madison happenings

Recent adventures:

Nat comes to visit

For her last Spring Break (graduating in less than a month! Wha??), Nat flew up here to spend the week with me. First thing’s first: beer and cheese curds.

Fortunately, unlike every other year in Wisconsin’s history, early March was not a frozen tundra. We got to walk all around town without freezing our faces off. Or rather, we would mosey around until we found a bakery, stop for a pastry, keep walking, stop for another, keep walking, convince ourselves we deserved a third since we were walking so much… Probably didn’t cancel out.

As you can see, almost painfully good.

World Cheese Championship

This year, the world competition for best cheeses was held right here in Madison. And, I work in a cheese shop, so…had to go. An entire meal of cheese. (Paid for that later.) Fantastic selection, mostly from North America, Europe, and Oceania. My only complaint is not having the time to slow down and think about each cheese, instead being herded like cattle sheep goats (take your pick at a milk type — cheesemonger pun, couldn’t resist) through the lines while shoving world-class cheese down the hatch.

In the end, European cheeses won out (sorry WI) — second and third places were given to Swiss-style cheeses from Switzerland and the blue ribbon winner was a Gouda from the Netherlands. The winners were decided by esteemed judges hand-picked from all over the globe. Some of them came into the shop to chat with us a few days leading up to the competition. It was fascinating to pick their brains about cheese. (Can you imagine devoting your life to a bacteria process? Even working in a cheese shop, I can’t wrap my brain around it.) The judges were very serious, eating/smelling/observing/feeling the cheeses, some taking up to five minutes to eat one bite of a cheese (unlike the rest of us cattle). Here’s a shot of the action:

I like the guy in the red tie.

So, lots of food happenings. Just the way I like it. Next weekend starts the Madison farmers market, only the largest in the country. *ahem* I’m sure plenty of recipes will soon follow.

Next up, cardamom buns. Stay tuned.




Happy Birthday to me. Quarter of a century.

stand-by microwave chocolate cake, with candle

I make “birthday resolutions” kind of like most people make New Year’s ones. I feel this is necessary because sometimes people wish me a happy birthday with something like “Hope you’re one year the wiser!” Erm…. sometimes I am? Consequently, I feel that by holding myself to a resolution or two birthday-to-birthday it kind of keeps me on “track” with myself. That can’t be a bad thing, right?

Anyway, one of them to is to get back on this thing. So, stay tuned for the continuation of this foodie diary. I’m off to eat cake.



to Chicago!

One of the perks of being up here in Madison is being within sane driving distance of Chicago. I used to think driving more than a half hour made any destination unworthy, but something about heading towards those big buildings and lake shores makes it all worth it. I would probably make the drive if only to get Intelligentsia coffee and ride the L, call me a nerd all you want. Who knew you could be in love with a public transit system?

This time my excuse to head down to Chi-town was a one-day culinary school experience at The French Pastry School, a super-fancy pastry school right next to the *ahem* Willis Tower downtown. A friend generously gave me a gift certificate for the program a few weeks back and I have been counting down. It was my first formal culinary experience and I’m still confused as to how I thought there was a possibility to walk away not liking it:

school (love) + cooking = obvious fit

Needless to say, I had a great day. We made dark chocolates filled with caramel ganache (hard!) and a roasted pineapple in a vanilla butter reduction, topped with mango sorbet, reconstituted basil seeds, pecan espresso tuiles, and a honey lemon madeleine on the side. Whew.

School aside, my favorite moments visiting Chicago occurred in the surrounding neighborhoods rather than downtown. I have particularly fallen in love with the Lincoln Park/Wicker Park/Lakeview area. Duhh. Who hasn’t. This past trip I got to stay with my cousin, Kara, in Wicker Park. She lives above a handmade craft/vintage clothing store, right on a main drag — café next door? Check. Cute bay window to people-watch below? Check. Nice digs. She works at a restaurant downtown, Sable, and I was lucky enough to get in last-minute on a busy weekend night. Gotta love that family discount connection. I had the veggie sliders and corn crème brûlée. Wow. Good cocktails don’t hurt either.

I also managed to hit, once again, my favorite café in town, Floriole, with my good friend, Matt. I read about Floriole, I think, awhile back in one of the many food blogs I follow, Lottie + Doof. It’s in the Lincoln Park-ish neighborhood, near DePaul University. If you ever have a chance to go, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been for coffee, breakfast, and now lunch. Hopefully Matt and I can continue the tradition of visiting there each time I’m in town. (Any takers?)

I made it to almost all of the places on my ever-extending list. Even tracked down Ann Sather, a place Rachael Ray visited for marscarpone-stuffed, batter-dipped, fried french toast sandwich thing. I couldn’t go that far, but you can see even their regular cinnamon rolls are monsters — look at them compared to my measly fork!

There was one place I was unable to cross off my list, however: I have tried three separate times, without success, to sink my teeth into some hot churros from Rick Bayless‘s Xoco. It will be conquered, though. Don’t you worry about that.

Recipes to follow soon!


delays and changes

Have I really been absent since March?…Yes, yes I have.

Much has happened! Like the “about” section of this blog explains, I did not end up somewhere warm as I had hoped/promised, dear readers — presently residing in Madison, WI. Love the town, great people, nervous about the up-coming blizzard season that has been “predicted.” I moved here for a job that didn’t last. I could obsess over that awhile if I wanted, but c’est la vie. So it didn’t work out, oh well. As my new favorite quote says:

“Failure is only the opportunity to start again, this time more intelligently” – Henry Ford

SO, I’m starting again, hopefully more intelligently (?). The *tentative* plan is: stay in Madison, work a couple different food-related jobs (food? huh? that doesn’t sound like me at all), get a real strategy together, see what happens in Fall 2012. (read: move? culinary school? warmth? yes)

More recipes/pictures to follow soon. Sorry for the gap in updates, I’m back in the saddle now.



I will usually try to have my posts revolve around food. The last thing you need to spend your time on is trudging through yet another rant by someone who needs to get their opinions and thoughts out there.

However, for this one, you will have to suck it up. Due to today’s (possible) festivities, I thought an article I wrote for the Indiana University (IU) Office of Communications is appropriate. For those of you who don’t know, I am interning this semester as a writer for, basically, the “PR hub” of IU. I write various health-related articles: I have interviewed professors about their research, written about up-coming IU studies, attended health events, etc. I have recently been commissioned to write a health blog. My first little number is what I want to share with you now.

It’s a bit last-minute to post this, I know, but here it is anyway.

I hope you spend the day in a way that makes YOU happy :)


welcome, welcome!

Fellow foodies! Welcome to allisoncooks. Tune in for updates on cooking, enjoying your kitchen, and living vicariously through me in Madison, WI.