Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

27 August, 2009

Rachel Ray Ain't Got Nothin' On Me and My Parma Tart

Last night was my turn to cook dinner and the pater familias went old school. Our main course dated to the 1300s – a Parma Tart.

The recipe comes from le Viandier de Taillevent, as translated by James Prescott.

Take mutton, veal or pork meat, cook it, chop it appropriately, spice it extremely reasonably with Fine Powder, and fry it in lard. Afterwards, have large uncovered pies the size of little platters, with pastry sides higher than for other pies, and made in the manner of crenellations. The pastry should be strong so that it can hold the meat. If you wish, mix some pine nut paste and currants with the meat, and crumble some sugar on top. Take some boiled and quartered chicken, and in each pie put 3 or 4 chicken quarters in which to fix the banners of France and of the lords who will be in the [royal] presence. Gild them with sprinkled saffron to be more attractive.

If you do not wish to depend so much on chicken, you need only make some flat pieces of roasted or boiled pork or mutton. When the pies are full of their meat, glaze the top of the meat with a little egg yolk and egg white beaten together, so that the meat will hold together more firmly for inserting the banners. Have some gold, silver, or tin leaf for gilding the pies in front of the banners.

Parma tarts were most definitely a regal dish and variations were served around Europe. (As far as I know, the dish is named after Parma, Italy.) They were very tall things, stuffed, as they were, with meat. And most of the spices were definitely not locally sourced, hence only the wealthy could afford to purchase them. The saffron may well have been grown in France but the Grains of Paradise were imported from Africa. Along with them may have come the ginger but it probably was brought from Asia. Cloves came from Indonesia while the cinnamon/cassia would have been shipped in from Sri Lanka/China. The recipe above is for a tart to be served on a meat day while Parma tarts for fast days could be found stuffed with fish and eel. Don't forget that, as far as the papal culinary squad was concerned back then, animals such as frogs, snails, dolphins, and whales were considered fish when it came to meatless days.

The Dulcinea had fried up some boneless pork chops and boiled chicken thighs a couple days previously so all I had to do was chop them up. Next I needed to make some powder fine, a common spice mixture of the Middle Ages.

It's a mix of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, sugar, and Grains of Paradise. I picked up the Grains of Paradise at the booth of The Spice House at the Milwaukee Public Market a few weeks ago. They are like black peppercorns but have a more floral aroma and a fruitier taste. Being related to cardamom, GoP also have a pungency like its cousin. This spice was all the rage in French cooking at this time. The powder fine has a very bold taste (and a bit of heat too) with all that ginger and GoP.

Here's a photo of the seasoning mixture. It's powder fine along with some ground pine nuts, sugar, salt, saffron, and currants.

I tossed the meat in this stuff and put the result in a pie shell. Truth be known, I was feeling lazy and used a store bought shell and used a second one for the top which didn't work overly well as it was not keen on being removed from the dish. So the top was a bit of a patchwork job. Plus it didn't help that it was over-filled. But it came out of the oven looking edible despite this and not having and banners of France or lords therein.

No gold gilding either. Although the crust was edible, I've read that the filling was scooped out back in the day. Presumably diners wouldn't have eaten the crust as it was more to protect the goodness inside from the ravages of the oven than being part of the meal. This being the case, I urged Miles to dig in. At first he didn't take me literally and wanted to cut a piece out. I instructed him to take a serving spoon and scoop out some filling.

I served it with peas and some raspberry applesauce.

After shoveling some of it into his gaping 10 year-old maw, Miles proclaimed that it was awesome and eventually went back for seconds. Aside from the Grains of Paradise, there isn't anything here that is completely unfamiliar to the modern American palate. However, I think many of us tend to associate some of the flavors with autumnal sweets like gingerbread cookies and pumpkin pie. Medieval chefs liked to combine the sweet and the savory and many dishes of the time reflect this. We generally stick with the savory today.

The dish was just a teeny tiny bit on the dry side so I think I'll put a bit of lard or butter on top of the filling next time before I seal the tart.
|| Palmer, 3:12 PM || link || (0) comments |

25 August, 2009

Which President is That?

Capital Brewery is saying:

"We just received word that the President will be in Madison tomorrow and plans on making a stop at Capital Brewery."

So which president is going to be there?
|| Palmer, 6:18 PM || link || (1) comments |

21 August, 2009

Oliver Stone, Conspiracies, and The Onion


A couple days ago over at The Onion Noel Murray reported that Oliver Stone is lining up a 10-part documentary series for Showtime called Oliver Stone's Secret History Of America. It promises "to focus on events that 'at the time went under-reported, but crucially shaped America's unique and complex history of the last 60 years'".

