A Morning at the Farmers’ Market in Madison, Wisconsin

When the Boffin and I took the road trip to pick up the Sprog we decided to make it an overnight getaway.  Madison, Wisconsin is one of our favorite places to take jaunt.

U.K. readers, if you watched the 7 Up documentary series, you might remember Prof. Nick Hitchen, the Yorkshire professor who expatted to the States to establish his academic career.  He ended up in Madison and is tenured at the University of Wisconsin.  I cannot overemphasized how much the university permeates every pore of this place.  It’s the Home of the Badgers, and the mascot is Bucky Badger.  Now in some parts of the U.K., “badger” can be replaced with “beaver,” as far as naughty slang is concerned, so we can get some great giggle potential here.  For example, the local businesses like to use “badger” in their names, so we have places like Badger Bowl and Badger Self-Storage.  The possibilities are endless.

Juvenile humor aside, our first stop when we got to Madison was the Dane County Farmers’ Market.  This market is set up around the square of the state capitol building, which gives it a lovely setting and offers much more than your standard fruit, veg, and flowers.  Of course, a market this good leads to crowds, so you find yourself mincing through rather than walking, so patience is definitely necessary.

The Boffin had to take this because all I could see were armpits and strollers.
The Boffin had to take this because all I could see were armpits and strollers.

So what can you get there that’s out of the ordinary? It’s Wisconsin, so you can buy cheese, specifically fresh cheese curds.  Since this is America, forget about just buying plain old cheese curds.  How about buying chive and onion?  Pepper?  Garlic?

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The true test of freshness is if they squeak in your teeth when you eat them.

We also had to stock up on local maple syrup, and several maple farms run stands at the market.  The U.K. isn’t a maple syrup nation because they don’t really make the things that we do, so there isn’t as much of a call for it.  Actually, I need to correct myself. I originally stated in this spot that there aren’t a lot of maple trees in the U.K. The Boffin’s uncle told me that there are plenty, but they are of the wrong variety.  My point being is that maple syrup is ludicrously expensive over there because they import it from Canada.  The half-gallon that we bought cost $28.00 (£18.00).  In the U.K., it would have cost $66.00 (£42.00).  Keep this in mind, Americans, in your moving to England fantasies.

Now, being that this is a college town, there is a lot of environmental awareness and focus on sustainability.  As good as it can be, things can go into the ridiculous, so give me a chance to make a point.  This sign was just an example of many that I saw around the market.

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“No chemicals used.” Well, that’s a surprise to me. How did this honey come about, if no chemicals were used?

“It’s magic!”
By NBC Television (eBay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The whole process of making honey is obviously chemical. The flavors formed are chemical. Chemicals are part of everyday life, and living in the modern world means knowing the differences amongst the chemicals, and people like this are using the word to scare the people who panic when faced with the possibility that dihydrogen monoxide could be in their food, i.e. the ones who fell asleep in their science classes.

I have no issue with any farming practice that the person wants to use, but they owe the customer to be just as transparent as they want the Big Corporations to be. They have to walk the walk, and saying “no chemicals used” is just as disingenuous as any other marketing ploy. The opposite of Big Business is not always virtue. At the very least, I don’t want to buy a product from someone who thinks I am an idiot.

Off the soapbox and back to the good stuff and that good stuff has to be a donut…potato buttermilk…fried in lard. No, we don’t keep kosher, and I think we would have broken down, if we did.  It just felt right to have a donut at the farmers’ market because hot, fresh donuts are very much a staple at the U.K. ones. It was that bit of a treat when you picked up your produce and a nice bouquet.  My favorite was the one in Cambridge because they had the funky clothing booths and the soaps too.  Ah…memories.

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Donut review…It had lovely denser texture than your standard wheat donut, and the buttermilk gave it a wholesome quality. I liked it, but it definitely needs to be eaten right away. I tried a bit of one later, and the lard flavor really came through. Maybe they should keep with certain trends and wrap bacon around it. Just don’t ask me to eat it.

Wrapping up, you also had your share of the unusual.

The Gourd Guy...nothing but gourds.
The Gourd Guy…nothing but gourds.
You have to admire a guy who wears a hat like this.
You have to admire a guy who wears a hat like this.
Since cats can't read, I am assuming the crazy cat people like me frequent the market.
Since cats can’t read, I am assuming the crazy cat people like me frequent the market.

As much as I love Chicagoland, it is great to get away and visit Madison. I wish we had a farmers’ market of this caliber close by. Of course, while we were gone, I have a couple of restaurant reviews under my belt too. Don’t worry, I didn’t eat the chicken.

