in the film it was Jeff Goldblum, who seems to be more and more Jeff Goldblumian in every new picture I see him in. Here he packed a full-length feature film performance into only fifteen or twenty minutes of screen time, quite a feat even at the frenetic pace only he can manage.

le week-end | 11:42 am CST
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Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Mother, I Love You was our wildcard pick of the film festival offerings. It could have been bad, it could have been good, we had no idea. It was from Latvia. What does anybody, besides Latvians, know about Latvia? Definitely European, kind of Soviet, maybe bleak, maybe not. We went in not knowing what we were getting into.

The film was about a kid who appears to be spoiled rotten. His mother has a good job at a hospital, they have a nice apartment but it doesn’t seem to register on the kid that he’s got it good even though his best friend is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

Eventually the kid does something really bad and lies to his mother about it, and I have to tell you that in the last half-hour of the movie I really didn’t care what happened to this spoiled little brat. I was half-hoping to see him run over by a truck in the last fifteen minutes of the film. But he wasn’t. And what he did turned my ideas all the way around about whether or not I cared about him or this film. I gave it three out of five stars when I left the theater and almost immediately regretted not giving it more. By the time we’d finished dinner I was sorry I hadn’t given it five out of five. I’m still bugged that I didn’t. Really, this was a film I couldn’t stop thinking about. Nicely done.

Mother, I Love You | 8:46 pm CST
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Saturday, April 12th, 2014

We walked out of just one film at the film festival, and it was called Macaroni And Cheese, although we would’ve walked out of The Congress if we’d stopped saying to ourselves, “It can’t get any worse, it can’t get any worse…”

Macaroni And Cheese was three young women reminiscing about the time they went to a film festival. They apparently went not to watch films but to hook up with young men, and not just any young men but instead the young men they had no chance of hooking up with. One of the women wanted to hook up with a hot young celebrity actor whom she told everyone who would listen she met accidentally not long ago when he gave her his phone number. One of the women keeps throwing herself at a young man who obviously has no interest at all in her but will probably sleep with her because it doesn’t require much effort. And the third woman wants a man, any man, to suck her face but – and I never did believe this – no one wanted to except the skeevy-looking guys.

We walked out because we had already seen this movie – not in a theater, but in grade school, then in junior high, and again in high school, and it wasn’t that interesting back then.

Macaroni And Cheese | 4:42 pm CST
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The Obvious Child is a Rom-com, but it is not what you’re thinking of right now, if in fact you’re thinking of the Hollywood template for a rom-com with its whacky characters, meet-cute situations, misunderstandings and happy resolutions. This movie has all that, but it does all those things on its own terms, unconventionally, true to itself. It’s one of the most original romantic comedies I’ve seen in so many years that I wonder how it’s taken this long.

It also salvos the audience with f-bombs and is pretty frank when it comes to the way some people talk about sex: the movie opens with Donna in her stand-up routine describing the way a woman’s vagina looks through her panties, then segues into how panties look after they’ve been worn. The audience I was in cracked up big time for it, but I could see another audience going stone-cold silent.

Jenny Slate plays the role of comedian Donna Stern as if she was born for it. Ditto her best friend and roommate Nellie, played by Gaby Hoffmann, whose face tickled at my memory for the longest time until I finally remembered her as Jessica, the girl who helps Jonah get to New York city in Sleepless In Seattle. I wonder if she’s sick of being identified with that role yet.

Donna’s boyfriend dumps her at the opening of the movie, right after she has a killer night doing her stand-up routine in a neighborhood comedy club. I have to confess that what I liked most about this scene was that I not only understood the comedy, it also made me laugh, two things that normally don’t happen when I try out modern comedians. I don’t know what it is about modern comedy that doesn’t connect with me. The last modern comic whose routine didn’t go right over my head was Louis C.K. No, wait, it was Jim Gaffigan. Whoever. Diana’s routine was funny, but although I could appreciate her snark about her sex life as much as the rest of the audience did, her boyfriend very definitely didn’t. Exit boyfriend.

After the near-obligatory scenes of Donna drunk-dialing her ex-boyfriend and bombing with a “my life sucks” stand-up routine, Donna meets Max, an IT guy who’s not at all the guy you’re thinking of right now. He has a sense of humor just sharp enough to parry Donna’s jokes, yet he’s just gallant enough to let her land a few jabs, and even to pretend that he didn’t just see her crash and burn on stage. After trading jokes curled up in a heap on a bench, followed by what might possibly be one of the funniest scenes of public urination ever filmed, they go back to Max’s place where they dance the rest of the night away.

Donna sneaks out in the morning while Max is asleep and apparently neither one of them tries to call the other for several weeks, which seemed a little odd to me. Do people really just leave each other hanging like that? When Max finally does drop in again at the bookstore where Donna works, she can’t bring herself to tell him she’s pregnant, and Max interprets her reluctance to talk to him as standoffishness, so he backs out graciously.  This scene and the one where they meet at the comedy club felt so fresh and natural that they gave me hope that the rom-com is not a genre with no hope of ever recovering. I liked them both, I cared that things might work out for them, I cringed when it looked like things might not work out and I cheered when they did work out. And not once did the characters seem unbelievable. A little bit too quippy at times, maybe, but some people are really like that.

I just loved Donna’s circle of friends, a great support network, from her roomie Nellie to her father, a perfectly-cast Richard Kind, and even to her mother, who starts out rather shrewish before revealing her warm, cuddly and, inevitably I suppose, supportive side. I’ll be scouring YouTube for recordings of Gabe Liedman, who plays the comedian introducing Donna in the movie and absolutely kills with the one-liners he uses to warm up the audience.

