Monday, December 31, 2012

HC SVNT DRACONES

To close my portion of our family's annual newsletter, I wrote:

This year [2012] was certainly not what I expected it would be looking forward from December 31, 2011, and in some ways it was a "lost year."

Now here I sit on December 31, 2012, looking forward at 2013, unsure how I should couch my expectations for the next 365 days.  Some friends are firmly in the "2012 wore out its welcome in June, and 2013 can't get here fast enough" camp and others are hoping that 2012 does not end because it was such a banner year.  Just to be clear, we want to stick those people's hands in hot water while they are asleep.

Is there a box to check that says "I hope things get better in 2013" while simultaneously saying "I hope things don't get worse in 2013"?

An optimism option that describes this situation: The boat is rocking, but still making some forward progress.  Putting up the sail could make the boat go faster, but it also risks cap-sizing the boat completely.

Explorers and cartographers in history would mark unexplored portions of maps with "Here Be Dragons."  They had experienced enough to know that the then-already-explored oceans were dangerous and unpredictable, and heretofore unknown oceans would likely be similar - and potentially worse.  These philosopher-explorers marked those parts of the globe - nearly 50% of it sometimes - with the worst "potentially worse" they could think off: the home of devastating, terrifying mythical beasts.

And then they got into their boats and headed off to see what color the dragons were.

The pull of knowing what is just around the continent or the turn of the calendar page cannot be denied.
 
So here I sit, in my dinghy, ready to take on dragons. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Streaking On The 'Mill

When an candidate is elected to the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, the Member-elect attends a week-long boot-camp on "How to be a Member of Congress."  One piece of advice the House and Senate Leadership offers new Members is to purposefully miss an inconsequential vote (i.e. putting Joe the Schmo on the next Forever stamp) early on in their first (and each subsequent) term.

Otherwise, as a consequence of being an over-achieving new Member, they start a vote-attendance streak and once long, that streak is hard to break.  Stories abound of Members doing all manner of flight itinerary gymnastics in order to attend even the most meaningless votes simply to keep the streak alive.

That was me on Friday, trying to do all sorts of running route gymnastics to avoid running on the treadmill.  Most of us will go to pretty substantial lengths to avoid the 'mill, but as each snow flake buried my outdoor speed workout just a bit more, I realized I hadn't run on a treadmill since August or September of 2011.  That's at least 14 months.  While a welcome streak for someone who doesn't love running inside, how far was I willing to go in less-than-ideal conditions to keep it alive?

It turns out, not very far.  It's pretty simple math: I value my non-torn hamstrings more than I do a streak of not running on the treadmill.  [Or I value my collar-bone more than I do riding outside in the snow.  Or...or...or.]

Although, simple math or not, I do know myself pretty well.  I left every stitch of cold weather running gear at home.  Just in case I got a "good" idea.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Then One Foggy Christmas Eve Santa Came To Say C'MON

The past few weeks I have been looking for the perfect way to say Merry Christmas the KEB-way.  Clearly, I should have known that I needed to look no further than DMX.



Merry C'MON C'MON Christmas UNH! to everyone. WHAT?!? - KEB

P.S. Here is how the merry wishes almost were delivered.  I couldn't bear to cut The Griswald Family and Skrillex entirely.



And if you like music-synced Christmas light displays, this one is absolutely classic.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

We're All A Few Nuts

My family is not really all that into the culinary arts.  We have a few go-to dishes that we do well enough to make us look like kitchen rockstars.  One of them we also give as Christmas gifts.

Beebes 1, Santa 0.

If you get a gift from us, these will either look familiar or are going to look familiar come December 25.  In the later case: SURPRISE!

Candied Pecans (or Almonds)
** We have tried walnuts, but they contain a lot of natural oil, which softens during baking and never hardens.  The final product is chewy instead of crunchy.


1 lb. shelled almonds  **we use 1 lb. 6 oz. bags of pecans with the same amount of ingredients below

Less than half the total haul

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon


Combine all ingredients except nuts, in a pan.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in nuts.


