Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
06 March, 2014
Mmmm...Kasza Jęczmienna po Staropolsku
With the weather getting warmer, albeit slowly, I'll be transitioning to lighter fare from dishes like this.
This is a Polish casserole called kasza jęczmienna po staropolsku
which is apparently translates, more or less, as Old Polish Barley, Bean, and Sausage Casserole. It's a tiered affair where layers of barley alternate with those of a mix of navy beans, kielbasa, onion, a bit of tomato sauce, and plum jam. Well, it should have been plum jam, anyway. Plum is apparently not very popular and I couldn't find it at Woodman's when I was shopping for this recipe. (I found Smucker's plum jelly a week or two later.)
Underneath that sour cream baked-on goodness, you get this:
Although tasty, I screwed up and made too little of the bean-kielbasa mixture. There's only so much hot sauce can do against an onslaught of barley. Next time it'll be double the mix.
04 March, 2014
Happy Pączki Day 2014
It being Fat Tuesday, Poles and those of Polish ancestry are celebrating by eating pączki, Polish filled doughnuts without holes. Lane's Bakery
here in Madison has them today.
A few days I ago I listened to podcast
from Polskie Radio about Pączki Day which was interesting. They have a show on this every year, in fact. Last year the hostesses decried the trend of baked pączki. This year they noted that rose hip marmalade is the traditional filling ("it has to be rose hip marmalade") and one of the women remarked that a paczek with custard filling is "truly not a paczek."
I also learned that pączki are nicknamed "angels' wings" and that folklore has it that, if you don't eat a paczek, you'll have bad luck the rest of the year. Oh, and Fat Thursday seems to be the big day for Poles to eat pączki instead of Fat Tuesday.
Fanning the Spark Kindled by the Whispering Embers: A Rauch Oktoberfest by Valkyrie Brewing
Back in January I first noticed that Valkyrie Brewing
(formerly Viking) was distributing down here in Madison again when I saw a lone bottle of their Rubee red lager in the singles section at Woodman's East. The following week I saw four-packs there of two or three flavors. Then I discovered that Riley's
carried a beer that Woodman's didn't - Whispering Embers
. A quick trip to Riley's and I was hope with a four-pack.
Whispering Embers is a smoked Oktoberfest and, if the brewery's webpage is to be believed, it is released in September when it should be instead of in July when most other breweries are switching from their fall to winter seasonals. A rauch Märzen seems like a splendid idea to my mind. Märzen is the German word for March which was when many beers were brewed there back in the dim and distant past before modern refrigeration. After March it became too cold to brew so these beers were held in cold storage over the warmer months and thusly had a bit more alcohol in them than other brews. The emphasis is on the malt here.
When I poured this beer, I was rather surprised at the color. Don't get me wrong, it's a gorgeous gold but Märzens are usually darker and more copper in color. It was clear as glass with a smattering of large bubbles making their way up to the rather small head which lingered for a while. (I poured fairly aggressively to get a bigger head but failed.) Ooh, the aroma. That ham-like smoky goodness was most prominent and came first. It was joined by a bit of sweetness which reminded me of apricot.
That smokiness in the nose was also on full display in the taste. Despite the color I found that the beer had bready sweetness and stone fruit flavors which were in harmonious balance with the smoke. Valkyrie says they get the smoked malt in Whispering Embers from Bamberg, Germany, home of the rauchbier. The only German rauchbiers I've had come from Schlenkerla
who also have a rauch märzen. Valkyrie's take on the style isn't as smoky as Schlenkerla's but the flavor is still much more prominent than you find in – using a local example – Karben4's smoked porter, NightCall.
The light color of the beer did translate into a lighter mouthfeel than your normal Oktoberfest and slightly less alcohol as well – only 5% A.B.V. It still had plenty of malt flavor but it lacks the toffee flavors of many Märzens and so went down more easily. You get a bit of herbal hop flavor as the beer reaches the back of your tongue which becomes more grassy and more prominent in the dry finish. These hop flavors at the end make a nice contrast to all the smoke and sweetness.
