Thursday, February 28, 2008

And the sea shall run white with his rage!

I am not a blind adherent of the Organic movement. I'm sure I'll rant about this at some point (I can feel the thought rising, but it is not yet fully grown) but for now let me say that while I'm skeptical of a lot of the standards of Organics, I am a big fan of bovine products that come from Grass-Fed cows.

Now, I'm a foodie. I think about where my sustenance comes from. The problem with this is that we're smarter than we are rich. I'd LOVE to spend my days eating only grass-fed and organic meat products but we simply can't afford them. However, a few months ago we decided that there was one upgrade that we can afford.

Of all the things in our diet, Beenie and I love our milk. It's the beverage of choice in our house. When I was working in Appleton, I found a local dairy that offered milk in glass bottles. I picked some up on our lunch hour and WOW. My mind still reels at what, exactly, is it about the container that makes the difference, but the difference is defiantly there. So for a while we started picking up half a dozen, half gallon bottles once a week or so... but obviously when we left, we no longer had that option.

About a month or so ago, I stumbled upon Blue Marble Micro Dairy, who not only offered grass-fed milk in glass bottles but also... get this... home delivery.

Not only do I get my good milk... I don't have to lug heavy boxes any further than the distance from the front porch to the fridge. It's not cheap, but it's not prohibitively expensive either. We decided that, for the health benefits and the upgrade in flavor (it's freakin' AWESOME) the price difference was worth it.

The cool part is that Blue Marble (named after my favorite photo in the world and what I believe to be the most significant photo in the world) offers not only awesome milk but all sorts of of other locally produced artisanal products as well, all available for delivery (you may notice the block of cheese in with our milk).

So, last night before I went to bed, I put out our empty glass bottles in a milk crate tucked in our marine cooler. This morning when I woke up, I went outside and pulled it in. Viola! Our weekly supply is replenished! Sometime during the early morning, through the cold and biting wind, the Milkman came! How cool is that? I have a Milkman!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fish Tank!

Don't ask me why, but this is the lobby fish tank at my job. It's about 10 wide and three feet high.

Apparently, when the building I work in used to be a health club, the tank contained a small shark. Now it's just normal, but pretty, fishies.

These are also the first pictures I'm posting from my new digital camera, from which I hope to produce a good deal of food porn and other content once I get better at using it.

I've been instructed to post these pictures by my friend Quizzy and I have learned that it's much easier to simply obey when Quizzy tells you to do something. (most of the time...)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Work Without Hope

Work Without Hope
ALL Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrighten'd, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities... and a Town.

For various reasons, I've always found myself pondering the age old Nature Vs. Nurture debate. Is who you are dominated by your personal experience or by the inherited genetic traits you were born with?

As a good Taoist, I tend to think it is a balance between the two. You can have a tendency twords a certain behavior, but if your environment does not facilitate said behavior, it's unlikely to reach full development... or something like that. Either way, where you came from does have a distinct effect on who you are if it is not the dominating influence.

For the majority of my years, I lived in a little Midwestern town called Beaver Dam. Now, if you have lived your life in a big city, you would probably find my little hometown as profoundly limited and provincial. Over time, I have come to be incredibly forgiving of it's shortcomings and fond of it's unique qualities. Like any hometown boy, anyone else's estimations are swimming upstream against a flood of happy childhood memories. We had one Italian restaurant, one Chinese restaurant, one McDonald's (until recently), one BK, one Hardee's (still my darkhorse favorite). We had a little local pizza place Park Plaza Pizza that has a rabid following and whose little brown bags of deep fried goodness fueled me through innumerable late night gaming sessions and are still frequently the subject of my late night cravings. It was just small enough, just big enough and located in a nicely centralized location that was within day-tripping range to Chicago, Milwaukee and even the Twin Cities. It was also within easy range of so many of Wisconsin's most beautiful parks and wilderness areas I can't begin to tell you.

Understand that I am a Wisconsinite. I love my state. I love it for the proliferation of wilderness, the sturdy, kind personality of my fellow Cheeseheads, our heartfelt love of our home sports teams and the wealth of natural beauty waiting around just about every corner.

