Bike the Barns 2016 & book excerpt

Bonus post roundup! Read on below for an account of Bike the Barns 2016, and head over to Recollection Wisconsin for an excerpt - with additional historical images from their extensive collection - from our book Madison Food: "Carson Gulley, Madison's first celebrity chef."

Bike the Barns, the annual fundraising ride for FairShare CSA Coalition, happened on September 18. It's always a good time, with tasty food, gorgeous sights, and good music and company. We rode the short route - thankfully - since the westerly direction meant some stupid big hills. (Bicyclists know that "driftless" is code for "so many hills you might as well just die.")

Big downhill

The morning stop at the Farley Center for Peace, Justice & Sustainability was fascinating. We got a quick tour of some of the growing areas, where multicultural collaboration between farmers is the norm. There's a food pantry garden, a nature preserve, and even green burials! ...which we'd've needed if we'd done the long route.

At Farley Center

Plus, farmers get free seeds for cover crops like buckwheat, which cut down on weeds and enrich the soil between plantings.

Zinnias at Farley Center

Lunch was tacos by Tex Tubbs and an army of awesome volunteers, at Crossroads Community Farm.

Food Fight lunch line

Good fuel for the last leg of the ride.


Nice tunes too!

Lunch band

At the afterparty we were treated to more good eats - Nichole liked the chilled cauliflower soup with cumin and gooseberries (!) and JM was a big fan of Dough Baby's sprinkle donuts. Oliver's made a kick-butt fried green tomato, too.

After party snacks

The ride raises dough for Partner Shares, which makes CSA shares available to limited-income households. This year Bike the Barns raised $42,416.51 towards that cause. Good job, good times.

Mess Night at the Museum: MRE Challenge

Nichole here. "You get what you get." With that line in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writeup promoting the Wisconsin Veterans Museum's quarterly "Mess Night," I was hooked.

I think I'd heard about the previous dinners, but German-Americans in WWI and Great Lakes history didn't enlist my attention quite as fast as the opportunity to eat rations. Or at least, see what the heck a couple good Madison chefs would bring to the table when given the raw ingredients of MREs - "Meal, Ready to Eat." AKA Meals Rejected by Everyone, or worse.

Surprise! This is what they came up with. Matt Pace used a chicken fajita meal (maybe like this one), plus enough fresh food to almost hide that fact, to make a chicken enchilada. He might have used the tortilla from an MRE, because this one had a gummy texture. He said he stewed the chicken in a pepper sauce, which did give it a nice flavor and a beef-like appearance. The whole deal was topped with more chili sauce, crema, cheese, and herb salad of cliantro, radish and onion.

Chicken fajita MRE = chicken enchiladas

Second course was Michael Pruett's cheese tortellini. Or rather, 2 noodles from an MRE, washed clean of their own sauce, and surrounded by carrot puree, roasted carrots, herbs, and duck. Duck! Way to stretch rations with some foraging.

Cheese tortellini MRE = duck, carrot puree, & 2 noodles

Along with the food, there was delightful conversation and an edifying presentation from museum staff and a National Guardsman who gave us eaters some helpful tips for the MREs we got to take home. Plus some recipes (cherry drink powder + cheese + cookies = cheesecake) and valuable life advice ("No one likes a rat-f*cker").


So I opened my Beef Patty, Jalapeno Pepper Jack (Menu 19) MRE at the museum, then packed it all back in for an opportune mealtime.

MRE contents

It came soon enough. Here's the entree and heater leaning on "a rock or something" (those are the precise directions) while it warms up.

Put it on a rock or something

They were right, you get bored and eat dessert first. This was a cherry blueberry cobbler. I read on the packet that there were shortbread cookies inside and didn't believe it. Didn't really see them in there, either. But the flavor wasn't bad. (There was also a chocolate oatmeal cookie, but I still haven't opened it. I have a few years yet.)

Also drank the lemonade mix while waiting, which was a lot like Crystal Light. Wished for coffee, then sucked it up and gave thanks I was indoors, with plumbing nearby, and probably wouldn't need the moist towelette and TP provided. Not that these aren't also called, for good reason (spoiler alert), Meals Refusing to Exit.


I prepped my snack bread (better than lembas) with bacon cheese spread, Heinz yellow mustard, and ketchup, using the main pouch as a placemat/meal tray. After observing 15 minutes of hissing and popping from the heating element, it was time to squeeze the jalapeno pepper jack beef flavored patty out of its pouch.

Snack breadCheez
SpreadablesSandwich time

It was food.

I'd go to another Mess Night at the Museum. (The next one is in October, with authors Doug Bradley and Craig Werner talking about their book We Gotta Get Out of This Place.) The presentation was great, the idea was interesting, and it felt good to this Army brat to be around a table sharing a meal like this. Next time I might dress up a little more.


In a word: Fore! out of Five!

The specs: #01017  
2702 Shopko Dr., 53704
Details at Yelp

Latest Plata's news and reviews

Allen ate the California wrap.
JM ate the nachos.
Liz ate the chicken bacon guacamole sandwich.
Nichole ate the beef and bleu cheese salad.
The bill was $60ish, or $15/person, plus tip.
Allen, JM, Liz and Nichole all gave Plata's a B (see our grading rubric).

We had liked Plata's when it was called Bridges, but the menu has moved decidedly downscale.  It is closer now to nicer bar food and much less likely to be a place that you'd cut your finger open with a bread knife (like JM did once at Bridges).


Our Saturday lunch seemed to hit the sweet spot between morning and afternoon tee times, which meant a lot of waiting and not a lot of table service, sadly.  The food here was uniformly decent -- not a lot of pizzazz, but everything was fresh and good, even if much of it had fallen off the back of the Sysco truck.

Chicken bacon guacamole sandwich

JM's nachos were a good balance of toppings to chips, which is actually pretty hard to get right.  It was also an appropriate lunch size portion: same.  Liz's chix bacon sammy was good but the bun, not toasted, became quite soggy by the end.  The California wrap was fine, though the guac in both the wrap and the nachos lacked character. Nichole's salad was good, with a nicely prepared hard boiled egg.

Beef and bleu cheese salad

The atmos here has fallen from country club to sports bar with commensurate price declines.  It was nice to go on a bright sunny day, but we're not golfers, and Dexter's is too close to need a sports bar like this. These days, it's not a hard pass, but it is a pass.

California wrap


Madison Food coverOur book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is out. More about it here. Read an excerpt on Carson Gulley and some bonus bits on Porchlight, Argus, Sunshine Supper, and Babcock.


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