Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday, 17 October - Cold, rain, not what I moved here for!

Yeah, I know my friends in Maine will call me a whiner when I'm complaining about 40-45 degree temperatures in mid to late October, but even the local weather personnel have pointed out that the past 5-6 days of barely above 50 temps has been the longest, coldest stretch of weather in October since records have been kept.  The cold and damp have put a hold on about everything.  Though we haven't yet had a frost (that may come tonight), it's difficult to work outside when it's so wet.  So we've found things to do inside!

1.  Spice cake.  This was going to be like heaven.  Unfortunately, I left out the sugar.  Figured they were candidates for the trash, but come to think of it, split, buttered and grilled, they'll be great as a side with soups or stews, other items even.  After all, they ARE more like biscuits than cake!  So maybe that wasn't such a bad accident after all.

2.  Rice.  Barry cooked a super load of rice so we'd have leftovers for other dishes.  Several years ago, I borrowed Maureen's rice steamer, and liked it so well I wouldn't give it back -- had to buy her a newer, larger one.  Good deal for both of us though.  Anyway, we had rice for dinner.  Then Barry made rice pudding with some, and right now, the rest is in a fried rice.  Three meals for about $.75 of rice ain't bad at all!

3.  Squash cookies.  Yup, we have a ton of squash in the freezer, and more out in the carport, so I had to do SOMETHING with the stuff.  I found a great recipe, and when the cookies came out of the oven, Barry had the idea to put cream-cheese frosting between them.  Squash Whoopie Pies!  They're in the freezer now, and will be individually wrapped once frozen.

So, even though we can't really work outside, we've been up to interesting things anyway.  Next up, squash pie, apple pie, and that spice cake -- different recipe and I WILL remember to add sugar!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 3 - The "Domes", Cheese, Brats, and renewing an old friendship.

DAY 3 - October 9, The "Domes", Cheese, Brats, and renewing an old friendship.
The day was cold and rainy, so we figured it was a good day to spend touring indoors. We had seen "The Domes" listed as a tourist attraction, so we decided to take a visit. "The Domes" is a county park, built on the site of a hundred-year-old sunken garden. There are three domes, one which houses tropical plants, one of desert plants, and the "show" dome, whose exhibits change seasonally. We entered the Tropical Dome, and were immediately transported back into the Mexican jungle from our trip to Cancun. The heat and humidity were a welcome change from the cold, dreary weather outside, and immediately, we were greeted by a bright orange bird (too fast to get a picture). Everywhere we turned there were plants that were familiar to us as indoor house plants, and as tropical trees. We have a pothos plant in the kitchen which looks SO spleeny compared to this giant crawling up and around a waterfall. We saw palms, golden shrimp plants, grapefruit, cinnamon and pepper, dozens and dozens of beautiful plants which make me want to convert the back deck into a heated glass conservatory!

The Desert Dome was chilly, as deserts can be, and it was loaded with all kinds of cactus, including the woolly torch cactus -- yes, it's actually woolly! Many succulents and other plants, like aloe and agave grew profusely. Who says a desert is devoid of life -- just got to know where to look! The third dome was a collection of summer garden flowers which was nice. We suspect that soon it'll be converted into a winter garden, or maybe Christmas.

Our next stop was the Milwaukee Brat House, but we were early, so we also stopped at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. They had foam rubber "cheese-heads", cheese neckties, cheese stetson hats (see cow photo), cheese bow-ties -- after all, the Green Bay Packers (football) play only 100 miles north of Milwaukee, and cheese is a favored product of "The Dairy State" -- and yes, there IS a town called "Land of Lakes". We got a cheese education first class -- Q:-Why don't you make macaroni and cheese with cheddar more than 2 years old? A:-It doesn't melt well. Q:-Why can't you buy old-fashioned "rat cheese" any more? A:-It is aged at a temperature too high to be approved by food and drug authorities today, though I suspect many farmers make it any just for their own use. Q:-Does Wisconsin produce parmesan, romano or havarti? A:- Duh=is this "The Dairy State?"

