Willa Cultivates Musings of Spring

Spring rototilling with vintage Troy-Bilt

We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it—for a little while. — Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

Lately I’ve been on a Willa Cather kick. I just finished reading O Pioneers! and yesterday as we tilled our garden, this quote came to mind. Oh, I know we hardly compare to the vastness of her Nebraskan plains but as I watched the soil turn under our trusty Troy-Bilt, I contemplated the care we’d given this ground during its season of rest. Or recuperation, as Willa says.

(Willa. Such a pretty name. That’s why I’m into her work…and because she writes about Swedish farmers:-)

Back in November, as I dumped load after load of chicken manure onto the gray, leaden earth (more Willa prose), I remember thinking how even though we don’t garden in winter—literally, that is—we are still working the land. We continue to nurture it and prepare it for another season.

And now, here it’s spring and we’re tilling the garden. Goodness, that came fast!

Jefferson County, Wis., Plat Book 1899

Jefferson County, Wis., Plat Book 1899

Last week we had our neighbor over dinner. He came with a bottle of tasty wine and a Jefferson County Plat Book, dated 1899. Isn’t the typography beautiful? Such ornate craftsmanship even for something so utilitarian as a plat book!

Jefferson County, Wis., Plat Book 1899

We spent several hours scanning its brittle pages. It’s fascinating to note the family names that once owned our neighborhood farms, many of them now listed on gravestones in a cemetery up the road.

We come and go, as Willa says, but the land is always here. I feel very blessed to be the one who loves it now. And I’m sooo excited about the upcoming gardening season!

 

Dreaming of Fresh Food in Freezing Wisconsin?

seed catalogs and starter trays

Just so you know, that’s not a studio backdrop in this photo. It’s snow outside my window. Actually, this is a rather oxymoronic image in that it doesn’t fully convey the blistering-blue cold we’re braving these days, with temps far below zero and wind chills 20 degrees even further still. But the earthiness of seed catalogs and starter trays makes winter hibernation a warm and tolerable thing. Yep, I’m planning my garden and dreaming of fresh food.

I was motivated into a gardening mood yesterday after talking with new client Jane Hansen, who is coordinator for the Wisconsin Local Food Network (WLFN). WLFN is a collection of people and organizations that work to build sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems throughout the state. To put it simply, in their words, “We help local food businesses (whether a farm, a processor, a distributor, a restaurant, a farmers market, or a grocery store) thrive!”

As Jane and I discussed local food here in Wisconsin, we targeted some of the challenges both producers and consumers face. On days like today, it’s obvious that Wisconsin’s short growing season puts a freezing halt to the availability of fresh and local food. Yet, as Jane says, in the summer we have a wealth of produce—sometimes too much, which results in waste in the fields, in distribution and in the kitchen. These are just a few of the issues WLFN deals with as it helps local food producers connect with consumers.

On January 30-31, the WLFN is hosting its 9th Annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit in Wisconsin Rapids. The event is in conjunction with the Wisconsin Farm to School Summit on January 29. So if you’re interested in a 3-day weekend of food networking, education and a much-needed break from winter, this is the place to go.

In the meantime, I’ll be busy writing a promo piece for the WLFN. For such a worthy and purpose-driven organization; this will be an honor.

Gratitude of Great Proportions

Building at Pabst Brewery, Milwaukee, WI

Two weeks ago I went with friends to the Christkindlmarket in Milwaukee. It was a super fun time. Just so you know, the market pictured in the link is from Nuremberg, Germany, not Milwaukee—our Milwaukee market was at the former Pabst Brewery, a community of 25 well-worn corporate and manufacturing structures like the one pictured above. Even though our market wasn’t of Nuremberg standards, it was fascinating to see the buildings that make up this historic district.

We’re now past Thanksgiving but I’m still thinking about these buildings. Maybe because over the holiday weekend we started a major renovation ruckus in our house (I always say we so I sound involved, but really I mean my husband—more on that another time). Or maybe because lately this has been the harsh, wintery scene out my office window. Anyway, I’ve been wondering what it was like to work in these cavernous warehouses back in the day.

