Archives for category: Food



There are many good reasons to join a local cooperative food market: they support local food producers and growers, they generally have a wide selection of organic and vegetarian products, there is a strong emphasis on customer service (because  customers are the owners!) and good co-ops generally foster community development, environmental stewardship and nutrition.

In Madison an additional perk of being a member of the Willy Street Co-op (or living with one, as is my case)  is reading the  customer comments section in the monthly co-op newsletter.  No small failure on the co-op’s part (or on the part of humanity as a whole) will be ignored! Below, I bring you the gems of October (to read the diplomatic responses from the co-op staff, you will just have  to become a co-op member so you can get this newsletter, or read it here:

1. Climate Change Deniers

I would like to request that climate change deniers, i.e., motorists, be asked to turn off their engines when standing in the parking lot waiting for a spot. Today I had to breathe the toxic waste of three motorists idling in the parking lot while I parked my bike.

2. Labyrinth of Dangerous Sharp Corners

The planters out front have sharp corners, which are really dangerous. Any toddler or young child could run their face right into those. They are a really unfriendly addition.  Can you get someone to round the corners? Anyone could also bump into them with their leg. I would prefer they be removed. They are very bad feng shui. Doesn’t WSC have legal counsel–no good lawyer could possibly advise anything but removal of the planters and the bongo drop box [Ed–this is a reference to a local video store drop box]. You guys have made two very bad decisions in these planters and drop box. Please remove and make the co-op safe and welcoming not a labyrinth of dangerous sharp corners!!

3. Heat and Glare

The outside western wall is painted a very light shade (white-off-white-lt. grey) and in sunlight radiates heat and glare to people walking to the co-op from the neighborhood. Have you considered repainting that wall a cooler grey? It would cut the heat and glare to those who use the sidewalk.

4. Weed seed poisoning

I appreciate your efforts with plants but I get weed seed poisoning from walking in tall grasses and think that another type of plant would be more appropriate by the walk in front.

This commenter just has grass pollen allergies, right?

It’s a beautiful world.

After years of calendar conflicts and forgetfulness and sheer ignorance, last weekend fulfilled a long-standing dream of mine.  I am from Wisconsin.  In Wisconsin cheese is something like a religion.  I hate to make my (sometimes surprisingly) cosmopolitan, high-tech, open-minded state sound like a ho-dunk stereotype, but yeah, our cheese is better than your cheese and that makes us awesome and we celebrate it.  We incorporate it into meals in strange ways.  We think of creative ways to make it and support the traditional methods of making cheese passed down through the centuries.

We are cheese and we are territorial.   California produces more milk than us (our cow herds are smaller because we have fewer factory farms), but we take comfort in knowing that we still make more…you guessed it…cheese. If you love cheese you should come here and meet your tribe.

This weekend I spent Saturday doing what I do just about every day; I celebrated cheese. But this time I was with others.

One would imagine that the festival that celebrates cheesemaking in the most cheese-making-dense part of this cheese-loving state would be a big deal, right?  On Saturday, I ventured to Monroe, Wisconsin for Green County Cheese Days to find out:

At the very least, it sure was a big wheel!

Green County Cheese Days is a festival held every two years in Monroe, a community surrounded by many well-known and internationally award-winning Wisconsin cheesemakers.  In fact, Monroe’s high school mascot is the Cheesemakers.  At one point in my life that was incredibly funny!

Based on the devotion to quality and tradition displayed throughout the festival, Monroe has a lot to be proud of.  One of the great (and surprising) thrills was a grilled cheese sandwich served at  a local boy scout troop stand.  I expected two slices of American grilled on some white bread (per usual), but instead had an amazing mayo-scallion-brick combination grilled on two high-quality slices of toasted rye bread.  I bought that sandwich because I was hungry and  the other lines were long and ended up eating what might have been the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had.

