Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Last Friday was the thirteenth! It was the thirteenth, and we didn’t realize it until after we were both at work! WHERE WERE WE GOING TO EAT?

Back in January, 2006, we started a tradition of eating a really good dinner at a really nice place on Friday the thirteenth, when we decided, on a whim, to check out Peppino’s on Hamilton Street. We had dinner there every Friday the thirteenth for almost four years until, sadly, they closed up shop in 2010. We’ve been searching ever since for just the right restaurant to take its place.

Last night, again on a whim, we stopped at Bellini, an Italian restaurant just three blocks off capitol square on East Washington, and our experience put Bellini on the short list of places we’ll consider as a replacement for Peppino’s. I had spaghetti with meatballs and sausages. My Darling B tried shrimp in cream sauce with big, flat noodles. Both dishes were delicious. And the bar served the frou-frou drinks that B just loves. Their wine list wasn’t bad, either.

We still miss the cozy, intimate setting of Peppino’s, but the food might call us back next Friday the thirteenth.

bellini | 2:00 pm CDT
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Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I have the teensie-weansiest little headachette this morning, just a little pressure at my temples that makes my eyelids squeak when I blink them, as if they’re on rusty hinges. I’m sure it’ll go away after a cup of coffee.

This is definitely not the fault of the beer I drank during our tour of breweries in the Fox Valley. That beer was just way too good to be the cause of any kind of hangover, no matter how slight. There’s no way I can accept that such lovingly crafted, drinkable brews could in any way be deleterious to my health.

There was that Bloody Mary I nursed at the bar in the morning while we were waiting for the bus to pull up. They’ve never given me a headache before, but there’s always a first time.

The bus left the curb in front of Alchemy, one of our favorite places to go have a bite to eat and tip a brew after a long, hard slog through the work week. It also happens to be the headquarters of Hop Head Beer Tours, run by a trio of guys (Justin, Pepper, and a third guy who wasn’t able to make the trip and I forgot the name of because I wasn’t taking notes. Mea culpa.) who have been slaving away to give ordinary people such as me and My Darling B the extraordinary privilege of visiting the most amazing breweries in Wisconsin and talking to the guys who love to make beer.

I just realized: In every brewery we’ve been to, the brewers have all been guys. Why don’t women brew? There are plenty of women who love to drink beer. Why would they leave the brewing to the guys? I might have to look into that.

Anyway, we called a cab for the trip to Alchemy at nine-fifteen, figuring that it would be prudent to assume that we would need a cab ride home when we returned. I called Union Cab because their cabs are yellow. I deeply believe that cabs should be yellow with a belt of black and white checks. Union Cabs don’t have the checks, but at least they’re the right color. Okay, I don’t believe any of that. I called Union because they made a catchy radio jingle out of their phone number that always pops into my head whenever I think of calling a cab. A yellow Prius pulled up at the driveway precisely at nine-fifteen and the driver, after saying hello and confirming the destination, switched on a episode of This American Life and we were treated to a story about interstellar space travel. Would this happen anywhere other than Madison?

When we signed in, we learned that our group that day would be very intimate, just eight people and Eric “Bruiser” Brusewitz, the head brewer at The Great Dane. Bruiser brought along a box of six growlers, gallon jugs of beer, from the Dane for us to sample during the bus ride to Appleton. The bus itself was not a typical coach: The front half had coach seating, but the back half had four big, comfy wing chairs and two tables with bench seating on either side. The tables let us sit together in a close little group, pass around the beer samples and ask Bruiser a lot of questions, which he was more than happy to answer in great detail. And there were a lot of questions: Bruce, one of the guys taking the trip, was a home brewer who was really into the chemistry of fermentation, and Bruiser had not only been to brewer’s school (yes, there really is such a thing), he’d also traveled to breweries in Britain and Germany to learn about their brewing techniques (and drink beer – that lucky guy’s got the most awesome job in the world). Not only did he answer every question we asked him, he also had lots of great stories about brewing beer that made the trip way more fun than if we had just sat around drinking beer. Not that drinking beer all by itself isn’t fun.

Our first stop was not at a brewery at all, but at Schultz’s Cheese Haus in Beaver Dam, because Justin, one of the trip organizers, wanted to pair the beer we were drinking with some cheese. He chose a cheddar and bleu cheese mashup that Bruiser paired with a porter. Everyone gobbled up the cheese and the porter was so good that everyone asked for more.

The first brewery we visited was The Stone Cellar Brewpub tucked away in a part of Appleton known as Between The Locks, quite a pleasant surprise because my brother and I used to hang out in a bar called Skyline on the top floor of the building. The bar’s still there and still called Skyline, but it’s known as a comedy club now. I popped in for a quick peek at this almost-forgotten corner of my misspent youth and it doesn’t look much different.

The Stone Cellar’s brewery is on the ground floor above the pub. Collin, the brewer on duty, gave us a quick and dirty explanation of how he turned water, barley and yeast into beer, moving from one giant stainless steel tub to the next, before we machine-gunned him with questions. Actually, I think we salvoed before he was finished. In either case, he was more than happy to answer all our questions in as much detail as Bruiser did. When we were done in the brewery we retired to the pub where we got a complimentary pint of whatever we wanted and a commemorative pint glass with the pub’s logo silk-screened across the side. Some day I’ll have to hang a shelf or two where we can put up all the pub glasses we’ve collected in just the past few years.

Our next stop was at Title Town Brewing Company in Green Bay, a total geek-out for me because not only was it a brewpub, it was a brewpub in a train station, the old Chicago Northwestern station on Dousman Street. Brent, one of the brewers and, I think, one of the owners, too (I wish I’d kept notes), was into the history of the place and not only had a lot of beer memorabilia, he also had lots of photos of the depot, of trains at the depot, of railroad heralds, and on and on and on. It was fantastic. I’m still geeking out about it. Oh, and the beer was delicious, too.

Our last stop was dinner at Hinterland Brewing’s Green Bay restaurant (there’s one in Milwaukee, too), which was literally right across the street from Title Town. Where Title Town was more like a pub, Hinterland came across as a tony high-end restaurant, very quietly lit and actually very quiet. We tucked into a scrumptious taco dinner on the top floor before trooping downstairs for a tour of the brewery. Almost all the breweries we’ve been to are packed tightly into small spaces, but I’ve never before seen mash tuns and fermenters packed so closely and efficiently together as they were at Hinterland. We had to walk single file between the fermenters in the cold room, weaving our line between the legs of the giant tanks.

And that was our glorious day out. We came back with all the usual bling: pint glasses, a six-pack and a bottle or two, some coasters we pocketed as keepsakes. Oddly, neither one of us bought a t-shirt this time. I slept on the way back and I don’t think I snored too loudly, not that anybody else on the bus was going to care. I’m pretty sure most of them slept on the way home, too.

Fox Valley Brewery Tour | 11:35 am CDT
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Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

We went to Denver to visit Sean and visit our old, favorite haunts. What we ended up doing was eating almost non-stop. At least it felt that way, even though we ate just two meals each day. For all practical purposes there is an infinite number of restaurants and other places to eat in and around Denver, and at virtually every one of them they leave you with an indecently large serving and wait for you to eat every bite of it.

On Friday morning we stopped in at Sam’s No. 3 for breakfast. This is Sean’s favorite place to eat out, he says, because each serving is enough to feed Coxey’s Army and, on those rare occasions when he can’t finish his order, he takes the rest home and polishes it off later as a midnight snack. We had no fridge in our room so that wasn’t an option for us and, as a resut, I had to leave behind more than half the stack of pancakes I ordered. My Darling B ordered biscuits & gravy and also had to leave at least half of it behind. Sean ordered some kind of sausage & egg dish and managed to drill all the way down to the plate but, even so, even he had to leave behind some of his dish. If I had the time, I’d like to go back one morning, watch the customers to see who orders the pancakes and see if any of them can polish off all three. They weren’t literally the size of manhole covers, but they weren’t much smaller. Who eats that much for breakfast? Who even has that much room anywhere inside their bodies? It’s a question that I won’t be able to answer until later, sorry.

We had dinner on Friday at The Wynkoop Brewery. This was one of our very favorite places to eat back when we lived here. We loved it so much that we ate our final meal in Denver there on the night we left, so it was truly enjoyable to go back and revisit it.

On our second day in town we brunched at Le Central where they serve meals in the French tradition, which does not mean that the wait staff is a gaggle of French-speaking gastrosnots who tolerate your presence only because they don’t have anything else to do. The staff, in fact, were warm and chatty and just attentive enough to make sure your water glass never went dry (our barometer for good service). I asked for “Oeufs Norvegiennes,” but in English so I wouldn’t swallow my tongue. “I’ll have the salmon and eggs,” is what I said, to which the waitress replied, “Oofs Norwegian, very good.” If I’d known I could have gotten away with saying “Oofs Norwegian,” I would have happily said that.

Sunday morning we met some old friends at Hot Cakes Diner where we mostly drank from our bottomless cups of coffee (we had a very good waitress) while we exchanged stories and, from time to time, looked over the menu. Eventually we each ordered a plate of food so they would let us stay longer. They brought two plates of food out to me, each piled with an insanely large portion. By this time I was pretty sure every restaurant in Denver was trying to kill me.

The best place we visited for any meal, and I think I speak for all of us on this one, was Domo, a Japanese restaurant just outside the downtown area. Not only did they have the most delicious, most authentic Japanese food we’ve eaten since we left Japan six years ago, they also had the most eye-popping ambiance I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Inside and out, the building was dressed up to look like a traditional Japanese country house, and it was so authentically done that you might almost believe it was built from scratch using rough-hewn lumber and hand tools. Although I couldn’t say where they sourced the ingredients, the food appeared to be truly authentic. My Darling B ordered ramen; Sean had the donburi; and I ordered salmon teriyaki. As in every other place we visited, we were stuffed silly by the time we left and had to take a long walk after we got back to the hotel.

Eating in Denver | 6:57 am CDT
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Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Thursday night is guy night, the night I’m in charge of putting food on the family, and while I could have taken My Darling B straight home and burned some animal flesh on the Weber, instead I suggested that we spend the evening relaxing on the patio at Mickey’s Tavern with a couple of beers and some really great food, because tonight is destined to be the last really nice Thursday evening of the year before the weather takes a turn toward the truly craptastic.

It’s still early in the season, but nearly all the leaves that are going to turn color have already turned, and quite a few of them have taken their death dive to lie all dried up on the ground, waiting to crunch under the eager shoes of kids everywhere. We’ve already had quite a few dark and stormy weeks, but the last few days have been warm and sunny, probably to lull us into a false sense of security, then WHAM! comes the ice and snow.