Using a slotted spoon to transfer nuts to a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet and reserve sauce.

 

Initially the sauced nuts will look wet, not "candied."

Thoroughly sauced nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 min, stirring (with a spatula to loosen nuts from the wax paper) every 5 min and basting sparingly with reserved sauce after 10 and 15 mins.

After 5 min, very little sticking

Drizzle drizzle drizzle

By the 15 min stirring the "candied" sugar crust will start to appear.

After 15 min, sticking to the wax paper is normal

Transfer nuts to separate wax-paper-lined cookie sheet to cool.

Almonds cool to look like this.


We mix almonds and pecans before packaging.

Minus what we saved for ourselves....

Off-season diet approved.  I promise.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

At World's End

Rumor has it that the world is going to end tomorrow.  Saturday is going to be the most leisurely sleep-in of all time.  Although I do hope the pending apocalypse holds off until after morning masters.  I've got swim technique to work on and precious few swim workouts remaining before the Big Sleep-In.

Which got me thinking (a bit morbidly) about if the world were actually going to end, what I would classify as my best workout of all time, or would want to be my last workout of all time.

For me the answer is pretty easy because I even remember thinking "this is the best workout of my life" while still running.

It was either the winter of 2007 or the winter of 2009, with a 70/30 lean toward 2007.  No matter which year it actually was, I worked a 9 AM to "whenever Congress adjourned for the day" PM desk job which required tranquilizing myself before and after with physical activity so as to not do something drastic, like quit my job.  That day I left work at a reasonable hour (let's say 6:30 pm) to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (if it was 2007) or the Half-Blood Prince (f it was 2009) in IMAX at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  Both of these films have running times of 2.5+ hrs, and I remember I stepped out of the door of my gym to run at 10:30 pm.

I only know that I ran a smidge over 9 miles because the route I took was taken hundreds of times over the years I lived in DC.  To this day I don't remember - or care - how long that particular round took me or how fast I went.

Sometime during the movie it had started to snow and continued to do so as I ran - big, floaty flakes that flow along with the wind, if there is any.  That night there wasn't a whiff so the flakes took a leisurely route to the ground, interrupted only by the top of my head and shoulders and redirected only by the disturbance of my movement through space.  The night was that warm cold which distinguishes wind-less snow falls from more serious inclement weather, and as my footing's sake would have it, the pavement has been bare before the flakes began accumulating.

I ran west along the National Mall, south around the National Mint toward the Jefferson Monument, over the 14th Street bridge into Virginia, and north along the Potomac on the Mt. Vernon Trail, to the Memorial Bridge.  Instead of crossing back to DC, I slipped west along the main approach to Arlington National Cemetery, turning north on the path toward the Iwo Jima Memorial, and continued up and around metal men trying to right an American Flag, including the small, but dream-crushing hill that marks the last hundred yards of the Marine Corps Marathon.  I retraced my steps back to the Memorial Bridge, skirting north around Lincoln, and headed past the White House to reach the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol (and my gym) beyond. 

Anyone who knows this route can tell you nearly every step is within a National park.  Meant for pedestrians, these parks have no ambient, street or traffic lights, and at 10:30 pm on a weeknight, were completely deserted.  The few roads I followed or crossed were empty aside from a stray taxi because DC pretty much retreats to the bunker at the first flake.

With a cloudless sky, the city's light pollution escaped upward and was not reflected back to create the normal gray-ish dark.  I ran in a much truer dark, guided by the twinkling reflection of the skyline in the Potomac and the physical memory of repetition and routine.

The snow further insulated me from what little noise there was except my own breathing and steady, but whispering, footballs.  The wet hiss of tires on pavement and the Styrofoam squinching of tires on snow were deadened so even the random passing vehicle barely registered.  I just flowed along in my own cotton-lined bubble.

In other words, I ran undisturbed through the perfect winter night scene.  It was my best and I would be satisfied for it to be my last.

How about you?  What was your best?  Which would you want to be your last?

