Friday, April 6, 2012

For the Love of Family Fun

We recently experienced a significant loss in our family.  My father in law, Bruce Henry, died unexpectedly on March 20th at the age of 64.  One collective assertion about Bruce was that he loved his family more than anything in this world.  Holidays spent with the whole clan were his greatest joy and his grandsons were the light of his life.  Each of his sons even cherished him as one of their best friends.  Bruce would hate for me to mislead you...he was no saint.  He was a master of tawdry jokes, could cuss like a sailor, and boy could he be a curmudgeon.  But his sense of humor, moments of playfulness, and extraordinary ability to elicit an eye roll or "red face" are irreplaceable losses for our family and those who knew him.  For many there are annual reminders of the physical loss of a loved one.  For us the reminder comes weekly as each Sunday now passes without his ritual phone call.  But death is an unavoidable part of this amazing journey we call life.  None of us will escape it nor will we escape the pain of losing those we love.  All we can do is live each day to the best of our ability making sure to love the people around us every moment.

Right after Bruce died I was feeling like it seemed wrong somehow to go on with our daily routine.  That life had to stop for a while out of some kind of respect for the life that was just lost.  To summarize some wisdom from a friend, we are all filled with a divine light. That light is in part a product of the input from the love in our lives and it is that light that makes us special to the people around us.  In order to honor the earthly loss of a loved one it is important that we go on living each day to our highest power allowing that light to shine.  It's an expression of love that we do so and it's how we allow our dearly departed to live on in us.    I found this immensely helpful and hope that it resonates somehow for you in your lives.

As a way to honor Bruce's love for his family, love for learning, and love of food I am excited to share this post with you.

My brother in law, his wife, and our nephews live in Oconto, WI, way "up north".  So far "up north" that we rarely get an opportunity to see them.  Ok, it's really not THAT far, but it's far enough that the craziness of our busy lives make it very difficult to get together.  In the past few years they have made a concerted effort to set aside a weekend to come visit. Their most recent visit was mid-February.  The long range plan was for them to come spend the weekend to go snowmobiling, as that's typically how the Henry family enjoys the winter months.  Well, as we all know...there was no snow this year.  So, now the pressure was on to plan something really fun.  My secret hope is that if they have so much fun when they come visit, they will make a point of coming more often. :) snow...what on earth were we going to do?!  They surely didn't want to drive all this way just to sit around and watch movies all favorite winter "sport".  My sister in law and I could easily have found plenty of shopping to be had and wine to be drunk to allow us to have a fantastic time, but throw two "manly men" and two teenage boys (ahem, young men) in to the mix and now what?

So I did what I always do when trying to plan something fun, I busted out my laptop and started perusing some of Madison's treasures and "what's going on around town" websites.  The State Historical Society, WI Veterans Museum, State Capitol, MMoCA, Overture Center, Alliant Energy Center, Olbrich Gardens, Arboretum, Historical Walking, and the Isthmus's Daily Page all offered us possibilities, but nothing that really made our eclectic little group go "yeah, let's do that!".  This research definitely got my creative juices flowing and oiled up the creaky wheels in my brain.  I started thinking outside the "Madison" box and started wondering what fun we might be able to find in another nearby town.  There are so many great places to explore outside our city and it's rare that we (my husband and I) take to time to do so.  In the end we settled on Monroe and New Glarus as our destinations for a day trip of fun.

I was a little concerned that after their long drive down to our house on Friday that the last thing they'd want to do is climb in the car for another day of driving on Saturday, but they were game so off we went!  New Glarus and Monroe really aren't that far from Madison. Approximately 35 minutes to an hour respectively depending on your point of origin.

The first stop on our itinerary was the Emmi Roth Cheese factory (formerly Roth Kase).  I called ahead by just a couple of days and spoke to the ever amiable Tony Zgraggen.  Tony is from Switzerland and is the proprietor of the Alp and Dell storefront connected to the cheese factory.  With my fingers crossed, I asked if we could get in on a tour on Saturday and he said "Ya, when you want to come?".  The tours are free and perhaps because it was February we were able to state the time we wanted to come.  I didn't even have to give him my name to make the reservation, he simply said "You just come."  My conversation with Tony was the most heartwarming reminder of why I am proud to be from the midwest and why I am continually baffled by those who feel the need to poke fun at us.

