Spotted Cow Ale

Spotted Cow AleFriends of friends are from Wisconsin, and whenever they visit home, they make every effort to bring back as much of this beer as possible because the New Glarus Brewing Co. does not export outside of the state. That shows dedication. Dedication in these friends that love the beer, and dedication in the brewing company for not selling out and going commercial.

We were just gifted with two bottles of this Spotted Cow Ale from the latest long-distance beer run, and on our first weekend off, with the game on TV, The Man popped open the first one. Spotted Cow is unfiltered and often has sediment at the bottom after making its long way to Florida. This is brewers yeast, and the brewers recommend rolling it gently to mix in the sediment. It’s rich in vitamins and flavors. Healthy beer? Why not?

Chilled, this is a surprisingly light yet yeasty farmhouse-style beer, with bright citrus notes and a sweet finish. It’s clear and bright amber but slightly cloudy. The mouth feel is incredible, almost syrupy and a little crystalline like raw honey. And there are these hints of floral back notes that evolve as you get deeper into the glass.

New Glarus touts its use of indigenous ingredients, so they exclusively use locally grown barley and wheat malt. And this particular brew incorporates some local corn, since that’s one thing Wisconsin has a lot of. Of note, this is also cask conditioned ale, also known as ‘real ale’ by aficionados.

The Man loves hoppy beer like traditional Belgian brews (some of these take my breath away), but he was appropriately amused by this unusual ale. Being mild and citrusy, and only about 4.8% abv, this would be an excellent summer barbecue and pool party beer (if you could get your hands on a quantity).

So this is another reason to like Wisconsin–besides all of the cheese, of course. New Glarus doesn’t have to export their product and are shameless about not wanting to. They may keep their mom-and-pop, old fashioned, small brewery attitude towards ingredients and processes, but they’re modern about technology. Find them on their website, or on Facebook and other social networking sites. And if you’re lucky enough to visit the brewery, take some pictures for us, and bring back some beer!

New Glarus Brewing Company
2400 State Hwy 69
New Glarus, WI 53574
(608) 527-5850


Ichiban Sushi Downtown

Ichiban Sushi Downtown

I am a vegetarian and The Man is a pescetarian. Yes, that’s a real word. It’s basically a vegetarian that also eats seafood. Fancy, right?

There are people in the world who sometimes actually say things like “I love sushi!”, or “Oh my god, if I don’t have sushi soon, I’m going to die!”. I’ve never been one of those kinds of people. My sister has been trying to convert me for years though, bless her cotton socks. I guess as a vegetarian, raw foods are just a little more common than most diets. So yay!, it’s rolled up can get dipped in ponzu or umeboshi instead of flat on a plate. Woo hoo! (Note sarcasm.)

Well, along comes The Man and his family who are all a little sushi crazy. And I find myself at sushi places more often. The family favorite has always been the Ichiban Sushi up on north 43rd St (in the same plaza as 43rd St Deli and Las Margeritas), but now that there’s one opened up downtown near Emiliano’s, we’ve been going to that one more often.

Of all the times I’ve been, with all of the assorted friends we’ve taken to dinner, I’ve not seen anyone unhappy with the food. Except for when they eat too much and sit there carefully as if they’re about to explode raw fish out of their ears. The Man generally goes a little crazy when he orders rolls and pieces, and I let him order for me because he knows his way around the menu. (I’m going to let him talk about his favorites in another post since that’s a whole book.)

My favorites are the asparagus and the veggie rolls, and I always have to have a wakame salad (cruncy threads of seaweed). And of course inari to finish–little fried tofu pockets stuffed with slightly sweet sushi rice. Inari can be savory as well, but at Ichiban it is a lovely little two-bite sweet to end a meal. Or just order about ten of them and that can be your meal, if you’re crazy like me. But really, don’t do that. More than once anyway.

Because I’m not a sushi fanatic, I also explored the rest of their veggie options which includes some delish Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and other noodle dishes. You should try the yakisoba and the pad thai if you want to dodge the sushi one day. And they do serve the usual variety of Asian beers, wine, and some fancy mixed drinks. If you like ginger, try the ginger martini. Yum!

