Sunday, May 31st, 2020

The rest of the country might be open, but My Darling B and I are still in isolation here at Our Little Red House – 76 days as of today. That’s a lot of days to be isolated from everybody & everything.

Full disclosure: It’s not like we’re hunkered down inside with the doors locked. Yesterday, as on most Saturdays, I made a run into town to pick up an order of sauerkraut & brats from Stalzy’s Deli and a couple cases of beer from Giant Jones brewery. We made a decision early on to support our local businesses as much as we were able to, either by purchasing from their curbside services or by donating to any of the many support groups that emerged to help them. It seems to have worked out well: Giant Jones is a very small brewery but seems to get a good response to their weekly curbside sales, and Stalzy’s was scheduled to open at the very time the governor shut down all the restaurants, forcing them to reinvent the way they served food to the public, which couldn’t have been easy.

We’ve also taken turns going to the store for groceries, each time coming home with a car jammed to the rafters with goodies (I know, cars don’t have rafters, but the metaphor seems awkward with more technically accurate terminology). Our last trip was two weeks ago, and I’m pretty sure we still have enough stashed in our pantry to go another two weeks without having to crack open the frozen leftovers that are our emergency backup comestibles.

And although I’ve been working from home, I have been making periodic trips to the office, usually once a week, in rotation with my coworkers, because somebody’s got to collect the incoming mail, send the outgoing mail, and print daily reports and other miscellaneous documents. My Darling B has worked exclusively from home these past 76 days, as is the case with most of her coworkers, I think.

Beyond those essential and semi-essential road trips into town, the only other times I’ve left the confines of our house is to stretch my legs with a walk around the neighborhood (few times a week), or go for a paddle around the lake (twice now), or work in the yard (pruned the trees on the front lawn yesterday afternoon). B has left the house only to work in her garden or relax in a lawn chair with a beer.

So we are still in lockdown because the virus is still out there and, so far as we’re aware, still as contagious as it ever was, and because the reports of the disease’s effects from people our age who contracted it make us really not want to catch it. On my trip into town yesterday, it looked like my fellow cheeseheads were nowhere near as concerned about passing this bug around. Almost none of the people I saw out & about on the pavement and in the parks wore masks, and the grand re-opening of the Tiki Bar at the East Side Club appeared to be a huge success; the lawn out back was teeming with revelers. That’s going to come back to bite them in the future, I’ll bet.

lockdown day 76 | 12:19 pm CDT
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Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

Our favorite restaurant in town reopened two weeks ago after a fire gutted their kitchen. Took them almost a full year to rebuild. They announced their reopening just as the governor closed everything down, so they had to scramble to set up an online ordering system that would allow them to provide curbside service, like all the other restaurants in town.

Of all the restaurants in Madison, they have our favorite Friday fish fry, so when they announced their first fish fry would be available on April tenth, we were dizzy with joy, until we logged in to their web site and discovered they were sold out. After noodling around in social media a bit, we further learned they sold out fifteen minutes after they put the fish fry on the menu that day.

So last week when they offered fish fry again, I clocked out of work early after making special arrangements to flex time with my boss. They added the fish fry to their menu at 3:03 pm; I know because I started hitting the refresh button at 2:59 pm and didn’t stop until the fish fry showed up. I added an order for two to the shopping cart and went straight to checkout. The last thing I saw was a message telling me it would be ready in twenty minutes, which is just about the time it takes to put on a pair of shoes, hop in the car and drive to the restaurant, so that’s what I did.

Turned out it would take them a little bit longer than twenty minutes for the fish fry to be ready for me to pick it up. When I pulled into their parking lot a little after three-thirty and dug my phone out of my pocket, I found a message in my voice mail from them saying the earliest my order would be ready was four o’clock. Well, okay. Not a big problem, I guess. I’ll just sit here and listen to the radio for a while.

I don’t remember what I noticed was wrong with the dashboard, but one of the displays looked screwy so I turned the key to fire up the engine so all the displays would be lit up. Well, they lit up, all right, but the engine wouldn’t crank. Turned the ignition all the way off, waited a few seconds, then turned the key all the way on again – lots of pretty lights, but nothing from the engine compartment. All the way off, then all the way on again (because three is a magic number) – still nothing. And now the clock said one-ten and the date was 1/1/2015. Not a good sign at all.

I had to pop the hood, get out and stare at the engine for several minutes, because that’s what you do when something like this happens. Don’t know why. It’s not like maybe there’s a big neon arrow pointing at the problem or something like that. Didn’t see any obvious problems; it all looked very mechanical. Tried starting it a couple more times and got the same results, but now the panel displays were all dark, including the clock.

I most likely had a dead battery, because why wouldn’t I? Car runs perfectly for years but the first time I drive anywhere in a week and I’m in the middle of a pandemic, it craps out. Of course.

I called a local garage, and they sent a wrecker out to give me a jump, which showed up at about quarter to five. After the guy got my car running and as he was running my credit card, he said let the engine run at least a half-hour to charge up the battery again, and warned that I might want to think about getting a new battery (I did, the next day). About five minutes later I got a call from the deli, saying my fish fry (remember the fish fry?) was ready to pick up. They’d been hugely overloaded with orders once again so it took them a little longer (!) than they thought it would.

dead batt | 6:43 am CDT
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Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Tim tipped us off to a show he watches on You Tube called Hot Ones. In it, Sean Evans interviews celebrities while they eat hot wings that get hotter as the show goes on. Some of the celebrities bail out before they get to the hottest wings, earning themselves a place on the Hot Ones Wall of Shame. Others press on to the very end even while they regret every moment of it. A few endure the experience with a calm stoicism that is truly impressive to watch.

We had our own Hot Ones challenge last night, using the lineup of hot sauces the show featured in Season Nine. Well, okay, not the entire lineup. I ordered the first five sauces because, while I enjoy spicy foods, I wasn’t entirely sure I could endure the whole lineup of ten sauces, so I decided to try the bottom half to see just how hot they got.

I like a little hot sauce on my eggs and had been dabbing them with The Classic, which has lately been the first hot sauce in the Hot Ones lineup. It’s tasty and not quite as hot as Cholula, which is the hot sauce I had been dressing my eggs with because that’s what the waitress brings me when I ask for hot sauce in a restaurant. I have to say I favor The Classic over Cholula because I think The Classic is tastier and I like that I can put more of it on my eggs because it doesn’t set my mouth on fire.

I ordered The Classic from Heatonist, a store in New York, which sells most of the sauces seen on Hot Ones, and while I was on their web site I also ordered the bottom half of the lineup so we could do our own home-grown Hot Ones challenge one day. Well, that day was yesterday after dinner while Tim was visiting. B heated up some chicken nuggets and we dunked them in a dab of each of the sauces, working our way up to number five. All of them are just delicious and even the hottest one, Los Calientes, was not quite as hot as some of the Indian food we get for take-out, although all were respectably spicy.

Then, there was Da Bomb, the famously superhot hot sauce that takes down all but the most seasoned guests on Hot Ones. I think probably the best response any of the Hot Ones guests had to Da Bomb was best voiced by Trevor Noah: “It’s just pain! What? Why? This is not ‘da bomb,’ this is trash.” (His complete thoughts on Da Bomb start at 14:10 and they’re hilarious.)

I never intended to ever try Da Bomb because almost all of the guests on Hot Ones were virtually unanimous in their condemnation of it, but My Darling B bought a bottle of it when we first started watching the show and she dug it out of wherever she was hiding it and put it on the table with the rest of the hot sauces last night. It was practically a double-dog dare. I’m a great big chicken who can back away from a double-dog dare with no regrets, but I was thinking the other sauces were tolerable; how much hotter could Da Bomb really be?

Imagine filling your mouth with gasoline, then setting it on fire with a flame thrower, then instead of putting the fire out you hit yourself in the mouth with a red-hot poker while you let your face burn. That would be almost as hot as eating something with Da Bomb on it. I have never eaten anything that hot before and with any luck, I never will again. It didn’t only burn my mouth, it cranked up my heart rate, gave me the shivers, and sent my brain into orbit. I’m getting a little dizzy just recalling how hot it was. I felt the way Tom Arnold looked by the end of his Hot Ones interview. At the peak of Da Bomb’s spiciness, I had to drink ice water constantly just to keep my head from exploding. I would slurp up a mouthful, slosh it around until it was a little warmer than ice, swallow, slurp up more, slosh, swallow, et cetera. I did that through three pint glasses of ice water and I only stopped at three pints because I wasn’t sure I could hold any more.

My Darling B, the cocky little wench, had to immediately spit out her mouthful of Da Bomb and for a few harrowing moments she was sure she was going to throw up. “It tasted the way natural gas smells,” she very accurately described it.

Would I do it again? Hell no. I’m sorry I did at all. Gonna try some of the other hotter sauces featured on the show, but I’ll never try Da Bomb again. I don’t know how Sean Evans eats that crap every week.

Just FYI, we grabbed things from all over the kitchen looking for an antidote to Da Bomb and it turned out that sucking on orange wedges helped a lot. I ate the wedges because the pulpiness seemed to help mop the fiery heat off my tongue as I chewed them up.

hot ones | 11:11 am CDT
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Sunday, January 19th, 2020

I had a hankering this morning for a plate of scrambled eggs, but we didn’t have any eggs in the fridge so I did what I usually do when I’m trying to figure out where to eat: whipped out my phone and began to virtually search the city for a place that looked like it served a satisfyingly big plate of eggs with their usual breakfast.

Google maps is simultaneously very good and very bad for this task. Very good because it knows where a lot of the best places to eat are, drops a pin on them in their map, and provides all the links you need to see their menu, reviews from customers, photos of pretty much everything they serve, and so on. Very bad for much the same reasons. I don’t want to see hundreds of photos of scrambled eggs. Just tell me they have scrambled eggs, thank you. Also, I don’t need to know where McDonald’s is. That should be a setting in Google maps: Chain restaurants on/off.

But on this particular morning, my search reminded me of one of the best breakfast restaurants in the city: Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room, situated right next to the flight line of the Dane County Airport and only a fifteen-minute drive from our little red house. I jumped into the car (after it had been given a fair amount of time to warm up on this fourteen-degree day) and headed north.

One critically important thing I’d forgotten about the Jet Room: How friggin popular it is. The lobby of the Wisconsin Aviation building was crowded with people waiting to get in, which gave me a moment’s pause, but I could almost taste those eggs so I went in anyway to see how long the wait was. Forty-five minutes, it turned out, but only if you don’t answer “yes” to the question “would you be willing to take a seat at the counter?” I was so very willing that I was seated immediately at the number-one spot next to the wait staff’s station — the pole position!

The service was awesome: I got a glass of water and a hot cup of coffee within minutes of sitting down, they took my order not more than five minutes later, and I was digging in to a big plate of eggs (and hash browns, and bacon) no more than ten minutes after I set foot in the place! How do you beat that? I just don’t see how. Bonus points to the wait staff for keeping my coffee mug full. And I don’t know why, but I have to mention how much I love that the mugs and plates have the name of the restaurant on them. I don’t know why that appeals to me so much, but it does.

a big delicious breakfast at the Jet Room

And here’s what my sufficiency looks like after it’s been serensified:

sufficiency serensified

jet setter | 2:08 pm CDT
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Thursday, January 16th, 2020

This is too much fun:

And this is just plain cool:

See more of Laura Kampf’s work here!

beer bike | 6:41 am CDT
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Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

I thought I would have to fire up the snow blower for the first time in 2019 when I woke up in the morning of the very last day of that year to a fresh snowfall. My snow blower’s gasoline engine is reluctant to start after it’s been sitting unused all summer, so I dressed up in my warmest winter coat, knowing I could be out in the subfreezing weather for a while. As it turned out, I didn’t so much as lay a hand on my snow blower. There was less than a half-inch of snow on the driveway; if I had wheeled out the snow blower to remove that, it would have seemed to me at least like the most egregious misuse of a power tool imaginable. It was a preposterously simple matter to clear the driveway in just five minutes using the snow shovel. I wasn’t even winded when I finished. I probably could have used a push broom.