Happy End of the World!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Letters To The Editors Of Winter

Dear Designers of Winter Running Tights With Off-Center Pockets -

A pocket in winter running tights, that is off-center and only attached along one edge serves no purpose except to pull down the tights when any object containing actual mass is put in it.  You leave me with a perplexing choice: don't eat or be naked.  

I choose: neither.

Gel stays in, pants stay up
Stays put even with normal running hands

Sincerely,

Onto Your Game And Beating You At It


Dear Park Administrators -

Just because you close a public restroom for the winter doesn't mean people will stop having to go to the bathroom.  It doesn't mean people will stop going to the bathroom, either.

That's just the facts, ma'am.

Sincerely,

A Pop-a-squatter

Monday, December 10, 2012

Intestinal Fortitude Audit

All day I have been brain-storming about blog topics.  I did not want to just wave "it finally snowed!" around like a white flag of inspirational surrender, and it's hard to see washing your bike in the garage as a ground-breakingly humorous activity.

And then I went to the pool tonight in a fog of frustration and cognitive dissonance, and fit of good ol' scientific experimentation and brute-force problem solving.  Good luck and timing smiled on me (or so it seems now; ask me again in a month) and when I left the pool, a plan was in place for the next few weeks.  Only one question remains now that I'm back at home: do I have the guts?

If you've ever tried to rework your stroke you know just how much of a mind-fuck it can be.  The new physical and mental cues are so discombobulating that movement patterns could be better, worse, or the same, and you would swear that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.  The more focus is put on any one part, the faster all the other parts come apart at the seams and we should definitely all be wearing tin foil helmets to protect ourselves from the aliens.

See what I mean?

At the pool tonight, still lost in my fog and fit, I ran into my friendly, local masters coach.  She started all of this, and for good reason, because after surreptitiously filming me, she gently broke it to me that I don't look like Michael Phelps when I swim.  Which obviously is the most disturbing conspiracy of them all. 

I explained tonight that I had lost the swimming stroke plot, and was about to lose my own plot if I kept doing drills by myself, no matter how often or dedicated, with no feedback, or tried to dovetail a stroke change with swim practices at regular speed.  I joked about wanting to learn how age-group swimmers do, practicing technique every day under the same coach's eye, getting repeated and immediate feedback. 

And long story short, that is exactly what is going to happen.  For at least the next two weeks I am going to swim (during regular practices, but not partaking in them) under constant and watchful eyes.

The "do I have the guts" aspect is taking a total leave of absence from structured interval training, or really non-technique based swim training of any kind, for, well, kinda however long it takes. 

I know this technique change needs to happen.  The "total leave" is only one way to bring about that change.  But is it the best one?

I think that this kind of (short-term) arrangement is probably what my body needs to have the best chance at learning something new/better.  I want to give myself the best possible chance to swim faster/better/more efficiently/easier (take your pick), but at the expense of endurance and intensity and forward progress - not to mention sanity?  Two steps back to take ten steps forward?  Maybe ten steps forward only requires one or none steps back?  Can I feel like I have a better handle on the situation if I let go of the handle a smidge?

Jordan Rapp posted a blog several years ago (of an article from several years before that) which speaks to this issue: Call Me Ishmael.  The fact that his post is also about swimming is purely coincidental.  I have referenced and sent this post to friends and athletes numerous times because I believe the underlying message of "having the guts to make the risky decisions to do what needs to be done to change the things that need to change" is important.  I even re-read this post when I come up against similar decisions and situations because it comforts me to know that someone else has been there and survived the consequences, be they good or bad.

Jordan has already made the decision in his post's timeline of events, but he writes about it and the process with such assuredness.  It is not always that clear-cut or easy!  Sometimes we don't make the risky decision until it is the last possible choice.  Tonight I actually told my mom "I've thought about doing this before, but I've never had the guts."  

The potentially right way can seem decidedly wrong (or crazy), but also strangely right, in an indescribable way.  [I know there are people out there thinking "two or three weeks off structured swimming is a risk?  Puh-lease.  Of course you choose to dedicate 100% to your technique, it's a logical investment."  Easy for you to say - on your own blog.]  Chances are these times are exactly when the phrase "my gut just tells me it's right" gets used.

