16 September, 2021

The Corona Diaries Vol 30: This Entry Is For the Birds

(Mid-August 2021)


I recently came across the neat map of Chicago above that has the remaining brick alleys marked on it. (The map is here.) Wanting to see what they looked like, I consulted Google Maps for one of the alleys and this is what I found.


Not many remain. I believe you can submit entries to the keepers of the map, should anyone know of others that may have escaped their attention.

As a kid growing up in Chicago, there was a spot underneath the Chicago and North Western(?) rail overpass at Pulaski and Avondale where the black top would get worn away periodically to reveal a patch of the old brick street with streetcar rails. I thought it was really neat to be able to get a glimpse of the past that had been buried.

Here in Madison, you can occasionally see some rails emerging from the asphalt on the 200 block of S. Paterson.


Sometimes the past just won't stay hidden.

I have also heard tell that there are still a few wood block alleys left in the city. Jessica Mlinaric, the author of Secret Chicago, discusses them here.

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In an earlier entry I described hiking around Edna Taylor Conservation Park but noted that I left wandering around the adjacent Aldo Leopold Nature Center grounds to another day. Well, that day came earlier this month.

I was out the door and on my bike a little after 6 one overcast, hazy morning. It didn't take too long to get there as it's only about 3.5 miles from home. Just across the street from the entrance were some Sandhill cranes strolling amongst the graves of Roselawn Memorial Park just as I did before venturing to Edna Taylor on that day last month.


It was made apparent that summer is quickly slipping away when I contemplated how low the sun was on the horizon. The scene was dreary and the air so humid that you could cut it with the wrong side of a knife. There was still 30-45 minutes to go before the sun would burn off the fog.


A path led me through a lot of tall grasses and wildflowers, none of which I could identify although I now know most of the yellow flowers to have been Brown-eyed Susans. It wasn't long before I came to a large clearing dotted with Leopold benches and spied a dock on the far side at the edge of a pond. I hadn't seen anyone else and, as I approached it, became aware of just how serene everything was - almost preternaturally so. It felt like I was in the video game Myst. 


Stepping onto the dock made a lot of unseen frogs and/or toads scatter. All I saw were several circles of water rippling outwards. In addition to the frogs, a bird emerged from its resting spot somewhere on my right and flew across the pond well away from me. I was unable to get a good look at it. This scenario would repeat itself when I stepped out of a small pine stand on the other side and onto an aluminum bridge that spanned the pond at its narrowest point. One of those birds was perched on the railing and immediately took off when I emerged from the copse. It joined a brace of its compatriots who were already hanging out on the branches of a tree not too far away.

More frogs were sent scattering as the bridge rocked gently under my feet. This time, however, one brave amphibian stood its ground. Or rather its log as it was completely unperturbed by the presence of a human.


After getting to the other side, I made my way towards the tree where those birds had congregated. I wasn’t sure what they were but my glimpses of them revealed enough to convince me that I hadn't seen them before. The colors that I was able to discern and the way they looked as they flew were quite unfamiliar to me. Lacking direct sunlight, I wasn't able to get a very good photo of them, but I did manage to get at least one that displayed their general shape and a little of their feather pattern including a crest.


This, combined with a very blurry photo that I took later which showed some color, gave me enough to go on with my newly recovered copy of Birds of Wisconsin. After careful consultation, I have concluded that these were Green Herons. They are found in most of Wisconsin during the summer while they spend the rest of their time down in South America.

I eventually found my way to the border with Edna Taylor Conservation Park which reminded me of Checkpoint Charlie as it had a sign saying "You are now leaving the Aldo Leopold Nature Center" and crossed over. This area seemed quite familiar to me as I had been on this side of that sign previously.

At first, I wandered down a path that I would have sworn I'd strolled on during my last visit but I soon discovered that this section of the park wasn't quite as familiar as I had initially thought. It wasn't long before I found myself in terra incognita. Taking the path to the right at a fork in the road, I ended up in the playground of an elementary school that had a mural of Sandhill cranes.


