A Winery Tour in . . . Wisconsin?

Wollersheim Winery 023Wisconsin is known best for its beer and cheese. The state offers wineries, too, and I took a tour of the most productive facility this past week. Wollersheim Winery sits on the banks of the Wisconsin River in Prairie du Sac, just north of Madison, Wis.

The winery first came to my attention a handful of years ago when I attended a retirement party. At the bar, I decided to be adventurous and try a white wine I had never heard of before, a Prairie Fumé. When the fruity, citrusy wine hit my tongue, the heavens opened wide and I heard angels sing.

I knew I had found a new favorite. I asked the bartender who made the wine, and she told me about Wollersheim Winery. I made a mental note to visit it someday.

A Fumé wine is a close relative of a Sauvignon Blanc. They’re basically the same thing, both made with the same type of grapes and semi-dry, just with different names for marketing purposes. (For the curious, see the story here.) But to me, a Fumé is a bit mellower and melon-y.

Apparently, my taste buds have a lot of company because the Prairie Fumé is Wollersheim’s most popular wine and one of the most popular in the state.

Wollersheim Winery 018The land the winery sits on has grown grapes on and off since the 1840s, whenever the weather has allowed. The vines on the property now were planted in 1972 when the Wollersheims bought it.

Wollersheim Winery 020I found the winery easily and parked in the lot below. The winery’s website says it takes 10 minutes to walk the path from the lot to the winery (which is uphill, BTW), but I estimate it would only take any relatively able-bodied person a couple of minutes. However, I suppose if you stop to read the historical sign along the way that would add more time.

I entered the winery, and to my delight, discovered I was the only one signed up for a tour. My private session commenced with a video that described the history of the winery. Then the tour guide took me to a window overlooking the huge wine vats, where we spoke more and had plenty of time for questions and discussion.

I watched another short video that featured Phililppe Coquard, a Frenchman who married into the Wollersheim Family and now co-owns the business. I had the fleeting thought that it would be fun to meet him while I was here, similar to the chance encounter my friend and I had with the master distiller of Glendronach scotch when we took a distillery tour in Scotland. Although I thought I glimpsed Philippe in the distance during my time on the grounds, I did not get to meet him.

Wollersheim Winery 036I learned that the Prairie Fumé is made from grapes not grown on the property. The grapes come from the Finger Lakes region of New York and are trucked in juice form to the winery, where Philippe works his magic on them.

Another thing I learned is that the term “reserve” on a wine label means the wine is grown from the oldest vines in the vineyard.

After the tour came the tasting. I sampled a flight of whites since I have a problem with reds. I asked to try varieties I hadn’t already experienced, so that left out the Prairie Fumé and the River Gold White, which is also quite good.

I sampled their White Port, Dry Riesling, White Riesling, and Eagle White. Notable about the Eagle White is that it is grown on the property, and that part of the sales go toward habitat protection for bald eagles that frequent the area.

Of these, my favorites were the White Riesling and the Eagle White, so I bought a few bottles to bring home. Although I’ve found a source for Prairie Fumé in my area (President Bar and Liquor in Superior), I bought a bottle just because, despite exposure to these new wines, it’s still my fave.

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The historic wine storage cave.

Before returning to my car, I meandered around the property. There’s an old cave dug into the hillside where wine used to be stored, which the current owners have preserved and filled with historical placards and implements. I also took a peek into the wine bar on the second floor of the main building, which used to be a ballroom back in the day.

There’s also a distillery on the property, and I made a note to visit that next time I’m in the area.

Wollersheim Winery 017Alas, it was time for me to continue onto my ultimate destination, which was Madison. I was expecting to eat dinner alone there, but things worked out so that a friend from high school was able to meet me. Plus, it was her birthday, so I brought along the bottle of Prairie Fumé for her.

We met at Lombardino’s, an Italian restaurant that’s one of my favorites. As I waited for my friend and for seating, I noticed someone who looked suspiciously like Phililppe Coquard at a table near the back. As fate would have it, the host seated me and my bottle of Wollersheim wine right next to the Philippe look-alike.

While I waited for my friend, I snuck some glances and determined that fate was smiling upon me this day. It was indeed Philippe and part of his family dining at the table next to mine. What are the chances of that?! (I guess I could figure it out if I knew how many restaurants are in Madison and what the population is, multiplied by how many days are in a year.) But I guess it’s a one-hundred-percent chance when you’re following your bliss . . . .