One of my neighbors, who owns one of the largest snow blowers I have ever seen, does not have the same reservations about how and when to use it that I had about mine. He’s one of those “I paid a lot of money for this power tool and I’m going to use it” kind of guys. His snow blower is taller than he is, and has a mouth wide enough to clear half his driveway in a single pass. After a heavy snowfall, witnessing it make short work of waist-high drifts of snow is an impressive sight to behold. Seeing him use it to clear a half-inch of snow is another thing entirely. I was at the end of my drive, clearing away the inch-high ridge of snow left behind by the city snow plow crew after they cleared our street, when I heard the roar of his snow blower coming to life. I stopped what I was doing and used my shovel as a prop to rest my arm on while I watched him follow his behemoth to the end of his driveway, maneuver it through a 180-degree turn, then follow it back up to his house, all the while wreathed by the faintest haze of snow thrown into the air as a thin, insubstantial whisp that blew apart in the breeze the moment it exited the chute off the top of his snow blower. He tried to make a bigger production of it by spending some extra time at the end of the driveway making sure he got all the snow left behind by the city plow, but it hardly took him five minutes to do the whole thing. I bet the engine on his snow blower didn’t even get warm.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even bothered to shovel so little snow off the driveway because I’m pretty lazy when it comes to yard work, to be frank. I should probably hire some of the more enterprising neighborhood teenagers to cut the grass and shovel the driveway, but as well as being lazy I’m also a skinflint, so to this day I still do my own mowing and shoveling and other yard work, but only when I feel I absolutely have to. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times. Our good friends, Becky and John, were coming over later in the afternoon to go out to dinner with us, then come back to our little red house to spend new year’s eve playing games, and I didn’t want them to have to trudge through even as little as a half-inch of snow, because who would do that to their good friends?

We had a very casual dinner at a popular local pizza parlor not far from our house. We figured we’d have a quick dinner there, then return to play games while we noshed on some snacky foods and finally toast the new year, not necessarily at midnight because none of us are spring chickens any more. We ended up spending a bit more time at the pizza parlor than we had planned, about three and a half hours! I can’t account for this. It’s normally a popular place but there didn’t seem to be any more customers than we usually saw; in fact, I spotted empty tables and stools at the bar from time to time, but the wait staff were obviously running their legs off. We didn’t even see our waitress until about fifteen minutes after we were seated when she paused briefly — and I mean very briefly — to apologize for then wait, then add she’d be back in just two more minutes before she dashed away again. She didn’t give us enough time to ask for water. And she wasn’t back in two minutes.

When she did come back, ten minutes later, she stayed only long enough to get our drinks order before rushing off again. We managed to slip in a request for some fried cheese curds, too, but just barely. She swooped in to dive-bomb the table with John’s beer minutes later, explaining his order was easiest to fill because it came in a bottle. Becky got her cocktail about five minutes later, while Barb’s sat at the end of the bar at least ten minutes, for some reason. I got my beer last, many more minutes after B’s cocktail was delivered. If I recall correctly, the cheese curds arrived after we all raised our glasses to toast the new year, but the waitress didn’t take our dinner order until we were burping contentedly after finishing off all of the cheese curds and had nearly made our way to the bottoms of all of our drinks.

So you get the idea: service was slow and the main courses didn’t arrive until well past the time we thought we’d be on our way home. We weren’t in a terribly big hurry, though, so it’s not like we felt like complaining about it, but damned if we wouldn’t make fun of it a little bit.

Back at our little red house, I popped open a bottle of bubbly, poured a glass for everyone and we shared a toast to the new year, again. Then we played a very silly card game that required us to shout out words and phrases that were improbable under any other circumstances that didn’t involve prosecco, and had a pretty good time doing it.

new years eve | 1:01 pm CDT
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Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Everyone drinks coffee to kickstart their morning, so why doesn’t everyone drink it straight, dark, bitter? I don’t understand why anybody puts stuff in coffee. Milk, sugar, syrup — it all takes the edge off, so what’s the point? If you want a frou-frou drink with frou-frou smells first thing in the morning, drink tea.

coffee vs tea | 9:43 am CDT
Category: coffee, food & drink, yet another rant
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Saturday, December 28th, 2019

I didn’t have enough vacation time this year to take last Thursday and Friday off, which a lot of people did, so I was in the office, bleary-eyed and not especially bushy-tailed, before the sun came up on Thursday morning.

The office was silent as a graveyard. I debated with myself over whether or not to make coffee. I myself was going to drink tea that morning, and I figured that the few people who were in to work that morning would be Keurig-users. The people who drink from the pot seem to be mostly management types, and I figured they wouldn’t be around. But, what the heck, I brewed a pot anyway and made it strong, just in case there was anyone in the office who needed a kick in the pants that morning.

Lucky thing, because there was more than one. I went back to the kitchen at about nine-thirty to make myself another cuppa and saw the pot was almost empty. Must have been more than a few people who needed a jolt that morning. Brewed another strong pot that was almost gone before lunch time.

Same thing happened Friday morning. There must have been a lot more people working the in-between days than I thought, and apparently they didn’t get much sleep.

Making coffee at work | 4:48 pm CDT
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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

I spent the weekend with My Darling B doing pretty much nothing, and apparently we needed a weekend just like that because we slept like bears in hibernation.

We didn’t do exactly nothing. We did, in fact, travel to Lake Mills, Wisconsin, to attend the twentieth anniversary party of the Tyranena Brewery (long may they continue to brew the most delicious beer in Jefferson County!), an event where we mostly sat quietly sampling various wonderful brews and noshing on noshies. Low-impact events are our lifestyle now.

The beers that Tyranena makes, though, tend to be very boozy, so we didn’t drink very many of them before we had to lie down go night-night.

We spent all day Sunday just reading or watching TV, and were both in bed by eight. Lights-out for me was eight-thirty or nine, and I slept like the dead until four o’clock Monday morning, at which point my brain said AWAKEN, so I had no choice but to go make a pot of coffee and bimble about the house.

not much how about you | 6:14 am CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, play, sleeplessness, travel
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Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

I am never going to eat fried food again. And when I say “never,” I mean that I will, on occasion, eat certain fried foods, because there are some worth suffering for, like the tater tots they serve at the Vintage Brewing Company over on Whitney Way. I don’t know how they do it, but their tots are exactly the right kind of crispy-crunchy I will always say “yes” to.

But other than a few special exceptions like those tots, I have unfortunately advanced to the age where my gastrointestinal mechanism no longer produces whatever chemicals or enzymes it used to make to deal with deep-fat-fryer grease. I used to be able to eat all the french fries. Really, *all* of them. Now that I’m apparently becoming a decrepit old geezer, I can safely eat only about half a dozen without any ill effects; any more and I feel as though I’m carrying around a bowling-ball-sized lump of lard in my belly for the next twenty-four hours. It’s not a good feeling, particularly when I make the mistake of ordering a side of fries with my dinner, thinking “It’ll be all right, I haven’t had fries in a week,” and then I have to try to sleep with that bowling ball in my stomach. Doesn’t happen. Easier to sleep with a pile of bricks on top of me.

No fried foods means that most of the food at the brewpubs we like to visit is off limits to me: it’s not just fries that bloat me up, the chicken tenders that I love at most places do the same, and I’ll probably never enjoy another Friday night fish fry, although a Friday afternoon fish fry isn’t entirely out of the question; so long as I have time to walk it off, I’m good. But other than that I’ll be eating lots of wraps and salads from here on in. So long, french fries, and thanks for the fun times!

fried | 1:22 pm CDT
Category: falling apart, food & drink
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Monday, January 21st, 2019

It was so cold this morning that the thermometer didn’t register a temperature at all. It showed zero degrees. My Darling B doesn’t know how to process information like that other than to bunch herself up into a tiny little ball covered in flannel and quilts and repeat, “BRRR! IT’S COLD!” She felt a little better after I brought her a cup of coffee, though.

After we’d had a little time to get used to the fact that there was no temperature, we bundled up and ventured out into the world in our trusty O-Mobile, which took us first to the coffee shop down the road so we could brunch on breakfast sandwiches, and thence to Half Price Books, where B was hoping to score a copy of “Of Mice And Men.” She did. In all likelihood we now have two copies in the house, one we know the location of, and one that’s “somewhere around here.” B tried to find that other copy last night but gave up after an intensive search of all the places she could think of.

I wandered the stacks, focusing special attention on my favorite sections of the book store but couldn’t find a single copy of any book I had to have. Science fiction? Nothing caught my eye. Ships and trains? No joy. Mishmash of old hardcover titles scooped up from estate sales? Couldn’t find a copy of “Principles of the Steam Engine” anywhere. I could’ve grabbed the hundred-pound unabridged dictionary in near-perfect condition but, honestly, I have enough dictionaries big enough to escape a flood if I stood on them. I should be shedding one or two myself. So I left the bookstore without a stack of books in the crook of my arm, feeling very strange indeed.

Before she joined me in the bookstore, B stopped by Penzy’s Spices to pick up a big bag o’ spices. She needed just one jar but bought twenty because she read that Penzy’s donated money to the city of Memphis to make up for the money the state legislature took from the city because the city removed statutes of Confederates and klansmen.

zero degrees | 2:28 pm CDT
Category: books, entertainment, food & drink, weather
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When I Was But A Wee Lad: Tales From My Dimmest Memory

One of the cheap meals my mother would make to stretch the family budget as far as it would go was hash: she’d get a cheap cut of meat from the butcher, a bag of potatoes from the store, and I think maybe some onions or celery were in there, too. She boiled and quartered the potatoes, sliced up the meat into chunks and fed every bit of it into one of those meat grinders you only see in antique stores these days, the kind you clamp to the edge of a kitchen counter and turn with a big crank. Potato, potato skins, meat, fat, gristle, whatever — it all went in. I used to help her turn the crank on the meat grinder and, if I whined a lot and promised not to stick my fingers down the chute, she would let me drop a potato or chunk of meat in the hopper.

In later years, we didn’t eat hash much. I don’t recall eating it at all after we made our final move as a family to Waupaca county, and it was more or less lost in my memory for many years until one day when I was talking to Mom as she was preparing dinner. Our dinners were almost always a meat-and-potatoes affair; I think Mom usually made an effort to include veggies of some kind, too, but I hated veggies with a passion stereotypical of adolescents, so that didn’t make any kind of impression on me. But the meat and potatoes definitely did, and what she was making that day must have triggered a memory. “Why don’t you ever make hash for dinner any more?” I asked her, seemingly out of the blue.

She stopped what she was doing and gave me a look that said, ‘You gotta be kiddin’ me.’ For just a moment, I thought she was going to be very angry with me about something.

Finally, she asked, “You … you want hash?” Now it was apparent that she wasn’t angry or hurt, she was just puzzled.

“Uh, yeah?” I answered.

“Really?”

I think I even laughed at this point. “Yeah. I thought it was good.”

She was still looking at me with genuine befuddlement, but I didn’t know what to say beyond that. Obviously, she did not like hash: not eating it, not making it. I don’t remember how that particular conversation ended, but we never spoke of hash again, and she never made it again that I know of.