So I figured, Let’s enjoy it while we’ve got it. I had the MickeyBurger (I think that’s what it’s called), a third-pound of deliciously spiced beef on a sourdough roll. I thought I’d be able to save half of it for lunch, but I must have been hungrier that I thought because I finished it off. B tried the special, beef tacos. She almost, but not quite, finished hers off – not that it wasn’t scrumptious; it was just more taco than she could handle.

The patio was only half-full when we got there but, by the time we left about an hour later, it was packed with lots of happily noisy guests who must’ve had the same feeling I had when they got out of work for the day and couldn’t bear to be shut up inside on such a beautiful evening.

lull | 9:48 pm CDT
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Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Sorry, not much time left over to drivel tonight. I spent a couple hours doinking around with train track on the model layout in the basement, and when I thought I couldn’t justify spending any more time on that, I went upstairs, sat my butt down in the recliner and read other people’s drivel posted on the interwebs. That made sense.

I can claim to have spent at least a couple hours wisely this evening: I went to dinner at Alchemy, a nifty local bar, with My Darling B. We wish Alchemy was a lot closer to our house, within walking distance, say, then realize that, if it were, we’d spend all our free time and most of our money there. I don’t consider that a bad thing, just not very thrifty, but then if we stuffed all our money in a bank account we wouldn’t have any fun, would we? And it’ll all be worthless after the economy implodes, anyway. Might as well spend it while we can still afford thick, juicy burgers and put on a layer of fat for the lean years ahead. Geeze, could I be more cynical? Damn digressions…

And I washed some clothes! And put away the dishes! I’m an engine of productivity!

doink | 10:20 pm CDT
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Thursday, September 15th, 2011

I had lunch at Marigold Kitchen today, a restaurant just off capitol square. They have a sign hanging in the dining room that appears to be made up of old wood-block type in three or four different fonts, and this theme is carried over to the signs on the doors of the bathrooms, a sans serif W on the door of the women’s room and an old-fashioned M in Bookman or a similar font. I was going to push my way through the door into the men’s room when I realized that what at first appeared to be an M was in fact an obviously upside-down W, which made my brain stop me dead in my tracks. Hey! It’s a W, not an M! Do you really want to go in there? Suddenly I wasn’t at all sure whether I was going into the men’s room or the ladies’ room. The curse of knowing just enough typography to make it impossible to ignore an inverted letter.

typeface | 9:44 pm CDT
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Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

My Darling B and I went to Taste of Madison this year even though we hadn’t planned to. We ended up going anyway because this was the first time that the weather was so nice we wouldn’t sweat off ten pounds while we were walking around the square. Every year before this, the temps were so uncomfortably high that we would sample the food by scuttling across the street with it to the nearest patch of shade we could find, like squirrels snatching food out of your picnic basket and running off with it.

On our visit this year, though, it was pleasantly cool and completely overcast, no uncaring sun blazing down on us as we made our way around the square. A few drops of rain even fell as we made our way up Carroll Street, and as we turned down the home stretch on Pinckney Street, the rain began to come down steadily. I came prepared with an umbrella and popped it up then, but B bluntly refused to walk underneath it. “I won’t melt,” she bragged.

The food was delicious as it always is, and a good thing, too, because we were both famished when we got there, having eaten nothing since breakfast. We started off sharing a yummy gyro from – where else? – Gyro House that was stuffed with a generous helping of lamb and plenty of yogurt, so generous that, if I’d eaten it all by myself, it would have probably filled me up. The portions they’re serving now are lots bigger than the morsels they were doling out when we first started visiting the Taste.

The one other really amazing dish worth mentioning was the teriyaki chicken from Teriyaki Samurai. The sauce was not so heavy that it overpowered the chicken, and the chicken was so very tender. And they gave us two heavily-loaded skewers to share. We stuffed ourselves.

The most unusual, new food that we tried was deep-fried cajun boudain balls. They’re rolled-up balls of rice, some kind of meat and cajun spices, deep-fried but to a crisp, not greasy at all, and not crazy hot the way some people think cajun is supposed to be.

The most disappointing new food I tried was something called a reuben roll, which was corned beef, sauerkraut and cheese rolled up in a spring roll and deep-fried. Could’ve been tasty if it hadn’t been dripping with grease.

taste | 8:34 pm CDT
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Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Note to future self: When attending Great Taste of the Midwest Pre-Party, do not attempt to eat a hamburger that’s bigger than your head. Really, that thing must have weighed a half-pound at least, and they piled cheese, onion rings and two strips of bacon on top of it. Realizing my mistake, I ate just half of it and still my stomach was dispatching complaints as thick as phone books to the admin department of my brain all night long. Next year we’ll get a salad at the co-op and eat it in the car on the way to the party.

After much consultation, we decided to try out the party hosted by The Beer Spot at The Brickhouse BBQ because they had managed to pull in Central Waters, one of our favorite brewers. We visited their brewery just a month ago, as a matter of fact, to enjoy a few brews and a Cajun band that was playing among the fermenting tanks. Along with Central Waters, the party also included three breweries we weren’t familiar with: Short’s Brewing from Michigan brought ten different brews, Nebraska Brewing Company from, um, Nebraska brought eight, and Lift Bridge from Minnesota brought two. We weren’t hoping to try anywhere near that many, and a good thing, too, because there was a crazy big crowd there and the bar was busier than a swarm of bees.

I started with the hoppy beers, because I knew I’d be drinking them all by myself. They were serving 4-ounce tasters, so no problem there. Hop God, a Belgian IPA from Nebraska, was satisfyingly hoppy, but Dan’s Pink Skirt, an American IPA from Short’s, was insanely hoppy, like having Andre the Giant stuff fistfuls of hops right up my nose. I finished them both anyway. I love hoppy, and I had plenty of water on hand. Also, hamburger.

After dinner, we wandered upstairs to try out some of the other brews on offer. Of the brews from Short’s, I wanted to try Bludgeon Yer Eye PA, a Black IPA, but somehow we didn’t get around to it, but they’ll have it at the Great Taste so I’ll try to catch up with them later this afternoon. We did get to try Smoked Apple Ale, a Rauchbier with a distinct apple flavor (and I swear I tasted cinnamon, too); Chocolate Wheat, a porter with chocolate malt that B liked quite a bit; and Nicie Spicie, an American Wheat beer brewed with peppercorns, which would have gone exceptionally well with the giant-sized burger I could still taste.

The only other brew from Nebraska that we tried was the Summer Rye, which I liked quite a lot but B couldn’t abide the aroma. We also tried both beers from Lift Bridge: Farm Girl, a saison that would ideally be served ice-cold on a hot day at the beach; and Chestnut Hill, a Brown Ale that was a little bland.

The rain that had been coming down all the while we were at Brickhouse let up just long enough for us to walk back to the car. How great is that?

pre-GTOTMW | 8:26 am CDT
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Thursday, July 28th, 2011

I woke up with a need for pancakes yesterday morning. A need, as in, I had to have pancakes as much as I needed to breathe in and out. Has that ever happened to you? I don’t get that feeling often, but when it hits me I put on some pants, grab the car keys and head for the door. Like a robot homing in on a signal from its maker, I don’t have the power to resist the call.

I mentioned my desire to My Darling B, who suggested we go into Waupaca to eat a late breakfast at Cronie’s Cafe, our favorite place in town to grab a bite. It’s a small place, wedged in between Simpson’s and the Rosa Theater – only a counter, maybe a half-dozen booths along the walls and four or five tables in the front window, very cozy. If there’s a better place in town to linger over a cup of coffee, I can’t think of it. That they serve up a dandy plate of pancakes is a bonus.

It was still early enough in the morning that the rest of the crew hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, so I passed the word around and soon enough we were all climbing into our respective cars to start the drive into town. We met Mom there shortly after we arrived, managed to talk the staff into butting two tables together so we wouldn’t have to split up into two booths, ordered our pancakes, sat back with our coffee and waited for the goodies to arrive.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before I suggested that the whole crew head into cozy little Cronie’s for breakfast, but it’s a fact they’re not IHOP. A very happy fact, but a hard fact nonetheless. Other than that they serve breakfast, the only way you would compare the two would be to say that Cronie’s is the furthest thing from a fast-food breakfast chain with a kitchen that can turn out eleventy-million pancakes a day. Cronie’s is the anti-IHOP. So it took them a little while to crank out pancakes for eight people, but they did it like champs.

I ordered just two pancakes in spite of my burning need, because I knew the master of the kitchen poured pancakes bigger than my head. To get us our food as soon as possible they brought me and everyone else who ordered pancakes just one cake as a first course. I was finishing up mine when they brought me the second course, and I was starting to feel as though maybe my eyes were bigger than my stomach by then but I tucked into it anyway and finished every bite. Just one person at our table dared to order a stack of three pancakes. He buzzed through the first one like a pack of ravenous wolves and attacked the second and third with conviction, but in the end he was forces to leave the last few bites on his plate. All our sufficiencies were well and truly serensified by the time we got up from the table to return to the cabin.

hotcakes | 8:09 am CDT
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Friday, July 15th, 2011

I finally found a laughing buddha for sale on line that’s a dead ringer for the one that used to stand on the display case in Lazy Jane’s Cafe. He’s the usual fat-bellied buddha in an open robe, but the particular version of him that I’m looking for appears to be caught in the middle of a full-bodied laugh so all-encompassing that he could only be doing the one thing he was born to do, or at least that’s how he looks to me.

I’m not a Buddhist and I’ve never seen a buddha that I wanted to buy until I saw this guy at Lazy Jane’s, and of course he turns out to be the buddha that I can’t find on e-bay. I go trolling for one every month or so, not very often because a search for “laughing buddha” turns up hundreds of statues, pendants, necklaces, painting and so on, and I can look at that for only so long before my eyes start to cross. No luck so far.

But last night I found one for sale from an on-line store. After so many months of searching for this particular statue I just about wet myself in surprise. When I went to buy him I got the second surprise: They want way too much money for a cast resin statue no bigger than a cat. I figured on paying about fifteen dollars for one. That’s would have covered the shipping costs of the one I found.

So I bookmarked the page, then surfed e-bay for a half-hour or so, then gave up.

maitreya | 6:12 am CDT
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Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

On the way home from work this evening we were stopped almost literally in our tracks when we both caught sight of the specials chalked on a sign standing on the sidewalk in front of Stalzy’s Deli on Atwood Avenue:

“Fried egg and bologna sandwich!” we said.

I coasted for another block.

“Sounds good,” B said.

“Sounds good to me, too,” I answered.

“We could have that for dinner tonight,” she suggested.

“We could,” I agreed.