Another daring adventure was my first time trying Limburger cheese (Monroe is one of two places in N. America that makes Limburger).  In Monroe, you can buy a cheese sandwich (or some big pieces of sausage!)  from a tavern window and just eat on the street:

Yes, Limburger did have a very pungent smell…something with a sour corporal resonance…like sweaty feet kept in plastic bags for a few hot days.   But the actual flavor was pretty mild, like brick cheese with maybe just a hint of  sourness.  Although it’s a strong odor, it is probable something one could overcome for the rather pleasant flavor that accompanies it. I’m no chef, but I think the sourness could add some complexity to a meal that calls for a milder cheese, or just a cheese sandwich. I also had some tangy brown mustard on my sandwich and it seemed to compliment the milder Limburger base quite well.  I would be interested to see how Limburger works in a grilled cheese sandwich.  Perhaps the smell cooks away?  Be mindful of your cohabitants, however, as the smell was noticeably permeating from skin later that day.

The bacteria that lives in Limburger also lives in your armpits when you are stinky enough for people to give you that look

Another big draw was the Optimist Club’s cheese curd stand.  The entire day, the stand was swarmed  with people with no clear line.  Finally the bullet was bitten and I entered the cheese curd mass.

Somewhere in this photo is the start of four serving lines

The 30-45 minute wait was tempered by the women in front of us who assured me that these would be some of the best cheese curds I’ve ever had.  And they were.  Definitively the best served from a festival stand.  Their fried skin was light, crisp and buttery and meshed well with the cheddar cheese on the inside.  If I hadn’t already chowed down on so much cheese I would have been in cheese heaven, instead I was closer to cheese heave.

Monroe also provides a cheese tent where visitors can sample different cheese types from different local  producers.  Though, it should be noted, this tent was pretty packed and just getting a piece of cheese on a toothpick involved great skill and patience.

Although there were plenty of cheese tasting opportunities, I was surprised to see how much the festival also doubled as a celebration of the Swiss ancestry seen in many communities in Green County:

Yes, this dog is wearing a cowbell and yes, I wanted to steal it (dog and bell).

This sounded like a melancholy whale roaming the deep ocean

This old cheesemaker explained how, as a boy, he hammered nails into his grandpa's boots so his grandpa wouldn't slip while making cheese. Also, that hat!

The Swissness just added color to what otherwise might have been a paint-by-numbers local commerce festival (seriously, Corn Fest? That’s just another excuse for Drunk Fest).  I also appreciated being serenaded by yodelers throughout the day–it made the waits in line all the more whimsical.

And with that:

It’s nearly 4 p.m. on Monday and I’m slowly emerging from my food hangover.  Please see below the good/interesting thing consumed at the second day of the Taste of Madison. Blargh:

1. Chicago stuffed pizza – Pizza Extreme, Madison

I had the spinach version of this very good cheese stuffed pizza.  This is such an indulgence, but the cheese was a nice, moderate level so it didn’t make the whole pizza a gooey mess.  The other components tasted pretty fresh and flavorful.  For a festival pizza, it’s was a nice treat.

Although I had a few other entree-type items, the remaining highlights were in the dessert category.

2. Beignet- The Bayou, Madison

These were served pipping hot.  It’s like a doughnut only slightly better.  These were nice and soft on the inside.  I think the outside is suppose to be a little more delicate and crispier or something.  But whatever, this was delicious.

3. Bananas Foster Sundae – Queen Anne’s Catering, Madison

I don’t really know how a combination of bananas, pecans, and boozy-sweet syrup could go wrong.  Really bananas foster anything, please.  Bananas foster coffee…sounds perfect for winter! Bananas foster sandwich (well…I love bananas and peanut butter and bananas and brown sugar).  Bananas foster bananas foster! Seriously…let’s make it happen. You and I.

One of great things about the end-of-the-summer sloth-gluttony circuit is when my city helps me facilitate these sins.  This weekend is the Taste of Madison–which is an outdoor food festival probably similar to ones held in other cities.  Here, 75 local food vendors surround the perimeter of the State Capitol and serve up small portions of their food for under $5.