Weirdly, I saw this very scene played out in a Gregory Peck movie many years later. It was “The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit,” and the scene was between Peck, playing a GI in Europe, and Marisa Pavan, playing an Italian woman Peck’s GI met during the war. Peck’s GI goes back to the Italian woman’s apartment for some *ahem* companionship, and later the woman asks Peck if he could get her some Spam. Peck looks at Pavan with the same bewilderment I saw in my mother’s face that day. “You want Spam?” he asks, after a pause, and she cheerily answers Yes, Spam or C-rations, whatever. I almost fell out of my seat when I saw that.

Hash | 6:00 am CDT
Category: food & drink, Mom, O'Folks, story time
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Sunday, January 20th, 2019

My Darling B and I went to the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest yesterday afternoon. We enjoyed ourselves just fine, but the event seemed to both of us to lean a lot more heavily toward the beer and a lot less toward the cheese than it had in years past. Not that more beer is a bad thing, especially when they’re new beers. Seems like every town in Wisconsin has a brewery now, and there were a lot from towns I never heard of. If I didn’t have such a delicate constitution I could have sampled nothing but new beers all afternoon and still probably not come anywhere near close to sampling half of them. But that’s not why I cheated by asking for some of the beers on offer that I already knew I’d had before; when Sierra Nevada shows up with the latest batch of Bigfoot, it’s not something I would pass up, and I didn’t.

As it was, I had a taste of just seventeen beers during the four-hour festival; I had to cut myself off the last half-hour or so we were there, filling my taster glass with water every time I passed a bubbler. And when I say a “taste,” I mean most vendors poured an ounce or two into the complimentary glass they gave each of us at the door, but some filled the glass all the way to the brim of a glass that held maybe three ounces of beer, and I poured out one, maybe two glasses of the beers that made me go “ewww,” but drank all the rest. So conservatively speaking, I “tasted” about thirty-four ounce of beer, but realistically I “drank” closer to forty-five ounces of beer, or just short of four pints, probably more than a lightweight like me should drink in an afternoon, even spreading it out over four hours. Drank many pints of water after I got home.

beer me | 10:07 am CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest
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Friday, January 18th, 2019

It took something like two and a half hours to get from the Hill Farms office building back to Our Humble O’Bode this evening, owing to the inch or so of snow on the ground. I have never been so embarrassed to be a cheesehead. One inch of snow and traffic all over Madison is hopelessly snarled. In Waupaca County they wouldn’t call school for less than a foot of snow, and even then most of the businesses in downtown Manawa would be open, after they spent all morning digging out. But, still.

Halfway home, we stopped at the Giant Jones brewery to pick up a couple pint bottles of their scotch ale, which is fast becoming my favorite. Then, just a couple hundred yards from our very own doorstep, we pulled up to Fraboni’s to pick up sandwiches, which we ate in front of the television while the snow continued to fall. Ah, Friday.

bon voyage | 8:41 pm CDT
Category: beer, damn kids!, random idiocy, weather
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Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

This morning I learned I’m a man of very poor taste.  Here’s how I know: I accidentally boiled a pot of coffee this morning.  I walked away, I got distracted, and when I remembered and ran back to the kitchen, I found the pot boiling furiously.  “Well, that’ll never be drinkable,” I said to myself, and set it aside to cool while I brewed some more. When I was done brewing the new batch, I wondered to myself, “Self, don’t you wonder what that tastes like?” And I answered, “You know, Self, I kind of do.”  So I poured a bit of it into a cup, slurped it up, swished it around on my tongue, and what do you know, I liked it. Straight, black, boiled coffee. Filled up the cup and enjoyed it. I wonder how the barista at Java Cat would react if I asked her for a cup of black coffee, and added: Would you please boil it for a couple minutes?

poor taste | 8:04 am CDT
Category: coffee, food & drink
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Saturday, October 28th, 2017

I have to travel to do my job. Not always. In fact, not more than a few months out of the year, and that’s a very good thing because if I had to do this year-round I think I’d blow my brains out with a bazooka. Driving hundreds of miles a day, waking up in hotels, and eating complimentary “breakfasts” is not my thing. I don’t know whose thing it is, but if it’s yours, you can have it all to yourself. I will stay here in my cozy little town while you drive drive drive.

Let’s talk about those complimentary “breakfasts.” First, the eggs. What is the spongy substance those eggs are made of? I would venture to guess it’s the same stuff actual kitchen sponges are made of. It holds water just like a sponge and it has no taste at all. But they wouldn’t offer actual kitchen sponges for breakfast, would they? Seems to me that might leave them open for some kind of lawsuit. So if it’s not an actual sponge, what is it? Any ideas? Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be an egg-like substance at all, other than it has a vaguely egg-like color. Why can’t they just make them out of, you know, eggs? Is it so hard to find people who know how to crack an egg into a frying pan? I guess it must be.

And then there are those sausages, the kind that look like they were extruded from the end of a grease gun. They seem to be standard issue at all hotels everywhere, same as the spongy eggs. If the same corporation makes both the egg-like substance and the grease-gun sausages, we could put an end to complimentary “breakfasts” once and for all by nuking it from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). Full disclosure: I kind of like grease-gun sausages. But I can’t eat more than two links at a sitting or I’ll shit my brains out. I have a theory they make those sausages super-greasy so hotel guests don’t get constipated eating eggs made of kitchen sponge. These are the things you think about when you’re on the road a lot.

The only other item on the complimentary “breakfast” menu I willingly eat is toast. I used to eat the waffles, but I can’t stomach the mucilage they call syrup, and I won’t eat them dry. I suppose I could drown them in melted margarine, but it would take forever to wait for the semifrozen tabs of margarine to melt, and I’m already grumpy enough in the morning without adding that kind of frustration to my day.

road trip FOREVER | 9:47 am CDT
Category: business travel, food & drink, soylent green, work
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One of the best things about waking up at home instead of a hotel? The coffee doesn’t suck.

I don’t know how many hotels I’ve stayed in while I’ve been away on business trips these past three months — getting close to a dozen, I would think — but I can say without hesitation that the coffee they served at almost every one of them (except the Best Western in Hudson; good job, Hudson) was not coffee anybody should be proud of serving to the customers, even if it was free. And in particular, somebody ought to be hung for the coffee I tried to drink from the urn in the lobby at the Microtel in Rice Lake. I don’t know how you screw up coffee so badly it tastes like water used to rinse underwear & socks, other than actually using water you soaked socks & underwear in.

On the plus side, I’ve been to quite a few very nice little coffee shops in towns all over the state. I thought we here in Madison were spoiled for choices of cozy mom & pop coffee shops, but really they seem to be everywhere, and thank goodness for them because I don’t know how I would have survived these trips without them.

road trip FOREVER | 8:41 am CDT
Category: business travel, coffee, food & drink, work
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Monday, February 27th, 2017

I ate a whole package of Oreos once, just to see if I could. Which was silly. Of course I could. Anybody could. The question is, should you? And the answer is, not unless you like feeling sick as a dog for the rest of the day.

I don’t, but it’s not like that’s the only time I’ve done something like that, sad to say. Do you remember those malted milk balls that came in a quart-sized milk carton? I don’t remember how much that thing weight, but I ate a whole carton of those once. I think that was before the Oreos incident. I ate the Oreos when I was on my first tour of duty in the Air Force. The malted milk balls were much earlier, probably when I was still in high school. I ate a lot of junk in high school. Everybody did, right?

And once I drank a six-pack of Mountain Dew in one afternoon, again just for the experience. I lived in a very small town. There wasn’t a lot to do. I remember finishing that first can and thinking, “Hey, I could go for another one.” And when I finished the second can I thought, “I could have one more.” After the third can, I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking, other than maybe, “I feel stupid enough to drink the rest.” I can tell you that the buzz I got from drinking six cans of Mountain Dew is not something I ever want to experience again.

The stomach ache, though, apparently was something I wanted to experience over and over, because the malted milk balls and the Oreos came after. I haven’t repeated either of those experiences, but I was thinking about this today because I recently discovered that a nearby grocery store sells dark chocolate malted milk balls in the bulk aisle, and they are sooo good! I have to be careful to buy only a small handful at a time, because once I start eating them, I don’t stop until my stomach hurts, which is probably not the most healthy thing for me, or anybody else, for that matter.

insanity | 7:21 pm CDT
Category: food & drink, random idiocy, story time
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Monday, January 16th, 2017

Sticking with our Friday the 13th tradition, we went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Last Friday we picked A Pig In A Fur Coat. (It’s apparently named for a dish from Kazakhstan, in case you’re wondering.) We’ve been there once before and liked it a lot. It’s got the kind of frou-frou foods that appeal to us: small plates of food so we can order a whole bunch of different things and share them. Last night we nibbled our way through a plate of olives with our cocktails, then ordered a charcuterie platter of three thinly-shaved meats, two cheeses (one hard, one soft), a dollop of foie gras, another dollop of mustard, and some jam, all with four slices of toasted baguette slices (I thought they could’ve added at least two more slices). After that, we split a raviolo, which is the singular of ravioli, which blew my mind because it never occurred to me before that there’s a singular form, but of course there is. Why just one? It was a big raviolo, about the size of a tea saucer. We sliced it in half and shared. And we finished off with a serving of duck-fat french fries, which we didn’t have enough room left in ourselves to finish eating even though they were astonishingly yummy.

pig in a fur coat | 10:23 am CDT
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Saturday, August 27th, 2016

When B asked where I wanted to go to dinner for our anniversary, I suggested Lombardino’s first thing. We hadn’t been there in months, probably in more than a year. They haven’t changed a thing, thank goodness. There are still pinups of Bridget Bardot and Gina Lollabrigida in the men’s room (B says there’s a movie poster and a potted plant in the ladies’ room; doesn’t seem fair) and they still bring you such a big pile of pasta and sauce when you order the spaghetti bolognese that you have plenty left over for lunch the next day. I wasn’t even tempted to try to finish it, not after our traditional appetizer of calamari.

The Cinemateque has reopened for the season, and they’re showcasing the work of Brian De Palma, starting with Dressed To Kill, which we went to see last night. I left the theater wondering if it was a film that used to be good but hasn’t aged well, or if it has always been a bad film. I’m leaning toward “always been bad.” Renowned film critic Roger Ebert praised Dressed to Kill for being “Hitchkockian,” but B and I described it with terms such as “cheeseball,” “unintentionally funny” and “laughably bad.” I saw Body Double when it came out in theaters and I remember just enough of it to think that maybe Brian De Palma has this one cheesy movie inside him that he keeps making over and over that brought audiences to the theater because it was chock full of sex and gore.

Even so, B wants to go see more of the De Palma movies they’re playing through the rest of the season (except Mission: Impossible, which I’m not a fan of, either; nobody makes Jim Phelps out to be the bad guy and gets away with it!). I’m willing, but only because they’re going to screen Carrie, which I’ve never seen all the way through before, and The Untouchables, which I’ve seen two or three times and I’m looking forward to seeing again. They’re also going to screen a documentary that appears to be a one-on-one interview with De Palma, and I always go for those behind-the-scenes films.

B wanted to stop at the Robin Room before the movie, where they were serving cubanos by special arrangement with a guest chef. We discovered at the last minute that they didn’t start serving until seven o’clock, the same time the movie started, so we had to fall back and regroup. We ended up at Buraka, an African restaurant on Willy Street. It used to be a place that served Jamaican food when it was called Jolly Bob’s, but it got new owners this summer and a complete makeover.