I re-entered the park using another path. A short distance to the east I came to an intersection that had one route blocked off with a sign noting that Native American burial mounds lay ahead and that they ought not be disturbed lest you run afoul of various state statutes. Heading down the other way, I soon found myself looking up the same hill that I saw deer having breakfast on last time. The path continued to the south and I ran into this tree bearing what I think are plums.


I forged on and came to a trail that went up the hill on the east side of the park which had recently been cut into the tall grass. As I was walking, the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds at last and burn off the fog.


I spied some movement on a dead tree ahead just off of the trail. It was a woodpecker! I've had mediocre luck at best in the past trying to photograph these birds but Fate was smiling upon me this day as this one was thoroughly engrossed with the tree and the insects inside so it ignored the human fumbling with its camera a mere 10 yards or so away.


I think it was a Downy Woodpecker but it may have been a Hairy Woodpecker. They look very similar. When it stopped hopping around, it began pecking. Not very aggressively but luckily it was quiet enough that I could hear the gentle pecks on the wood.

As I neared the exit, I came across some bees doing what bees do.


When my walk was over, I was pleased as punch to have finally gotten a decent photograph of a woodpecker. But it was still fairly early. I was on Femrite Drive and decided to go east and find out where it would take me once it left the city.

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While I am not the biggest Anthony Bourdain fan around, I still went to the see the new documentary about him, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.


It didn't attempt to portray his whole life and instead began with the publication of his first book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, and proceeded to chronicle his rise to stardom. Having worked in a kitchen for several years, I found myself smiling and nodding a lot while reading Kitchen Confidential. It had only been a few years since I'd left the cooking trade when I read it so memories of all the madness and chicanery were still fairly fresh in my mind.

While I may not have worked at a fancy restaurant in a big city, there was plenty of drug use (it being Madison, it was largely booze and marijuana instead of cocaine) and low-level mayhem in the kitchen of the private dormitory I was at back in the 90s.

As with any place of employment, various members of the staff slept with one another. For example, I dated a couple of my coworkers. But we had a cook that would sneak off with one of the hostesses for some hanky panky amidst sacks of flour in the baker's storeroom. Tangentially, another cook was a woman who was big farm girl. And tall too. Taller than me. She never hid the fact that she and her husband were swingers. Indeed, she was happy to let you know this. One day after boasting to me and my fellow prep cook about being able to balance multiple quarters on each of her nipples, she leered in our direction and rather menacingly invited us out to her place where she would "make us into men"...

It is said that college students gain 15 pounds their freshman year, the Freshman 15. We figured that 15 just wasn't enough and endeavored to give these kids their Freshman 25. Honestly, it didn't take much as, if it came out of a fryer, the gormandizers would empty the freezer for you. However, if it was something prepared from scratch, then the students mostly avoided it like the Plague. We'd go through oodles and oodles of chicken nuggets and French fries. A nice batch of ratatouille made from scratch? The staff would end up eating some of it with the rest forming the base of a soup the following morning.

One day I was offsite feeding a bunch of very hungry athletes and we ran out of taco meat. I called back to the main kitchen and asked for more. The reply was, "Well, we're out of ground beef but you'll get your taco meat." There was something mildly threatening about that response and, when the delivery truck finally pulled up, I felt a bit like the couple at the end of "The Monkey's Paw" when there was that ominous knock at their door. I didn't want to know what was in that "taco meat". Peeling back the foil on that first pan off the truck was more than a little like that scene at the end of Kiss Me Deadly.

Ah, the bad old days.

I had the pleasure of seeing Bourdain speak here in Madison, have read a couple of his books, and have watched random episodes of his TV shows. I appreciated the curiosity he brought with him on his travels and that he didn't come across as an ugly American.

The movie has been criticized for various reasons including the use of an artificial voice. A computer was used to generate a very Bourdain-like voice that reads the transcript of a voice mail the man himself had left for a friend. Although I don't understand the aesthetic reason for doing so, I don't have a problem with it on an ethical level. Documentarians have deceived viewers for ages. Some scenes from Nanook of the North were staged. Two of my favorites documentary directors, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, use reenactments and look for truth beyond that which a simple recitation of facts can give. This fakery may be high tech, but it's a quantitative difference, not qualitative, to my mind.

