Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

This week’s challenge is about a universal favorite: FOOD!  I grew up in a family that was highly educated about and highly appreciative of food.  My family was started in Massachusetts, moved to Chicago and then to California.  Regional ethnic influences were explored and absorbed with gusto.  Last night, as Steve & I enjoyed dinner at our local sushi bar, we got to talking about our personal culinary histories.  Steve adamantly refused to eat anything but hot dogs, potatoes and asparagus until he was 16.  Then, on a trip to New England, he actually tried fresh fish and realized that he was missing a world of wonderful taste.  You can get lost in a food wasteland, if you’re not adventurous, in the Midwest.  But there are plenty of opportunities to branch out. 

Last year, on St. Patrick’s Day, we ventured into the city to see what kind of shenanigans we could witness.  We had lunch at one of Steve’s favorite places: Beans & Barley.  I love it immediately for its California vibe.  Here’s a picture of my portabello and gorgonzola and roasted red pepper sandwich with curried potato salad:


And the beer?  New Glarus Spotted Cow.  The best in Wisconsin micro brews, IMHO.  And you can’t buy it in Illinois.  Oh, but that’s not all!  DESSERT!


The cafe has a deli and market attached, were you can find a variety of locally made sauces, mustards, natural soaps, and ART!


Yes, indeed, ladies & gentlemen!  Step right up to the Art-o-Matic vending machine, insert your token, make your selection, pull the knob, and PRESTO!  A cigarette-pack-sized piece of genuine, handmade ART will plop into the tray!  Decoupage, graphic, random, actual ART.  Really, isn’t this a cool idea?  Get your local cafe to install one TODAY!  All your neighborhood artists will want to supply stock for it.  I think it’s brilliant.  

This year, on St. Patty’s Day, we’re invited to the Finnegan’s house (Steve’s sister’s) for garam masala corned beef & aloo gobi, naan, chutney and Chai spiced rice pudding.  See, living in Wisconsin need not be bland!

Historic Before Pre-historic…Trip Phase 4

Leaving the National Forest and re-entering the 21st century was a bit of an adjustment.  How ironic that we fled from a generator only to find ourselves in a modern hotel room with no less than 14 electrical appliances to its 60 square feet of space!  I immediately turned off the heater and fan and also a separate air purifier.  I unplugged the refrigerator.  Still, every 15 minutes, something made a punctuated whooshing sound.  Eventually, I figured out it was an air freshener mechanism above the door releasing a neutralizing odor into our “smoking Queen” like clockwork.  I learned how to sleep through it for a few hours. 

Since we had traveled so far north in search of room in the inn, we decided to keep going on into Ohio.  We crossed the Ohio River at Portsmouth and found our way toward Wayne National Forest.  We stopped in at the public library in a light rain to do a bit of research, and there, Steve made a discovery that changed our course.  We had promised ourselves a “splurge” portion on this trip.  Paying more than $100 for a room at a franchised motel off the Interstate did not count.  But now, we were within 2 hours of a bonafide historic hotel in a state that Steve had never visited.   We decided to go east to Parkersburg, West Virginia, to spend the night at the Blennerhassett Hotel and then return to Ohio the next day to visit the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park.  From there, we decided we’d head back home directly.  There comes a time when you know that your adventure has taught you something important and you need to pull back to your interior to focus on that.  It’s like a mythical journey: leaving home, learning, and returning changed.  But every hero needs some time and a place to figure out what he’s learned.  We figured we were close enough to use home base as that place.

Nestled deep in our gear, we found dress shoes, a long skirt for me and a tie for Steve.  We were off to enjoy a dash of historic elegance and some truly fine food, not cooked over  a campfire.  We were not disappointed.

Final phase: the Pre-historic.  That’ll be my next post.  Thanks for following so far!

Becca’s Bistro

Last Tuesday, I went to visit my daughter and son at their new house in Batavia.  I brought along a box of mixed photos from storage to sort, and I got the opportunity to meet Becca’s boyfriend’s parents.  Becca and I made a simple supper out of what was on hand in their garden and from their purchases from the Farmer’s Market that week.  I find it a challenge and a victory when I can figure out how to put a meal on the table without having to go out to pick up any more ingredients!   We made a corn/potato/bacon chowder, a loaf of Challah bread, and a salad.  It was great fun planning and cooking with her in her new kitchen, and of course, I had to show off my new camera, too!  Here’s a shot:

At Table

My mother quoted something to me over the phone this morning: “At table, we never grow old,” I think it goes.  I am savoring this idea, thinking of birthdays and family members, extended in geography and generation.  Steve’s sister had a birthday wish in April to dine at a French restaurant here in Wauwatosa.  That finally was accomplished last Saturday night, but as her husband’s 50th and my 50th are coming up next week, we decided that we were also celebrating our birthdays…and then we included Steve’s so he wouldn’t feel left out, even though his is 3 months away.  We spent over 3 hours at a table in the front window of the restaurant, sampling cheeses, drinking French wine, dining on lamb and pheasant and dissolving chocolate pastries on our eager tongues.  We laughed a lot.  We talked about philosophy and aging and Mars and mold allergies.  I was welcomed into this threesome who have been best friends for 30-47 years as a 10%-er…meaning I’ve only known them for 3.  But they like me!  They really like me!  That feels good.  My mother will be hosting my siblings and niece for dinner on Sunday.  My brother’s birthday is Saturday.  My brother-in-law’s birthday is the following Saturday.  I’m sure they will be dining for a good three hours or more, too, talking about philosophy and music and zoology and whatnot.  I wish I could be there in body and tastebuds, but I will be there simply in spirit. 

When a bottle is poured and glasses are raised, when family gathers in the same place year after year, when we face each other in candle light, Time in its immaterial essence becomes irrelevant as well.  Am I 10, learning to sip a drink and taste its fragrance for the first time?  Am I 20, listening to my beloved ask my father for my hand?  Am I 30, looking at my four children settling in next to their grandparents?  Am I 40, appreciating my parents through my own experience as a parent?  Am I 50, holding my husband and father in a deep, inward place as I use my hands, my voice, my mind to embody all of us?  I am all of these ages, and others besides, when I sit at table and nourish myself, body and soul, in this banquet of love.

Midsummer Magic

We’re closing the museum early tonight.  Bands with modern sound equipment, street vendors with FOOD, and other period inappropriate shenanigans will materialize in the Village for a midsummer festival (and fund-raiser).  Staff members get to mingle, eat, drink, and dance for free!  Guess where I’m going to be after hours!  Here’s a link to show you more.

A Wisconsin Tradition

Steve and I have long talked about partaking of a certain Wisconsin tradition…the Friday Night Fish Fry…and two days ago, we finally had our first experience.  It was a gorgeously golden afternoon, and I got a hankering for dining by the water somewhere.  There’s lots of water in Wisconsin.  It’s not the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but I’ll wager is got a good couple hundred.  So, we went to the Post Office to mail off 4 boxes of parcels for the book biz, and we asked our good buddies behind the counter if they had a recommendation for Fish served Lakeside.  “The Golden Mast in Okauchee” was the unanimous reply.  With just our old road map as a guide, we were able to find it quite easily.  No Google or nothin’.  And Steve didn’t even find a dead end first.  There was a wedding reception going on, and all was a-bustle with the ‘walk-ins only’ Friday crowd.  Our P.O. friends must think we are a bit fancy.  Truth is, we took a hike in the state park before dinner and arrived a bit sweaty, but no matter.  Friday Fish Frys are casual, even at a nice place.  The meal is served family style, even for two.  We chose the cod over the perch.  All the sides arrive first: applesauce, ketchup, tartar sauce, coleslaw, potato salad, rye bread and lemon.  Then comes the french fries and potato pancakes and all-you-can-eat fried cod.  Steve had a stein of dark beer, but I went with Southern Comfort on the rocks (I guess I was thinking of my Dad and the Ideal Fish Company restaurant in Santa Cruz).  After dinner, we walked around a bit.  Here are some of the shots I took:


The lake is surrounded by summer homes of all descriptions, settled in cheek by jowl.  Typical Midwestern range of economies, some new construction, some barely standing.  Not nearly as picturesque as my grandmother’s cottage neighborhood on Lake Michigan, but this lake is much smaller, and apparently, not really suitable for swimming, judging from the number of swimming pools in the area.  My favorite one was this one:

Appreciating Milwaukee

Here it is, March in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Some unknown and perhaps magical forces have transformed this place into a balmy paradise.  It is 81 degrees F outside, flowers are blooming, trees are sprouting leaves, and chipmunks are cavorting around the forest floor.  I am appreciating it.  Last year was a very different story.  We had a blizzard at the very end of January, and snow fell into April.  The last two months of snow in a winter that can sometimes take up half the year can be very trying on a person’s patience.  Especially if that person lived in California for 15 years and got rather attached to sunshine and greenery!  So, what is there to do in Milwaukee when the weather is nice?  So glad you asked!

Steve used to live on the East Side of Milwaukee, which is kind of an East San Francisco.  Well, a little bit, anyway.  There are lakefront parks, beautiful old buildings, college students from the University, and a smattering of the nature freak/hippie vibe.  On St. Patrick’s Day, we headed to his old neighborhood to take in some of this atmosphere, which was augmented by people parading about in green beads with plastic tumblers of beer, enjoying the unseasonably comfortable weather on a Saturday devoted to pub crawling.  It made people-watching that much more interesting. 

