Chili Contests, Community Cookbooks, and a Giveaway...

It's Rockabilly Chili Sunday. Milwaukee is fortunate to have WMSE: an independent radio station that is really unlike any other radio format broadcast (I reckon) anywhere. If the wealth of our culture can be seen through food, I'd imagine it must go hand in hand with music. Our station does an amazing job of broadcasting a huge spectrum of both, when this year, the annual Rockabilly Chili Contest brought together more than 60 area restaurants. There were far too many samples for me to taste to declare an educated favorite, so I decided to be very selective in my tasting. But first, just a little about me + WMSE...

I first started listening to WMSE devotedly because of this guy: Johnny Z.

I often think of this quote - written to me in an email from a food blogger I admire, Deena Princhep (Mostly Foodstuffs). I hope she doesn't mind me sharing, but it so aptly describes exactly how I feel about things I really, really love:
I remember reading an article in Might Magazine forever ago by Mike Doughy (whom I actually just saw a few nights ago) detailing the kinds of fans in his show audience: there's the "Dude, you rock!" guy, and the girl who slips you painfully bad poetry. Then there are the people who remind you of your friends, who clearly get your jokes and like your songs and share your sensibilities, but of course they won't come up and talk to you because they are far too shy and don't think you should bug people you admire. I often fall into that category.
I don't actually know Johnny Z., but his show is one I rarely miss. In the late '90's, I had moved to Milwaukee, and had a second shift job. After that job morphed into first shift, I accidentally discovered the Chicken Shack (Friday mornings from 9-noon), and weekly planned any breaks and/or work-related running around during the show's time frame so I could listen to it. I kept a little notebook in the console of the car to scrawl down names like Dave Dudley and Red Simpson. Those were the days before I even had email, let alone a computer in my house... and today you don't have to be in Milwaukee to get in on our well known secret: you can stream live or archived at WMSE.org.

I would be lying if I said this event didn't totally overwhelm me. I generally don't spend a lot of time in crowds, and it was wall-to-wall. Amazingly, I overheard more manners than any time in recent memory. People bumping into you is almost a nice thing when you receive a smile and an "I'm sorry", and it didn't just happen once or twice, but many times over. We Milwaukeeans are a polite folk.

Also contributing to my overwhelming state was the number of participating restaurants, and the staggering variety of chilis. Given the sorry breadth of my late winter appetite, I only had room for exactly 5 chili samples. It is depressing, I know.

The first one I tried was from the Outpost, my food co-op. I have NEVER tried Outpost chili! Believe it or not, all of the years I've shopped there, I have rarely bought soup. It's good, a respectable and healthy chili full of beans and textured up with TVP - something I've never cooked with.

These were hearty sample sizes if you ask me. Most places filled these cups right up to the top!

I moved along to Roots. I've been to Roots only a handful of times, and have yet to order a proper dinner - instead sharing snacks and drinks with friends in the less-formal Roots Cellar. I admire their commitment to sustainable eats, and nose-to-tail dining. Trendy as it may be becoming, it's the type of trend that I like hopping on the bandwagon for.

Their chili was a "Pig Head and Sweetbread Chili with Smoked Chicarones". It was green chili, fatty with a building heat. I really liked it a lot - especially when I got to the bottom of the cup and my eyes were hot. I like the building heat or accumulated heat in food, I think it's a little harder to achieve than full out hotness. The Rockabilly Chili Contests asks tasters to vote in 4 different categories, and I gave them my vote for best in the heat category.

Roots: Best Heat.

Brewed Cafe's veggie chili did not disappoint. I love sweet potatoes in chili, and this one was pleasantly sweet, and very substantial. They also had a colorful backdrop proclaiming it Voodoo Chili.

Brewed Cafe: Best Veggie.

I gave them my vote for best veggie chili, and saved the vote for best display for these guys:

Noble Provisions Catering: Best Display.

Noble Provisions Catering. I didn't try their Old-Timey Chili - but wished I did... and these Cumin Corn Cookies looked like the perfect side accompaniment. (I'll have more pics of their old-timey nuances up on flickr after a bit...)