I recommend seeing Roadrunner, if you can.

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The bonus photo this time is pure Wisconsin and was seen at the VFW a few blocks from home.

10 September, 2021

They deococted the mash - It was a Ravenswood smash: Helles Lager by Dovetail Brewery


This summer I investigated the cream ale a little bit as I was looking for something to add to my repertoire of aestival brews. They were light. They had a reputation for being crisp and refreshing. Just the thing! Along the way I learned that the venerable style was invented by American brewers in response to the German and German-inspired pilsners which were beginning to dominate the American beer world back in the latter half of the 19th century. "They want light and crisp?! Well, we'll give them light and crisp, dammit!"

And now I have learned of another brew that was invented as a response to the popularity of the pilsner. In this case, however, it was the OG pilsners of Bohemia that prompted a zymurgylogical riposte. It seems odd to me that a Czech brew would run roughshod over Germany's beer scene because, as we saw with the invention of the cream ale, it is the Germans who like to do the blitzkrieging over others.

From what I gather, Gabriel Sedlmayr II, who inherited the Spaten Brewery in Munich along with his brother Josef, devised the Helles in 1894 after he'd already come up with the Märzen. That's a 1-2 punch right up there with that of the guy who invented the hazy IPA and then followed it up with the juicy IPA.

While it's easy to find articles on the internet that maintain the Helles was the German answer to increasing Bohemian pilsner sales within its borders, I haven't found anything that gives firm numbers. Just how badly was German beer losing this Bierkampf to their neighbors to the east? And was pilsner on the rise only in the Munich area in 1894? Bavaria? The whole of Germany? We may never know. Well, not until Ron Pattinson and/or Andreas Krennmair investigate the subject and then blog about it.

However the history actually transpired, Sedlmayr's concoction is one of my favorite bier styles. It has a rich, bready grain flavor complemented by Noble hops or Noble-tasting ones, anyway. My love for the Helles started back in my freshman year of college when one of my new-found friends on my dorm floor offered to share his stash of German brews. And I don't mean a smattering of stray Beck's and St. Pauli Girl bottles he had snagged from some small town liquor store that was happy to sell to underage kids. He had spent his final semester of high school in Deutschland and smuggled some precious liquid bread back home. My memory tells me he and I drank all of the beers ourselves because everyone else to whom the offer of some fine imported suds was extended to refused on the grounds that there was still yeast in one of the bottles and that another was dark instead of light yellow like Miller and Bud.

What made me fall in love with those beers was all of the melanoidins. Those delectable molecules give beer that lightly toasted bread flavor, for want of a better way to put it. Apparently decoction is the way to create those molecules and the Germans love to decoct. Americans generally don't which is likely why I find most domestic versions of the Helles to be inferior. It's like brewers here think that if they just brew a pils but use less hops than they normally would, they've made a Helles.

I've already celebrated a few beers from Chicago's Dovetail here and I believe I noted at some point that they engage in more than a little decoction. So, when I opened my first can of their Helles, I figured that developing a fondness for this beer was a fait accompli.


As my cat Grabby looked on, I poured some in my mini-mug. I got a lovely frothy, white head that proved to be in no hurry to go away. Beneath it the beer was clear and yellow and the whole thing looked much better than my photograph portrays. Taking a whiff, I smelled fresh bread and hops that were mostly grassy but also slightly floral. Simply wonderful.

Upon taking a sip I was not disappointed. Melanoidin galore! While the beer was medium-light (leaning towards the light side) on the tongue, it had a great, rich malty taste full of toasty bread and a more general graininess. There was just a hint of sweetness. All of those malt flavors were complemented by some hops which had a slightly peppery flavor and provided a gentle bitterness. Swallowing I found that the malty flavors faded while the hoppy ones remained. The fizz dried things out just a tad making for a delightfully clement finish.

