Bread to Drive For

February 7, 2010

by Joan Fischer

Have you ever eaten something so delectable that you felt slightly haunted ever after? So it was for me after trying fresh-from-the-oven bread—rustic peasant wheat, crispy yet moist baguette, foccacia with blue cheese and artichoke, and the best challah I have ever tasted—at an unassuming, you’d-drive-right-past-it bakery on Highway 14 in Arena. I’d stumbled upon it about a year ago and more recently decided I had to go back, despite a round trip of more than an hour.

“I’m the worst marketer in the world,” jokes owner Bob McQuade, 78. “The Shoppe: Herbs, Spices and More” is all you see on McQuade’s billboard, no mention of bread. But customers have been finding him anyway during his career as an executive chef (the former Spring Green Restaurant) and a master blender of herbs and spices that he sells to other chefs and home cooks (he did this as a booming wholesale business before semi-retiring 10 years ago). Jars and jars of them line a wall, most selling for 50 to 75 cents an ounce.

Especially popular with chefs and home cooks alike is a blend called Exotica, eight herbs and spices including coriander, juniper berries, thyme, onion, and garlic, which is especially good on roasted meat. Another favorite: Papa Bob’s Rib Rub. So original and bewitching are his seasonings that many chefs have purchased proprietary blends to serve as an exclusive signature for their dishes. Over the years his customers have included Madison’s legendary Ovens of Brittany, the Concourse Hotel, Food Fight, and the Edgewater Hotel.

In the shop he runs with wife Kate you’ll also find kitchen supplies (Berghoff knives, beautiful handmade maple cutting boards, ceramic serving dishes) and art. Yes, art. A large adjoining room is a gallery displaying work by local artists (John Sheean, Ed Wohl, Jean-Marc Richel) and exhibitions that change every four to six weeks. Nor do the café-style tables and chairs go to waste. Every Sunday people from the wider community gather for coffee and conversation over McQuade’s home-baked pastries. They call it “The Church of Sweet Rolls,” McQuade says. Visitors can also buy a selection of homemade frozen soups and sauces.

You can’t see a trace of it, but McQuade is half Italian. He learned cooking and baking from his mother and grandmother, who hailed from Sicily, and he and Kate have spent time with family there. They swoon over the food and know how to replicate it at home.

McQuade’s baked goods—which, in addition to bread, include biscotti, tirami su, and many kinds of cheesecake—are available at a few restaurants and other venues (examples: Convivio in Spring Green and Crossroads Coffee House in Cross Plains). His challah goes all the way to Bushel & Peck’s in Beloit. But if you’re at all in the area, you might as well drive straight to the source. You’re assured of delightful conversation and a very fragrant ride home.

The Shoppe at Herbs Spices & More
7352 Highway 14, Arena
Tel. 608-753-9000
e-mail: papabob@thespiceshoppe.com

Hours:
Thurs. 10-5
Fri. 10-6
Sat. 10-5
Sun. 9-2
Closed Mondays
Open Tues./Wed. by chance


The Year In Review i.e. 1909

December 22, 2009

As the year draws to a close, bloviators throughout the media universe strive to list the most significant events of the previous twelve months.  We are not immune to this pastime, but with a slight alteration. The past year we’d like to examine is a century old.

1909 was a year like any other year except when it was not.

In politics, the state legislature elected  Isaac Stephenson to the United States Senate despite critics who claimed the lumber baron from Marinette used his wealth to buy the seat.

Progressive state senators passed a resolution recognizing the right of women  to vote in all state elections, but conservative assemblymen did not. So, as they had for years, Wisconsin women  voted in local school board elections, based on the premise that education was for children and women tended children and therefore…..

Also in 1909,  the first airplane to fly in our state took off and landed intact at Beloit.

Significant surely, but I think the most important event of 1909 occurred at the  Dells of the Wisconsin River.  After five years of construction the largest hydroelectric power station yet built in our state was completed–dam, diverson and dynamos.

Kilbourn Dam and Powerhouse. Photo: H.H. Bennett Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society.

The Dells station was the latest turn in a decade long transformation of the power in Wisconsin rivers from the sawing, grinding and milling of lumber and grain to electrical generation.  It was cutting edge technology, with an impact as profound as any of the high-tech innovations we’ve experienced in the last thirty years–and basic to them. You can’t have electronics until you have electricity.

Although one of many new hydropower stations in Wisconsin, the Dells was different.  No local market existed for the ten megawatts of power it could generate. Like the field of dreams, if  it was built, they would come. They being factories in need of power.

The Dells station was also different in that it was the first major alteration of a Wisconsin river to face opposition on environmental grounds. The not-yet-renowned photographer, Henry Hamilton Bennett, attempted to stop construction of the power station dam because it would raise and hold water levels upstream by as much as nineteen feet. Many of the geological wonders he had captured on film would be drowned forever and the towering rock formations he knew and loved would not be as tall because the water below would lap higher up their flanks.

