Good Beer

February 25, 2011

I’ll start by acknowledging that Wisconsin is getting some extra attention this week. I’m wondering how this is going to change our image? In the future, what will people around the country think of when they think of Wisconsin? Will we be known for more than cheese and beer?

Kitchy maps I’ve seen of the United State plop an archetypical wedge down in the middle of our mitten-shaped state, which simply corroborates what we put on both our license plates and our quarters.

Shifting gears here to the more personal, I’ll say that I love these kinds of maps. Maps of all kinds, really, from subway maps to treasure maps to Rand McNally. I do own a GPS for car trips, but it routinely frustrates me and I swear I’ll teach my daughter to read a map just as soon as she learns to tie her shoes.

I also love beer. I’m a good Wisconsinite in that way. I recently saw an American map of good beer. I’d say that it’s more of a treasure map than a food map. It’s not scientifically based, but instead is just representing graphically what readers of like to drink.

I also love cheese and find the “Tasters Guide to Wisconsin” far more useful, though here, too, there are omissions. The Wisconsin Cheese Tour on the Department of Tourism’s Website offers suggestions for many days worth of cheese tasting, but you’ll need your own road map. In portalwisconsin’s own “Eat @ Wisconsin” section you can broaden the menu with Mary Bergin’s culinary tour, but I know Mary wouldn’t leave out the important beer and cheese food groups.

If you, like me, enjoy a back-road car trip with your Rand McNally (or GPS) and are curious to learn more about our state’s food traditions beyond cheese and beer, I recommend seeing “Key Ingredients: America by Food” at one of the stops on the Wisconsin Tour. In Brodhead, where the exhibition will be on display May 6 – June 17, the local flavors include pickles, popcorn, and potato chips. And that’s in Green County, an area of Wisconsin that advertises itself on its Website as a place famous for “tasty brews perfectly paired with award-winning cheese.”

Speaking of travel and potatoes, I have a trip to Idaho scheduled for this summer. The Good Beer map has me more than a little concerned. Of course, Idaho equals potato to me, but there must be something to drink there, right?

by Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council

Words for Winter

February 8, 2011

Photo by Jessica Becker

I recently read a description of the way air sparkles with crystallized moisture and the sky beams blue in the low morning sunlight during the winter in Wisconsin. It was spot on. The passage was written by David Rhodes in his book “Driftless” a collection of intertwining stories set in a small, rural town in southwestern Wisconsin. I’ve returned the book to the library so I cannot provide the exact quote. You’ll have to read the book yourself. I do highly recommend it.

The quality of light in winter is one of my favorite things about living in Wisconsin. I also love the feathery patterns in ice that decorate my bathroom window. It’s on the second story facing east and is the perfect spot to watch the sun rise in the winter. This morning, my daughter and I greeted the day by watching shades of purple, pink, and orange wash through the sparkling swirls on the glass. The simple phenomenon thrills my daughter. At her age, both early morning hours and shiny things are particularly exciting.

Yes, I actually like winter quite a bit, which is something many folks who don’t live here are surprised by. Many of us love winter, even if we grumble about the cold or the blizzard forecasted to hit soon.

Last week a poet friend emailed to say that the dry snow blizzard the day before was called Agniqsuq in Inupiaq. Inupiaq is an Inuit dialect, one of the Eskimo languages spoken in northwestern Alaska. As you may have heard, they have really specific ways of describing different snowy and wintry conditions. The diamond dust, or ice crystals in the air, that I am so fond of are called irriqutit. I wonder why we Wisconites haven’t adopted or created more specific terms? Are we satisfied to leave it up to the poets and weather reporters?

Other people who enjoy the winter, and outdoor winter pursuits, must have a bunch of words they use amongst their cliques to discuss the specifics that matter to them. My husband, a dedicated pond hockey player, says you “snow” someone when ice sprays during a hockey stop.  I’m sure the ice fishermen have words. Folks training for the Birkie must have words.

Winter snow drift

Photo by Jessica Becker

There is a beautiful, short (4 minute) film on the Climate Wisconsin Website about the American Birkebeiner. Drawing 8,000 people to Sawyer County every February, it is North America’s largest cross-country ski race. Watch the film and you’ll hear from one of the co-founders of the race, a man who has skied every single one since 1973. Obviously, snow is important in the success of the event. It has only been cancelled once, though it has been shortened six times, due to inadequate conditions. The Inupiaq word for the problem is augniqsraq: a patch of tundra from which snow has melted.