We arrived at Emmi Roth for our 10 am tour, met Tony, and he promptly took us on our way.  We were lucky that this particular Saturday they were actually making cheese.  Tony escorted us to the viewing area where he shared the history, accomplishments , and production techniques of Emmi Roth and their award winning cheeses.  Emmi Roth is the only manufacturer of Gruyere cheese in the U.S., uses old world traditional production techniques, and makes all of their cheeses from locally procured milk.  As he spoke we were able to watch the process in action.  From here we moved on to the brining area where we got a bird's eye view of the cheese brining tanks and learned more about the cheese making and aging processes.  Our tour lasted approximately 45 minutes and ended back at the storefront where we proceeded to enjoy cheese and wine samples, perused cases of Roth Kase and imported cheeses, local beers, and all sorts of cheese paraphernalia including products for enjoying fondue and raclette.  This Swiss themed store is so charming and filled with such goodness we couldn't help but fill a couple of shopping bags.  As we began to say our goodbyes and thank yous Tony stopped us and said let me thank you in the proper Swiss fashion.  He busted out the most beautiful and impressive yodeling song that we all just stood in awe.  I couldn't help well up a little at the kindness and morsels of Swiss heritage we had just experienced.  

Next up was Baumgartner's Cheese Store and Tavern for lunch.  A very short drive in to the heart of Monroe brought us to the very charming city square.  Another foray in to Wisconsin history and Swiss tradition, Baumgartner's has been around since 1931 and is as charming as ever with it's saloon/Old World feel.  We grabbed a corner booth near the front window where we could admire the tavern in it's entirety.  If you are observant you will quickly notice that the wood slat ceiling is covered in greenbacks.  Our gregarious server asked if we wanted to see how they got there.  Naturally we said "yes" to which he replied "it'll cost you a dollar and a quarter".  We had a blast seeing our money get plastered to the ceiling.  You'll just have to go for yourselves to see how it's done.  The best part about the money on Baumgartner's ceiling is that every two years during Green County's Cheese Days festival the money is collected from the ceiling and given to a local charity.  Our server said that usually every denomination is represented and in 2010 over $6,000 was removed from the ceiling and donated.  That's pretty impressive.  More of those endearing midwestern values.

Greenbacks on the ceiling of Baumgartner's

My main objective for lunch at Baumgartner's was to get my fill of a Limburger and braunschweiger sandwich and to get my family to all take a bite.  Another fun factoid about Wisconsin cheese is that Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe, founded in 1885, is the only producer of Limburger cheese in the U.S., and I am a huge fan.  Baumgartner's menu is pretty simple, but they put out solid Wisconsin fare with many of the ingredients being made in house or locally procured.  You will then be able to wash down your wonderful lunch with locally brewed beer.  I highly recommend that when you go you order a Limburger sandwich for the table and the kitchen will kindly cut it in to bite sized pieces for everyone to sample.  Be sure to add a dollop of their house made mustard.  Remember, you're building memories...don't let fear get in your way.  

After lunch we made the short 1 block trek to Minhas Brewery.  Minhas Brewery began as Monroe Brewing Company in 1845.  It has since undergone many owner and name changes bringing us to its current day status.  In 2003 the brewery began making beers for Ravinder Minhas on contract for export to Canada.  The Minhas family has quite a brewing dynasty in Alberta, Canada, where they produce Mountain Crest, Canada's top selling beer.  This new arrangement increased the production of the brewery by 5 times and ultimately led to the purchase of the brewery by Ravinder and Manjit Minhas in 2006.  The brewery has continued it's expansion over the years with more plans in the works.  So far this progress has been done with sensitivity to the people and city of Monroe and has been an asset to the economy of the town.  The people at Minhas put on one heck of a tour.  The brewery is the proud owner of one of the largest collections of beer memorabilia in the U.S. all for perusing at your pace.  In the tasting room you are given a large "tasting" glass which is yours to keep and you are offered bottomless samples of all the beers and sodas they produce.  Yes, that's right, I said "bottomless".  In an effort to be diplomatic, they make very good root beer.  Wisconsin makes some amazing beers and it's perfectly okay that most of Minhas beer is exported to Canada.  After a short movie on the history of the brewery you are taken on a very inside tour of the production, canning, and storage areas of the brewery.  The tour guides are very informative and interactive encouraging lots of questions.  After the official tour you are welcome to go back to sample more beer and soda, walk through the museum and shop to your heart's content in the gift shop.  Before you leave don't forget to pick up your free variety 5 pack of beer and soda to take home.  All of this for just $10 per person.  The actual tour takes about 30-45 minutes but plan to spend a couple of hours to partake in all of the other activities.