The downtown Ichiban is a nice alternative to the usual downtown restaurants, but it still tries to be hip and trendy. It’s a little less homey than the 43rd St one. And it gets a bit busy, so don’t plan on this being a one-hour dinner. This is a place to go with friends and enjoy a dinner. This is a place to share food, boast about sushi-eating abilities, and do stupid things with chopsticks.

We tend to spend a bit more here than most places we go for a casual dinner, but it’s usually the opportunity for The Man to binge on seafood which he doesn’t do often. The meal can be as inexpensive or “Wow, I ate all of that!?” as you want it to be since you build your own dinner from rolls, pieces, and extras. If you’re on a budget, bring a pen to make a list so you stay on target because it’s easy to let the food go to your head.

And a helpful hint from your favorite food spy, park somewhere a few blocks away. You’ll appreciate the little walk (or waddle) back to your car to get the digestion going.

Ichiban Sushi
15 SE 1st Ave
Gainesville, Fl 32601


Sweetwater Coffee

Sweetwater Organic Coffee

I confess, I love coffee more than almost anything else. If I had to give up food and drink only coffee for a year, I wouldn’t hesitate. Well, maybe cheese would be hard to give up.

It’s not just coffee. I mean, I love chocolate covered espresso beans too, but it’s not the same thing. Coffee is also about the morning ritual of easing into the day. Filling up the kettle and starting the water on the stove. Pulling out the grinder and the beans, and pouring just the right amount into the hopper. The buzz of the burr grinder converting the oily dark ovals into rough grounds. Scooping the grounds into the French press and eventually topping it up with steaming water. The foam of coffee bean oils on top. The long-anticipated moment when you press the plunger and the coffee is ready. All leading towards that first sip and the day is carefully launched off the dock and into the current of life.

Don’t waste a lot of time in the coffee aisle and specialty boutiques trying to find the best coffee out there. Coffee is like wine. Drink what you like. Have fun exploring and experiencing different brands, different roasts, different sources. You might find similarities in the different coffees you enjoy. You might notice you like a specific roast, or a blend of origins.

We try coffees now and again when we stumble across something new. But we always have one thing in stock in the house. You absolutely have to check out the Sweetwater Organic Coffee company. We adore the single source Ethiopians, either Sidamo or Yirgacheffe. But they have some lovely blends and other single source options, as well as espressos, half-cafs, and decafs.

On top of the deliciousness of the coffee, it’s also fair trade, organic, and roasted right here in Gainesville. You can find it at a lot of locally owned businesses that stock fair trade, or organic, or local products; and others shops that just like the coffee. We usually find ours at Ward’s, Alternatives, or Book Gallery West. And note to you brunchers out there, a few local restaurants offer it on their menus, so keep your eyes peeled.

Sweetwater Organic Coffee
Ph: 352-372-8342


Reggae Shack Cafe

Reggae Shack Cafe

If you’re a vegetarian and haven’t yet been to the Reggae Shack, you best correct that right away.

It’s just good food. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a rave review, but it’s as simple as the cooking. Uncomplicated dishes done in authentic (for Americans) Jamaican style–but so tasty! And lots of it. Yes, yes, I know large portions don’t automatically make it good, but in this case the portions are a bonus because your leftovers are going to start calling you from the fridge at about 10 o’clock.

There’s a surprisingly large vegetarian selection, and the dishes might appear humble, but the flavors fill up every corner of your happy mouth. Don’t be surprised by the random sticks and leaves in the food either because this is real spices and seasonings. Not the powdered pre-blended flavorings in a tine. But real spices. Oh and don’t forget to grab the Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce if you like that sort of thing.

A few suggestions of what not to miss? The Vegan Steak is mellow and tasty. If you like mild curry, the Curry Seitan is worth trying first thing. And the Veggie Mince Special is one of those yummy dishes that varies from day to day but is always good. Some delish little bits and pieces to try–the Dutty Fries (pronounced like ‘dirty’ without the ‘r’, for all of you white folk), the festivals, and smoothies. Some dishes on the menu are kind of spicy, so look out for these… like anything labeled ‘jerk’.