The final best pick that I texted in was this meat chili from The Old German Beer Hall. They caught me by surprise when I stopped in my tracks at the vibrancy of the sliced multi-colored chiles scattered across the top of their vat of triple bratwurst chili. Yes. Bratwurst Chili. We are in Milwaukee, and this was amazing. Not really too meaty, and fortified with both sauerkraut and Jack cheese. This was the sample that put me over the top. I was just plain full.

Old German Beer Hall: Best Meat

I was inspired to keep on with the family cooking struggle this past week when I read a dated Gourmet magazine editorial from Ruth Reichl. Most memorable, was this excerpt which I found myself thinking about over and over as the week wore on:
The great anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss did groundbreaking work when he observed that in turning the raw into the cooked we transform nature into culture; in other words, cooking is one of the ways in which we define ourselves as civilized creatures. Through our cooking, and our eating habits, we tell ourselves who we are.
Transforming Nature into Culture. That is powerful stuff. And, if you have a minuscule bit of curiosity, and poke through some vintage cookbooks you can see it for yourself, a transformation of our culture through the years. If you happen to have a stash of food related magazines from as recent as 5 years ago, you can see the trends and the ebb and flow of our foodstuffs - slowly changing, but quite noticeable when retrospected. World-wide food trends differ considerably from our own, and because I am first and foremost an American, I take particular delight in regional American cooking and community cookbooks.

It's not really a secret that without my (Self Decreed) amazing modicum of self-control I would be a pack-rat of epic proportions. It can be argued that I still have a fair amount of clutter, but to my credit, I don't really buy a whole lot to add to the pile. (Sure, the list of things saved to make things out of can grow from time to time: scraps of paper deemed too valuable to toss lest I need them for mailing a package or embellishing some gift tag or something.) I think some of my favorite things are paper-based, including in no small way, vintage recipe leaflets and community cookbooks. On the occasion that I find stacks of them in antique stores, I set a reasonable limit (usually 5) that I'll purchase, and I try to keep in mind at least a dual use: not only do they have to have great font and illustration, they should be somewhat appealing food-wise, contain something that I'd actually make, or be of the ilk that I'd like to gift to someone else.

The chili contest this year featured the first ever Rockabilly Chili Cookbook, compiled of WMSE staff and listener chili recipes, and befitting of all of my aforementioned criteria. Because I love WMSE and because my belly was too full to eat lots of samples to help generate funds for listener-supported radio, I bought two copies so I could give one away to a lucky reader! If you like radio the way radio is supposed to be, and like chili, please leave a comment before midnight on Saturday March 12th, and I'll send you a copy of the first ever WMSE Community Powered Rockabilly Chili Cookbook. Random Number Generator will be my guide... Good Luck to you: with both Meat and Vegetarian/Vegan options, there is something for everyone.

One thing I certainly need to remember for next year is to skip breakfast. Fortunately, I now have 91.7 brand new recipes to inspire my chili cooking between now and then. Chili is one of those things that almost everyone makes, even those who don't really cook. It is endlessly adaptable and thoroughly enjoyable. The little things you add that I do not and vice versa are what continue to shape our culture, our Wisconsin-ness (take that, Texas...). I'd say it's the perfect unifying food: something we can all agree on in these trying times of disagreement.

Additional photos of this event will soon be posted on flickr.

Of Birthdays, Fine Dining, and Onions.

Yesterday, I gained a year. As a child, I couldn't wait for my birthday. The weather was usually just about to turn into the coolness I preferred, the new school year seemed exciting and full of fresh pencils and Trapper Keeper folders, and there was always a big family celebration to look forward to. My Mom's youngest brother is just 10 years older than me, and his birthday is at the tail end of August, so typically, we used the dual birthday excuse to have an enormous picnic. Most of my maternal side extended family all lived within a few miles of each other, and in the Great Northwoods of Wisconsin, there were plenty of lakes and picnic areas to choose from.