Jake Lacey, the guy playing Max, looked awfully familiar to me, but now that I’ve had a chance to google him I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen him before. I sure hope I do in the future; he was great. Jenny Slate has been in all kinds of things; we looked up an episode of Parks and Recreation to see what she was like in that but couldn’t watch more than ten minutes. It’s that thing with modern comedy going over my head again. Went over B’s, too.

Anyway, five out of five for The Obvious Child. It was a great movie to end the festival on.

The Obvious Child | 9:19 am CST
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Thursday, April 10th, 2014

It’s official: Singing every word of dialogue is stupid.

The characters in the Jacques Demy film A Room In Town sing all their lines, and it just doesn’t work for me. They’re not singing songs, they’re just singing ordinary conversation. It’s distracting and it seems inane to hear people sing lines like “Give me a cigarette.” “Sorry, I’m out.”

My Darling B thought it was “operatic.” I don’t think it came close to the majestic vocal power of opera, so it didn’t work for me from that perspective, either.

As far as the story behind A Room In Town, that was stupid, too. Guilbaud, a striking pipe fitter, lives in a room he rents from Margot Langlois, a former baroness trying to keep up her hoity-toity lifestyle on the pension of her dead husband, a colonel. In the opening scene, Guilbaud and Mme Langlois sing about the riot in the street that Guilbaud just took part in, then Guilbaud establishes that he’s a douchebag by telling Mme Langlois that he can’t pay the rent he owes her but he’s not moving out and what’s she gonna do about it, huh? Later, Guilbaud meet his girlfriend Violette who’s an absolute sweetie and they have a nice time, but then Guilbaud tells his friend Dambiel that he’s thinking of dumping her because it’s not a good time to marry her, what with the strike and all, and besides, he just doesn’t feel any passion for her. Suddenly he remembers he forgot his hat at the Baroness’ house (the line is something like, “Shit, I forgot my hat!” which naturally he sings. Just try to tell me that’s not inane. Lah-lah-lah I can’t hear you!) and while he’s on his way back to get it, he runs into Edith, who sashays through all but the last scene in the movie wearing nothing but a fur coat. She flashes him some skin and says something like, “Do I shock you?” He gives her A Smoldering Look, they exchange two or maybe three more lines in song and then get a room where they go at it like rabbits. This is love! This is passion! They were meant to be together! And other such nonsense that’s supposed to make sense when you sing about it in a movie. (Doesn’t work. Have I mentioned? Oh, I have. Sorry.) Guilbaud cements his cred as a douchebag by dumping Violette in the next act right after she tells him she’s expecting his child. Then he gets clubbed to death in the next riot and, because Edith cannot live a moment without his love, his passion, his embrace and his kisses, she shoots herself right through the heart. Give me a break. What a stupid mess.

A Room In Town | 10:28 am CST
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Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

The other Jacques Demy film we saw at the festival was Lola, a prelude of sorts to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in that it provides the backstory to a character who appears in both films, Roland Cassard. Beautifully shot in black and white, this was Demy’s first feature-length film and, like Umbrellas, another story of star-crossed lovers, but thank goodness none of them sang. Well, Lola did, but just one song and then only because she was a dancer in a cabaret show.

I just loved it. B didn’t. She thought it was hokey the way Cassard fell in love with his childhood sweetheart at the drop of a hat. I thought that was an odd thing for her to say because he did the same thing when he fell in love with a shopgirl in Umbrellas. I love hokiness in old movies, especially black and white films, so that’s probably why I enjoyed Lola. 

Later this week we’re going to see The Young Girls of Rouchefort, Demy’s follow-up to Umbrellas. I’ll be very interested to see how each of us feels about that one!

Lola | 10:23 am CST
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The film festival is featuring several films by the French director Jacques Demy and there was quite a lot of buzz going around about them, so we got tickets for two: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Lola. Umbrellas was the first one we saw and is apparently considered to be Demy’s best film; Jim Healy, the director of programming at the film fest, went so far as to say it was one of the best films ever made. We were really looking forward to watching these films.

One quirky thing about Umbrellas is that all the dialogue is sung by the cast. It’s not a musical; they’re not singing songs. They have lines of dialogue, just as in any other movie, but while the movie’s playing there’s a soundtrack of pop songs that never stops, and the cast members sing their lines as if they can hear the soundtrack. It would be as if you were having a conversation while the radio was playing in the background, and instead of merely saying what was on your mind, you sang each and every sentence you uttered to the tune of whatever song was on the radio at the time. I’ve never seen that done in any movie before.

Umbrellas has the look of a musical; everything is not only very colorful, but exaggeratedly so, as if a teenager who has just discovered a love of decorating was given free reign and a bottomless purse to redo every room in the house. All the cast members move quickly in and out of each scene as quickly and precisely as choreographed dancers, rushing in to hit their marks, delivering their lines with pep, then rushing away. Even the opening credits – well, especially the opening credits have the glitz and glamour normally reserved for a musical. It was a gorgeous-looking movie.

Unfortunately, it turns out that what I thought might be a quirky yet engaging way for the actors to deliver their lines felt more like an inane gimmick to me. Actually, by the end of the film it felt a lot like torture. So when My Darling B asked me, “Well, what did you think?” I had to tell her, “That is probably the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen.”  (Two hours later, as we were exiting the theater where we saw The Congress, I had to repeat myself.) B was astonished. She just adored it. She can’t wait to see it again. So it was apparently quirky yet engaging for some people, just not for me.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg | 8:39 am CST
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Monday, April 7th, 2014

On a scale from one to five, a three-star movie would be an okay movie, meaning I would feel okay recommending it. I would not feel okay recommending a two-star movie. And a one-star movie is a movie that’s so bad I would lay in the road in front of your car to try to stop you from seeing it.