Hamilton rallied some support from conservationists around the state, but hardly enough to halt construction of the dam. His neighbors in the village of Kilbourn considered him to be a cranky old man trying to stall the wheels of progress.  It was the 20th Century, after all, the age of electricity had dawned and the Dells dam would bring power and prosperity.

It didn’t. No industrialist relocated to Kilbourn no matter how bright its new electric lights did shine.  The power generated there had to be sold at a loss and transmitted miles into the  grid of the greater Milwaukee electric railroad company.

The village of Kilbourn did not begin to develop into the vacation mecca we know as Wisconsin Dells until the first wave of automobile tourism began in the 1920s. After World War II, Wisconsin Dells became the number one tourist destination in our state.

By then, the power station was part of the riverscape, its electricity running the amusement park rides and charging the neon in the signs.  Visitors riding the boats past the tall rocks did not know that they once stood taller and what natural wonders lay beneath the deep water below.

Wisconsin Dells

Photo: H.H. Bennett Studio. Acquired by the author from the Dells Country Historical Society.


–Michael Goc


Kitchen Sink Patriot

June 16, 2009
Photo: The Fox River Patriot

Photo: The Fox River Patriot

The recent edition of the Wisconsin Magazine of History includes an article by historian Paul Buhle entitled Wisconsin’s Comic Art. It is a preview of his upcoming book on the subject.  Buhle writes about classic newspaper comic creations from Wisconsin–Henry, The Gumps, Gasoline Alley–and also covers the “underground” comics that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s.

The most important Wisconsin contributor to this genre was Milwaukee native Dennis Kitchen. He published heavily illustrated “alternative” tabloids as well as comics magazines in his home town, in Madison and, most notably at his Kitchen Sink Press near Princeton in Green Lake County.

I’ll let Buhle brief you on Kitchen’s contribution to comics world wide.  My interest is in Kitchen’s work in central Wisconsin.

After moving his Press to a remodeled cow barn off  Swamp Road, Kitchen partnered with fellow Milwaukeean Mike Jacobi to found a tabloid newspaper called The Fox River Patriot. The title bespeaks the time and place. It was the Bicentennial year of 1976, old fashioned Yankee Doodle patriotism was recovering from its Vietnam era swoon, and Princeton, where the Patriot’s office was located, is on the Fox River.

But Kitchen and Jacobi never intended to publish just another local newspaper. Like the Fox River, which flows from Portage to Oshkosh and Green Bay, the Patriot was designed to be a regional resource and, in time,  it was distributed in ten counties.  It combined elements of the new glossy city magazines and “alternative” tabloids like Isthmus in Madison and The Shepherd Express in Milwaukee, but its editorial content was focused on rural living. The typical Patriot reader was one of the growing number of people who lived in the country but did not farm.

The Fox River Patriot was arguably the first “alternative” newspaper devoted to rural, non farm living in Wisconsin. I worked as a reporter and editor for about five of its eight years of life.  Articles on gardening, horticulture, landscaping, small-scale forestry, small stock-raising,  weather lore, fishing, cooking and preserving home-grown produce, filled the pages, as did serious pieces on groundwater contamination, wetlands preservation, even the potential threat of storing nuclear waste in Waupaca County.  We covered local history and legends,  reviewed musicians and artists, profiled colorful old timers and interesting newcomers.

Photo: The Fox River Patriot

Photo: The Fox River Patriot

Patriot articles on recycling, energy conservation, wind and solar power– living “green”– would prove useful today.  Green, however, was  merely a color then, and one that appeared frequently on the cover.

For among the many features that made the Patriot special, it was the only rural “alternative” publication in the country with covers and inside graphics designed by Kitchen Sink Press comics artists. Dennis Kitchen, Pete Poplaski, even Robert Crumb, contributed.

By the mid-1980s, the wheels of time and place had turned.  “Alternative” became mainstream. Differences between  rural and urban living faded into today’s shared suburbia.   The Fox River Patriot faded with them.

–Michael Goc


A different kind of economic development

April 20, 2009

It wasn’t long ago that conversations about economic development were not about artists, small farms, micro-enterprises and independent people like me who make our living from home because we have the good fortune to have Internet service. (Note to my city friends – in the countryside broadband availability is a crapshoot. It depends heavily on whether you live on a ridge or in a valley or which utility serves your area. I’m one of the chosen few: I live on a ridge.)

Oftentimes the emphasis of business assistance programs seemed more of a trickle-down kind of thing: Give a big incentive to a large concern and they’ll build a factory or something and provide jobs. That’s not a bad thing in the eyes of many but to some it was the only way to do it.