Earlier in the summer, my Mom would suspiciously take out the Wilton Cake Yearbooks (years 1977 and 1980) for my younger brother and I to look through and pick out which cake we would want for our birthdays, both upcoming in September. We would carefully pour over the pages, dreaming of moat surrounded castle cakes, giant robot cakes with pink and grey frostings, igloo cakes with penguins fishing in an icy blue pools of gel color. It took us quite a few years to determine that my Mom was really only going to make us one of three types of cake from the limited cake mold supply she had: a dome that became the dress of a doll when a clean and naked Barbie was standing in the center and frosted over with icing, a train painstakingly decorated with our pictures cut out in the windows, or a bear with his hand in mouth - the cake that all three of us had for our first birthdays. Now I know, that Mom was keeping us happily occupied for hours with those cake books, stimulating our imaginations and helping us dream of our birthdays, the most special day of the year.

I have the Wilton Yearbooks in my kitchen library, and nothing could convince me to get rid of them. I've sat with my Boy-O and carefully paged through them, helping him to be careful with the pages, since with every year, they get a little more fragile. Now, I tend not to get as excited about my birthday, not for any particular reason. I'm not all that afraid of aging, but I do feel a tinge of sadness thinking that no matter how much I wish as I blow out a candle, I can never return to my Mom's kitchen and those days of childish imagination.

Because I love to cook, I spend a good 90% of my weekly stipend on ingredients and sometimes frivolous (see: culinary torch) implements to expand my amateur abilities. I'm sure if I wanted, I could make all the excuses in the world to go out to eat, especially since my Husband loves dining out, but almost all of the time, I'd rather concoct things myself. We eat out on occasion, but rarely go to eat at fine dining establishments, saving it for such special occasions as our anniversary and my birthday.

For the past couple of years, my birthday has become a food event that I look forward to for weeks in advance. I can pick wherever I want to go, our budget is gloriously lifted for one precious evening, and I feel, at least for a few moments, like I'm a Rockefeller. Normally, I keep budget in mind, as a loose way to keep myself from being frivolous and free with cash. But because our fine dining experience is truly limited to a couple of times a year, the splurge always pays off in so many ways.

In When Harry Met Sally, (the late) Bruno Kirby was a columnist for New York Magazine who said "Restaurants are to people of the '80's what theater was to people of the '60's." I often think of this when I eat at a restaurant, especially a fine dining restaurant. Since I was just a kid in the '80's, and I lived in the rural Northwoods, I didn't do a whole lot of eating out. We ate very well, but not outside the home too often and just homemade, homegrown, home preserved and generally wholesome foods that weren't too fancy. My limited experience in the restaurant scene of the 21st century leads me to believe that it is like theater and art and gastronomy all rolled up into one.

This year, I chose Harbor House for my birthday splurge. Recently opened in July, I read this review by Carol Deptolla and tucked it away back in my mind. I sometimes enjoy reading restaurant critique, but not always so often, since I really believe that so much of an experience is relative. I mean, I know how to poach an egg for example, but the experience of ordering the egg, being served the egg, noting the placement of the egg on the plate, and eating the egg in an exceptional environment changes that lowly egg considerably. Where am I going with this? Deptolla is curious of the New England decor of the Harbor House, but I thought it was so gorgeous and well designed that it only added exponentially to my dining experience. Our food was amazing, perfectly prepared and gorgeous on the plate. Service was exceptional, as always at Bartolotta restaurants (not that I have been to them all).

I could go on and explain our meals, the way our raw oysters sat in the ice and challenged me (I ate three of them, and was not allergic, so that was a plus), that our supremely nice waitress brought me a sample of both pinot noirs by the glass, since I told her I never had tried one from France (Oregon won out - even at twice the price), and that watercress served as a condiment with beef and scallops is delicious and palate cleansing between bites. But I'll bet your experience would be different so I won't elaborate too much. I'll just say that when I get done eating and I'm so supremely happy, it's the best gift that anyone could ever give me - whether I've just sat in a window seat overlooking Lake Michigan, or at an enameled thrift store table in my best friend's kitchen.