The Congress is a one-star movie. I hope you’re not thinking about seeing it. Please don’t make me lay in front of your car.

Based on a Stanislaw Lem story that must’ve had something to do with the consequences of taking psychoactive drugs (I haven’t read it yet, I’m just taking a wild guess based on all the drugs they snorted in the film), the writers of The Congress mixed up the original idea with a story about how Hollywood celebrities are commodities to be bought and sold. Then the film makers filmed half the movie as live-action and animated the other half and tried to tie them together. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking the same recreational drugs they seem to have been on, so it didn’t come together for me the way it would’ve for them.

The Congress | 11:00 pm CST
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A school where the students are given control over everything: they make up and enforce the rules, the curriculum, the teaching, everything. That’s the situation documented in Approaching The Elephant. If you imagine it would turn into Lord Of The Flies, you’re not far off. It had a bit less violence but made up for it with a lot more screaming. So if you’re interested in watching 90 minutes of kids screaming at each other, to say nothing of coming perilously close to sawing their own fingers off (several times), this would be a great film for you.

The thing with the saws was actually a pretty good example of what I thought was wrong with what sounds at first blush like a great idea. What’s wrong with giving kids the tools to learn? Why should we impose rules on how they should use those tools?

Well, here’s a few things to think about: During what they very broadly referred to as wood shop, the kids seemed to prefer using a coping saw, no matter what they were cutting or why. Nobody explained to them how to use one, which would apparently have been too preachy. A coping saw is a C-shaped bow with a very thin, very sharp blade strung so tightly between the arms that it’s notorious for breaking easily. If you use one without wearing safety glasses, you’re just begging to lose an eye, but if you let 8-year-old kids use one without wearing safety glasses, that’s criminally irresponsible. Or am I just too old-fashioned?

Approaching The Elephant | 10:51 am CST
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So, let’s say you’re Josef Mengele. Just hypothetically speaking. And you’re hiding out somewhere in South America because there are quite a lot of people who want to put your head in a noose. Which would you do:

a) Use the Nazi gold you smuggled out of Germany to buy a villa high in the mountains of Argentina and pass the rest of your days fly fishing.

b) Take a suspiciously unhealthy interest in the 10-year-old daughter of your traveling companion, then suggest you be allowed to inject her with animal growth hormones.

c) Check into the most well-known hotel in Cartegena where you can swan about in the saloon every evening, introducing yourself with businesses cards printed with “Josef Mengele” in gothic German script and steering conversations toward the subjects of racial purity and human vivisection.

If you picked b), congratulations! You could be the main character of the film The German Doctor. No surprises here. It’s just what it says on the tin: Creepy Nazi Does Creepy Stuff.

If you chose c I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make a movie about it, so don’t bother.

The German Doctor | 9:45 am CST
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Saturday, April 5th, 2014

I’ve got to hand it to the guys who made The Immortalists:  I wouldn’t know where to begin making a documentary about a couple of guys who sincerely believe they can live forever by not only stopping the aging process, but even reversing it. How do you talk to people who talk like that without rolling your eyes?

But that’s only the first layer of craziness. The second guy, a marathon runner, at least explains his theory for halting the deterioration of DNA in a way that’s simple, direct, and makes some kind of sense. He might have been selling snake oil, but he sounded like a genuine medical doctor while doing it. The first guy, a Rasputin look-alike who gave every indication of being pretty much hammered throughout movie, spoke the kind of technobabble they use in Star Trek when they have to explain how the captain mutated into a lemur. Perversely, the marathon runner couldn’t convince his investors to keep giving him money and went bankrupt, while the drunken Rasputin made enough to set up a laboratory in Silicon Valley, buy a big house in the mountains and collect a harem of mistresses.

The Immortalists | 11:50 pm CST
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People who don’t know George Takei as Mister Sulu from Star Trek might know him from his popular Facebook posts, or from his work to promote marriage equality, or from his role in Allegiance, a musical about the internment camps where Japanese-Americans were held during the second world war. There are many ways To Be Takei, and this documentary puts them all together very handily.

But what made me enjoy this film enough to give it five out of five was George Takei himself. For an actor primary known for his work on a pretty hammy TV show, he is surprisingly good at delivering his message. He’s always on, but he’s not in your face, and even though his ever-present smile is very obviously a carefully-crafted part of his always-on personality, it’s never false; he genuinely seems to be enjoying the hell out of whatever he’s doing.

A very enjoyable film.

To Be Takei | 10:49 am CST
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Intruders is probably the best thriller I’ve seen in years. A young screen writer retreats to a secluded cabin in the mountains to finish the script he’s working on.  Ironic, right? If anyone should know what will go wrong in that scenario, it should be a screen writer. This tightly-made movie doesn’t take one wrong step building up to the conclusion that had me eagerly anticipating each successive scene. Five stars.

Intruders | 10:36 am CST
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Eka and Natia are 14-year-old girls in Soviet Georgia during the 1990s rebellion there. That’s it. That’s what the film In Bloom is about, and it’s as drab and awful as it sounds. Old women fight with the girls over a loaf of bread. The girls find a moment of happiness in an afternoon get-together around a piano with their friends, and the song they sing goes something like, “Life is hard, life is bitter, it will crush you like a miserable little bug…” This is a coming of age film you’re not going to walk away from feeling good. Just saying.

In Bloom | 10:29 am CST
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Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The first films of the Wisconsin Film Festival will be shown tonight. We’ll see two of them, then we’re both off all day tomorrow, as well as all of next week, to attend the rest of the festival. In all, we’ll spend almost sixty hours in the dark watching 28 films.

