Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Small Dishes
The Cafeteria

02/05/12

The Cafeteria

I realize nowadays that the mere mention of the word cafeteria horrifies most food lovers. It conjures up images from grade school of compartmentalized plastic trays, cream-style corn and dour women in hairnets. But growing up in the South, my memory is a fond one.  It was my aunt and grandmother’s dining-out option of choice. Mine, too.  Expected were crispy fried chicken, soulful ham hocks and greens, golden cornbread and more desserts than an eight-year-old could fantasize about.  Best of all, everything was made from scratch, ready to eat and at a thrifty price.  It wasn’t without service, either.  After reaching the end of the line and settling the tab with the cashier—someone inevitably who looked like Lily Tomlin’s...

Posted at 07:51 AM | Permalink | Comments

Marking a Milestone

01/29/12

Marking a Milestone

I’ve always been into observing anniversaries. Maybe it’s because it’s an excuse to celebrant.  February begins my tenth year writing for Madison Magazine.  As my editor correctly pointed out, my actual anniversary date won’t happen until 2013 when I’ve completed that tenth year.  I’ll also observe a major birthday in 2013, my sixty-fifth.  That’s significant because it ends in a five or zero and some years ago my friends curtailed me from otherwise observing my natal anniversary in a lavish manner—and then in a lavish manner I most likely will.  I’m not sure from where my narcissism with my birth date stems. I know a lot of my friends, in increasing numbers as the years turn into decades, dread...

Posted at 08:03 AM | Permalink | Comments

Moonshine Memory

01/08/12

Moonshine Memory

Recently I decided to try Death’s Door White Whiskey, much acclaimed by some national critics who review spirits.  Many brands of white whiskey have suddenly appeared and become popular—including the likewise locally distilled Yahara Bay Lightening. What they all have in common is they’re an unfinished product. Whether made from fermented corn, wheat or rye, after distilling, none are put into a barrel to age. Aging in oak is what mellows out the taste of whiskey and gives it the brown color.   Unlike vodka which is made with a reflux still that results in a neutral taste, white whiskey has a tang often compared to tequila or cachaça.  Inevitably, it’s also compared to moonshine, a genre of illegal hooch that covers a lot of...

Posted at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments

Pecan Pie Pedigree

12/14/11

Pecan Pie Pedigree

Come the holidays and pecan pie is sure to come to mind. I’ve seen many oblique claims that this American favorite originated in New Orleans soon after the French founded the city.  This is plausible, since it closely resembles the classic tarte aux noix and sooner or later someone would substitute the more readily available local pecans for the walnuts.  Pecan pie is unquestionably popular there today—only second to bread pudding as the dessert of choice. Oddly, unlike the rest of the South where every manner of pie is revered, only pecan pie holds that status in the Big Easy.  However, recipes for pecan pie seemingly don’t show up in any cookbooks (I would love to know if someone has evidence to the contrary) until after the introduction of corn...

Posted at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments

Bacon!

12/07/11

Bacon!

Seducer of vegetarians, downfall of pharisees and spoiler of diets, it’s simply irresistible! What most of use recognize as bacon—long slices of pork meat and fat fried to a crisp—is a uniquely American delicacy. Elsewhere what passes for bacon often isn’t smoked—like the Italian pancetta and French lardons—and is used as a seasoning or for larding meat.  However, the name comes from the German word bakkon which means smoked pork.  We probably owe our love of the smoked stuff to the English who brought it to our shores. What the Brits prefer as bacon, though, comes from the middle of the back of the pig. The fatter American-style rashers—sometimes called streaky bacon—come from the belly. Bacon can be made using other...

Posted at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments

Ten for $20 or Less

11/27/11

Ten for $20 or Less

Hostess and Host Gifts that Won't Be Re-Gifted I will begin with what are the three most common—and often worse—hostess gifts.  First and most popular is the bottle of cheap wine in a fancy gift bag. More often than not, it has already been re-gifted at least once—both bottle and bag.  I have a closet full of blush wine. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to give it to anyone else, knowing my reputation would be at stake. I do appreciate the supply of colorful bags that continues to grow.  The problem with wine as a gift is, unless you know your hosts’ taste,  it’s difficult to pick out something you know they’ll like that you can afford.  And, bringing a single bottle of wine to a group gathering especially...

Posted at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1

Farro? Far Out!

11/09/11

Farro? Far Out!

First of all, what is it?  That was my reaction when farro first popped up on a menu I was pursuing as my panting palate looking over my shoulder.  It’s a grain in its whole form to be sure, but exactly what kind is contentious. It’s especially popular in Italy where emmer wheat is most commonly used, but the choice of grain varies regionally. In other countries, grains such as spelt and barley are sometimes called farro.  The most common substitute listed in recipes is wheat berries.   Like quinoa that suddenly became a foodie favorite a decade ago, farro really isn’t new but only new around here. It’s one of the five grains mentioned in ancient Jewish literature used during Passover to make matzo.  I learned a long time ago...

Posted at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2

TONY

10/31/11

TONY

Posted at 08:21 AM | Permalink | Comments

Adventures in Good Eating

10/19/11

Adventures in Good Eating

That was the name of Duncan Hines’ restaurant guide in 1950s.  He was the Tim and Nina Zagat of his day and the leading authority on dining out.  Today, most people only recognize his name as that of a popular cake mix.  Fame as a restaurant critic is fleeting and taste in food fickle.   Just like what we eat, much has changed about the restaurant business in the last 50 years.  For one thing, “adventure” and “good eating” are rarely associated with each other anymore.   The success of chains like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken were built on uniformity and no surprises.  Now, a restaurant adventure has become a pejorative.  Even Duncan Hines admitted, “I've run more risk eating...

Posted at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments: 3

Counter Culture

10/05/11

Counter Culture

It seems way too early to be thinking about Christmas, but it’s difficult not to, going to Target and Costco and seeing all the holiday glitter already on display. Like many, thinking about Christmas takes me back to when I was a little kid, because that’s when it was the most alive and real. Then shopping was an adventure, special from the start because I wore my best clothes even though it wasn’t Sunday.  It was an essential ingredient in the anticipation of Christmas that never came fast enough.  I still remember the thrill of squandering the $20 fortune that Aunt Bertie Louise gave me each year—much better than the Savings Bond I got on my birthday. I especially miss going to the five and dime, stores like S. S. Kresge and F. W. Woolworth....

Posted at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments

About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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