Day 4: An Evening of Leisure

I’ll just come right out and say it: we’re not good at relaxing. We’re good at doing nothing. We’re good at procrastinating. But we’re not good at relaxing. We went to the beach a couple of years ago and managed 15 minutes of sitting by the ocean before we got bored and reverted to walking around and eating boardwalk food.

All of this is to say that I wasn’t expecting to spend an afternoon on the beach after our morning of hiking. We had lunch. We splashed around in the lake. We laid on the beach and read. We went back in the lake. We laid on the beach until our suits dried out. I finished an entire issue of Vanity Fair. Shane finished The Corrections, which he’s been working on since the fall. We laid on the beach for the entire afternoon.

Before heading back to the campsite, we walked the Tumbled Rocks trail. While we walked, a woman swam across the lake.

Purple Quartzite

Not so much hiking as walking

Devil's Lake

Dinner at the campsite: New Glarus Belgian Red, picked up at the Ice Age Campground store, and local kielbasa with Brussels sprouts – a good German dinner.

Belgian Red

Honest Wisconsin Dinner

Not content to turn in, we left the park for a round of miniature golf at an only marginally maintained course nearby. Seriously, it was basically the worst course ever. I’m certain that’s the reason I spent so much time in the rough.

Teeing up


Like Fancy Ladies

Would you look at this fancy lady?

Birthday Sipes!

Jackie’s birthday fell on the first full day of ACRL, so after my early morning presentation and a day of conferencing, we were determined to find some sort of mischief befitting two fancy ladies celebrating a special occasion. That is how we found ourselves at Varga Bar, which not only caters to fancy ladies, but also features pictures of fancy ladies on the walls! Perfect. While the cocktail menu was somewhat uninspiring, we were overwhelmed with delicious choices for dinner, and ended up selecting four things, all of which were excellent.

First: the house pickles: cucumbers, carrots, squash, beets, onions, and artichokes, all lightly pickled and perfectly crunchy. Sorry, Mr. Pickle.

Mr P and Curcubit Cousins

Second: duck confit chicken wings – sweet, spicy, and savory in a pomegranate molasses glaze, and served with a blue cheese dipping sauce that could only spuriously be called a sauce. It would be more accurate to call it a wee cup of blue cheese. I don’t normally like chicken wings, but we ate these right up and asked for more blue cheese, which I shamelessly ate with my fork.

Third: the Varga salad: arugula, fava beans, fresh peas, grilled artichoke, shaved parmesan, and a light lemony vinaigrette – a crisp and fresh counterpoint to the delicious excess of the wings.

And finally: the best damned Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had. Now, I’m a fan of Brussels. You know that. I will eat them in just about any form, with just about anything, and without the slightest bit of provocation. But these sprouts? They were something else. Crispy and light, tossed with olive oil and parmesan, and bearing a more than suspicious resemblance to movie theater popcorn. That’s right: buttery, salty, delicious movie theater popcorn – except Brussels sprouts! I wish we’d ordered more, as they were the best part of the entire meal.

We thought about dessert, but really, who needs dessert when you’ve just had the most perfect Brussels sprouts of your life? Or, for that matter, when you have a librarian dance party to attend?

Mr P Takes the Decks

1018 Quick Dinner/KotWS

We had a hot date with some Toms Collins tonight, but were both definitely too hungry after work to wait until 7pm.  Yeah, yeah, we eat like old people.  I’m less bothered by that fact than I am bothered by my total hunger at 5pm when I’ve had breakfast at 6:30am and lunch at 11.  I suppose if I shifted my schedule forward by about two hours – breakfast at 8:30am and lunch at 1 – I might be able to wait til 7 for dinner on an average night.  This shift wouldn’t do me much good, though, as I’d still wake up at 6-6:30, even in the pitch black, and then I’d just be grumpy and hungry for two hours.  And no one likes that.


There’s about zero chance of us resisting the fluffy golden dinner rolls at Knight’s, so all we really needed was something simple to tide us over – maybe some veg and protein?  Lacking any coherent entree options, I sauteed some Brussels sprouts and shallots with butter until golden-brown, then gently scrambled a few eggs and warmed up the last of the bread from Saturday’s ad hoc dinner.

We ate everything up – and it’s a good thing, too, as the two martinis I had later went straight to my head.  Despite the ounce or two of regret later, we had a great time at KotWS, and look forward to the next meeting of this geographically collocated fraternity of imbibers.

1005 Brussels Sprouts and Kielbasa

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve felt really off my game since getting back from San Francisco.  I’m not motivated to cook, but then I’m frustrated with the poor food choices I make instead. Now that we’re both home and both feeling better, I’m determined to get back on track with both cooking and eating.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic Chips
Photo by mkosut

Dinner tonight was the first stab in that direction. I halved a pint of Brussels sprouts and sauteed them with butter and garlic until golden, then added a turkey kielbasa, sliced crosswise into bite-sized pieces. The kielbasa was already fully cooked, so it only needed about five minutes to go warm and crisp at the edges. While all of this happened in one skillet, I prepared some Israeli couscous to bulk out the meal and ensure that we’d have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Polska Kielbasa
Photo by tombothetominator

Holy delicious, you guys.  Turkey kielbasa packs most of the flavor of the traditional recipe, but with fewer calories and a lot less grease.  When paired with the Brussels sprouts, you get a hearty and filling dinner – that also manages to be pretty healthy.  We’ll be making this again.