While yesterday seemed to be full of spluge and excess, I remembered as we picked up our CSA box on the way home about the frugality that is usually my credo. In our weekly newsletter last week, our CSA mentioned that they had "grade B" onions to give away to anyone who desired. I emailed that I'd be interested after texting my Mom. Our exchange:

me: 20lb boxes of grade b onions (organic) free for the asking?!
Mom: Sure, for free you take, for pay you ask questions :)

That is the resolve with which I was raised. For free you take, and you make wonderful with. I didn't know exactly what I would get when I cut into the first onion today. They were soft, even mushy in parts. Each one was different and I found myself thinking about human nature once again as I cut into each one. Some had good centers, but layers of rot and decay surrounding them. Others had a few layers of superficial goodness, and rotting hearts. It was impossible to tell from the exteriors. Each one had a good and salvageable part, even if it took streams of tears down my cheeks as I sliced my way to the end of the box. I thought of the salad I ate at dinner last night, perfect specimens of tomatoes and red onions, thinly sliced and without blemish. How wrongly we think that to be edible, food has to be blemish free and gorgeous not steadfast and workhorse-y, with just a bit of extra work to be done to make them extraordinary.

I really had no idea what amount I would end up with! It was a fun and free adventure that reminded me that "peeling an onion, you find a lot of layers". The onions were soft, but not awful, their smells a clue that the rot was not malicious, just due to too much moisture or something. I weighed my final amount, and got 3 lbs, 10 oz of sliced, clean, organic onions, from what otherwise would have been garbage. I composted the rest, so that really nothing is wasted. I decided that I wanted to make caramelized onions.

By 9:30 this morning, all the onions went into the slow cooker with just a little olive oil. I'll add some black pepper and maybe a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or a pinch of brown sugar, maybe some thyme after they cook down a bit more. It's been about 5 hours at this writing, and they smell amazing and sweet and are filled with soft, oniony liquid that is quietly bubbling away. I check in and stir it every so often, and this cool front that has finally graced us allows open window and a sweater to be the perfect accompaniments to the syrupy onion smell that is intensifying as each hour passes today.

Nothing could be more comforting as I peel another year off of myself and go forward. Onions smell like home, that's for sure. It's good to be reminded that there is usually more to a person than meets the eye. I'm sure it is true for the baby-faced line cook I was observing from my seat in the dining theater last night. I wished that I knew I loved to cook so much when I was his age, and to be in kitchen whites in full sight of such a gorgeous view of the city and lake so early in my career.

It still seems funny to think that I can now clearly remember 20 years ago, and while I wish I could have figured out what I wanted to do about 10 ago when I was flailing my way around the college system, I have no regrets. I can peel an onion with the best of them, and I'm happy doing it. And I can do what I like with the good and scraps alike: hopefully turn it all into something good.

Veg of the Month Club: Ramps (A Wisconsin Pie)

Since innBrooklyn announced their new seasonal cooking feature, Veg of the Month Club, I've been excited. I'm reminded of my favorite college professor, an artist who staunchly believed that the more restrictions you had on a theme, the more creative you would be forced to become. I find this is true so many times, especially in the kitchen. There are so many things I'd like to try, and if I just get a nudge in the right direction, I am sometimes all the better off for it.

That was certainly the case with this Veg of the Month Club pick: Green or Spring Garlics. I have to say while I've eaten ramps, the wild growing, leek-like Spring varietal, I never cooked with them myself. Laura gave me a pint of pickled ramps one year, and that was a particular favorite! Our Winter Farmer's Market has closed, and I was unsure where to turn in the city for a few of these delicacies. I was tipped by Lo that Outpost had them at the State Street location, so we took a drive out to Wauwatosa to pick up a small bunch.

After thoroughly documenting them photographically, I tasted the lovely looking greens. I really was shocked with their mild garlic flavor, and was plotting something to make the best use of their tenderness...