My Darling B took the day off from work today to psyche herself up for the kickoff. For whatever reason, I was sure I didn’t take today off. I thought I was off tomorrow and all of next week. I even asked one of my coworkers if I could ride in to work with him today. Then, while I was setting up my out-of-office messages, I happened to look at my calendar and noticed that I was off Thursday and Friday. Thinking I might’ve punched in the wrong date while I was blocking out my calendar, I went back through the messages in my inbox until I found the leave request I sent to my boss: It said I was off on Thursday, too. And she sent it back approved.

It was like finding a twenty in an old pants pocket. A bonus day off! I got to sleep in as late as I wanted this morning! Well, as late as the cats would let me, anyway.

bonus day | 2:06 pm CST
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Sunday, March 9th, 2014

buying ticketsMy Darling B, poised & ready to buy tickets to the Wisconsin Film Festival on the first day they were available. You would not believe how anxious she was …

tickets | 10:26 am CST
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Friday, January 24th, 2014

I was up about half the night after I made the mistake of popping open a bottle of my most recent homebrew. The mistake was that I had just come home from Sardine, one of our favorite restaurants, where my sufficiency had already been serensified so my belly really didn’t need all that beer. On the upside, after bottle-conditioning for four weeks, this batch of California Common is the best batch of beer to come out of the new brewery setup to date, if I may say so myself. I’m well chuffed.

But back to Sardine, our next-to-last night out during Madison Restaurant Week, and one of our favorite places to visit because overall its such a wonderful experience. The food’s good, the service is good, and the location is comfortable and inviting. B ordered the cassoulet, as is her custom, because she doesn’t believe in messing with a good thing, while I enjoyed the grilled Norwegian salmon, because salmon.

Dessert was the most delightful surprise of the evening: Gianduja Crunch, a chocolate hazelnut ganache on a crunchy feuilletine crust. What that translates to in Midwestern English is, a super-rich bar of chocolate pudding served on a crust of chocolate with a dab of caramel sauce on the side, as if it wasn’t decadent enough already. My mouth did somersaults with every bite.

Sardine | 6:09 am CST
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Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

It was cold enough to freeze my beard to my face as we made our way across Campus Drive to Steenbock’s on Orchard, where we had a dinner reservation this evening, our third night out during Madison Restaurant Week. Everything that was on the menu sounded really good so it took us forever to decide what we wanted, but in the end …

B had: Fagioli for starters, rabbit pot pie for her entree, and carrot cake for dessert. The fagioli was delicious. The rabbit tasted like chicken. No, really. That would’ve been my first guess, and if you’d told me it was chicken, I would never have known. It was still really, really good, but it was uncanny how much it tasted like chicken.

I had: Roasted chicken risotto for starters, halibut for my entree, and molten chocolate cake for dessert. We both loved the risotto. The halibut was a touch overdone, but it came with a generous helping of ratatouille, so I still finished every bite.

And molten chocolate cake! Wowzers!

molten chocolate cake | 8:26 pm CST
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Finding places like Plate & Barrel, in Sun Prairie, is why we like going out for Madison Restaurant Week so much. The only trouble with finding yet another place that has good food and great service is finding the time to visit again. But I’m pretty sure we’ll go back.

Plate & Barrel serves tapas-style meals, just the kind of thing My Darling B goes for. Her plate, for instance, was a couple of lamb meatballs, stuffed piquillo peppers, and a big old mushroom cap stuffed with polenta. She liked it so much that she even nibbled on a corner of the mushroom to see if maybe this was the one that would get her to want them. I have to report with a tear in the corner of my eye that she still does not get mushrooms.

Plate and Barrel | 5:55 am CST
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Monday, January 20th, 2014

What I did with my Sunday:

Well, first I made a big, steaming pot o’ joe, same as I always do. Always. The day doesn’t start without a pot o’ joe. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that. If you have, and you’ve been wondering why your day didn’t start as early as every other day, it was because I got up late. Now you know.

Then, I ate some oatmeal and drank my coffee while I read the morning news. Took me hours. Because Sunday.

At about ten o’clock, My Darling B reminded me that we had a date for eleven o’clock at a restaurant on Park Street called Inka Heritage, our first meal to kick off Madison Restaurant Week, one of our very favoritest festivals. I may be remembering this wrong, but I think Inka was the first restaurant we visited when we started going to Restaurant Week many moons ago, and I think we’ve been starting the winter version of Restaurant Week every year by going to Inka. Even if I’m not remembering that right, I’m pretty sure this is the third time we’ve been there and I know I haven’t been disappointed by the food yet. I don’t know why we don’t go more often. Probably because it’s not in the neighborhoods we usually visit. We should get out more.

We both had the fish, by the way. Scrumptious.

Then I spent all afternoon in the basement throwing crap out, putting away the stuff I couldn’t make myself throw out, and finally knocking together a work bench where I could work on choo-choo trains. I used to make a temporary work bench by throwing a board across an open stretch of the layout, but there aren’t any open stretches any more, and I still needed a place to solder track together or whatever.

I had an old pine shelf that came out of one of our closets, and a dozen or so sawn-off ends of two-by-fours I could knock together into brackets. Took me a little longer than I thought it would to knock them together, but then it always does. Once the braces were up, all I had to do was cut the pine shelf to length and screw it down. The shelf was too long to cut it with the table saw, so I clamped it down to my Black & Decker WorkMate 200, with a board across the top to act as a guide, grabbed my circular saw and got ready to make some serious noise.

