Day 3: On to Devil’s Lake!

Given our failure to make drinkable coffee, our first stop after packing up camp was Kavarna Coffeehouse in Green Bay – yet another example of the sort of place I wish existed in Ann Arbor.

Photo by paul goyette

Good coffee, a delicious-looking menu, and ample seating on two levels for those wanting to put in a couple of hours of work, catch up with a friend, or catch the occasional local band. We just needed a quick caffeine and internet fix, and Kavarna did just the trick.

From there, we made a quick stop by Lambeau Field, literally jumping out to snap a picture, then jumping back in the car. I’d show you the pictures, but they’re basically what you’d expect given the circumstances. Neither of us have any particular love for the Packers anyway.

Vince Lombardi Statue

Photo by jimmywayne

Let’s not talk about our side-trip to Oshkosh. A consistent theme of our days in Wisconsin was driving on ripped up, formerly paved roads, and Oshkosh had many of them. It also has a totally nondescript, exceptionally boring Brooklyn/gangster-themed restaurant, and a coffee shop with almost adequate sandwiches. We couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

Fortunately, our next stop was our destination: Devil’s Lake State Park. I’d been to Devil’s Lake a handful of times in high school and college, and had very idyllic memories of hiking, the lake, and failed attempts at rock climbing. I was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to my memories, but we loved it right away – that is, once we stopped to imagine ice age glaciers.

Shane Imagines Ice Age Glaciers

Oh, and once we popped open a few Wisconsin beers:

Campsite Beer

Unfortunately the beers didn’t help with the tasks ahead of us. In addition to all the other things we forgot, we didn’t have a mallet with which to drive in the stakes for our tent – or any sort of fire-starting device beyond our trusty, running low on fuel aim-n-flame. No matter: a helpful campground neighbor took pity and loaned us his axe; he also came back with the axe and some very dry wood to help us get a fire started. In the meantime, I made dinner: mushrooms, onions, and ham in a cream sauce – yes, a cream sauce in a cast iron skillet – served with a salad and English muffins. I would’ve made pasta but, well, you’ve seen what I was working with.

First Camping Dinner

We happily sat by the fire until it burned down – and even more happily turned in early.




I’ve been remiss in blogging, in part because I’ve been sick, in part because we’ve been in and out of town, and in part because I’ve just been lazy.  We’ve been cooking, but not that much – more often than not making “what the heck is in the fridge?!” kinds of dinners before teaching or after a workout.  That said, we revisited this recipe earlier in the month and OMG it was delicious.  The salad was whatever we had on hand – a yellow pepper, a handful of shelled pistachios, the last of the balsamic vinaigrette – and the bread was our trusty baguette.

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

So Into Grain Salads U Guys

I survived nearly 30 years on this planet before encountering grain salads. Sure, I had the odd meal of couscous and roasted vegetables – but no quinoa, no Israeli couscous, and definitely no wheatberries.

Wheatberry Salad with Cherries and Roasted Asparagus
Photo by esimpraim

This all changed when we started doing our grocery shopping at Plum Market, where I fell in love with their wheatberry salad: nutty grains, dried cherries, and toasted pine nuts tossed in a light vinaigrette. I really kind of can’t get enough of it. I’ve had good intentions of duplicating this salad for the better part of two years, but instead the jar of wheatberries has lingered in the cabinet.

So imagine my delight when Jackie and I went to Marathon for a late dinner and found an entire section of the menu dedicated to “Greens and Grains.” I couldn’t pick just one – but they had a sampler platter, so I got to try several, though they had run out of two of the four that I requested. I did, however, have beets with goat cheese – always a good thing – a creamy, nutty, savory dish of wheatberries, roasted mushrooms, and braised cabbage, and a lightly dressed green salad besides. So good! I wish I’d had the promised Brussels sprouts – but was quite happy with my wee salads and two refreshing cocktails (absinthe and champagne! white grape martini!).

Oven Roasted Red Beets - Home Bistro
Photo by Tammy Green (aka Zesmerelda)

Of all the stands at Reading Terminal Market, I happened to find myself in front of yet another grain salad on Friday – this time cracked wheat or barley, corn, and green beans nested in greens, and served with roasted vegetables. Not as glorious as Marathon’s offerings, but a delightful and delicious find among stands selling pretzel dogs (Thursday’s lunch), absurdly large apple dumplings, and cookies by the pound. I wish I could tell you the name of the place, but I was too hungry to make note of it, and too turned around to be able to locate it on the Terminal map. Just walk around until you find something healthy, and maybe you’ll end up with a magical grain salad as well!

If you go:
There are a variety of locations, but we had dinner at 10th and Walnut, and if I hadn’t gotten the grains and greens, I would’ve gone for the pork nachos, which looked amaaaaazing.

0914 “It’s Like a Really Fancy Breakfast”

The idea of mushroom crostini had been kicking around my head since we had dinner at Lupa Trattoria.  This is why restaurant meals – cheap or expensive – are worth it to me on occasion: I go home with good ideas that I can’t get out of my head until I’ve put them on a plate. The crostini didn’t quite happen tonight, but the idea led to a really good meal nonetheless.

First, crimini mushrooms, halved and baked in a parchment paper packet with herbs, large sweet cloves of garlic, and a splash of vermouth. I intended to chop these up for the crostini, but they smelled too good to wait. Instead, we ate them over crusty bread with poached eggs, a small salad, and the half bottle of wine we never got around to drinking in SF. Shane commented that it was “like a really fancy breakfast”, and I concur.