Our gut leads the way, but do we have the guts to follow it?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Like The Ceiling Can't Hold Us

Second longest long run since September 11, 2011, completed with Can't Hold Us on semi-repeat.


Imagine me celebrating internally while running like how Macklemore "dances" and then literally takes over the tiny desk during their NPR Tiny Desk Concert and you'd be about right.

I Pray For Global Warming On Sundays

Lately I have been doing my long rides on Sundays.  Since I'm up here in Wisconsin, I'm taking it one day at a time whether I ride outside or inside.  So far the weather has held extremely well; only one ride inside since October 22.

This past Sunday, the weather was particularly agreeable - especially considering it was the 2nd of December.  I rocked out in a long-sleeve jersey, gloves, and a thin vest, mostly to zip up during the long, 3-5 mile descents around Blue Mounds State Park, and zip down when I turned around and doggedly ascended those descents.

It was so nice that I finally stopped and took pictures at the all the places where for the last two months I have been thinking "I should stop and take a picture."  Photo Credits © Global Warming


The Horribly Hilly Hundreds is a local bike ride of...many horribly hilly miles.  The stretch alongside this sign leads up the backside of Blue Mounds State Park, the peak of which is just right of the tree branches.  It's not the steepest local hill or the longest local hill, but I'm pretty sure it's the longest and steepest local hill.  Chicago's summer Olympic bid centered the road races around Mt. Horeb and this Park.



The idyllic hill-side dairy farm straight off the side of a milk carton.


Somewhere in this picture is a deer.  Or two.



I will always stop to take pictures of perfect reflections in water.  Always.  I drew the line at hiking down to the waterline in my bike shoes.





A corner ridden from dark into the light, at speed.



A leprechaun-green S-curve on a running trail, when the rest of the trail looks like this ↓.





A hundred-year old barn and silo, its ceramic-coated cement blocks glinting bronze in the late afternoon sun.



I did find snow, man-made on top of a ski hill.  The weather forecast says it will be joined by real snow this coming Sunday.  It seems my prayers have run out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Could Be Better Than Cookies?

Spreadable ground-up cookies, of course!

Loyal reader and my second-favorite government employee, BR, recommended to me a delicious snack product, Biscoff Spread.  His recommendation was so strong he actually took me to a grocery store to buy me my first jar.  And then I had to go back and buy a second jar to take pictures, because it was so good the first one didn't last until the photo shoot.


What is Biscoff Spread?  Literally spreadable ground-up cookies.


Biscoff comes in smooth and chunky, but as with peanut butter, the correct choice is crunchy.


How does one enjoy Biscoff?  On everything.  Himself a formidable cyclist, BR enjoys toast with Nutella and Biscoff together, and although I didn't try that, I imagine a human body could power itself for a goodly number of hours on such a calorically dense snack.

Nutella and Biscoff have pretty similar nutritive value - which is to say, sugar and fat.  One is chocolate-y and hazelnut-y, one is cinnamon-y and kind-of-like-the-crunchy-part-of-a-Kit-Kat-y.   Both are delicious and excellent consumed on a spoon, straight from jar.

Now if someone would just put it in a gel pack.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Tramp Trip, or My Apology Tour

A few of you have quietly wondered why I am in Wisconsin, where it is 30 degrees, instead of in Texas, where it is 70 degrees.  I mean, warmer weather is why I agreed to live amongst the Republicans, isn't it?

Also, I did disappear in April, and resurface in November, in Madison.  What's up with that?  Am I covering up a move back home to my parents' basement?

It's all part of what I'm calling The Tramp Trip, or My Apology Tour, depending on how you feel about presidential election debates.  I took a series of disconnected events and connected them into what was to be a 6-week, but has become a 3-month, trip.  Just me, a suitcase, my bike, not really warm-enough clothes, and a rotating cast of supporting characters. 