We ate a late afternoon meal at Beans & Barley, which features a deli and market as well as a vegan-friendly cafe with a huge selection of tea.  I had a grilled balsamic Portobello mushroom sandwich with red peppers and bleu cheese, accompanied by a fantastic curry potato salad and a bottle of New Glarus Spotted Cow beer.  Steve had a black bean burrito with some very spicy salsa, an entree that is approaching “landmark status” since its debut in 1979.  We shared a piece of their “killer chocolate cake” for dessert.

After I was satisfied that every bit of frosting had been thoroughly licked up, we headed over to the deli and market to take stock of their offerings.  It was there that I found this most delightful treasure: it’s an old cigarette vending machine that now provides the customer with a genuine work of art for the price of one token.  All of the Art-0-mat items are the size and shape of a pack of cigs, and decorated in a variety of different ways, by different artists.  Examples are installed on the front of the machine. 

Here is a close up of one example:

I simply love this idea!  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  It’s hip, it’s visual, it’s smoke-free.  These should be everywhere, supporting artists in every community. 

I’m feeling young, artsy, and energized.  We take a walk down to the lighthouse station.  I do a portrait of Steve that I think would look good on the back of a book he will write some day.

I’m having fun discovering something wonderful every day, no matter where I am.  This is how I want to keep myself well and happy for the rest of my life.  A few weeks ago, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ben Merens did a show on wellness that featured an interview with a personal life coach named Colleen Hickman.  Steve likes to call into this radio station when the topic moves him, and he called in to add to this discussion.  He had two things to share.  First, he said that his partner (me!) was very good at appreciating things, and then he said that his contribution to our positive relationship is that he doesn’t think of life as a problem to be solved or a commodity to be evaluated.  It is something of which to be constantly aware, though.   After he hung up, Ms. Hickman says, “Steve is certainly one of the lights we have in the world.”  That makes me chuckle because it sounds so “media”, but I have to agree.  If you want to hear the broadcast, here’s the link; just scroll down to the Friday, March 2, 5:00pm broadcast and click the Windows Media Player or MP3 icon to the right.  Steve’s call is 17:30 into the program.

What a wonderful world!  Even in Wisconsin in March! 

About Last Night…

I skipped posting a blog entry yesterday.  We left town at 10:15 in the morning and drove to Chicago for a matinee at the Lyric Opera.  Then we went out to dinner with my newly legal daughter and didn’t return home until midnight.  That is my official factual excuse and reads kind of like the ones my mother used to write to my teachers in elementary school.  “Please excuse Priscilla’s absence from school yesterday.  She had stomach flu.”  The end.  Oh, but last night was wonderful.  I was aware of so much, and now I’m just not sure what to share, where to start, which story to begin.  If I had brought a camera with me, I might just present a series of abstracts and let you fill in the rest.  I didn’t bring a camera; I brought myself.  The data is in me, the images, the sensations, the concepts.  I am full and perhaps trying to stay that way.  If I leak a bit of the experience, will I lose it somehow?  If I try to distill the essence of the evening, will I vaporize much of what I so enjoyed?  Am I allowed to carry my life around like a secret?  Of course, I’m allowed.  The real question is, do I want to?  Why post and share and write and tell?  I sometimes hover between bursting like a pinata and hording like a dragon.  What do you do with the precious value of living?

Smile.  I’ll start with that.

Driving the Interstate with Steve, holding hands and laughing to Garrison Keillor’s radio broadcast “A Prairie Home Companion”.  Finding an alternate route on two-lane highways through the fields when we found the Interstate was closed in one section.  Settling in the upper balcony under a golden ceiling to listen to the virtuosity of a live performance of Baroque music.  Closing my eyes to the modern staging of Handel’s “Rinaldo” and imagining powdered wigs and candlelight.  Imagining what it would feel like to have those glorious high notes, trills, and runs burble out from my own mouth.  Watching my daughter talk about her life, noting her gestures, her warmth, her composure, marveling at her maturity.  Tasting truffle oil, mushrooms, garlic, Sangiovese, gnocchi, gelato – savoring and exclaiming pleasurably to one another in mid sentence.  Talking to the hostess about her Italian family, the recipes, the home country, the history.  Speaking words of love and support and appreciation to my daughter, noticing the shape of the space between us.  Riding home in the dark, so sleepy, so content.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
― Thornton Wilder

photo from the restaurant's website

Happy Chinese New Year, Happy Magic Flute, Happy Ethiopian restaurant

I just got back from my visit to Chicago to see my youngest child, take her to the Lyric Opera, eat dinner and sleep over.  Had a grand time, and stashed my camera in my purse so that I could share the event on this post.  So, here are the characters:

Scillagrace, actually wearing make-up and a new scarf from the Fair Trade store


...and Mema, who is always too fabulous for words


And here is the Lyric Opera House in Chicago….