The clamp was in the way. It usually is. I don’t use the circular saw very often, so I usually make this mistake. As I was repositioning the clamp it seemed there was something about the way I’d set up the cut that wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was bothering me about it until I was just about to pull the trigger on the saw, and then I saw it: The line I’d planned to cut was laying right across the middle of my WorkMate. If I’d gone and made the cut, I would’ve sawn the WorkMate in half.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I’ve abused it that way. One end of the WorkMate’s front jaw has been shorter than the back jaw (the top opens like a vise) ever since I sawed it off the same year I got it as a Christmas present, and the tops of the jaws are pockmarked with holes where I’ve drilled through work that I was sure was too thick for the drill bit to get all the way through. I’ve known for years that I’m probably going to saw it in half eventually; it’s pretty surprising, really, that I haven’t done it already. And yet somehow I avoided doing it yesterday.

With the shelf cut to length, all that was left to do was screw it down and cover it with a whole bunch of crap. And done.

setting up shop | 7:53 am CST
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Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Today I learned from Garrison Keillor via The Writer’s Almanac that:

The Times Square celebration dates back to 1904, when The New York Times opened its headquarters on Longacre Square. The newspaper convinced the city to rename the area “Times Square,” and they hosted a big party, complete with fireworks, on New Year’s Eve. Some 200,000 people attended, but the paper’s owner, Adolph Ochs, wanted the next celebration to be even splashier. In 1907, the paper’s head electrician constructed a giant lighted ball that was lowered from the building’s flagpole.

Other cities have developed their own ball-dropping traditions. Atlanta, Georgia, drops a giant peach. Eastport, Maine, drops a sardine. Ocean City, Maryland, drops a beach ball, and Mobile, Alabama, drops a 600-pound electric Moon Pie. In Tempe, Arizona, a giant tortilla chip descends into a massive bowl of salsa. Brasstown, North Carolina, drops a Plexiglas pyramid containing a live possum; and Key West, Florida, drops an enormous ruby slipper with a drag queen inside it.

Wait, what was that last?

Yes. Yes, it was:

drag queen drop | 7:38 pm CST
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Sunday, October 13th, 2013

drinkingBShe only has two hands, but that doesn’t stop My Darling B from being a three-fisted drinker! We were at the Great Amherst Beer Festival, hosted by Central Waters Brewing yesterday when B found herself trying to juggle three cups of beer while we took photos of the goings-on. She turned out to be one of the goings-on.


beer juggling | 1:05 pm CST
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Funny thing: I’ve been to two beer festivals in two months and at both of them I’ve seen bluegrass bands that made me, and I mean made me tap my feet. Last month it was The Material Guys at the Dilly-Dally, hosted by Karben4. This month, it was Horseshoes & Hand Grenades at the Great Amherst Beer Fest hosted by Central Waters. It gets me to thinking I ought to look for more live performances of bluegrass bands, but then I wonder if it would take the wonder out finding them by accident.

horseshoes & hand grenades | 8:34 am CST
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Friday, October 4th, 2013

Shasta Lake CA

Had to hit the road as early as possible this morning and drive, drive, drive to get to Chico in time for Oktoberfest at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Quite a lot of our drive took us through the area around Shasta Lake, gorgeous to look at but it’s part of a national park, right? Everywhere we went, we saw rangers standing vigil over sawhorses draped with signs that all said, “Go Away! Your government doesn’t want you to have fun today.” So hitting the road was about all we did until Chico. No sight-seeing today.

After a week of sleeping on the lumpy futon in the little hobo camper, we decided last night that we would splurge when we got to Chico and check into a hotel, where we could have an indecently long, scalding-hot shower before we went to the festival and sprawl on a king-sized bed when we got back. It would probably have been the best plan we made all week, if we hadn’t already planned to spend the day at the Sierra Nevada brewery, drinking beer and eating bratwurst with lots of sauerkraut. I had the sauerkraut. B doesn’t like sauerkraut, so her plan wasn’t as good as mine was.

The good folks at Sierra Nevada chartered a bus that ran from downtown Chico to the brewery and back, so all we had to do to get there was take a short walk, maybe four or five blocks through what looked like the central shopping district of the city. As we ambled slowly toward the bus stop, we notice a surprisingly large number of people camped out on the pavement. What was especially odd about them was that almost none of them asked us if we had money. They just watched us, very intently, as we walked by. Turns out this creeps me out way more than when they ask.

The bus that picked us up was one of those fifteen-passenger vans that hotels use to drive you to the airport. There was almost nobody waiting for it when we got there, but by the time it left, it was chock full o’ people. The driver dropped us off at the brewery about a half-hour before the fest opened its gates, so our busload ended up at the front of the line. A guy who came out to take tickets and put wristbands on us so we could waltz right in when the gates opened. He chatted us up while he worked and was pretty surprised when we told him we came all the way from Madison for this.

The fest was in a big tent set up behind the brewery, and when I say “big,” I mean it’s one of the man-man objects that can be seen from the moon. Off-the-scale big. Vast would not be too much exaggeration. I didn’t take the trouble to count, but I wouldn’t hesitate to bet that there were at least two hundred picnic tables in there, and there was still room left over for a stage up front where three or four bands took turns playing, to say nothing of the tables and booths in the back where they were selling merch. Really, really big.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Chico CA Oktoberfest

The tent was in a field alongside the brewery and the end of rows of hop poles that stood empty this late in the year. One side of the tent, the side that was facing a semi trailer where they were dispensing their beer, was open to the field. We each collected a big glass mug as we entered and something like five or six tickets, made our way straight through the tent, out the side and across the field to the trailer where nice young people were tapping beers and handing them across trestle table set up all along the side of the trailer. If memory serves, I asked for a glass of their Märzen first, the brew that they and every other brewery sells as their Oktoberfest seasonal. Sierra Nevada makes a Märzen that is even more deliciously refreshing after you’ve been driving all morning.