I will get down to brass tacks: this is the best American Helles I have ever tasted. Drowning in that decocted goodness on my first sip reminded me of that fateful day in the dorm when I learned what good beer tasted like. I could write an encomium to the toasty essence of the grain flavors here but I won't. Instead, I want to say that I also loved the hops. That fresh, green grassy/floral scent – oh, man! That is such a wonderful aroma. Evocative of summer and its verdant landscapes with life in full bloom.

Hopefully, as Dovetail's distribution here in Madison widens (and let us also hope it deepens with Rauchbier), their brews will be featured at a tap takeover at Olbrich Biergarten because that is how nature intended for them to be consumed. You just can't go wrong with Dovetail and the Biergarten is close to home.

Junk food pairing: With such a kickass beer decocted with ruthless German efficiency, go big on the junk food. I heartily recommend a central European theme by pairing Old Dutch Onion & Garlic potato chips (the bag is yellow just like Dovetail cans!) with Heluva Good!'s Bacon Horseradish dip.

09 September, 2021

A Salt & Vinegar Miscellany III

 


A couple more salt & vinegar snacks.

The Pringles weren't bad as they had a decent vinegar tang to them.

The Veggie Straws tasted like Pringles with that pasty reconstituted potato texture but they had some spinach or other vegetable essence added to them for a little something extra. Again, a nice middle of the road dose of vinegar.

07 September, 2021

The Corona Diaries Vol 29: And we've got to get ourselves back to the (Olbrich Bier)garden

Early August 2021

I wrote previously that I was saddened when the news came down that an old Prohibition era roadhouse here in Madison with ties to Chicago mobsters called The Wonder Bar was slated to be demolished to make way for an 18-story high rise. In a surprising turn of events, the Madison Plan Commission saved the building by denying permission to the developer. Considering that the owner was ready to sell and that the restaurant has been closed for months, I am not sure that it is out of the woods yet but at least it has been given a temporary reprieve.

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I saw this at the grocery store last week: sauerkraut in squeeze bottles from a company called Sauer Frau. I love the name and logo.


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A cousin of mine sent out an email last month with a link to a photo gallery of train stations from the days of yore. I was reminded of this missive a couple weeks ago when one of our local papers ran an article about the debate over where to build a train station should intercity passenger rail return to Madison.

The article quoted a local urban planner:

"If Madison aims high, and hires the best station architects available, then it can have a beautiful new civic icon," he said.

Our mayor wants to locate it on the north side in the former Oscar Mayer site which is in the early days of being transformed from a meat processing facility into something new that doesn't smell like hot dogs. Here's a rendering showing a train station in the lower center with a clock tower.


Personally, while I understand that transit can spur development and growth, this seems wrong to me. Transit's first job is to move people as best it can, not promote economic growth. This site is not close to downtown and is absent from all current BRT plans. Put the station where it serves passengers the best, not where you want to do a ribbon cutting in a few years. 

Of course, there's no guarantee we'll even need a station in the near future. But let us hope. Biden's infrastructure bill is working its way through the legislative process…

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Despite having been open since 2017 and being a mere 2 blocks from our house, the Frau and I had never been to the Olbrich Biergarten until a week or so ago. Located on the north shore of Lake Monona, it serves up beer, soda, pretzels, and mini-bratwurst in an idyllic setting. Well, it's idyllic when the lake doesn't smell of toxic algae slime.


I recall the controversy back in 2016 when it was first proposed. A bunch of neighborhood fuddy-duddies were against it and predicted nightly bacchanalian revelry with uncontrolled noise, drunkenness, debauchery, and mayhem. On our visit we saw mainly families and older folks. One couple brought their dog in a stroller which was funny. Bands of 21 year-olds looking to get sloshed and cause trouble on a Friday night were noticeably absent.

It seems that all of the doomsaying by the local Cassandras didn't come to pass, thankfully.


While the lake's odor held off, unfortunately, the 3 Sheeps pilsner they had on offer was not good. I double checked my tastebuds a couple days later by drinking a can of it and it was the same.

********

Back in high school I read Kerouac's On the Road and Ginsberg's "Howl". It took me a while but I have finally read something by the final member of the Beat Generation holy triumvirate, William S. Burroughs. I don't know why it took me so long especially considering his brief resurgence of popularity while I was in college when he did a couple spoken word albums with the musicians Kurt Cobain and The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, respectively. It was the Beat Generation collaborating with Generation X.


