Monthly Archives: December 2009

In Which W. and Kate Are Initially, but Not Finally, Outwitted by Fish That Would Qualify as Bait in Alaska

These ones are empty. I want a refund.

After yesterday morning’s ice-fishing, I thought about writing a post. It would be entitled, “A Cry for Help.” I did not do it, because my thawing fingers hurt too much to write just then. But now I can report that W. and I did not stop at our lowest point. We regrouped, tackled our predicament like the problem-solving humans we are, persevered, and came home with fish for dinner.

We are minimalists; we are action-, not research-oriented; we have no useful knowledge of ice-fishing. Continue reading


Dim Sum: Reverse Galactic Double Unkosher, but a Formidable Craving Nonetheless

Har gau still to face the steamer.

It’s true what they say about Christmas and Jews and Chinese food. Actually, I’m not sure where my obsession came from, since my family went to upstate New York to celebrate Christmas each year with my Catholic grandmother. I think I probably heard about it on television and seized the chance to legitimize what is a consistent craving all year long. If I wrote poems other than limericks, they would probably be, by and large, odes to dumplings.

A har gau’s a poem, so poised, on a plate
With delicate shrimpies Oh how I love bait—

It’s for everyone’s benefit that I don’t write poetry. In Boston, of course, you can get dim-sum-type offerings day and night. Here in Madison, I have to wait until Sunday, and I’ve heard—let it not be true—that I must go to Chicago if I want any decent dim sum. I could not wait that long, so W. and I made our own last night. Continue reading

Road-trip reminiscence: Slab City, Salvation Mountain, and chorizo with eggs.

If you’ve been following Madison Forager, you’ll remember the several-weeks’ silence last month during which I was driving from San Francisco to Madison via Yuma, Ariz., so as not to hit snow. I never did tell you, like certain people I know, about all the things I found to eat, on account of my hard drive having eaten everything I photographed. But now that there’s little to forage in Madison save slush, I’m developing a richer mental life.

First of all, I should mention that if you happen to stop in Niland, Calif., you will find some excellent chorizo and eggs at the Mexican restaurant there. I wish I could have eaten two orders to prolong the experience. Also, my breakfast burrito came with complementary chips and salsa, even at eight in the morning, and—another mark of an enlightened establishment—it was assumed that I would be drinking coffee. That is also where I met Leonard.

Perhaps you do not know about Slab City. A nomadic artist fellow in Oakland told me about it. It is an old military base reduced to concrete slabs in the desert, reborn as the last place people can live for free and avoid having to follow any laws other than Respect. Continue reading

Best last-minute Christmas gift for the Midwest-locavore lush in your life

The only problem with recommending a colorless, flavorless liquor is that it’s hard to take that terroir argument very far. You can, I think, argue that it didn’t have to travel very far in petroleum-fueled vehicles to get it to your favorite ethical Wisconsin-resident lush.

The only other problem is that I can’t tell you if it’s good, because I’m a vodka Philistine. It’s good with grapefruit juice and a lemon peel, I can tell you that much. That’s why the bottle is empty.

Midwest Vodka. Grain-distilled at a family-run distillery in New Richmond, Wisc., says the label.

Waiter, there’s tetrachloroethylene in my water … should I be worried?—On the toxic industrial chemicals in Madison’s public water


Each morning a nasty white precipitate appears in my coffee water. I’m too cheap to filter it, and I know it’s just harmless minerals. But would that filter even work on the tetrachloroethylene?

As part of its Toxic Waters series, the New York Times has posted Environmental Working Group contaminant data for lots of public water systems. A lot of places post this data online for the public. But as someone who’s sifted through these kinds of records many times for stories on water issues, I can tell you they’re tough to translate — so this is a major public service.

The upshot is that American drinking water standards are outdated, and millions of people’s tap water is legal but still unhealthy. Here’s the NYT’s full page on Madison; or, if you live somewhere else, search for your water data here.

Madison’s water system Continue reading

Q. Why did Jesus walk on water? A. To get some delicious bait.

Time to stock up on bourbon and worms. This weekend, while stumbling through the snow looking for beer — a hash is a grand drunken ritual of foraging, isn’t it? — I saw the insane people out trying to walk on water at Monona Bay. The ice looked translucently unsafe by Mendenhall Lake, Juneau, standards. But there they were, Madison fishermen and their shacks and buckets all little dots in the distance. It almost made me want to detour from beer-hunting to see if they’d caught anything yet.

Ice-fishing: a major reason I was OK with moving to Madison. I’ve heard it’s not everyone’s mug of beer, but I can’t understand why. Meditative solitude, fresh air, free fish!

Free petite fish, that is (flip to 2:20 for the “big, giant bluegill”). I’m going to give the lake a couple more cold days like today. And then I’ll be mooching an auger, drinking beer, and pulling up tiny little live baits with the best of ’em. Also I’m going to have to flip a coin with W. to see whose tent we’re going to cut a fish-hole in.

I have much to learn. What is the proper ice-fishing lure or bait? The best ice-fishing drink? Appropriate reading material? Please advise. On my list for the moment: Fish heads, coffee with bourbon, and, of course, the New Yorker. I’m waiting for their Winter Fishing Issue.

Recipe: Raccoon goulash

Paprika-spicy and tender meat in a rich, dark-red broth. Ozpörkölt. Ish. Serves at least eight.

Now chilled and gelled, coon goulash leftovers.

1 small (10 lbs.) raccoon
4 slices bacon Continue reading