Most dishes come with rice and peas, steamed cabbage, and fried plantains. The rice and cabbage is better than it sounds or looks. I personally haven’t warmed to the whole plantains thing, but The Man munches them up like a Hungry Hungry Hippo.

There’s also sandwiches, which are handy hand-food. And of course if you have non-veggie friends, this is a great place because all the dishes look the same and you don’t feel like the sole rabbit in a wolf-pack.

Most lunches are going to be around $8 to $10, plus whatever nice extras you indulge in. And it’s worth every penny. I always have a to-go box when I walk out of there. And speaking of to-go, this is one of the great carry-out places since it’s yummy food that can be easily reheated or eaten right out of the box while you sit in front of your computer.

A lot of locals and fans remember Reggae Shack back when they were in the original cramped storefront, but with their expansion, there’s much more space. The bright walls make great photos by the way, so take lots of pictures of your friends shoveling food into their mouths. (Great Facebook fodder.) Good music, cheerful staff, and great location make this relaxed restaurant a fun gathering place. Open every day from 11AM to 10PM too, so awesome for those late dinners…nom nom nom.

Reggae Shack
(near 6th on University)
619 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
(352) 377-5464


Mano a Mano La Mancha, 2007

Mano a Mano 2007

Our door is always open to a bottle of tempranillo, especially when brought by a friend. We knew nothing about this wine when it arrived and promptly pulled the cork. After a first sniff and sip at the inky dark wine, we decided to decant it and let it rest for an hour because of its heavy, grating nose.

It’s always interesting going blind into a bottle since you never know what to expect. Sometimes knowing about the wine taints your impressions of it between your face and your brain. The smells, textures, flavors of the wine are free to be themselves without your waiting for them to perform.

Decanting much improved the experience of this intense tempranillo. It had gorgeous, strong flavors of oak and dry earth, and a finish like the heat of a setting sun fading into the deceptively chilly deep red evening. This was not a refinement of subtle tones, or a fun, flirty blend. There was a wildness to the flavor arc. No smooth curve. More of a flexing and wrestling of similar flavors fighting for dominance. And then cleanly disappearing.

This wine would go well with seared, grilled, dark foods, and a hard, salty cheese. It’s something you drink as a second bottle, fit nicely between two more amicable tempranillos. In research, I’ve found the Mano a Mano is from the La Mancha area of Spain, and is slowly aged in French oak barrels. La Mancha is one of the largest wine-growing areas of the world if you measure in acreage. And tempranillos are quickly gaining huge popularity because they’re great table wine at completely affordable prices.

This bottle of Mano a Mano was quite forward with flavors, and after the rough start, it oxidized deeply near the end of the night. We had switched to a very mellow Our Daily Red wine, and having a sip of the long-settled Mano brought a tear to my eye, I confess.

I would try Mano a Mano again, now that I’m prepared. But it’s not for the weak and inexperienced.

Mano a Mano
2007 Tempranillo
La Mancha, Spain
About $10/bottle


Cupcake Merlot, 2007

Cupcake Merlot, 2007

A few people had suggested trying Cupcake wine, so I thought I’d pick up a bottle for my next book club. They are my wine guinea pigs and a name like Cupcake wouldn’t embarrass them too badly. Getting a bunch of busy women together sometimes fails and book club was canceled that week. So out of sheer curiosity later in the week, The Man and I opened this bottle after dinner.

The wine lived up to the name. Not that I’m saying it was bad. It was on the timid side though. Very mild for such a dark red, with dried fruit flavors and barely a hint of cocoa. And it had a slightly rusty finish.

It also oxidized pretty quickly, so after an hour of being open, it was getting hard to drink. A wine with a stronger flavor might have carried this a little longer, but it was so mild, this became the dominant flavor too quickly.

This hasn’t put us off the Cupcake wines though. There was absolutely a potential there. I want to try a white. Looks like they also have some interesting specialty bottles, including a riesling from Germany. I’m giving Cupcake another chance.