We found a seat at a table along the open side of the tent where we could hear the band, watch people go by, and watch the sky slowly fade from bright blue to twilit shades of purple and navy blue. I got my mug refilled twice (I’m pretty sure), once with a crisp lager and later with more Märzen; they both went down well. I’m sure there was a brat in there somewhere. Right after we came in, I think, but who cares? We were there for the beer.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Chico CAThe beer, and the chicken dance! The highlight of the night was when I got to dance the chicken dance with My Darling B. Apparently it’s as much a tradition at this event as the beer is. I think every band that climbed up onto the stage played it at least once; I think one of them played it several times. Turns out I’m pretty bad at doing the chicken dance; I keep mixing up the order of the flapping and the cheeping and whatever else it is you’re supposed to do, but I always got the part right where I linked arms with B and ran around in a circle, and that was the most fun anyway, so I win.

We went back to the hotel at around ten and slept soundly as a couple of babies. Tell me, how did that come to mean a good night’s sleep, by the way? Our boys slept in fits and starts and hardly ever through the night. Weird.

California Day 8 | 8:34 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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Monday, September 16th, 2013

Hoppy CoupleWhen I take photos with my smart phone, it automatically saves them to my Google account, and when I take a series of photos that all look the same, Google makes a flip-card cartoon out of them. The only time I remember this feature is afterward, when I’m looking through my photos and I find one that’s moving.

This photo was taken at the Dilly Dally two weekends ago in front of the wall of hops growing up the outside of the Karben4 brewery.

hoppy couple | 6:11 am CST
Category: Dilly Dally, festivals, My Darling B, O'Folks
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Sunday, September 8th, 2013

I did not know that I liked Madonna songs until I went to the Dilly Dally last weekend.

The Dilly Dally is a small gathering of microbreweries from the Madison area: Ale Asylum, Bos Meadery, Capital, Next Door, Old Sugar Distillery, One Barrel, Vintage, Yahara and, last but certainly not least, Karben4, the brewery that sponsored the event. Or at least I assume they sponsored the event, because it took place on their lawn. They had a great big tent set up out by the patio, The Tipsy Cow was there to cater the event and there was even a bluegrass band to provide the entertainment.

The first couple of tunes the band played sounded vaguely familiar, but then all bluegrass tunes sound familiar to me because they all sound more or less the same. I’m not saying I think it’s boring music, I’m saying I don’t know enough of it to recognize a tune when it’s played for me, so they all sort of blur together. Besides, there was all that beer to drink, so I wasn’t really paying attention.

After sampling a couple of beers, My Darling B and I ducked inside for a bite to eat, then came back out onto the patio to sit for a bit. The band was twanging away on another tune that sent a bell ringing somewhere in the back of my memory and, as I paid a little more attention to see if I could get the words, it hit me: it was the Madonna tune True Blue! They were covering Madonna tunes! If memory serves, and I don’t think it does very well at this point, the next song was Borderline, and then they did a cover of the Duran Duran song Hungry Like The Wolf. They did it awesomely!

My Darling B and I parked ourselves right in front of the band and stayed there the rest of the afternoon, taking turns getting beer so one of us could hold our spot. The banjo player came over during the break to talk with somebody right behind us and we had to tell them how much we were enjoying them. He stuck around to talk about the other songs they were working on, and then they went into their last set, when they sang Like a Virgin, which has got to be their signature song. Although they finished off with a scorching version of Rocky Top, which turned into a sing-along. Of course.

greatest cover band ever | 1:32 pm CST
Category: Dilly Dally, entertainment, festivals, music, play
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Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

at the Bristol Renaissance FairGiant rats on a stick? “Pass the mustard!” said My Darling B.

Would it be a renaissance fair without food on a stick? I can’t see how. That, and a funny hat were all I needed to make this the greatest weekend ever, and although I had to try on a lot of funny hats, I finally found exactly the right one.

But wait! It got even better! We went to the renaissance fair in Bristol courtesy of the bespectacled fairy you see in the photo and her partner, who gets around in an SUV because he doesn’t have a delicate set of gossamer wings and a magical flowered tiara. So we got the trifecta: Food on a stick, funny hats and fun friends. *bliss!*

Bristol Renaissance Fair | 6:12 am CST
Category: daily drivel, festivals, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Renaissance Faire
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Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Sean and Nikki, dancing fools, at the Great Taste of the Midwest.

image of Sean and Nikki dancing

mosh pit | 6:19 am CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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Sunday, August 11th, 2013

attending the Great Taste of the MidwestTime once again for the Great Taste of the Midwest, the very best beer fest anywhere in the world, as if that has to be said. We’ve been going to the Great Taste every year for seven years now but this time around there were two significantly different changes to the way we attended.

The first and most amazingly fun change we made was that we invited Sean and Nikki, his significant other, to the event. We snagged a few extra tickets and were trying to figure out how best to spread them out amongst our friends and acquaintances when My Darling B hit on the idea. To sweeten the pot, she bought the plane tickets for them, too, and we offered to put them up in our guest room while they were here. Not too surprisingly, they snapped at the offer, arriving the Friday night before the festival.

The other big difference is that last winter I became a member of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, the group that organizes the Great Taste, mostly because I’ve really wanted to help out at the event and I’d heard that I’d stand a better chance of being allowed to volunteer my time if I was a member, so I paid my dues, waited for the call for volunteers and raised my hand high in the air when it came. And you know what? Not only did they give me a chance by letting me help the vendors set up, they let me in with the rest of the members an hour before the gates opened! Now My Darling B wants to be a member and volunteer, too. I can provide her with a good character reference if she needs it.