Climate Change Calls For More Donut Consumption

Back in early October I left Austin on a sunny, 90-degree day,  for Baltimore, MD, and Rev3's Hall-Full Triathlon.  I stayed with a lovely little family in North Laurel, and raced on a course I had only ever trained on during my time in DC.  As always Rev3 took excellent care of all its racers, including the pros, although we had some trouble agreeing on my first name.

My name has a lot of pronunciations, but not Hallie

Race day was easily the coldest and most temperature-related miserable I have been on a bike in years.  If we had been smart, we would have done this:


More of us might have started, and for sure a few more would have finished.  I did, but ended up in the med tent, huddling around a space heater and drinking hot chicken broth.  It was a wish-I-could-forget-that kind of day, except for the fact that the longer I stayed around waiting for my rockstar home-stay dad to finish (2nd overall!), the more I ran into people I knew from DC.  It like a totally unplanned mini-reunion.

Stomp Your Old Yard 

The rest of the reunion was planned.  Following the race I relocated to DC proper and my former 'hood for the week.  I know that having the opportunity to be in DC and dedicate so much time and attention to catching up with my friends there, is absolutely a perk of my "job," and not one I take lightly, so I threw myself into taking full advantage.  I stayed with Emily; wandered north-west DC and visited my old bike shop; and had dinner with The (Original) Support Staffer.  I met a local athlete I coach whom I had never met in person; had lunch with a training partner of old; and surprised my old masters group in McLean, where I was welcomed like I had never left.

Shenanigans with Flanigan

More often than not I ate at Julia's Empanadas and dreamed about how I could get them in Austin.  And when I wasn't at Julia's, I was eating at Luna Grill in Dupont.


A friend described the experience of being back on those streets very aptly - "I liken DC visits to seeing an old boyfriend: you can remember why you liked it, and the place is comfortable and friendly, but it's been totally neutralized because the spark is gone."  I would have said "it feels weirdly small."

Back To The Great White North

From Baltimore I flew to Milwaukee, where my uncle picked me up and drove me to Madison.  The following morning I drove to the northern reaches of Chicago to attend the wedding of a friend who has shared nearly every life transition with me: from high school in Wisconsin to Harvard to the physics department at Harvard to DC after graduation.  I go to Texas and he snags a girl!  

Continuing my trend, weddings are the only place I don't take pictures.  But from the minute I stepped into the hotel lobby to check in, I was catching up with people from high school/college who I had not seen in 8-10 years, and whom I would otherwise not have seen in the near-to-long-term future.  I went to Sunday brunch early so I could get on the road and beat the rain.  Five hours later we were all still there, sitting around tables shoved together in the middle of the room and eating the same brunch food again for a late lunch.

Back in Madison, I was alone at home for a week until my parents flew back from Europe.  Seeing the opening, I threw the kegger I never was able to in high school.  The Porsche managed to stay out of the neighbor's pool.

My parents returned and we slowly settled into co-habitation.  I was preparing for Rev3's next race, a 70.3 in Florida.  However, after a gut-check conversation with the Zebra Poacher, I pulled the plug on my season.  Recalibration of my thyroid throughout the fall (because of stuff that happened in July and August) had kept my training volume and intensity too non-specific for racing a 70.3.  The focus switched to laying the ground-work for 2013.

Flatlanders, Indeed

The first full week in November I grabbed my bike, packed a car, and headed to south-central Illinois.  Relatives on my mother's side had not seen me in 16-18(!) years and I needed to rectify that situation.  Now those cousins are married with walking, talking kids of their own, including an 18-year-old I last saw as a newborn.  Election night was spent with what can only be described as The Brood, eating, talking, and generally hollering at the TV.

That side of the family are farmers or farmer's kids almost to a man, and live in a part of the country that is big squares.  I went out for a run with directions from my uncle: go to the next stop sign, turn left, go to the "T," turn left, when you pass the cemetery wave to your Grandma and Uncle, go to the "T," turn left, go to the "T," turn left.  Just over 7 miles later, I had run the second smallest square possible from their house.  My run route map was so absurdly perfect.