I lived the majority of my years thus far in Beaver Dam, on a quiet, residential back street, dotted with at least 8 other kids my age. It was fun, it was safe and it really was the best childhood that anyone could ever ask for. Nothing bad every happened and a lot of the current confidence I feel flows from my ever-calm inner child who has been treated well and sheltered from life's more unpleasant aspects. Later on we moved out of our 3 bedroom house and, after a brief 6 month stay in a really bad apartment, we found ourselves in a mobile home. Yup, that's right, I was Midwest trailer trash... suck it. When I moved out on my own, my first, fondly remembered apartment, it was in Beaver Dam.

My hometown served, as many hometowns do, as something of a safe cocoon for me to grow in. From there I could take brief forays out, beyond it's secure borders to explore my world, knowing I had a secure home base to return to. Like a swimmer, dipping in a toe, then a foot, then a leg to acclimatize. It was just the right size to fit me and just small enough to easily escape from.

Now, if you would have asked me where I would be making my escape to... or, more to the point, where I wanted to make make my escape to if I had my druthers, right down at the end of that list would have been Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.

Growing up, you heard stories about Fond Du Lac, the blue collar, ass-end of the Fox Cities and criminal hotbed (in comparison with Beaver Dam... which isn't saying much.) When I got my drivers license, my Mother, in a rare act of cautionary guidance, actually warned me to stay away from Fond Du Lac, especially the notorious Lakeside Park.

I actually had a mental list of where I wanted to live in Wisconsin and by the time came to leave the nest, it had been whittled down to two locations... Madison (of course) and Appleton Wisconsin. Appleton is also one of the Fox Cities but it is everything that Fondy isn't. Urban to Fondy's farm/factory feel, professional vs. the Blue Collar Merc Marine crowd. Appleton was expanding, hip and at the economic leading edge of the state economy. The expansion that is taking place there even today is incredible. Over the years I've watched the city double in size and exponentially increase in sophistication. From a Paper Factory town to a bright, shiny retail center with a thriving downtown. Fond Du Lac had a pretty stunted growth trend, was still relying on factory work for the bulk of it's income in this day an age and suffered from a poorly developed downtown.

I didn't have a lot of choice about moving to Fondy. A very good job opportunity surfaced, my first office job that lead me away from my factory jobs and twords my future in the IT industry. Not only did it surface for me, but it was already a reality for Beenie as well.

And so, off we went. Part, parcel and moving truck... up state to a town I didn't want anything to do with, I had no interest in and, ultimately what did it for me, I had no expectations of.

I can't tell you where along the line I went from reluctant and downright surly to out and out fond of my new home.

Were you ever to move to Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, you would quickly learn a few things about living there. First is the very low bullshit factory in the general populace. It is a Blue Collar town. They have one of Wisconsin's last great factories and a large service industry. The rent is cheap so a lot of people who work in the upper Fox cities, live in Fond Du Lac. This leads to some interesting amenities. One of my favorites was the fact that just about every convenience store also offered a hot deli/takeout service. My local gas station offered a full dinner, usually stuff like fried chicken or lasagna, two sides, a roll and desert for about 6 or 7 bucks. It wasn't GREAT food, but it was above average for flavor, filling and cheap... my favorite combinations. There was also not much in the way of customer service. It was generally understood that a grouchy, sore factory work had no stomach for a crystal bright, chipper salesperson at any time you were likely to encounter them. Therefore, contrary to popular sales trends, they operated pretty much on a "if you want something you'll ask for it" mentality. The upshoot of this is that a work-weary factory worker could have easy access to a decent hot-cooked meal on his way home from work with the minimum of grief. (Note this works well for phone-weary call center workers as well).

There is no doubt, however, of what will endear it to me forever.

I'm not going to write about Irish's Bar right now. My bar deserves it's own entry. Suffice to say, Anthony Bourdain (one of my personal foodie guru's) has 5 criteria for the judging of a great bar.

1. It must be local. (Yes)
2. It must possess a maniacal bartender. (Oh Gawd yes)
3. A Good Jukebox. (Not only yes, but Pat had a penchant for Sinatra)
4. Good Bar Food. (Sadly, no... frozen pizzas and pretzels)
5. A Buyback policy. (Not officially, but Pat will throw you a few free shots if he likes you, especially at closing time)

4/5 is good enough for me.