Whispering Embers is a fantastic brew. A tasty twist on the conventional Oktoberfest and even more positive alliterations. Wonderful on a chilly winter night, the beer's relatively light body would no doubt go well during the other seasons as well.It's malt forward and has plenty of smoky goodness. Plus there's a bit of hops for contrast and dryness in the finish. The only thing that could make it better would be some rye in the grain bill.
Junk food pairing: Whispering Embers pairs well with processed cheese food products with either salami or bacon.
As I mentioned above, Valkyrie used to be Viking Brewing. I toured the brewery a few years ago and you can read about that adventure here
A couple weeks ago Robin Shepard of Isthmus wrote about
the return of Valkyrie to Madison's shelves. (Riley's has a wonderful selection, including bombers.) Reading this:
Lee still makes beer on nearly the same system that he self-fabricated from used dairy equipment in 1994... Valkyrie Brewing is located in a century-old building that's almost entirely concrete and brick, so all seasons present heating or cooling challenges, and that dictates Lee's brewing schedule. "Summers are hard because you have to fight the building; in the winter it's too cold to make ales," says Lee. Therefore, Lee focuses on lagers in the winter and ales in the summer.
...made me think that it's time to bring back the terms "microbrew" and "microbrewer". Why use the presence of adjuncts in your flagship beer to determine whether you're craft or not? If you built your own brewing equipment and brew lagers in the winter and ales in the summer because your building doesn't have modern HVAC to compensate, I think you are a "craft" brewer in a way that, say, Kirby Nelson at Wisconsin Brewing Company isn't.
Here's Valkyrie's brewmaster Randy Lee standing by one of his brewing vessels.
And here's Kirby doing the same.
This isn't to disparage Kirby. I have been drinking and enjoying his beers for well over 20 years now.
However, there are connotations associated with the word "craft" that I think most people would agree don't apply to a table made of particle board and glue in a mega-factory in China. But what is more "craft-like": A) a table made out of solid wood in a small factory with robotic arms that move and cut all the wood with precision or B) an Amish carpenter with a workshop full of handsaws and a foot-operated table router where no two biscuit joints are exactly alike?
Randy Lee may be a craft brewer in my eyes while Kirby Nelson is a microbrewer, but they both make some great beer.
03 March, 2014
Riots in Stoughton, Minnesota Over Obama's Nominee for Ambassadorship to Norway
Norwegian-Americans in Stoughton and all over Minnesota are marching down the streets accompanied by Grieg on the hardanger fiddle, burning and pillaging as they go.
OK, not quite. Those Norwegians are a bit too mild-mannered to riot. But they are highly unamused
by Obama's choice of George Tsunis for ambassador to Norway.
In Minnesota, home to the largest Norwegian population in the U.S., Norwegian organizations and public officials reacted with alarm to a series of bumbling answers and non-answers that George Tsunis, a Long Island businessman who raised $850,000 for the president’s reelection campaign, gave to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to basic questions about the Nordic nation’s economy, culture and political system.
Tsunis, who has never been to Norway, blanked in response to a question from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, about how to increase trade with the oil-rich Nordic nation. And when Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, asked him what he thought about the anti-immigration Progress Party that is now a member of the governing coalition in parliament, Tsunis claimed that the party was a fringe element that the government had been “quick to denounce.”
Representatives of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of Norway, both of which are based in Minneapolis, as well as Minnesota’s two U.S. Senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobucher, have voiced dismay at Tsunis’ apparent unfamiliarity with the nation in which he hopes to represent American interests.
And a stop by the Norwegian-American Genealogical Center on W. Main St. in Madison revealed no shortage of disappointment from the local Norwegian community to the perceived slight.
“It doesn’t sound like he knows anything about the culture,” said Solveig Quinney, the head librarian at the center, which keeps records on Norwegian immigration to the U.S. and holds classes on Norwegian culture. “He kept referring to the prime minister as ‘president.’”