While I enjoyed Burrough's writing style and his turns of phrase, I just couldn’t get into it. I was not far in when I realized I had no idea what was happening beyond a junkie was looking for his fix and before long there was an orgy and then people were being killed. I just went along for the ride, not worrying about plot. It seemed to be an impressionistic survey of the life of a junkie instead of a conventional piece of storytelling with a 3 act plot and the action being led forward by cause and effect.

After I finished reading the novel, I sought out a little more about the man and found that the radio show This American Life broadcasted a BBC Radio 4 documentary about Burroughs called "Burroughs at 100" and it can be found here. To say that the guy was a character is a vast understatement.

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Now that there's fresh, local sweetcorn to be had, I bought some at the stand just 5 or 6 blocks from us. I grilled it up fine and turned it into elote, a.k.a. – Mexican street corn. I mixed some mayo with crema (Mexican sour cream) and smeared it on liberally. Then a layer of cotija, a dry cheese that crumbles into small bits easily, followed by some chili powder, and finally plenty of lime juice. It accompanied some fresh kielbasa that was also grilled to perfection.


We also enjoyed some locally raised porcine goodness recently. I wanted to cook something German for dinner and so I stopped in at my local butcher who sliced a couple pork chops for me that were nice and thick. She even made the slits for stuffing it for me. On the menu was Gefüllte Schweinerippchen à la Holstein or Stuffed Pork Chops, Holstein style.

The stuffing included rum soaked raisins and, on the day I was to cook the chops, I got them soaking first thing. I mean it was 5 A.M. and I went to the liquor cabinet to find the rum even before turning on the coffeemaker. My morning routine normally starts with the Brewing of the Coffee followed by feeding the cats who are noisily petitioning me with meows for breakfast so you can imagine they were not happy and even a bit confused as to just what the human was up to. In addition to those raisins, the stuffing had apple slices sautéed in butter, some cinnamon sugar, and bread crumbs. The chops were braised with beer in the oven and I think they turned out pretty well.


Sadly, it looks like cooking German food, drinking German bier, and watching German films will have to suffice for a while since we are unable to make a trip over there.

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Bonus photo. I saw this on the back of a car on one of my bike rides. When they turn on the rear windshield wipers, Arnie flexes his muscles.

03 September, 2021

The Corona Diaries Vol 28: Not as Bad as the Cuyahoga River

Late July 2021

A few years back when my mother-in-law died, I was clearing out her house and came across a box of letters. They were used by my Frau's grandfather, Clarence, to write his book, Remembering John W. Cookson: A Wisconsin Anti-fascist in the Spanish Civil War, 1937-1938.

You see, Clarence was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and fought against the fascists in Spain from 1937-38. Cookson was his best friend and the pair battled Franco together over there. If my memory of hearing Clarence talk a family event from many years ago is accurate, then Cookson died in Clarence's arms. For his part, Clarence was injured during the Battle of the Ebro in 1938 and that ended his fighting career – with a gun, that is.

The letters were mainly ones written by Cookson to his family from Spain. Here's a bit of one. Sorry about the quality. I'd take a new photo but I donated the letters to the Wisconsin Historical Society before getting a better picture.


Cookson wrote this missive dated June 4, 1938 to his father from Barcelona. In it he argues with his dad over the threat posed by Hitler.

You say " of course Chamberlain's plan will avert a European war & that is what England is afraid of".

But I'm afraid that unless Chamberlain is ousted there may be a world war.

There is something rather harrowing about this exchange when you know how history played out. I feel a vicarious sense of fatalism reading it knowing that Germany invades Poland the following year and the enormous human toll to come.

You can find out more about Clarence and his remarkable career as a peace and social justice activist here.

********

While it took a couple visits, the experts have finally attached the base and quarter round and so our 3-month kitchen floor replacement odyssey has, for all intents and purposes, finally come to an end.