It’s generally hot and crowded and full of drunk people listening to meager live music offerings.  Yesterday was great, however, because it was nice and cool, which makes everything: crowds, greasy food, drunks, bad music all so much better.

Below are some of the favorite foods I sampled yesterday.  Sadly, this is not all I ate.

1.  Pan Fried Corn Patty – Bandung Indonesian Restaurant, Madison

Similar to the State Fair, much of what’s served at the Taste of Madison is greasy or fried or both.  There is a nice mix of local, international places and places that serve mid-range American food.  This corn patty from Bandung was the first thing I tried.  The patty itself was made up of sweet corn kernels, egg and sweet onion.  On top was a savory garlic sauce which has a little bit of kick, but was still very mild.  The patty itself was amazing.  Generally, these things are like mush patties, probably because the restaurants rely on canned corned.  This was nice and firm.  When I pulled apart the patty I could see the firm corn kernels.  The sweetness of the corn and onion was delicious against the more savory garlic sauce.  It wasn’t that greasy and the crisp lettuce on the bottom seemed to help the dish from feeling soggy.

2.  Watermelon Popsicle – Chicago-area Mexican restaurant

I didn’t quite catch the name of the Mexican-food vendor that served me this watermelon popsicle (I will try to catch it today–Blogger Purgatory for me!), but I thank him for introducing me to the joy of Mexican Popsicles.  This tasted like someone had juiced a watermelon added just a little sugar and frozen it in a popsicle mold.  It did not taste artificial at all.  So, so yummy–probably even better on a hot summer day.

2. Beer Battered Deep Fried Cheese Curds – The Old Fashioned, Madison

Over the last 5 years of so, gourmet cheese curds have become something of a Madison-area delicacy–with just about every mid-to-high range “food pub” in Madison serving its own version for upwards of $10 a basket.  Much of this craze likely traces back to the opening of the Old Fashioned.  The Old Fashioned is a “Wisconsin-themed” mid-ranged restaurant right across the street from the State Capitol.  It features an extensive Wisconsin beer menu and better-tasting versions of the greasy specialties featured in the supper clubs spread across the state.  These cheese curds are a great example.  The breading is light and crisp and the beer gives it a nice, deep flavor that compliments the cheese.  The cheese inside is flavorful (my guess is some kind of colby) but not so strong that it’s overbearing on the taste buds after a certain point (as is the case with some of the sharp cheddar cheese curds that appear in other restaurants).  The sauce is a zingy mayo/mustard/light pepper combination and it really compliments the heaviness of the cheese curds.  This is one of those dishes that makes me so, so proud that I’m from Wisconsin.  I actually eat and think to myself: “my people”.

4. Cookie Dough Egg Roll – Bluephies, Madison

Chocolate-chip cookie dough wrapped in a light egg roll shell. Deep fried. The cookie dough becomes moist and gooey and stays hot inside the crisp egg roll shell. Do I really need to explain why this is delicious?

More food coming my way today!

Labor Day '09

Here’s a Labor Day Weekend tradition I’m sure I share with many people:  lots and lots of food accompanied by much sitting around and watching movies.  As of near the end of the day on Saturday, I’m already up to three movies and, I would guess, 150% of my recommended daily caloric intake.  Thank you, organized labor and the Cleveland Administration, for allowing me a full weekend to rush the slow suicide that is modern living.  Follow my progress!

Dear one subscriber who no longer subscribes to this blog,

I was here but then I wasn’t.  Well the week flew by.  The real reason for my few days off was that I was camping.  No Appalachian Trail euphemism, but real, in-a-green-A-Frame-tent camping: the warm lull of a campfire, being outside all the time so that doing nothing qualifies as doing “something”, the loud rush of wind through trees, the strange threat of cackling racoons, the food.  Oh lord help me, I love campfire food.  I have to; I’m a vegetarian.