That shouldn’t be a problem today. My husband has just stated, as he bundles himself beneath countless layers in preparation for his bike ride to work, that today is the coldest day of the year. He is not a poet or a weather forecaster, but he doesn’t mince words. My daughter and I will enjoy the fresh layer of powder outside (nutagaq in Inupiaq) from the cozy living room.

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council

A Winter Weekend in Door County

February 3, 2011

By Dayle Quigley

This past weekend saw me traveling once again to check out music in small town Wisconsin. This weekend however I picked more of a geographic area than a specific small town. Since Door County is more a “road trip” then a casual night out, a friend and I coordinated our schedules, picked a weekend and then hoped to find live music in the area. In turns out that finding live music in Door County was easy, even at this time of year.

For a place to stay, we picked a random resort off the internet. It was very nice. The truth is we could have had our pick of spots. Door County in the winter is significantly quieter than in the summer. Since we were not arriving in  Door County, more specifically Egg Harbor until late on Friday, and leaving again on Sunday, our one chance for finding live music was on Saturday. We had two choices – Mojo Perry at the Door County Community Auditorium or Dow Jones at the Stone Harbor Pub and Restaurant. We went for Mojo Perry. In all honesty, I had never heard of Mojo Perry but the write up was good and it was listed as being an acoustic concert. I just couldn’t find enough about the Dow Jones band on the internet. Since both acts are touted as “rock”, I went for the one where I thought I might be able to hear in the morning. Okay, I’m showing my age but it’s true and I grew up on John Denver, James Taylor and Billy Joel. I’m not really a heavy metal kind of gal.

We started out on Saturday evening at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek. We picked this particularly restaurant not because of the menu but because it is a music venue a couple of times a month. We unfortunately happened to be there on an off weekend but I wanted to get a feel for the place anyway. The Inn as been in existence since the late 1800s. That says something in itself especially for someone who likes a place with history. On nights that music is scheduled, dinner is served at 6 with a set meal and price. The dining area is then cleared out so that the stage can be set up and seats arranged. I should have asked how many members can be in the audience but I didn’t. My guess would be about a hundred. No matter what, it would be a wonderful place to hear a concert. I was bummed that we were not going to be there a couple of days later when John McCutcheon was playing. I should remark that the food was wonderful: a wide selection, more than reasonable portions without feeling like you were in an all you can eat buffet line, and tastefully seasoned. It was a great way to start the evening.

We then headed down the road to the Door County Community Auditorium and the Mojo Perry concert. This concert was one of their Coffee House Concert performances. Instead of the concert being within the auditorium proper (which seats over 700), this gig was in the foyer of the building where a fire was burning (okay it was gas but it did look nice), and tables of four were set up. The lights were turned down and candles lit the area. The audience was small with only about 24 in attendance. Most of the audience was in their 50s and sadly I saw only one couple sitting within a foot of each other. Instead, they sat separately with their arms crossed. I have to admit that it wasn’t looking good from the start. Not an easy crowd to play to; especially when you are a “psychedelic” guitar player. We did stay for the entire performance if for no other reason than in hopes that there would be a moment of breathtaking genius. There were a couple of songs that were inspiring, that had substance behind them, but overall it was somewhat repetitive. Mr Perry has been dabbling in the use of electronic looping – you play a riff, it’s recorded and then plays itself over and over again as you lay down new tracks on top. It’s an interesting concept but not necessarily new. I saw a fiddle player use the idea at the ASTA convention 2 years ago in the alternative styles competition. The problem is once you have seen someone like Leo Kottke or Mike Dowling in concert and you realize that it is not multiple tracks on their CDs but one amazing person playing like three musicians at once on a single instrument, it is hard to be impressed by the use of electronics that give you the same effect. Perhaps I went into this concert with the wrong attitude. I was kind of praying for an “Eric Clapton Unplugged” type of performance. It just didn’t really measure up.

Here is my take

1. Door County – very healthy when it comes to live music even during the “down” season.

2. White Gull Inn – if headed into town, I would definitely check this spot out for entertainment. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to be there on the right day.

3. Mojo Perry – not my cup of tea.

Schroeder’s Hotels

February 3, 2011

Last April I wrote about the Schroeder Hotels in Wisconsin after a visit to the Retlaw in Fond du Lac. Among Walter Schroeder’s properties was the Northland Hotel in Green Bay.

Northland Hotel

The Northland Hotel in Green Bay

The Green Bay Press-Gazette has posted images of the building, now the Port Plaza Towers apartments. You’ll find a handful of contemporary images and a good selection of historic photos including events at the hotel and images during and shortly after construction.

For more on the 1924 hotel and its history, check out Packerland Annals, an informative blog that covers a range of topics including history and urban design.