Having a personal watering hole in any town connects you in ways indescribable. You meet the local characters, you feel the flavor, you hear the goings-on.

Fond Du Lac turned out out to be a decent fit for me despite my initial reservations. I found myself thinking "Okay, I didn't want to wind up here... but looking around, I don't think anybody wanted to wind up here. We're just kinda stuck here, making the best of it."

After a year or so in Fond Du Lac, quite out of the blue, the wind changed again. I would up briefly working another job north of Appleton and a full hour commute away. With changing gas prices and a fluctuating job market, we came down to a choice. It would have been better for us if we picked up shop in Fond Du Lac and moved north to Appleton. Beenie could have gotten pretty much the same job she had in Fondy at the company where I worked and I could have knocked out my commute, saving both gas money and wear and tear on Beucephalus my faithful steed.

Around this time, our long time friends who previously lived in the same apartment building we did, picked up shop and moved to Madison for another job, leaving us quite alone. Moving to Appleton would have meant moving further away from my friends and family in Beaver Dam and the friends I had recently made in Fond Du Lac... leaving me stranded once again in Terra Incognita.

Every now and then in your life, one must roll the dice. I'm not to sure how the idea first came up, but it occurred to Beenie and me that since she had to look for a new job if we moved, why don't we just both look for new jobs and move someplace we could settle down at for an extended period of time that wasn't so fucking far away from everyone. Over the course of a week, the idea turned from "yeah,maybe,someday" to "price apartments, hit the want-ads, look out Madison here we come". Thanks to a well-timed financial windfall, we had the means and defying further odds, we both swiftly landed new jobs, even managing a decent step up in pay for me.

It looked like heaven. Fresh from career success and newfound confidence, here we were, moving to my long dreamt "golden castle" at the end of the road... Madison.
It was the most painless move I have ever made. It all happened so quickly I hardly had time to think. From thought to deed was barely two months. Suddenly, WHAM, here we were, cracking the top off a new town and finally getting to see if what my long desired destination was really about.

Nothing is EVER as it seems in this life. We all have our perceptions colored by time, distance and quite often our own desires. I think I even mentioned to my friend Tiki that things went so well that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it did drop, it left Beenie unemployed and started a strange, six-month slog where our lives, our plans and our hopes were on hold. It also left us far worse off financially than we ever thought we'd be again.

Madison is a very expensive town to live in. It has the highest per capita income in the state. It's got very low crime, very high living standards and an absolute plethora of civic and commercial entertainment sources... all of which, we can't afford. Back in Fondy, we made a pretty good living. Our three bedroom apartment was about $200 cheaper than our two bedroom rented condo in Madison. Even with my increase in pay, we're not living nearly as high on the hog as we have been.

As I said previously, Madison is a town of professionals. It's white collar and educated or at least pedantic enough to fake education. It's the Capitol, the home of the UW and often voted one of the best places in the country to live. You should feel privileged to live and work here and many people do. What you shouldn't do is ACT privileged... which, unfortunately, many people do as well.

This also means that while there are plenty of amenities for the haves, there is not much left for the have-nots... or at least the have-only-sometimes like Beenie and me.

As time goes along we're starting to dig past, little by little, the glossy, Money Magazine cover of Madison and are catching a few glimmers of a richer, more down-to-earth subculture underneath but as it stands... and I never thought I'd say this... I miss Fond Du Lac. I miss the reduced bullshit and I miss my Bar.

Madison may be my home now, but it isn't doing a whole lot to make me love it. 2007 was a hard year, full of victories and setbacks. Hopefully, we've paid our dues and earned our place in this town now. Beenie is now fully employed again at what seems like a good, solid company and is busy making new friends and connections. Spring is fast approaching and with new life comes new hope.

