Dan had a quick work trip to Madison last Friday and I went along for the ride. It’s a great little city and we thoroughly enjoyed our 27 or so hours there.
One of Dan’s friends from work went to law school in Madison and after they were done with work, he took us to the Terrace at the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union. Described as “Madison’s most popular back porch,” it’s a lovely spot to unwind for a few hours on a beautiful Friday afternoon in the summer, sipping cold beverages, listening to live music and watching the boats and people. Even though it’s a huge outdoor space and was pretty crowded that day, it still felt relaxing and intimate—like hanging out on the back porch with friends at your favorite neighbor’s house.
Dan’s friend talked up the Madison farmer’s market quite a bit, so we had to see what the buzz was about Saturday morning. Wow. The market is HUGE, with vendors of all kinds stacked booth to booth all the way around the Capitol Square. Quite impressive! Street musicians were playing throughout the square as well, including this band that could have been auditioning for the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” costumes and all.
Our trip to Madison would not have been complete without sampling some meats in tube form and various kinds of cheese. The trio of cheese spreads and “Wisconsin’s Best Wurst platter” at The Old Fashioned did not disappoint. (Not pictured—only because it wouldn’t fit in the picture with the other food—the giant plate of fried onion strings that I had to force myself to stop eating. It’s probably a good thing for our health and waistlines that we don’t live in Madison.)
Shout out to Dan’s brother J and our sister-in-law C for recommending the Showtime show “Ray Donovan” to us. It’s a little like a Boston version of “The Sopranos” meets a Hollywood version of “Scandal” and is hands-down our current favorite show on TV.
In a “lemons to lemonade” moment, we salvaged a disappointing dining experience at one restaurant with take-out from another. All week, we had looked forward to Thursday night, when we planned to sit outside at La Macchina, eating a delicious dinner and watching the final “Let’s Dance Evanston!” concert of the summer. From the moment we were seated at La Macchina, the service was deplorable. Dan finally had to go inside to ask for someone to even take our drink order, and they sent one of the cooks out to attend to us. He brought us our wine and appetizer, but no one ever spoke to us again, until Dan again had to go inside and ask someone to send out the check. Unhappy and still hungry, we passed by Soulwich on our way home. We’ve been wanting to try their food, so we got the Indonesian Ginger BBQ Pork sandwich and homemade Asian slaw to take home and share. Both were so delicious that we ended up glad that our initial dinner plan fell through.
You know that moment when you try a dish at a restaurant and realize that you will henceforth be compelled to return to that restaurant simply to eat that menu item, and that you will order it every single time you dine there? The kale salad from Found Kitchen and Social House is that dish for us. It’s somehow light yet also hearty, with the perfect balance of flavors and textures from the kale, swiss chard, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and (a recent addition) blueberries, all dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Every time we order it, Dan wonders (out loud, usually to our server): “How do they make KALE taste so good?” Although our homemade version of Found’s kale salad can never be as delicious as the original, we discovered a trick to making kale taste good, for a salad that comes pretty darn close to restaurant-quality. The key is massaging the kale with a little olive oil, salt and lemon juice. I discovered the secret while looking for vegan recipes in the book “My Beef with Meat” by former firefighter Rip Esselstyn, who explains why massaging kale softens its texture and improves its flavor: “Massaging [kale] salad drives the lemon juice and salt into the cell membrane of the kale and lightly ‘cooks’ it, making it much more tame and less ‘angry.’” (He had recently read a reference to kale as “angry lettuce,” which makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever taken a bite of plain, raw kale.) We will still crave Found’s kale salad (and order it whenever we go there), but it’s also nice to be able to satisfy our craving with a quick and easy homemade version, and to know we have a backup plan if they’re ever crazy enough to take it off their menu!
Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this week:
Our patio-grown tomatoes are finally ready to eat, and we enjoyed the first batch with one of our favorite breakfasts: tomatoes, hard boiled eggs and crackers with cream cheese.
Tomatoes are in season at the farmer’s market as well, so we bought a bunch last weekend to make Sunday Sauce from scratch. Flash boiling and peeling the tomatoes was surprisingly easy to do, and the sauce turned out great. We plan on making more in the coming weeks and stocking our freezer with sauce to thaw in the winter to remind us that we will eventually thaw out as well, and summer will return.
The word “mancala” means “to transfer” in Arabic and refers to a strategy game that involves moving stones around a board. We first played it with our niece and nephew and have recently become rather addicted to it. We have electronic versions on our phones and on Dan’s iPad, as well as the tabletop version. It’s fascinating because no matter your strategy (or lack thereof, in my case), the outcome of every game is different. Each game is pretty quick too, perfect for several rounds at the bar attached to our local movie theater, with some popcorn and a couple glasses of wine.