I can’t recall the dishes we ordered because they had native names; mine was something like “darowot” and B’s was maybe “tippi.” Both were spicy dishes, mine with chicken and hers with shrimp. I didn’t think they very spicy at the time so I wasn’t too worried that I might have trouble sleeping, but by the time we were headed home from the movie I was singing a different tune and even stopped at a drug store for some Pepto Bismol I could chug before bed time. I like spicy food, but most of it doesn’t like me very much.

The Pepto worked, but I woke anyway to the roar of pouring rain. It let up after a while, just before the cats went berserker crazy and started running back and forth through the house. After they got that out of their systems and I started to drift off to sleep again, I snored loudly enough to jolt myself awake not once, but several times. It was not a restful night, and was made less so because my back ached and there was a shooting pain from my right hip down the outside of my thigh. I hate getting old.

jumble | 1:44 pm CDT
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Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

We had ramen for dinner at the Robin Room, which is a cocktail bar on Johnson Street. Last night, though, they had two local chefs in their kitchen (they have a kitchen, even though they’re mostly about cocktails) whipping up bowls of some of the most delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten.

The were planning to start serving ramen at seven, so we got there at about quarter till and the place was already pretty busy. Still, we managed to snag a couple stools at the bar and only had to wait maybe five or ten minutes for the bartender to get around to taking our drinks orders.

While the bartender was making our drinks, we noticed that the beginnings of a line was starting to form at the back of the bar. I suggested to B that she go get in line so she could pick up her ramen right away, and then I would get in line to get mine.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Just five minutes or so after she got in line, I looked up from my phone to see that there were now at least two dozen people in a line stretching from the kitchen at the back of the bar all the way to the front door. Even if B came back with her ramen right away, I wouldn’t get my bowl for quite some time. In fact, most of the people at the end of the line never got any ramen; they sold out in less than an hour.

B, however, did not leave me high and dry. When she was finally able to place her order, she asked for two bowls of ramen, and I went to get mine as soon as she brought hers back to her stool.

It was some of the most fabulously delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten. The noodles were just right, the broth was rich and buttery, and the pork roll was nice and fatty. I went to bed fat and happy. It all turned out to be a little too rich for me, though. Two hours after turning out the light, I woke up with a bloated belly and the feeling that my heart was somewhere beneath my stomach, thudding away. My constitution has become such a delicate little thing in my old age. I was up most of the night trying to get it to settle down. I will never regret eating that ramen, though.

constitutionally challenged | 3:12 am CDT
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Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

My Darling B and I went to the El Dorado Grill for dinner on Thursday night. It was restaurant week, as if we needed an excuse to go out to eat. We were looking over the menus when the waitress came over to ask if we wanted to start off with something to drink, which sounded like a great idea to me, so I ordered a martini. B told me later that when she asked, “Do you have a preference on the vodka?” I made a face like she’d just waved a dead squirrel under my nose. That must be the face I make when people ask me a question that seems to be completely disconnected from what we were just talking about, because at that moment I was thinking to myself, “Vodka? Is there vodka in a martini? I don’t think so. Why is she asking me about vodka?” It came and went, a quickly-passing senior moment, when I remembered that vodka martinis are a thing, but I still fumbled around for a bit trying to tell her that I wanted a martini made with Hendrick’s gin. Turned out that I got all the Hendrick’s gin left in the place, about two or three ounces, which they turned into an acceptable cocktail, but because it was smaller than they usually make them, they treated me to it, on the house! The best-tasting martinis are Hendrick’s martinis, but the most delightful are free martinis.

gratis | 11:26 am CDT
Category: booze, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

After everybody got up and got showered on Sunday, we all piled into the O-mobile to make the short trip to Lake Mills, where we visited the Tyranena brewery. Their tap room opens at noon and they encourage visitors to order take-out food from any of the local restaurants and bring it in to eat while drinking beer, so B and I covered the table with 5-ounce tasters and we phoned a local pizzeria and asked for a sixteen-inch with plenty of cheese and sausage.

The tap room has plenty of board games piled up along the window ledges. I picked out a word game that we played for ten or fifteen minutes. When I guessed it was about time to pick up the pizza, I took my leave and made the short drive into town. The pizzeria was on the town square about three minutes away; all I had to do was duck in, pay the ponytailed girl at the counter and duck out. I was back at the tap room in probably ten minutes. It was like I was never gone.

B was a little concerned about how we were going to eat the pizza without plates, but the bartender solved that problem by handing us a whole stack of paper plates and napkins. He even handed over a jar of cracked red pepper in case we wanted to spice up the pizza a little bit. Now that’s a bartender who knows how to keep his customers happy. We gobbled up all the pizza while we played the word game some more and sipped our beers, which kept us there until about two-thirty. Almost all of us dozed off on the twenty-minute drive back, so we broke up to find places to nap for an hour or so after returning.

Tyranena | 7:07 am CDT
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Friday, December 4th, 2015

I was in charge of feeding us last night, but I had given literally zero seconds to thinking about what to make for dinner so I defaulted to stopping at Stalzy’s Deli for hot sandwiches, which has never been disappointing before and wasn’t last night. B ordered a slab of fried walleye on a hoagie bun, and I had a Ruben, and we were both so hungry that we ate every bite rather than save half for later, our usual modus operandi.

That was the second night in a row this week that we ate out. Wednesday was the first. After a long and especially busy day at work, B didn’t want to make dinner, she wanted to relax and have someone make dinner for her. I didn’t see how I would have a leg to stand on if I were to argue against her, so I didn’t. Take that back; I argued just a bit. She suggested Alchemy, but I’d been thinking about how long it had been since we visited Grandpa’s, a pizzeria on Willy Street, so I suggested that, and she went along without a moment’s regret.

The pizzeria’s in a building that used to be Grampa’s Gun Shop. It was right next door to what used to be a store that sold bibles and other Sunday-school tchotchkes. Both stores went out of business years ago; with a new coat of paint, the bible store became Jane’s Junk Shop. Gil Altschul and Marissa Johnson, the pair that have opened several crafty restaurants and bars in the area, bought the gun shop after it closed, gutted it and reopened it as a very cozy little pizzeria, naming it Grandpa’s as a nod to its previous life.

The front of the shop, where gunsmith Larry Gleasman used to sit and work on guns behind the big picture window when it was Grampa’s Gun Shop, was turned into a dining room with one long community table. We were seated there the first time we visited, but when we’ve gone back every time after, they’ve seated us in the dining room that was added to the back of the shop and faces the gardens. Paneled in dark wood with windows all around, the addition has the homey look and comfortable feel of an old-fashioned family room.

Our second visit was on a Tuesday, which they’ve declared Date Night, so we ordered the Date Night Special, which comes complete with special pizza, appetizers and a bottle of wine at a very reasonable price. Since we missed Date Night by twenty-four hours on our most recent visit, we had to pay for the bottle of wine; it was overpriced, but drinks everywhere always are so what the hell.

We built our own pizza last night, or rather B did. I suggested too many toppings and combined pepperoni with basil, a culinary no-no, if B’s reaction was anything to go by. She suggested roasted red peppers and sausage instead of pepperoni, which turned out to be a fabulously delicious pizza indeed. We gobbled up all but two slices, which I saved for lunch the next day. And we got to take home the olives we didn’t eat. So, a very nice night out indeed.

eating out | 1:22 pm CDT
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Saturday, November 14th, 2015

“I think we finally have found a new Fri 13 restaurant to replace the beloved Peppino’s,” My Darling B posted on Facebook while we were having dinner at Estrellon, Tory Miller’s new restaurant on Johnson Street in downtown Madison. I believe she may be right, although I would quibble with her use of the word “replace.” I don’t know how we’ll ever find another restaurant that will have the both the cozy feel and the terrific food that Peppino’s had, but Estrellon is the best substitute we’ve found so far.

We went there for tapas several months ago and passed the better part of an evening noshing away at a table in the bar while the waitress brought us one dish after another, and maybe a few glasses of wine to go with them. It was such wonderful food that we knew right away we would have to come back, and when Friday the Thirteenth rolled around this month, My Darling B made reservations.

The dining room is beautiful, very open and airy with high white ceilings crossed by darkly stained wooden beams. The walls are paneled with dark wood and the back of the room is open to the kitchen so you can watch Chef Tory Miller and his staff go to work (he happened to be there last night during our visit).

The staff is fantastic. Everybody’s smiling and helpful, and our waitress – she happened to be the same young lady who waited on us when we stopped in for tapas in the summer (I think she said her name was Christine; hope I got that right) – had an impressive knowledge of the foods – how they were made, what they were made with, and how to pair them with which wines.

We chose three tapas dishes to start, a dish of garlic shrimp swimming in oil, and a dish they called “estofado de vegetales” that was a stew of Italian sausage, root vegetables and chickpeas, served with a crouton topped with tomato relish. I would’ve been satisfied with the stew alone, it was so good and the portion so generous.

Our entree was called “valenciana” and was a big fry pan filled up with rabbit, shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo, cherry tomatoes, flavored with sarvecchio cheese and served on a bed of bomba rice. I thought we’d have plenty to take home for a midnight snack, but it was so good that we gobbled up every little bit of it.

We learned on our first visit that a meal at Estrellon is not complete without the churros. They’re served with a cup of melted dark chocolate that you can dip the churros in, or spoon into your coffee; they give you more than enough for both.

Estrellon | 7:59 am CDT
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Sunday, November 8th, 2015

After living in the Madison area for a little more than ten years, we finally made the thirty-minute drive to Lake Mills to visit the Tyranena brewery. We’ve loved their beer since our first taste and today got to sample several brews we’ve never tried before. And we’ve got a new favorite: a delicious porter flavored with maple syrup and aged in bourbon barrels. Would definitely drive to Lake Mills again for more.

tyranena | 5:09 pm CDT
Category: beer, food & drink
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Sunday, October 25th, 2015

The view from Ishnala Supper Club's dining roomWe had dinner last night at the Ishnala Supper Club near Wisconsin Dells. It’s a bit of a drive, just under an hour, but as things turned out, our visit there was worth every minute on the road.

We learned about Ishnala from “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club,” a documentary we watched at the film festival. If it sounds a little dry and boring, it really isn’t; it gave us the urge to visit every Wisconsin supper club in the film. We didn’t, but ever since then we have wanted to visit Ishnala, a relatively short drive from Madison.

I have to admit, I wanted to go there for the ambiance alone. The supper club is in a log-cabin themed building perched on the very edge of Mirror Lake. The bar is the most prominent room, jutting out over the lake and surrounded on three sides by picture windows that gave us an uninterrupted view of the fall foliage. The dining room is much the same: a long, open room with floor-to-ceiling picture windows on the side facing the lake. Our visit was maybe a week past the peak time for fall colors, and the evening was overcast so the colors were a bit muted, but it was still gorgeous.

I frankly didn’t expect much from the food, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. B and I each ordered a seven-ounce fillet mignon with sun-dried tomatoes in a wine reduction, one of the specials, and it was fantastic. I ate every bite and used my potato skins to sop up as much of the wine reduction as I could. The little bit of sun-dried tomato that was left over got buttered onto slices of melba toast and I shared it with My Darling B.

Tim treated us to his company on this trip and reported that the New York strip steak he ordered was every bit as wonderful as our fillets. We were there a little more than two hours, lingering afterwards over a slice of chocolate gateau and coffee before hitting the road back to Madison.

Our First Dinner at Ishnala | 9:36 am CDT
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Monday, June 15th, 2015

In a scene from an episode of True Detective that we were watching the other night, the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey passed a pint bottle of Jim Beam between them, each taking a generous swig at the end of each line of dialogue before passing it back.