That conversation took almost another block. By the time we got to the stoplight we’d already come to a decision. I cranked the wheel around to the right, circled the block and threaded my way through the neighborhood to come out onto Atwood Avenue again so we could double back to Stalzy’s.

The special was delicious.

bologna | 7:12 pm CDT
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Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Dinner on Thursday night is my job, so it’s been known as guy night for many, many moons here in Our Humble O’Bode. I gave up trying to cook anything that couldn’t be grilled over hot charcoal, and most of the time I take the easy way out and treat My Darling B to dinner at one of our lovely local restaurants, which is how things worked out tonight. Around about three o’clock in the afternoon I thought, We haven’t eaten dinner at Mickey’s in ages, and immediately the thought was stuck in my head for the rest of the afternoon: A hot sandwich, or maybe a pizza, with a cold beer on the patio at Mickey’s. It was a no-brainer.

At about quarter to five I started cleaning off my desk so that, by ten till five, I was marching up the hallway toward the front door, where I would normally wait by the curb for B to come pick me up. Humming a happy tune, still thinking about that sandwich and cold beer on the patio, I hit the front door and stepped out onto the side walk … then turned on my heel and went right back inside to wait in the lobby after I hit the wall of humidity that was waiting for me just outside the door. There was no way they’d have enough beer at Mickey’s to lure me out onto the patio tonight.

We still went there for dinner, though, and sat right under the air conditioner.

hum ditty | 8:11 pm CDT
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Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Umami, the one and only place in this town to eat a delicious bowl of ramen, finally opened the patio they’ve been working on out front of their shop. My Darling B caught the news of this announcement somewhere and we made a date to meet after work yesterday. I hoofed the eight or ten blocks from the office building where I work, she drove over from the west side of town and we met at almost the same time, about five minutes before the doors opened.

The place seems to be doing fairly well; there was a line forming when I walked up and, by the time they opened the door, there were maybe a dozen people waiting to get in. By the time we finished dinner all of the tables on the patio were filled and I think most of the tables inside were, too. The place doesn’t seem to have been hit too hard by the construction along Willy Street, but then the profit margin for restaurants is so narrow that I still worry. It’s a great little restaurant and I do love the ramen they serve. I hope they can hang on through the rest of the summer.

B and I both had the miso ramen and finished every drop. The broth was especially good, with a rich, almost buttery flavor, very smooth. We ordered a garlic bomb and spicy bomb to go with the ramen, which they serve as a side order so you can stir in a little or a lot. And the dumplings were half-price, so we indulged ourselves with a plate. I ended up so full of rameny goodness that I caught myself nodding off while we were watching The Colbert Report later at home, and ended up going to bed early. Miso ramen makes me drowsy.

full | 7:59 am CDT
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Saturday, June 4th, 2011

After lunch at Cronies Cafe yesterday my mom asked me, as we stepped out into the street, “Did you want to visit the book store?”

“Oh, heck yes!” I answered, because, you know, books!

She was referring to Book Cellar, a book store on main street. I stop by every time I visit because it brings a smile to my face to walk into an independent book store and I just don’t get to smile like that often enough any more.

While mom poked through the books I wandered down to their extensive selection of CDs, found the section where they kept the Leo Kottke recordings and somehow, using every fiber of self-control I possessed, kept myself from buying every single one I could find. There were six or seven, but I settled for just two, the armadillo album – the cover says “6- and 12-String Guitar”, kind of a mundane name – and “Standing In My Shoes.”

Felt pretty good about how restrained I was until I got to the checkout counter and my eyes fell on a couple of Nora Jones CDs in the rack right under the register. Dammit! I love Nora Jones! Every time Pandora plays one of her tunes I tell myself I’m going to order one of her albums one of these days. Well, the two I wanted to start with were only six and eight dollars, so I added them to the Kottke disks. So much for self-control.

And I got a book, three bucks.

self control | 1:27 pm CDT
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Saturday, May 28th, 2011

We went into town this evening to support our local brat fest, one of four that are taking place this weekend. Here in Wisconsin, our bratwurst festivals are such a big deal that we need several days in many different locations to properly do them justice.

What really happened was, we have this annual bratfest at the convention center that sells something like a half-million brats in two days, but all the brats are donated by Johnsonville, the meat packing company that infamously donated a bunch of money to help get Scott Walker elected governor, so the lefties have organized their own brat festivals. This is Madison, after all.

Never having done this before, they weren’t quite ready for the response they were going to get. The People’s Brat Fest we went to this morning didn’t fire up their grills early enough and ended up behind the curve for more than an hour trying to serve brats to a line of people that kept getting longer and longer no matter how frantically they tried to catch up. Next time, guys, start burning brats at least a half-hour before your scheduled start time. And turn the heat down. There are few foods more unappetizing than an overcooked brat.

When we strolled up to the Wurst Fest this evening we were pleased to see lots of people in attendance, but disappointed to hear from the people checking us in that they were sold out of bratwurst because so many more people showed up than they anticipated. It was a brat fest without brats. We stuck around for an hour or so anyway to check out the bands and drink a beer, but left earlier than we thought we would because we were getting hungry and knew of a bar just down the road, The Alchemy Cafe, that had some really good food. One way or another, we were going to get that food. And we did. Nom.

bratless | 7:01 pm CDT
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Saturday, May 14th, 2011

We went to Bunky’s Cafe for dinner on Friday the 13th because we couldn’t come up with another place we wanted to visit that wasn’t already booked solid. We didn’t used to have any trouble booking reservations at Peppino’s, but that was largely because they didn’t take reservations more than a day in advance and I worked right across the street, so I’d walk over there right after work and be one of the first reservations on the book.

But Peppino’s is gone now, sadly, and Nostrano, the restaurant that took its place, doesn’t have the same reservation policy. When we called on Wednesday they were booked until after eight o’clock and we didn’t want to eat that late, so I suggested Lombardino’s. We’d eaten there last summer and liked it quite a lot, but when B phoned them it turned out they were booked until doomsday, too!

And we found out why: This is graduation weekend. Everybody and his mother – literally! – is in town to send the grads off in style with dinner at a local restaurant. We were lucky to get a table in Bunky’s at such short notice. Not that we were settling; we like Bunky’s quite a lot, but for our Friday the 13th celebration we like to have frou-frou cocktails before the meal and Bunky’s didn’t serve any, so Bunky’s is out for our next Friday the 13th.

On the up side, we didn’t spend half as much as we usually dropped at Peppino’s. The tradition that kept us going back there cost us at least a hundred bucks each time, but the menu and the frou-frou drinks made it worthwhile. Oh, and the company, of course. Can’t spend too much on My Darling B.

TGIF13th | 8:25 am CDT
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Saturday, May 7th, 2011

I’m still a little full after last night’s visit to The Old Fashioned. It’s the kind of restaurant where you go to order a sandwich that’s so big you couldn’t possibly eat it in one sitting, and because it’s just that big they give you an order of fries you have to split in half and take the uneaten portion home with you, too. Only, I ate all the fries. Every one of them. I don’t know what came over me. I just kept on munching them down. They tasted so good with the beer, I suppose. And this morning my tummy’s still telling me I’m full. Warning me, really. Don’t even think about eating any breakfast, buster! is what it’s saying.

The occasion was the last weekend of Craft Beer Week, a clever scheme to get us to drink beer, like we needed any urging. Restaurants and other venues all over town have been hosting visits from brewers around the state who drop in to pour samples of their beers, although that’s not what was going on at The Old Fashioned last night. They were doing a red-light special on tap beers, which were two-fifty a glass when the red light was flashing. I scored a Moon Man, delicious lawnmower beer from New Glarus brewing.

My Darling B was shocked, absolutely shocked! when she realized that the “pint” glasses didn’t hold a full pint of beer. She thought that the tap beers, which are advertised in the menu as a “pint,” were literally a pint of beer, but learned the awful truth when I ordered a twelve-ounce bottle of Floppin’ Crappie and filled the “pint glass” that came with it up to the rim. Poor girl It was like I strangled Santa Claus right before her eyes. Guess she’ll be ordering bottled beer from now on.

And we were there for dinner because it was Friday Friday FRIDAY!

full | 7:53 am CDT
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Sunday, April 10th, 2011

My Darling B spent just about all day in her garden yesterday, happily digging up a four-by-eight plot of ground, then inching her way along on all fours poking holes in the dirt and burying seeds for lettuce and peas and I don’t know what else. When she finally came indoors late in the afternoon to take a shower she was all smiles. Well, mostly smiles. Also aches and pains, but happy ones.

Although we should probably cut back on expenses like eating out every week, we celebrated this first glorious day of summer (or spring, or sprumming, whatever) with a trip into town to eat dinner at Umami, the new noodle shop on Willy Street that reminds us so much of our favorite noodle house in Misawa, Japan, the Familiar Roll Noodle House. The pan-fried dumplings are spot-on, and the ramen is so close as to make no difference. B read somewhere that the noodles come from R&P Pasta, a shop just a few blocks away on Wilson Street. They used to serve the best bowl of spaghetti in town until they closed the dining room, a sad day we are still in mourning over.

The last time we went to Umami I wrote a fond reminiscence of our days slurping up ramen in Japan and thanking the good people at Umami for taking me back to those days. Shortly after, someone from Umami shot a text message to me on my cell phone thanking me for the writeup and inviting me to ask for Mike or Randy the next time we dropped in, so last night as we were being shown to our table I dropped those names, asking if there was any chance I could talk to one of them. “I’m Mike,” he said, so I introduced myself and thanked him once again for such an enjoyable dining experience. After saying thanks he had to run off to seat others waiting for tables, but when he had a bit more time he came back to thank me for writing such a nice review in my blog. If he’d had more time I would have liked to ask him more about the restaurant, but there was a line of people out the door and he had to tend to them, so we cut it short at exchanging thank-yous.

We ordered almost exactly the same dishes we ordered last time: B had been daydreaming about the miso ramen all afternoon, the whole reason we ended up going to Umami in the first place. I ordered the pork ramen, still scrumptious, but I was eyeing B’s miso ramen with a jealous eye all through the meal. We couldn’t visit without ordering a big plate of dumplings, and ate every one of them – no leftovers last night! Just to shake things up, though, we added a plate of pickled veggies: beet, beans, carrots, cukes and mangoes, to add an extra touch of Japanese-ness to the meal.

Once again, we waddled home happily stuffed with good food. If ever we have to cut back on meals eaten out, I don’t know how we’re going to choose which places we go, but Umami will remain high on the list for quite a while.