2007 Merlot
Central Coast, California
About $8/bottle



If you are a food lover, you also have to be pretty active and work out regularly. I do. It’s the only way I can allow my love affair with cheese to continue and not start to look like a wheel of aged gouda. I also have been into sports throughout my life, from basketball with my dad, to street hockey in high school, and I like playing games that don’t involve a computer.

But I have a special place in my heart for a sport that can be played with a glass of wine or beer in my hand. And being annexed into an Italian family has introduced me to bocce. After a meal, there’s nothing like carrying a few bolas around the lawn while leisurely sipping a chilled adult beverage, and calling that a sport.

This is not the kind of bocce you see the serious old guys playing in the park on the long courses. This is hippie bocce, a meandering version of the game that allows for trash-talking, breaks to refill glasses, and all manner of random tangents.

It’s pretty simple. You toss the jack (the small white ball) somewhere on the lawn, and then take turns tossing or rolling your own bolas to get as close to it as possible. Knocking other people’s balls out of the way, or even knocking the jack somewhere else, is allowed and even encouraged. The point goes to the person who got the closest to the jack (two points if both of their balls were closer than any others). And the winner tosses the jack next.

You keep playing until it’s too dark to see, a majority of players need a drinks refill at the same time, or you’ve done measurably damage to a nearby house, car or other valuable property.

As you generally play this only in nice weather, I highly recommend a chilled white wine, a Belgian beer, or a snazzy sangria. It’s a good idea to stick to something that’s not going to get people to snozzled after an hour of walking and drinking, because (see above) once you do damage to valuable property and you hide all evidence of your bocce set, it will appear suspicious that you are all sitting in the kitchen desperately looking innocent.

Let’s assume you drink slow and have a nice game, you can tell people you played ball all afternoon and they’ll think you’re in shape and a total jock under that foodie exterior. I think that’s a win!


Getting Your Dog to Eat

This is completely unrelated, but it’s to do with food, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with lately.

My old dog is terminally ill and has a hard time eating. She just isn’t hungry or can’t tell if she’s hungry or not. But she does need to eat.

I tried all kinds of things to get her interested in food, but talk about picky. She would turn up her big black nose and sulk off to a cool patch on the tiles for a nap. And she kept getting skinnier.

I’m telling you, I tried everything I knew she liked, and for dogs (who eat anything), this is a wide range of options. I searched the web for things people were suggesting to try, and still no luck. And the weight loss was getting to be a serious problem.

So on two different blogs I noticed a few notes about things for nausea in dogs, garlic and tomato sauce. Lightbulb! Italian food as a medicinal solution? Why the heck not?

Well, not so fast. Actual pasta sauce apparently was not the answer. Think, think, think. She was acting like a grumpy child, why not treat her like one?

Canned ravioli. I’m not proud. I bought that terrible so-called ‘meat’-filled pasta in cans, by a chef who probably wasn’t a chef. But it works. She loves it. I pour it on top of her regular food and she goes to town. She put on weight again, and stopped avoiding her food bowl.

So every week I make that walk of shame down the canned aisle to the grotto of bad food, and stock up on canned ravioli. I hope this helps someone, some day, somewhere. It’s helping her, and that’s what matters to me.


Lentil Bulger Salad

Lentil Bulger SaladNot only am I a vegetarian, but I live in the south. Why am I bringing this up? It’s hard to get a good protein in every meal. And it’s equally hard to get interested in cooking on a hot day. So what to do?

I’ve been fine-tuning and evolving my lentil bulger salad recipe, a solution to both issues. Frankly, this recipe will probably continue to evolve for years to come, but this is how it stands at the moment. Easy to make, since it involves very little cooking or technique. Yet full of flavors that make your mouth happy about salad.

First you need to get about 4 cups of water boiling in a medium pot, and set a half cup of bulger in a heat-friendly bowl with some kind of lid (I’m such a slacker, I use a bowl with a plate to cover it). Really, this is the most actual cooking you’ll be doing, so don’t complain.

Once the water comes to a boil, scoop out a half cup and pour that in with the bulger. Stir up the bulger a bit and plop the lid on, and leave that for 30 minutes. Hard work so far, right? The rest of the water in the pot should still be boiling. Put a half cup of dry lentils in the water, and a half teaspoon of salt (check your lentils to be sure they’re the ones that don’t need to be soaked overnight). Bring the lentils back up to a boil then turn down to a fast simmer for 30 minutes or until they get to chewable consistency. I like the lentils a bit al dente, but some people prefer them soft.

