A Day Out on the Bike Trails



imageWhen you think of Wisconsin, your next thought after cheese and beer should be bike trails because they are everywhere. Yesterday we left Milwaukee on the Hank Aaron trail, hooked up with the Glacial Drumlin trail via the New Berlin and Fox River trails and got into Oconomowoc on the Lake Country trail.

Attentive readers will recall mention of the state fair in the previous post. For whatever reason, the fair is on grounds outside Milwaukee rather than in Madison. It turns out you can get to the fair by bike trail as we discovered early in our ride. We were tempted by the prospect of a serendipitous delay but I would have had to navigate my laden bike through the crowds so we settled for a few photos instead. A missed opportunity nevertheless.





imageWe planned a short ride for our first day, and we were done by mid-afternoon. Our motel was in a sterile uncompleted would-be upscale development north of the freeway. Not very promising but curious in its as-yet-unrealized aspirations. While in search of a grocery store for the next day’s provisions, we saw in the distance the answer to all our needs:


That right there is truth in advertising; if you travel through Wisconsin in the summertime, you can put together a pretty fine picnic with the fruit, wine and cheese at Brennan’s.

While we did provision ourselves for the next day, we already had plans for dinner because we were in Wisconsin on a Friday night, which meant fish fry! We biked over to Silver Lake (wise decision to put double-sided pedals on our bikes) and settled in for an early dinner on the patio at Burke’s Lakeside. I don’t know anything about the tradition of Friday fish fry in Wisconsin other than it’s what’s done, but it’s easy enough to surmise that its origins must be with fresh-caught fish from local lakes. So I asked our amiable server what the fish was, and upon learning that it was cod, had the sad realization that once again our national proclivity for having too much of a good thing had done in a once-proud regional tradition.

Perhaps the Friday
fish fry lives on in distinction at other locales, but I can only mildly endorse the version at Burke’s. Rachael started gamely:


But even with the help of a half-dozen lemon slices, she could only get so far:


So we said farewell to the lake


and biked back in time to watch the day come to an end.

imageNot bad for day one.

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Bike Trip

Bike TripInteresting day yesterday – we got into Milwaukee early in the morning with plenty of time to kill after picking up rental bikes for the week-long ride we begin today, and so since it was the first Thursday of the month we went to the art museum for free to see the Pompidou Centre’s Kandinsky retrospective.

image This turned out to be an incongruous thing to do. Flush with excitement about starting the ride – getting out of the city and into the countryside for a week – being in a museum was dislocating. Where mentally we had already leapt into an imagined future – our sense of present time consciousness had already been polarized by the near future to such an extent that the actual present seemed merely something to get through – now we were in a situation that requested a deepening of focus and awareness. All in all, quite a phenomenological transformation.

Happily for me (less so for Rachael), I am quite fond of Kandinsky’s early- and middle-period abstract works and could answer the call and experience again the impassioned synesthesia of those radical efforts to render inner necessity visible.

Rachael found her reconciliation in another exhibition, this one a group showing of contemporary photographs of Milwaukee that ranged in focus from Todd Browningesque head shots of people at the State Fair to the alienating effects of the decaying built environment.

Thus reinvigorated, we set off on as much of a walking tour that my ailing knee could manage. In practice, this turned out to be a watering hole-by-watering hole ramble about the Third Ward that had us finishing up with a glass of wine in the Public Market and nodding in agreement with the passing comment of a guy telling his friend, “See here in Wisconsin we really like our alcohol.”


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The (Inter)Lopers Go to the Opera (Prequel)

So a couple of weeks ago, Goldstar had tickets for the Washington National Opera’s production of Moby Dick at the Kennedy Center, and we decided to go. That is one of the side benefits of Frugal February – the savings from not eating meat or drinking alcohol combined with the tedium of abstinence impel us to seek new diversions (twice we indulged in some rather nice massages). We could only get tickets for a performance during the week, which meant we had to deal with the dreaded KenCen logistical clusterfuck, i.e., figuring out where and when to eat and how to get across town for the performance. While dining options are convenient and plentiful in Penn Quarter, there are no good choices (in winter) for how to get to the Kennedy Center from there. Cabs are expensive, driving is a pain in the ass, the subway isn’t that close and the bus runs inconveniently and takes forever. This time we decided to endure the bus and eat at the Kennedy Center itself, which was to be a novel experience for the both of us.