Umami | 10:53 am CDT
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Monday, April 4th, 2011

I just got back from a run to the local hardware store and I mention it not so you can tally another hash mark in the notebook you’re using to keep track of my hardware-buying habits, but because there’s a Denny’s restaurant right next door and someone in the kitchen had burnt the toast. That characteristically overpowering odor was unmistakable. And it was still hanging over the parking lot when I came back out ten minutes later.

Ever since then I’ve been wondering: How many slices of toast do you have to burn to stink up an entire parking lot for more than ten minutes? More than two, I’m thinking. Denny’s probably doesn’t use a toaster to make toast, right? They probably load up a big wire rack with a whole loaf of bread and shove it into an oven, or something like that, so some poor schmuck was probably in there getting smacked around the head by the manager for burning up a loaf of bread or two and making the place smell like hell.

I wonder how he didn’t set off the fire alarm?

Burnt | 12:12 pm CDT
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13th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival 2011

After scurrying from the UW campus up to cap square to watch Weather Gazers at the Bartell theater, we had to scurry back again to the Union theater on the UW campus to watch Summer Wars, the last film on our schedule for this year’s film festival. Next year, we’ve got to try a little harder to schedule films that are closer together.

Summer Wars was a Japanese animated film, a genre that I like and B goes along with, bless her heart. The story behind the film was only so-so, but the artwork behind the animation was gorgeous, so I gave this one a Three out of Five.

After the film we went to Husnu’s, a Turkish restaurant on State Street, to put on some of the weight we lost running all over town to see movies. Eighteen films in five days! Doesn’t seem possible that it’s over. Already looking forward to next year.

Summer Wars | 9:37 am CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, food & drink, movies, play, restaurants, Wisc Film Fest
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Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

13th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival 2011

Day off from work today with My Darling B – AWESOME! And not just today but tomorrow and Friday, too, so we can cram as much movie watching into the five days of the Wisconsin Film Festival as possible.

The festival doesn’t kick off until six o’clock this evening but we took the whole day off today anyway because we want to be fresh and ready to enjoy movies, instead of tired and ready to go to bed after a day at the office.

To that end, we started the day by sleeping in until seven-thirty, then sitting on the sofa drinking coffee until about eight-thirty when we got dressed and drove into town to enjoy a breakfast at the Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery. I don’t have a lot of ambitions, but if I could figure out how to start every day this way I’d never want another thing in my whole life. No, really.

And, since we had a little time off between breakfast and our first film, I finally got my hair cut. I didn’t appreciate how easy it was to get my hair cut when I worked downtown. Now that I work in an office that’s a long way from a barber shop that I can walk to on my lunch hour, the only time I can get my hair cut is on Saturdays, but the barber shop up the road from Our Humble O’Bode is only open from nine to noon on Saturdays. Our Saturday morning routine usually keeps me from getting there before it closes, so it’s been weeks since my last hair cut. My hair was so long that, when I came home, My Darling B took one look at me and said, “Wow, your hair looks weird.” I can’t wait to use that one on her the next time she gets her hair cut.

Tonight, we have tickets to see 13 Assassins and Pink Saris. More on that after.

Oh, and we both took a day off on Monday, because screw Monday.

Haircut | 4:03 pm CDT
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Friday, March 18th, 2011

It’s not like Madison needs another restaurant, but we’re pretty happy that Umami opened on Willy Street anyway. We stopped there for dinner after work today and each slurped up a bowl of ramen the likes of which we’ve not enjoyed since we left Japan almost six years ago.

We’ve tried ramen at a few places since we returned to the States but until now we haven’t had any that comes even close to the real thing served hot from a tiny little shop in a Japanese village. The best we ever ate was the kind they served on a cold, snowy day, but really the very best was served right in our own little town of Misawa at a place the gaijin from the air base called Cheese Roll Noodle, because that’s what was etched in the big picture window in the front of the shop. Almost. In point of fact it read “Cheese Rool Noodle.” I still have a photo of that somewhere. [here it is!] I don’t know the Japanese name except in English: Family Familiar Noodle House.

At Umami we each ordered a different bowl: My Darling B tried the miso ramen and I had a bowl of pork ramen. I was very encouraged when the waiter brought it to our table in bowls big enough for us to bathe in, and it just kept getting better from there. Mine had an appropriately fatty slab of pork floating off to one side, a few slices of bamboo and seaweed clustered against the other side, and half an egg floating smack-dab in the middle. B’s was similarly adorned but with tofu instead of pork. The noodles were not quite right – delicious, but not the same kind of noodle served in Japan. But the broth was an orgasm of flavors, if that’s not getting too personal about how wonderful it tasted. I slurped up every bit of it, picking up the bowl and tipping it back in the manner considered proper in all the finer ramen shops.

So a great big thank-you to Umami for taking me back to my Misawa days, when a bowl of ramen was one of the best kinds of dinner you could buy while you were in town. Ita dake masu!

Oishii desu! | 9:17 pm CDT
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Saturday, March 5th, 2011

13th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival 2011

Tickets went on sale for the Wisconsin Film Fest at noon today. We had the films we wanted to see picked out the night before and sat waiting with the web browser of the most dependable computer in the house parked on the film fest web site, mouse-clicking finger poised ready to hit the “buy now” icon.

Yesterday after work we went to the Roman Candle on Willy Street to eat pizza and drink beer while we pored over the latest issue of The Isthmus, which included a special insert with all the films at the festival and a schedule. Anna, our waitress, brought us a couple of beers just minutes after we sat down, and while we were waiting for her to deliver our 16-inch Supreme we read through the descriptions of all the films and struggled to fit our favorites into the scheduled showings.

Then the bargaining started. On the plus side, we seem to like the same kind of movies, so we each picked out a lineup of favorites that was very similar to the other’s. On the negative side, I was a lot more cavalier about how I chose my movies based on the scheduled showings. When there was a conflict, I made my decision pretty quickly, then tried not to look back. In contrast, B agonized over choices all night.

But B’s technique was nothing compared to the one Anna’s mother used. When Anna saw us wrangling over choices, she told us that her mother ranked each movie by assigning points to them. That’s way too meticulous for me, and is probably even too meticulous for My Darling B, who tends to rank almost any list of things with smiley faces versus frowney faces.

Taking our programs home with us, we finished making our choices shortly before lights out, then retired to bed, exhausted. But we were up bright an early this morning to get our weekly trip to the farmer’s market out of the way in time to be home to buy tickets the minute they went on sale.

Talkies | 6:58 pm CDT
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Friday, January 28th, 2011

On our second night out for Madison’s Restaurant Week we went to Lombardino’s, an Italian restaurant on the west side of town that everyone has been telling me is one of the best dining experiences in Madison, and they were right. As soon as we walked in the door and I saw coat hooks everywhere I thought, I am really going to like this place.

It’s the little things that count. You can hire the best chef in town, but if your wait staff sucks sewer water and your bathrooms are ice cold and smell like a ripe dumpster on a hot day in August, who’ll want to eat at your place? Well, one of those very important little things, at least to me, is just this: Coat hooks. When did it become acceptable to skimp on coat hooks? Especially here in Wisconsin, where presumably every customer who comes tromping in during the winter is going to be wearing a long, heavy coat. If I have to hang my winter coat off the back of my chair, so the tail drags on the ground where everyone can step on it, right away I’m not happy with the place. And where am I supposed to put my gloves and hat? On the table where they’ll inevitably sop up the spilled ice water? I’m just not having a good experience when it begins like that, so thank you, Lombardino’s, for the coat hooks. And not just a few token hooks near the door. They had hooks and trees everywhere. I was so happy about that I was grinning like an idiot.

And it just got better and better after that. The wait staff was excellent, really first-rate. Our waitress was friendly without being smarmy, attentive without wearing out her welcome. When a water glass was half-empty, it got filled, and when one of us pushed an empty dish to the side, it disappeared. We were happy to tip these guys heavily.

Usually when we go out, we order different meals so we can try each other’s food, but tonight we both wanted exactly the same thing. Well, except for the drinks. B started off with a cocktail of bubbly wine mixed with peach juice, while I enjoyed a pint of Ballistic, a seasonal IPA from Ale Asylum. We both ordered the Tuscan white bean soup for starters. It seemed to be more of a stew to me (B called it “hearty”) but I like stew quite a lot and it was yummy. We both cleaned our plates.

For the main course, we both ordered the spaghetti. The waitress brought us each a haystack of spaghetti, dripping in meat sauce. We tried as hard as we could, but after munching away at it for the better part of a half-hour neither one of us appeared to have made much of a dent. Wanting to avoid the sleepless night that would follow if I ate too much, I asked the waitress to box up my remainder, and so did B.

Which left us room for dessert. B asked for tiramisu and I went for the flour-free chocolate cake. I had no clue what a flour-free chocolate cake was. I mean to say, if you leave out the flour, what do you have left? The answer is: Pudding. It’s a little glob of highly-concentrated chocolate pudding, served in one of those teensy cups you get when you order espresso, with a big dollop of whipped cream on the top and a slice of biscotti on the side. I scooped off the whipped cream and dug in. Oh. Yum.

Just one more thing: Don’t go to Lombardino’s without taking time out for a trip to the men’s room, and here I’m obviously talking to just the guys. Ladies, you’re not missing anything, but guys, if you don’t make a trip to the head you’re missing some awesome classic cheesecake. I think they’ve got a photo of every Italian movie starlet in there: Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Brigit Bardot, you name it, they’re all there, and every one of them posing in her underwear. I had no idea movie starlets were so scandalous back then! Okay, I did.

Time for Din-Din! | 9:36 pm CDT
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Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

After thinking it over for a couple years, My Darling B & I finally indulged ourselves and signed up to join in on Restaurant Week, the annual festival of stuffing yourself silly with good food at great restaurants in Mad Town. It started on Monday but our pocketbook couldn’t stand the strain of eating out every night of the week, so we selected two nights, Wednesday and Friday, and by “we” I mean that B made all the plans, recommended the best eats and phoned the restaurants to make the reservations, because I wouldn’t recognize a good-looking entree if it slapped me in the face with a freshly-caught trout. Drop a cooked trout on my table, though, and I’ll let you know whether or not I’ll be back for more.

Tonight we dined at Sardine, a restaurant on the lake shore in the Machinery Row building that we’ve been meaning to try for at least the past four years, or ever since it opened. After supping on the pan-in roasted chicken breast in bacon lardon and mushroom ragout, I’m willing to give it five stars because it was just that good. B was just as delighted with the cassoulet she ordered, and we both finished off with the lemon meringue tart, which was very tart. I have to say the wait staff was spot-on with very nearly everything. If only she’d offered us coffee with dessert, we would’ve given her flawless marks.