At the Great Taste of the MidwestI think Nikki and Sean enjoyed it more than we did, as hard as that might be to believe, although B had a pretty darned good time this year as well, disappearing into the crowds with Nikki to look for more delicious beer whenever Sean and I got distracted by bacon on a stick or an appearance by Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. Then we’d all meet up again by texting each other on our cell phones or, later in the day when our eye-hand coordination had deteriorated to the point where some of our text messages became mostly nonsense (and here I’m thinking of the already-legendary “BACON MEAT IN OUR MOUTHS!”), by agreeing that we should all meet at the picnic blanket if we got split up.

When the taps ran dry and the people began to make their way home, the two youngest members of the tribe, still full of energy and just getting their weekend started, caught a downtown shuttle to join a dance party on the roof of the Children’s Museum where one of Nikki’s friends was DJing. Wow. I probably could’ve done that when I was thirty, but we’ll never know now. The two older members of the O-Folks headed home via the taxi queue where we waited in line for the better part of an hour before being packed tightly into a Toyota Prius with two other people headed back to their hotel room in Monona. We were practically sober by the time we returned to Our Humble O’Bode and ordered the customary after-fest pizza.

Many, many thank-yous go out from Drivel HQ to Nikki and Sean for coming all the way to Madison to make our visit to the fest this year extra-special.

Great Taste 2013 | 2:42 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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Saturday, July 27th, 2013

hot dateDinner Wednesday night at The Wise was pretty awesome, probably because I had a hot date. Also, the food was tasty. But don’t forget the hot date. Here’s a photo to remind you. Wowzers, eh?

The Wise is a very hip restaurant in the lobby of Hotel Red, which I didn’t know was a hotel even though I’ve driven past it dozens of times. It looks an awful lot like an office building. A Japanese office building, to be maddeningly precise about it. B didn’t seem to get this impression but I did. Okay, glad I got that random observation out of my head.

After we were seated, the waitress came around to welcome us and ask if we’d like to start off with any drinks. I asked for a martini. When she answered, “What kind of martini?” I wanted to go all Denis Leary in a coffee shop on her, but I didn’t. I played nice. “Gin martini,” I told her. And it was a pretty good one, too, so I’ll let them off the hook for not defaulting to gin when making a martini.

When it was time to order for the meal, I started off with a salad of field greens. That means rabbit food. Dandelions and water cress and stuff like that. You can’t call it “field greens” if the chef so much as thought about iceberg lettuce while he was preparing it. Which is not to say I don’t like field greens – I love ’em. I gobble them up like, well, a rabbit, especially when they’re drizzled with a yummy topping the way this one was. But I love making fun of them, too. If I had a restaurant and they were on the menu, I’d call them “rabbit food,” because that’s what it is and who can object to that? You want to eat healthy food? Eat like a rabbit. Honestly, it doesn’t get any more frou-frou than that.

B’s starter was gazpacho. More rabbit food. Everybody thinks gazpacho is just cold soup, but it’s not. It’s pureed veggies. A zucchini smoothie served in a soup bowl. B loves gazpacho.

All that rabbit food left plenty of room for the entree: short ribs for me, pork tenderloin for B. All free-range and grass-fed. B was the tiniest bit disappointed in her tenderloin; it was just a bit too overdone and beginning to dry out. Still very enjoyable, but not as good as it could have been. The short ribs, on the other hand, were more delicious than I could have imagined. The yummy glaze made with Guinness stout was an especially nice touch. And because presentation is everything and they wanted this to be the hippest dinner we would eat all week, the entrees were served on pieces of slate about the size of record albums, instead of on plates. Slate, as in the stuff that roofing shingles and blackboards used to be made of. First time I’ve ever eaten off a slab of slate.

Dessert was a chocolate truffle tort for me. I was going to have the citris olive cake because it was billed as “our famous citris olive cake” and I would normally try whatever dish the restaurant was famous for, EXCEPT WHEN THERE’S CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE TORT ON THE MENU! NOM NOM NOM NOM! Besides, B ordered the olive cake and she let me try a bite. It was yummy.

the wise | 7:34 am CST
Category: festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, play, restaurants
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Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Sardine is one of our top five favorite restaurants in Madison. It’s also the one we never go to. The last time we visited, which was also the first time we visited, was two years ago during restaurant week and we’ve been saying “We gotta go back to Sardine” ever since, but for some reason we never did and I don’t know why. It’s a lovely place. The food is delicious. I was going to say “exquisite” but I didn’t want to sound pretentious. But it is. The service is absolutely top notch. And the restaurant itself is gorgeous, all done up in old wood and shiny white tile.

Last night we were lucky enough to snag a couple of seats at a table on the patio overlooking Lake Monona. The patio is a walkway just wide enough for one row of small tables screened from the parking lot by planters hanging from the handrail. The weather was so close to perfect that it makes no sense to describe it any other way: It was sunny and warm, a few fluffy clouds hung in the sky and a very light breeze kept the bugs away, if there were any.

For starters I chose the smoked whitefish croquette, even though I had no idea what that was. Something with fish in it was my guess, and a pretty good guess it was, too. I love fish, especially when it’s as tender as this creamy little chunk of flesh was.

For the entree, I had grilled salmon served on a square of fried polenta, with some grilled fennel on the side. When I cook salmon on the Weber, I put a piece of tinfoil over the grill so the meat stays nice and juicy, but the tinfoil means I don’t get that browned cross-hatching that makes it looked like it was grilled. I don’t mind, but I guess people who go to restaurants expect that, so restaurant chefs slap it right on the grill. The good ones can get away with that, but in a lot of places I’ve been the grill was so hot that it charred the outside of the meat and dried out the inside, leaving a blackened orange-ish puck with really great cross-hatching and almost nothing in the way of taste. Lucky for me the guys in the kitchen at Sardine didn’t do that. The salmon was tender and flaky and full of flavor. I even liked the fennel, and I’m not what you’d call a huge fan of the stuff.