Befitting its status as the Cultural Palace on the Potomac, the Kennedy Center has a formal (expensive) restaurant with (I think) quite a lovely view across the river. As an egalitarian gesture, there is also something called the KC Cafe, which we found at the end of a makeshift corridor that screened us from preparations for some private gala. Once obtained, the expansive cafeteria revealed itself as the feeding ground for the sensibly cultured NPR set. A middlebrow hush calmed the clatter of self-serve dining, and I was caught between two memories, one from long ago and one quite new. The common thread was communal dining, and in each case, the recollection concerned being on the outside of a group that I felt I would either soon join or might eventually become part of.

In the arc of our lives, we are periodically subject to institutionalized dining with strangers, some of whom may become acquaintances or even friends. Beginning with compulsory education, there is – for many of us – the military, college or even prison to follow. But then (except for some less common experiences such as homeless shelters, monasteries or asylums) we are more or less set free – free to choose when and where we want to eat and with whom. It is not until confinement in an assisted-living facility that the specter of place-based dining returns.

My two memories were of the freshman dining hall at college and the dining experience at the retirement community where we recently helped my parents move. Freshman year was a long time ago, and the dining hall was one of the reasons I moved off campus once the obligatory first-year residence came to an end. Having dinner with my parents at the old folks home was simply Dickensian in its view of the future yet to come.

Standing on the threshold of the KC Cafe, I had the odd realization of being half a demographic cohort out of step with my fellow patrons. In college, I had been among people of my own age, and at the retirement community, I was among my parents’ generation. But at the cafeteria, I was in a novel setting of loosely affiliated institutional diners composed of the newly or soon-to-be retired. Unlike a residence-based dining community, this group was a transient association that was united by their shared older-middle-aged sensibleness in solving the problem of where to dine before a performance at the Kennedy Center.

The choice to eat at the conveniently located cafeteria rather than off site or at the more expensive similarly situated restaurant suggested (to me at least) a set of commonalities sufficient enough to think of the diners as a kind of group. These characteristics include (beyond age cohort) shared aesthetic taste, similar level of disposable income, a certain frequency of attendance (more of a long shot), a common subordination of the pleasures of dining to those of the evening’s artistic event and a basic preference for ease not unlike the choice of sensible rather than stylish shoes.

As Rachael and I intend to start going to the opera and the symphony more frequently (i.e., not never), I beheld this group with an unsettling frisson of projected possible identification – would this be part of what our future would hold? Is this how the inevitable but not-yet-undeniable slide into sedate geezerdom gathers force? Stay young; stay away from the Kennedy Center? More safely inoculated by her age, Rachael satisfied herself with a bowl of soup while I ruminated over a plate of peas and carrots (frugal february remember) with nary a need for a knife and only a cup of water for refreshment.

[Next Up – the Actual Opera Itself]

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Making Tofu at Home

This seems to be a strange idea – who likes tofu enough to want to make it themselves? Could freshly made tofu taste so different that it would be worth the effort? Even if it tasted better than store bought, how much better would it have to be to make it worthwhile? But perhaps these are the wrong questions – or if they are the right questions for you then you probably won’t bother making your own tofu.

For me, it is no accident that my interest in making tofu has arisen in February – the month we stop eating meat (and drinking alcohol). Since I am cooking with a different focus anyway, the idea of making my own tofu is less immediately farfetched. Add to that a growing inclination to try my hand at making cheese and an abiding interest in seeing how traditional foods are made and voila – here we are.

So, how do you make tofu? It’s pretty simple actually – curdle soy milk and press the curds into a block. But since most readily available soy milk has been adulterated to extend its shelf life, you have to start by making your own soy milk and that means starting with soy beans.

After an overnight soak, the beans are ready to be turned into soy milk. Add beans and water (at a 1:3 ratio) and let the food processor do its thing.

Interestingly, the process of liquefying the beans creates a ton of froth, which makes boiling the milk a little tricky. Like dairy milk, soy milk wants to expand and cause a mess as you boil it, and the inches-deep layer of foam is especially ready to ruin your day. Here is the soy milk and foam in a deep pot.