It is sure to be interesting and extremely controversial.

Good news but I found myself irritated when Murray said, "Oliver Stone will be returning to the world of conspiracies and insider politics that's been his bread-and-butter for decades now."


Look at Stone's record at IMDB. Where are all the conspiracies in his early screenplays? Where is all the political intrigue in Scarface or Conan the Barbarian? Stone has made several movies about the Vietnam War experience. So where are all the conspiracies in Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and Heaven and Earth? These are films about the grunts and their experiences, not panoramic views of the political causes of the conflict that the characters found themselves caught up in.

Sure, JFK and Nixon were full of shadowy figures pulling the strings behind the scenes but such elements don't figure into the vast majority of his films. Talk Radio, The Doors, Any Given Sunday - where's the conspiracy mongering? The only conspiracy in U-Turn was to get into Jennifer Lopez's pants.

Contrary to Murray's assertion, "the world of conspiracies and insider politics" has hardly been Stone's bread and butter for decades. Almost from the beginning of his career, Stone has concentrated on strong, powerful men. You can complain about the very masculine worlds in which his stories are set and the comparatively subordinate roles that women generally have in them, but to say that insider politics and conspiracy mongering are Stone's bread and butter indicates that you aren't familiar with his career.
|| Palmer, 11:05 AM || link || (0) comments |

Get Ready for Some Herzog-Lynch Madness (With Dwarf)

I noted a couple months ago that the Conquistador of the Useless had teamed up with David Lynch for a film called My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. I guess it is going to premiere at the Toronto Film Fest next month and so we now have a trailer.

|| Palmer, 10:05 AM || link || (0) comments |

Contemplating Giving Quentin Tarantino My Money

My friend Marv and I don't like Quentin Tarantino. I mean, we really don't like him. It's not that his films are terrible, it's that they are not anywhere near as good as he thinks they are. I recently stumbled upon this quote from Noah Forrest which does a great job of summarizing how I feel.

Unlike his disciple Tarantino who thinks that merely repurposing old genre movies makes it art, Scorsese actually elevates his genre films to art.

This was emphasized by something George Hamilton said in a recent interview:

I was talking to Quentin Tarantino last night, and he said, 'You know, I have two prints of your films that are pretty rare.' One was called From Hell to Victory. I said, 'That’s a horrible movie!' But he said, 'Oh, no, that could be remade today; it’s about to be bought…' No, Quentin, it’s horrible.

Of course, thinking him an arse-nugget has no bearing on the quality of his films. Tarantino deserves some credit for helping bring American independent cinema into the mainstream, for better or for worse. His films are well-made, to be sure, but I don't venerate the 1970s as he does. He takes schlock and makes it bloodier and adds a truckload of profanity on top. Everything he does is teenage fantasy. Thusly I just don't find myself particularly enamored with any of his characters nor his stories.

Despite the fact that he didn't invent the non-linear narrative, Tarantino's films can be fun to watch. Take Kill Bill as an example. I really didn't care about the hero, Uma Thurman's The Bride, and got bored with the fighting. But Bob Richardson's cinematography was fantastic. The color palette may have mostly been Tarantino's idea, but it was Richardson who brought that film to life.

And that's my conundrum. I love Bob Richardson's work. He's DP'd for Oliver Stone, Martin Scorcese, Errol Morris, and John Sayles in addition to Tarantino. I have gone to see films that he has shot purely because he was behind the camera. (Kill Bill was not one of them.)

So, Marv, should I go see Inglorious Basterds for the cinematography or avoid it because I have no interest in more of Tarantino's slop?
|| Palmer, 10:02 AM || link || (0) comments |

19 August, 2009

District 9

District 9 has its origins in a short film by Neill Blomkamp called Alive in Joburg from 2005. Blomkamp was tapped by Peter Jackson to direct the porting of the videogame Halo to the big screen but, when that venture fell through, the green light was given to expanding the short into a feature-length film. Here is Alive in Joburg:

District 9 opens using a documentary style including interviews with faux experts and stock footage to set the backdrop for what is to follow. An enormous alien spacecraft had settled above Johannesburg but done nothing. No radio transmissions, no little green envoys – not a peep. After a few months, authorities decided to investigate for themselves. Crews boarded the craft and found millions of malnourished aliens huddled in unwashed masses. Apparently the ship had become inoperable and they found themselves stranded.