Anyway, I knew I HAD to take advantage of this opportunity. So I mustered my introverted courage and stepped over to their table. They were gracious at my interruption. I let them know I had just visited their winery and then I gushed about how much I love their wine. Philippe mentioned he is giving a presentation at a Minneapolis wine convention soon.

It was all good, and I was so tickled and amazed by meeting them. Soon my friend arrived, and I pointed out who our dining neighbors were. She can vouch that this really did happen!

I look forward to visiting the Wollersheim Distillery in the future, but after this experience, my expectations are probably entirely too high for a fateful experience afterward.

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The Taste of Hope


Chef Sean Sherman

Native American chef, Sean Sherman, visited my fair town several weeks ago to promote his book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.” Given my interest in cooking and gathering wild edibles, I had to go. He spoke to a packed house along with his co-author, Beth Dooley, who is the food editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The event was sponsored by Zenith Bookstore.

One of the first things Sherman did was to disabuse the audience of the notion that Native American cuisine involves any type of fry bread. He works with pre-colonization food made with ingredients the natives grew themselves or foraged. These are things like squash, wild rice, chestnuts, fish, berries, and cedar boughs.

Sherman talked about how natives used all parts of edible plants and animals and how every one of those things had a purpose, “Except for wood ticks. They don’t have a purpose,” he joked.

A member of the Sioux tribe, Sherman grew up in a hardscrabble life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  He became interested in learning about the foods of his ancestors when he was twenty-nine and was burned out from working as an executive chef in Minneapolis.

He took a year off in Mexico and ended up consulting for a restaurant there that focused on local foods. In his book, Sherman writes, “In an epiphany, I tasted how food weaves people together, connects families through generations, is a life force of identity and social structure. After seeing how the Huicholes held on to so much of their pre-European culture through artwork and food, I recognized that I wanted to know my own food heritage. What did my ancestors eat before Europeans arrived on our lands?”

Re-energized, Sherman returned to the U.S. with a plan in mind. After a lot of research and consulting, he formed The Sioux Chef in 2014 in Minneapolis.  He worked with other indigenous team members to cater events, operate a food truck, host pop-up dinners, and soon they will open a restaurant.

Sherman’s vision for revitalizing indigenous foods reaches beyond the Midwest. He hopes to spread an indigenous food system model across the country, which involves providing education and tools to native communities to reclaim their ancestral cuisines and an important part of their cultures.

And why not? It’s a diet that is hyperlocal and uberhealthy in more ways than just the physical. At the end of his talk at Beaner’s Coffee House (thank you Beaner’s!), samples of cedar tea sweetened with maple syrup were passed around. Man, was that good!

As I drove home with his book on the car seat beside me, I was excited to learn more about Native American cuisine. I could still taste the tangy cedar and sweet syrup on my tongue. To me, it tasted like hope – hope that this movement will undo some of the damage to native cultures, and hope that it will interest more people in taking care of the natural world. You don’t pollute places where you gather your food. If we look on our whole landscape as a big grocery store, perhaps we will take better care of it.

Heavenly Food: Adventures in Northern Arizona – Part 5


The Cameron Trading Post Restaurant near the Grand Canyon. Note the pressed tin ceiling.

This will be my last installment about Sedona, and it deals with the next best thing to the scenery: the food!

Our first morning in town, we made our way to Creekside Coffee after seeing it advertised on television. What a way to wake up! Perched on the edge of a hill on the second floor of a galleria, the café offers a stunning view along with just about any kind of coffee one would want, plus pastries and organic fare. Wine is also available.

Another great place for breakfast is the Coffeepot Restaurant (near Coffeepot Rock). I didn’t eat there, but my traveling partner did and said it was great. They offer 101 different types of omelets!

We usually ate lunches we packed ourselves. But the one time we ate a restaurant lunch was at the English Kitchen in Jerome. See my previous post about that divine and spooky BBQ experience.


The mussels and chorizo appetizer from the Mariposa.

We saved the piece de resistance of dining for after a full day of hiking near the end of our trip. We made dinner reservations at Mariposa, a Latin-inspired grill. We chose partly for the scenery — the restaurant has a wall of windows that look out to the red rock hills. The only glitch in our plan was that it was dark by dinner time! Duh.

But our view of the food more than made up for the lack of an outdoors view. And even though something went wrong with our reservation through Open Table, the hostess was able to find a spot for us.

We started off with cocktails. After hiking past juniper trees all day, I opted for a drink made from juniper berries (in the form of gin) called a juniperita. Other ingredients include St. Germain liquer, lemon juice, and agave. The lemony sweetness was the perfect refresher for my desert-worn pallet.

