Friday, December 28, 2007


Dear readers:

The doctors and nurses at the esteemed Mayo Clinic will finally have their way with me next week, so the blogging (such as it is) will be slow to moderate (like the prevailing northwest winds) for January 2008.

Thanks to folks like Ed of The Old Blue Bus, the dude at Songs:Illinois, Rob Hardy, Brendon, and Gregory (a.k.a. Enchilada) for providing some good music and poems for me to listen to or ponder during this hiatus. I always liked that word. Hiatus. It's vaguely mysterious.

Here's a final poem for 2007:


As if on cue, a car spins off the road
just as the camera and reporter show up

The frozen lake cracks and shifts
and swallows another pickup truck

Some poor soul is shown digging out of a massive snowdrift
as the wind whips and howls

These patterns repeat themselves
every week of every winter in these parts

Yet we act as if this is all new
Frightening and foreign

The legendary stoicism of our ancestors has disappeared
Gone to Sanibel or Del Boca Vista

They were heroes, adventurers
We hunker grimly in the blue light of the TV

Monday, December 24, 2007

Pots are Good

Tried some new glazes and glaze combinations this week. Not bad! (Click on picture to embiggen.) Too late for holiday consignment to the Arts Guild Shop, but that's OK. This vase turned out well, and one of the plates in the same load is excellent.

Too bad I don't know how to crop photos. Here's a simple resolution for 2008: Take better pictures or learn to crop.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Food and Place, volume 10 (Milwaukee)

You say Milwaukee, I say beer.

But this is supposed to be about food. OK, leaving aside for the moment the argument that beer is food, let’s try again.

You say Milwaukee, I say… bratwurst!

What beef on weck is to Buffalo, what five-way chili is to Cincinnati, what Malt-O-Meal cereal is to Northfield, brats’n’beer* is to M’waukee. (According the many Wisconsin refugees who live in Minnesota but pine for the old country, the proper pronunciation is M’waukee.) There are many, many cheeseheads where I live, and my personal favorite is Bob Bjorklund from Oconomowoc. Just say that aloud with me one more time: Bob Bjorklund from Oconomowoc. Pure poetry.

So, where does one go for the authentic M'waukee dining experience, and what is bratwurst, and how does one properly prepare bratwurst? Hey! One question at a time, please.

The ballpark is one place to start, though neighborhood taverns are of course the culinary temples, synagogues, churches, and mosques of M’waukee.

Miller Park: The marriage of two corporate giants of mediocrity is celebrated at Miller Park. Bud Selig, erstwhile owner of the Brewers and master shake-down artist, joining forces with Miller Brewing, maker of that weak excuse for a beer, Miller Lite. The brats at old County Stadium were the same as those at Miller Park (made by the Klement’s sausage company), but the aroma of the old ballpark (sweat, urine, mown grass, charcoal smoke from the tailgaters) somehow made them taste better. The new park (which is not so new any more, I guess) makes everything taste like aluminum. All the more reason to bury your bratwurst in an avalanche of sauerkraut.

Bratwurst is a simple pork sausage, sometimes with a little veal added. The spices are pretty mild and pretty common – celery seed, marjoram, mace, maybe a touch of ginger. Sometimes the makers get carried away and stuff 'em with cheese or infuse them with beer, or even use turkey, but the original is just pork and veal and some spices.

The preferred cooking method (in the USA) is direct grilling. The little buggers can be parboiled (as in Germany) or broiled or sauteed, but there really is no substitute for the charcoal grill.

Neighborhood taverns. You can get a good bratwurst just about anywhere in M’waukee, but the old German/Austrian/Polish bars are best.

Wolski’s Tavern is famous. It’s on Pulaski Street. Kasimir Pulaski is of course the great Polish hero for whom so many things are named in this country. I worked in South Bend, Indiana, for a while. It has a sizable Polish-American population that at one time controlled pretty much everything in that town (a smaller version of Richard Daley’s political machine just up the road in Chicago). If you wanted to build anything in South Bend, from a laundromat to a juvenile detention center, all you had to do was name it after Kasimir Pulaski and any opposition evaporated rather quickly.