This was not the first television show or movie where we’d seen people knock back the hard stuff like it was water. And no, I’m not stupid, I know it was water, like I know it’s a television show. But I have to wonder, are there people who really drink like this? Or even close to like this? If I drank like that, I would be unable to speak by the time we got to the fourth swig. I like a drinking buzz as much as most people, but one beer and I’m already there. There is no way on earth I can drink a half-pint of whiskey and keep on talking so it makes any kind of sense. I have my doubts that anybody can. Not only that, but in the show we watched the other night, Matthew McConaughey’s guy kept not only drinking but snorting coke and remained lucid. I’m pretty sure nobody can do that. But what the hell, it’s television.

booze | 6:46 pm CDT
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Sunday, June 14th, 2015

After our weekly visit to the farmer’s market on Madison’s west side, My Darling B and I crossed the street to the Hilldale Mall where B had to shop for a dress to wear to a wedding. B hates shopping with the blazing white intensity of a thousand exploding suns, but the wedding is just two weeks away, so, even though there was still some time left to procrastinate, she decided it was time to get it over with. As luck would have it, she fell in love with the very first dress she found, but it’s fire-engine red and apparently there’s some rule about wearing a dress to a wedding that would upstage the bride. She put it on hold and kept shopping, eventually ending up with what she called “the granny dress,” a cream-colored, knee-length dress with lots of sparklies. B loves sparklies.

While she was trying on dresses, I wandered down the street a few blocks to a garage sale on Midvale Avenue that I spotted as we drove past. There wasn’t much that interested me, and the only thing I eventually bought was a book published by the Associated Press to commemorate the 1969 moon landing. Titled “Footprints On The Moon,” it was a coffee table book chock full of familiar photographs of the space race, starting as usual with Sputnik and ending with lots of lofty prose about how Neil & Buzz walking on the moon had ushered the world into a new era, yada yada yada.

When I picked up the book I had no intention of putting it down again. I’ll buy almost any book or commemorative nick-knack that came out of the space race. I’d never seen this book before and as I opened the cover I thought, Oh nice, something new for my collection, but I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary at first. Then the book fell open to the middle where the folded newspaper pages were tucked away. My heart sped up. It was the first four pages torn out of the Wisconsin State Journal dated July 21, 1969. “ON THE MOON!” the headline on the front page blared in block capital letters over a full-color photo of Armstrong and Aldrin in a training scenario, using tongs to pick up rocks in their space suits. An inside page ran a snapshot of the video feed from the moon, unfocused and about as black-and-white as any photograph could be. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not realize what was going on.

I tucked the pages back in the book and carried it reverently to the front of the garage where a quartet of old friends were bantering with some customers about one of the items for sale. When one of them turned to me and offered to help, I handed over the book, which he opened to the inside cover to read the price: two dollars. “Footprints on the moon,” he said conversationally, flipping through the first couple pages before it fell open to the middle where he found the newspaper pages. I was sure when he saw those that he would either take them out because they weren’t part of the book, or at least charge me for them separately. He barely looked at them before he snapped the book closed. I held my breath. “Two dollars, please,” he said. I dug two singles from my wallet and handed them over; he thanked me, and I walked away with a tiny piece of history.

Shopping for dresses took a lot out of B, so we headed straight home where she planned to spend time in her garden to decompress. It had been raining for the past two days so the ground was probably too wet for her to plant anything. Even so, she figured she could at least pull weeds, but when we got home she wasn’t up for that any more. “A new bar opened in town with fifty-zillion taps,” she informed me, and she wanted to go there to see what that was about.

The bar was Mr. Brews Taphouse, a Wisconsin chain of bars that specializes in craft beers and features loads of local brews as well as national craft beers. I don’t know how many taps there were; it was too way many for me to bother counting them. We settled in at a hightop table next to the beer menu chalked on the wall, where I studied the options long and hard. I spotted a specialty brew called Sixty-One from Dogfish Head that a friend had raved about; I wish I could say it was as good as the hype, but I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. B ordered a delicious barrel-aged porter called Barrel Aged Brrrbon with Vanilla from Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland OR. She let me taste it, then she let me taste it again, and then I tasted it some more. Eventually she just said to hell with tasting and we called it sharing.

After the first draughts were out of the way, we ordered a flight of four beers: Dynamo Copper Lager from Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago; Bean Me Up Scotchy from St. Francis Brewing in St. Francis WI; Shake Chocolate Porter from Boulder Beer Company in Boulder CO; and Quinannan Falls Lager from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo MI.

We’ve been to Chicago on our own, but we have to go back soon on a proper beer tour because there’s some really good brews coming out of there. If Dynamo’s any indication, I could probably spend all day in the taproom of Metropolitan Brewing, sampling their beers.

St. Francis is just north of Milwaukee and we’ve enjoyed their beer before. Bean Me Up Scotchy is a barrel-aged version of their scotch ale, known as Pride, and I would guess they’ve added vanilla beans to the recipe to boot. Very smooth, and yummy enough to make me want more.

I don’t remember drinking any brews from Boulder Beer before, so that’s something I’m working on correcting, starting with this excellent porter.

Bell’s has been one of my favorite breweries ever since I tried Two-Hearted Ale, a very hoppy beer. I’m not so much into hoppy beers any more, but fortunately Bell’s has produced plenty of other styles that are ever so tasty, and this lager, I’m happy to report, is no exception. Plus, it comes from Kalamazoo, which gives me an opportunity to say Kalamazoo. I love to say Kalamazoo. Who doesn’t love saying Kalamazoo? Boring people, that’s who.

I can’t remember whether or not we visited Widmer Brothers when we were in Portland. Looking photos of the place and where it is on the map, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. If we didn’t, we were stupid. It looks like a pretty great place to visit. Plus, the vanilla porter we sampled was scrumptuous. Getting some right from the source would’ve been a treat.

Our sufficiencies well and truly serensified, we retired back to Our Little Red House to pass the rest of a quiet afternoon reading and napping until supper time. And that is a satisfying way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

walking on the moon | 9:04 am CDT
Category: beer, books, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, space geekery
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Monday, May 25th, 2015

I just finished doing the almost unthinkable: I poured twenty-four pints of beer down the drain. That’s three gallons of beer, in case you’re trying to do the math in your head.

To explain: They were all home brews, and not particularly good ones. The vast majority of it came from a batch of brown ale that I screwed up and should’ve dumped out as soon as I tasted it. I’d made a vanilla extract for a batch of porter that was still fermenting, then suffered a major brain cramp as I was getting ready to bottle the brown ale and dumped the extract into it, instead. Didn’t taste awful, but didn’t taste very good, either. I was keeping it in the hopes that it would mellow a bit in the bottles and get better. It didn’t.

After dumping all that, I started looking around to see what else I had that should have been cleaned up. Turned out I still had about a half-dozen pints from the very first batch of all-grain brew that I made almost two years ago. If I hadn’t felt the need to drink that before, and I didn’t have a hankering to drink it now, which I didn’t, then I figured it was past its prime, and out it went.

And I had two big twenty-four ounce bombers of the second all-grain batch, which was a total clusterfuck from beginning to end. I kept it around only so I could perform various experiments on it. I’m all experimented out now, so it followed the rest down the drain.

Freed up a lot of bottles. Guess it’s time to brew more beer.

drainage | 11:16 am CDT
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Monday, May 4th, 2015

It was the first weekend of Madison Craft Beer Week, so brace yourself! This is going to be mostly about beer.

Both B and I had some flex time to burn on Friday, so we got out of work a couple hours early, drove straight home and had a nice nap for an hour or so. Hey, we’re middle-aged. It seemed like a great idea to us.

After getting a really good, restful nap, we changed clothes and went to The Malt House, where the Central Waters Brewery was doing a tap takeover, pouring I don’t know how many different beers – looked like at least a dozen. We got a flight of their darkest, maltiest high-gravity beers: an imperial cherry stout, a coffee stout known as Peruvian Morning, and their anniversary ale, 17. We grabbed a couple of chairs and settled in on the patio where we could enjoy sipping them in the evening light.

And sipping was about all we could do with these very strong brews. These are beers to be savored, not guzzled. We both thought that 17 was the very best. I had to give it 5 out of five marks. I can’t remember the last time I did that, but this was such a yummy beer that I just had to. I thought the cherry stout was a bit too tart, but B liked it fine. The coffee stout had just enough coffee aroma to make it as close to perfect as coffee stout gets, if I may say so.

After enjoying the beers on offer at The Malt House, we strolled down to Dexter’s Pub because we heard there was a tap takeover there, too. We sampled a few chocolate stouts from Southern Tier Brewing and a porter from Great Lakes before the noise and the crowds were too much for us and we began to miss the peace and quiet of our little red house.

Saturday we went to breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. Biscuits and gravy, baby!

At eleven, they had the official Madison Craft Beer Week kickoff party at the East Side Club with a collection of brewers and their firkins in a tent in the parking lot. Last year, the party was out back on the lawn, but a wedding party had taken over on Saturday. Too bad. Would’ve been a perfect day to be out on the lawn.

No biggie. We found a seat in a small garden by the door and took turns getting refills so we wouldn’t lose it. This was a classic beer tasting: They gave us four-ounce tumblers at the gate that we could get refilled as many times as we liked. I tried one of each of the beers on tap, even the sour beers that are all the rage now. I don’t like them, no matter how often I try them. They’re all just a little too tart for my palate, or I’ve got a faulty palate.

Tim swung by the fest at three to pick us up and take us home, where we grilled bratwurst and watched a movie after dinner. The movie was Locke. The whole movie was Tom Hardy in a car calling people on the phone. It was not boring, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe more about that later.

Sunday, out of bed at five. B had a quick shower, but I’m not as civilized, so I just threw on some dirty clothes. Besides, I knew we were going to be standing in line outside all morning, waiting to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest; who would be able to get a whiff of me? Nobody that I knew, that’s who.

There were 300 tickets available. Each person in line could buy two. At eight thirty, they started passing out wrist bands numbered one to one-fifty. I got number 148. B got 149. Just before they handed out the last numbered band to the guy behind us, he took a deep breath and said, “I think I’m about to cry.”

Once you have your numbered wrist band, you can step out of line and come back at eleven thirty to buy tickets. B and I went to breakfast at Stalzy’s. Probably didn’t need to, because we’d both just eaten the Lazy Jane’s scones we bought the day before, but it’s a tradition, born just last year, that we stop in for breakfast sammies after they hand out the numbers, so off we went.

After breakfast, we still had enough time to go home, where My Darling B had a nap. My tummy was too full, so I mowed the lawn. There, now I won’t have to think about it for a week!

Back in line at eleven-thirty; everybody started to bunch up at about eleven-fifty; ticket sales started at twelve and we got our tickets at twelve forty-five. Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog.

The last beer event for the weekend was the benefit for the pet rescue at One Barrel Brewing. Because nothing motivates people to save the doggies like beer. Well, nothing motivates me like beer, anyway.

Madison Craft Beer Week | 9:26 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Got up at five this morning to get in line for tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest. Actually got in line at about five forty-five. There are only 300 tickets for sale at this location, and each person is allowed to buy two. At about eight o’clock, they started handing out numbered wrist bands. I got 148. B got 149. Couldn’t have cut it much closer than that. Looks like we’ll have to get up at four next year.

GTOM tickets | 8:50 am CDT
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Saturday, April 25th, 2015

A coworker and I stopped at a Perkins restaurant for lunch on a recent business trip. After we finished our entrees, the waitress took our plates away and asked us if we had saved any room for dessert. I wasn’t interested, but my coworker asked about the cookies he’d seen in the display case on the way in.

“We have a special on those,” the waitress told us. “If you buy three, you get three.”

We looked blankly at each other for a couple seconds, both thinking the same thing: What’s so special about that? If you pay for three, you ought to get three.

