Madison Eats, part 2

Seriously, Madison has too much good food to limit it to just one post. Which isn’t to say that everything we ate was wonderful – we had some downright lousy coffee, for example, and tried to get drinks at a couple of places that turned out to be too upscale (while also smelling really weird) or too dive-y – but there were plenty of places that were just right.

Breakfast, day 2: Marigold Kitchen

Veggie Scrambler

French Toast

Photos by beautifulcataya

There are two things I would like you to notice in these photos: the breakfast potatoes in the first, and the exceptionally decadent French toast in the second. We ate all of these things. My scramble of the day was kind of wet and disappointing, but the incredibly flavorful breakfast potatoes more than made up for it. I don’t often want potatoes – they can be really hit or miss – but these were worth the risk: crispy and salty, fried up with onions and a lot of rosemary. Amazingly good. Shane had a different French toast than is pictured here, but it was no less wonderful.

Lunch, day 2: Chautara

Chautara - sunny spot on a cold day

Photo by humbletree

Tofu Buff at Chautara restaurant

Photo by John Kannenberg

Max had his first samosa, and I had the ridiculously flavorful seitan buff. I have fond memories of this place, even moreso now that I’ve shared it with Shane, Jenn, Bill, and Max.

Dinner, day 2: Natt Spil

lively up yo'self

Photo by mkebbe

We had planned on having a really nice dinner while in Madison, but neither of us were particularly hungry or decisive when it came to making a plan on our last night in town. While Shane moved the car, I decided on Natt Spil, which was supposed to be sort of dive-y and intimate while also having good food and music. The cuisine is somewhere between Chinese and Italian – really, I’m not sure what you’d call it. Not fusion, as that suggests a melding of the two flavor sets. Really, it’s a place where you can get dim sum and also pizza and also cocktails. I like all of those things. We were a little underwhelmed by the food and definitely by the service, but that didn’t stop us from devouring a small pizza and a plate of shrimp cakes. My cocktail was delicious, though I couldn’t tell you what it was. It seemed like the sort of place we’d definitely go with friends – like the Galaxy Hut, except completely different.

Drinks, day 2: Merchant Madison

Merchant cocktail list

Photo by jumbledpile

I spotted Merchant while we were walking around the first night in Madison. We didn’t love their food menu, but decided to stop in for a cocktail as a majorly scary storm rolled in over the lake. You’ve gotta love a cocktail bar where the menu is reputable enough that you’re happy to go with the “bartender’s choice” option. There were so many good things, but I’d already started down the bourbon road, so it seemed like folly to stray.

I was right. And the drink the bartender made me was even more right but unfortunately I will never know what it was because when I went to order another, he was gone! I know that it had at least five ingredients, one of them bourbon, another absinthe, and that I really shouldn’t have had another after that. I also know that Shane had two delicious cocktails, perhaps made with gin, perhaps citrussy? I don’t know.

What I do know is that we ordered toast with lardo – another good idea – and then I ate all of the toasts. OK, not all the toasts. But most of the toasts. And they were good.

Toast

Photo by jumbledpile

Day 3: Novice Campers

I realized when we were preparing for this trip that this would be the first time we’d just gone camping. We’ve done group campouts. We’ve done festival camping. What we haven’t done is the two of us in a tent with no friends along for the ride, no structured activities, no plans.

Let’s be clear: we’re not talking back woods camping here. We had our back woods adventure with the note on the dashboard and the mosquitos and the panicking. We’re talking about car camping, the sort where you roll your car up and pitch your tent ten feet away. A greener, more rustic parking lot.

Car Camping First night of camping

Our first night of camping was spent at the perfectly serviceable Holtwood Campground in Oconto, Michigan. The campground is dominated by RVs that suck more power than our apartment – but there’s a nice space away from the RVs for tents only, and the entire campground is along a lovely river. The campsite manager recommended Crivello’s for dinner, where our steak dinner set us back a whole $12 for a 10 oz ribeye, soup, salad, breadstick, and choice of potatoes (we went with “pinecones”). While we were on the other side of the river, we picked up a few groceries for breakfast – and some essential missing kitchen infrastructure.

Campsite Kitchen

See, we’re novices at this whole camping thing. Shane has done his product research for backwoods camping, so I assumed that he’d have the gear entirely under control. I think he assumed that I would vet his packing and make sure I had everything I needed to cook on the campstove. Neither of these things really happened, and so we embarked on our campground cooking adventure with the following handicaps:

  1. We brought coffee and our French press, but we didn’t adjust the grind on the coffee so that it would work in said French press. The Jetboil did an amazing job with the water, but that doesn’t mean the coffee we made with it was worth drinking. This was remedied by a stop for coffee in Green Bay, then by the purchase of instant coffee. Yes, you read that correctly.
  2. We had no knife. Of any kind. I’m not sure how we were expected to defend ourselves against bears or, you know, slice anything. I’m also not sure how neither of us checked on this. Regardless, we picked up a cheap serrated paring knife, and that did an adequate job on everything from onions to watermelon.
  3. We had about 5 paper plates, and no other surface on which to cut or from which to eat. We picked up durable plastic plates at Target for $1. Problem mostly solved.