My “Aha Moment” came a day after our regional economic development conference, when I realized that I had watched almost an entire slate of economic development awards go to small business entrepreneurs and those who help them be successful in their ventures. Times are changin’.

Small business is the bedrock of many local economies. Over a quarter of the workers in Iowa County where I live are self-employed and there is a much greater incidence in neighboring areas. My neighbors run their own businesses and I am self employed, too.

But a new job here or a new job there is not newsworthy and, in terms of what’s hot, we weren’t. At best we were ignored but for the most part we did not exist in the eyes of policy folks (self-employed folks are not included in unemployment rates and other commonly-used indicators).

I’ve worked in community development most of my career, and I realize paradigm shifts can develop slowly. But after the awards ceremony I started to think that much of what I had promoted for many years had arrived. The spotlight was on the little guy.

We’re seeing more and more economic development programs aiming to assist the entrepreneur. A good example is ArtsBuild – an economic development program of UW-Platteville intended to utilize the arts to foster economic development and grow the economy of the reab1gion by expanding existing and developing new art-related businesses. For this to happen, the university had to recognize that the arts were an untapped resource in the local economy – one worth investment.

When ArtsBuild started in 2004 the hope was that as many as 60 artists might be reached and some would participate. In a matter of weeks there were over 200 involved. The program now provides opportunities for education, marketing, partnerships and networking– the latter being critical for new businesspeople.

A newer UW-Platteville effort – Local Fare – works with small agricultural producers to expand the Local Foods market and build a local/regional food system.

The awards were part of the Building Economic Strength Together conference, the annual economic development spark plug of southwest Wisconsin. Accolades went to an Extension Agent who gets Crawford County entrepreneurs together, a dairy supply company from Darlington, a new regional bicycle roadmap with tons of tour loops, and a young graduate of UW-Platteville who loves robotics and built a great little company around his dream.

The Woman in Business award went to an angel who has dedicated her life to helping rural folks with handicaps obtain productive work. The City of Benton, an entrepreneurial hotbed of 975 still euphoric over a first state basketball championship, won the Cool Community award. It was a wise choice – it IS a cool community!

A big treat for me was being in the room when the folks who run Driftless Market (Portal Wisconsin Blogs – March 22, 2009) received the award for Regional New Entrepreneur.

Emphasizing the economic value of the local artist or entrepreneur recognizes that economies can be grown one step at a time. And besides that, most local artists, farmers or the home office worker will not leave for the next tax or cash incentive. We’re where we are for other reasons. Besides, many of us lucky enough to have adequate telecommunications tools can market our products and services anywhere.

Clearly small business is the economic backbone of Wisconsin and most of the Midwest. Cool communities and neighborhoods can grow many of their own jobs, and when economic developers recognize and support this we all benefit.

There is some great information on the economic impact of the arts and creative industries on the Arts Wisconsin website.  They’ll be the first to tell you that art is not a frill!

Rick Rolfsmeyer

Wisconsin Rural Partners, Hollandale, WI (pop. 283)


Gatherings and education at the potpourri palace

April 6, 2009

The blacksmith is a woman who articulates her workshops with flair: “Excitement in Welding! Look forward to using a Plasma cutter to cut sheet steel and design your own garden sculpture. It’s like a garden hose that shoots fire instead of water!”

How could anyone pass on a workshop like that?

Another one of her announcements beckons, “Bigger hammers, bigger steel, bigger fun”. Goodness.

The Blacksmith's fixture stands sentry

Esteban's fixture stands sentry

Nana the blacksmith is one of many folks who conduct workshops through the River Valley Trading Company in Blanchardville, which straddles Lafayette and Iowa Counties in southwest Wisconsin. One might suggest that Blanchardville is an out-of-the-way place, but who wants to be in the way, anyway? Places like RV Trading just wouldn’t fit at an Interstate exit. You’ve gotta go find the good stuff!

To suggest River Valley Trading is an eclectic place is an understatement. To many folks it is a store. It is one of my favorite places to buy things for wife and daughter: jewelry, or one of Roberta’s way nifty handmade handbags. Choices abound.

RV Trading is stocked with mostly local goods but you can also get Fair Trade items and some great natural and organic foods. How about antiques, visual art, chocolates, pottery, stained glass, fabric art and wool, and all kinds of other stuff? There was a gorgeous crocheted baby thing there last week. (I am a 58 year old male – “Baby Thing” is as accurate as I get.) The place is a mirror of the folks who hang-out there – all over the map, as they say.

You can even buy new Photovoltaic panels. View the models near the wall where Esteban’s iron light fixture hangs, a sentry of sorts, from the old-fashioned embossed tin ceiling.

And, of course, in addition to a potpourri of items for sale, River Valley Trading Company has lots of workshops. This month they have Quilters Potluck, a cooking class with a European-trained chef, Healthy Snacks for Kids by Kids, and Yarns Ewenited in addition to a number of blacksmithing courses. Every month is different.rv1

Entertainment? How about Monthly Acoustic Music Coffee House Night? My fave is Wine Share Night, sponsored by the local Alternative Fuel Society, which also hosts Brew Share Night.

