History, Memories and a Gastronomic Adventure

My friend Ann and I love riding together and cooking together. When we try to combine the two, unless the ride or the meal is particularly small, it makes for a long day—albeit a fantastic day. Well, you’ll see what I mean.

Bridge FrontBridge MarkerAnn in BridgeMGD Inside BridgeBridge Profile DistanceAnn Over CreekMGD w Bridge

As has often been the case lately, we were blessed with nearly perfect summer weather for our planned outing. Neither too warm, nor too cold, low humidity, and zero chance of precipitation from my little corner of the world to Ann’s. I was up and out early enough to pick up my favorite passenger/photographer during the eight-o’clock hour. She in turn favored me with freshly brewed coffee and a plate of fresh fruit, meats and cheeses (not a bad spread by any standards—and Ann is not even 1% Italian, so go figure). We sat out on her balcony, chaperoned by her feline bodyguards, Mona and Atlas, and planned our day. I probably ate more than I should have, but the food was really good.

Minutes later we were rolling across the heartland. I have no photos to offer from the ride itself, which was quite pleasant. Some of the greatest features Wisconsin has to offer lie not in her tourist attractions, which are in and of themselves formidable, but in her natural features, even along “ordinary” roads. Ann and I rode along Wisconsin Highways 83 and 60, plus a few lettered (i.e. county) roads in-between, and the scenery was beautiful. If you draw a rectangle around an area roughly from Oconomowoc to Cedarburg, you are capturing a portion of the Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin. You don’t even have to be on the official Scenic Drive to appreciate the rolling hills and scenic views to be had on a ribbon of two-lane blacktop coursing through the area farmlands.

Ann w BridgeLaughter by the Bridge

Before we rolled into “downtown” Cedarburg, we headed north along Covered Bridge Road until we arrived at our first stop, Covered Bridge Park, home of the last covered bridge in Wisconsin. What a beautiful little spot! Ann and i spent some time walking the park, examining the bridge itself, and marveling at the fact that there were so relatively few people there on this beautiful Sunday. What I had expected to be nothing more than a token stop had turned out to be a joyful discovery. When in Cedarburg, make a point of checking this place out. You may wish to bring a picnic lunch along, as a number of tables dot the park, which runs along both sides of the creek there.

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From there we motored down Washington Avenue into downtown Cedarburg. I’ve been coming to this town since my college days (shortly after the earth cooled), when my then-girlfriend (now wife of 30+ years) introduced me to this historic town filled with shops and galleries. Because, as Ann likes to kid me, I always want our outings to be perfect, I had done a little research and found many good things said about The Stilt House, a gastro bar specializing in small plates, craft beers, and wine—it says so, right on their sign. It was a pleasant enough little place, with (are your ready?) stilted tables and stools. From our perch near one of the windows, Ann and I enjoyed a couple of craft beers and a relatively light lunch. The beers were good, the food was well-prepared, and the waitstaff went out of their way to make us feel at home. I would go back there.

MGD Nose in Wine

We walked a few more shops. Not counting the newly discovered Covered Bridge Park, my favorite place to visit in Cedarburg is still the old woolen mill, which houses the shops of the Cedar Creek Settlement. This includes the Cedar Creek Winery, now owned by Wollersheim (my favorite winery in all of Wisconsin). That was not the case when I first started visiting there. Of course Ann and I had to stop in and sample a few wines. We both liked the Marquette red (we both attended Marquette University), made with Wisconsin-grown grapes. If you enjoy a medium-bodied, dry red, check this one out. I appreciated the pleasant nose and good flavor.

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Not long after that, we headed back to Ann’s home, where we had planned on making ourselves a little supper before I headed on to my own home. In preparation for this part of our day, I had brought up a sizeable bag of fresh tomatoes, some fresh basil that I had picked from my yard that morning, some fresh mozzarella cheese from Caputo’s, a loaf of ciabatta bread, and a box of angel hair pasta. Ann supplied everything else we needed.

Ann and I were cracking jokes, trading barbs and laughing ourselves silly as we prepared our meal. She and I cut up many tomatoes and chopped a fair amount of garlic as well, in preparation for the two dishes we had set out to make—a Caprese variation on traditional garlic bread and our own interpretation of Shrimp Fra Diavolo.

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Without getting into the entire play-by-play (that’s what my upcoming book is for), suffice it to say that Ann’s entire home was smelling quite fabulous almost as soon as we got started. Caprese garlic bread starts out much like any other garlic bread—with bread, butter and garlic—but then add slices of fresh mozzarella and tuck that under a broiler until the cheese melts and the edges begin to brown. To that we added slices of fresh tomato, shredded fresh basil, and a reduction of balsamic vinegar. Neither of us had created such a reduction before, but we were very pleased with the results.