An area within the city was enclosed with barbed wire and made into a refugee camp for the interstellar pilgrims – district 9. Years passed and the camp turned into a DMZ laden with crumbling shacks and piles of waste and debris. A Nigerian gang lord and his cronies moved into the shantytown and setup shop. They profited handsomely by exploiting the aliens' inexplicable desire for cat food. By this time, the government had handed control of District 9 over to a large corporation, Multinational United (MNU).

The situation deteriorated and festered until the citizens of Johannesburg decided that they had had enough of the "prawns", a derogatory term for the aliens who were endowed with a mouth covered by antennae. Since the visitors could not be repatriated, they were to be resettled in a tent camp outside of the city. Sharlto Copley plays Wikus van der Merwe, a mid-level MNU bureaucrat assigned by his father-in-law to lead the resettlement project. I've read that van der Merwe is the Afrikaaner equivalent of our Smith so our hero is actually a generic everyman type. Preparations are made and finally the day arrives when van der Merwe and a group of armored personnel carriers enter District 9 to begin the arduous task of getting the aliens to sign a form giving their consent to being relocated.

The camera work her e is hand-held, continuing the documentary feel of the opening exposition. Indeed, it's like watching COPS as we witness van der Merwe, accompanied by armed guard, go door-to-door trying to get aliens to commit to relocation. At one point the film's style abruptly comes to a halt as we cut away to two of the aliens extracting, filtering, and then bottling a strange liquid in a metal cylinder. They are hurried as their evictor is just down the street. When he arrives, he finds the shack empty but he finds the cylinder. van der Merwe mistakenly discharges some of the liquid on his face and falls ill. Soon it is revealed that he is slowly transmogrifying into one of them.

Act 1 closes with van der Merwe on the run from his former employers, MNU. The advanced alien weapons discovered on the ship can only be fired by one of the visitors as the two are genetically linked. Erog the villainous corporate executives drool at the prospect of using van der Merwe to unlock their secrets and make a fortune.

From here, the film goes south and becomes a hybrid itself. Corporation chasing an employee? Right out of Minority Report. van der Merwe eventually befriends one of the aliens who says that he can reverse his infection if they can get a hold of that metal cylinder and back to the lifeless ship hanging above the city. This adds an equal measure of buddy movie ala Lethal Weapon into the mix. The second and third acts completely betray the first by wallowing in clichés.

This is a real shame as act 1 is really marvelous. First it is refreshing, if a bit of a novelty, to set the film in Blomkamp's native South Africa instead of New York, Chicago, L.A., or London. Second, Blomkamp adroitly turns some sci-fi movie conventions on their heads. That shiny, gleaming spaceship light years ahead of our technology is stalled in hover mode. The aliens who usually have mankind on the run in Roland Emmerich films are instead living in slums and at our mercy. In addition, there's some good black humor, especially the absurdity of trying to get aliens to sign paperwork. As we watch the inept van der Merwe blunder his way through the slums, do we feel sorry for or loathe this corporate lackey?

But all of this is wasted in the last two acts which are nothing but an extended chase sequence littered with shootouts featuring an alien weapon that liquefies its victims. Plus Blomkamp leaves other conventions intact. For instance, there's the evil corporation personified by our hero's father-in-law, Piet Smit. Smit is reminiscent of Max von Sydow's Burgess in Minority Report while cold, heartless companies abound in sci-fi cinema - Alien, RoboCop, etc.

Also wasted is any attempt to give this thinly-veiled allegory of Apartheid any thematic heft. While I don't doubt for a minute that, if I were South African, I would have caught more references to my homeland, I didn't see anything which led me to believe that Blomkamp was doing anything more than throwing in references to the South Africa of his childhood as he could. The film's title is a reference to District 6, an area in Cape Town where tens of thousands of non-Afrikaaners were forcibly removed. But other than using South Africa under Apartheid as a source of reference to create his future version of Johannesburg, Blomkamp didn't do much with his scenario other than have people shoot at one another. Sure, you can see a bit of our venture in Iraq reflected back to us in the slums, especially with the MNU soldiers who could be stand-ins for Blackwater mercenaries, but so what? It's all done in passing and the film doesn't ask us to consider parallels to our world because it's too busy moving on to the next round of gunfire.

