Saturday, February 07, 2009

the call of the tame

Port Washington (Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan) registered a record breaking 53 this February afternoon.

Ed and I were not in Port Washington at the moment when it hit 53, but we are here now and there are wisps of warmth as I write this. Truthfully, the warmth comes from a good heating system at the Port Washington Inn, and I have to admit that I had a very cold moment on the Port Washington seawall that juts out into Lake Michigan this evening, but still, earlier in the day, in all corners of Wisconsin, it was warm. Relatively speaking.

I saw it coming, We all did, here in our northern state. And Ed, who typically stays away from any mention of b&bs (too comfortable, too boring, etc) did a complete about face by suggesting that we get away to one this week-end. To fight cabin fever. (I am certain that he himself has never experienced cabin fever, as he loves his lair more than life itself, but still, it is generous of him to acknowledge the possibility of this in others.)

You could say we went Wisconsin wild today (in a tame sort of way). A hike. Of course. We start with that. Closer to Milwaukee, at the Lapham Peak State Park.

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The “heat wave” melted enough snow to make you think of spring, which is a good thing, but it also created streams of water at the lower elevations, which is perhaps less optimal.

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Eventually, we leave the park and head due north. Past lakes where fishing families know that in this state, a February thaw is a very superficial thing.

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Ed is casting about for his old map of local producers of foods and stuff (the “stuff” is mostly beer). He suggests a detour to a cheese maker. It is, really, a random pick. Proximate, sure, sort of. Well no, truthfully --not even that. Beechwood Cheese. It's in the middle of nowhere.

I call to see if they're open. Today? Sure. It’s the first Saturday of the month: that's cheese curd day. So you’re selling cheese curds? We’re driving in from Madison. Madison? That’s far! I'll save you some in case we run out. It sure would be a shame to drive all this way for nothing.

That should have alerted us, right there. All this way.

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Truly, a remote place. And why should it be otherwise? Cheeses aren’t made far from places where cows grow and prosper.

The sellers are local women. They've seen new owners come and go. And still, the curds remain a village favorite. Good thing we saved you some! The plain ones sold out long time ago.

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We take packs of plain and jalapeno spiced curds with us. Are cheese curds low fat? I ask Ed. I mean, what do I know. I was raised on Polish farmers cheese. Very white. Very bland. Good with honey on top. Nope – he answers. An unfortunate piece of information, given that we have been hiking and now it's just the curds and us, in the car, zipping along past long stretches of farmland.

Fortified, we arrive in Port Washington.

Our inn is quintessentially wonderful.

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Who could find fault with a place that asks you in advance whether you want white or red (wine) on arrival?

But I’m in a hurry. We throw our bags down and head back out. The sun is almost down. Dusk. We make our way toward Lake Michigan (just a few blocks down the hill). The wind is picking up now. Was this day once warm?

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The sea wall is covered with ice. You slip, you fall, you don’t sink – you freeze. Still, it’s beautiful now on this winter evening. Ice, water, moon.

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...and Port Washington.

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We stop at a place right by the water to get supper (“dinner” is somehow less fitting for evening meals here; maybe it has something to do with the quantities of butter served). I note the special is trout. Is it local? -- I ask. I don’t know. The supplier delivers and our cooks cook it. I imagine it’s from somewhere in the Midwest.

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It is, in fact, quite good.

As we get ready to leave, the room breaks into a chorus: happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Will... A local boy, celebrating his thirteenth (or thereabouts). On this, the warmest February 7th in Port Washington. So we are reminded by the man on the TV screen above the dining room. It's good to keep informed while you're digesting trout and fries.