Speaking of Norway, when is Pioneer
going to open here in the States? And two co-workers of mine are considering starting a lefse wrap food cart. One mentioned meatballs so I asked what the difference between Norwegian and Swedish meatballs were thinking that perhaps one had more nutmeg or some juniper but instead he replied, "Norwegian ones are better." I have helpfully suggested that reindeer and lingonberry be added to the menu.
19 February, 2014
Capital to Fire Up the Pork Rocket Tonight
From Capital Brewery's Twitter feed
Tonight @The_Side_Door try some bacon infused Maibock and mint infused Dark Voyage. Also you can enter to win Bockfest tickets for this Sat
Hopefully putting bacon in a hop rocket for bacon-infused beer will not become a trend. Why ruin a perfectly good maibock?
German Culture Making a Comeback in Milwaukee
The food and drink part, anyway.
Above is the shiny, new dining room at Cafe Bavaria
which opened in Wauwatosa earlier this week. It is the latest German food establishment to open its doors in the greater Milwaukee area recently and join fixtures like Mader's, Karl Ratzsch's, and Kegel's Inn. Cafe Bavaria is a more contemporary and upscale place than the mainstays. You can get schnitzel but also Bavarian pho. (?!)
The beer menu looks good. You've got your typical helleses and weissbiers but also two Kölsches (one on tap that you can get in the proper - .2L – sized glass), an altbier, a radler, three rauchbiers, and even a German pale ale. To their credit, there is also a selection of Sprecher and Lakefront brews as well.
The north side's Estabrook Beer Garden
, a public bier garten like those in Munich, turns three this year. Estabrook is a sister establishment to the Old German Beer Hall
in Milwaukee which opened back in 2005.
And that's not the end of it. Also planned is another bier garten in Bay View's Humboldt Park
which is, interestingly enough, just a block from a friend's house. And in suburban Glendale the former Bavarian Inn will be turned into an official U.S. Hofbräuhaus outpost
. The Hofbräuhaus will brew on premises so patrons will have fresh bier.
In addition to restaurants and bier gartens, we have the Milwaukee Pretzel Company
which opened last year and makes Bavarian-style pretzels.
I wonder why there is this resurgence in German food and drink. Perhaps it's simply a case of what's old is new again. I found this article
about Milwaukee rediscovering its German heritage but it really doesn't have an answer beyond the possibility of people just looking back at their and Milwaukee's past. I guess it's a task for an aspiring sociologist.
Concomitant to this, I noticed last month that an upscale contemporary German restaurant has opened in Chicago - The Radler
. They even have a couple haus biers including a radler.
17 February, 2014
Public Subsides for a Public Market in Madison Is an Idea Whose Time Has Come...To Die
I discovered this morning that Mayor Soglin is directing Madisonians
to a survey in order to find out what we want in a public market. I began the survey but didn't find a space for indicating that the city shouldn't be spending any money on the project and quit.
Remember when former mayor Dave Cieslewicz lamented that Madison was behind "in the race for coolness"
because we lacked a public market? If not, here he is at schilling for Richard Florida:
Many major cities and most of our competitors in the race for coolness have built or are planning to build a public market. Toronto, Minneapolis, Seattle, Milwaukee, Vancouver and a host of other smaller cities have markets.
I thought about this when I read this article
about the Governor's Conference on Economic Development which was held last week. One of the speakers was Morris Davis, an associate professor at the UW and its James Graaskamp Center for Real Estate and this bit stood out:
Speculating on what makes Minnesota more attractive than Wisconsin, Davis said it could be that Minneapolis is a bigger draw than Milwaukee. Investing in Milwaukee might help, he said. “We need a place where they’re going to want to live. I think Madison is that place; I don’t think Milwaukee is,” Davis said.
Milwaukee, as our former mayor noted, has this place:
Despite the presence of (a rather nice) public market, it seems that the young and the cool are choosing poor old Madison, sans public market, over Milwaukee. Will someone please tell this to Messrs. Soglin and Cieslewicz? Somehow despite not having a public market, Madison continues to thrive and be the choice of many young, cool folk. Somehow despite not having a public market, Madison continues to, in Cieslewicz's words, conduct community.