The cats are dropping food and puking on the new floor just as they did on the old one so things are back to normal. Next I need to remove the old microwave and the Frau needs to paint walls. By and large, though, I can now concentrate on the next major home improvement project: hardwood floors that need to be sanded and re-stained out in the living room. Oh, and a new deck as well.

********

Earlier in the summer I discovered the Madison Parks events website and, while it took me a few weeks, I finally attended an event. This one involved Starkweather Creek near my home. I arrived on a lovely Saturday morning and was greeted by a couple folks and a little dog too. They were going to demonstrate their monthly testing routine which measured the creek's rate of flow, temperature, and other fluvial attributes.


The gentleman was pleased at how clear the water was before noting that the creek is contaminated with PFAS, carcinogenic chemicals that don't naturally break down. With more than a note of disgust, he explained how fire fighting exercises were done in decades past upstream at the airport. In the infinite wisdom of airport management, firefighters would lay down some jet fuel on a spot near the creek and then practice their snuffing skills using a foam laden with PFAS which made its way into the water. Uff da!

With the measurements having been taken, we took a look at the critters in the creek to see if any of the less hardy ones could be found in an attempt to try to gauge the effects of the PFAS and other pollutants. We found a couple bugs that are fairly sensitive to pollution so the creek doesn't appear to be in dire straits. There were lots of mayfly and dragonfly larvae and, I must admit, I had no idea that you'd find oodles of insect larvae in the water. I figured that flying creatures grew up on land. There were also lots of crawfish and snails.



I had fun and learned quite a bit about the creek which runs just a couple blocks from my house. The guy also convinced me that I should kayak the creek. Water craft can be rented on the shore of Lake Monona, not far from home so that is now on my to-do list.

On my return bike ride, I ran across an old car which looked like it was straight out of a François Truffaut film.


I looked it up and it appears to be Citroën 2CV, the French equivalent of a Volkswagen Beetle – cheap, no frills transportation for the common man.

********

Back in the spring, the Frau's father was talking up his plans to plant a Three Sisters garden. Various Native American tribes used to plant corn, beans, and squash closely together as the arrangement was beneficial to all involved. This method helps attract pollinators, keep away pests, and allows the plants to help one another grow.

And on a recent visit to the father-in-law's, we got a glimpse of the garden.


It looks like we may be having a very traditional Thanksgiving this year.

******** 

Bonus photo. I call this one "Tight Squeeze".


25 August, 2021

Ole and Sven went fishing one day...**: Outboard by Milwaukee Brewing Company


I've known of Evinrude outboard motors for a long time as my father had one when I was a boy that powered the boat on our ventures on Sissabagama Lake during our summers up north. But I had no idea that the brand was named after one Ole Evinrude until c. 2009 when I saw Bob Jacobson's book Ole Evinrude and His Outboard Motor for sale at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. I was also unaware until just a few minutes ago that this Bob Jacobson is the same Bob Jacobson who plays trumpet in Madison's finest Herb Alpert/Al Hirt tribute band, Hirt Alpert. Go see them at the Orton Park Festival this weekend for the rockingest version of "Java" around.

Evinrude was a Norwegian immigrant who spent some time here in Madison before making his way to Milwaukee where he would invent the outboard motor or, at least, the first one that worked well enough to go into production. It's no surprise that Milwaukee Brewing Company pays tribute to the man that fisherpeople and water skiers the world round venerate as they have a reputation for naming their beers after all things Milwaukee. See, for instance, Polish Moon or Increase Wheat.

Overboard is a cream ale and I took a tentative step into investigating the style back in June as the weather was getting hotter and I found myself thinking, "I wonder what other lighter beers would go well in this heat besides a Kid Kölsch or a Bubbler?" The cream ale was invented in the 19th century by American brewers who found themselves losing customers who were increasingly refreshing themselves with those new-fangled pilsners. Insofar as it mimics the pils by being light and crisp, the cream ale sounds like a good fit for summer drinking. The wild card for me is the corn.