From there, I ventured north to Chicagoland to finally meet the Zebra Poacher.  He's American, but has been on sabbatical in England for two years.  Up until that point I had only ever "met" him on Skype without the video chat.  Chalk one up for "on-line dating"; we got along thick-as-thieves and I can confirm that he is as-advertized.  He, Atomic Jane, and His Majesty put me up for the night on a very psychically-positive couch (it has previously hosted Cat Morrison, Bjorn Andersson, and Jonas Colting) and fed me Lou Malnati's pizza.  It's a wonder I ever left.

His Majesty, King George of Illinois

I ran in whatever 'burb I stayed in (Chicago is a nebulous place for me) and managed five (5)(!) whole feet of elevation change in 6.5 miles.  Flatlanders, indeed.  From there I wandered down to Joilet to spend a day and a half with a family friend I hadn't seen in three years.  All of that and I still made it home for the Badger game on Saturday. 

"Sunny" Doesn't Mean Warm

Back home the weather continued to hold against all odds as I explored all sorts of riding and running routes nearby.  No snow yet!  To me, winter sunlight in Wisconsin looks thin and obviously lacking true warmth, giving the landscape a smoggy filter of sorts.

June 2012

November 2012, same time of day

To me the dairy farm looks to be floating in a blue-gray sea

I thought I would be back in actually-warm Austin by now, so my packing list is squiggy around the edges for late fall Midwest riding.  Basically, I put on every piece of cycling clothing I brought - and some I have fashioned since arriving - and ride as long as I can manage in "the heat of the day."  I've only had to call for a ride once, and that was because the sun set far faster than I anticipated.

Shoe covers fashioned from dad's old Gold Toe socks

Bird's The Word

Now that my parents are back living among long-time friends in Wisconsin we planned our traditional Thanksgiving with gusto.  Grilled turkey plus a day full of food, football, and friends, including one of my best friends from middle/high school who non-nonchalantly walked into the room after telling everyone (even his parents) that he wasn't coming home until Christmas.  The weekend that followed was decidedly not the one I had planned.


And that leads me here, to writing on my parents couch while it is 19 degrees outside, and 63 degrees in Austin.  And yes, I sleep in the basement.

How To Thwart Murphy's Law

Way back in October my plan was to stay in Madison through Thanksgiving, then return to Austin until a Christmas trip back north, but I didn't actually have any of those plane tickets.  The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to take action through in-action: I didn't buy a ticket anywhere.

Now I am staying in Madison until early January, leaving right before my parents leave town again too.  If there is anyone else I need to apologize to, just let me know! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's A Small World At The Top

In Austin, I swim with a very accomplished and focused masters group.  Whitney coaches with an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove, and the facility makes every practice feel like the regular-guy Olympics. 

Since I took up triathlon, I have struggled to find a similar masters group in Madison with which I can swim while home visiting.  The groups I have tried are unfocused or inefficient, swimming in laughable facilities (20 yard hotel pool, anyone?), or simply not interested in allowing drop-ins, even those who pay.

In October, I saw a flyer at my Gold's Gym advertising free drop-in swimming with the gym's masters group.  It was worth a try; I could always leave mid-swim.

The coach's name was Beth, and despite being completed in a new, but four-lane, high-lipped, shadowy gym pool, the workout was meant for serious swimmers.  She walked the deck with a stop-watch, calling out splits and encouragement.  On the way out, I saw another advertisement for kids' swim lessons, also with Beth "a double gold medal winner."  Hmmm.

So I Googled and I found this.

Whitney (left), Beth (middle), Kriel (RSA, right)
Beth beat Whitney in the 100m back at the 1996 Olympics in Athens.  Beth was 15 at the time.  That same Olympics they both swam on the 4 x 100m medley relay and won gold.

At the next practice I told Beth that Whitney was my coach in Austin, and we laughed at the random ways of the world.  She said "wow, it's a small world."  I said "yeah, at the top."

Not to mention the group's other coach is Cindy Bannick, who coached Gwen Jorgensen to this year's Olympics.  Between them there are no easy practices.