We bought some great souvenirs here -- a round cheese box, a shot glass shaped like a cow's udder, and a t-shirt that says "CHZHEAD". Oh yeah, and about $30 of cheese -- they DO have mail order and the prices are very reasonable for very good cheese.

We still had time, so we stopped at the Spice House, where our sinuses were cleared out instantly with all the flavorful aromas of the hundreds of spices and combinations on sale. We tried one, the Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning. Smell this and think "kielbasa"! Can't wait to get a good steak or hamburger to try it out. They're VERY reasonable, have an online catalog, and their print catalog is an education in spices by itself. No computers on the counter -- they hand-write receipts, and they have an old-fashioned cash register -- the kind that "dings" ("It's a little lumpy, but it rings")!

Anyway, back to the brat house ... we had researched this place and wanted to try the brats boiled in beer on a pretzel roll. Another really important aspect of this place was that we were going to meet a former student -- I have over 400 "friends" on Facebook who are former students; in fact the most over-used phrase in my life, so Barry says, is "former student." Anyway, we met David about 1 p.m. I haven't seen him since about 1983, but I recognized him instantly. We renewed old acquaintances, reminisced a bit, and in general, had a great time. The beer here is served 2 mugs at a time -- saves time and effort in ordering a second... and the brat is served on a soft pretzel roll -- oh I'd LOVE to get hold of some of those here in Kentucky!

Kohl's, our favorite store, began in Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee, so we absolutely had to make a pilgrimage there. Bought a few items, saved 15% -- though you gotta be suspicious when everything is 15% off all the time. Well anyway, we like Kohl's and are VERY thankful there's not one any closer than 25 miles away!

Days 1 and 2 - Quick Trip to Milwaukee

DAY 1 - October 7, Louisville to Minneapolis then backtracking to Milwaukee.

We took off from Louisville about 12:30 EDT on Wednesday, 7 October. The first leg of our flight was to Minneapolis, about 600 miles away, but we didn't realize until just a few days before we left, that we'd probably be flying over Gary, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, our final destination. Well, it wasn't just NEAR Milwaukee, we could see OUR MOTEL as we flew over it, and another 300 miles beyond it! Yup, in the picture, find the airport and look just to the left of it. That's our motel!

Anyway, we DID get to see Minneapolis-St Paul from the air, and got our usual t-shirt, shot glass and refrigerator magnet at the Minneapolis airport. Leaving from there, we got some nice views of the "Twin Cities" and the Mississippi River. Flying over Milwaukee, about 90 minutes later, we came in from the north along Lake Michigan, and could see the breakwaters and the marina, but didn't realize at the time that we were flying directly over one of our goals, the Milwaukee Art Museum (more on that for Day 2). We landed just fine, got our rental car, found the motel, and ate dinner at the Lake City Restaurant and Lounge, at the Best Western, just walking distance up South Howell St. Very good food, reasonable (though not cheap) prices, and a very friendly bartender all helped welcome us to Milwaukee. We enjoyed the pasta buffet -- choose 4-5 ingredients, 3 sauces, several types of pasta -- it was VERY good!

DAY 2 - October 8, The Milwaukee Art Museum and Miller Valley

We researched what to see and do in Milwaukee -- the Internet is a fantastic resource for that. Our two main goals for today were the Milwaukee Art Museum and the home of the Miller Brewing Company, "Miller Valley."

The MAM's latest addition in 2001, is probably the signature buildings of Milwaukee. It is designed like the prow of an ocean liner, and the glass ceiling has a covering over it that slowly opens, like a butterfly opening its wings. It's quite the tourist attraction, even on this windy, nearly-raining day. It takes about 3 minutes to completely open, and it's quite dramatic to watch. The portion of the addition facing Lake Michigan is dramatic, as well -- both from the outside and the inside. It's so modern-looking, one wonders if it the building itself is a sculpture or a mobile, a work of art in itself. The foyer, the lobby, the galleries, and even the underground parking garage are all of the same design -- only time I've ever taken a picture of a parking garage!