We Americans put corn in some form or another into just about everything. And I don't mean just all types of foods either. It's even in our gasoline so we can support a monoculture at the same time we support global climate change. The cream ale generally has corn in it too. I am ambivalent about the use of corn in beer. It makes everything about a brew lighter – color, body, taste. But, to my tongue, it also gives a beer a slight sweetness that I don't care for the taste of. Maybe it's just some part of my brain overriding input from my tongue and brewers are able to put this flavor I don't particularly care for into beer by other means. I am not a supertaster who can detect a single corn kernel in a glass of beer and be sent into fits of apoplexy. Corn in moderation is fine but there is a limit the exact percentage of which is unknown to me that is just a step too far for my taste. 

It sounds like Outboard has been brewed for a while and has had its formula tweaked through the years. It became a year-round offering back in 2014. 


Outboard is a lovely hazy yellow although the head on my pour was lacking. Just a little loose white foam. Does corn do something to the proteins to subdue the foam? I spied lots of bubbles inside my glass. The aroma was dominated by a strawberry-like fruitiness with a mild grain scent behind it.

The first thing I noticed when I took a sip was that it was rather smooth tasting. I generally think of oats adding smoothness to a beer but perhaps corn does as well. As expected, it had a light body. There was a medium fizziness beside some light grain and that berry-like fruitiness that my nose caught earlier. I tasted just a faint bit of that sweetness that I, rightly or wrongly, attribute to corn. On the swallow there was a tad of lingering grain along with a mild hoppy bitterness that had a grassy kind of taste. A little dryness was to be had as well which seemed to largely be from the fizz.

As far as being a summer brew, Outboard really hit the spot with its overall light touch that balanced a smidge of grain here with a dollop of fruitiness there. While not as crisp as a pils, it still leaned in the direction of its arch enemy. I wasn't expecting that berry kind of taste but it was gentle and welcome. Plus I was pleased that I didn't get much of that corny flavor. Overall this is just a tasty, refreshing beer and a welcome addition to my Aestival Beer Arsenal™ .

Junk food pairing: I say go full Milwaukee with your Outboard and grab a bag of potato chips from the Milwaukee Chip Company, a new face on the local junk food scene.

**...in a rented boat and were catching fish like crazy. Ole said, "We better mark this spot so we can come back and catch more fish." Sven then proceeded to mark the bottom of the boat with a large 'X'. Ole asked him what he was doing, and Sven told him he was marking the spot so they could come back tomorrow to catch more fish. Ole said, "Ya big dummy, how do ya know ve are going to get da same boat tomorrow?"

23 August, 2021

The Corona Diaries Vol. 27: Even I Have Never Heard a Story As Horrible As This

Late July 2021

Now that I am regularly going into the office twice a week in addition to on an as needed basis, I am witnessing the growth of the corn by my bus stop. Earlier this week there was plenty of mini-maize as tassels were a-sproutin' everywhere.


I suspect this is feed corn or that it is turned into ethanol as I have never seen the crops in this field harvested before, say, mid-November. A couple years ago they didn't clear the field until December. Otherwise, I'd indulge my atavistic hunter gatherer tendencies and grab a couple ears here and there to score points with the Frau by bringing home exceedingly fresh corn for dinner.

The farm and adjacent disused cement factory are still for sale (~$9,000,000, I am told) and a non-profit continues to work towards buying it. They intend to keep at least part of the property going as a working farm. I am ambivalent about such a plan.

Maintaining a working farm would be novel, no doubt, and may have environmental benefits such as absorbing heat and allowing run-off to percolate into the soil. But my neighborhood suffers from a paucity of commercial space. It would be really nice to have a tavern or a coffee shop just a couple blocks from home. Or a decent restaurant or a pet food store or a hardware store and so on. Most of these things aren't that far away but they are well beyond 2 blocks. One of the great virtues of the Eastmorland neighborhood is that it's close to other neighborhoods that have establishments that I like to frequent. It just doesn't have such places in it. Eastmorland is essentially a bedroom community.

Well, soon we'll have fresh sweet corn and thusly Mexican street corn will be in abundance. And the first apples will be ready for harvest shortly. Our favorite orchard is advertising an opening date of 15 August. Summer is flying by.

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I concluded my last entry chronicling a bike ride in media res so here's the finale.

