Sunday, January 4, 2015

Madison's best kept secret is a bar.

I must start by saying that is my 100th blog post! Hot damn.

When I was little, two friends and I had a secret club. We held meetings in a shed, took notes, tracked our money, and didn't tell anyone about it.

I think I've found adulthood's answer to the secret club: an under-the-radar bar in a quasi industrial wasteland in Madison. Meet the Old Sugar Distillery: a nondescript bar a few blocks from downtown. Signage is small, hours are limited (Thursday-Saturday), and the surroundings are fellow nondescript buildings. Offices? Factories? Haven't figured it out yet, but that place where a lot of buses park is within sight. The bar itself can be tough to spot, but it's worth discovering.

It's a small local business at its finest. All of the Old Sugar Distillery's liquors are made in-house and aged in Minnesota oak barrels, which line the bar like low-key wallpaper:
Booze barrels!
The atmosphere is friendly and the drinks are top notch. My favorite is the Honey Cap: muddled lime, honey, lime juice, soda water, and the in-house honey liqueur.
My honey cap: perfection!
It's everything I want in a bar, really: a delicious drink menu, locally made snacks, and a mellow place to have a good conversation. The 3-day-a-week exclusivity just makes it more special. It's my secret club, and I like it that way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Feeding the addiction: my first trip to The Crafty Fair.

I have lived in Madison for 3.5 years, and it took me just that long to discover that there's an annual craft fair in my neighborhood. Seriously? Seriously.

On Sunday, I made the first of what will likely be an annual November trip to the Goodman Community Center to check out The Crafty Fair. As a craft addict, it was pure heaven. Football game? Don't need it. Two rooms filled with crafts, crafts, and more crafts is my idea of a rocking weekend.

Earring display paired with hand-knit accessories.
I love a good mannequin head.
If you've been wanting to truly drop an F-bomb, now is your chance.
It was a great place to meet local crafters, including Milwaukee-based Plushzilla (makers of the clever F-bombs above). In a room surrounded by local, handmade goodies, it was really tough to nail down a purchase.

My friend Elysha went for this Wisconsin-shaped cutting board. 

Love at first sight: I took home this gorgeous print.
I swoon when an impulse purchase matches my bedroom.
Browsing through handmade jewelry, toys, cosmetics, artwork, soaps, and home decor? Check. The Crafty Fair had it covered. And all less than a mile away from my home! I will never miss it again.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Madison, WI: home of the $1 mimosa.

There: I've come up with a spot-on city slogan.

After living in Madison for 3.5 years, I can vouch that it's definitely a foodie city. And with food, there will always be drinks. I recently discovered Capital Tap Haus, and I must say I'm impressed. Not sure how I missed it, honestly. Located right at the top of State St., this pub offers an impressive variety of local brews and great food to go with it (I'm a sucker for any salad with gorgonzola). 

We were just going in for lunch, but I was immediately enthralled by the chalkboard noting the brunch drink specials: $6 bloody mary, $3 amber, $1 mimosa. Mimosa for a buck!

Nothing says Sunday bliss like a cheap drink.
Capital Tap Haus, you'll be seeing more of me on Sundays.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Eat your veggies: early Fall at the Dane County Farmers' Market.

Hey Madison, it's been a while. I left the country for 2 weeks on an amazing multi-continental adventure (a week in Barcelona, then a week in Israel). The jet lag was rough, and getting back to reality has been harder than I expected. But what better way for me to get back in my groove than to eat some veggies? In Wisconsin, this time of year is all about veggies, veggies, veggies. For me, that means Dane Country Farmers' Market trips and some pretty awesome boxes from my Harmony Valley Farm CSA.

My haul from the market was pretty typical: green onions, napa cabbage, and some gouda from Farmer John's Cheese (Yup, that's the guy whose cow I milked. He told me that she's pregnant. Mazel tov, Faith!). After my shopping, what I discovered downtown that was a fun surprise: a local food fest, including an enormous, stilt-walking corn:

Just hanging at the Wisconsin State Capitol with my new corn friend (and HER corn friend… look at the tiny one in her hand).
I also checked in with the Willy Street Co-Op booth, where I found myself in a bit of a pickle.

I never thought I'd get to say THIS phrase on by blog twice in one year, but…
Once I had my mandatory ridiculous photos taken care of, it was time to head home and pick up the CSA. The most surprising thing in the box was this hairy, curly, finger-like root vegetable:

And the award for ugliest vegetable goes to… celeriac!
My to-do list for the week: figure out how the hell to cook it. I'm thinking soup.

Eat your veggies, folks!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

I can pickle that.

As I mentioned earlier on the blog, I have a CSA this summer with Harmony Valley Farm. Every week, the season's best veggies are mine to enjoy (straight from the Viroqua, WI farm to my Near East Side of Madison neighborhood).

Occasionally my CSA box leaves me in a "WTF" moment. Items like collard greens, kale, broccoli rabe, and rainbow chard are things that would never make it into my grocery store cart. But when they arrive with my CSA share, it means I have to get creative. Another peculiar item for me this year was dill. My friend Caitlin recommended refrigerator pickles, so I opted to try my luck.

Success! #pickleselfie
If you would have asked me 4 years ago if I ever thought I'd be living in Wisconsin and pickling things for fun, my answer would have been no. But you know what? My life here is pretty great, and now my life is a little better because I know how to make pickles. And now you can too:

Disclaimer: I don't really cook. I was pretty much winging it. That's why there are no quantities or measurements.

Aviva In Dairyland's Refrigerator Pickles: A Non Recipe
Use a large tupperware container and fill it up with a 2:1 ratio of water and white vinegar. Then, add in sliced cucumbers, a whole bunch of dill, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Let them sit in the fridge for a few days.