This is not to say that District 9 is a bad film because it has a lot going for it. I liked how it went from faux doc style to more conventional Hollywood. From a technical point of view, it was a joy to watch. The special effects were wonderful despite the comparatively small budget and the acting was excellent. And there are some great visceral thrills to be had. But Blomkamp sets things up to be more than just shootouts. The first act held promise for some good, hard science fiction but we ended up with a generic action flick.
|| Palmer, 2:35 PM || link || (1) comments |

18 August, 2009

Africa Fest '09

This past Saturday was the 11th annual Africa Fest over at Warner Park. The Dulcinea, Miles, and I attended for a short spell – enough time to eat and catch some dancing. I wish we could have stayed longer because, although it was only my 2nd or 3rd time attending, I am really warming to it. It would would have been nice to have found out how this year's theme, "the fulfillment of the diaspora", played out the rest of the day.

As at all festivals, there are tents laden with tasty food and tables with salespeople hawking their wares. Buraka and Africana were there with their delectable African offerings as was Jamerica with their jerky goodness. In addition, there were other folks selling more traditional fest fare. Me, I had a Maxwell Street Polish. You can take the FIB out of Chicago but you can't take the Chicago out of the FIB, I guess. The Dulcinea and Miles, on the other hand, went with snocones and jerk pork.

For sale was a multitude of African clothing, jewelry, musical instruments, CDs, DVDs, et al.

Onstage was, I am kinda sorta certain, was Jam Ak Jam whose Afro-dance theatre was mighty impressive.

Both the drumming and dancing were amazing. These photos don't do justice to their performance. Sweat was dripping off the performers' brows as they jumped and moved their bodies to the insistent beat.

Towards the end of their routine, the dancers dragged folks from the audience onto the stage with them.

Africa Fest just has a whole different vibe than the other summer fests I've been to here in Madison. It gets me out of my isthmus-dwelling, white, middle-class bubble. There are more people of color and everywhere you turn, there is a tribune heralding some aspect of African culture, of which I am woefully ignorant.

As was the case last year, I was hoping to find some reviews of it or some blog posts by attendees since I wasn't there very long. Alas, I've found virtually nothing. How about a little love for the north side?!

|| Palmer, 2:47 PM || link || (0) comments |

Doctor Parnassus Trailer

Terry Gilliam's latest, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, now has a trailer. It's set to open here in the States on Christmas Day.

|| Palmer, 6:07 AM || link || (2) comments |

17 August, 2009

Strong Bad and Indie Film

Over at Homestar Runner, Strong Bad helps us understand the difference between independent films vs. indie films.
|| Palmer, 4:28 PM || link || (0) comments |

New Werner Herzog Interview

Here the director talks about his latest film, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Yes, it is a remake/reimagining of the 1992 film by Abel Ferrara. Now, if I were Eva Mendes and Werner Herzog tells me, "I will take you where you have not been before", I'd be afraid. Very afraid.

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - Werner Herzog Interview from Millennium Films on Vimeo.

|| Palmer, 4:02 PM || link || (1) comments |

Vacationing: Denouement In Chippewa Falls

The final stop on The Dulcinea and I's romantic getaway vacation extravaganza was the Leinenkugel Brewery.

The brewery and the Leine Lodge are situated next to a creek. (Eddy Creek?) It makes for a nice setting despite being in the city of Chippewa Falls. Since there were many people waiting outside, the Lodge opened before its appointed hour. Although I had lived in the general area for a few years and drank more than my share of their brews, I'd never been to the brewery.

The Lodge is part museum, part bar, but mostly a shopping venue. Displays of items emblazoned with the Leinenkugel's logo were littered everywhere. Want Honey Weiss panties? You got it. A Creamy Dark hoodie? They can set you up. Unfortunately I couldn't find a church key. Aside from things intended to part you from your lucre, there were some interesting historical tidbits to be had as well. For instance, here's the man who started it all back in 1867, Jacob Leinenkugel.

Leinenkugel, as one display noted, was thought to derive from the word meaning a maker of linen hoods. Among the other historic displays was that of a cooper's bench (a cooper being he who makes barrels) and one of old Leine's beer cans from back in the days when they had pull tabs. (I remember those very well.)

11:20 rolled around and our tour guide gathered us up. Although their beer is distributed in 45 states, Leine's is still a regional brewery to me. SABMiller-Coors or whatever the company is called now owns Leinenkugels and no doubt this has led to greater distribution, but I believe that it's still the Upper Midwest that drinks the majority of the stuff. Ergo I still think of Leines as a regional brewery despite being a nationally distributed micro. Our tour guide was a young gentlemen who led us across the bridge before telling us that no photography was allowed inside the brewery itself. Unlike the Viking tour, he was not a brewer but a hospitality engineer, of which there were many scurrying about the place. He went over the Leines history in some detail and, if you are keen to learn about it, check out their website as it goes into some depth.