A Week of Bachelor Eating

I could tell you all of the pathetic meals I dreamed up while Shane was gone.  We hadn’t totally restocked the fridge, and I wasn’t totally in cooking mode yet.  I went to Ferndale for a half day, and then had houseguests for three nights.  My meal planning went something like this:

  1. Open the fridge.  Stare at the contents.
  2. Open the crisper drawers.  Move a few things around.
  3. Open the cabinet.  Stare at the contents.
  4. Return to the fridge.  Complain to the cats that I didn’t want to eat anything in the fridge.

And so it went for nearly a week while Shane ate his fill of schnitzel and weird vegetable terrines, with the occasional good meal sandwiched between a lot of odd conference food.  One night I had yogurt, a pear, and peanut butter toast for dinner.  Another night my Couchsurfers treated me to dinner at the Roadhouse, where I had excellent, if overly mustardy, pulled pork and we split two desserts three ways:

Roadhouse Dessert

After the Roadhouse dinner, I was determined to get my ass back in the kitchen, so I pressed a block of tofu overnight and made this:

Proof that I did cook at least once while Shane was gone

For the tofu:
16 oz package extra-firm tofu
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, one crushed, the other thinly sliced

Press the tofu in the fridge overnight to get rid of excess moisture. Slice into 8-10 slices of roughly equal sizes, then marinate in the remaining ingredients for 30 minutes to one hour, then broil until cooked through and golden, about 10 minutes on each side.

For the sprouts:
1-2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, halved, stem end removed
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter

In a medium saute pan, melt the butter, then add the garlic and saute until golden. Add your sprouts and cook over medium heat until a little golden and a little wilted. I find it’s helpful to cover the sprouts to help them sweat a bit. Yum yum.

I also had a great squash idea, involving one acorn squash and some leftover pancetta:

green tomato, acorn squash, other squash all home grown
Photo by burtonwood + holmes

Preheat your oven to 375. Take a small acorn squash. Cut it in half with a sharp knife. It’s probably safest to cut off the top so that you have a flat surface and the squash doesn’t rock around. Place your squash halves on a baking sheet and add a spoonful of brown sugar to each half. Top each half with a thin slice of pancetta, then place in the oven. Forget about it for an hour or so until your house smells amazing. The pancetta will be crispy, and the interior of the squash flavorful from the rendered fat and the brown sugar. You might want a pinch of salt, but that’s about all you’ll need.

Long story short: I’m glad Shane’s home and that we can go back to eating like civilized people.

0221 Chicken in Milk

We were both pretty suspicious of this recipe, but when The Kitchn mentioned it in a round-up of roast chicken recipes, I figured it was worth a try, especially since we had all of the ingredients on hand.

This is a weird recipe.  I have to say it.  It’s just weird.  I mean, a good part of the joy of roasting a chicken is the crispy and flavorful skin, not to mention the gorgeous rendered fat for gravy or roasting veg.  None of those things made an appearance in this recipe.  Instead, the chicken is briefly browned on all sides, then roasted in a bath of milk, lemon zest, garlic, and sage leaves.  This process yields an impossibly moist and tender chicken – in a fragrant but weirdly lumpy sauce.  And let me tell you, ‘weirdly lumpy’ is not a characteristic I like in my meals.

Frankly, with all the good roast chickens out there, I see no reason to make this one again.  Weirdly lumpy indeed!

Oh yes, and I should mentioned that we braised more brussels sprouts, devoured them, and had to rochambeau for the leftovers.  I won!

Chicken in Milk from Happy Days with the Naked Chef

0117 Roast chicken and braised brussels (again)

So it turns out that we like brussels sprouts. A lot. A lot as in we braised a pound of ’em tonight using the same recipe as on Thursday, and ate the whole damned thing. I think we have a winning recipe here!

The sprouts weren’t intended to be the main event, though.  Using a Nigel Slater-inspired recipe, we roasted one of the chickens procured from Back 40 Acres in the late fall.  I rubbed the bird down with salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil, then sliced a head of garlic in half horizontally and stuffed it in the cavity.  The bird roasted breast-up for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, then Shane flipped it over and roasted it another 45 minutes breast-down.  A quick (and thick) pan gravy pulled it all together, and as Mina frantically ran from one of us to the other, begging for bites, we enjoyed a really satisfying and hearty meal.

(I know, I know, I didn’t post yesterday – it was my birthday, see, and I have some pretty remarkable stuff to talk about – I’m just waiting for the pictures to make it all pop, so to speak.  Stay tuned!)

0114 Stuffed chicken thighs and braised brussels sprouts

This post is brought to you by an infectious good mood, courtesy of plans that are coming together and also a healthy dose of Fela Kuti.

For dinner tonight, a riff on this recipe, which we’ve previously made by the book and really enjoyed.  Instead of breasts, though, I flattened the remaining thighs from last night, spooned in a bit of herbed goat cheese, added a couple of fresh chives, and rolled the thighs up into little packets.  Into the oven they went on parchment paper, then were relocated to the toaster oven about 10 minutes later when a mystery something started smoking.  They came out packed with delicious flavors, a perfect partner to the dish I was honestly more excited about.

A packet of brussels sprouts jumped out at me when at the coop a few weeks ago after my miserable winter walk to the (basically empty) farmers’ market.  Tonight I braised them in bacon fat with minced leeks left over from the prep for Saturday’s soup and a few good grinds of black pepper. Just before serving, I gave the whole pan a good slug of balsamic vinegar, and set it aside to reduce while plating the chicken.  A very happy dinner after a very tired day.

Chicken with Herbed Goat Cheese from The Barefoot Contessa at Home