Election Day Tradition In The Oven: Country Jam Cake

There is an Election Day tradition at our home, other than voting of course, and that is making Grandma’s Country Jam Cake.

Monday afternoon I proved my capabilities in the kitchen as I measured and mixed and upon noticing I had no buttermilk…..which is the only time I yelled “James”….OK, the second time as the first was not being able to locate measuring spoons. James wings cooking with no such devices, but I am old school.

He made buttermilk the way Grandma might have done had she needed some, too. Or she would have thoroughly read the recipe beforehand!! Details, details.

The cake started to be our traditional election dessert in 2004, and it has never failed to bring smiles, even if the returns are grim. Now the cake is in the oven and I can still hear Mom tell me to go outside and do my jumping around so the cake will not ‘fall’. Aw, yes, traditions never grow old.

Wisconsin’s Fall Farm Markets Make For Smiles

The annual road trip to Arena in Iowa County never fails to make me happy. Waiting for just the right day with perfect fall temperatures and knowing all the squash and apples and other items will be stocked puts me in a perfect mood.

Wisconsin is perhaps at its best when one can drive into the country where mile after mile of leaves is starting to turn color. That color palette is matched with the piles of brightly colored pumpkins and corn shocks near the roadsides for sale.

On Saturday we took to the back roads and made our way to the place that has been a fall destination for about two decades. It never grows old to see a youngster trying to lift or drag a pumpkin that is far too big for their arms. Dad comes along to lift up just the perfect one selected by the kid.

Then there is the need to bite into one of the freshly baked apple cinnamon donuts, and this weekend with the tailgate of the pickup pulled down kids were doing just that as we arrived in the parking lot. Before we left it was essential to follow suit!

Carts were piled high with all sorts of gourds and squash waiting for the cashier to recall the various prices for the items, all the while joshing with the customers about that afternoon’s collegiate football games.

For all the rancor that was to be found wherever one turned the rest of the week, only smiles and gentle banter among complete strangers took place at that large farmer’s market. I mentioned to a young boy pushing his baby sister around in what looked to me to be a cumbersome carriage that next year she will be walking about on her own. He smiled and said, “it ain’t so bad once you get this thing moving”. Just perfectly said without missing a beat.

There is a slower pace to the country that, even in small doses, does make for an impact. James and I came home and removed all the items from the convertible and were amazed once on the picnic table that it all somehow had fit.

Lots of hard work from our farming sector of the state often does not get the full recognition from those who live in urban environs. Even if for only a few hours it would do everyone good to drive out into the country and stop along the way to talk and shop with the ones who make our kitchens so full of flavor and diversity.

Waukesha School District Proves Why Political Purity Is Rot, Free Lunch Program Rankles Conservatives

I do resent when embarrassing headlines are created around the nation by foolish actions from those who live in Wisconsin. That is the result today due to the purely political actions of a local school board.

The Waukesha School District board decided to opt-out of a federally funded program that would give free meals to all students regardless of family income. That is not a misprint, in case you are reading that line twice.

The backstory is that the school board voted on June 9th to return to the pre-pandemic National School Lunch Program, which offers free and reduced-price lunches to students who apply and receive federal money for them. It should be noted, however, that Waukesha is the only eligible school district in our state to up-end such funding.

As a side note, each of the state’s public schools adopted the universal meal program in March 2020. Now, the very Republican enclave is striking back.

The rhetoric that flowed from the board meeting even included board members who stated the reason to stop what is termed ‘universal’ lunch programming was to prevent an “addiction” to the service.

Karin Rajnicek, a school board member, said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled.” Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said there could be a “slow addiction” to the service.

Left unstated at the meeting was any mention if all this “addiction” will lead to more corporate welfare for the conservative business owners in the school district. (Ring…Ring….Hello….Pot calling Kettle.)

The out-and-out meanness and coarseness of the board action are most obvious.

The COVID pandemic is running wild and it does not take very long to see how the economic impact of the virus has made money tighter for many families. There continues to be a real need for some families to have food assistance to make it through this tragic time in our state and nation.

In addition, we are aware that often kids can be very callous with remarks aimed at those who are somehow ‘different’ or apart from the whole. By not having some kids, who can pay their way with school lunches, looking down on those who need assistance is one less stressful event in our schools.

The rank move by the board on June 9th can be chalked up to yet another form of political purity. Conservative politics is fine and dandy until it starts to damage those who are most vulnerable in our society. I place young students, who through no fault of their own, grow up in homes with limited means as being among the vulnerable.

It is then most appropriate that the rest of us find a way to best educate and uplift our youth. That was being done through the free meals program.

Conservative Republicans in Waukesha have proven in both word and deed that being kind, supportive, and humane is not a condition that all our state school boards have in equal measure. The universal way of allowing kids, who have fewer means, to have a school lunch with no guilt or bad feelings is the best route to proceed with this school year.