Grand staircase with gold banisters and red carpet

Iconic fire-proof curtain screen

Theatrical gold chandeliers

Patrons people-watching over the balcony

The matinee performance of Die Zauberflote (imagine 2 dots over that ‘o’) attracts a younger audience and satisfies the anticipation of spectacle by including plenty of flashy pyro effects, disappearances through the trap door, animal costumes, flying and gliding set pieces with people on them, and all that good fun.  The hyper-vengeful Queen of the Night was a tad disappointing.  Her famous raging aria was not always on pitch (actually sharp on a high D!) or facile in the fast passages.  She’s a younger singer, not as seasoned.  Pamina was exquisite, however, showing superb control in her dolce pianissimo.  Mema felt the chills!  And Papageno was an expert clown as well as a spot-on baritone who had the audience eating out of his hand.  Bravi tutti!  On to dinner…

A little Ethiopian restaurant with only 8 people in it besides us.  I’ve never eaten authentic Ethiopian food before.  It is served without utensils.  You break off pieces of the spongy, sour flat bread (injera) and grab the spiced food with that.  I ordered a lamb stew; Mema had a vegetarian platter which took up half the table!  Five different spiced vegetable dishes on one huge round of injera: squash, green beans, mushrooms, chick peas, and salad.

The injera is sort of like a damp rag...but tastier

Delicious, and new!  Toddled off to Mema’s apartment to get into comfy clothes, cuddle the cat, watch a video of my late husband (her dad) singing a recital, have a few drinks and a good, cathartic cry before going to bed in the king-sized cushy bed that used to be mine….

I love my daughter, as a person as well as a family member.  I love that we can talk honestly about everything, share on the deepest level, feel genuine affection for each other, and play together!

One thing I noted, however; nighttime in the city is noisy!   The elevated train rumbles by, rattling the brick building; the floors sag and creak when anyone walks through the apartment; the cat purrs loudly next to my ear.   So, now that I am back home, I’m going to take a nap!  Toodles….

Bread & Guts

Yesterday, Steve & I stopped in at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop for lunch.  The guacamole and sprouts on their veggie sandwich remind me of my 15 years living in California and call to me sometimes, especially when I’ve had too much cholesterol-rich Midwestern holiday food.  So, I ordered my #5 No Mayo favorite.  Then I watched in horror as the guy gutted the sub roll of its soft, white, doughy insides and flung them in the trash bin.  I thought of the ducks I visited on Christmas afternoon, swimming toward us in eager anticipation of bread bits.  I thought of the two bread pudding cookbooks we have in the dining room just begging to be explored.  “Why did you just throw that away?”  I asked.  “Oh, we do that in order to make more room for the fillings and so they don’t squish out when you bite into the sandwich.”  Well, that explains why they take it out, but it doesn’t explain why they throw it out.  Driving away, I imagined pithy slogans I could print on a poster to protest this practice.  “Don’t hate your guts”  or “Cast your bread upon the waters, not upon the landfill” or something like that.

Looking for crumbs

At home, I looked up some statistics about food waste in restaurants.  How depressing!  I am one of those moms who felt compelled to finish what my kids left on their plates just so I wouldn’t have to throw it out.  It hurts me to see food go to waste.  All that work, all that water, all that petrol, all that went into getting that food to the table is someone’s life to give life to another.  It’s sacred, in my opinion.  Tossing it out is disrespectful to humanity.  Something must be done.

Taking it up on a local level is probably the first line of attack.  I wonder if that sandwich shop would save the bread cores for me to cart away.  How often would I have to make a pick-up in order for that to be an attractive option to them?  I’m sure they don’t want an overflowing bread bucket kicking around.  How much bread would that be?  What would I do with it all?  Could I get someone to help me?  What if I suggested they offer a bread pudding on their menu so that they would use the bits and make some return on their effort?  Would they take that seriously?  What if they donated their scraps to a community compost project?  Do we have a community compost project?  When I visited family in San Francisco and Oregon, I was impressed at the compost recycling programs they had.  I have gotten tips from my daughter and her boyfriend about how to start a worm bucket of my own, which I could keep in the basement of this duplex, even over the winter months.  My landlord who lives in the other half of this house doesn’t recycle anything.  His bins stay on his side porch all year and never venture out to the curb.  Would he support my effort to compost and add the products to his garden?  He’s had the property assessed twice this year and may be putting it up for sale.  Do I want to go to the trouble of enriching soil that I may not get a chance to use?

I hate the feeling of going from “Something must be done” to “I want someone else to take this responsibility”.  What responsibility will I take?  New Year’s resolutions are popping up all over this week.  How many of us are really going to work on being responsible for cutting down on the waste of resources in this world?  More to the point, what am I really willing to do about it?  Do I have the integrity to take up the challenges I pose?  Do I have the guts?  I hope so.  Stay tuned and remind me.