Funghi al Cartoccio al Forno from Jamie’s Italy

0710 Spontaneous Dinner

Today was pretty much the perfect summer day.  I was up early, so while Shane slept in, I ran to the market and bought peaches! and corn! and lots of other stuff, then finished up our errands and was home with a donut before Shane rolled out of bed.  We spent the early afternoon at the Shadow Art Fair in Ypsi, where Shane purchased bespoke haiku I used the Cupcake-o-Matic to get a wee chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and coconut sprinkles.


Cupcake-O-Matic Success!

Shane spent the rest of the afternoon brewing with new friend and neighbor Karl, and I took a long nap and then spent a very happy hour and a half in the garden. At some point in there, however, we missed all normal mealtimes, and so found ourselves peckish as the sun started to go down. While the guys finished up the brewing stuff, Karl’s wife Cara and I threw together a spontaneous and casual dinner – sun-dried tomato couscous with raisins, beet salad with feta, slices of salami, sauteed greens, soda with a homemade berry-peach syrup, and the first incredibly sweet corn on the cob of the year. Everything was delicious, and we retired, full and happy, not long after.

So like I said, pretty much a perfect summer’s day.

0629 Platter Salad

So I’ve had Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors cookbook for about two years – around the time that we got really invested in buying and eating local – but in that time have only made ONE recipe from it.  I’ve been trying to be better about buying cookbooks, but this seemed like one I’d really use, you know?  Unlike Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes and The Farm to Table Cookbook, both of which were lovely but didn’t reflect our eating habits or the foods actually available to us locally in Virginia.

I suppose I can only spuriously say that I used the Local Flavors recipe for tonight’s dinner – a platter salad – for a variety of reasons.  First, I only followed about half of the instructions.  I didn’t boil or blanch in the right order, and owing to a moped emergency in the middle of prep, I also didn’t make Madison’s dressing.  Also a recipe? For a very deconstructed salad? Helpful, but kind of overkill.  In fact, the recipe was primarily useful for the gorgeous photo that I used to convince Shane that this was enough for dinner.  Our own salad didn’t look much like Madison’s, but it was pretty spectacular if I do say so myself.

Platter Salad

Moving clockwise, we have brand new red potatoes from the market, boiled in salted water for about 20 minutes or until soft.  Green beans from the market, safely kept away from Head Bean Eater Mina and blanched for about 7 minutes.  Carrots, long lingering in our crisper, peeled and boiled for about 10 minutes.  A sweet market onion, sliced into rounds and lightly pickled in red wine vinegar.  Line-caught Bonito tuna, tossed with a bit of the red wine vinegar.   And French breakfast radishes from our garden, all atop romaine lettuce from the market.

And we ate all of it, well, except some of the lettuce.

June Platter Salad of Green Beans, Potatoes, and Tuna from Local Flavors

NB: Zingerman’s is having a crazy summer sale on a handful of excellent items.  We’re REALLY irritated that we missed out on discounted fancy tuna, as we’ve just exhausted our stash.  If you’re local, you can save yourself some extra dough by ordering over the phone and picking up your goodies in person at the warehouse south of town.

Also hat tip to Sarah, who also cooked from Local Flavors tonight!

0322 Butternut Squash Salad Revisited

We intended to have this salad for dinner last night, but instead ate whatever we could find in the fridge – leftover pasta for me, a pizza bagel from West Side Market for Shane.  Tonight, however, a small butternut squash was the star of the meal – another beautiful salad of roasted squash, spinach, and goat cheese.  This is one meal that I think I could eat every week for as long as squash are in season, which won’t be much longer.

Now that I say that, however, I realize that our squash friends have been edging out of season for a while, and that it’s been months since we’ve been to the farmers’ market.  Unless you’re really dedicated (or hate vegetables), it gets harder and harder to maintain seasonal eating as the winter months drag on.  We’ve been diligent about avoiding the strawberries from California and have been working our way through the applesauce and tomatoes canned last fall – but it’s harder to avoid a package of spinach or a hard-skinned squash in the dead of winter when all you want is a colorful change from the white, gray, and muddy color palette.  Now that spring veg is on its way, I’m really looking forward to getting back to the market, and to all of the delicious things the growing season will bring!

0115 Summery pasta and a beet and spinach salad

Dinner tonight at Shana‘s, pasta with pesto and a packet of summery vegetables from her winter Locavorious share.  I had good intentions of roasting squash to bring for a salad, but time got away from me after work, and instead I brought my favorite beet salad from Plum Market, a package of spinach, and some leftover herbed goat cheese.  It was such a treat to have zucchini and summer squash – and to share a meal with friends as we planned for the croquembouche.

Sometime over the holidays Olivia mentioned that she wanted to try the croquembouche, Shana expressed interest, and I offered up the occasion – my 30th birthday.  Many emails have flown back and forth this week as we discussed recipes, divided up ingredients and equipment, and planned a small brunch to go with this confectionery masterpiece.  Tonight we cracked eggs, whipped the pastry cream, piped small circles of pâte à choux – and drank wine and talked about food and life.  I’ve missed evenings like this, and I hope that there will be many more to come as I enter my 30s.

0102 Warm Salad with Butternut Squash

It’s 9 degrees right now. 9 degrees and all I can think about is beautiful vegetables. I bundled up this morning and walked to the farmers’ market, but only found meats, apples, and baked goods, none of which were on the shopping list.

It’s somewhat disingenuous to say that tonight’s dinner came entirely from leftovers, but to some extent it’s true – extra bacon fried for breakfast the other morning and goat cheese we’ve been nibbling away at tossed together with roasted butternut squash and ripped up spinach to make a colorful salad.  We made this salad a few weeks ago – then legitimately out of leftovers – and it was a knock-out, the sort of dish that, when drizzled with an intense reduction of balsamic vinegar given to us by Janet as a late housewarming gift, feels like it should be bad for you – except that it’s packed with good stuff and only a modicum of sin.

0102 Warm Salad with Butternut Squash