The amazing secret of the classic wood-fire camp flame is that it makes fake meat taste AMAZING.  I’ve been a vegetarian nearly 10 years  and I’ve suffered through some terrible faux meats.  Many of them microwaved (which is a great way for a fledgling vegetarian diet to permanently fail). At best, the most ubiquitous tend to be merely bland seasoned protein patties that cook all dry and rubbery.  But smokey campfire crisps away the rubberyness and encourages the substitute meat to crackle on the outside and to become, dare I say it, juicy on the inside.

The following  have led to some of my best experiences:

1. Tofurky Beer Brats

In vain I had searched for some kind of veggie brat that remotely replicated some semblance of the beer brats my father made for us when I was growing up.  Beer Heritage! These on a campfire were the first thing that came close.  I have yet to actually try marinating them in beer, but the fact that they taste decent without that process makes me quite hopeful of the result.  Please do not microwave or charcoal grill these after you have had them on a campfire.  That is a foolish, cruel thing to do to yourself.

2. Field Roast Grain Meat Co. – Smoked Apple Sage Vegetarian Sausage

Although I am a happy vegetarian (meaning, I enjoy what I eat and don’t get all bitter and make others miserable as I judge their lack of food ethics) brats are my Achilles Heel…my soyfood meat-substitute Achilles Heel. In fact, before I discovered that Tofurky Beer Brats were yummy on the campfire, I was starting to allow myself one well-chosen brat a summer so that I would no longer resent all my fellow Wisconsinites for their horrible, delicious lack of food ethics.  But the campfire changed all this.  I have food summers again!

Then this past weekend I tried Field Roast vegetarian sausages on the campfire and they might be even better than the Tofurky.  The inside was flavorful without the off-mark, almost peppery spiciness that I sometimes taste with other fake meats.  But the topper was that their vegetarian sausage actually was juicy on the inside, almost succulent.   More products like these, please!

3. Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips

These are one of those vegetarian-substitute products that may bewilder newbies with their almost inedible appearance.  As my camping partner described them: play food.  But didn’t you always want to eat your toy food as a child?  Now you can.  And it  gets nice and crispy on the fire.  The flavor is salty and similar to bacon-chips.  It’s a nice finger-food to compliment coffee and eggs on a slow morning in a collapsible canvas chair.  True bacon lovers may not be satisfied with the close-but-not quite flavor, but the advantages over the real thing: less fat and no grease.

4.  MorningStar Farms Veggie Sausage  Links

Similar in quality to MorningStar’s veggie bacon, this product appropriately replicates the taste of real sausage links (perhaps a little over-spiced, but not enough to be off-putting).   The smell is pleasant to wake up to, and again, not greasy so it’s easy to tool around your campsite while munching on these.

5.  Nature’s Bakery Veggie Burgers

I couldn’t write this entry without  acknowledging Nature’s Bakery’s scrumptious veggie burgers.  Complex, moist, flavorful–these are everything one could want in a veggie burger.  These don’t make the mistake of trying to replicate a meat-hamburger, but demonstrate that the otherness of veggie alternatives can be delightful when judged on their own merits. These are probably the best packaged veggie burgers I’ve had.  Nature’s Bakery is a local coop so their products are only available in Wisconsin and a couple of select locations in Illinois and Minnesota.  But do try if you have the opportunity.

Finally, as far as campfire failures…

I finally tried vegan marshmallows over the weekend and it wasn’t quite the revelation I had hoped.  They certainly tasted like marshmallows, but had nothing of the crispy-gooey combination that makes popping roasted marshmallows off a stick such a delight.   If anyone reads this and has recommendations, I would love to hear them.  Occasional gelatin (I try to limit it) is one reason among many other aged, cheddar-flavored reasons that I could never imagine undertaking veganism.  Go ahead and judge.