If anyone is looking for a masters group in Madison or the surrounding area, I really recommend Beth's at the Gold's Gym in Fitchburg.  I've experimented with any number of groups, especially in Madison, and I hope these swimmers realize just how lucky they are to receive such high-quality coaching in a gym pool in a suburb of a medium-ish-sized Midwestern city.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lactose Tolerance


On this feels-like-17-degrees day I decided to blog about something that makes me feel warm and fuzzy:


I've had friends come visit me in Madison and make only one request: "take me to the cheese store." (I'm looking at you, Amitai.)  While there are novelty cheese outlets around, the nearest Woodman's grocery store is the only place anyone needs to shop.  Let me show you why.



This is one half of the main section of the cheese "aisle" at Woodman's.  I say main section because that's where you can find locally-produced blocks of the kinds of cheese made in Wisconsin.  Those thigh-high bins along the bottom are filled with cheddars, colby, muenster, string, curds, multiple types of jacks, three types of swiss, and farmers cheese.  The shelves are a random assortment of locally-made specialty types (blues, havartis) and a few foreign-made varieties (boursin, chevre, gorgonzola, stilton).

May I present the entire spectrum of yellow cheddar:

Mild
Medium
Sharp
Super Sharp
Super Super Sharp

And for the not faint of heart, 4-year cheddar (it's normally aged 3-18 months):

Pre-school aged cheese

Pepper jack, anyone?


And two types of Diamond Marbles, one with peppers and one without.  I will spare you pictures of all the different varieties of Havarti.



And then my personal favorite sub-section of the first half of the main section: string cheese and cheese curds.  String cheese is mozzarella and cheese curds are a fresh (meaning not aged) mild cheddar, both are tasty and fun to eat.


You may be noticing the packaging or lack thereof, on this local Wisconsin cheese.  This ain't no Kraft cheese, which is frequently made from blends of several types of rubber...oops, I mean, cheese.  These cheese blocks, each cut to a random weight and sold by price/lb, are cut from even bigger blocks made from milk probably milked no farther than 100 miles away.  There is a basic website and a basic label and outstanding basic cheese.




Moving on to the second half of the main section of the cheese "aisle" at Woodman's, which immediately faces the first half.



This half features Wisconsin cheeses made by producers that actually have company names: Bucky Badger, Crystal Lake, the occasional block of the more real "cheese" made by Kraft.



One case over from the main section is the shredded cheese section, which is as big as the entire dairy display at many grocery stores.  It ends right about where that yellow-ish sign hangs from the ceiling (which incidentally marks the beginning of the cream cheese section).


Facing the shredded cheese is the sliced cheese, mostly Sargento and Kraft, companies that are willing to spend their time cutting cheese instead of making better cheese.



On the back of the sliced cheese is the orange juice, not an altogether Wisconsin product, but the sheer size of selection always amuses me.


Facing the orange juice is the yogurt section, the end of which can be seen in the distance down by the red-white sign hanging from the ceiling.  So, a solid selection of yogurt I'd say.


On the back of the first half of the main section is "dippable cheeses": dairy-based dips, ricotta, and cottage cheese.


And facing the dippable cheeses, we finally arrive at the main ingredient: milk.  The case extends to the wall at the very end....


And - this is the best perspective I could provide - the milk racks are three-deep, ready to be pulled forward when the one in front empties.  Hundreds of gallon at the ready.


Hidden on the shelves are some sharp-tasting delicacies if (mostly) mild cheeses don't get you excited.  For example, blue cheeses - Danish Blue, Maytag Blue, Domestic Blue, Amish Blue - and other stinky/moldy types like Gorgonzola and Stilton.

 
Or Port Wine Spread, which is a biting combination of cheddar cheese and port wine.


And Beer Cheese.  If it included ground-up bratwurst, this spread would embody 75% of what people recognize Wisconsin for.


This is the other 25% of what people recognize Wisconsin for, if cheese in general isn't your bailiwick: the Badgers and the Packers.


Don't worry, we'll still let you into Wisconsin even if you don't like cheese.  Maybe.
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