Protests of One

In the midst of the stories of the Fun Stuff She Did at Camp, the Sprog expounded upon a story she told us in one of her letters.  With full permission from her, I am going to share it with you today.

At dinnertime one day, the offering was shepherd’s pie.  Now, if any of you read my recipe post for cottage pie, you would know that is the proper name for the dish because shepherds don’t herd cows.  Shepherd’s pie is supposed to have minced lamb.  Well, we don’t take the Sprog any place that serves American shepherd’s pie because we have yet to find any place that serves good pub grub in the Chicago area.  And preparing a child for camp does not include, “Sweetheart, by the way, they might serve cottage pie, but they are going to call it ‘shepherd’s pie.  Just so you are warned.'”  For some reason, it does not factor in when you are running around trying to find bug wipes.

To continue on with the story, she grabbed her tray of food, sat down to eat, put a forkful in her mouth, slammed down her utensil, and exclaimed, “No! No! No!” Her friends wondered what was wrong, and she explained.  I asked her what they said.  Her response?

“They didn’t care.  They were like, ‘Whatever.’ But I know what beef tastes like.”

This is how I pictured her friends...happily eating their food while my kid was ready to wage war.  "Summer kids eat lunch - Flickr - USDAgov" by U.S. Department of Agriculture - Summer kids eat lunch. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
This is how I pictured her friends…happily eating their food while my kid was ready to wage war. “Summer kids eat lunch – Flickr – USDAgov” by U.S. Department of Agriculture – Summer kids eat lunch. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

She ended up just eating her meal, although she initially wanted to refuse out of protest.  Then she realized she would only punish herself because she would just end up hungry.  We told her she made a good choice, and the American term is just plain wrong.  The best thing we can do is verbally correct people and not make a big deal out of it.

I understand how she felt.  In her mind, the dining hall lied about what they were serving.  She was expecting lamb.  She got beef.  And to have your friends not it get adds insult to injury.  We have all felt this way…the only person who sees the problem.  And when we point it out, we only feel worse when the rest of the group dismisses us.  She got more of a taste of the adult world through just a simple meal.

And this won’t be the last time she will feel this way, especially as an Anglo-American Jew.

But there is one small consolation.   At least our British relatives have proof that the Sprog is not completely Americanized.

Good Ole Gas

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We are on the road and just picked up the Sprog from camp.  It’s been two weeks, and we are happily reunited.

Anyway, at a BP station, I encountered the sign above. Now, I don’t know about you, but gas is not something that evokes down home sentimentality. Maybe other people do after inhaling the fumes.

Of course, the Boffin had his own thoughts.

“Henrietta, I have good ole gas!”

“Hey, Ezra! Pass me some of them beans. I want me some of that good ole gas.”

Of course.

I wonder if the BP stations in the U.K. sell smashingly good petrol.

Grass Courts and High Hopes

June is almost ending and that can mean one thing on the English calendar.

The start of its 2 weeks of summer.

Well, that, and the beginning of Wimbledon on Sunday, June 29th.

And I love me some Wimbledon.

I didn’t really grow up in a tennis family, but we always had NBC’s Breakfast at Wimbledon on TV. When I was a kid, this was the era of John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert (Lloyd), and a whole host of other exciting players that I could happily rattle off ad nauseum. I am not going to say it was a halcyon time because each sports era has its own greatness, but I can’t complain about what I had.

The coverage on NBC was fun because it was headed up by Dick Enberg and Bud Collins. Enberg, one the most genial and elite play-by-play men in the business, is still working as one of the San Diego Padres’ broadcasters, even though he more than deserves retirement. Collins, the tennis expert, was…well.. quite the color commentator. At least, his pants are colorful.  He used to talk about his fictitious “Uncle Studley” all the time and this gadabout called Fingers Fortescue.  You wondered what he was smoking, but he also knew and still knows his tennis. They made quite a team and brought a liveliness that contrasted with the formality that the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club maintained and still maintains.

Stemming from watching such quality tennis, Older Brother #1 and I created our own tournament…Bimbledon.  It involved tennis rackets, a volleyball net, and a shuttlecock.  This was pure power badminton.  It seemed the goal was to make the other sibling run around like an idiot, and if said sibling managed to fall backwards into a bush or into the swing set, all the better.  Trying to injure my brother was a great way to spend a summer afternoon.

The Boffin had a different experience.  Of course,  he grew up watching Wimbledon, but the fortunate lad has actually been there. Lucky.  He used to live very close to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club when he lived in Collier’s Wood. And he was able to get in to see some fine tennis and soak up the atmosphere, even though he wasn’t and still isn’t a toff (member of the upper class).