Here's the brewhouse, which had an addition put on in 2001.

The interior retains a lot of the 19th century inside. Sure, there's some high tech brewing equipment, but the old exterior lives on in the entryway and it isn't all sleak and shiny. Considering that they brew something like 350,000 barrels per year, the place was rather small. Sure, there were metal vats and kettles everywhere but there weren't that many of them. The guide told us that the brewery is at capacity.

That's the old malt house which is now used primarily for storage. This is the old stables. Back in the day Leines was distributed by horse-drawn carts and the equestrian locomotors lived here.

Lastly, we have this ditty.

Leinenkugel used to draw their water from Eddy Spring but now uses water from the city. But, as it was pointed out, the source is the same: Eddy spring. The structure above is, if memory serves, was an old pump house. Leines was originally the Spring Brewery, hence the name here.

On the tour we learned that the Honey Weiss and Barry Weiss, perhaps their two worst tasting brews, are their best-selling beers. (Can we have Limited, a.k.a. – Northwoods Lager, back?) Back at the Lodge, The Dulcinea and I exchanged our beer tickets (2 each) for actual beers. We went with Creamy Dark and Classic Amber.

From there, it was off to the highway to return home.
|| Palmer, 3:30 PM || link || (0) comments |

Vacationing: The Heart of Wisconsin's Pinery

Sunday morning was pleasant. The Dulcinea and I headed south from Chetek to our last destination: Chippewa Falls. (Do you feel a brewery tour coming on?) Chippewa Falls got its name in 1836 for obvious reasons. The word "Chippewa" is a corruption of the Native Indian word "Ojibwa", which means "to roast until puckered up". This referred to the skins of the toes of their moccasins. Either this or it referred to the way they burned their captives alive. My source on place names is rather old so this latter explanation could very well be a total fabrication by pale faces.

The Chippewa Valley was ground zero for Wisconsin's lumber industry. Billions of feet of lumber flowed from this area. Hollywood may have glamorized the cattle ranchers and cowboys of the old west, but life was just as hard and rough'n'tumble in northern Wisconsin when logging was at its peak in the late 1800s as it was out in Tombstone. Lumbering was ball-busting work. Men spent the winter away from home out in the woods felling, trimming, and hauling trees to landings at the shores of rivers. Imagine having to wash your skivvies outside in the snow when it's freezing. Uff da!

After the spring thaw, the logs were put into the water so they could float downstream to a sawmill. These were called river drives. As noted in the book Wisconsin Lore: "The river drive was probably the most dangerous of any occupation in the history of the state. Many, many river drivers, or 'river rats' or 'river pigs' were drowned. Many more had legs or bodies broken. A driver who met death was buried on the bank, and often no stone marked his grave. He was simply forgotten. Injury or death was considered a part of the job. Regardless of danger, logs had to move."

The Lumberjack Championships in Hayward may be quaint to us today, but being able to scale trees, chop & saw them, and traverse logs in water were valuable skills back in the day. The latter must have come in mighty handy when things went really wrong on the river drive and you had a logjam on your hands. Some logjams made news around the state as rivers became choked with logs moving nowhere. Here's a photo of one on the Chippewa River in 1903 from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

A good place to learn about being a lumberjack is John Nelligan's Life of a Lumberman. Nelligan was a lumberjack in northern Wisconsin in the latter half of the 19th century. Frontier justice is a common motif in our vision of the Old West, but it was also present here in the Land of Cheese, as Nelligan recounts this tale from Oconto.

On the Sunday evening of which I speak, the dance was in full progress when the gang of roughnecks, as usual, appeared on the scene with mischief in their manner. Denny White, who came from Chatham on Miramichi Bay, near my home in New Brunswick, was the instigator of all the trouble. They started to "clean up" the place and the "bouncer" becoming unduly excited, pulled his revolver, aimed at one of the disturbers of the peace, and fired. But his arm was shaky and, instead of hitting the man he intended to, he shot an innocent bystander, a young fellow named Joseph Rule.

The bouncer ended up in the pokey, but not for long. Nelligan continues.