As I collected my ingredients, I knew I was going to aim for a quiche (or Pie, as we Wisconsinites - or at least I - like to call them). I figured since I had wild Wisconsin ramps, why not challenge myself to a fully Wisconsin Pie? I do try to eat local and preserve what I can from other Wisconsin growers (including some of the bounty grown from my own Parent's ample garden), but don't ever really set out using ingredients that are fully from my state. My result was astounding, in my ever so humble opinion, and I can see this pie becoming a Springtime favorite.

To make less work of it, I made the crust first thing yesterday morning. Then I roasted the ramp bulbs and "baked" the bacon. To roast ramps, drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them in a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until they are soft and lightly golden. You can do the same for the bacon, but use a 400 degree oven, and watch it so it doesn't get too dark. I like to use a rack over a baking sheet, but since it was so lean, I probably could have just let it go right on the baking sheet. My beautiful bacon came from the same pig that the rest of my pork stores are from, grown on an Amish farm just down the road from my Parent's house. It was very nearly like ham, so lean and nicely flavored. I think this may be the first of the bacon I've made from the hog, and let's just say until now I thought that Comet/Honeypie had the best bacon...

I swear I did not shellac this bacon.

Wisconsin Pie could be adapted to use your local ingredients, and that is one of the most beautiful things about a quiche, chief on my list however is that they are good any way you choose to serve them: hot, room temperature, or cold. One of the first cookbooks that I ever purchased was Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. In it, she gives a "formula" for quiche that in the years since, I've used frequently. It is a very general and proportional recipe, and includes some suggestions for variations that lend themselves to great or small experimentation.

For my pie, I also decided also to use a completely unusual crust, one I've never used before: Oat Crust. It's not often, my friends, that I adapt a recipe to include more fat, but that is what I did for this one. Originally from Cooking Light, it only used 2 tablespoons of butter, and that was not enough to hold it together. (I imagined their test kitchen working with this recipe, and trying to be painfully patient in their attempts to get it right!) I love the texture of oats in most things, and this crust was no exception. It also gave me the unexpected assistance of soaking up some of the cheese and egg custard of the pie. I didn't actually notice this until I ate a piece for lunch today and could see how custard-y the bottom of the pie had become. It does add to the richness of this regal dish, and I will keep it as a quiche (or pie) base for years to come. (I will also note that the oats I used may or may not have been from Wisconsin. My Mom traded me many quarts of rolled oats - she seals them in canning jars after purchasing 50 pounds of oats from her co-op.)

Wisconsin Pie (a.k.a. Ramp Quiche)

9 in. pie crust of your choice, unbaked (Oat Crust recipe below)
4 oz. mild Swiss cheese, grated (Country Connections Sweet Amish Swiss Cheese)
2 oz. crispy, baked bacon (5-6 slices, but you can use any leftover for garnish - or eating while you wait)
1 bunch roasted ramp bulbs, sliced (there were 7 in my bunch)
Strips of ramp leaves, cut in half or thirds
4 eggs (Amish raised, farm near my Parent's house)
1/2 c. sour cream (my homemade - from Crystal Ball Farms milk)
1 c. buttermilk (my homemade - also Crystal Ball milk)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Into pie crust, layer cheese, bacon, ramps, and latticed ramp leaves. Whisk together eggs, sour cream and buttermilk and pour over the top. Dust with black pepper (but omit any salt until you taste it, I didn't need to add any due to the bacon and cheese). Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is puffed and lightly browned around the edges, and a knife poked into the center comes out clean. Let stand out of the oven for at least 20 minutes if you can help it. The longer you let it sit, the easier it is to get neat slices.

Oat Crust

1 cup rolled oats
1/3 c. oat bran
4 T. (half a stick) cold butter, cut into cubes
3-4 T. ice water

Combine oats, oat bran and butter (and a pinch of salt if you like) in a food pro, and pulse to combine into a homogenized "coarse pebble" mixture. The rolled oats will not be fully processed to a flour state. Add ice water and continue pulsing until the dough holds together when pinched, adding a bit more water if needed. (Since oats are gluten free, you don't have to worry too much about over processing...). Gather dough into a ball (I like to dump it into a plastic bag, and form it into a ball and then a disc this way), and roll out between two sheets of waxed paper.