Warehouse at Pabst Brewery Complex, Milwaukee, WI

From 1844, when the brewery was founded by Jacob Best, until 1996, when the Pabst line was contracted out to Stroh Brewing Company in LaCrosse, thousands of hardworking Milwaukeeans spent the majority of their days in buildings similar to these. Wouldn’t you think it must have been super cold in winter? And hot in summer? It must have been dirty, laborious and sometimes unsafe. And yet for over a hundred years the heart of Milwaukee’s culture was this neighborhood of Cream City Bricks, now blackened with production and time.

Pabst Brewery Complex sign

Pabst Brewing Company is now owned by a Russian beverage distributor and, sadly, is no longer headquartered in Milwaukee. But one of the many gazillion obscure things for which I’m thankful is that the high architectural and historical integrity of these buildings has not been lost. They haven’t been demolished and replaced with characterless, poor construction.

In 2006, Joseph Zilber’s investment group Brewery Project LLC purchased the complex for $13 million and is renovating it for residential, office and retail use. It’s called The Brewery. The old Mill House, aka Building 21, is now the Brewhouse Inn & Suites and Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub. Don’t these sound like a fun places to visit?

Office building at Pabst Brewery Complex, Milwaukee, WI

So, even though I’m totally thankful I get to work from home in a warm, toasty office, I do sort of fantasize moving my office to this building. Isn’t it the most Gothically gorgeous thing ever?

Wednesday Webs: The Gales of November

turkeys

November is well upon us. What is it they say, the gales of November? I think of this on my morning walks when the air feels dark and the wind has sharpened. On a cozier note, November also initiates the season of togetherness. We tuck ourselves in, light a fire, and begin planning for the holidays.

Bring Culture to Your Autumn with Crock-Pot Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt in Crock-Pot Recipe

I’ve sometimes thought it would be fun to be a food blogger. You know, experiment with recipes all day and shoot stunning photos that everyone drools over. I tried it for about a week and quickly realized it’s a ton of work. Plus, I don’t know that much about cooking.

What I do know is marketing. And healthy food. And a simple, artistic way of life. I’m really proud to promote my work for the upcoming Fermentation Fest because the festival embodies so many things for which I stand. Like the sponsors say in their event guide (which Adunate designed, by the way), Fermentation Fest is “a live culture convergence where farmers, artists, chefs, poets, cheesemakers, canners and eaters converge to celebrate food, farming and fermentation.” All done in the beautiful hills of Sauk County, Wis., in October, the most colorful month of the year. Do try to make it!

So, to give you a foretaste of Fermentation Fest and to satiate my desire to be a food blogger, here’s a recipe for homemade yogurt. It’s easy-peasy and a good first step to bringing healthier, homemade food into your diet.

Homemade Yogurt in a Crock-Pot

Serves 8-16

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon milk, preferably organic (I use whole milk, but you can use others as well)
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt with live-active cultures (store-bought Greek yogurt is good)
    or
    1/4 teaspoon freeze-dried yogurt culture

Instructions

  1. Pour milk into your crock-pot and heat at a medium temperature to 180° F (depending on your crock-pot, this takes 30-90 minutes)
  2. Turn crock-pot off and allow milk to cool to 110° F (30-60 minutes)
  3. While waiting for yogurt to cool, measure out the yogurt culture  and bring to room temperature
  4. When milk reaches 110° F, add yogurt culture and whisk until fully blended
  5. Cover crock-pot with lid and wrap completely in towels (someday I’m going to make myself a quilted mini-sleeping bag for this:-)
  6. Leave it undisturbed for 6-8 hours  in quiet location. The longer you let it ferment, the tangier it will be. Sometimes I’ve accidentally let mine go for more than 12 hours and it’s still good, just a bit “wow” on the tang.
  7. After fermenting, refrigerate for at least four hours to allow it to fully set.
  8. Serve with fruit and granola. Enjoy and be healthy!

Last Note:  Save at least 1/4 cup of your homemade yogurt to make your next batch!


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