With our kitchen stocked and dreams of bacon and eggs dancing in our heads, we cuddled up in the tent as our neighbors shot off fireworks. It rained in the night, but we stayed comfortable and dry, and woke to an absolutely perfect morning. While Shane worked on coffee, I put together breakfast:

Killer Breakfast Sandwich

Sauteed mushrooms and onions, bacon, fried eggs, and pan-toasted English muffins. Shane added salsa to make a killer sandwich, which he swears was one of his favorite meals of the trip.

Breakfast Sandwich Breakfast Chomp

A great start to a great day. We availed ourselves of the pay showers – 25c for 4 minutes, up to 15 quarters accepted – broke down the campsite, and hit the road towards Devil’s Lake by way of Green Bay.

Day 2: We Are Outdoorsy! Well, Kind of.

Things I will remember from our first full day of the trip:

Breakfast Pigtails

Breakfast at Java Joe’s. We sat on the patio and perused the exceptionally large newspaper/menu. Shane had a candy pancake – literally a pancake with candy. Reese’s Pieces, to be specific. One pancake plus one slice of coconut French toast. I coveted his sweets, but stuck with an omelette. While we waited for our food, we struck up a conversation with two couples who rolled up with impressive KTM touring bikes. Maybe that’ll be us someday.

Sunshine

A short walk by the water after breakfast after trying to pick up smoked fish and pasties. It was too warm a day to consider having smoked fish in the car, and we’d find ample pasty options later.

Paul and Blue

Mimicking Babe the Blue Ox and then climbing allllll the way up to the top of Castle Rock. I was terrified by the little walkway, but the views were worth it.

The View from Castle Rock

The View from Castle Rock

And then a trip back to the lakefront. We’d considered spending part of the day in Mackinaw City, but decided to press on after ogling the bridge and a very shiny motorcycle.

Mackinac Bridge

Motorcycle Lust

The Java Joe’s newspaper recommended several daytrips, including the Mystery Spot, which we bypassed, and the Big Spring, which was worth the brief detour. Impossibly clear water, clear enough to see rocks and fish all the way to the bottom.

Big Spring

Big Spring

A lunch stop in Escanaba – pasties at Dobber’s. I’m glad we tried them, though I see no need to eat them again. Shane had beef with beef gravy, I had chicken with chicken gravy. The pastry was the best part.

Dobber's Pasties

Photo by NCReedplayer

I almost don’t want to tell you about our attempts at hiking. I wanted to do more than just drive, so we looked on the map and found a fairly remote trail not far out of our way. We drove down gravel roads, then dirt roads. After 10 minutes without seeing any other signs of life, we turned off into a park. We located the trail. We looked at each other anxiously. We wrote a note and left it on the dashboard just in case we disappeared in the wilderness. We got out of the car and were IMMEDIATELY ASSAULTED BY A SWARM OF MOSQUITOS REMINISCENT OF THE BIRDS. We frantically applied bug spray, then retreated to the car, laughing at the futility of our attempts.

An hour reading by the lake in Marinette (or maybe Menominee).

DMC-FZ7 004

Photo by Frank McPherson

A detour to find a giant mouse. We found one, but not the one we were after.

Cow friend

Cow menace

Cool Giant Mouse U Guys

And a stop by a historical marker before setting up camp in Oconto.

Historical Marker

Maybe we’re getting the hang of this road trip thing after all.

Two Recent Conversations Over Breakfast

A couple of weeks ago:
Shane, eating breakfast: “Where did this bread come from?”
E, making coffee: “It’s just the normal baguette.”
Shane: “Oh! It’s really good! I thought maybe it was still some of the Roadhouse bread that Gemma had bought.”
E: “That’s maybe the best compliment you’ve ever made about my cooking!”

And then this morning:
Shane, eating breakfast: “Why does your food taste better than my food?”
E: “My food has a greater degree of chaos”

Pancakes like woah

I’m not much of a pancake person generally, but a long Saturday night out and only three hours of sleep left me in the sort of state where figuring out what to eat is a challenge, much less figuring out what my stomach would digest. Everything on the menu at Fox and Obel looked too too big, so I settled on one buttermilk ricotta pancake and a side of sausage.

Ricotta Pancake with Lemon Curd and Berries

Turns out I made a good choice – the right combination of protein, fat, and carbs to stabilize a wiggly stomach – while also being outrageously tasty. The pancake was dense but fluffy, drizzled with sweet-tangy lemon curd and topped with strawberries, raspberries, and maybe some other berries that I’m forgetting. The chicken sausage wasn’t anything special, but it did provide a savory element so needed in a sea of sweets. I couldn’t finish either, unfortunately, and I cannot imagine how even the strongest stomach could put away a full order – three pancakes! I would’ve shared a bite with Max, but he slept through the whole meal.