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate with butter (a bit of insurance against sticking), remove the top sheet of waxed paper, and carefully use the bottom wax paper to help you fit the crust into the pie plate. Fill and bake! I'd bet this crust would also be good pre-baked and filled with a custard or pudding...but it may be a little temperamental since it is a bit on the fragile side.

I was fortunate to have Sasa for my Pie dinner, since my Husband is not crazy about this kind of thing... but I do have a feeling if he would have had some, I may have won him over! It was so rich and delicious, I can't imagine anyone tasting it and then disliking it. It had a quiet garlic base, and the bits of bacon were a perfect thing to include to highlight them, though I guess I would be hard pressed to find something that bacon didn't improve.

Because I was so proud of my homemade sour cream, I made Sasa try a bit on the side. A subsequent serving then had to be served with it directly on top...

And wouldn't you know that the two of us ate nearly a whole pie? There were only 2 pieces left, one of which was eaten for lunch today. We just couldn't stop. It was that good.

So many times, restaurant food leaves me so full and heavy. Though this pie contained more rich ingredients than I ever usually use in one place and at one time, it somehow translated as light. Perhaps it was the spring essence of the ramp? Perhaps it was chatting over the slabs of pie for a couple of hours? Either way, I am proud of my state and her ability to healthily produce for us who love to eat and cook, as I'm certain so many others are proud of theirs.

If you have a spring garlic recipe, why not consider sending it over to innBrooklyn for the Veg of the Month Club? There are still a few days left, if you need to be properly "nudged" into making a recipe. Sometimes, that is the best way to cook!

Theories of Relativity

On January 1, though I was looking forward to it, I was nervous about leaving home and spending three days in NYC. I've always loved travel, and would consider myself somewhat adventurous. But when it comes down to it, I get nervous.

I know I'm a bit food-snobbish when these lobby apples looked too artificially green and waxed for my liking... as if the W manufactured them just for me!

I almost went to New York last year when I was invited, and did consider going. I just couldn't leave then, due to my self-affliction of dutiful homemaker. After my friends met there and called me, I ruefully discovered that it was Restaurant Week - I guess that may have changed my mind had I known beforehand. I did feel a little bad for not going, but the Boy-O was only 2 then, and this Mother does have a hard time letting go a little.

When I was single, I
tried to travel as much as my pocketbook would allow. I'd visit E a couple times a year in Boston, and certainly knew my own state like the back of my hand. I was never quite as adventurous as some of my other friends who have spent many portions of time abroad in many corners of the globe, but I was always the one who had a job or 3 at a time. Now that I'm getting older, I fully understand the term "mis-spent youth".

When plans were made this year, I thought it is indeed time I let myself go a little. I know that the Boy-O would be in good hands, (and requires
only cold cereal for sustenance), and the prospects of going and doing whatever I feel like was too tempting to resist. Not to mention, that everything seems better in NYC - at least in the 24 hours I had spent there before this was the case.

I was only in New York one other time at the tail end of one of the Boston visits with E, and only spent a whirlwind
few hours in Le Grande Pomme. As suspected, this trip did not disappoint. Food and drink seems better, even the tap water colder and more delicious than dismal old Milwaukee... but strange things abound in my brain when things abroad seem too good to be true: I so truly am glad I am from and can go back to the Midwest.

New York is a spectacle, no matter that it was freezing, I had blisters from wearing worn out Dansko's, and was so tired I actually was at a loss for words on our flight back (which was, of course, 2 hours delayed).
I'll be posting a slew of the 500+ photographic documents over at flickr when I have some downloading chance, but I'll include a few highlights here as they relate to the foods seen and consumed.