THAT'S IT. See, I told you I don't cook. Happy pickling!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Resolution complete: I milked a cow.

A lot of people get really into New Year's resolutions. I don't. Yet for 2014, I made one that I 100% intended to follow through on: I wanted to milk a cow. Many people have asked me why I wanted to do this so badly. Here is my reasoning:

2. It's good to try new things.
3. It would be an awesome experience to blog about.

I'm an urban girl. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in the busy, typical, cookie-cutter suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina. You know the opening sequence to the show, Weeds? Yeah, that's my hometown: the traffic, the strip malls, the Land Rovers, the soccer moms… all are very familiar things to me. I'm a city dweller to my very core, and I think that's why farm life fascinates me: because it's different.

Cue the Green Acres theme song.

I met Farmer John Dougherty of Farmer Johns' Cheese at the East Side Farmers' Market in May. I gathered that by his large variety of delicious cheese for sale, he likely had access to a great deal of cows. So I asked if I could milk one. He said yes! Two months later, I was off to the outskirts of Spring Green, Wisconsin to visit the official Farmer Johns' milking barn.

Let's get one thing straight: there's more than one Farmer John (hence the apostrophe). It's currently operated by a father and son (both named John), and before that, it was operated by the generations that came first (yup, you got it, also named John). This is a true family farm business, right down to the name.

My friends Cherie and Caitlin came along for the ride, which took us through some winding country roads to this really awesome waterfall:


Then, we arrived at John's milking barn. He walked us through the cow-filled building and told us all about his family farm, the milking process, and all things cows!

The lineup: Farmer John gets the cows into the barn by leading them in with corn (they love it).
See the pipes above the cows? That's where the milk goes.
After it goes through the pipes, it ends up in a huge tank.
We all climbed up the ladder to peek in.

It holds an insane amount of milk.

After our barn tour, we got to meet two baby calves, Jenny and Ryan:

Beyond adorable.
Then, it was milking time. The cows are milked by machine, but of course we had to start off old school. Farmer John chose Faith as the best cow for us to milk. He knew that her mellow temperament would work in our favor and that she was less likely to try and kick us (he has a lot of cows in this place, and many can get sassy at milking time). He noted that you always have to let the cow know when you're at her side and going to milk her. This way, she's less startled. Of course, I had to get the experience on tape:


Then Caitlin milked Faith!
And Cherie, too! 

Old school milking: check. Then, Farmer John let me put the milking machine on Faith. It's made of 4 little suction tubes that go from the udders to the pipes in the barn.

Just making sure I had everything right.
Voila! I attached the milking machine and Faith was ready to go.

A lot of cows had to be milked, so we went to the front of the barn to check in on the tank. It was very loud in there, but I fit in a quick video of "THIS IS WHERE THE MILK IS GOING! HERE'S THE MILK!"


The entire milking process takes about 30 minutes from the first cow to the last. The cows get milked twice a day (6am and 6pm), and Farmer John noted that he tries to keep the cows in the same order each time so that their schedules are consistent. I could really tell that he loves what he does and cares about the well-being of his cows, which of course makes me want to keep buying more and more of his cheese.

Speaking of the cheese, to purchase some amazing dairy goodness from Farmer John, he can be found at the Dane County Farmers' Market (near West Washington Ave), as well as many other local markets.

I'd like to send a huge thanks to Farmer John for letting us visit, Cherie and Caitlin for putting up with their quirky friend, and of course, this lovely lady:

Many thanks, Faith!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Playing catch up: three Madison things I meant to blog about, but didn't.

Alright, I'm trying something new.
I always take pictures of the awesome things I do in Madison, but sometimes they don't make it to the blog. Here's my way of catching up: a collection of mini blog posts that cover brunch at Manna Cafe, Lake Monona rollerblading, and my Harmony Valley CSA. Here goes:

Brunch at Manna Cafe
I had heard many people rave about the brunch at Manna Cafe, and I finally made it there with the Jones crew (Scott, Elysha, Abby, and Clementine). It's located in an old school strip mall in Maple Bluff, and though it's only a 5 minute drive from my place, I feel like I never would have noticed it if it hadn't been so highly talked up.

Manna Cafe lived up to the hype, and our brunch was fabulous: 

Awesome eggs!
Abby modeled her scarf while she enjoyed "The Weekend Nosher" from the kids' menu.
She also made it very clear that she was wearing a tunic, not a dress.
Lake Monona Rollerblading
As I have mentioned before, Madison is an isthmus surrounded by two lakes: Mendota and Monona. When the weather got nice, Cherie and I took her dog Obie on a nice rollerblading trip by Monona Terrace. We took to the bike path and rolled past bikers, fishers, and walkers. It was windy that day, but totally worth it for the awesome lake view (bonus: I didn't fall!).

Meet Obie, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever (roughly 95 pounds). This is his Aviva in Dairyland debut.

Obie pulled his mama along the bike path.
Loving the view!
Harmony Valley CSA
For the first time, I got a CSA. It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it means that I'm part of a direct relationship between the farm and the community. My friends Caitlin, Cherie, and I are sharing a CSA through Harmony Valley Farm in Viroqua, WI. We just had our first week, and it was pretty awesome. They drop off boxes at pickup sites around the city, and we choose where we'd like to pick ours up. Then, we divvy up the veggies and go nuts. It's good encouragement for me to try more veggies and cook more in general (I don't really cook… I'm more of a stir-things-around kinda girl). Here are my CSA creations thus far:

Stir fry!
CSA ingredients: radishes, turnips, zucchini, asparagus, purple scallions
Trader Joe's additions: tofu and peanut sauce
I made pesto for the first time! But instead of basil, I used pea vines from the CSA.
Wrap it up
There, we're all caught up. So, how have you been?