One advantage of England in the summertime is that the days are longer. Remember, it is at the same latitude as Newfoundland, so the sun does not set until about 10pm. That means you can get reduced priced tickets after 5pm. Considering that there are usually rain delays or extended matches that need to be squeezed in, there is usually some sort of tennis going on well into the evening that the general public can still enjoy.  Imagine catching a bit of Wimbledon live after work is over. Nice.

The Boffin also got to take advantage of a People’s Sunday. Traditionally, there is no play on the middle Sunday of the tournament, but rain forced play on Sunday during the years 1991, 1997, and 2004. Reduced priced tickets were offered to the public on a first-come, first-served basis at the gate, and the Boffin and his late wife took full advantage, including watching a Michael Chang match on Centre Court.  The Boffin holds so many fond memories of just being able to pop in and soak it all up.

There was a price freeze on strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, so they were only £2.50 in 2014.  And they are a reasonable portion size.  It was great improvement according to the Boffin.
There was a price freeze on strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, so they were only £2.50 in 2014. And they were also a reasonable portion size. It was great improvement according to the Boffin. “Strawberries and cream Wimbledon 2014” by Micolo J from Shrewsbury, England – Strawberries and cream. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Now when talking about Wimbledon, we have to talk about Andy Murray.  Andy Murray became the hero of the U.K. when he won Olympic gold in the 2012 London games and followed it up in 2013 by taking the men’s singles championship.  Apparently, according to the media, no Briton had ever taken the Wimbledon championship since Fred Perry did it in 1936, and Virginia Wade’s victory in 1977 didn’t count because she didn’t have a penis.  You would think the British sports press would be satisfied now that Murray crossed that “t” and dotted that “i”.  Of course, not.

Now, I am sure the average British person would just be happy if Murray just played out his career in whatever capacity he can.  He has nothing to prove to anyone else anymore.  However, since the sports press has to justify its existence, it has to fill up its pages with bogus ways of putting more pressure on Murray to win Wimbledon again.  You read articles like this and that.  Even the BBC is getting in on the act with this video.   England still expects, Mr. Murray, even though you are Scottish.

I guess your hope that everyone would shut their gobs (mouths) was too much to ask.   “Andy Murray Wimbledon 2013 celebration”. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Whatever happens, I am going to enjoy it because it is Wimbledon, and the sports press can’t do anything to take that pleasure away from me. And I’m pulling for Serena. I’ll also root for Andy, but I just want him to do the best he can. No pressure. I just wish my brother lived close by for a rematch.

Things Not to Say to a Partner of a Widow or Widower

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Big reveal time: The Boffin was a widower at the time I met him. His late wife passed away of what looked like a pulmonary embolism when she was 29.  I came along as a young divorcée when the Boffin was still fairly fresh in his grief.  To get where we are today took a lot of love, hard work, perseverance, and cups of tea.  It also took the love and openness of the Boffin’s late wife’s family who accepted me as one of their own.  It hasn’t been easy, but it has all been worth it.

When I tell people this part about us, it is obvious how uncomfortable they become. The looking away.  The shifting in their seats.  Nobody knows what to say. Nobody wants to acknowledge that people can die, especially young and unexpectedly. And here we are as living proof that not only can people die young and unexpectedly, but people can fall in love and be happy again, only in a different way. The Boffin has never stopped loving his late wife, but that does not mean there was no room for me.  It really goes against the whole One True Love idea that is heavily promoted in society.

I completely understand people’s unease. Death is hard to face.  Naturally, you want to say something, but many times the most awkward, but well-meaning thing comes out.  It intends to express sympathy for the bereaved, but it really negates the partner.  Let me show you by giving examples that I (and others) have heard.

“That poor man/woman” – Yes, the widow/widower went through a period of bereavement, but he or she found happiness and love again.  Happiness and love with someone like me.  Poor thing.  Hope lives.  Focus on the positive, please.

“He or She’s waiting for him/her in Heaven.” – This can go a couple of ways.  If you don’t subscribe to a faith that believes in Heaven or subscribe to a faith at all, this statement is rather pointless.  And if you do, I am sure you are relishing going to Heaven to share your spouse with someone else.  It’s just like Sister Wives for eternity.  Yay.  “Just give him back when the snooker is done, Darlene.”

“At least you don’t have to deal with an ex-wife or ex-husband.” – No, you don’t, but you have to deal with memories and ghosts.  Because people have a tendency to put halos around the dead.  Flaws are overlooked.  Sins are forgiven.  The ugly parts of them are rationalized away.  The Boffin and his late wife’s family do not do this, so this is not my particular problem.  However, many partners live in the shadows of saints and have a hard time measuring up to perfection.  And if the problem does not come from the widow or the widower, it can come from dealing with the friends and family who thought the deceased walked on water.

