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Monthly Archives: August 2012

So, I’ve always wanted to recommend things to people. Thus, each Thursday, I’ll have a recommendation that might have something to do with food, drink, or cats, or might be completely unrelated. This week is the latter.

I have a hard time falling asleep. I always have. Part of it might be the extremely vivid dreams. Like, the other night I dreamt I was washing my hands in a sink (with running water!) in Honduras, and I noticed a collection of small red spiders in the drain.

Spiders, not sliders.

I turned on the water to try to wash the spiders down the drain, but it turns out they loved water and that’s what was attracting them. They climbed up the running water and swelled into these:

Without the human fist.

That’s when I knew they were crones*. Dream logic and all. The whole sink was full of them, so I chose the best strategy for dealing with most problems, which was to back out of the room, turn out the light, and close the door behind me.

*Yeah, I don’t know.

The whole point of this is not that I recommend having weird spider dreams, but that I often listen to podcast on my iPod machine to help me fall asleep. One of my favorite podcasts that I’ve recently discovered is also one I can’t listen to while dozing off because it’s just too gosh darned entertaining.

Humor, class, and a yellow circle’s thumbs up.

I’m referring, of course, 250 words into this post, to the thing I want to recommend to you: The Judge John Hodgman Podcast. You probably remember John Hodgman as the PC in the Mac vs. PC commercials, and also as a frequent contributor to The Daily Show. In this podcast, friends, neighbors, and family members can bring cases against each other. They argue their cases in front of the judge, and he listens, asks questions, and eventually makes a ruling. Some of the best cases are about the nerdiest things. For example, a recent episode focused on a bet two friends had made, betting that one friend couldn’t trick the other into saying his name backwards. He managed to get him to say his middle name backwards, and Judge John Hodgman had to make a ruling about whether or not that fulfilled the terms of the bet.

Other cases have involved proper canning technique (with guest judge Alton Brown, no less), how many people are infected with “garbage hands” when emptying the trash, how often you really have to give your little brother a ride to school, and whether a missed call on a cell phone’s call log is equivalent to leaving a voicemail. Judge John Hodgman has judged cases from the United States, Canada, and Portland, Oregon (which he cites as its own country unto itself). Funny, clever, and educational, it’s a podcast you just can’t fall asleep to.

This week’s recommendation: The Judge John Hodgman Podcast. Check it out.

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Last night, Josh was working a double, so I was on my own for dinner. I didn’t really have any ideas, so decided to stop by the Middleton Farmer’s Market to see if anything inspired me. I was surprised to see a Food Cart in the midst of the booths selling cheese, honey, and produce. Slide Food Cart sells six different types of sliders, homemade potato chips, homemade pickles, and coleslaw. (Would it be considered homemade if they are made in a cart? Not sure, but that’s how the menu described them.)

I hadn’t been planning on buying anything from the cart, but while I stood there reading its menu, two customers were freaking out about how good the sliders were, and going on and on about the addictive quality of the homemade French Onion Dip that accompanied the homemade potato chips. When the operator of the food cart mentioned that she was going to be there every Tuesday evening, they reacted like they had won the lottery.

I asked the girls what they liked best at the cart, and was suprised at their answer: the “Beet the Meat” slider, described as “a thick beet slice slow-cooked in spices and topped with homemade creamy dressing.” When I responded with a “Really?” the girls assured me that they had thought it sounded gross when they first saw it, too, but it was really good.

I’m not sure I thought it sounded gross, but my response to beets can sort of be summed up with a shrug. I was fed a lot of beets by host families in the Peace Corps in Honduras, and they never really grew on me. They never repulsed me either; they’re just a neutral, red, stain-happy food to me.

But the enthusiasm these two had could not be denied, so I ordered a beet slider. I also got a “PowerBall” slider, which is described as a “mozzarella cheese-stuffed meatball with homemade marinara sauce and fresh basil.”

Your winning PowerBall number is… a slider

People of Middleton, this is worth checking out. The PowerBall was great. Spicy, but not too spicy, with just the right amount of cheese inside. I had been worried that it would be a giant mozzarella ball ready to surprise me with a cold, chewy mouthful, but it was perfectly integrated into the meatball and not at all overpowering.

My real revelation, though was the Beets the Meat. Holy man, that was good. The beet was sweet, and sort of cinnamony. It was topped with caramelized onions and that creamy sauce to hit multiple levels of flavor. This is the most delicious beet I have ever had and I find myself sort of surprised to discover that I think I like beets after all.

I got a bag of the homemade potato chips for Josh to enjoy when he got home from work. The chips themselves were pretty addictive — thin and crispy. The French Onion dip didn’t do much for me, but I’d definitely try some of her other concoctions.

Slide Food Cart will be at the Middleton Farmer’s Market every Tuesday afternoon 3:00 PM to 6:30 PM. Check it out.

We drink a lot of beer in our household. More accurately, I suppose, we drink a lot of different beers. I’ve been a piddling member of the beer geek community for some years now, and Michelle has been kind enough to join me in this tasty, tasty past time.

Tastiness not necessarily from left to right.

The craft beer scene has been exploding all over the US for years now, and it was just starting to firmly take root in GA when we moved away. One of the better-known breweries in the state is Terrapin, located in a nondescript warehouse on a particularly confusing stretch of highway outside of Athens. Distribution outside the Southeast is scant, and you can forget about it in this neck of the woods. Still, if you somehow come across any of their beers–especially their Monster Beer Tour Line, featuring Big Hoppy Monster and Wake n’ Bake Coffee-Oatmeal Imperial Stout–snatch ’em up.

Thank god for loopholes. See, collaboration beers are all the rage now, and sometimes one company can benefit from the distribution ratio of the other (see also: Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux). In this case, Terrapin teamed up with Shmaltz Brewing of San Francisco and New York to produce their Reunion Ale.