Other classic M'waukee taverns are the Von Trier and the Port of Hamburg.

Othere uses for bratwurst: For those who won't eat pork or don't fancy BHT or polybutylmethylparabenzinate on their dinner plates, bratwurst does have some other practical applications:

  • When frozen, makes a handy tack hammer.

  • If all the moisture is cooked out, one end may be filed to a point and the bratwurst used as tent stake.

  • Form a ring with about a dozen links and it becomes a festive holiday wreath

  • Sliced into narrow discs and dried, may be used as poker chips (also sometimes works as a quarter in vending machines)

  • The perfect nose for a Cyrano de Bergerac snowman.

  • Freshly cooked and garnished with cinnamon, use one link as a stir stick in hot chocolate or hot buttered rum.

  • At a Polish wedding, substitute bratwurst for kielbasa in the groom’s sandwich and videotape his hilarious reaction.

  • Split open one large link lengthwise and wear as a hat for a Packer’s game

*Has anyone over the age of 20 ever eaten a brat without a beer? Ever?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blues Poem

Here's a poem in the structure of a classic blues tune. We lost power at our house very early this morning, which made for a chilly breakfast. We only had to endure the cold for a few hours, but that was inspiration enough.

Cold Road Blues
Jim Haas

It’s cold outside
Cold as I’ve ever felt
I say it’s cold outside, honey
Cold as I’ve ever felt
Can’t even feel my toes
Don’t know when the ice might melt

Gotta leave for the coast, man
Tell my friends goodbye
Gotta leave for the coast
Tell my friends goodbye
Just seems inevitable
Though I don’t know why

Out on the open road
Drivin’ through the night
Out on the open road, baby
Drivin’ through the night
Can’t shake this crazy feelin’
That somethin’ just ain’t right

Radio is playin’
But I don’t hear a thing
Yes, the radio is playin’, people
But I don’t hear a thing
All I want to do is
Stare at the moon and sing

It’s a grey grey dawn
Sun hidin’ behind the trees
It’s a grey grey dawn, brother
Sun hidin’ behind the trees
Time to get our stuff together
Stop this prayin’ on our knees

Can’t stand the dust and dirt
Gotta stop this crazy race
Can’t stand the dust and dirt no more
Gotta stop this crazy race
Make a home in the mountains
Put a smile on your face.

Make a home in the mountains, yeah

Put a big smile on your pretty face

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Harmonic Convergence: Bat-Girl and TFIM

At 11:00AM today, I wrote the following paragraph:

"I miss Bat-Girl's blog. She'd have had lots of fun with the Twins' prosaic off-season acquisitions, Craig Monroe and Delmon Young. She'd have had a fitting farewell for Jason 'Yawn' Bartlett. The current crop of Twins bloggers cannot come close to matching Bat-Girl's zaniness* or poignancy."

Just before posting it, I checked Bat-Girl's long-defunct blog and found out that, as of a few days ago, Bat-Girl's back! Sort of! Not the regular blog, but a guest shot on MN Gameday. On November 29, she did a Lego re-enactment of Delmon Young's first day as a Twin. Today, she has a fantasy text message exchange between Theo Epstein and Twins new GM Bill Smith. You owe it to yourself to check it out here.

This off-season just took a turn for the better! (Even though the Mitchell report is being released today.)

* The folks over at Alright, Hamilton! came close this week with an illustrated post declaring that Craig Monroe will be the 2008 MVP. Nicely done, boys.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Food and place, volume 9 (Buffalo)

Buffalo chicken wings have swept the country. Every restaurant and bar -- even fast-food joints -- seems to offer some version of the spicy wings as an appetizer, sandwich, entree, or dessert. Well, maybe not dessert, but you can't deny that Buffalo wings are ubiquitous.