Inside, we spent nearly four hours wandering from room to room, from ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, through the Renaissance and the Masters, to impressionists and abstract modernists.

My main goal, however, was the extensive collection of Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. Two of my favorites are here ... Gray and Brown Leaves, 1929, and Poppies, 1950. As I pointed out artist after artist to Barry, sharing with him what I knew, it was like being a teacher all over again. GREAT! I just hope I didn't bore him. I also pointed out all the American artists who painted partly in Maine, including Marsden Hartley, who was born in Lewiston.

After leaving the museum, we went to another main tourist attraction, the Miller Brewing Company, and did the beer tour (with three free samples at the end). It's in an area of Milwaukee known as "Miller Valley" because of the extent of the operation, the number of buildings, and the influence of the brewery on the area. The tour itself was disappointing, as much of the factory was being maintained, and we didn't really get to see the millions of bottles and cans of Miller Lite going through the motions. In the brew house, we saw the large kettles for making beer, but again, we just looked at them, inert as they were. At the end of the tour, the three samples confirmed to me now why I prefer local microbreweries. Years ago, I bought a six-pack of Miller Lite (it was cheap) to put in the garden to attract slugs. Today, I realized that was a good move. The Miller Lite tasted like water; then we sampled Miller Genuine Draft -- which had an aluminum can or keg aftertaste to it. The third beer (don't remember the brand) was a lime-flavored, cloudy batch which was OK, but not really to my liking. Oh well, we did the tourist thing, and that was why we were there in Milwaukee!

After doing the beer thing, we hustled over to the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, where I played the 5c machines. Barry, big spender that he is, played the $.25 machines. I guess I'm the cheaper of the two of us. Anyway, the Casino was located in the warehouse district, kind of run-down neighborhood, nestled between the railroad tracks and the Menominee River. It's interesting that Native Americans now use casinos to "get even" ... well, we made the Potawatomi Tribe $15 richer, but had a good time anyway!

For dinner, we went once more to the Lake City Restaurant and Lounge...their meatloaf soup (doesn't sound that good but...) was excellent, much like a hearty beef stew. Barry had a Reuben sandwich and I had a turkey cordon bleu wrap. We didn't finish either, so breakfast the next morning was great!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Home-made Tortillas!

Thanks to Dawna, who shared her recipe with me, Barry and I made a batch. Now this is a long story. You know what happens when you take someone's wonderful recipe, then "difference" it? Well, I substituted half whole-wheat flour for half unbleached flour -- is there a difference? I didn't realize that there was.

Then I mangled the whole doughy mess through the Kitchen Aid mixer for way longer than I should have -- wanted to be sure everything blended thoroughly (I make the same mistake with muffins). The pancake griddle didn't get hot enough so they didn't brown properly. Long story made short, the tortillas came out looking great, but being of about the same consistency of thin leather. Even the birds won't eat them!

Sheepishly, I asked Dawna what I did wrong. Seems whole-wheat is NOT the same as unbleached; plus the Kitchen Aid (wonderful appliance that it is), doesn't cut it in this case.

So I made another batch, this time I halved it in case I screwed up again.

Gooey dough all over my hands, took 4 days to clean my fingernails, stuck to everything, but the cast iron skillet did the job. They came out looking just like the store-bought ones, only I hoped they'd taste better.

Well, today, Barry got them out, grabbed a few of our own home-grown tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro, and whipped up a batch of quick salsa. We bought some GULF shrimp at Krogers (they usually sell shrimp from Bangla Desh, which I'm sure is a very nice country, but have you ever heard what is in the Ganges River water?) and minced them. He added Mexican cheese and our salsa, put it on the tortilla, folded it over, microwaved it just a bit to melt the cheese and seal the tortillas, then fried them in the cast-iron pan.

OMG, were they DELICIOUS! We both have happy tummies now. It's so easy (and fun) to make the home-made tortillas, I don't see why everyone doesn't do it!