Going back to Mr. Davis:
He said Wisconsin should aim toward getting young people in Illinois and Minnesota to relocate here. Michigan’s college grads are also a good target, he said. Every year, 90,000 people leave Michigan, Davis said.
That's a lot of people leaving Michigan and many of them go to Chicago/Cook County. In fact, 56% of new Cook County residents come from Michigan
. Does Chicago have a public market which makes it so "cool" to attract that many people? A recent look at census data
shows that Milwaukee County is the top supplier of in-migration to Dane County. People are leaving a city with a public market?! Number two on that list is Asia. Presumably neither the Chinese government nor the U.S. government officials that approve H-1Bs are warning immigrants that Madison doesn't have a public market.
Cieslewicz asks, "So, why should millions of your tax dollars go for a market?" and the answer is they shouldn't. If it is true, as two recent studies indicate
, that young people are driving less, then perhaps those millions of dollars could be sent over to Madison Metro. As the article linked to above says, "They consider public transportation the best option for digital socializing and one of the most likely ways to connect with the communities they live in." (See, Mr. Cieslewicz, public transportation is also about community building.) Madison Metro is looking at BRT and needs a new maintenance facility. And however nice apps are for tracking your bus, they don't change headway times or add routes to underserved areas. (Plus I'd love to see better signs
at bus stops.)
A public market would be a nice piece of middle class bling and if someone like Curt Brink can find millions of dollars from private investors to build one, then I say more power to him. City officials should be helpful and accommodating. But if it's public money that's needed, put it to better use, a use that can benefit all Madisonians.
11 February, 2014
How Can Madison Attract More Entrepreneurs?
Over at the Atlantic Cities blog Richard Florida writes about
a report on what entrepreneurs seek out in cities where they would locate their companies. The report was done by a group called Endeavors Insight did surveys and interviews with the founders of fast-growing companies. The results were interesting.
For one, size matters. These top business-creators gravitated towards cities with at least a million residents in the metro area. This offered the scale and diverse array of offerings needed to attract talent.
A city also needs to be able to appeal to the young and the restless. The entrepreneurs surveyed were a highly mobile bunch when they first started out...But eighty percent of respondents had lived in their current city for at least two years before launching their companies, meaning that cities had to catch them early. And once they started their first company, these business leaders rarely moved. So attracting this mobile group at an early age is key.
The top rated factor by far was access to talent. Nearly a third of those surveyed mentioned it as a key factor in their decisions for where to live and work (many specifically prized access to technically trained workers). Entrepreneurs explained that they proactively sought out the places that educated and ambitious workers want to be.
The study found that two other key factors in the location choices of entrepreneurs are major transportation networks (like airports and highways that can connect them to other cities) and proximity to customers and suppliers.
Can Madison learn anything from this?
We are not a metro area with 1+ million people. A strike against us. But Madison surely does have some appeal to the young and the restless. We have bike lanes, farmers markets, and a good cultural scene for a city our size, though it cannot compete with that of larger metros. (On a side note, I will say that I met a gentleman at last year's Gamehole Con
from out of state who said that Madison has the best cultural scene in the Midwest outside of Chicago.) I would think that the UW provides a good pool of technically trained workers but perhaps they all leave after graduation because Madison is not large enough.
The whole customers and suppliers part isn't really something I can comment on since I don't know enough about those factors. But the transportation bit made me think. We've got the highways that lead to Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities in addition to much smaller cities. While we do have an airport that offers some direct flights, it shuffles many people off to larger cities where airlines have hubs that can take them onto their destination. While there is just no way for Madison (nor any city in the entire Midwest) to compete with Chicago here, might it still be possible to leverage the Dane County Regional Airport to our advantage?
Recall the report by the Progressive Policy Institute which was released last autumn. It ranked Dane County 9th in growth of tech/IT jobs from 2007-2012. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article
on the report quoted a Madison computer science professor and entrepreneur named Paul Barford who said, "There's no direct flight between Madison and San Francisco. If we could get that, it would unlock amazing opportunities in the state."