A crowd gathered around the little jail and mob spirit was rapidly aroused to a point of action. The leaders obtained a small saw log and, using it for a battering ram, knocked in the door of the jail. The unlucky poor shot was dragged from his cell and out of the jail, screaming and protesting…They dragged him on, across the bridge and to the spot where, strangely enough, a house of justice now stands, the Oconto court house. There they hung him to a tree and Joseph Rule was avenged, if such be vengeance.


Not everything in lumber towns involved lynch mobs. Indeed, there was some good, if morbid, humor to be had. For instance, there's the story of Chippewa Falls' own Peg Leg Pat McCann, as recounted in Wisconsin Folklore. In 1876, the railroad line between Eau Claire and Chippewa was completed so Chippewa threw a big party which included this joke.

Those who were not well acquainted with Peg Leg Pat did not know that he had lost a leg during the Civil War and went about with a substitute. For the parade his wooden leg was removed and a round piece of wood the shape of a leg fastened in its place. As the float in which Pat was riding stopped in front of the bank, he was held, struggling, to a table by several husky lumberjacks, while the leg was being sawed off. To add a touch of gore, gruesomeness and reality to the operation, a can of red paint was used as an excellent substitute for blood.

Back to 2009. The D and I rolled into Chippewa Falls around 7:30 to find downtown deserted. We maundered the streets but could not find a single coffee shop nor café open. Having a few hours to blow before our final brewery tour, we opted to head back to Osseo for breakfast at the Norske Nook one last time.

I forgot to mention this in the post detailing our first stop there: The woman to whom I paid the bill was an old high school classmate. I don't think she recognized me and I was too timid to say anything to her. We weren't best buddies so I wasn't really sure if she'd remember me. Aside from seeing someone from my high school class, which I haven't in 15+ years, what interested me was her manner of speech.

Normally when we ask a question, the pitch of our voice goes up. But my former classmate would raise the pitch of her voice when making a declarative statement. To me, this is part of a Norwegian accent. Any linguists reading this who can confirm or deny it?

After breakfast (I had the lingonberry-apple pie for dessert), we still had a little time to kill so I took the long way back to Chippewa Falls. We went up Highway 93 and took a little detour through my old stomping grounds.

It felt very weird to be back in the neighborhood where I spent most of my high school years. I'd last been up there in January 2003 and it had been even longer since I'd actually wandered around the area. To be honest, it made me a bit nostalgic, but mostly it made me feel old and sad. The old part came due to the trees. Many of them were on the order of 50% taller than I had recalled. When you notice that trees are significantly bigger than when you last saw them, you have seen more than a few moons. The melancholy was due to all the memories of my father. The last time I was up this way was to move him down to Louisiana, where he passed away a year later. He spent the last few years of his life in utter misery owing to my stepmother's illness and eventual death in 2001.

And so I was ambivalent. I had lots of good memories come back to me of wandering the woods and hiking along Graham Creek but there were also those memories of my father drinking himself to death.

With my memories tucked neatly away, we headed north once more for a date at the Leine Lodge.
|| Palmer, 11:51 AM || link || (0) comments |

16 August, 2009

The Return of the Prodigal Charcuterie

When my buddy Dogger reported that Hamann Charcuterie wasn't showing up to this year's north side farmers market, we were both disappointed. I mean, where were we going to get bacon-laced sausage?

Apparently owner Nicholas Bruns was busy planning his business because he now has a storefront at the Northgate Mall.

No grand opening date as of yet but we're looking forward to it.

|| Palmer, 9:38 AM || link || (0) comments |

Yokel Is Proof Dan Carey Loves Us


Yesterday was too bloody hot so I cooled down with a Yokel. Now, if Dan really loved us, he would make this beer year-round. This or any lager, for that matter. All the year-round brews are ales now. :(
|| Palmer, 9:25 AM || link || (0) comments |

14 August, 2009

Vacationing: Viking Brewing Company

Driving west from the Chippewa Moraine area, we hit the tail end of the storm which was heading easterly. We shot up 53 again and exited at Chetek. Instead of going into town, we went west. Destination: Dallas.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Dallas, Wisconsin. Barron County was originally Dallas County, having been named after George Dallas, Vice President under James Polk. The county's name was changed in 1869 to Barron and Dallas adopted the former name when it was incorporated in 1903. Today it has less than 400 inhabitants and is home to Viking Brewery.