Then the nickel dropped. What she meant was that if he bought three, she would give him three more. It was a two-for-one deal.

pay for three | 8:10 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015The first movie we saw yesterday, Off The Menu: Asian America, was a surprisingly heartwarming documentary about Asian-American food. Director Grace Lee starts by asking the question, What is Asian-American food, anyway? and while seeking answers (and eating lots of good-looking food!), she introduces us to the people she put her question to: Glen Gondo, a third-generation Japanese who has achieved such success in marketing Asian-American food that he’s known as the Sushi King of Texas; Jonathan Wu and Wilson Tang, chefs from New York city who have opened the Asian fusion restaurant Fung Tu on the lower east side of Manhattan; the the men and women of the Sikh temple in Milwaukee as they prepare and share langar, a community dinner; and the farmers at the M’ao Organic Farm in Hawaii. The answer Lee found? Asian-American food is whatever Asian chefs make that is inspired by their heritage, and that can be as ordinary as packaged sushi from the grocery store, or as original as the recipes that come out of the kitchen of Wu and Tang. But far from being a one-note documentary that’s trying to answer a riddle, Lee brings a sense of humor to her project, and presents a film about people who build a sense of community through the food they prepare for a meal or produce for a kitchen. Well worth seeing.

Off The Menu: Asian America | 7:35 am CDT
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Sunday, April 12th, 2015

B & O at the Greenbush BarB & I had enough time on Friday night between the last two movies to check out the Greenbush Bar, a place we’ve been meaning to visit for years that is so hugely popular, we had to wait twenty minutes for a table. No worries; I grabbed a beer from the bar and we cozied up in a couple of chairs by the door while we waited.

Greenbush Bar is on the 900 block of Regent Street in the basement of the Italian Workmen’s Club and, in a lot of ways, it’s just what you would expect a basement bar to look like. The ceiling is low, the walls are panelled in pine, and the ceiling is painted black so that the colored Christmas lights that are strung everywhere stand out all that much better.

The bar is a long, gentle curve of wood along the right wall as you walk in; when we got there, all the seats were taken but it was not yet three deep, the way it would be by the time we left. The rest of the room is low two-person pine tables, pushed together here and there where larger parties have been seated. Pizza seems to be their signature menu item; every other table had one on a wire stand that diners eagerly tore pieces from.

B and I weren’t looking for a pizza; B tried the special instead, which I forget right now. I had spaghetti and meatballs; the spaghetti was not bad, the sauce was good and the meatballs were very good.

We lingered for as long as it took us to finish our beers without gulping them down; there was quite a crowd waiting along the walls by the time we were finished.

Greenbush Bar | 7:46 am CDT
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Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Omigod. I am so full. Still. We went to Stalzy’s Deli for dinner last night and they served us so much food and we ate all of it. WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

We didn’t eat ALL the head cheese. That was the only exception I can remember. In the spirit of the event we tried the head cheese, and agreed that it was good, but we also agreed that a little head cheese goes a long way and also that head cheese is a food that is probably in need of a robust rebranding effort. “Cheesehead” sounds whimsically funny, but somehow “head cheese” sounds … not right.

The rest of the appetizers were eagerly gobbled up by everyone at our table. Smoked deli meats, pickled cukes and Brussels sprouts, breads sliced & stuffed – it all got snatched up as the plate was passed hand to hand.

We ate all the cabbage rolls. Because they were sooo delicious.

I don’t think we ate all the spaetzel, but I’m going to stand fast on the claim that they gave us way more spaetzel than any six people could eat no matter how much beer was liberally poured to help wash it down.

I didn’t mention the beer? The good folks at Karben4 Brewing aided and abetted the crew at Stalzy’s to pair one of their fine brews with each course of the meal: A seasonal beer with the appetizer, a red ale with the first course, a black IPA with the next and a firkin of specially-crafted, barrel-aged IPA with the final course.

I was feeling full by the time I finished the spaetzel but couldn’t say no to the schnitzel, because Stalzy’s schnitzel is about as good as schnitzel gets. I really shouldn’t have eaten all of it, but I did. And hated myself for it. And loved every bite.

The final course was a cherry-stuffed pirogi drizzled with cream. I tried to eat it all. I really did. I just couldn’t. I could barely lift my fork by then.

I will eat nothing but leafy greens from now on.

fat fat fat | 8:50 am CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

In July, right after I started brewing beer using all-grain recipes, I made a batch of what was supposed to be a light blonde ale using a recipe I’d found on the internet. I don’t usually tweak the recipes I find; if they’re good, I keep brewing them, but if I don’t like a recipe, I look for something else, so I didn’t think much about the amount of grain this recipe called for until I had finished boiling the batch and started to pump it into a fermenter. Why’s it look so dark? I wondered. This was supposed to be a blonde ale. I re-checked the recipe and noticed, somehow for the first time, that it was enough to make a ten-gallon batch! I brew five-gallon batches! To say this was a high-gravity brew is, well, a bit of an understatement.

I bottled it a couple weeks later, but apparently didn’t wait long enough for fermentation to have finished, because the dimples in the caps on the bottles turned into bumps and every cap I pried off gave way with a POW! instead of the usual pffft! And the beer wasn’t all that good. Cloyingly sweet and, I don’t know, just off. But I hated to pour it down the sink without trying to save it.

For the sake of experiment, I thought I’d see how much further fermentation might go by pouring a couple bottles into a half-gallon growler and leave it for a month or two. I made the mistake of opening the first bottle without chilling it, which must make one hell of a difference to how fast the carbon dioxide outgasses from the beer. Instead of the usual POW! this one opened with a cannon-like BOOM! and nearly every drop of beer erupted from the bottle in a geyser that nearly reached the ceiling. Luckily, I set the bottle in a sink before opening it, so the beer went down the drain instead of all over the floor, countertop or wherever.

I put two 22-ounce bottles in the fridge and left them there overnight, so they were well and truly chilled when I popped the tops off them the next evening. This time I got most of the beer into the growler, sealed it up and left it on the back of a dark shelf in the basement.

Last week, I finally brought that growler out, left it in the garage to chill and opened it the day after Thanksgiving while we were playing Boggle. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I have to admit it grew on me. I downed a couple glasses while we played. Sean asked for a refill on his first glass, too, so it must not have been too bad. I’m not sure what it’s like; I wouldn’t exactly call it beer, but it’s not all that bad. I probably won’t be making any more, though.

bottle rocket fuel | 6:12 am CDT
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Friday, November 28th, 2014

Bottling Day! About four weeks ago, I brewed up a recipe for scotch ale that I found on the internet. Four weeks is about as long as you need to ferment any batch of beer, even one that started out with a gravity as high as 1068. I considered leaving it until next week, but after a quick after-lunch nap today I changed my mind, headed down to the basement and started washing bottles. I could easily do without that part of the hobby; there’s so much washing and cleaning that I end up with dishpan hands on brew day or bottling day. But the beer I end up with is so goooooooood! And I made it! So until it’s no fun any more, I clean and boil and bottle and BEER!

This is the first batch of scotch ale I’ve tried to make. There’s a brewing forum I visit online that has an enormous library of recipes I keep going back to because I haven’t been disappointed with any of them yet. The high-gravity brews have been especially tasty so I’ve been tending toward those. Kind of odd that it’s taken so long for me to try a scotch ale. From what I can tell, it turned out pretty good. It’s a little flat right now and won’t have the nicely crisp bite that a few weeks of bottle conditioning will give it, but I like the flavor it’s got right now, and it can only get better from here.

I need a name for it, and I’m open to suggestions. Any suggestions.

scotch ale | 3:47 pm CDT
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Thursday, November 27th, 2014

We played Bourbon Jenga last night, which is like regular Jenga but with cherry-infused bourbon. You can use regular bourbon if you like; it doesn’t have to be infused with cherries. It doesn’t have to be bourbon, either, but then it probably wouldn’t make sense to call it Bourbon Jenga. You still could call it that, I’m not going to stop you. It’s a free country, theoretically.

Anyway, Tim came over last night, thinking that he was going to have dinner with us but finding out as he came through the door that B & I were just on our way out to yoga class. Our instructor was recovering from a sinus infection that knocked her out for last Monday’s class but she was feeling well enough again to talk us through some restorative yoga exercises that mostly involved very heavy breathing and trying turn all the way around to face the same way as my butt. Couldn’t do either very well. I’m not a huffer-and-puffer kind of yoga guy; I think I get the importance of controlling my breath, but I don’t see why it’s important to make a big production out of it. Maybe that understanding will come later. And I’m not flexible enough yet to turn all the way around like an owl. I’m not sure that’ll ever come to a guy with a back as tired and crooked as mine, not that I won’t keep on trying. Our instructor can fold herself all the way over so she can stick her head between her knees, so I can see with my own eyes that it’s possible. I just can’t comprehend doing it myself yet.

By the time we got back home from yoga it was almost eight o’clock. Sean announced almost as we came through the door that they had been too hungry to wait for us, so Sean fed himself from the kitchen and Tim ordered take-out from the Indian place up the road. And kudos to him; that’s some of the best Indian take-away anywhere in the city. B & I were mighty hungry, though, so we sat down and tucked into the sloppy joes that B made earlier and left warming in the oven. When Sean caught the aroma, his face lit up and he took a seat at the table to devour a sloppy joe, too.

Then came the Jenga. I’ve wanted to play Jenga for weeks now. Can’t say where I got the hankering, but it’s been there long enough that I mentioned it to B a week or two ago and she put in an order with Amazon last week. I think it came in the mail the next morning. Same thing happened to the cook book I ordered and wanted to give to B for Christmas. I thought it would come maybe a couple days later and I would be able to fish it out of the mail before B would see it, but no, it came the very next day and was in a big bag with all the other stuff that she ordered from Amazon, so naturally she opened it. I didn’t even know it was in there until I heard her say, “What the hell?” and turned around to see her holding the cook book with a look on her face that went from puzzled to shocked realization to Oh Shit I’ve Opened My Christmas Present Early. I kissed her and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Okay, so back to Jenga, which became Bourbon Jenga when B got out the jar of infused bourbon and ladled out a shot for everybody while I set up the Jenga tower. We didn’t make it a drinking game; there weren’t forty-two overly-complicated rules about when you had to drink, it was just Jenga with drinks. Play the game, enjoy the bourbon, have a good time. Those were the only rules. We had a little trouble with the first one because I just wanted to play the game but B wanted to follow the instructions. Who reads the instructions for Jenga? But eventually we sorted that out and the game was played, the bourbon was enjoyed and I think everybody had a good time.

bourbon jenga | 9:53 am CDT
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, games, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, yoga | Tags: , , ,
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Saturday, November 15th, 2014

Note to self: Merchant does not open at nine o’clock Saturday morning for brunch, as I thought because that’s what they advertised on their web site. We found a somewhat cryptic explanation for this on their front door where, etched in the glass under the Saturday hours, it says they open for brunch at nine on “farmer’s market Saturdays.” We had to guess that they were talking about when the farmer’s market is on the square because, as it just so happened, one of the reasons we went downtown this morning was to visit the farmer’s market at the Monona Terrace, where they meet during the fall months. In the winter, the market shifts to the senior center down the street from the Overture Center. There’s a farmer’s market every Saturday year-round. So Merchant shoulda been open. So there.

But they weren’t, and we had our hearts set on brunch and besides, we were hungry. My Darling B suggested we could visit either Marigold Kitchen or Graze; I plumped for Graze because I love their bloody Marys (do you drop the y and add ies for more than one bloody Mary? There’s a Will Safire column out there somewhere that covers this, but I’m not going to stop right now to look) and off we went.