The only “spoiling” that occurs is with too many state residents putting up with the utter disdain conservatives continue to have for the rest of the state. Allowing them to think their behavior–as demonstrated with this issue–is in any way acceptable–only adds to the problem.

And so it goes.

WI Newspaper Uncovered Deaths Of Migrant Workers, Chicago Tribune Faces Hedge Fund Owner

This is one of those days when the news, and news of the ones who provide that information make for a timely, but sad, post.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel undertook an investigation into the deaths of migrant workers in Northern Wisconsin from COVID. They discovered that 1 in 14 migrant workers at a green bean plant died of COVID. The investigation also shows that the deaths occurred after company officials along with government regulators failed to take critical measures to protect employees during a pandemic.

Before I go forward with the story about the migrants I want it noted that a newspaper did the investigation. It underscores another reason why that profession matters. Very much.

The Journal Sentinel investigation shows that neither Seneca Foods nor local health officials tested all workers—even those living in company barracks — or interviewed them to do contact tracing. That is simply appalling, given the ferocity of the virus and the science behind both testing and tracing. As if that all is not enough it was also reported that the company did not monitor for obvious symptoms or isolate all those who became ill.

To top off the indefensible actions of one of America’s largest packaged vegetable companies, which produces Green Valley and Libby’s brand green beans it was reported that many of the affected workers were in their 60s or 70s.

That newspaper investigation demonstrates why reporters and journalists in that profession matter so much to our society. Information and background that we otherwise would not be aware of, and insight into the workings of a large corporation during a pandemic.

But as that news was being published in Wisconsin there was another news story taking place across the Illinois border.

Tribune Publishing, owner of some of the biggest metropolitan newspapers in the United States, including the famed Chicago Tribune, is poised to be acquired by a hedge fund with a reputation for slashing costs and cutting jobs after the company’s shareholders voted to approve the deal.

That news is simply awful.

Hedge funds are akin to those who once sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. It also should come as no shock Alden has done great harm to other papers around the nation. Chopped them up after purchasing for the all-consuming zeal to make money.

But there is also a more fundamental issue to consider with the amassing of properties in large media companies. When papers are owned in such a fashion opposing views are marginalized and Op-Ed pages are watered down.

The Tribune newsroom has already shrunk roughly 30% since November 2018, from about 165 journalists in the union to 118 presently. Those are not just jobs, but news reporters who head around neighborhoods to gather the stories which inform readers.

Today we can see why newspapers matter. And also why we need to be very concerned about their future health.

Madison Food Desert Finding Hope

I love to see those with a dream succeed with their efforts. And when Kaba Bah and Jerreh Kujab open their grocery store on Madison’s East Side it will also make for a huge difference for a community that is now termed a food desert.

The two men both attended the same high school as boys in Gambia before immigrating to Madison in 1998. The powerful and uplifting story of those who come to America and with a determined spirit plot a course and follow it is one that never gets old. Many will benefit from having a market within walking distance.

“Most of the folks that live in the neighborhood are low income,” Kujabi said. “Transportation is a challenge. So they’re really excited about having a grocery store in the neighborhood they can walk to and not have to drive.”

Earlier this year I posted my confidence that the funding sources would be forthcoming for Bah and Kujabi so as to transform this location into something that will well define that neighborhood. I also know that those who love to cook using products not easily located elsewhere in the city will also be shopping in this market. (Like this home will be doing.)

I champion this business venture because it is another minority start-up getting off the ground. This is precisely the need of the neighborhood but also the story the city should embrace and advance. It will serve as another example of how smart energized work pays off, and can be as noted by these two businessmen, as inspirational to others.

James and I are looking forward to having the chance to browse their products and cook with them. I think having cooking events and sharing recipes from West Africa would be a great way to bring in customers and share foods and culture, alike. Food is a fantastic way to bridge cultures and traditions and allow folks to know one another. This store will be a win-win for all!

And so it goes.

Blighted Site In Madison To Become Future Grocery Store

I was delighted to read in the Wisconsin State Journal that a new small grocery is seeking to become established on the East Side. I am even more pleased that the site of the market will replace Visions, a business that was a constant source of embarrassment and sexism, and in the past years of the strip club’s existence, a growing source of crime. I had urged the city to do everything legally possible to make the blight go away.

Now there is every reason to have faith that a new legitimate business will soon grow on that parcel of land.

For more than two years, friends and business partners Kaba Bah and Jerreh Kujabi have shared a vision of offering affordable, culturally relevant groceries on Madison’s East Side, particularly for West African immigrants like themselves.

There is a need for a grocery of this type in that neighborhood, but as James said upon reading the news story, “This will be a great place to find some interesting ingredients.” Cooks and lovers of food options, other than that found at large grocery stores in the city, will respond favorably to the hard work of these two men,

Over the years I had called upon the ALRC to find their spine and use it to shutter this business. I applauded former Madison City Council member David Ahrens for  not mincing words when correctly describing it as a “blight on the neighborhood and a hub of prostitution, drug selling, binge drinking, and violence.”