Still kind of a baby

1205 David Eyre’s Pancake

I woke up this morning with pancakes on the brain.  Specifically, this pancake, which I read about the other week on Food 52.

Before I tell you about the pancake, however, let me tell you about two things that led to the making of the pancake.

First, there’s Food 52, which I started reading after hearing about The Essential New York Times Cookbook.  The cookbook represents five years of testing and research on the best and most noteworthy recipes published by the NYT since the 1850s.  The site grew out of the experience of testing for the cookbook and realizing that the best – and most meaningful – cooking takes place in the home.  I’ve only started to delve into its depths, but at its heart, Food 52 is a community that operates on these ground rules:

If you cook, your family will eat dinner together.
If you cook, you will naturally have a more sustainable household.
If you cook, you’ll set a lifelong example for your children.
If you cook, you’ll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
If you cook, you’ll make your home an important place in your life.
If you cook, you’ll make others happy.
If you cook, people will remember you.

I don’t know about you, but each and every one of those rules resonates with me. They also bring me to the second thing that made our pancake possible: a giant cast iron skillet that arrived in the mail sometime last year, a gift from our friends Kevin and Jill in DC.  I may have mentioned this before, but Kevin is a cast iron wizard.  In the course of one meal at their house, Kevin prepared both a pork roast AND an apple pie in the same cast iron skillet.  I firmly believe that Kevin can make anything in his cast iron skillet, and that anything that comes out of his cast iron skillet will taste good.  More importantly, though, I feel like all of the rules above are embodied in Kevin and Jill’s approach towards cooking and food.  Their kitchen is a happy and healthy place, and they’re raising their small son to be an adventurous eater.  I have many warm memories from their dinner table, and I often wish that we lived closer so that we could share meals and games again.

This post wasn’t meant to be sentimental, though.  Breakfast is no time for sentimentality.  It is a time for preventing the morning grumbles with something delicious and simple to prepare.  Like this pancake: a few ingredients whisked together and poured in a very hot cast iron skillet, then baked til golden.  Shane spread homemade jam on his half, while I enjoyed mine with just powdered sugar.  As an entire meal, it was on the small side, but it was enough to get our day off to a really nice start.

David Eyre's Pancake

Recipe:
David Eyre’s Pancake: 1966 from Food 52 and The Essential New York Times Cookbook

1116 Attempting the Impossible

This morning I rolled out of bed at 6:55, showered, made and ate a real breakfast, made Chemex coffee, and ALMOST made the 7:36 bus.  Almost.  I would’ve made it, too, except that the coffee took a few minutes too long to brew.  Otherwise I am a morning machine.

I’m on a quest, you see. Since my request for a breakfast intervention last winter, I’ve cycled through the usual suspects: yogurt with fruit or granola or cereal, oatmeal with protein powder or apple butter, toast with peanut butter or jam or cream cheese and tomato, bagel with cream cheese, and/or office donuts. In the last week, I’ve twice left the house in need of breakfast, and twice ended up with one of these:

starbucks new 'breakfast pairings'
Photo by cafemama

Yes, that’s a Starbucks breakfast sandwich you see there. Despite my previously virulent anti-Starbucks position and despite the fantastic coffee options here in town, I go to Starbucks occasionally. The coffee’s adequate and, more importantly, they have a handful of breakfast options that are warm and filling without just being sugar bombs.  The sandwich pictured above is a parmesan frittata, ham, and cheddar cheese on a little roll: 370 calories and 23 grams of protein, which are the dietary metrics I’m most concerned about.  It also tastes really good, which is the food metric I’m most concerned about.

I’m convinced that I can make this sandwich at home.  Moreover, I’m convinced that I can mass produce it in such a way that I can just pop a a little sandwich packet in the toaster oven, take a quick shower, and then have a warm and hearty breakfast waiting.  75% of the sandwich is a no brainer – I just have to figure out how to make the little frittata puck.

This morning was my first attempt.  I greased a pair of silicone egg rings, placed them in a non-stick baking pan, then filled each ring with 2 beaten eggs.  We had a sausage links in the fridge, so I added those to the pan between and around the egg rings.  The pan went into the 375 degree toaster oven, and I hopped in the shower.  By the time I was done in the bathroom – 15 minutes later tops – the eggs were puffed up and toasty, and the sausages were cooked through.  We each had an egg puck and two sausages wrapped up in tortillas

The only problem with this breakfast was that the silicone rings weren’t heavy enough to keep the eggs from leaking out everywhere – so while there were two distinct egg pucks, a fair amount of egg had made its way onto the sausages as well.  Next steps may be to try the mini tart pans, or to bake a big square frittata and just cut it into individual portions.  Either way – I’m on to something good.