Except that Graze didn’t open until nine-thirty. Figures.

Options: Wait outside Graze’s front door until they opened. Pros: Tasty bloody Mary; delicious food; one of our favorite places to eat. Cons: Waiting sucks. And there was the weather to consider. Specifically, it was twenty-five degrees outside and we’re both great big wimps. We bugged out in the direction of The Old Fashioned. Sorry, Tory. Maybe another time.

As we crossed East Washington Avenue, we passed a woman who was perhaps in her 80s and dressed rather flamboyantly in a lime-green dress, red jacket and a wide-brimmed red hat. When she was just two or three steps away from us she shouted at the tops of her lungs, “I’M RED HAT MAMA!” My Darling B, to her credit, didn’t react at all, just kept on walking. Turned out that Red Hat Mama wasn’t shouting at us; it was just something she shouted at irregular intervals. She shouted the same thing again when she was about twenty feet past us, and kept on shouting as she walked down the street.

The Old Fashioned was virtually empty when we got there. If you’ve ever been to The Old Fashioned, you know that this is very weird because the place is usually packed to the rafters. The Old Fashioned is everybody’s favorite place to eat and drink on capital square. The host seated us at a table in the front by the window and there were just two other people seated there, but that didn’t last long. In the hour that we were there, the place went from nearly deserted to standing room only.

Apparently there was a Badger game later today, which I cleverly deduced from all the people dressed in red and wearing Bucky Badger hats. I’m pretty sharp that way. It’s also my guess that it must be something of a tradition to eat brunch at The Old Fashioned before the game, because groups of five to ten people dressed in red were walking in the front door more or less continuously the whole time we were there.

The bloodies at The Old Fashioned were quite different from the bloodies we’ve had just about anywhere else. They weren’t as boozy, for one thing. Our favorite bloodies are the ones they make at Stalzy’s Deli. They’re very tasty, but they give me just enough of a buzz that sometimes I wonder how much vodka they dump in those things. The Old Fashioned makes a nicely spicy bloody topped with a pickled egg, a skewer of cheese curds and a dill spear. There’s also a thick slab of beef jerky jammed down one side of the glass that’s maybe a little more than casual drinkers like us can handle. Not saying it was bad, just that maybe it’s enough to say we saved the jerky for our doggie bags with the rest of the leftovers. Maybe I’ll get around to gnawing on it later tonight for a bedtime snack.

It’s worth noting that our meals were eye-poppingly huge. Seriously, our eyes popped out of our heads and wagged back and forth on stalks. Everybody was pointing at us, but we couldn’t help ourselves. I generally think of brunch as a light meal. I ordered ham & eggs. The ham slice was three-quarters of an inch thick and about six inches across. Who eats that much meat at a single sitting? I ate about a third of it; I’ll be eating another third tomorrow for lunch and the final third on Monday for lunch. B ordered chicken fried steak; she took home enough to feed Coxey’s army, too.

The walk back to the car was long enough that our lips were numb and we opted to skip the farmer’s market this weekend and just pick up what we needed at the grocer’s. Told you we were wimps.

adventures in brunch | 3:38 pm CDT
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Saturday, November 1st, 2014

It took her the better part of two weeks, but My Darling B finally found some Headless Heron, the pumpkin-spiced ale aged in bourbon barrels made by Central Waters Brewery. The brewers announced maybe two or three weeks ago that they were going to release it, but it’s taken this long to finally make it to the Madison area and it appears to be in limited supply.

Every night for the past week, we’ve been heading straight over to Steve’s Liquor on University Avenue after work to see if they had any; they just kept shaking their heads and, for the last two or three nights at least, I think they were getting a little tired of us. We stopped at Star Liquor on Willy Street next, then Jenifer Street Market, and finally at Licali’s Market on Monona Drive, just a few blocks from our house.

It was the owner of Licali’s who finally tipped us off that Headless Heron had finally hit down. We were in there two nights ago, for the third or fourth time, when the owner asked B for her phone number and told her she’d just give a call when they got some in. She even offered to hold a couple bottles.

B got the call today. Suspecting that the other stores might have gotten some in, too, we stopped at Star Liquor and scored a couple bottles, then pulled out of the parking lot of Jenifer Street Market with four bottles. True to her word, the gal at Licali’s had two bottles set aside under the counter, so B came home with enough to try one tonight and put the rest away for a special occasion.

headless heron | 1:50 pm CDT
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Monday, October 27th, 2014

I dried out the pork chops. They were thick and juicy and marinated to perfection when I put them on the grill, but I left them on about fifteen minutes too long. I’m going to blame rain and a faulty thermometer.

When I say they were thick, I mean they were the thickest pork chops I’ve ever seen in my life. I know I tend to exaggerate, saying “a gojillion” when I mean “five,” but honestly, these pork chops were at least an inch and a half thick, so when I built the fire, I banked the hot coals up either side of the grill so the chops wouldn’t be right over the fire. It would take at least thirty minutes to cook them, so I added more charcoal and, while I was down in the basement doodling around with something on the internet for about ten minutes, waiting for the new charcoal to catch, I came back upstairs to a cloudburst! But the fire was still plenty hot, so I covered it and gave it another ten minutes to dry out the top layer of briquettes before I put the chops on.

With the fires banked up the sides and the chops in the middle, I figured it would take about thirty minutes to cook them to perfection. There was some discussion about what perfection would look like. With chops that thick, I wanted to make sure they were safely cooked all the way through, but the source I googled said cook it to one-sixty, and the source B googled said one forty-five. I was going to decide after I slipped a thermometer into the first chop at the half-hour mark.

Hmmm. One-thirty, maybe one thirty-five. Not nearly cooked enough. I covered the grill and trotted back inside to get out of the rain, and waited another ten minutes before I checked it again. I knew from the way that the meat resisted being stabbed by the thermometer that it was done this time, but the thermometer only climbed to one-forty. What the hell?

I took them inside anyway, put them on the table and announced that dinner was served. My Darling B tucked into hers with enthusiasm and even after she made a face, she wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, but as soon as I popped a piece into my mouth I knew: The thermometer lied! I should have taken them off at thirty minutes.

“They’re not inedible,” B said, munching away at hers. True. But it was a sad end to what had been a beautiful pair of pork chops.

overdone | 6:01 am CDT
Category: cook-out, food & drink
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Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Mickey's Tavern, Madison WIWe had dinner at Mickey’s Tavern on Willy Street because it’s guy night and I didn’t know what to make. Weirdly, now I do. Now, I would like to make a big pot of chili, but at five-thirty as I was driving along Willy Street and getting closer to the grocery store every minute, I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I wanted to make.

Luckily, there was Mickey’s, and they have the most delicious BLT, and they have eggplant sammies, and they have this thing called sexy fries, which is a big plate of thinly-sliced, deep-fried potato liberally sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese and red pepper and I can’t stop eating it no matter how much they pile on my plate, even though I feel as if I’m going to pop like a big white zit. And they have Lake Louie Warped Speed on tap. Holy crap, I love that beer.

We sat on the patio because this will probably be the last Thursday this year that it will be warm enough outside for us to sit on Mickey’s patio and eat dinner, and even today it was maybe just a few degrees over the line on the cool side for us to do that, but we did it anyway because, as I said, probably last time. I hope I’m wrong about that.

crisp | 8:14 pm CDT
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Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Port of SeattleWe took our sweet time getting ready to hit the town this morning, not bothering to even get out of bed until about eight. HOW COULD WE BE SO LAZY? It’s just this simple: Today was our last day on vacation in Seattle. Heck, it was our last day of vacation. We were not going to rush it for anything.

We’d decided the night before to eat breakfast at The Athenian in the Public Market. That’s the restaurant where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner went for lunch in Sleepless in Seattle, when they were talking about dating and whether or not Tom Hanks had a cute butt. (“I don’t know. Are we grading on a curve?”) The stools where they planted their butts are marked by plaques, but we didn’t sit in them. The hostess took us upstairs and sat us in a booth where we had a killer view of the Seattle Wheel, the port and the ferry terminal. The sky was clear and the sun was shining, so it was a way better place for breakfast than the stools at the counter downstairs. My butt would have to wait until another time to meet the chair that once cradled the butt of Tom Hanks.

I ordered what turned out to be the gooiest cinnamon roll ever. Ever! There are no cinnamon rolls anywhere else covered with that much gooey sweetness. You may think you’ve eaten a gooier cinnamon roll, but you’re wrong. It wasn’t even half as gooey as the one I ate. I couldn’t pick it up because the sweet goo had cemented it to the plate. I had to cut it into little pieces and then pry each little piece up with a knife and fork. It was really gooey!

B ordered a breakfast sammie on an English muffin that turned out to be two breakfast sammies on two English muffins. The menu didn’t make that as clear as it might have.

After we put all that breakfast away and washed it down with plenty of strong restaurant coffee, we went to do some basic souvenir shopping, starting just across the street with three kinds of smoked salmon and some beer for Tim. He deserved all that and more for volunteering to check in on our Little Red House and catsit Boo while we were away.

To get a gift for B, we went a little further down the block to stop at a fabric shop where she could buy a swatch of fabric printed with Seattle landmarks that she found on-line and dearly wanted to add to her collection. They still had some and it was practically sitting at the front door as she walked in, but there was no way she could just walk in and out of a fabric shop, so she happily spent about a half-hour wandering the aisles looking at all the other goodies.

The fabric shop was in a building with a whole lot of other souvenir shops at the street level. One level below them is The Pike Brewing Company. If you go to Seattle and you have time to visit just one brewpub, this would be a good pick. The beers are great, but the collection of beer stuff is eye-popping. Even if you’re not into beer or advertising or bottling or whatever, you will be agog at the sheer size of this collection. Seriously. Every wall has a framed poster or beer coaster or collection of bottle caps. Every level surface is taken up by a beer stein or a giant bottle of beer or a grinning little dancing bear holding mugs of beer. Really, it’s almost too much to describe. You won’t believe it until you see it. If you don’t want a beer, they’ll still let you in to wander around and gape in slack-jawed wonder, but if you drink beer I would have to recommend that you partake of at least one of their wonderful brews while you’re there. I was partial to Monk’s Uncle, their tripel.

The Pike Brewing Co

I mention The Pike because, while B roamed the aisles of the fabric shop, dreaming whatever happy dreams quilters have about fabric, I waited ever so patiently for The Pike to open. Okay, not really all that patiently. I could see them getting ready to open. The street level I was on was a sort of mezzanine that surrounded the tavern below, so all I had to do was lean over the rail and I could scope out almost the entire bar. And they’ve made their brewing equipment into a kind of modern art sculpture. The grain is lifted from the basement on a bucket lift to a big stainless steel bin that was high over my head, and the mash tun was on a platform at my level. The boil kettle was on the floor below and a big batch of brew was boiling away while the brewmaster stood by checking messages on her smart phone. I’d be lying if I said that all this didn’t make me thirsty.

But I went straight to the section with all the merchandise first when they finally opened, to get some bottled beer to take home. They had a great-looking flip-top growler I really wanted, too, but I wasn’t sure it would fit in our luggage, so I had to satisfy myself with a couple bombers of our favorite beers. Then, since we were there and it was open anyway, we bellied up to the bar where I asked what was on tap from the casks and ended up with a glass of cask-conditioned scotch ale. Wow. Really good. B joined me in a glass of scotch ale from the tap and we passed a happy half-hour or so there, planning the rest of our day, a trip to Fremont and Ballard to the north of Seattle to visit some of the area’s fine brewpubs.