For an appetizer, we shared mejillones con chorizo, a mussel and sausage dish served in a white wine bouillabaisse with charred corn. O.M.G. – the sauce was divine! We dipped our bread in it, and could have been happy just with that. The sausage complemented the mussels surprising well.


The grouper.

For entrees, Linda had grouper, which was the fish of the day. It was served with Campari fire-roasted tomatoes, charred corn, white wine and herb butter, frijoles negros and quinoa pilaf. She allowed me a wonderful taste. I had skirt steak served with roasted rosemary potatoes and frijoles negros.

Have you ever had a steak that melts in your mouth? It’s a rare thing, and that’s what this was. I had a hard time eating it because I kept making noises of gustatory satisfaction.


The skirt steak.

Although tempted, we opted out of dessert because we had a plan, and we made our way back to our resort. Although it was only 43 degrees outside, a hot tub awaited steps away from our unit. We hearty Minnesotans donned our swimsuits and ran out to the hot tub with wine, chocolate truffles and mint fudge in hand.

The candy was from the Sedona Fudge Company. Life doesn’t get much better than when it’s spent in a hot tub under the Arizona stars, accompanied by chocolate and alcohol. I truly felt like I was on vacation.


The Navaho taco (front) and other fare from the Cameron Trading Post.

The last notable eating spot we had a chance to sample was the Cameron Trading Company Restaurant near the Grand Canyon. Want a Navaho taco that’s bigger than your head while viewing Navaho blankets worth thousands of dollars? This is your place then.

Established in 1916, the trading post was the place where Hopis and Navahos bartered their wool blankets and livestock in exchange for dry goods. The restaurant’s ceiling of pressed tin is flanked by walls featuring cabinetry and stained glass from years past. A huge stone fireplace decorated for Christmas warmed us while we ate.

I had a Navaho taco, which is the most popular thing on the menu. It’s composed of a large round piece of fry bread, smothered with a combination of ground beef and beans, topped with lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and crowned with chopped green chilies. Spicy salsa is served on the side, but it was too much for my bland Minnesota taste buds.

So ends my accounting of this meander. I would go back in a heartbeat. There are more rocks to see, trails to hike, places to eat, and energy vortexes to experience. Thank you for journeying with me through words.


The Cameron Trading Post Restaurant fireplace.

Steelhead and Clam Chowder

Steelhead ChowderThis was my Christmas Eve dinner. Hey, don’t look at me like that! While not typical, this chowder is totally holiday-appropriate, with red and green colors provided by the ham/steelhead and the green onions.

I modified this recipe from a crockpot version. This was the first time I used steelhead instead of cod or haddock because I “accidentally” found a nice fillet for half-price at the grocery store. All I can say is, yum!


What the soup looks like before the potatoes and milk are added.

1 lb fish fillets (torsk, cod, haddock, steelhead, etc.)
2-6.5 oz cans of clams
3 slices bacon (diced) or 1-8 oz package of diced ham
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup green onions, chopped
2 large potatoes, pared and cubed
2+ cups water
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp pepper
1-12 oz can evaporated milk

Chop the onions and cube the potatoes. Cut the fish fillets into bite-sized pieces. In skillet, sauté onion and bacon (or ham) until golden in two tablespoons butter. (But if you use bacon, no butter is needed.)

Add all remaining ingredients except evaporated milk. There should be almost enough water to cover the ingredients. (Feel free to add more, if two cups isn’t enough.)

Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add evaporated milk and cook 10 minutes more.

Jerome – A Counterculture and Bohemian Mecca: Adventures in Northern Arizona, Part 2

Sedona 2017 041

Jerome, Arizona.

While I was standing in line to rent a car at the Phoenix Airport, the man in front of me asked where my friend and I were staying. He was from Philadelphia and vacationed in Arizona frequently. When I told him Sedona, he said that we had to go visit the nearby town of Jerome. “It’s an old mining town with shops run by a bunch of hippies,” he said.

That’s all it took to convince me that we needed to go there. I’ve found that some pre-planning is fine for vacations, but that the best advice often comes from people you meet along the way. This trip was no exception.

The day we journeyed to Jerome dawned bright and mild, like so many other mornings during our Arizona stay. Linda and I hopped in our rented Nissan Versa, which dutifully took us up and down the northern Arizona mountains (even though the rental agency clerk tried to talk us into getting a larger car to handle the elevation changes).