When I first read that I thought, "Well, Mitchell Field in Milwaukee has direct flights to and from San Francisco." Then I heard that the state of Indiana was subsidizing direct flights
between San Francisco and Indianapolis in order to bolster the latter city's tech sector. Even the state's Republican governor was in favor of the subsidy. Given the Endeavor survey results, the testimony of one entrepreneur here in Madison, and the desire for such flights from Indianapolis' tech community, it is certainly something for us to look into. Has the Madison tech community approached the governor and/or the WEDC about a similar setup here? In another article, which I cannot locate the moment, someone from Indy was criticizing the the times of the service offered there. He maintained that they need an earlier flight to Indy as apparently venture capital likes to get in, get down to brass tacks, and then head home that same day. So it's worthwhile to keep an eye on how things go down in Indianapolis.
The Endeavor report also noted, in Florida's words:
At the very bottom of the list were taxes and business-friendly policies, which are, unfortunately, exactly the sorts of things so many states and cities continue to promote as silver bullets. Just 5 percent of the respondents mentioned low taxes as being important, and a measly 2 percent named other business-friendly policies as a factor in their location decisions.
I have to wonder just how much common ground tech entrepreneurs in Wisconsin have with the "old guard" WMC members. The former group is asking for an educated workforce, infrastructure, and quality of life while the latter is seeking tax cuts and supporting politicos who cut education, seem to ignore infrastructure if it's not a road, and don't seem to care much about quality of life issues because taxes must lowered at all costs.
And I can't help but tie this into Madison's preternatural preoccupation with having a public market. The article at hand doesn't mention it but it can surely be argued that it falls under quality of life for attracting a talent pool. But does it really help all that much? The last time I wrote about
this subject, local tech entrepreneur Phillip Crawford
left a comment saying, "We don't need a public market. That's a boondoggle. High speed internet _everywhere_ which would have been just as amazing 10 years ago as it would be today, would be great." I don't mean to imply that Mr. Crawford's opinion prevails amongst his peers but I do think that pitching a public market by saying that it is a big quality of life factor to attract young tech people is a claim to be skeptical about. In light of the Endeavor report, perhaps investing in high-speed internet access would be a better use of public money.
Thank you, Doug Hurst, for our daily liquid bread: Generator Doppelbock by Metropolitan Brewing
Here in the depths of winter it's always nice to have a stronger beer to help get you through the chilly nights. Doppelbocks are a good choice for me. These beers date back to the 17th century when the Paulaner monks in Munich brewed a "double bock" to sustain them through Lent. Mind you, in these days of double/trippel/quad/imperial madness, one might think that doppelbocks traditionally were gigantic beers but they were only slightly higher in alcohol than normal bocks, landing the realm of 7% A.B.V. The monks had their monastic duties to attend to, after all, and the abbot wouldn't take too kindly to his sheep showing up at vespers all shitfaced. Still, it's not unheard of for some varieties to hit double digit A.B.V. The Paulaner monks eventually named their liquid bread "Salvator" and the practice of adding –ator to the names of doppelbocks caught on.
The folks at Metropolitan Brewing
in Chicago released their take on the style, Generator, back in December, if memory serves. I am unsure if this marks the brewery's first doppelbock but I do believe that it is the first time they've bottled one. I am also fairly certain that Generator is their first winter seasonal to be bottled. At 8.2%, it's perhaps a bit more boozy than tradition dictates but it will certainly keep you warm and provide enough sustenance until Metro's spring seasonal, Iron Works Alt
, is released.
Considering the vast quantities of malt that go into this style, it should be no surprise that Generator pours a deep, dark sepia. And even my lousy photo reveals that it's clear. I got a nice tan, pillowy head which lasted a goodly while which I found surprising since I thought that alcohol tended to 86 foam. My glass was left with a modicum of Schaumhaftvermoegen
. Doppelbocks are about the malt and Generator smells nice'n'sweet. I detected honey and stonefruit along with some black licorice and even a hint of grassiness from the hops.