Nom Nom Nom | 7:35 pm CDT
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Friday, December 31st, 2010

Today’s New Year’s Eve so we get the day off because we’re state workers. It’s one of the benefits that are showered on us like confetti at a hero’s ticker-tape parade. I can’t wait to see how that’s going to change. Watch this space.

But for now, we’re enjoying the day off: Sleeping in a bit, then sitting on the sofa for as long as we damn well want to while we drink our coffee and try to wake up. When we felt we could finally communicate in something more complex than grunts, we threw on some clothes, piled into the car and went into town for breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. My Darling B ordered something called a Chipotle Chili Omelet, which she mistakenly thought was a regular omelet with chipotle chiles, but no. It’s an egg folded over a mountainous helping of chili, more than she could eat in a day under any circumstances. She hardly made a dent in it.

I had a waffle garnished with bananas and walnuts and smothered in syrup. If there’s a better way to start the day, I can’t think of it right now.

We made a quick detour to Mad Cat before swinging back. Boo’s favorite cat toy, a wand with a little poof of feathers on the end, was pretty much worn out. All that was left of the feathers was a little furry stump and one very thin, tired-looking pin feather, so I got her a new one. There are so many feathers I thought it might scare her, but she was very excited to chase the new one even though I woke her out of a sound sleep with it, which is not something I would normally ever do if I could help it. Think of someone you know who’s “not a morning person” and then imagine waking that person up suddenly and rudely, say by throwing the contents of a well-chilled chamber pot in her face, and you’re getting an idea of the kind of “morning person” the Boo can be.

While My Darling B was gathering up the fixings for a shellfish chowder dinner and our New Year’s Eve noshies, I strolled up the street to Star Liquor to ask Adam to recommend a bottle of bubbly that would go with the chowder. He fixed me up right quick and I grabbed a six-pack of Moon Man from New Glarus to go with the popcorn and movies we were planning on watching as we passed the hours until midnight, should we somehow be able to stay up that late.

Then it was on to Batch Bakehouse. They’re closing up for almost two weeks to go on vacation, so we wanted to see what we could pick up from their showcase. Not much, as it turned out. They were being mobbed by a steady stream of people who had the same idea we had, and the showcase was almost cleaned out by the time we made our way to the front of the line. We scored some cookies, a wedge of apple cake and a small loaf of wheat bread, then tried to make our way through the crowd out the door before the ones in the back realized they weren’t going to get any goodies.

Just two more stops after that, at Bongo Video! and the Monona Public Library to pick up a selection DVDs, so many that we’ll almost certainly never get to watch them all, but at least enough that we’ll all be able to agree on something. Movies, noshies, booze and food – I think we’re ready to make it to the New Year!

New Year’s Eve | 2:14 pm CDT
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Sunday, December 12th, 2010

image of me with beerI might possibly have drunk a little too much beer yesterday.

I was having dinner with My Darling B about two weeks ago at the Alchemy cafe, where I saw a poster for an upcoming tour of several breweries in the Milwaukee area. It was their first-ever attempt at putting together a tour like this, and we like supporting local business people who show this kind of initiative, so we signed up to go.

And it was my birthday this weekend, so it made a nice present.

So yesterday morning at eight-thirty we climbed into a taxi and headed into town. The bus was already waiting in front of Alchemy when we got there and the guy who organized the tour, Justin, was checking people in, which consisted of giving us a button with “Hop Head Beer Tour” on it and making us sign a waiver that said, and I’m sort of gisting it here, “You might get drunk and do stupid things that we don’t want to be responsible for, so sign here.”

They started getting us into the spirit of the tour right off the bat by handing out samples at the bar where B and I settled down for a cup of coffee. B sipped at a splash of a seasonal beer that I don’t recall the name of and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t, either, so I’m not even going to bother asking. I ended up with a snort of cherry brandy the bartender makes his own darned self in a huge glass flask that was sitting in plain view on the bar, and like a big dummy I asked him what it was. That’s how I ended up with a dram in a shot glass.

We all loaded on to the bus and left town at about quarter past nine, hitting the interstate by nine-thirty and hitting the sauce just five minutes or so after that. Justin brought along one of his friends, Nate, a brewer from the Great Dane Pub & Brewing, and they both brought several growlers of their favorite beers, passed out Dixie cups and started pouring samples for us to enjoy. The hour and a half drive gave us just enough time to enjoy a pour of each of the growlers and even get a taste of the pony keg they brought along. These guys went all-out to maximize our beer enjoyment on this trip.

image of a hundred swilling santasOur first stop was the Lakefront Brewery where we had the surreal experience of walking into the middle of an annual migration of bicycling santas who stop at Lakefront to refill their hydration bottles and load up on carbs before continuing on their cold, snowy trip.

I have to say that Lakefront was probably our best stop of the day, not just because it was the first one and I can remember most of it, but because they seemed to be having so goddamn much fun there, particularly our tour guide, Oliver, who had quite a schtick worked up to explain the history of the brewery and the making of beer. The tour began at the mash tuns, exported from Germany and still labeled with lots of little placards in German that said “Achtung!” and so on, and ended up at the bottling machine, also a bargain-basement piece of equipment from a soda factory. When we got there, Oliver switched on a tape player and led us through a chorus of the theme from “Laverne and Shirley” and switched on the machine so a bottle with a glove on top came around the track on the machine. Don’t even tell me you don’t know what that’s about.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was stopping to see the giant beer stein that used to be in the baseball stadium where the Brewers played. That stadium was torn down and the guys at Lakefront managed to snag the stein and set it up in the back corner of the brewery. Oliver tells us the Brewers tried to buy it back from them for a truckload of money. The brewery owners said, “You can have it back if you leave our name on the side.” They didn’t go for that, and the giant beer stein still sits in the back of the brewery.

After buying some souvenir beers at Lakefront, we loaded up the bus and went downtown to the Milwaukee Ale House to get some lunch. It was like pretty much every other downtown brewpub I’ve ever been to, and yet they did have the most amazingly delicious potato chips I think I’ve ever eaten in my whole life, period. I could have eaten one great big plate of those all by themselves, loaded up another great big plate and eaten myself to death on them. Truly, they were dangerously good. Oh, and beer. They served pretty good beer there, too. We especially liked an ale aged in bourbon barrels. I usually don’t go for that, but this was exceptionally well-made.

Just a few blocks down the road from the brew pub we pulled up to the Milwaukee Brewing Company where they made the beer served at the pub in a plain cinderblock building. It couldn’t have looked more like a public utility if it had been made of poured concrete, inside or out. The able staff gathered us around the bar, tore open a box filled with pint glasses, filled us up and took us on a tour of the brewing plant, which once again could have been the inside of a brewery, or a gas-fired electric power plant. It would have been impossible to tell without a tour guide to point and tell us where the water went in and the beer came out, especially as they took some liberties with labeling the controls. I found a set of dials labeled “flux capacitor” and after that I kept looking for other easter eggs, but never did locate a continuum transfunctioner.

By the time we left I was feeling a bit tipsy and I fell asleep on the ride to the Delafield Brewhaus. They set us up with a flight of tasters; I think there was a porter, and I definitely remember a weiss, or maybe it was a Belgian style, but to tell the truth I wasn’t hitting on all cylinders by then and what I really needed was something to eat, so I ordered their combo plate. What they brought me was a huge platter heaped with chunks of brown food-like substances: onion rings, cheese and chicken fingers, all breaded and deep-fried to the point of unrecognizability. And just in case that wasn’t enough, it was served with a side of french fries, more than we could ever normally eat if we didn’t have the munchies from drinking beer all afternoon. We polished off every last bit of it, got our complimentary pint glass filled on the way out and climbed aboard the bus for the trip home.

I remember virtually nothing of the trip home. Loaded up with beer and fried foods, I fell asleep almost instantly and didn’t wake up until we began winding through the streets of Madison, where thick, heavy snow was falling. Naturally, we couldn’t get a cab. This seems to happen to us every time we try to do the responsible thing and take a cab when we know we’ll be coming home late after drinking a lot of beer. It’s like the universe wants us to drink and drive. Well, lucky for us Tim not only answered his phone, he was also willing to pick us up and take us home on the snow-covered, slippery streets. What a guy.

Hop Head Beer Tour | 3:58 pm CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, T-Dawg | Tags: , , , ,
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Friday, December 10th, 2010

I had a picture to post for you, but my google profile has merged with my Picasa profile and although I’m sure it was all for my own convenience and pleasure, it seems they haven’t worked all the bugs out because I can’t link to photos right now, I can’t even see any of my photos on Picasa right now, so I’ll just have to rely upon the awesome power of the English language to describe what I was going to show you a picture of: Beer. It was a bottle of beer. There. Pretty evocative, eh?

It was a bottle of pale ale from the Hinterland brewery of Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s terrific beer, but their bottles are plain as a glass of milk. Chocolate milk, in this case, because the labels are black with a big white “H” in the middle of a yellow circle with the word “Hinterland” in white block letters underneath. There’s also a smaller label on the neck of the bottle, also black, that says “Pale Ale,” also in white block letters.

It reminds me of those white cans of generic beer they used to sell back in the 80s. Each can had the word “BEER” on it in black capital letters. It was awful stuff, completely unlike Hinterland pale ale except that the labeling sort of sparks a memory. You probably can’t get any Hinterland beer outside of Wisconsin and, if so, too bad for you because it’s just delicious, pure ambrosia. I’d drink it all day long if I could retain the motor skills necessary to keep hoisting the bottle to my lips, so it’s probably a good thing I can’t.

I’m thinking of beer because My Darling B and I will depart for Milwaukee, the Wisconsin city that used to be known as Cream City because they made so much beer there that it, uh, looked like cream? I don’t know. My guess is, it had something to do with a creamy head of beer. Anyway, my birthday is this weekend and we’re celebrating with a trip to Milwaukee to tour some of the pubs there, a tour we found out about while dining at one of our favorite Madison taverns, the Alchemy cafe. We bought the tickets on impulse, I tucked them into my wallet and I entirely forgot about them until this afternoon when I was rooting around in there for a dollar. Oh shit, I thought to myself, I have to get up early tomorrow! But that’s okay, I’ll be able to nap on the bus because the pretty girl sitting next to me will let me put my head on her shoulder.

Beer | 10:23 pm CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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Friday, November 5th, 2010

Finally, a chance to sit and dork around with a keyboard for a while and bang out something that isn’t an e-mail about education requirements for physical therapists. Let’s just see what comes out, shall we?