Lick it.

Honestly, I didn’t even read the bottle after I saw the Terrapin brand name. I grabbed it off the shelf, stuck it in the fridge, and managed to wait an entire day before Michelle and I opened it…while playing, I think, Ticket to Ride.

I SAID LICK IT.

Style-wise, it’s a bit of a mash-up, usually what databases refer to as an “American Strong Ale,” because they have no idea. Essentially, though, it’s a ramped-up brown ale. They brew this thing with a ton of 2-Row, Crystal, and Chocolate Malts, along with healthy doses of pure cocoa nibs, vanilla, and cinnamon. At 8% ABV, it’s got a pretty lively head, which stuck around almost until we finished it.

Pictured: a lively head.

You’ve got to like sweet-ish beers to appreciate this one; it’s almost cloyingly so, and I wouldn’t want to tackle a bomber myself. But it really succeeds in an “as advertised” sort of way: lots of chocolate, caramel, and a sprinkling of vanilla. The cinnamon props everything up nicely, and brings a little bit of spice to cut through the sweetness. Not quite a dessert beer, not quite an easy drinker. Odd duck.

Honestly, though, if the beer had been a total failure, I wouldn’t have minded. I’m more than a thousand miles from most of my family, and sometimes an anthropomorphic turtle is all you need to remind you of home. Sometimes.

This was the scene this weekend at the Middleton Good Neighbor Festival:

My parents and I were going to have lunch there and then buy some arts and crafts at the aptly named Arts and Crafts Fair, but it was raining so we had a brunch at Craftsman Table and Tap instead. I am unable to impartially review that restaurant, but will just say that the cute bartender makes really good bloody marys, and leave it at that.

We could have had something to eat at the festival, though, if we hadn’t been afraid to stand out in the rain.

Well, it is Wisconsin.

We saw the following offer far away from the food and beer tents, in the Arts and Crafts section. As your dedicated Middleton food and drink blogger, I had to try a sample against my better judgment:

Tastes like liquified Pixy Stix.

Having been to England, I get the impression that this…

 

'Merica.

 

 

…is the first thing Europeans picture when they think of America. And I don’t think I’m being paranoid. When my college class and I went to see a movie one afternoon in Oxford, everyone besides me had a fish hook on the bill of their Gamecocks trucker hats. And it didn’t help that we went to see Elektra. If you went back in time to the beginning of film to hand Thomas Edison a reel of Elektra, every movie since then would be Twilight, starring Chris Tucker.

 

Vengeance, in any case, is wrought by Americanized pubs like Claddagh, an Irish “pub” chain apparently run by people who think of Ireland–a land steeped in in-fighting, bloodshed, mystical pre-Christian faiths, and timeless song and literature–and come up with this:

 

An early version of "Lord of the Rings" had Saruman cross-breeding leprechauns with hipsters.

 

 

Which, really, is fine. Authentic Irish pubs, I’m told, are characterized mainly by the peerless conversational skills of their patrons and proprietors. Most Americans don’t go to pubs or bars to meet new people they don’t intend to mix fluids with, so we compensate with Irish proverbs “carved” into rafters, too-cold Guinness, and heavy Gaelic Storm on the playlist.

 

It sounds like I had a miserable time. I didn’t. The food was decent–the cabbage was a disappointment, but the corned beef itself was spot on–and even the Guinness we get stateside beats hell out of Miller Lite any day. But we’ve cooked better Irish fare in our tiny apartment kitchen, with little more than a few potatoes, leeks, and the right freaking spices.

 

Like Michelle said, barring a kick-ass trivia night, there’s little reason to go back. The food is so-so, the service is serviceable, and the whole thing had a sort of Epcot vibe to it, only more gloomy. Fortunately for us, and for you if you live in the Madison area, we’ve got no shortage of truer pubs. Which we’ll post about later. That’s called a

 

 

 

folks. Sorry, it’s that kind of blog.

So, tonight we went to Claddagh Irish Pub in Greenway Station. Greenway Crossing. Greenway something, anyway. I’d been there once before for pub trivia, but it was a long time ago and I remembered exactly nothing about the food.

Probably the only thing really worth mentioning here is the service. When we were seated at a very wide table (read: shouting distance away from each other), our server approached the table with a giant grin. “How are you guys tonight?” she said, so happy to see us.

“Good,” Josh said

“Fine,” I said, “How are you?”

She paused and smiled. “I’m… divine.”

I looked at her and said, “Wow,” and ordered a Guinness. This was the first Guinness I’d had in a while, not for any particular reason, but mostly because there are so many new and different craft beers to try in Wisconsin that I don’t usually go to the old standards. Guinness is a special beer to me, though, because it’s the beer that taught me to like beer. I was in Ireland, proclaiming left and right that I am just not a beer person, when someone finally put a pint in my hands and I realized what all the fuss was about. Josh had Murphy’s, the stout he drank in England when Guinness wasn’t available. (I love, by the way, how this makes us sound like we’re such world travelers. Which is not necessarily true.)

Divine checked back with us a bit too frequently, always with the same dreamy smile that made me wonder if she was dipping into something in the back or having some sort of communion with the other world that I wasn’t aware of. Josh had Corned Beef and Cabbage, and I had a Jameson Burger. The food was okay. Nothing I’d go back for, honestly. I was surprised how empty the place was. It was maybe 6:00 PM when we got there, so sort of early, but it is a Saturday night.

Overall – fake Irish pub atmosphere, “Divine” service, okay food. But at least it got us talking about Ireland, and had me reminiscing about how Irish people are the easiest people in the world to talk to. I am one who tends to get a bit stressed out in conversation with strangers, but in a small town pub in Ireland, talking to a stranger was like falling down a hill (without the broken bones).