Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mad About Madtown

Mad About Spring

Yes I'm mad. Mad about Spring, mad about Spring shopping; mad over Madison and its farmer's market, mad that I have to venture the two plus hours to Madison; mad over our haul of Spring, the morels small(ish) and the morels large for stuffing; the nettles and then more nettles because the price seemed so good--make money selling your weeds you farmers; mad for asparagus finally here. Mad enough that after finishing my transaction with on of my favorite Dane County meat vendors (for chops), I turned right around and bought a fluffy head of Boston lettuce because I heard him tell someone how this was the ideal time of year for his lettuce. Mad, of course, that Madison is a month in and markets in, and near Chicago we are just about to begun.

The Dane County Farmers Market in Madison went outdoors on April 23. We had plans that day. The following Saturday we had plans and then the one after that too. May 11 was finally a plan-less day. So we made a plan. To Madtown. We like to head out the day before, we get such a deal at the downtown Concourse Hotel through Priceline. Quick aside, I'll tell you another thing that keeps me on the madly in love side of mad in Madtown, the parking. We always pull into a public lot 1/2 block from the Concourse when we get in, then we can leave the car there all the way through Saturday after the shopping--there's been times when I've had to run to the car to drop off the bags weighing us down--and when we leave, $7.

Getting to Madison the night before, we have less must-do's for dinner but too many options for breakfast the next day. A fish-fry is mostly in order at night, all you need to know about Madison and fish fries is that the 'net has both Madisonfishfry.com and Fishfrymadison.com (and the not exclusively but mostly Madison, Wisconsinfishfry.Madison.com) After the highly disappointing Avenue Bar last visit, we hit Kavanaugh's Esquire Club, a Wikipedia version of Wisconsin supper club if there ever was one for this fry. There is only one site devoted to Madison brunch, but we already have so many favorites here. Could it be the piles of food at Mickey's Dairy Bar, Old Fashioned, which I wholly disagree with Mike Sula on it's rated-ness; crispy pastries at Cafe Soliel, Madison even has a better bagel place than Chicago gosh darn-it. The problem is, we can never get past the market.

My wife lasers, always, on Ingrid's LunchBox. She gets the breakfast sandwich with farm egg and horseradish hollandaise. I am advised, don't eat the first pastry I espy. I don't, but the potato donut I finally settle on, about three bakeries in, turns out to be a poor choice, too cold. I really make my breakfast of samples of cheese. Here they are, America's top team of cheese-ists. Willi of Bleu Mont Dairy and Julie Hook and her old, old cheeses and Anne Topham snarls that her knee replacement did not come from stooping to milk the goats ("I don't stoop"). She does, however, make the best fresh goat cheese you can find at her Fantome Farms. You could fall madly in love with this market just for the cheeses.

I am, as always, never fully satisfied. Not satisfied with the lack of farmer's markets in Spring around Chicago. It was not just cheese we bought the other day. It was spinach, the market had lots and lots of spinach, a crop that can be over-wintered and frost-kissed to lovely Northern sweetness. Take that bagged-ifornia. And ramps, that harbinger that's near impossible to actually buy in the Chicago area, the cool weather was keeping them in supply at Harmony Valley Farms. We got 4 for $10. Please, please Sarah and Rick and Abby and the rest of our market maker powers that be, we need markets much earlier. We will probably never get a market like Madison (and I am satisfied with that), but can we get one a little bit more like Madison? At least one with a schedule like that?

I'm mad about Madison. Take the short drive. You'll find yourself getting oh so mad too.

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