“He or she would have approved of you.” – This person obviously knew the deceased so well that he or she can speak on the deceased’s behalf.  Well, that is presumptuous.  Anyway, if the deceased were around, the spouse would not be with anybody else.  And nobody susses out backup partners, in case of emergencies, and passes this information on to the besties.  “Hey, Mildred, in case I die, give my nod of approval to someone with a professional degree who is good to the kids and likes Marvel movies.”

“It is so sad that the kids will never know their ‘real’ mother/father.” – Here is the first thing I would ask.  Would you find this an acceptable statement to say to an adoptive mother/father?  No?  Then, why would this be OK to say to a woman/man who is taking on that same role?  Once again, focus on the positive.  Here is person who is becoming a parent to someone else’s children and taking on all the responsibilities and struggles that come with it because of love and commitment.  This is not for the faint of heart by any means.  The family needs support and encouragement, not hand wringing.

“It’s great that he or she isn’t lonely anymore.” or “It’s great that he has you for company.” – These ones are the most insulting of all.  You, the partner, are basically there to provide companionship to the widow or widower like a kitten.  The True Love died.  It is even worse if you are married the former widow or widower because the vows both of you took are treated as secondary.  My name is Karen, and I am not a consolation prize.  I am the Boffin’s wife in every sense of the word.

If there is a way I can summarize my post is that I want people to affirm life when I tell our story.  The point is not about loss.  It is about recovery.  Grief does not leave you the same, but it does not have to leave you miserable.  The Boffin was able to have his dream of a wife and a family again.  It may not have been the original plan, but it still happened.

Just saying how great it is that you managed to find each other and create a good life together is the best statement you can make.

In Praise of Bob Ross

Older Americans are probably looking at the title of this post with a measure of disbelief, but I have to stick up for the man and his happy trees.

Now, to those across the Pond and you young’uns over here, Bob Ross was a landscape painting instructor who still graces our airwaves on our local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations during the daytime with The Joy of Painting, even though he succumbed to lymphoma back in 1995.  I know the show is still on the air because I was just watching an episode while waiting for my last doctor’s appointment.

No, PBS is not desperate for programming.  There are people who have learned or tried to learn to paint using the Bob Ross technique, although I have yet to meet anybody who has.  If you have done so, please comment.  I would love to know about your experience with it.  And if you Google it, you can find a full line of Bob Ross paint products to help you with your endeavors.

It’s not just the painting that pulls people in.  It’s Bob.  You had basically one of the most mellow men on the planet using paint, brushes, a canvas, and an easel giving you half-hour meditation sessions.

You have to understand where he came from.  He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a medical records technician, and he rose through the ranks to become a master sergeant (E-7 to all the American vets).  To paraphrase what he said, he was put in the position where he had to be the enforcer, having to yell to motivate.  He vowed when he left the service that he wouldn’t scream anymore.  He also developed his quick painting technique on his work breaks while he was stationed in Alaska.  Even though I never rose through the ranks into a leadership position, as an Air Force veteran myself, I can understand wanting that sort of serenity when my career was over.

So he became the Bob Ross that we see on the screen today.  Let me share a small clip to show you what I mean.

He loved his Van Dyke brown and his stiff brushes.  Bob Ross also gave the viewer a quiet encouragement and reassurance that you did not need to pick up a paint brush to appreciate.  I never learned to paint.  I’m lucky if I can draw a circle.  But I have brain that has a very hard time switching off, and traditional meditation exercises are lost on me.  I have tried studying the raisin, and I end up eating it in 30 seconds.  Watching The Joy of Painting is as close as I can get to mindfulness.

I cannot go by without saying something about his hair.  There was power in it, if only because I wonder just how he kept it shaped that perfectly. Many have tried like:

Brian May of Queen  "Brian May Portrait - David J Cable" by David J. Cable/Arcadia Photographic UK - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Brian May of Queen “Brian May Portrait – David J Cable” by David J. Cable/Arcadia Photographic UK – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter fame  By ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter fame By ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And the guy who keeps showing up in memes from women who joke about their bedheads.
And the guy who keeps showing up in memes from women who joke about their bedheads.

But few could do it like Bob did.

I think the reason why he is still on the air today is because of his sincere, quirky positivity.  Yes, you can laugh at corniness of the show, but it draws you in because you want to live in that world where you can just cover up your screw-ups by just painting birds over them and having some gentle father figure telling you it’s going to be OK.  Of course, you can’t cover all of your mistakes with a stroke of paint, but Bob does teach us not to get so het up about the little things.  If taken the right way, the show may just recharge your brain a little bit, so you can get back in and fight the important battles.