In my opinion, everything is relative. While 3 days doing and eating whatever you wish and seeing throngs of bystanders, walkers, joggers, museum goers (or Humans, as they are also known), is liberating both visually and mentally, there is something comforting and quite happy about boring, day to day life in Wisconsin. I have always boasted of my Wisconsin upbringing, and though I have a smattering of ethnicity pulsating lightly beneath my skin, I am first and foremost a 3 generation Wisconsinite (through my Dad's side - Mom's side hailed from Chicagoland). I can honestly say I daydream of East Coast life, have California envy and sometimes wonder if I ever make it to Texas if I'd ever want to return to the snowy north - but I think our state has so much to offer (and so much to eat) that I'd really rather be nowhere else on earth.

On New Year's Day, everyone slept in. I know this because after a long wait at the check-in at the W, we thought our room was ready. We were in the elevator and approaching our room when a sincere apology in the guise of a dark grey suit greeted us. Sincere apology resulted in free drinks for us while we continued to wait for our room. Only with E can such fortuitous happenstance occur. Once I was with her in Milwaukee, and we were in the right place at the right time and got 2 entire meals (5 courses! With wine parings! Thanks, Shaker's!) for free since they had 2 pre-payed no shows... if that seems fantastic, at the same meal we won drawings for another free course meal for 2. I took Sasa to that one since E wasn't going to be in town again. This was a good omen right off the bat!

As soon as we checked in, we hit the trail in the late afternoon - pavement happily licking the bottoms of our heals as we rushed down 5th Avenue. Destination: Bergdorf Goodman shop windows. The Fantastic Mr. Fox window displays were impeccable, as if Wes Anderson personally directed each scene as a still-life, and as soon as the streets cleared you would suspect animal creatures to go on eating that roast duck you see above. It was difficult to tear yourself away, since it seemed you would miss something in the scene.

A bit further down were these shellacked pastries, in the most incredible Alice in Wonderland displays. I wonder if they were edible at one time, they still looked good enough to eat.

Our meal that evening certainly was. E had these miraculous things called Groupon's, so we checked out some places that we otherwise would never have happened upon. (On research of the link I see they have this here in Milwaukee! Signing up as we speak...) Now this is one thing that I would never understand about living in New York City: How in the world do you ever know where to go to eat? When I asked Google, according to NYC & Company, New York's tourism board, there are 18,696 restaurants in New York City (the five boroughs). You can probably find food just about every five feet, and I'm willing to wager that a high percentage of it is stuff you'd actually want to eat.

We were fortuitous to find Maya, a modern Mexican restaurant that (sorry, Milwaukee) puts our Americanized Mexican restaurants to shame.

The next morning, we had requisite bagels from just around the corner. There was nowhere to sit in the establishment, so we used the hotel lounge. Really good bagels. Really good full-fat jalapeno cream cheese on mine... I think they each weighed a full pound, and we all saved half for lunch. If you are going to have a NY bagel, get the full-fat cream cheese, that's all I'm going to say. In normal life, the only time I eat full fat cream cheese is in the occaisional Philadelphia Roll at a sushi place. I don't know what I'm missing! Well, maybe I do (fat and cholesterol is such a downer).

The visual feasting that can be had at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is truly staggering. We only spent about 2 hours, I think, and were hung up for at least 15 minutes on this one painting (A Mosque - 1872, Alberto Pasini). This one corner can make the cut for a food blog due to the melons littering the ground. It reminded me of GOP, since she had lived in Mississippi, and said that down south melons were routinely dropped on the ground to open them just prior to consumption.

The next day, we ate accidentally at CraftBar - one of Tom Colicchio's restaurants. I was not able to remember his name until I looked it up for the link, but I knew that I had read about him, and swear I checked out one of his (non-Top Chef) cookbooks from my library but did not see it on Amazon. This butter was mixed with maple syrup. No normal butter in Wisconsin has ever tasted like this, and why has it not when we are the dairy state? The closest butter in Wisconsin epiphany I've had was with Red Rose butter I found in pound blocks, but I do confess that outside of baking, I rarely slather butter on anything unless I'm in a restaurant. Above is also my amazing Eggs Benedict with Roasted Potatoes and Cippolini Onions. I can poach a pretty mean egg, but never have I made one as beautiful as this one.