Let us hope our new home does not disappoint.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Fruitless Bitching of the Wintersmith

There is at least 10 inches of standing snow in some places. It's turned into that hard, crusty, dense stuff by days of minor thaws and nightly freezes, combined with layer upon layer upon layer. Seemingly every day we get at least a few millimeters more at the very least. We've picked up a few inches more than we haven't during the last few weeks. If not for a late December thaw that lasted about a week and a half, we'd still have all the snow we started getting in early November. It's mid-February but last weekend the temperature hit -5 mid day like it was mid January. One of those clear, bitter cold days that cut through all your layers and hit you like a frosty brick to the face when you step out of your warm condo.

Despite all this, I'm starting to get... the bug.

After the last two years of moving around from city to city, we've finally arrived in what we have agreed (by we, I mean my wife, Beenie, and me.... not the we in the royal sense... welcome to the Blog) would be the final stop on our track. We are finally here in Madison.

Growing up 30 minutes down the road in a large town which is now regarded by some as a suburb (despite miles and miles of cornfields betwixt them) of Madison, I always looked at this city as the shining beacon at the end of the road. The Golden Castle. It was bustling, cosmopolitan, far more socially adventurous than my little white-bread corner of farm country. In High School, going to State Street was the ultimate cool thing. I've been coming here for years. Driving in for a night on the town at bars and restaurants I never had access to at home. I had my first drink here. I had my first Sushi here (sadly, at a Sushi Ya that is no longer there).

Life, as usual, has it's way of unfolding as it will and a year into our arrival, Madison hasn't been everything we thought it would be.

I've always liked Madison because it is the middle porridge. Not to hot, not to cold... just right. It's a small city, but it's got so many resources at it's fingertips. The UW, the State Capitol, the gigantor medical industry that this town supports... it's huge. But it's still tucked in, wrapped around and intertwined with four beautiful lakes. One of those clever towns that decided long ago to restrict the height of it's buildings based on the tippy top of the Capitol Dome. This is also a town that values it's greenspace, so between the parks, the lakes and the lack of big skyscrapers means that... well.. the wind still gets in here. Combined with the fact that it's still a small city and it sits between the rolling cornfields to the east and the rolling hills of the driftless zone to the west means that this town is just right for an educated, eclectic city dweller who likes good food and 24 hour grocery stores, but still remembers his childhood tramping around the woods and countryside.

What I did not know about Madison however, was that this town, for all it's liberal political glory, is ground central for the new so-called liberal/whiny bitch/entitlement yuppie crowd. A lot of professionals, working in a lot of office buildings, buying into a LOT of woolly thinking. So we've got a lot of snake oil being sold, and the organic/vegi/vegan crowd has to be represented at every restaurant bar none. This gets awfully annoying to the offal eating foodie of my soul.

Combine that with a major financial/personal setback for Beenie not long after we moved here and our first year in Madison was nothing we thought it would be.

But, like the stubborn asses we are (a trait that is both the blessing and the curse of our existences), we have vowed to bravely soldier on.

And so, I have not let the time go dully by me. My long, frozen exile this winter has given me time to rethink my strategy. Having previously drawn the majority of my entertainment from an erstwhile group of friends who are now 2 moves, 30 mins and a paradigm shift behind me, I have decided to strike out into new territory and start getting back to the things that made me happy and healthy as a kid... the woods.

It's been a while, but I've scoured the internet for a local Mushroom hunting group, a Wild Edibles class in northern Wisconsin and I've concocted a long term plan to go hunting for bigger game this fall. All I need now... is the weather.

A week and a half back, Beenie and I walked outside on a Saturday to blue skies and 45 degrees. The wind was still cold and damp but the sun was making the most of it and you could hear water dripping and dribbling from everywhere. It hit me then, like a wild tingle up my spine. The first summer high. Blue skies and warm air mean summer. In Winter, it's only clear when it's painfully cold. That was, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the first shot of the war. Summer has arrived and the battle has begun.

Since then, the Wintersmith has been whining like someone tried to take away his toy. Snow, more snow, bitter cold for a week. But bitch as much as he does, once again, the tide of inevitability will win. The thaw will come and come soon and Winter will break. Like a sailor preparing to leave port, I've started checking the barometer. I'm reading all the long term weather forecasts and planing how to make good my escape. It's time to leave the condo and get mud on my boots.