It was Nando’s, but Was It Cheeky?

So, what is Nando’s? If you live in the U.K. or in the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. area, you can skip to the next paragraph. If you don’t, Nando’s is a casual chicken restaurant chain out of South Africa that has a Mozambique/Portuguese theme.  Anyway, the basis of the seasoning of the chicken is the peri peri/African bird’s eye chili, and you can get different heat levels depending on what sauce you want. The chain is immensely popular internationally, especially in the U.K.  Nando’s has made its way over here in the above mentioned D.C. area, but the Boffin and I had our chance to experience peri-peri chicken ourselves.

The Nando’s in question just opened last month in Chicago just a couple blocks away from Harpo Studios, home of Oprah Winfrey’s offices, at least until the end of the year.  I invited Oprah out for a Cheeky Nando’s, but she was busy planning her next global conquest, so definitely next week, for sure.

Oprah likes to keep it casual.
Oprah likes to keep it casual when we hang out. “Oprah Winfrey in Strøget, Denmark on 30 September 2009” by Bill Ebbesen – Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Ah, I used the term Cheeky Nando’s. What on earth is that? Many Americans have seen the Britons use this phrase on social media and begged for answers. Of course, many Britons used this opportunity to mess with our heads in response. Can’t say I blame them. Cheeky Nando’s is hard to explain, but I will give it my best shot (and sound really old in the process) in American terms. Say you are hanging out with your friends at the mall or gaming at home, and all of you get hungry. But you don’t want something in the crappy fast food category like McDonald’s. You want to do a “Badass Chipotle”. It’s nonsensical, but it does imply that you are taking a step up in the restaurant food chain when you are going out.

Back to Chicago.

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This place looked colorful and inviting. We were greeted promptly. shown to our table, given our menus and the stick with the chicken with our table number on it, and then told we had to get back up to order at the till. This seemed like an unnecessary step. Give us our chicken number stick and direct us to the till. We’re American. We know the drill and know how to make food decisions quickly, even in new places. It’s a minor quibble though.

While we were waiting for our food, I had a look around and admired the decor. My sister-in-law asked me to find out if Nando’s managed to misspell the word “capsaicin,” on its mural, since it seems to be a tradition in the U.K. I am proud to say that the Chicago Nando’s did not misspell “capsaicin” on its mural because it did not bother to use the word in the first place. Either Nando’s gave up trying to spell the word correctly, or they think Americans are too stupid understand it. Either way, I despair.

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I love lamp.

Our food arrived in about 15 minutes and looked quite appealing. I had the lemon herb 1/4 chicken (breast meat) with the mash and macho peas because I am a heat wuss. The Boffin had the medium (heat) half chicken with the chips and macho peas because he’s the man.

My food.  Mashed potatoes and roast chicken is just right in my world.
My food. Mashed potatoes and grilled chicken is just right in my world.

So, what did I think? The chicken was moist, flavorful, and did not burn my mouth off. That 24-hr marinade is a special thing.  I consider the “not burning my mouth off” a success because that was my biggest fear going into Nando’s. I was very happy with the butteriness of my potatoes too. The peas were a letdown. They were seasoned with the chili, mint, and parsley, and that was all I could taste. If the cooks could ease up on the flavorings, they could be on to something. The Boffin happily took mine, so I was left with my meat, starch, and the sadness of nothing green. If anyone could recommend a better side for when we go back, I would be glad to hear it.

While we were eating, I had some random philosophical thoughts about Cheeky Nando’s. I was wondering if you could obtain a certain level of cheekiness or just feel cheeky just by eating there. If so, when would this feeling kick in? Would there be a cross-cultural difference between the Boffin feeling cheekiness versus me? So I tried to converse about it with the Boffin, and it boiled down to this:

Me: “Hon, are you starting to feel cheeky yet?”

The Boffin: “I don’t know. I’ll bend over.”

Me: (Sighing) “I forgot. You’re a failed Englishman.”

The Boffin: “Exactly.”

The Boffin is very good at getting on board most of my flights of fancy, but I can’t expect him fly every single one.

On that note, I never did feel cheeky at any point.  All I know is that I am in the wrong demographic and have the wrong nationality to have a Cheeky Nando’s, but I can still enjoy the restaurant just the same.  Now if I can just convince Oprah to try the frozen yogurt.

Nando’s in Chicago is on 953 W. Randolph St. in the West Loop.  There will also be one opening in Lakeview this Wednesday, June 24th, on 670 W. Diversey Parkway.

http://www.nandosperiperi.com/restaurants