I would have been at this a half-hour sooner if I hadn’t run to the corner mega-grocery to buy a tin of cat food, something I wouldn’t ordinarily done after I’d already put the car away, hung up my jacket and warmed up a pair of slippers. It was either that or shove a pill down Bonkers’ throat, though, and I hate doing that almost as much as he hates getting it done to him. That he’s gotten way too old for that kind of shit just makes it an order of magnitude worse, so rather than put him through that I shod myself once again, cranked up the O-Mobile and motored down the road to Copp’s to see what they had in the way of wet cat food.

And the answer is: Not much. To be more emphatic about it, what they have to offer is pathetic. Their selection of corn chips will make me dizzy enough to fall over and gasp for air, but as far as cat food goes they had Little Friskies, 9 Lives and I forget what the third one was. I started to read the labels so I wouldn’t buy anything with a lot of crap in it, but it was all crap, ingredients with Klingon names so long they had to print them in 0.0075-point font to get it all to fit on the back of the can, so I gave up and bought just one of the smallest tins on the shelf and promised myself I wouldn’t feed them the whole thing.

We spoil them with a dab of wet food just once a day because I can break open a capsule of Bonkers’ arthritis medicine and sprinkle the little grainy bits on the food, then mash it all together with a spoon so he doesn’t know it’s there, not that he would care. I could blow my nose on it and he’d still gobble it down. Boo gets a dab of wet food, too, because it just wouldn’t be fair to lavish such extravagance on Bonkers without treating Boo to a little of it, too.

Before I went to the store, My Darling B thought that maybe she could get Bonkers to take his medicine mixed with a teaspoon or two of fish broth. It should have worked. When she made chicken broth a week or two ago she gave him just a dollop of that and he lapped it up like a wino sucking the last drops of Thunderbird from a bottle, but as it turned out fish broth just isn’t his thing. He acted as though he couldn’t even smell it, screwing up his face at B as if to ask, “What the hell’s with this empty bowl here, you obnoxious tease?”

They were both just fine with the crap food I brought home from Copp’s, though. Both cats wolfed it down. That’s not a mixed metaphor, it just looks like one. After he was properly fed, Bonkers curled up in my lap after dinner, happy as a pig in mud, and was soon snoring loudly.

On a not unrelated note, we finally had dinner at Graze, the new brewpub on cap square. One of Madison’s best-known chefs, Tori Miller, moved his flagship restaurant, L’Etoile, two blocks south on Pinckney Street and paired it with a brewpub he named Graze. L’Etoile is an upscale restaurant; hayseeds like us can afford to eat there about once a year, twice if we come into a windfall. Graze is an upscale pub; the fare is high-priced, but not out of our range. I had a burger, B had the fish fry, both were wonderful. Hope we can go back soon.

Fine Dining | 8:37 pm CDT
Category: Bonkers, Boo, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Friday, October 29th, 2010

Picking me up after work this evening, My Darling B advised me that for dinner we could go have pizza at Roman Candle or go have pizza at Mickey’s. Hobson’s Choice, in other words. We ended up at Mickey’s, largely because we didn’t have to double back through traffic to get there.

Both of us were ravenously hungry and each ate half a sixteen-inch pizza without stopping. B paid for it later with a bloated tummy and begged me to hold her hand while she walked around the block. I agreed, because I’ll agree to practically anything so long as I can hold on to some part of her for even a little while.

Eating half a pizza didn’t bother me much because … well, I don’t know why. I didn’t skip breakfast or lunch, but by supper time I was hungry enough to eat the asshole out of a dead rhinoceros. And thank you, Ron Howard, for giving us the best simile ever uttered by a major movie star. Is that a simile or a metaphor? Does it even matter? Not in this case.

Hobson’s Choice | 8:29 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Thank goodness there are still people like Leon Redbone and Leo Kottke in the world. They can make me forget about all the crap going on in what is laughably called reality, and they do this by the simple act of playing their guitars, singing a few songs and telling some jokes. For three whole hours, it completely slipped my mind the world’s going to hell in a handcart. That kind of talent is almost indistinguishable from magic.

The first I heard they were coming to town was about two weeks ago, and thank goodness I read The Isthmus every week or I might have missed them. I don’t think they spend a lot on publicity. There might have been posters in a few stores around town, but other than that the one-column ad in Isthmus and their names on the marquee of the Barrymore Theater were all the warning we got.

When they came to town about two years ago and I mentioned to my Mom that I’d seen them she sounded pretty jealous, so this time around I gave her a heads-up and asked her if she wanted me to pick up a ticket for her. She was so pumped to see the show she drove three hours in a blinding snowstorm, navigating by sticking her head out the window so she wouldn’t lose sight of the car in front of her. Kidding. But she was pretty jazzed about seeing the show.

We had dinner at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner across the street from the theater, then ambled on over about twenty minutes before the show was scheduled to start to find some seats and settle in. Leon Redbone opened the show, Leo Kottke finished up, and they were both amazingly fun to listen to, as if that were ever in question.

Redbone and Kottke | 6:15 pm CDT
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Sunday, September 26th, 2010

image of Silver Eagle
My Darling B and I went to the Silver Eagle yesterday afternoon. It’s the closest neighborhood bar to our house and we went there because we’d like to have a place we could walk to for a beer and a quiet corner to sit and chat. Even at five o’clock in the afternoon, this does not seem to be that place.

For starters, it’s a sports bar, the kind that decorates by nailing the hoods of Nascar race cars to the ceiling. That doesn’t bother me, but the dozen flat-screen TVs mounted high on the walls, each one of them displaying a different sports event, do. I repeat I’ve got nothing against sports, I really don’t. My immediate family is disgusted by my fascination for watching golf. It bugs me, though, that there don’t seem to be any taverns left we can go into where we’re not surrounded by several huge television screens. I could ignore one television set with a fifteen inch screen, but when they hang at least one screen, each as big as a tennis court, on every wall, and more often two or three, that’s just torture.

I’m not going to complain about the sad lack of variety in the six beers on tap, but I am going to piss and moan about being served beer in a plastic cup. Plastic? Really? I gave up plastic cups back when I was, oh, I don’t know, twelve years old? When I stopped drinking Kool-Aide, anyway. If I’m going to hand over four dollars for a beer, which I will gladly do under the right circumstances, I think the least the management could do is serve it in a glass. Everything tastes better in a glass, even weak-kneed American lager. Oops, I went there, didn’t I? Sorry.

Noise is a given in a bar. When you get so many people together in a big, open room and they’re all talking at once, there’s going to be a lot of noise. And I don’t mind if they play music or the television either (okay, I mind the television a little bit), but what, I ask you, is the point of cranking up the sound on the television or the juke box to the point where I have to yell to be heard by the pretty girl sitting right next to me? Who in the world thinks that’s any way to meet friends and sweethearts? I was relieved I didn’t see anyone to say hello to while we were there because I wouldn’t have known what to say after that, just smile and nod when they stopped talking and hope they wouldn’t use the “I want to have sex with your wife” joke on me.

If I had to rate this place, I’d give it just one beer. Two, if you’re buying.

A Trip to the Silver Eagle | 10:44 am CDT
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, yet another rant
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Saturday, July 31st, 2010

My Darling B works with people who sure know how to have a good time.

After picking her up from work at the usual hour we drove just a couple blocks to the Great Dane tavern near the Hilldale Mall to down a few cold beers, maybe eat some greasy food and tell stories. Mostly tell stories. None of which I feel I can repeat here. The stories you tell in the tavern on Friday night ought to stay in the tavern, right?

But I think I can say that we all had a lot of fun telling them right up to the time we hit the road at about eight o’clock, which is about as long as I should be allowed to sit in a tavern drinking and telling stories. Any longer than that and I usually end up enjoying myself just a little too much. As it was, I ended up sawing logs in the recliner at nine o’clock and after waking myself with a particularly loud zawp! shuffled off to hit the sack soon after. Guess I just don’t have the steam for a late night out any longer.

Not that it’s going to stop me from taking My Darling B to the hangar dance tonight …

Lightweight | 6:52 am CDT
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Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Let the four-day weekend begin!

Oh, wait … I’m unemployed, so it’s really more like an indefinite weekend.

Well, whatever.

I applied for unemployment first thing yesterday morning … or rather, it was first thing after doinking around on the internet for an hour, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it until after nine o’clock, which is a really stupid reason for waiting until nine o’clock when you factor in that I applied on-line. You can do anything on the internet these days!

So at nine-thirty promptly …

What? Okay, so I doinked around a little longer than I said I would. It’s the internet! It’s not my fault! The internet forces us all to think non-linearly! Our minds are being scrambled by the internet! I couldn’t help it! You know it’s true! Just look it up! On the internet!

Besides, there was this killer John Stewart video I had to watch before I did anything else, such as provide for my family.

Anyway, after a quick google search and a couple of mouse clicks, my application for unemployment benefits was complete. Took me all of five minutes. Easy-peasy.

What did I do with the rest of my day? Oh, not much. It being my first officially unemployed day, I decided to celebrate with brunch at Lazy Jane’s, so I tucked a book into my backpack, jumped on my trusty Trek bicycle and rode into town. It’s about four or five miles from Our Humble O’Bode to our favorite Willy Street restaurant, so I worked up just enough of an appetite to want their half-sandwich and soup special.

That and a bottomless cup of coffee made me want to hang around just long enough to read through a couple of chapters of A Woman In Berlin, the book that’s on the arm of my easy chair this week. It’s a cheery little tale about the Russian liberation of Berlin in the final days of World War Two, as recorded in the diary of a journalist who was gang-raped by just about every Russian soldier who marched through her neighborhood. I’d have to recommend it because it’s so well-written, but I’d also have to include the warning that it’ll make you want to drink yourself unconscious. Enjoy!

image of shadow box

After a few good, deep burps loud enough to rattle the windows of passing cars, and a long, leisurely ride home (can’t exactly sprint on a full stomach), I spent the rest of the afternoon piddling around in our basement work shop trying to put my shadow box back together. I didn’t get a gold watch when I retired, but they did give me a going-away ceremony and a shadow box filled with medals (yes, mine) and a folded flag. Pretty nice, but they mounted all the little bits of bling with some kind of goop that wasn’t quite sticky enough to hold everything in place for very long. Five years later, all the medals and collar brass were lying in a sticky pile at the bottom of the box. (Senco members, take note.)

I made a few changes. Not that I didn’t like the original shadow box, but I wanted to include some of the patches I kept as mementos of the places I was stationed. I also wanted to arrange the ribbons, badges and name tag the way they usually appear over the pocket of a blue uniform jacket, and I wanted to hang my dog tags in there, too. So I pretty much changed it completely, okay, that’s true, but it was a great shadow box in the first place, honestly. I loved it and wouldn’t have changed it at all if it hadn’t fallen apart.

