Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer 2014- Part 2: America's Dairyland

My dad asked me after reading Part 1- "You didn't say anything about food, except for that bad chinese food you had in Rapid City!?" Fair enough question, because this blog is after all a food blog. Well, during the drive to Madison, our food was fast food from places like Wendy's, McDonald's, and Subway! So, I figured there wasn't much to say.

Diving straight to the point, here's the most exciting food we tried- CHEESE! How could we visit America's Dairyland, and not try cheese? That would be such a shame! On our day out to Madison, we stopped by Fromagination. The variety of cheese in that not-so-big store, looked amazing. The entire store smelled like, one guess- delicious cheese!


More Cheese! 

The lady who helped us seemed a bit stiff, yet funny. At least she wasn't fake! ;) We were interested in the different cheddar cheeses they had, and we tried samples of Hook's five-year, eight-year, ten-year, twelve-year, and fifteen-year cheddar, and we were stumped! The more aged the cheddar, the sharper and crumblier it was. And there was also this delightful crunch factor, as well as an underlying caramel tone to it. Oh, you have gotta try it to really know what I'm saying! We also tried a soft gouda, infused with basil pesto. One bite of it, and we were in pesto-heaven!

That's pesto-heaven!

Speckled with basil and pepper

My bro had highly recommended that we try some squeaky cheese. The name was intriguing- imagine cheese that squeaks, and it indeed does. Squeaky cheese is basically fresh cheese curd, that "squeaks" with every bite. It has a very smooth outer coating, and the bite is nice and firm. As you bite into it, you can feel a little "squeak" in your mouth, and it is quite delightful, really! To me it tasted like good old paneer (Indian cottage cheese) mixed with cheddar. In fact, one could possibly substitute it for paneer and make matar-squeaky cheese curry. I bet that would taste good!

Yes, it squeaks! 

We also tried some par excellent parmesan. Even thinking about that nutty parmesan makes me wanna dance- it was SO good! We could have spent the entire afternoon in that store trying out every cheese sample, but of course, we had to leave. We bought a few little slabs of cheese, including eight-year and twelve year cheddar, parmesan, pesto gouda, and a bag of that beautiful addictive squeaky cheese. We'd have bought more, but we decided to just order online from Fromagination, since they do have that option available. Guess what I'm getting for Christmas this year?! ;)

The next Wisconsin specialty that my bro said was an absolute must-try- Butter Burgers! There is a Culver's in Waunakee, and he took me there and bought breakfast for all of us! Breakfast that consisted of Butter Burgers, deep fried shrimp, crinkle-cut fries, and deep fried cheese curds! OK, here's the thing- even though I shuddered at the thought of an already junked up burger, for breakfast that too, and from a fast food place to boot, that butter burger is to-die-for, and I kid you not! My hubby and daughter went crazy over the butter burgers, and for the rest of our stay, my daughter kept craving for those butter burgers! Here's the unintended souvenir I got back from Culver's:


Other than the cheese, and the butter burger breakfast, my bro and sis-in-law made awesome food for us. The night we arrived at Waunakee, my bro had made yummy egg curry and jeera rice, and a nice refreshing cucumber salad. According to my son, that egg curry beats my egg curry any day! The next day, if I remember correctly, he made this really amazing jerk shrimp curry, mixed with green beans, and some other kinda greens- it was crazy hot, and our tongues were on fire, but it was delicious! The lovely aromatic and mellow tomato bhath (bhath= rice) that my sis in law made to go with the curry was fantastic. In fact, I am now such a big fan of that tomato bhath, that I can eat it every day- yeah!

Delicious tomato bhath and jerk shrimp and greens

My bro also made this 9-grain pilaf, that was outstanding. On the last night of our stay there, my bro made his special black pepper lamb. It was as ever "pepperylicious!" My loving and thoughtful sis in law made a gazillion chapatis, and potatoes with Indian spices, and packed it all up for our trip back.

And finally, the morning we were leaving, my bro made his extra-special panini. Mine had chorizo, salami, eggplant, zucchini, and it took me back to good old Spokane days........

Old Favorite- panini

Stay tuned in for Part 3.......

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Summer 2014- Part 1: Washington to Wisconsin

We did it!! We successfully took that much-anticipated road trip to Wisconsin and back. It took us 5 days drive-time in total, 2.5 days each way, with exactly 2 night halts each way, and it was simply great! This summer was action-packed, with guests, camps, and that beautiful road trip I just mentioned.

The Road Trip:

We packed our things, filled up the trunk, packed up a ton of snacks for my junk-loving kids (OK, and us), as well as a whole carton of bottled water, filled up the gas tank, and started off after lunch on Friday, August 15. We had booked our hotels a couple days in advance.

The Logistics:

Route: Sammamish WA to Waunakee WI.
Total Distance to Brother's house:  1940 miles.
Estimated drive time: 30 hours
Main Interstate: I90 E
States: WA--ID--MT--SD--MN--WI

Stretch 1: 

Sammamish, WA to Missoula, MT (Pacific Standard Time to Mountain Time)
Approximate distance: Under 500 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 7 hours

We have taken enough road trips to and from eastern WA (Pullman and Spokane) in the past, and so the first 4-5 hours went by like a breeze. I drove the first stretch crossing Snoqualmie Pass, entering Idaho, driving past Coeur d'Alene, and entering beautiful MT. Thereafter we switched, and hubby drove all the way to our hotel in Missoula. While he drove, I was busy enjoying the beautiful scenery all around us. The undulating mountains, the greenery, the beautiful water reflecting off the color of the beautiful big blue sky was a grand treat to the eyes. In fact, that part is called Big Sky Country (see picture below). We reached the hotel right around dinner time. We found a Qdoba very close to the hotel. So dinner was decent enough. Stretch 1 was over. And we slept.