Next on our itinerary was a stop in New Glarus.  New Glarus is a charming  Swiss town conveniently located between Monroe and Madison on Hwy 69.  Though I've always wanted to tour the New Glarus brewery that would have been a bit much for one day.  Our plan was to head to the Glarner Stube for an early dinner.  The Glarner Stube is probably my favorite restaurant in New Glarus and when I go I have to have the cheese fondue and Roesti potatoes.  It's a fat and carb fest for sure, but oh so delicious!  The Stube has amazing food across the board, so order whatever speaks to you.  Our plans were dashed however when we discovered that the owners were on their annual winter vacation, so the Stube was closed, for the month. In order to kill a little time and come up with an alternative plan my sister in law and I skipped a couple of doors down to the New Glarus Primrose Winery where we partook in a bar style wine tasting.  The boys, well they had to sit and pester one another while they waited.  The wine inspired us to go home and throw together a fondue dinner of our own.  We had already purchased some Gruyere cheese and swiss fondue chocolate at Alp and Dell and a short stop at another shop in New Glarus stocked us with some bread, and Appenzeller and Emmentaler cheeses (also produced in Monroe by Edelweiss Creamery).  We were on our way!

Cheese & Chocolate fondues with roasted veggies, bread, and fruit
Clearly we had a long and adventurous day.  A fun dinner together at home was the perfect way to bring such a day to a close.  We laughed, built memories, learned, stepped outside our "usual", and had so much fun together.  Our time together embodied the ideas I mentioned above about making moments count with the ones we love and letting our inner light shine every day to honor those who love us, living and dead.  Bruce was clearly present that day in the jokes that were told and the way his boys ("young" and "old") all interacted with one another, and he will continue to be present throughout the rest of our lives.

I hope you all make some time to spend with your families and remember there is a lot of fun to be had just outside your door.  You don't have to go far and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money.  The day I described above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is available to us in our area.

For fun let me tell you about one of my favorite websites and grilled cheese recipes.  The  Grilled Cheese Academy is a fun, interactive way to get creative with grilled cheese.  Apropos to my post is my favorite sandwich in this mix...The Monroe.  It is a delicious blend of bacon, caramelized onion, sautéed spinach, fig jam, and Limburger cheese.  If you have been afraid to try Limburger but are curious, you will become a convert after you try this sandwich...I've seen it first hand.  The Grilled Cheese Academy is currently hosting a 2012 Grilled Cheese Recipe Contest.  The prizes are exceptional and the contest ends on 5/8/12.

The Monroe 
(as published by the Grilled Cheese Academy)


No. of Servings: 4

  • 8 thick slices bacon
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons water, divided
  • 8 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 10-12 ounces fresh spinach leaves
  • 4 whole-grain baguettes
  • 4-8 tablespoons fig jam or preserves
  • 8 ounces Wisconsin Limburger cheese, sliced

Cooking Directions

Heat large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until browned and crispy. Drain on paper towels; set aside.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in pan and return to heat. Add onions and pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté onions 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add 1 tablespoon water, stirring to deglaze pan; stir in any browned bits. Remove onions to bowl.
Return pan to heat and add 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to simmer and add spinach and pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for 3-5 minutes to wilt the spinach. Remove spinach to a bowl.
Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Split whole-grain baguettes. Assemble sandwiches: On each baguette bottom, spread 1-2 tablespoons jam, 2 ounces Limburger slices, spinach leaves, onions, 2 slices of bacon, and baguette top, in that order. Carefully turn the sandwiches over and butter the bottoms. Place sandwiches, bottom-side down on hot grill, then butter the tops of the baguettes. When bottom sides are golden and cheese starts to melt, carefully flip sandwiches and brown sandwiches tops, melting the cheese.

1 comment:

  1. Oh no!! I am so sorry to hear of your loss :( How very heartbreaking.

    I loved reading about your day in Monroe. It sounds like something you all needed to do, and Monroe and New Glarus delivered a perfect venue for you. Oh, I LOVE that same Limburger/braunschweiger sandwich at Baumgartners. It's been a while, but after reading this, it won't be long before I enjoy another one.

    Hope you're doing well. Thanks for sharing your wonderful day. It was fun to read....but I am sincerely sorry to hear about your father-in-law. :(