Earlier in the day, I found this 1941 copy of The American Woman's Cook Book. It was in such good condition that it was worth lugging it's 3 pound weight around for the rest of the day. I'm enjoying it's "color plates", brought to me by "The Carnation Company, the producer of Irradiated Carnation Milk". I'm going to have to research exactly how much a "yeast cake" was, since there are many interesting bread recipes calling for them.

I think New York restores youth. It is bigger and more bragadocious than any other city I've ever visited. It decides that it is the greatest place in the world, and it's residents full-heartedly agree. It has culture and art and both excesses and want. But like any culture or place, people are people and generally are happy to talk to you. And in the case of New York, recommend other places to see and other things to do. One gallery owner chatted with us for 15 minutes and told us what exhibits were on at which museums and what she would avoid (Art of the Samurai - "too educational", I think was what she said).

On New Year's Day when the lyrics to U2's song typically overwhelm my head - and they usually can be overheard somewhere on popular radio -

"And so we're told this is the golden age

And gold is the reason for the wars we wage"

I went to the Golden City and could imagine swinging from the stars in Grand Central Station like Peter Lake did in my favorite novel ever. Two days later, I snuck back into my house, late at night and kissed my sleeping boys on their heads before trying to grasp all that I saw and did that was so outside of the pattern of my normal life. The next day, I woke up and started to make some bread.

(Wisconsin) Food Bloggers have the best recipes...

In my newness to food blogging, I think I neglected to search out food bloggers closer to home for too long. I remedied that last week when I googled Wisconsin food bloggers, and eventually found Peef and Lo at Burp! Where Food Happens. True to my form, I immediately found several recipes that I bookmarked for later uses, and some for beets that I couldn't wait to make. After my bean obsession weekend, I was happy for some veg food, and Sunday evening I decided to make the beet risotto from their site. (Note that you'll have to click a recipe link after reading the post! They are great cooks, and Computer Savvy!)

This photo was actually taken by me. Peef and Lo do have a similar one on their beet borscht post... I guess there are just so many ways to photograph a plethora of beets. I got these three varieties from Highcross Farm.

I couldn't wait to try this recipe. That Highcross Farm produce is so overwhelmingly lovely, I couldn't dream of tossing away the beet greens, and this recipe incorporates them all for what I'm imagining to be a super healthy, antioxidant red risotto. I opted for using toasted walnuts and blue cheese, but they list several nice parings for cheeses, we are in Wisconsin after all...

If you love beets, you will really love this dish! I love the combination that I used, and though I made it Sunday, it is still good today. I'm betting, I can get a couple more days out of the leftovers, and I'm glad I did have a taker for some of the bounty. Had I been in a beet loving household, I probably would have made this as a side alongside another dish, since it was so rich, but I'm not really sure what. It has such

a specific beety taste, that it would require something on the milder side to complement it. It was fantastic on its own.

I love how easy it is to connect to other foodies now that I decided to de-hermitize myself and go online. While I wouldn't

say I'm introverted, I do tend to stick to myself - and sometimes I feel a little bad about obsessing over food with my Husband, who tends to eat to get full (mostly on the non-picky side, and mostly on the non-veg side) and then prefers to obsess over sporting events. I'm glad that we are different, but I'm glad to share some of my excitement with others that appreciate it in the same way I do. I catch myself wondering if my little boy-o will take after me in the beet loving department, however. I would be so happy if he had a broad little palette in the near future... and I could have someone to eat beets and leftovers with.

We are heading into the great Northwoods tomorrow through the weekend to visit family. Cooking will most certainly ensue. I'm planning a couple of bring along suppers to share and a couple pounds of Alterra Coffee for my Uncle. It somehow always feels like I'm going home to enter the piney wilderness of my youth. It's funny that when I'm in the city, I love the benefits of grocery shopping and social activities...but give me two or three days back where I came from and I find myself aching never to return here. A paradox I think, but good to know that the wilds are still in me, somewhere. Even if most of the time, they are hidden from view.