B enjoyed the duck confit. Really enjoyed it.

I had the blueberry crostata for dessert and it was so good that I can’t remember what B had. I’m looking right at the menu this very minute and I couldn’t tell you whether she had the profiteroles or the strawberries and shortcake.

Back to the excellent service: After I finished my main dish I sat back with wine glass in hand and gazed out across the lake. The waitress happened by right about that time, stopped when she saw I was no longer eating and asked me, “May I take that away?” instead of, “You still workin’ on that?” She got an extra five percent just for that.

Sardine Madison Restaurant Week Summer 2013 | 6:02 pm CST
Category: festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, play, restaurants
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Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Porta Bella is one of the restaurants we’ve been saying for the past five or six years we have to visit, yet somehow we never got around to it until yesterday, the first night of Madison Magazine Restaurant Week, when we finally went. And, just like all those other restaurants, after our sufficiencies were serensified and we were waddling out the front door, we wondered why it took us so freaking long to get off our lazy asses and try out such a wonderful place.

First off, coat hangers: They had lots. Thank you Porta Bella, for all the coat hangers. This is a thing with me that I think we’ve already covered, but in case you came in late, I give bonus points to restaurants that have coat hangers because most of them don’t any more and there’s nothing I hate more than being forced to drape my coat over the back of a chair or on the seat of a stool, forcing me to sit on it. Nothing. Literally. Not even baby-eating politicians. And if you know anything about me, you know how much I hate those guys. So good on ya, Porta Bella.

Second, the water situation. Both My Darling B and I think it’s pretty darned important not to let a customer’s water glass go dry, and technically our waiter did manage to save his butt at the very last minute by swinging by our table with a pitcher to fill both our glasses, but just as technically My Darling B’s glass was, ahem, empty. It only cost you a point or two, but I feel obliged to point it out because I’ve dragged other restaurant staff over the coals for this, and I don’t play favorites.

(That’s a load of bullshit, for your information. I totally play favorites and I don’t care who knows it, especially if somebody feels like comping me a meal or two. Just saying.)

Now that that’s out of the way: I can’t remember when I’ve been to a restaurant that was quite like Porta Bella. The interior is all dark wood, the booths are upholstered with overstuffed brocade fabric and curtained with heavy velvet draperies, and you have to walk a labyrinthine path to get to any table in the dining room. It wasn’t just a dining experience, it was like playing Dungeons & Dragons for food. Italian food. Good Italian food.

We both ordered the bruschetta for starters. I have to say, I was a teensy bit disappointed. My Darling B thought it was delicious, and she’s got the refined palate of the family, so I bow to her pronouncements when it comes to tastiness, but I like bruschetta served on very crunchy bread, the way My Darling B makes it. This was on a very limp, not at all crunchy bread. When we go back, I’ll try something else for starters.

For the main dish I had the seafood tetrazini. In a word, Wow! When I first laid eyes on the browned cheese slathered over the broiled shrimp that crowned the dish I thought, Oh, man, those are going to be the chewiest, most overcooked shrimp EVAR, but I was as wrong as a big, fat wrongness can be. The shrimp, the scallops, the lobster and whatever other seafood was in there was cooked to perfection! Props to the cook.

B ordered the steak braciola. She even let me taste it. It was good, but I preferred the tetrazini.

For dessert, I gobbled up a slice of the toasted almond cake and washed it down with a cup of strong black coffee. Really, that’s the only way to eat dessert when you’re out on the town, but don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. You might disagree with me, but I doubt it.

B had the strawberry and almond cannoli and hungrily devoured every bit of it.

There’s really no better way to start off restaurant week than discovering a new favorite place to eat. We’ll be going to back to Porta Bella soon.

Portabella | 7:15 pm CST
Category: festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, play, restaurants
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Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

image of Mob Craft beerThe last and arguably best event we went to during Madison Craft Beer Week was a beer pairing at 8 Seasons Grille. A beer pairing is when the guys who prepare the food serve a beer that complements a food. A strong porter, for instance, goes well with a thick, juicy steak. Heffeweizen is terrific with chicken. A stout is delicious with grilled steak, and so on. Wine snots have done this sort of thing forever, but as far as I know beer snots started doing this just a few years ago.

In this particular case, the chefs at 8 Seasons teamed up with the brewers at Mob Craft Beer to collaborate on a menu of specially-prepared foods and beers, and what a menu they came up with. We had never been to 8 Seasons Grille before even though we’d driven past it dozens of times. Hidden away in the ground floor storefront of a dual-purpose apartment block, we’d never noticed it was there. Finding places like 8 Seasons is just one of the great benefits of taking part in Restaurant Week.

Mob Craft is three guys who make some of the tastiest kitchen experiments I’ve ever sampled. I loved each of the four of the beers they brewed specially to pair with the dishes served by 8 Seasons, even the Pear Sour, which I expected I would have to pass over the table to My Darling B because I usually don’t go for fruity beers or sour beers. I drank every drop of this one, though. However they made that happen, I hope they keep on doing it.

Menu:
Beer 1: Pear Sour
Course 1: Frisée salad, bacon, shallots and a poached egg
Beer 2: Tamarind Heffeweizen
Course 2: Bed of Israeli cous cous, roasted red peppers, grilled curry marinated chicken breast, heffeweizen reduction
Beer 3: Smoked Bock
Course 3: Parpardelle noodles, lamb ragu with smoked bock demi glaze
Beer 4: Chocolate Rye Coffee Porter
Course 4: Double chocolate Layered cake

Mob Craft + 8 Seasons | 3:05 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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