Maybe I'm just nostalgic (though I believe nostalgia is a form of emotional immaturity if not outright insanity), but I vote for the humble Beef on a Weck as Buffalo, New York's signature dish. See that picture? Doesn't that look good?

It's just a roast beef sandwich, you say. Nicht so, meine freund! The difference is the bun. It isn't just any bun, but a Kummelweck (shortened to "weck" and sometimes "wick"). The dish certainly qualifies as a regional specialty. I mean, ya never sawr it anywheres else, didja?

My sister lived in Tonawanda, NY (not far from the infamous Love Canal) for a few years and introduced me to beef on a weck. Rare roast beef piled high, usually with horseradish, sometimes mustard. The bun, which has a clouded history traced (some say) to German immigrants working on the Erie Canal, is nice and salty, with caraway seeds.

It's yummy!

Next stop, Kansas City or Milwaukee!

Monday, December 10, 2007


Radiolarian chert (left) up against greywacke sandstone (right) near the Golden Gate bridge. This is one of many markers of the famous San Andreas fault. It is the boundary between two colliding crustal plates. The chert is a rosined bow, sliding against the strings of North America, playing a loud, ancient, dangerous song.

Re-reading John McPhee’s “Assembling California,” I’ve been relishing the words of geology: radiolarian chert; strike-slip fault; transform fault; pillow lava. These are juicy, aromatic, musical words.



Imagine Morgan Freeman’s voice wrapped around those words.

Here's a little poem by Richard Brautigan from "Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork." I think it says something about the slow passage of geologic time and our difficulty reconstructing how we got here. Maybe.

Things slowly curve out of sight
Until they are gone.
Only the curve

Friday, December 7, 2007

Food and place, volume 8 (Maine)

I say Maine, you say lobster.

This is just too obvious and easy, but there is not even a close second for the signature dish of the state of Maine. It’s like one of those annual board meetings where the slate of officers has already been decided in the back room. Nominations are open, quickly closed (“There being no nominations from the floor…”), and the vote taken.

The best essay ever written on lobsters as food was "Consider the Lobster" by David Foster Wallace. It was first published in Gourmet magazine, reappeared in the anthology "The Best American Essays of 2005," and is the title piece in Wallace’s collection “Consider the Lobster and Other Essays.”

It is a stunning, penetrating, funny, disturbing account. Its centerpiece is a visit to the annual Maine Lobster Festival, but that is just a pretext for an examination of our complex relationship with food, particularly food that is cooked live, often before our very eyes.

A most enjoyable and pretty authentic dining experience is stopping along the Maine coast in just about any little town and getting a boiled lobster served on a paper plate, sitting at a picnic table overlooking the shore. Big slabs of bread or toast, lots of drawn butter, no pretense, sun, and salt air. Best in the summer, because in the fall the traffic is so bad it's the Chicago Loop with pretty leaves.

One summer when I was little, my grandmother rented an apartment to a Russian chef and his wife. They worked in a restaurant in the nearby resort town of Onset, Mass. On his day off, he came over to the main house and prepared a wonderful dinner of stuffed lobster tail. Afterward, the grownups took drinks in the sun room and the chef played the piano while his wife belly-danced. We kids watched in awe. So I’m stuck with this odd lifelong association between lobster and belly dancing.

Next stop: Kansas City or Buffalo.

Monday, December 3, 2007

New poem

Here's one I've been tinkering with for a month or so. I guess it's ready for a dress rehearsal. [Note: several changes have been made from the original post, so some of the helpful comments may not make as much sense now as they did in response to the first version.]


He finds little notes in the pockets of his suit
Citations are written on his bathroom mirror
The Lord speaks to him through his cat

He can decipher coded messages on billboards and cereal boxes
His radio turns itself on to deliver old revelations for a new world
God gives him assignments in his dreams

He preaches in a storefront on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings
And makes frightening predictions
Or reveals the deepest secrets of his congregants

He can feel the doubt
He can hear the discomfort in the scraping of feet and the coughing
But he goes on, because he must

The numbers dwindle
But the messages do not go away
And he will deliver them