I am confident that the funding sources will be forthcoming for Bah and Kujabi so to transform this location into something that will well define that neighborhood and draw folks, such as those from this home, to their grocery.

The entrepreneurs, who immigrated from Gambia more than 20 years ago, are seeking $350,000 in city funding to help finance a $1.3 million proposal.

The other reason I champion this business venture is to see another minority start-up get off the ground. This is precisely the need of the neighborhood but also the story the city should embrace and advance. It will serve as another example of how smart energized work pays off and can be as noted by Bah, as inspirational to others.

As Madison becomes more diverse, the racial wealth gap in the community persists, Bah said, exacerbated by disparities in minority ownership of assets and investments. He said he hopes the grocery store could set a model for other aspiring entrepreneurs of color and “inspire them to also take similar paths.”

James and I are looking forward to having the chance to browse their products and cook with them. I think having cooking events and sharing recipes from West Africa would be a great way to bring in customers and share foods and culture, alike.

And so it goes.

Pandemic Thanksgiving With Ina Garten

Each household around the nation must adapt to the public health requirements as we confront an out-of-control pandemic. That means for the upcoming holidays we need to abide by strict social distancing. That is not a fun idea no matter how it is presented, but a most prudent one for the larger good.

As I read the newspaper this morning and took in all the news about caseloads and local mandates it was rather dismal. But then the smiling face of the Barefoot Contessa and her story of limitations for Thanksgiving made me aware, again, how much we are all in this together.

The Contessa’s quarantine is not our quarantine. Her kitchen is not our kitchen. But this year, her Thanksgiving is pretty much our Thanksgiving: tiny and improvised, without the guardrails of tradition we usually rely on for a holiday dinner.

She adapted to the pandemic energetically, opening her freezer and pantry (via pictures on Instagram) and asking, “Does anyone have something they don’t know what to do with?” She has gained 1 million followers since March.

It was the first time she had invited regular contact with her fans, and she learned a lot. No one was actually using dried beans. Sourdough was over quickly. A recipe for Overnight Mac and Cheese crashed her website.

When she and Jeffrey went into lockdown in March, the work did not stop. In addition to becoming her own social media manager, she has taken over production of her new show, “The Best of Barefoot Comfort,” acting as her own hair and makeup team, camerawoman, director, audio tech and food stylist.

Normally, her work kitchen operates — with two full-time assistants — like a never-ending assembly line, churning out three different recipes at a time.

One recipe is in the early stages, on which she is sharpening the flavors and coaxing the textures until they fit the ideal in her head. (This is why her profiterole and Boston cream pie recipes took years to perfect: three different components — custard, chocolate, cake — that have to work individually and together.) Another is in early testing, where she hands her version to an assistant with home-cooking skills, watches closely to see what mistakes are made and rewrites accordingly. A third is in the last stage, being tested by a professional and styled for photography. Overall, several people who have worked with her said, each recipe is tested 10 to 12 times before publication.

Madison’s The Old Fashioned Cares About Customers


Over the past weeks, we have all read news stories about businesses seeking to open their door, turn on the lights, and welcome back customers. We all want businesses to reopen. We all want employees to go back to work. We all want this pandemic to be over. But we know we can not just wish it away. We need to be pragmatic and mindful of doing the things required of us so as not to increase infections and go back to where we were earlier this year.

With that in mind, I want to give a sincere shout-out to The Old-Fashioned in Madison who stated on the local news Tuesday they were not going to open at this time as it simply was not a safe thing to do. They spoke of their loyal base of support and how it was those people they did not think could be served safely at this time. If you heard a loud hand-clap last night that was me upon hearing this news. I deeply respect this type of decision.

We all have had those yearnings over the past months as we stayed at home. Readers can identify with their favorite cheeseburger or pizza cravings having been put on hold. For me, the number one food desire is The Old-Fashioned Sunday Special. This remains my favorite meal in the city. Picture it. A large platter with a huge portion of chicken, mounded mashed potatoes, root vegetables, dressing made with fruit, and gravy galore. Top it off with a seat that looks out onto the statehouse, or better yet a table on the sidewalk with the breeze to add to the awesome meal. Every Sunday at about dinner time since this crisis hit I think of that meal. I have said repeatedly I cannot wait until we can again enjoy it. (And we will.)

Last evening the proprietor of The Old Fashioned stated that even though they were allowed to open they didn’t feel their customer base, their loyal customer base, was prepared to come back. The proprietor said they did not think they have the ability at this time to make it safe for those who would come inside for a meal. My respect for this business increased many times over last night.

I applaud those who place their customers ahead of the cash register. I applaud those who place science, data, and medical driven decision-making ahead of just a mad rush to open their businesses. It is these types of businesses who look out for me who will earn not only my respect but my full-throated support both with my wallet and through word of mouth–and of course my blog.

I have a deep respect for those who understand why we needed to starve the virus and limit its ability to travel. And understand the need to be forward-thinking by continuing to making wise choices.