Fondue!

My brother Mark is getting married in a few weeks, capping off a wedding season that has seen our attendance at or involvement in six weddings, two showers, and one reception since May, all but two of those occurring out of state.

Guests of Honor

In my experience, bridal showers are painful as often as they are enjoyable. My sister and I were determined that the shower we cohosted for Mark and Evonne would be different. First of all, no games – especially no games involving toilet paper. Second, it would be a couples’ shower. And third, there would be good food.

Two kinds of cheese fondue and savory snacks – the acorn squash fondue was the biggest hit and yielded nearly twice what we expected, while the Dubliner fondue separated in the saucepan and never quite came back together.

Acorn Squash Fondue

Savory Snacks

Chocolate fondue, sweets and spiked cider. The chocolate fondue was an unmitigated success, and the pound cake was polished off by the end of Sunday’s breakfast. The cider didn’t survive the evening.

The Full Spread

Sweet Snacks

Laughter and party crashers:

Laughing Shane

Party Snacker

A lovely time was had by all.

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Madison Eats, part 3

Honestly, I’m surprised I had room for breakfast after eating all the toast at Merchant on our last full day in Madison.  As we walked to breakfast, rubbing the sleep and mild hangovers out of our eyes, Shane teased me about the stack of toast which somehow grew from 3-4 slices of crusty farmhouse bread to a stack of toasts all the way up to the ceiling that I consumed Cookie Monster style.  I don’t deny that I ate all the toasts.  Just not that many.

Breakfast, day 3: Bradbury’s

Bradbury's

Cappuccino

We’ve traveled a lot this year, and as a result, have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to interpret Yelp reviews in order to find good coffee. The problem is that definitions of ‘good coffee’ are highly subjective: for some, it’s a 32 oz sugar spectacle from Starbucks; for others, it’s Blue Bottle. The best strategies I’ve found so far involve searching for words like crema, siphon, flat white, ristretto or gibraltar – one of which led us to Bradbury’s.

And Bradbury’s was exactly what we were hoping to find: seriously good coffee made by people who care. Shane had a traditional cappuccino – no more than 8oz, perfect microfoam – and a crepe with Nutella and bananas. I had a piccolo – indistinguishable from a gibraltar or a cortado, but then what do I know – and a scone. We left caffeinated and happy, wishing we’d found Bradbury’s earlier in our stay.

After breakfast, we wandered around the Capitol Square to Fromagination, a cheeseshop on par with Cowgirl Creamery in my book. The store was in a state of minor disarray as a Food Network crew was in the process of filming a spot for a new show focused on cheese, but that didn’t deter us from sampling a number of fancy and delicious Wisconsin cheeses. I especially enjoyed the display of local beers and recommended cheese pairings, and wish we’d had the opportunity to try more of them! Regardless, we left with our dinner in hand – three different cheeses to be paired with co-op takeout – and a recommendation to check out the National Mustard Museum on our way out of town.

Fromagination

Photo by Susie Foodie

Lunch, day 3: Brasserie V

100 World Class Beers

Photo by beautifulcataya

We split a delicious lunch at Brasserie V, located near Camp Randall Stadium amongst a bunch of boutiques on Monroe St. Shane was excited about the Belgian beer list, but I was more into the cool and creamy pea soup that we shared for lunch, along with a half Croque Monsieur and a towering cone of frites. We tried to avert our eyes as a couple at the bar gratuitously made out between sips of their Kwak, served in authentic Kwak glasses. We wished we had more appetite so that we could eat and drink more delicious things.

Off to New Glarus! But first, a stop at the Mustard Museum, which was everything we hoped it would be: weird, esoteric, and full of ridiculous mustard things. What possesses one to make mustard – collecting, not making – one’s life’s work? A question for the ages.

King of Condiments!

Day 1: Novice Roadtrippers

I might have mentioned before that we’re not good at road tripping. Which is to say: we don’t enjoy driving. Long drives almost always mean traffic, construction, excessive junk food, and, if we’re visiting my family, terrible weather. Seriously, it storms almost every time we drive west. So when I suggested that instead of going to Portland – our proposed vacation destination – that we take a road trip somewhere, you need to realize that we were going out on a serious limb.

After some discussion, we settled on a plan: camping in Wisconsin, followed by a few days in Madison or Chicago or both. And instead of taking awful 94 through awful Chicago traffic, we’d go the long way ’round Lake Michigan – north to the tip of the Mitten, over into the UP, and then south along the Wisconsin side of the lake. We resolved to avoid the interstate whenever possible, and to stop wherever suited our fancy: historical markers, dive-y restaurants, intriguing attractions. I was in charge of researching accommodations, while Shane looked into places to eat, helpfully plotting them out by number of hours along that day’s drive.

And so we set off, heading due north on 75 on a beautiful day. First stop? The Cheesehouse – or, more properly, Pinconning Cheese Co.

The Cheesehouse

The Cheesehouse

We both love cheese, as you well know, but weren’t expecting much from this roadside attraction. Which is to say that we found lots of uninspiring cheese, a few tasty cheese spreads, and an impressive array of meat sticks that Shane snacked on for the next few days. Our total came in below the $5 credit card limit, so we also got a giant pickle that literally had to be held with two hands and made the car smell like dill and garlic.