And here is the foam ready to make its escape as the soy milk is brought up to a boil. Do not turn your back on this sneaky bastard.

Once the mixture has boiled for 20 minutes or so, it’s time to strain the hot scalding mess and extract all the soy milk from the bean pulp. This is another good opportunity for causing yourself serious harm. Directions on the internet blithely instruct you to strain the mixture through some butter muslin and then twist and squeeze the lava-like mass with some kitchen tongs to extract all of the liquid. Ha! Bad idea. Your desire to avoid pain will ensure that you leave some of the soy milk behind. It is better to first pour the seething mixture through a colander to get rid of most of the pulp and then (after safely pressing on the pulp with a spatula to get all the milk out) run the milk through a chinois to strain out the remaining bits.

Now you have fresh, hot soy milk!

The Japanese use nigari (magnesium chloride) to coagulate soy milk. It comes from seawater that has been evaporated and had the sodium chloride removed.

After 20 minutes, the soy milk has separated into curds and whey.

And now all that remains is to line a tofu mold with some butter muslin, skim the curds from the whey, plop them into the mold and set a weight on top to press the curds into a solid block of tofu.


After 50 minutes, this is what you get:

Cover with water and refrigerate and tomorrow it will be dinner! Come back then for answers to all those “pressing” questions!





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Everything But the Quack

I recently found a new place to get fresh locally raised duck so I decided to put up a post about breaking down a whole duck. Now while a good idea in theory, it turned out that I really needed someone else taking the pictures while I had my hands full. So this won’t be a comprehensive account but hopefully it will encourage someone else out there to try their hand at it.

I might roast a whole duck on another occasion, but I prefer to break down the bird, sauté the breasts, confit the legs, render the fat, make a stock from the carcass and feed the meat from the stock to my dog. We get a couple of meals out of it, a nice rich stock, some excellent duck fat and Toffee is happy as well.

Cutting the legs off a bird is pretty straightforward, but when you are doing it to make duck confit, it’s a good idea to get as much extra meat on the thighs as you can. Here I’ve pulled off some of the fat from the cavity and sliced off the thighs.

The only thing seemingly tricky – and I guess it is the first few times you do it – is deboning the breasts. It seems daunting but in fact it’s hard to screw up. All you need is a sharp boning knife and a bit of confidence. The worst thing that can happen is you leave too much meat on the breastbone and the breasts are all ragged and jagged. But if you’re making stock, as you should, the extra meat won’t go to waste and the breasts get plated skin side up so nobody will see what the other side looks like.

Start by running your knife along the breastbone and work your way all the way down.

Once you’ve begun, the next step is easy. Keep slicing with the knife separating the flesh from the breastbone; you can push the breast away from the bone to get a clean slice right along the bone.

Continue to cut the breast off the rib cage and work your way up to the wing and the wishbone.

Getting the breast free of the wing and wishbone can be a little tricky. The easiest thing to do is to grab the wing and twist it out of its socket so you can get your boning knife into the joint. The wishbone I often cut through with a good pair of kitchen shears. Unfortunately I didn’t stop to take pictures after wrestling with the wings, but this is what the breasts look like when you’re done.

After a bit of trimming, we have a pair of 10-oz duck breasts ready for the sauté pan.

With that done, I mixed some salt into a bit of chopped parsley and thyme to season the thighs for their water bath in the sous vide tomorrow.

I chopped up all the fat and skin and set them to simmer to gently render the fat – the “first cold pressed” duck fat is fat that is slowly rendered by itself, i.e., it is not the fat you get from cooking duck meat, which occurs at a higher temperature and gets infused with blood and particulates from the meat.

When I have bought duck fat online (yes, I have done that), the fat has been a creamy white not unlike lard. But the fat from the ducks I have been buying recently is a striking egg-yolk yellow, which I think reflects their diet (maybe their breed?) but I am not sure.

All that was left to do was to roast the bones and make stock.

I forgot to take a picture, but Toffee got the meat off the bones after I strained the stock.


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Kitchen Tour!

It’s going to take awhile to feel at home in what appears to be someone else’s kitchen.

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About Me

Born in Baltimore and raised in Cincinnati, I have lived on both coasts and driven back and forth across the country a number of times. I now have the "midlife opportunity" to do so on two wheels.