I made just one other teeny-weeny little change and that was changing the fabric on the backboard. It used to be a single piece of blue felt. I thought the patches and the dog tags would look a little out of place against that background, so I split it in half. On the left, I used a panel of woodland camouflage fabric I cut out of the back of an old BDU shirt I still had hanging in the closet. On the right, I replaced the blue felt with a panel of Air Force blue fabric cut from an old polyester Class-A jacket that I would never ever wear again in a million years, not because I’m anti-support-our-troops but because the polyester jacket sucked great big unlubricated bowling balls. I’ve still got my poly-wool jacket with all the ribbons and bling attached, so if I had to suit up again, I could wear that. Heaven help us all if Uncle Sam is ever desperate enough to ask me to suit up again.

To make sure the little bits and bobs didn’t fall off the backboard again, I hot-glued the shit out of every single thing in there. Hot glue two things together and they stay together. Gravity as a force is lame-o compared to hot glue. I hot-glued the fabric to the backboard, then I hot-glued the patches and ribbons, badges and other bling to the fabric. Hurricane Katrina could not tear this thing apart now.

The only thing left is to figure out where to mount it. There’s precious little wall space in my basement lair, at least for right now. I want to re-arrange things down there anyway, so maybe this is the time. See, this is how little things, like fixing up a busted shadow box, turn into big things, like rearranging my basement lair. I’ll probably still be feeling the aftershocks of this project twelve months from now.

The rest of the evening was pretty typical: Pick up My Darling B from work, sit down to a pleasant dinner, then hit the floorboards for a dance lesson that I had a hard time absorbing for some reason, probably because I didn’t do much all day and was almost too relaxed.

Let The Unemployment Begin! | 9:32 am CDT
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, books, coffee, daily drivel, dance, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags: ,
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Saturday, April 24th, 2010

On this misty, crappy, cold day we declined to make the usual weekly circuit of the farmer’s market, so instead My Darling B offered to take me to Plaka Taverna for brunch.

Plaka used to be Cleveland’s Diner, one of our favorite places to get breakfast on a Sunday, and they still serve what they call “the traditional Cleveland’s Diner breakfast,” so I took her up on it without thinking twice.

My favorite breakfast is The Deuce: two scrambled eggs, bacon, and a couple buttermilk pancakes. B’s favorite is the sausage and egg sandwich.

We still made our customary stop on Willy Street on the way home, B to shop at the co-op and me to check out the book store at Saint Vinnie’s where I found a copy of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, a cracking good thought experiment.

Then it was home to … yard work! Even though everything outside was wet, I still trooped into the front yard to salvage as much as I could from the cedar tree I cut down last month. I piled the branches up and the curb and had hopes that I would be able to run it all through the chipper by now, but no luck there. Instead, I cut off all the branches I thought I could grind into useful mulch and stacked them in the back yard where the city crew wouldn’t haul them away next week.

While I was peeling back the layers of cedar boughs I found one of the bunnies that had been nesting in our planter. Curled up in a tight little furry ball, he seemed more than a little scared and not sure what to do after I exposed him to the elements, so I took a break to give him time to find a new hidey hole, which he must have done because he wasn’t there when I went back to work a half-hour later.

The only other thing I did that counts as getting anything done was a couple loads of laundry, and replace the outdoor electrical outlet in the back yard, which was a plain old socket. I’d been worrying about that ever since I read an article in a handyman magazine that said it really should be a GFCI outlet, giving me nightmares of My Darling B electrocuted by her electric tiller. Maybe I’ll get some sleep now.

that was the day that was | 5:49 pm CDT
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Monday, April 19th, 2010

Wisconsin Film Festival, Orpheum TheaterOur first film of the day was a short documentary, Growing In Knowing: The Gateway to Midvale Garden. Scrap metal artist Erika Koivunen gets the kids of the Midvale Elementary School to bring her boxes of scrap metal, and she shows them how she makes a garden gateway out of it. I would have given this a four, but they don’t give us ballots for films less than sixty minutes long.

Typeface began with the struggle of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers to stay afloat, backtracked to the town’s history as the center of the world for the manufacture of wood type, followed up with how wood type is used today, and ended with the dispiriting news that the museum’s future was in serious doubt. The Q&A afterward made me feel a little better, though: The museum’s newest director gave us a quick summary of what he was doing to improve attendance and network with graphic artists all over the country, who dearly want to use the museum’s resources. Four out of five.

We ended the festival with two thrillers:

There suspense in nearly every minute of Cell 211. A newly-hired prison guard is on an orientation tour of the prison he’s going to work in when a riot erupts. Caught in the melee, he poses as a new inmate to survive. Four out of five.

The director of Mother must’ve been a Hitchcock fan. The twists and turns of this crime drama would’ve earned more than a few knowing smirks from the old master. Four out of five.

Wisconsin Film Festival, Orpheum TheaterOne thing I’ll remember about this year’s film festival was how Meg Hamel, the festival’s director, seemed to follow us everywhere! It was like she was stalking us! We went to fourteen films (took Thursday and Friday off from work to devote ourselves full-time to it), and Hamel must’ve been on hand to introduce at least ten of them. She told us she got in more time riding her bike during the five days of the festival than at any other time during the year.

The first two movies we watched were being shown on the Orpheum’s main screen. It was the first time I had ever been inside the Orpheum, a theater built back in the day when they had ceilings high enough you could fly airplanes in there. I’ll bet the balcony could seat at least 1,500 people all by itself. Now it’s a little bit worse for wear, sad to say, but it was a treat to finally get inside it and have a good look around.

Speaking of firsts, we had about three hours between the afternoon and evening shows yesterday and used it to our advantage to finally have a long sit-down mean at the Icon, right next to the Orpheum. If you’ve never eaten a tapas-style meal before, you’ve got to give it a try. It’s a lot of fun.

The theater at the Monona Terrace is a fantastic place to take in a show like Whad’ya Know? but it’s terrible for watching a movie. I doubt very much there’s a seat anywhere in the place that’s not directly behind another seat. The woman in front of me was not tall, and yet her head obliterated fully one-third of the screen; I had to sit on one cheek with my head cocked to the left if I wanted to see any of the two short documentaries we saw there.

WFF final day | 7:13 am CDT
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Monday, April 12th, 2010

restaurant, Peppino'sPeppino’s closed up shop in December, and the place is nearly empty now. I used to have dinner here with My Darling B every Friday the Thirteenth (November was the last). Now it’s waiting to become an entirely different Italian restaurant. I miss Peppino’s.
 

Alas, Peppino’s | 3:49 pm CDT
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Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Neither My Darling B nor I are breakfast-eating people. I had to think awhile about how to punctuate that sentence so it implied we were people who didn’t usually eat breakfast, and not so that it sounded like we would even think of eating people for breakfast. Because we do, every morning. Everybody in Madison does. It’s required by law. Okay, not really. But if we did, wouldn’t it suck to blow it all wide open because I slipped up punctuating a sentence? Stuff like that keeps me awake at night sometimes.

Every Saturday, though, we eat breakfast. We eat it at our favorite restaurant, which used to be Cleveland’s before the owners gutted it and turned it into their life-long dream, a Greek dinner restaurant, and consigned our beloved greasy spoon to the realm of fond memories forever.

Since then, our favorite breakfast place is, I believe, Lazy Jane’s, a restaurant in a two-story clapboard house on Willy Street that has the best chorizo scramble ever, anywhere. And eggs Benedict. And Belgian waffles. Really, their whole breakfast menu is to die for, and I say that knowing I’ll be ridiculed endlessly for using the phrase “to die for,” but it’s worth the shame.

Every so often we breakfast someplace new, if I may be allowed to use “breakfast” as a verb the way the English still sometimes do, and I think I may after using “to die for” and possibly getting away with it. No catcalls from the crowd yet, so we’ll move on.

About a month ago, we finally visited Willalby’s Cafe to see what breakfast there would be like. It’s a warm, snug place where you can linger over a cup of coffee for as long as you want while, for instance, plowing your way through the Sunday paper. It’s the kind of place where people who still read a newspaper linger for hours. It’s a very neighborhood cafe. The regulars are easy to spot. In fact, B spotted one of the regulars sleeping in the basement hallway B had to travel to get to the ladies’ room. It’s that kind of place.

And in the winter, we breakfast almost weekly at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, because we like to support the market and we like to try new things. The people who organize the Dane County Farmer’s Market rarely disappoint us in that respect. They bring in local chefs from restaurants all around the Madison area who volunteer their services to present the weirdest foods I have ever been offered for breakfast. By that I mean, how often do you eat carrots or steamed broccoli for breakfast? That’s a rhetorical question. Maybe you eat that kind of thing every morning, but I don’t. In fact, before My Darling B found her muse in preparing delicious meals from home-grown veggies, I thought of vegetables as the stuff that makes cows and pigs tasty enough for me to eat them.

It’s not just veggies, it’s other weird stuff, too. This morning’s breakfast, for instance, was potato pancakes made with salmon and trout. Who even thought of that? I can imagine a lot of out-of-this-world things, but if you had asked me to make breakfast for you I would have buttered some toast and served it with a glass of orange juice. Never in a million years would I think of making potato pancakes, never mind adding shredded trout and salmon to make it even scrummier.

The potato pancakes came with a poached egg on a tiny slice of toasted sourdough bread with a dollop of hollandaise sauce. Why poaching makes an egg taste so much better is one of those cooking secrets that I’m willing to let remain a mystery to me. In case you’ve never had poached eggs, they’re made by cracking open an egg over a pot of boiling water so that, in theory, you end up with what looks like an egg fried over-easy, except it’s round and white as a pearl. I say “in theory” because poaching an egg takes a lot of practice and, until you’ve got the knack, what you end up with looks like a pot full of boiling snot. When you finally get the pearl and pop it in your mouth, though, it’s totally worth all the disappointment.

The scone was a delectable unknown. I couldn’t tell you what was in it other than probably flour and water. It came with a sticky-sweet dribble of preserves that I couldn’t identify, either, but it sure was good.

And, because this was a breakfast at the farmer’s market, there was a helping of spinach and carrots so generous it filled up half the plate. Thankfully, they didn’t stew the spinach or boil the carrots.
Spinach should never be cooked. If you hate spinach, the likely reason is that you’ve only ever had it served to you cooked. Rinse it under cold running water, eat it with your favorite dressing or even raw, and it’s just delicious. People who cook spinach will have to serve an eternity in purgatory eating hot dogs and nachos smothered in Velveeta cheese for every meal.