Our version of Shrimp Fra Diavolo involved a fresco sauce, made from all the tomatoes Ann and I had chopped into little pieces. From this we created an arrabiata sauce, which relies heavily on the use of garlic, onion and cayenne pepper to produce the desired result. Ours was not so spicy up front, but produced a pleasant flavor and a nice after-burn. The shrimp itself was sautéed in olive oil with garlic, pepper and salt added. Right before removing the shrimp, we deglazed the pan with some Pinot Grigio.

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The appetizer could very well have been a meal in itself (thanks, Ma, you trained me well), and the main dish was to die for. We ate and drank our fill in earnest, congratulating each other on how well this meal had turned out.

When it was all over, I helped Ann clean things up and then prepared for my run home. She seemed concerned—no, she WAS concerned—because I had already begun showing signs of fatigue. She had been clearly worried when I took off, and remained worried until I had arrived home safe. Me, I was touched by the concern she had shown for me as I motored home that night. As soon as I had arrived home safely, I messaged Ann to that effect.

After that, I slept. And soon after I had slept, I began planning our next outing. Why? Because I live to do exactly that, and I believe Ann also looks forward to our next outiing. Until next time… Thanks for hanging with me.

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Fruit of the Vine – Wining in the Heartland

CrispThe air was sweet and crisp on the morning of October 25, as Ann and I made our way toward Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin beneath a big blue sky. On board Miss Scarlett, my fully-faired touring bike, we ran the Interstate west and north, through the Madison metro, before exiting onto Highway 60 toward Lodi and points beyond. The sights and smells of autumn were all around us as we left the more urban environs behind.

Cows. I could definitely smell cows.

The village of Prairie du Sac lies on the banks of the Wisconsin River in picturesque Sauk County. While the town itself lies immediately west of the river, our first destination of the day, Wollersheim Winery, is found immediately east of the river on Wisconsin Highway 188. I’ve traveled to this winery enough times between 1986 and now to be able to get there without the aid of maps or signs. Until this day, however, my friend Ann had never been there. As a longtime fan of Wollersheim, I took great pleasure in making this introduction.

VineyardWe followed the gentle, sweeping curves of WI 188 only a short while before parts of the vineyard came into view. Less than half a mile farther, we were leaning into the winery’s main drive. There were other vehicles in the parking lot, but ours was the only motorcycle thus far. After dismounting, we locked up our helmets, gathered our phones and other necessities, and began making our way uphill toward the main building.

My wife Karen and I used to go weekending in these parts in the mid-to-late 1980’s, before our kids came along. At that time, the winery essentially consisted of an old stone building on a hill and a cave hewn into a hillside further up. The facility has grown and developed considerably since then. Additions have been built onto the original building, which is still recognizable, especially from the inside, and the grounds, once quite utilitarian in appearance, are now beautifully landscaped. Most recently a distillery has been added, where brandy is made.

Although Bob Wollersheim is no longer with us (he passed away in 2005), Philippe Coquard, the winemaker that Bob brought on in 1984 from the Beaujolais region of France, is still quite active in the day-to-day operations. Philippe is also an avid motorcyclist. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but have seen him tending to his craft during past visits.

Wine2This being Ann’s first time at Wollersheim, I made sure we took the tour, which takes about an hour. The tour includes stops at points like the fermentation and aging areas, incorporating informative videos along the way, and concludes with a guided tasting session. I grew up in a household where my father made wine, as did others in our extended family, so I am somewhat familiar with the processes, sights, and especially the smells of wine making. I caught my first whiff of fermenting grapes before Ann and I even entered the building. When we entered the fermentation room, despite being behind the glass windows of an observation area, my nose was immersed in the familiar, heady aroma. I’m reasonably sure I was smiling the whole time.

Wine1At the conclusion of our tour, Ann and I tasted a number of reds and whites, ranging from dry to semi-sweet, and concluded with a white port. Port wines are usually ruby or tawny in color, quite sweet, and fortified with brandy, making them ideal as an after-meal treat. The white port we sampled fit all aspects of this description, except for the color.

AnnWollersheim Winery also has a large shop, where visitors can purchase wines by the bottle or case, as well as all manner of wine-related utensils, vessels and apparel. Since this was our first stop of the day, with many more hours planned, we opted not to load the bike with 750 ml bottles. Perhaps next time. Instead we strolled the grounds together, making a point of stopping in to see the historic cave, where wine was once stored, before heading back down to the motorcycle and continuing our day together.

Will we be back? Given my track record so far, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. But to anybody who is into touring rural Wisconsin and visiting wineries, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Wollersheim.

Ann n Me in ShadowsI already talked about our next stop in my inaugural post, made earlier this week. So next time I’ll tell you about our final, perhaps most magical destination of the day. Until then…

– MGD

All photos by Ann M. Fischler and Michael G. D’Aversa