Started in 1994 by Randy and Ann Lee, it remains a mom & pop operation as it is run by the Lees along with their son who works there part time. The brewery is in an old creamery. When you wander in the front door, you're greeted by a shop. There's a cooler to your right with the brewery's beer with shelves all around featuring vegetables, pies, woodwork, et al from local farms and artisans. The gentleman at the root beer counter informed us that, if we wanted the tour, we'd have to go around to the side door. Honestly, I wasn't sure if there'd be a tour that day since The Great Taste of the Midwest was due to start the same time.

We went outside and around the building before entering a side door. Turning a corner, we found Randy at the end of a hall talking with an early bird tourist. Lee was in his work clothes – t-shirt with jeans held up with stylish suspenders and tall rubber boots. He was sporting what my friends and I refer to as a 70s porno moustache. What he lacked in haute couture he made up in humor and a passion for his craft. And there's always his beers. We would go on to have the best brewery tour I've ever been on.

He brought us into a room full of metal vats & tanks and gave us the usual explanations of what gets boiled how and when. I appreciated how he would explain things in a language for beer geeks followed by the brewing for dummies version. Not only is the brewery in an old creamery, but Lee uses old dairy equipment. Nothing fancy here. He noted how there was no special cooling equipment so he had to brew according to the weather. Lee also told us that he had a preference for the Saaz hops of the Czech Republic over Cascade and other West Coast hops. Lastly, he related his trials and tribulations in acquiring the foils that adorn each bottle which included a phone conversation with a Canuck who spoke only French.

The tour went on until we found ourselves in the bottling room. As Lee spoke, I was on the wrong side of the bottling line because, on the other side, were the samples.

We would get to sample all nine beers that they currently had available as well as their barleywine and both bracketts. Not only were we to have the chance to taste all of them, but we also were privileged to have the brewmaster pour and introduce his beers. After we'd sampled the first brew – the new LES beer, a retro pilsner - I remembered that I had my voice recorder with me. Ergo, you can hear Lee talk about his creations right at this very blog.

The Dulcinea really loved the Honey Moon brackett which Lee described as being like a honey champagne. For my part, I was impressed with Queen Victoria's Secret, the IPA. Like myself, Lee is not fond of the Hop Wars and has no interest making an entry into the hoppiest beer you can brew category. As he said earlier, he eschews the Cascade hops and their grapefruit overtones. For his IPA, he used strictly English hops – East Kent Golding and Fuggle. Lee is old skool.

We had a chance to talk with him after the tour. The Dulcinea gushed like a little school girl and told him that she absolutely loves his Hot Chocolate, the December seasonal which is a chocolate stout brewed with cocoa and cayenne pepper. I told him that we were from Madison and he replied that he was originally from there but that he had roots in the Dallas area and so he had returned here. Lee said that they are currently brewing about 300 barrels a year and hope to expand. Indeed, he already had some equipment on hand to increase capacity but was waiting for demand to grow larger. Viking also hopes to distribute in the Chicago area soon. One thing about small operations is that, if you have a complaint, you can go right to the owner and so I did. I told him that distribution of his seasonals in Madison was terrible. Lee knew all about this and had heard it before. Giving the distributor a good talking-to was on his list of things to do. I asked him why they were at The Great Taste and he told me that it's just a pain in the ass with such a small crew. Besides, he said, you spend all your time pouring beer and you don't get a chance to talk to anyone.

Both Randy and Ann were extremely cordial hosts. It was great to get a chance to speak with them instead of being herded from room to room. I appreciate that Randy brews lots of lagers, is kickin' it old skool on the IPA front, and has two bracketts. He has definitely earned my respect for not following craft beer trends. I hope that more of their brews become available here in Madison and that they are able to expand soon. Being such a small operation is a lot of hard work and must be like being a farmer – you never get to go on vacation. We bought a couple six packs, a t-shirt, and bid farewell to Viking. However, we didn't go too far - just across the street to a tavern called The Office where Viking was available.

It was a typical northwoods bar and quite empty when we stepped inside, although more patrons eventually made their way to the place. The Dulcinea reports that the women's bathroom came replete with can of hairspray for that perfect northwoods coiffure. It was nice to be able to smoke in a tavern for a change. It was rather funny to find that their Viking taps were empty. And so we ordered a couple Viking brews in bottles, fried cheese curds, and enjoyed the air conditioning. Living large on vacation.
|| Palmer, 3:11 PM || link || (0) comments |

Brenda Konkel Does the Numbers

Former alderwoman Brenda Konkel takes on a piece at The Daily Page by Joe Tarr that was posted yesterday. At issue is how the increase in bus fares, which took effect in April, have affected ridership.