20171205_111326A large “J” on a mountaintop was the first thing we noticed about Jerome. Then came the hairpin turns as we wound our way up to the town, which is situated precariously on the mountainside that used to yield its copper to miners. We parked in an area close to stores and hopped out to explore.

We purchased some goodies from the Connor Hotel gift shop, marveled at a poster that proclaimed the existence of a Jerome Ukulele Orchestra, and partook of a wine tasting at the Dragoon Mountain/Cellar 433 Winery outlet, which is simply called “Winery” on the outside. We had also visited their tasting room in Sedona, and were interested to see what different varieties of Arizona wine they offered here.

We sampled a flight of whites served by Barry, who wore a bandanna around his head and whose ears sported many heavy earrings. Our favorite was called “Sun.” Like the name implies, it was honey-colored with the warm flavor of roasted nuts. Hints of honeydew melon, white peaches and ginger topped it off. Unlike the Sedona winery, no guitarist serenaded our tasting. But like the Sedona winery, the view was fantastic, plus local artwork graced the walls.


The view from the winery. The impressive building on the left used to be a hotel, but is now a private home.

Lest we walk around the perilous Jerome pathways in a stupor, we decided to cross the street to the English Kitchen Restaurant to eat lunch to cut the alcohol. That turned out to be an excellent and otherworldly choice.

Sedona 2017 038We sat in an inviting booth and learned about the history of the place from the back of the menu while the smell of hickory barbecue drifted in from the restaurant’s smoker out back. The English Ktichen, also known as Bobby D’s BBQ is the oldest restaurant in northern Arizona. It was built in 1899 by Charley Hong after his original restaurant in the Connor Hotel (where we had just been buying gifts) burned down when the hotel burned. Oh, and by the way, there used to be an opium den in the basement of the English Kitchen.


The counter in the English Kitchen/Bobby D’s BBQ.

Charley died in booth #3 of the restaurant, where he frequently slept. Apparently, he is still hanging around, his presence manifested by flying salt shakers and misplaced items. The restaurant turned into the BBQ joint it is today in 2011.

When our waitress came to take our order, I asked her where booth #3 was. She pointed to the booth where we sat. “Do you want to know what side he died on?” she said, with the ghost of a smile. I could guess, but asked anyway. She pointed to the side where I sat.


But that did not make me lose my appetite. I ordered the BBQ bacon cheeseburger with fries. Oh man, oh man, oh man. That was good! It came with four different barbecue sauce choices. My tastebuds grew up in Minnesota, so that means I chose the non-spicy sweet one. Sorry, I can’t recall the name, but the sauce complemented the meat perfectly.

After lunch, we waddled around town for another hour or so. We found a shop that specialized in kaleidoscopes. Don’t see that every day.

We could have easily spent several days looking through all the shops, but the Sedona hiking trails were calling us, and we had to answer. And besides, we needed to walk off all the barbecue.

Photo Caption Contest!



My family celebrated Thanksgiving early this year. This is my favorite photo from the memorable occasion. My dog Buddy is looking longingly at the turkey carcass.

It begs a photo caption. Suggest your best one by commenting below. I (the sole judge) will send the winner a free copy of my novel, Plover Landing. I will ship it anywhere in the world, so put your creativity caps on, people!

The contest will be open through Saturday, November 25. I will contact the winner privately for their address.

The Cream Puff of Happiness


I meandered over the San Francisco for a work conference and found the best concept for an eatery near my hotel. All they sell is cream puffs. A whole store devoted to the ultimate in decadence!

While growing up, I had heard about cream puffs on television, but had never eaten one. They were not sold in my city at that time. Once I was old enough to cook, I happened upon a recipe in my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook and promptly went about making them. I was in heaven with the eggy, creamy, fluffy result.

Now cream puffs are less of a rarity. But never in my wildest “I’m a hick from Minnesota” dreams did I imagine an entire franchise devoted to the sweet.

002Beard Papa’s offers several varieties of cream puff shells. At the store I visited, these included original, chocolate-covered and green tea-covered. Filling choices were vanilla, peanut butter, and green tea. (I suppose the green tea ones are for people who are trying to trick themselves into thinking they are eating something healthy.)

I ordered an original shell with peanut butter filling, and a chocolate shell with vanilla filling. Both were divine. The shells were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The filling was cold and custardy. I preferred the vanilla filling over the peanut butter slightly, but only because it’s more classic.

With everything that’s going on in the world today, it makes me happy that cream puffs have their own store. If I’m 20 pounds heavier once I return home, you’ll know why.