Meanwhile, on your chopping block…

You need to gather and dice, chop, grate, press:
1 small thumb ginger, grated on a microplane
2 medium carrots, grated
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 medium onion, diced small
1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped fine

I personally don’t like all of the stems of the parsley in my mix, so I take the time to pinch off the leaf bunches from the major stems and chop up just the leaves pretty small. A good medium-size bunch of (Italian!) parsley will make up a loose cup to cup-and-a-half.

Usually I toss all of these ingredients into a bowl and set it aside. You also want to get your seasonings together. I love having little glass ramekins around for this. Not because I look like I’m on TV, but because it keeps me organized and I don’t forget an ingredient so easily. Anyhow, in a small bowl or ramekin, you’ll need:

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
(or 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning if you hate curry… boo!)
dash of cayenne

And don’t forget to get out the two most important things… lemon juice and olive oil. If you’re feeling luxurious, fresh lemons are always preferred, but I’m usually not, so I use a good quality pre-squeezed juice. Olive oil is also up to your preference. A good friend who is kind of OCD about this advised me to look for ‘first press’, ‘cold pressed’, and ‘organic’ when choosing olive oil as you’re getting the better stuff (but more on that later).

Also a word about curry powder (I can go on for pages but will not), I highly recommend going to a specialty store for curry powder, and trying different kinds until you find what you like. Traditionally, every family in India has their own blend of spices to make up their curry powder (kind of like plaids in Scotland). So, all curry powder is not the same. It varies in spiciness, sweetness, and strength. And that yellow stuff you buy in your grocery store might do in a pinch (pun intended… haha, I kill me!), but it’s not something you want to have as your go-to curry. In this instance, I’m using a somewhat mild curry blend, but if you have a strong one you like, maybe pull back to a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon or it might drown out all other flavors.

Okay… so that’s all of the cooking out of the way and your kitchen isn’t boiling hot. You might be a bit sweaty from all of the chopping, but that just means you need to work out more. And here’s how…. mixing!

Un-lid your bulger and fluff it up a bit. I have a lovely wooden spoon I spent way too much money on at one of our local arts and craft fairs, but it’s so sexy and sleek, I love to use it for most mixing situations (yes, I’m also a kitchen geek). Drain your lentils and mix them into the bulger with about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add your seasonings, and mix some more.

Add your carrots, parsley, garlic, ginger, and onion here, and mix up a bit more. I notice the pressed garlic and the grated ginger tend to clump up, so it takes a bit of trying to get these mixed in evenly. Then add in about 1/3 cup lemon juice (I sometimes also add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar if I’m feeling fancy). And… yes, continue mixing. Firm but broad strokes so you mix everything up instead of turn your lentils and bulger into paste.

I like to set this aside for about a half hour to marinate and get all yummy. This gives me a minute to lay down a bed of lettuce on a plate, dress it with a little pepper and lemon juice, and grate some feta cheese (optional). Do what? Those dense blocks of salty feta you can get are delish but what do you do with them? I love to gently grate it instead of get the crumbled version.

Easily the most complicated part of this dish is plating it. You have to very carefully plop a pile of your lentil bulger salad on the middle of your lettuce bed and drop some grated feta on top of that. For an added flounce, I like to add some green olives on the side, or maybe some flatbread toasted up in the oven for a few minutes. Voila! Yum for the tum, protein, and no overheated kitchen.

The other bonus of this is that it’s one of those fabulous dishes that actually gets better after sitting in the ‘fridge over night.

Yes, yes, yes… you might be poised to comment about the lack of tomatoes like in a traditional tabouleh salad. Keep your pants on and step away from the comment area. I get a rash from fresh tomatoes so don’t ever look for them in any of my recipes. If you want to add tomatoes to this, I’d suggest cutting back on the lemon juice a bit and using about half of a tomato, diced small. And don’t tell me about it.