Tarr quotes Mayor Dave, who led the charge for the fare increase, as well as Madison Metro's spokesman, Mick Rusch. His choice of sources got in Konkel's craw and she noted that the reporter apparently only spoke with those who favored the increase. She proceeds to post numbers which compare ridership from each of the first six months of 2008 with those of this year. Of the first six months of this year, April, the month the rate increase took effect, saw the smallest increase in ridership of any month. The numbers show a decrease in riders for May and June. Her conclusion?

And while they [Madison Metro]may have had 4.3% increase in ridership during the first half of the year, its [sic]not the 6% they said they would have. And since the fares went up, the ridership is down, instead of increasing by that 6% that was talked about.

The problem here is that Konkel presents readers with a false dilemma. She assumes that any decrease in ridership after April is wholly due to the fare increase. What about gas prices? Don't they factor into this?

According to Consumer Reports, the average gas price for the Midwest on 12 May 2008 was $3.74/gallon. CR says that a gallon of gas on 25 May 2009 was $2.47 - a difference of $1.27. You find a similar situation when comparing the prices for June. Surely the comparatively cheaper price of gas this year has something to do with Metro's ridership numbers.

To attribute fluctuations in ridership numbers solely to a fare increase, as Konkel does, is ridiculous, if not dishonest.
|| Palmer, 9:51 AM || link || (2) comments |

13 August, 2009

Vacationing: Up North At Last

Zipping north on Highway 53 was rather fun as the gentle hills made for some great scenery. (They don't call it the Coulee Region for nothin'.) We eventually came to Foster and whizzed past the tavern there. 20+ years ago it was well-known to be a hospitable place for underage folks to go. Foster also sports ingress and egress to the interstate and I would catch County HH here to take it to my father's place when he was still living in the area. Since he moved to Louisiana in 2003, it had been over 6 years since I'd been through Foster and it felt a bit weird. I wouldn't say Foster is an old haunt of mine but it was kind of on the perimeter.

It wasn't too long before we were at Sawdust City, i.e. – Eau Claire. I was surprised to find a roundabout or two by Golf Road. We drove past the Northwoods Brewpub which, I have learned, has resurrected Walter's Beer. Walter's was a regional brewery in Eau Claire that opened in the 1890s. It ran into financial troubles in the 1980s and was transmogrified into Hibernia. And, curiously enough, my tour of Hibernia back in 1987 was my first. Now that brewing beers of yore has become hip, Northwoods entered the fray earlier this summer. My buddy, Old Man Standiford, who fed his liver Walter's throughout his college career at UW-Eau Claire in the first half of the 1980s, reports that it still tastes like shit. The crew at Northwoods have apparently done a fine job of recreating the recipe.

Through Eau Claire we went and soon we had gone past Highway 29 which meant we were truly "up north". (To my mind anyway.) A bit farther up the road we exited at New Auburn and headed east for the Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area.

The visitors center was adorned with the mandatory northwoods collection of pelts and stuffed animals.

There were also some really nice displays on area history and the creatures which have inhabited it. Extinct species were noted as well as the dominant one – humans. Native Indians, the fur trade, logging – it was also documented in brief, yet interesting ways with lots of photos.

We got caught in a downpour as we were exiting 53 although the rain let up as we drove through New Auburn and out to the rec area. But Mother Nature was not done yet. Dark storm clouds were moving in and we had a wonderful view from atop the ice-walled-lake plain upon which the visitors center had been built. An ice-walled-lake plain is essentially a hill. Technically it's a mound of glacial till formed when water melts a hole in a glacier and fills up with more water that is carrying sand, rocks, etc. The ice melts, the water flows away and you get an ice-walled-lake plain. Anyway, the view was tremendous. I only wish I had a better camera outfitted with a wide-angle lense.

Here's the same view shot with a different exposure to highlight the clouds.

The visitors center had many hummingbird feeders and the one on the east side of the building was buzzing with activity. Oddly enough, The Dulcinea had never seen one of the adroit flyers before except in photographs. She was rather enthralled with just how nimble they are, darting around effortlessly and pushing others away from the feeder.

We didn't have a lot of time to hang out, much less actually hike one of the trails, as we had a one o'clock appointment in Dallas for the second brewery tour of our trip. However, I am very keen on returning to Chippewa Moraine to hike & do some camping.
|| Palmer, 2:47 PM || link || (0) comments |