Yup. Eclectic.

RV Trading was started about three years ago as a business incubator, but has grown to be more like a Cooperative. It is still part of Blanchardville Community Pride, Inc. (BCPI), the Village’s Chamber of Commerce. A small board helps run the place, which is staffed by volunteers and those who display their wares there.

Blanchardville is a neat place, but Irv3 am biased because it is part of the Pecatonica School District where my kids go to school. It has an expansive park bordered by the meandering Pecatonica River, a great place to put your canoe in, fish, camp or just let the kids run. Grab a top-flight meal at the Viking Café. If you like cheese, you’ve got to stop at the B-Ville Mini-Mall, where each of the wide variety of cheeses was picked by owner Roy, who drives the back roads of Wisconsin and northern Illinois to purchase from cheese factories he has known for years. Like any good shop, there’s a story behind the products.

And if you go to Husie’s tavern this Friday you can hear my rock and roll band, TKO. If a lot of folks show-up he might have us back.

RV Trading has evolved into something bigger than all the stuff it is and does. It has become a gathering place. It is a place of stories and handshakes and laughter. The whole Village is like that, actually. River Valley Trading’s recent event flyer says, “Come out and play”. I hope you do. If you’re in the area it is not far from Mount Horeb, New Glarus or Mineral Point. You can cover a lot of places with a day-trip.

Blanchardville is located on State Road 78, between Blue Mounds and Argyle. Contacts: www.blanchardville.comwww.rivervalleytrading.com or call 608-523-1888.

Ricky Rolfsmeyer

Wisconsin Rural Partners

Hollandale, Wisconsin (Pop. 283)


Local food, local art, small town entrepreneurs

March 22, 2009

Taking an occasional drive is a family tradition. We love to explore, and long ago took the advice of a friend to follow the squiggliest lines on the map. This time we squirmed our way to a fairly new and exceptional little store in Platteville we’ve been meaning to visit.

The Driftless Market is named after a unique geographic characteristic of the region, not one my kids. The store seems at the center of a region known for its deep river valleys, and the terrain reflects having escaped glaciation the last time that was the happening thing. The region’s topography makes a drive on any road a neat experience, and perspectives from the same road will vary widely with the seasons.

Like one of those old neighborhood stores your folks took you to when you were a kid, the market has a community feel to it as soon as you enter. You’re likely to be helped by an owner, any one of a small group of intrepid colleagues who together took the plunge into retail a few months ago.

Have a refreshment and chat. Maybe some soup or a wrap from the deli. Check out the photos, or a watercolor over by the window. (The tables are by the art – marketing genius!) The handmade cards alone bring lots of customers. Jewelry, mosaics, fiber art, stained glass, ceramics, rosemaling, woodworks…………..local writers even! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

I asked Heidi, one of the owners, if the art was mostly local. She said she knew every artist. Don’t ask me why I think so – but we could tell. All this different stuff felt the same, like over 40 different members of the same family. And there are already almost 50 local food suppliers.

Locally-produced foods dominate the grocery and deli – and as homey as the place is, this is a full-service store. If it isn’t local, it will likely be organic or from the greater area. It is hard to think of something that isn’t here. Great pizzas – the yogurt will devastate you. Bottled milks from Barneveld, Emu meat from Fennimore (true story!) and sprouts grown in his room by a UW-Platteville college student. You can see his pic: “student with sprouts”. I bet the Louvre doesn’t have a “student with sprouts”.

The Sham Wow guy would say, “But wait, there’s more!” They were just finishing a soap-making workshop when we visited, and classes are augmented by occasional tastings and readings. This is a neighborhood place defined by a community of sellers and buyers more than geography.

In retrospect I thought the owners as unique as the products. Running a retail store takes a huge amount of work, so what would prompt folks to add this to their current work or give up the day job to launch such a venture? It was a way for a farmer to sell more of what she grows or for an artist/farmer to leave the university job to engage her passion and meet the greater demand for food and art she saw at the local farmers’ market. For all it was the right time. I think it was a mission. I admire the commitment and entrepreneurial panache it takes.

Business is good and building. Word of mouth is bringing friends with more friends and folks from farther away. People talk it up when they get back home. Check them out at driftlessmarket.com.

Make some time, go follow some squiggles. Driftless Market is a neat place to visit and your area most likely has stores that similarly attract community-minded folk – people who think a marriage of locally produced food and art is satisfying and oh, so fun. Wisconsin is rich in places like the Driftless Market and the people who create them.

Rick Rolfsmeyer
Wisconsin Rural Partners
Hollandale, Wisconsin (Pop. 283)