Our first stop was going to be the bridge over Troll Avenue to look for the Fremont Troll but our visit to The Pike had made it necessary for me to stop sooner, so we made a detour to visit Fremont Brewing first. Looks like it was a garage or filling station before they refurbished it in the industrial chic-look that’s so popular in breweries run by very hip young people. That’s not meant to be a slam; I wake up every morning wishing I was a hip young person brewing beer in a refurbished filling station. They’re living the dream, as far as I’m concerned. The forecourt had been transformed into a beer garden with lots of freshly-varnished picnic tables that was patrolled by a black and white cat who deigned to stop just once to say hello to us, then moved on. They didn’t pour tasters here, so we had to order full-sized pours: B had the Dark Star Stout, creamy and sweet, and I had a saison called Harvest Ale, very refreshing. We passed a relaxing half hour on the patio with our beers in the warm afternoon sun trying to tempt the cat to come back, but no luck there.

Our search for the Fremont Troll lasted only a few minutes, because he’s at the end of the street that runs under the bridge and the street is called Troll Avenue. Not hard to find. I’m not sure why the Fremont Troll became so famous. Probably for the same reasons that the gum wall became famous: It’s just one of those things that somehow caught on with the visitors. Every tourist who comes through this part of town has to visit the Troll. There were maybe a dozen people there when we walked up, and in the ten minutes or so that we were there, maybe a dozen more came by. Nearly every one of them did what we did: Pose next to the troll so they could take a picture and post it on teh intarwebs. There must be millions of photos of the Troll on Facebook by now. Here’s one of them.

Somehow we found our way from the Troll to the right bus stop to get to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company for a flight of tasters. Bad Jimmy’s is a 15 bbl operation run out of what looks like a U-Store-It unit with a few tables and a short bar behind the roll-up door and some patio seating just outside. The owner smartly picked a location behind three local restaurant / bars that served pub food, and he encouraged visitors to get food from them and bring it over to the patio to eat with their beers. Wish I had those kind of smarts. We picked out four tasters to try: Strawberry Mango Heffe, Coffee Coca Vanilla Porter, Red Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale (known to the regulars as CDA).

Hilliard's Beer

From there we went to Hillliard’s Beer, a much bigger operation than any of the other places we visited today. They operate out of what looks like a cleaned-up warehouse; every surface upwards of the floor bears a blinding coat of whitewash and the big open windows let in lots of light that’s reflected off the stainless steel tanks and freezer walls surrounding the open, airy corner of the building where the bar is set up. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. They served no food, but a food truck called Kiss My Grits was visiting while we were there. Hilliard’s did not serve tasters so we each ordered a full glass of beer. B had Original Singe, a red ale with a smoky flavor, and I had Chrome Satan, a refreshing brown lager.

Then on to NW Peaks Brewery, maybe the smallest operation we saw today, run out of what looked like a very small storage space. The tap room bore a strong resemblance to a basement man cave: There was a bar set up alongside a walk-in freezer and a small group of seats. Their brews are all named after peaks in the Pacific Northwest. We took our tasters outside and sampled them at one of the three or four tables in the asphalt lot out front, surrounded by pony kegs. Enchantment Saison and Redoubt Red very clear and crisp; Stuart Stout was a nice, full-bodied brew.

Stoup BrewingStoup Brewing was another placed that looked like it had taken over a rehabbed warehouse. There were just a few tables inside and quite a few more on the forecourt just outside the rolled up garage door. No food but again a visiting food truck was doing a brisk business selling freshly-made lumpia from the curb. We got tasters of Stoup Porter, Bavarian Hefeweizen and Northwest Red.

We got halfway up the block before I realized I’d left my bag at Stoup! B went on while I went back as quickly as I could, breaking into a trot when I realized our car keys were in that bag. It was still there, untouched under the table where I’d left it. Catastrophe averted.

I easily caught up with B at Reuben’s Brews, our last stop of the night. I couldn’t tell what the building might have been before. The area that was open to the public might have been a loading bay in a previous life. The public area was also the working part of the brewery; the brew kettle and mash tun were bolted to the floor right beside the big roll-up garage door. The serving bar was off to the right as we came in, a few places to sit off to the left and in the back, and more tables on the driveway out front. The place seemed to be enormously popular; there were lots of people inside and out. We ordered just two tasters here as we were already kind of hammered, but there were three guys at the table beside ours who ordered twelve tasters. Yes, they have that many beers on tap. If we’d known, we might have started there and worked our way south, instead of the other way around. We tried Koyt, a light-bodied brew, and Export Foreign Stout, a very robust brew.

We went back to Serious Pie for dinner again. It’s pizza I could never get tired of. Really, I could eat there every night.

pacnw day 8 | 4:37 pm CDT
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Sunday, September 28th, 2014

B&O at Washington Park Portland ORB & I took the train west from Portland city center to Washington Park in the morning after breakfast. Washington Park is not a city park like the one on PSU campus we visited yesterday. That was a wide, green lawn with some tall trees, an island of serenity in the middle of a fairly large city. Washington Park, on the other hand, was a rising group of wooded hills at the southernmost end of a chain of parks that runs through the western edge of Portland, stretching north to south along the Willamette River. And though Washington Park was something of a brief coda at the end of those parks, it was still impressively substantial. We could have spent all four days of our visit to Portland rambling along the trails of Washington Park and we would have seen only a teeny-tiny part of it. That’s how big it is. I mean, it’s big. Really big.

We weren’t really there, however, to take in all its bigness. All we wanted to do this morning was have a little stroll around the Japanese Garden, or maybe the Rose Garden, depending on our moods. We weren’t sure which just yet. We were going to get there first, wander around a bit, then decide. While we were deciding, we took a little ramble through the park of the park where the Vietnam veteran’s memorial sits.

The memorial is in a little natural amphitheater with high pines surrounding it on the hilltops above. In the middle there’s a fountain in a pool, and a long, winding path spirals up out of the amphitheater around the pool. At intervals along the path there are granite monuments engraved with the names of the dead, a classic war memorial. I used to go out of my way to visit these things, but I’m kind of meh on them now. There are always going to be wars, but I’m not as gung-ho about them as I used to be. Seemed to me then as if there might be a point to it, but I have a much more difficult time seeing it now.

We ambled up the trail out of the amphitheater and then into the park, heading in no particular direction, although we wanted to end up at the road where we could catch the bus to the Japanese Gardens. By whatever lucky chance, we did end up there. The bus wasn’t due to come along for quite a while, so we spent a little time wandering here and there, waiting on a bench in the shade of a low tree, walking down the road and back up again, and finally standing at the bus stop until the bus finally showed up and took us around the park to drop us off at the gate of the Japanese Gardens.

International Rose Test Gardens Portland ORTurns out the Japanese Gardens charge admission, something we overlooked every single one of the dozen or so times we Googled it. The entrance fee was more than we were willing to pay, and especially so considering that the bathrooms were out of order, so we ditched the Gardens and went to the International Rose Test Gardens instead.

I honestly don’t know why they’re considered “international” or what they’re testing there, but there is one very important thing I know, and that is that admission is free. Also, there are roses. The place is lousy with them. Not the most complimentary comparison, I know, but really, there’s no direction you can turn and not see roses. Even a guy like me, who’s not easily impressed by flowers, was kind of amazed at how many of them could be crowded into a few acres. And the smell was purty.

We hung out there for a good long time, strolling from one garden to another, but believe it or not there’s only so much you can take of purty-smellin’ roses, no matter how many there in all the colors of the rainbow. Eventually, we found ourselves a nice bench in the shade to rest our butts on again and plot our next move. It was getting late enough to start thinking about where we would eat dinner. I didn’t have an opinion about it until B said something about ramen and a restaurant called Umai PDX. It sounded like a pretty good idea all of a sudden, so off we went in search of the bus that would take us there.

I can tell you it’s the #15 bus and you’re supposed to catch it somewhere in the vicinity of Providence Park. I can also tell you that you’ll wait for-freaking-ever and you’ll never see it.  Two #15 buses went the other way while we were standing there waiting for the one that was going in our direction, and I got the funny feeling as the second one went by that maybe we should have gotten on one of them just to see if maybe it wouldn’t loop around and take us where we wanted to go, but it was too late by then; Umai was closed.

Because we had ramen on our mind, we tried to catch the #20 bus next to a place called Biwa. The stop was just a block away, easy to get to and it seemed there might even be some hope it would eventually arrive, but after waiting for 20 minutes, B started Googling around to see when exactly we could get there and which stop we should get off and that’s when she realized Biwa didn’t open until 5 pm, an hour and a half from then.

We decided we were too hungry to wait for Biwa, so it was back to Providence Park to catch the streetcar to Boxer Ramen. There was even a streetcar coming down the hill as we approached, so we parked ourselves next to the track and waited. And waited. And when the streetcar didn’t turn the corner to pick us up, I asked B to wait while I did a little recon. That’s how I found out that we were waiting on the wrong side of the block! The tracks split and we were apparently waiting on the return loop, so we both went around the block and waited another fifteen or twenty minutes for the next streetcar. And that’s how we spent almost two hours near Providence Park waiting for transportation before we finally caught a ride to Southwest Park Street, eight blocks from Providence Park. We could’ve walked there on our hands faster than that.

I’m not sure the ramen at Boxer Ramen is worth waiting two hours for, but then I can’t say that the ramen at any place I’ve ever been, except maybe Cheese Rool Noodle, would be worth waiting two hours for. If you take the frustration of waiting two hours for three different mass transit options out of the equation, I would have to say that Boxer Ramen serves a pretty delicious bowl of ramen, and leave the rest up to you.

After filling ourselves with noodles and broth, B wanted to get a beer at Portland Brewing Co., a brewpub on the northwest side of town. Once again, we waited for the #15 bus long enough that we could have caught two #15s if they had arrived at the posted times. About five minutes after the second one was supposed to be there, I suggested to B that we go to BridgePort Brewing instead, mostly because it was on a streetcar line and not the phantom #15 bus line.

My Darling B at Salt & Straw Portland ORThe streetcar took us to a rather frou-frou neighborhood just north of Old Town, where lots of warehouses had been remodeled into lofts and were mixed with new industrial chic construction. I couldn’t decide of Bridgeport was in an old warehouse, or if the building was in new construction that was built to look like an old warehouse. And once we were on the loading dock with a couple beers in our hands, relaxing in the cool evening air, I didn’t care much anymore.

When we had finally had enough relaxation and beer, My Darling B craved ice cream. Well, it was a vacation, after all. We walked around the block to catch a bus that, for once, showed up on time and took us a few blocks further on to Salt & Straw, a humongously popular ice cream shop in a residential neighborhood that was so incredibly upscale that my khaki pants and t-shirt featuring the logo of a Midwest brewery fit right in with the Banana Republic cargo pants and brewery t-shirts that the other guys were wearing. It was weird blending in to a place like this. But we were there for ice cream and nothing else, so we had to fool the locals just long enough to make it through the door and then get out of there.

There was quite a line waiting to get into Salt & Straw. The place got rave reviews on all the web sites we Googled, but we weren’t quite expecting to see the crowds we found thronging the place when we got there. The line wrapped around the corner and we waited maybe twenty minutes to snake our way in and finally get to the counter to order, but the ice cream was every bit as good as the hype made it out to be. We sat on a bench along the street, ooohing and aaahing as we slurped up the creamy goodness from our waffle cones. This is one of those must-visit places if ever your in Portland.

For only the second or third time that day, the bus showed up on time and took us back to our B&B. It even stopped at the right street this time so we didn’t have to backtrack three blocks at a trot, hoping we’d get there before we wet our pants.

pacnw day 3 | 9:49 pm CDT
Category: beer, brewpubs, food & drink, play, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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