Stretch 2: 

Missoula, MT to Rapid City, SD
Approximate Distance: 660 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 11 hours

The plan was to leave next morning "as early as possible, preferably before 8am." Of course, it was well beyond 8 am, but we left Missoula, off toward Rapid City, South Dakota. Again, I drove the first chunk of hours, after which hubby took over. Montana is HUGE!! It seemed like it took forever to cross MT! I mean the name Big Sky indeed is very apt. The idea was to stop at Billings for lunch, and so we drove and drove.....and drove! We saw exits for Yellowstone National Park, and we talked about how we must go there perhaps next year. We crossed Butte, grabbed lunch near Billings, and drove some 230 miles towards Sheridan. Then we took US-212 toward Broadus. We saw signs for the historic Little Bighorn Battlefield, and the kids started off a discussion on Native Americans, US history, the battle, etc. And then, I forget exactly where, but at some point, hubby took over, while I dozed off in the passenger seat. Our butts had begun to hurt from all that sitting, and we couldn't wait to get to the hotel and stretch our bodies. The winding road was pretty scenic, and the vegetation looked like evergreen trees, but different from what we see here in the pacific northwest, and shrubs of some kind. There was a sign showing grizzly bears at one point- and I think we spotted some bears too- albeit in cages. So I guess it was some sort of a zoo. We wanted to go and see, but then we decided to just keep going, and not make any halts.

Finally we entered SD, and suddenly the mountains disappeared, the road just went straight, and the land was wide and open. We started seeing signs for the very famous Mt Rushmore and the Borglum (the sculptor) story. We decided that we have got to at least get a glimpse of this (man-made) wonder of the world. But we were on a time crunch, and so we decided to do it on our trip back. We were doing really well with keeping up time. Finally we reached the hotel right around dinner time. The area actually looked very nice. There was a lovely cool breeze, and it felt so good to get out of the van and stretch! After checking in, we went looking for dinner. The little downtown was pleasantly pretty, all lit up, and bustling with people, mostly tourists. We got food from this "highly rated" Chinese restaurant. That was a mistake! We should have got pizza. Oh well! Then we went back to the hotel, took showers, and plopped into bed, in preparation for our last stretch the next day.

The Final Stretch: 

Rapid City, SD to Waunakee, WI, via MN (Mountain Time to Central Time)
Approximate Distance: 780 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 12 hours

This was the longest stretch of our trip. We started off at a good time from Rapid City. Again, I drove first, and this time around, I got a little freaked out. A storm was brewing, and the sky turned dark, with menacing looking dark clouds all around- no, I am not dramatizing this- it actually looked scary to me! I am used to driving in a much more closed-in kind of area, with mountains all around, and really, I AM used to the rain. But that place is completely wide open, and those dark clouds seemed to be ready to attack us with a heavy downpour! I was literally racing, with the hope of escaping the storm. The kids were fast asleep, and so was the hubby, and all I could do was to keep going. As expected, it did start pouring, and here I was, accelerating away; to add to the excitement, all of a sudden I saw this giant life-size dinosaur to my left, and I shrieked!! Well, that dinosaur happened to be a statue of course, but believe you me, it was scary at that moment!! By then hubby was wide awake, and was very amused to see me driving with my sunglasses on, when it was dark and pouring outside. Well, the idea was for me to avoid unnecessary distraction by loitering dinosaurs and what-not! Finally we crossed that storm, and it was a joy to see the bright sun, and clear sky all over again.

P.S.: Later we found out that there is in fact a dinosaur park off of I90E, exit 57, with life-size dinosaur statues made of concrete. So there, I wasn't imagining after all!

We soon entered Minnesota, "Land of 10,000 lakes," and hubby took over. I must mention that the rest-stop there was unbelievably clean, and smelled nice! Wonder if all that extra water they have had anything to do with it! We started seeing more variety of cars, indicating diversity. Else, all through SD we mostly saw pick-up trucks, Fords, and Chevys......  after a few more hours of driving, we saw the sign saying "Welcome to Wisconsin." It was exciting to see that, since that meant we were almost there! Unfortunately we zipped by that sign, and I wasn't ready with my camera to take a picture. The funny thing is that we noticed more water bodies/lakes in WI than what we saw while crossing MN. I found a blog post on this topic. And soon enough, we saw signs for Madison, and all of a sudden, the kids, who had become rather quiet for some time, got very excited, and got all chatty again. I started texting my brother and sister in law telling them what exit we were at, and yeah, we just couldn't wait to reach our destination!!

YAY! Madison, finally! 

And we arrive: 

We finally arrived at Waunakee supposedly "the only Waunakee in the world!" on Sunday, August 17, at around 8:45 pm. The road we took had farmland on either side, and we noticed what seemed like glitter everywhere- fireflies!!!! What a beautiful sight that was! I saw fireflies after ages, and it was simply marvelous! The kids had never seen fireflies before (yeah!), and they were amazed. We took that one last left turn into my bro and sis in law's neighborhood, and our two and a half day road travel came to an end.

Family Reunion:

We rushed out of the van to go see the new baby of the family- my little now-almost-6-month-old nephew!  Oh, it is hard to describe the feeling...... but it was simply wonderful to reunite with family after an entire year.

Stay tuned in for Part 2......