After looking at all of the fancy schmancy homes in the University Heights neighborhood where the University big wigs from the days of yore lived or had streets named after them, I started my trek home. As is normally the case, I did not go straight home but rather took many detours. One of those was to check out a historic marker that I'd driven and ridden by many a time. In fact, I used to live a block away from it while in college and knew someone who lived next door to the house with the marker but I had no recollection of what it commemorated.

Well, it turned out to be the home of Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette, a progressive firebrand during the late 19th and early 20th centuries who was governor of Wisconsin as well as a senator. He also founded The Progressive magazine. La Follette and wife moved into this house in 1881, I believe the marker said.


At about this point in the morning I recalled that my cats were on the brink of starvation and so I headed of towards my local purveyor of skipjack tuna & shrimp chow, MadCat.

On the way there I passed by a notable Little Free Library. Back in entry #2, methinks, I noted the bit of vernacular Madison architecture that is the Trachte building. The classic model was a steel-walled structure with a barrel-shaped roof. Well, I rode by what must surely be the only Trachte Little Free Library in existence.


It was a reasonable facsimile of the building that it stood in front of.


When I arrived at the pet store I found, as is normally the case on Saturdays, that one of the Frau's friends was on duty there. She always asks about our cats and is a reliable cat sitter for short vacations. I was soon flush with cat food wet and dry and was assured of being welcomed home like a conquering hero, by 2 cats, anyway. As I was unlocking my bicycle, I noticed that someone has modified the sign on the other side of the parking lot.


Poor hounds.

Soon enough I was riding for home once again. While going down a side street, I came across a first for me: a Lawrence Welk bumper sticker. And a polka one too.


I took another detour through an overgrown section of the Dixon Greenway. There's a trail on the south side of the park near some railroad tracks that leads to the West Branch of Starkweather Creek. It has always been a bit tricky with a small stump in the middle of it but it had recently become quite precarious with another arboreal peril thrown in. A couple weeks previously I discovered that a certain patch of tree roots had become even more exposed and that, unless you stick to the very inside of the path, your front bicycle wheel will plant itself up against one of them and you will get a look of surprise on your face which quickly becomes terror as your butt leaves your seat and it flies over your bike's handlebars with the rest of your body. Ergo I was walking my bike that day. As I was strolling along, I found a bee busy collecting nectar on a flower that I cannot identify.


I eventually made it home without incident.

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An entry or 2 ago I noted that I had seen a poster for a theatrical presentation of Rashomon down at the University. Well, the Frau and I went to see a performance of it and we enjoyed it quite a bit.


According to the program, the play was written by Fay and Michael Kanin and was based on Akira Kurosawa's film. It opened on Broadway in 1959.

The set consisted of the Rashomon gate and a bamboo grove. Three characters were always at the gate while flashbacks of the action played out in the grove, which rotated. And, of course, the actors came to the front of the stage and faced the audience during scenes when they gave their accounts to the unseen constabulary of what happened amongst the bamboo trees.

There were a couple times that I felt the dialogue was too on the nose about the play's themes. Having the wigmaker blurt out the main theme should have been left in the rehearsal room, in my opinion, but what do I know? I'm no dramaturgist. Otherwise, it was very good.

I always tear up at the end of the movie when the woodcutter decides to take the abandoned baby home to raise as his own. This act restores the priest's hope for humanity which he'd lost after hearing the horrible story of what happened in the grove. And I did so during the play. That scene just kills me.

It was ironic that the theater department chose this play because, just days before I noticed the poster for the show, I had purchased the movie on Blu-ray - the Criterion Collection version.


Truth be known, Barnes & Noble has been selling Criterion discs for 50% off all month and I have been taking advantage of their generosity.

When it rains, it pours. A few days after seeing the play, the BBC Arts and Ideas podcast reposted their episode on Rashomon which looked that the film as well as its source material, the short stories "In a Grove" and "Rashomon" by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. The podcast can be found here.

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The bonus photo is plural this time. Kind of. A friend of the Frau's found a reproduction of Thomas Gainsborough's c1770 painting The Blue Boy


…and transformed it into a portrait of Prince.