Our first true road meal came at Spike’s Keg O Nails in Grayling, MI:

Spike's Keg O Nails

Spike’s has been operating in this location since the day after Prohibition was repealed. The menu explained the history of the bar, which has had five owners in its 78 year history. It’s exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find in a smallish town, and exactly the sort of ambiance you’d hope for on a Friday night: lots of townies eating fried fish and drinking cheap beer around small tables.

First Vacation Beers

Who were we to question a good thing? The fried fish was fantastic: crisp batter and flaky tender white fish accompanied by the typical Midwest sides: cole slaw, choice of potato (fries), and a dinner roll. We skipped the roll and split a salad, and were totally pleased with our $15 dinner.

Not wanting to jump right back into the car, we took a walk around downtown Grayling, where we tamed a ferocious beast, sat by the river, and generally started to ease into vacation mode.

Au Sable River

Post-Prandial

We still had a few hours left in our drive, however, so it was back in the car and due north for us, stopping only for a Whippy Dip detour:

Whippy Dip

First Vacation Ice Cream

and a scenic overlook:

If You Seek A Pleasant Peninsula

A Pleasant Peninsula indeed.

0421 A Message from the Universe

The universe wanted us to eat cheese tonight.  We had other dinner plans, but when a cheese board and a set of cheese knives arrived in the mail from Kristen and Lyle, I thought, hmm, maybe we should use these with the City Goat we picked up at the Creamery!

…and then there was a knock at the door, which was the Fed Ex man delivering a bottle of champagne from Mel and Ray.  So that was that, we were having cheese and snacks for dinner.  A round of City Goat with a layer of roasted red peppers.  The last of a wonderful Gouda picked up at the Deli a week or so ago.    Slices of Paesano and focaccia warmed in the oven.  The last of the market asparagus, blanched then topped with flakes of sea salt.  A bowl of muscat grapes, sweet as candy.  Not a large meal, but a flavorful one.

0308 Snacks for Dinner

You know, in my early 20s, it seemed like the best way to get a lot of alcohol was to throw a party.  Some kind of drink – often jello shots or a keg MGD – would be on the house, but most people would also BYOB, and by the end of the night, the fridge would be full of assorted booze – the seeds of the next party.  I once had a party where I explicitly said no beer, only to end up with 27 cans of Miller High Life.  Not sure how that one worked out.

In the last few years, though, the post-party trend has steered towards food – delicious homemade treats, side dishes for the entree, a bottle of wine or two – the sorts of things that are perfect for an impromptu meal after a bad day.  What a coincidence, then that I came home with a headache and a terrible mood after spending all day restarting my computer in 30 minute intervals.  There was not a chance of me cooking, despite having a delicious meal planned.  Instead, after my nap, we had snacks for dinner.  And oh, did we have snacks: olives, two kinds of cheese, two kinds of crackers, two kinds of berries, and two kinds of dips, made up on the spot out of plain Greek yogurt and savory/sweets from the spice cabinet.  Some Ole Salty’s that we’ve impossibly kept ourselves from eating for 2 months.  Not a high-brow meal by any means, but a good one, and one that hit all the right flavors.

Eating and growing locally: week 11

Growing:

Morning Harvest

Eating:

Local meal #7
Steamed crabs from the Dupont Circle market with red, white, and blue potatoes boiled in a whole lot of salt. The crabs were a hilarious misadventure, and we were definitely still hungry when we were done.

Day 346 - 7/8/08
Bonus local breakfast: tomatoes, roasted overnight, with local aged cheddar and rosemary Italian bread for toast.

Our meals this week were somewhat half-assed, but when we did eat at home, they were mostly local. I think this week we definitely noticed the lack of individually packaged chicken breasts, so we’re going to look for chicken at the market this morning (that is, if SB ever wakes up).

elements of a nice weekend

culinary:
– Red Ink, a soft grassy sheep’s cheese, Appenzeller cheese, and jamón ibérico (!!!!!!). The jamón was a birthday gift from Shane, and oh what a gift it was. We have a bit more in the fridge, and I plan to savor it at some point this week. Some girls get chocolate for their birthdays – me, I get expensive Spanish ham.
– brunch at the Corcoran, which wasn’t all that exciting in and of itself, but it was a very nice atmosphere and I enjoyed the souffle.
– the always reliable veggie options at the Hut.

cultural:
– one more opportunity to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibit at the Corcoran. Our memberships paid off today when we didn’t have to wait in line for the sold out show. The galleries were packed with people, so the exhibit lacked some of the intensity of our first visit, but I’m awfully glad we went again.
– staying in to watch Helvetica and Paris, je t’aime, two very different films but both quite good.

home life:
– our new sofa arrived on Saturday and promptly exerted its dominance over our living room. I showed it who’s boss by taking a nap on it later.
– meeting a new friend at the Arlington Animal Shelter. She can’t possibly replace Sid in our hearts or memories, but she will Basil on his toes and the two of us in stitches. We’re hoping to bring her home in a few days, once she’s healed from her spaying and they’ve made sure that no one is going to come claim her.
– lots of quality time with SB. The last few weeks have been very hard, and very tiring, and it was wonderful to have a lot of lazy downtime together.