Generator is sweet on the tongue as well - I caught toffee flavor as well as bread – but it's also clean. All of those fruity flavors were lagered away. It is a smooth beer and, considering all of the malt that went into it, it had a much lighter body than I thought it would have. Indeed, this stuff goes down easily – perhaps a bit too easily. Also surprising was the hop presence which is stronger than in most doppelbocks I've had. Here the spicy hop flavor is fairly intense veering near to black pepper and while it doesn't outdo the malt it does a yeoman's job in trying.
This is a very fine doppelbock. It tweaks the liquid bread formula a little bit with some extra hops but doesn't stray too far from the tried and true doppelbock legacy. It is also deceptively drinkable with a lighter body that means it'll go down easily for a while before the alcohol catches up with you.
Junk food pairing: A big beer like Generator demands spicy pork rinds.
The Last Express Now Available for iOS and Android
One of my favorite video games of all-time, 1997's The Last Express
, is now available for iOS and Android devices. In the game, you take on the role of Robert Cath, an American riding the last run of the Orient Express before World War I breaks out. Your friend Tyler Whitney, whom you were to meet aboard the train, is dead in his compartment and it's up to you to figure out what happened.
As Cath, you've got to work around the conductor to sneak into other compartments and search for clues. Your fellow passengers all have their own secrets and part of the game is to listen to their conversations, at least the ones in languages you can understand. You do all of this in the game's wonderful art nouveau
look which was achieved by rotoscoping live-action sequences. The creators even hunted down a car from the original Orient Express itself for added verisimilitude.
There is some action/fighting to be done but mostly you need to poke around the train for clues and piece together what happened to Whitney and the other stratagems unfolding aboard the train.
10 February, 2014
The Revenant Brew: Baderbräu Chicago Pilsener
bills itself as "Chicago's Original Craft Beer" and, while it may not be wholly accurate, its trademark Czech pilsner was first brewed in 1988. Michael Jackson famously called it "the best pilsner I`ve ever tasted in America". Unfortunately, the company ran into financial problems and went bankrupt in 1997 whereupon the name was bought and then resold to Goose Island. GI brewed the beer until 2002. Fast forward to 2010 when the Baderbräu trademark was bought by a couple of investors who brought the brand back from the dead. They contracted with Argus Brewery on Chicago's south side and the resurrected beer finally returned to taps in 2012 and bottles shortly thereafter.
The beer pours a light golden color and is clear. There were lots of bubbles streaming upwards towards the generous, pillowy head from the bottom of the glass. And the foam stuck around for a while too leaving some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen
. Certainly a pretty beer but I thought it was a bit darker in color than most pilsners I've seen. It smelled really nice. It had a biscuity aroma along with a mild grassy hop scent. Curiously, there was some slight sweetness to it as well – reminded me of raisins.
The flavor was a bit more like bread than, say, crackers and there was a definite stonefruit sweetness. Not particularly strong but definitely noticeable. This gave the beer a slightly heavier body and wasn't quite as crisp as I was expecting but it remained medium-light. Mouthfeel was similar yet still on the light side and smooth. It was also nice and effervescent so you had that tongue tingling sensation and I think this helped give the beer a lighter feel. Oddly, it didn't taste as hoppy as I had expected either. To me, Czech pilsners are well-hopped with that Saaz goodness up front but here the spicy hoppiness was a bit further in the background than I was accustomed to. Still, it managed to balance the maltiness very well.
It finished dry with some nice bitterness and a lingering grassy-herbal hop flavor.
Despite being a smidgen heavier and sweeter than I was expecting, Baderbräu is some very tasty stuff. The malt and hops were balanced nicely and, at 4.8% A.B.V., it is fairly sessionable. Not being as sharp and light as some of its peers, I probably wouldn't make Baderbräu my go-to beer for the bowels of summer when it's 90 degrees out but it sure did the trick after work one day when it was below zero outside.
Junk food pairing: Pair Baderbräu with Buffalo Wing Goldfish Puffs. They're light enough not to enhance the beer's malt profile too much and have some zing to them to provide contrast on the tongue.