Toy Gadget Alert: We have purchased the spiralizer. For our maiden voyage, we used it to cut long, thin strips of yellow zucchini “pasta” (a/k/a “zoodles”) to serve with leftover Sunday Sauce. It was equally delicious and easy. We peeled 3 large zucchini (probably could have done 4), cranked them through the spiralizer, squeezed out the excess moisture with paper towels, sauteed the zucchini in hot olive oil in a skillet for about 2 minutes, then added a little of the heated sauce to the skillet, covered it and let the zoodles steam for a few more minutes. We topped the zucchini with more sauce and garnished with parmesean cheese and chopped basil. Zamazing.
We paired our zoodles with a Caprese salad made with our patio-grown tomatoes and basil, along with farmer’s-market-fresh mozzarella and olive oil. We’re eating well this summer.
- One of the farm-fresh vegetables we have enjoyed the most so far this summer is kohlrabi. We first sampled a raw piece of this strange-looking vegetable at the farmer’s market—it tastes a little bit like a very mild radish—and purchased it when the woman with an interesting accent who was shopping next to me said her favorite way to eat it is sauteed with butter and garlic. Turns out, that’s our favorite way to eat it as well, although we also like it raw and chopped up in a salad, and we even added some to the slaw in our fish tacos recently. If you’re interested in trying it, we’ve heard that the smaller sizes are more tender (but one of the farmers at the market had a variety of giant ones last week that he claimed are just as good), and be sure to peel or cut away all of the tough outer skin and the fibrous layer underneath before cooking or eating it raw. We’d love to hear if anyone tries it!
- Here’s an interesting list of 7 Superfoods you’ve never heard of (with commentary about the overuse of the word “superfood.”)
- A story has been making its way around the Internets about a restaurant that has been doing about the same amount of business for the past decade, but in recent years has been getting bad reviews with complaints of slow service. According to the article, in an attempt to figure out the service issues, the restaurant owners supposedly compared security camera footage of diners and servers from 2004 with footage from 2014 and concluded that the reason service was perceived to be slow in 2014 was because customers spent more time distracted with their smart phones than responding to wait staff attempting to serve them. For example, the average time of a meal in 2004 was an hour and 5 minutes, while the average time in 2014 was almost 2 hours, with an average of about 20 minutes (spent busy with the phone) between the time the customer was seated and ordered food and 20 more minutes (again with the phone) between the time the customer finished eating and requested the check. There are a lot of reasons the story is probably fake (including the claim that some diners spent an average of 3 minutes taking pictures of their food, really?) but it’s interesting to consider how people’s dining habits may have changed now that just about everyone owns—and often brings to the table—a smart phone.
- We’re big fans of the Top Chef franchise and are looking forward to the newest installment, “Top Chef Duels,” featuring chefs from prior seasons of “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters” in one-on-one cooking challenges. Premiers next Wednesday!
Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this week:
When our friends from Dallas came to visit a few weekends ago, they brought us a beautiful and unique vase as a housewarming gift. The vase is pretty enough on its own, but looks even better with some snap dragons from the farmer’s market.
Last weekend our home owner’s association hosted the annual “building social.” It was a nice way to meet and chat with some of our neighbors, one of whom brought this huge chocolate cake with a picture of our building on it. And peace signs. Let’s just say he’s kind of an eccentric guy.
Another summer weekend, another art festival. We certainly aren’t complaining, and we thoroughly enjoyed the Ethnic Arts Festival out by the lake.
One of Dan’s best friends from law school was in town this week and treated us to an amazing dinner at Tru. Although the restaurant is a bit on the formal side (removing your jacket is frowned upon, even while seated at the table), the service was impeccable and the 11-course meal was deliciously inventive. But the best part of the evening was Dan getting to catch up with his old friend and both of them regaling me with tales from their law school days.
Okay Chicagoland, we get it now. Afternoon trips to the beach, Saturday morning shopping for fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market, neighborhood art festivals nearly every weekend, dinners on patios with a sweater in case it gets chilly when the sun sets—summertime is why people live here. And we are enjoying every single second of ours. One of our favorite summer activities is finding new ways to cook the vegetables we pick up from the farmer’s market each week. This recipe from Martha Stewart has become one of our go-to side dishes of the season because it’s easy to make, it complements a variety of main courses, and the char flavor from the grill makes it taste like summer.