The carrots were pan-fried, I believe, and then only just barely enough to leave them tender, but not mushy. I was a good boy and ate all my veggies this once, partly because I feel so guilty about leaving them uneaten after somebody tried their darndest to serve me a delicious meal, but mostly because this time, they succeeded.

I damned near left out the baked apple half, smothered in caramel and sprinkled with nuts and raisins. I don’t go for apples but this was, as B noted, like eating an apple pie without the crust. I ate every single bit of it.

I ate everything. Cleaned my plate. It was, I think I can safely say, the best breakfast we’ve eaten at the Dane County Farmer’s Market this season.

eating people for breakfast | 9:41 am CDT
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Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Friday was the last day for one of the people in our department, so a bunch of us ordered sub sandwiches from Potbelly’s and everybody threw in a little extra to buy Sandie’s lunch.

The delivery guy from Potbelly’s came to the office about thirty seconds after I took a phone call that I couldn’t beg my way out of. I held up my index finger to give the delivery guy the universal sign for “just one minute” and he nodded and mouthed “okay.”

It was a conference call. I tried to keep my answers brief and steer the conversation toward a conclusion, like that was going to do any good. In no time at all the other two people on the call started babbling about something I had nothing to do with, so, keeping one ear on the conversation, I dug a wad of bills out of my pocket and gave it to the delivery guy.

Delivery Guy counted what I gave him, handed it back and said, “You gave me seventy-nine.”

“What’s the total?” I asked.

“Eighty-two,” he said.

I’d added up the total ahead of time, but I must have added wrong because the total I got, plus tip, came to eighty-two. Still, I heard (with the ear that wasn’t listening to a conference call) eighty-two, and the half of my brain that wasn’t trying to keep track of the babbling (in case I had to jump into the conversation) said, “Eighty-two! That’s what I got!”

I peeled off three more dollars, gave it to Delivery Guy and said thanks. He gave me an icy look and walked away. I thought, What, fifteen percent isn’t enough any more? Then I forgot about it.

Until the phone call ended and I sat down to eat my sandwich. While I was munching happily away I passed an eye over the receipt, saw the total at the bottom, eighty-two, and a troubling thought slowly took shape in my mind: Hey … did I just stiff that guy? Oh, SHIT, I did stiff that guy!

Of course I had to walk down to Potbelly’s on the other end of State Street to apologize and pay him. My whole weekend would have been nothing but guilt and worry if I hadn’t. As it turned out, Deliver Guy was behind the counter when I got there, getting ready to make another run. I offered him my hand, said I was sorry about a million times and passed him a sawbuck. “No hard feelings,” he said, and gave me a cookie.

stiffed | 9:05 am CDT
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Friday, February 12th, 2010

Breakfast this morning is just a cup of coffee, because that’s all that I can hold. I’m still feeling full after last night’s dinner.

After saying for I don’t know how many years that we were finally going to eat dinner at L’Etoile, we broke down and did it last night when they offered a special New Orleans style Prix Fixe dinner of cornmeal fried oysters and Creole fish stew. That sounded so yummy that we couldn’t pass it up.

“Prix Fixe” is French for “cheap enough that any bumpkin can afford it,” although “cheap” in this case is a very relative term. The people who dine at L’Etoile appear to be the kind who put on suit coats and evening dresses to go out on the town, although how that one guy got into a size four cocktail dress will be the subject of speculation for weeks to come.

So we were just a little out of place, although there were plenty of diners dressed just as casually as we were, and one woman put on her best track suit. I didn’t feel so terribly out of place.

It’s a beautiful little restaurant on the second floor of an old building on capital square. The dining room’s very cozy, maybe twenty tables arranged in a room about twenty feet wide and fifty or sixty feet long with a bar in the back and big picture windows in the front.

We had reservations for six o’clock, the first seating, which could be why we got a table front and center giving us a beautiful view of the capital dome, all lit up bright red (for Valentine’s Day?). Or it could be that they realized we’re just that special and gave us the best seats in the house.

The first course was cornmeal fried oysters, lightly breaded and very tender, served on a bed of shredded cabbage and served with a tangy tartar sauce. That was followed by a big bowl of Creole fish stew, rice and a spicy stock swimming with halibut, wild rock shrimp and thin slices of smoked andouille sausage. This was one of those dishes that make you go “Oh!” and “Ummm!” with every spoon full you put in your mouth.

That was enough to fill us up, but there was more: Dessert was bananas Foster, a banana sliced up the middle, covered in melted caramel and served with a dollop of ice cream. Bliss!

And that’s probably going to be our big night out for a while. We blew more on the tip that we do on hamburgers at the Harmony tavern on a Friday night, but it was worth it, and especially so because I think it did a world of good for My Darling B, who hadn’t been feeling well all day. She’s better now. Happy Valentine’s Day, B!

L’Etoile | 9:41 pm CDT
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Sunday, January 31st, 2010

My Darling BWillalby’s. The name of the diner we were trying to remember yesterday is Willalby’s Cafe.

Sandwiched in between a tattoo parlor and a Vietnamese restaurant, it’s easy to overlook, as we’d done for so many years. Yesterday while we were looking for a place to eat breakfast, though, we remember and made a beeline straight for it so we wouldn’t have to keep saying, “We really ought to go there one day.”

The place is smallish, maybe four or five booths along one side of the room and a counter with ten stools at the most. One guy seemed to be running the whole show, and he was in the back washing dishes when we came in, so we grabbed a seat in a booth and waited five or ten minutes for him to finish up before we could give him our order.

While we waited, a boom box played some kind of music that sounded like half a dozen guys playing their guitars by giving them a sound thrashing with lawn rakes. They sang, if we use the word very broadly, by screaming a pretty good impersonation of the Cookie Monster. It reminded me of the howling destruction going on during the scene at the Do Long bridge in the movie Apocalypse Now.

When the song was over, the guy came out of the back room, put in a new disk, and the mellow sounds of someone like Nora Ephron began to fill the air.

“Eclectic music selection,” I remarked to B.

We each ordered the French toast special. When we told him what we wanted, he answered, “Cool.” He said “cool” in answer to everything, instead of “okay.” It was perfect for a cafe like Willalby’s on a street like Williamson.

He was quick in the kitchen. We were enjoying our food in just a few minutes, and he kept our coffee mugs filled all the time we were eating. A few regulars came in after us and the place settled into a quiet buzz of conversation. One couple came in after they got tired of waiting in line at Lazy Jane’s, waited about three minutes for the guy to take their order and, when he didn’t show up quick enough for them, they got up and left. They were probably the same people who tailgated me through DeForest on the way to the auction this morning.

Willalby’s | 8:28 am CDT
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Saturday, January 30th, 2010

We’re talking about what we wanted to do with our morning.

The night before, we had a plan to go to breakfast at the farmer’s market, a traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs that sounded pretty good, then make our usual stop at Saint Vinnie’s to browse the book shelves, then drive to the farthest reaches of the suburbs of Madison to visit the very oddly-named central post office so I could pick up a piece of registered mail that I have to sign for but they will deliver only when I’m not at home to sign for it.

But this morning B pointed out, “I don’t really need anything at the farmer’s market, and I don’t want to go all the way downtown for breakfast because, you know, it’s all the way downtown.”

What to do?

Well, we still need breakfast. Need it. And there’s this diner on Willy Street, Willowbee’s or Wallaby’s or something like that, that we’ve wanted to go to forever, ever since we were both zygotes. And Saint Vinnie’s is on Willy Street, and we have to stop at the co-op on Willy Street for shampoo … see how this is all fitting together? It’s a convergence of needs.

convergence | 8:37 am CDT
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Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

My Darling B set her alarm clock to wake us at seven this morning so we could be among the first in line for the fund-raiser breakfast at the Dane County Farmer’s Market. A fabulous spread was planned and we love to support the market.

When B’s clock tried to bleep us awake, however, she shut it off, rolled over and we went back to sleep for an hour. Much as we love the market, it had been such a rough week that we just couldn’t make ourselves get up.

By the time we finally did get out of bed it was much too late. Hitting the farmer’s market for breakfast would have meant standing in line for thirty or forty minutes, so I offered to take B to Lazy Jane’s instead, after I perked a pot of java, of course.

I scarfed down a waffle smothered in syrup and garnished with a generous pile of banana slices and crushed walnuts. B ordered the potato pancake special, which came three to a plate and were big as bath mats. Bliss!

waffle waffle waffle | 2:06 pm CDT
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Friday, January 22nd, 2010

My Darling B must have been receiving the same signals from the mothership I was getting.

She was walking from the car to the ATM as I came out of the office building to meet her this evening. “I’m getting some cash,” she explained, “I’ve been thinking about pizza all day.”

“That’s funny, I’ve got lots of cash on me,” I told her, “I was going to offer to treat you to dinner tonight.”

She wanted to go to The Roman Candle, a pizza place on Willy Street. “Harmony’s got great pizza, but I like Roman Candle’s pizza crust better.” There you go, Harmony. You’re still our favorite tavern, but you need to work on the crust.

in tune | 3:14 pm CDT
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Thursday, November 29th, 2001

B and I went down to Familiar Noodle House at lunch time for big, steaming bowls of ramen. I get the idea that “Familiar Noodle House” lost a little in the translation, don’t you? But it’s right there on the flag over the counter, in English and katakana.

When we came back, we got stopped at the gate, where the guards searched our car. They pick cars at random and go through all the compartments. They never say what they’re looking for, and I never ask; they’re just doing their job, and I’m absolutely certain they catch a lot of crap for it. The airman who brought our license and registration back to us said we were the nicest people they’d had all day. Gosh.

Familiar Noodle | 12:50 pm CDT
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Sunday, November 18th, 2001

I may be wrong, but I think the Dawgies are starting to settle down to work.

I expected a bit more rowdiness over weekend day watches, when there wasn’t as much to do and everybody was in that weekend mood. Not much trouble at all, though, and in fact several of the ops are doing outstanding work.

After the watch, Mark Ursich told me a bunch of Dawgs were going to get together at Viking for a bite. Viking is an all-you-can-eat place, where you pick out what you want from prepared food and cook the meats back at your table on a gas grill. I tried salmon sushi (okay, so you don’t cook that), marinated lamb, some kind of beef strip, and the usual Japanese stuff I love like gyoza and miso.

I love eating at Japanese restaurants, but there was one hitch to eating at Viking. It had what I guess you’d call a traditional dining area, where you sat on the floor at short tables. I had to take off my shoes when I entered the dining area, and though the restaurant provided slippers to put on when I went to get more food, the biggest slippers they had are comically small on me. They went as far as the balls of my feet, and I had to shuffle across the floor with my toes clenched to keep them from falling off.

Dawgie chow | 4:34 am CDT
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