We woke early the following day and headed to Door County Coffee and Tea Company (www.doorcountycoffee.com) in Sturgeon Bay—or close to Sturgeon Bay. Door County Coffee and Tea Company is located on the left side of Highway 42 when you’re heading north. And if you don’t know it’s there, you may drive past it—like we did the first few times we visited Door County.
As you walk through the doorway, the first thing you will encounter are all the delicious aromas of freshly roasted coffee, freshly brewed coffee, freshly made pastries, cookies and muffins. The store is divided into retail—coffee beans and tea, the other area serves as the coffee shop where one can order breakfast—or purchase pastries to take on the road—if you’re in a hurry. We recommend you linger awhile, sit back, order breakfast and enjoy the smells. One of our favorites is the baked egg dishes. The recipes are from a local church cookbook and are reminiscent of the egg dishes our grandmothers used to make. I ordered the Baked egg with Cheese and Veggies and Mike ordered the Strata and an order of hash browns to share. The food arrived at our table hot and delicious.
We ate our breakfast slowly and planned our day. While we were discussing our next adventure we met with Vicki Wilson the President and Founder of Door County Coffee and Tea Company. She took us on a brief tour of the roasting facility and told us about how she goes about choosing coffee beans and how they’re roasted. She introduced us to Lou Ann Deprez the roastmaster and when I asked Lou Ann if one should keep coffee in the freezer to maintain its freshness, she told me that the best way to have fresh coffee is to buy only enough for one week. Drink it all, then buy some more.
During breakfast we decided that our next Door County adventure would be was trail biking through Newport State Park (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/newport/) Newport Park is located northeast of Ellison Bay off of highway 42.We rented trail bikes from Nor Door Sports & Cyclery in Fish Creek (www.nordoorsports.com) where owner Brian “Stretch” Merkel outfitted us with two lovely trail bikes. We drove to Newport State Park which is one of Wisconsin’s most pristine parks. Development of the forest has been kept to a minimum and one will only find beauty, peace and nature in the park. There are more than 30 miles of hiking trails, some of which are shared by bikes. The trails are marked—sort of—and it is advised that bikers do not ride on those trails marked for hikers only
Trail biking is different than other types of biking. The trail was rugged, strewn with large tree roots, or sand. Mike and I are accustomed to biking on the trails in and around Madison where the land is relatively flat and smooth. Not so in Newport Park where we found the trails more challenging and hilly. We also found the scenery to be breathtaking. We stopped along the way to enjoy some beautiful views of Lake Michigan and to get our bearings.
We rode the bikes for about an hour and reluctantly decided it was time to head back. Other obligations were beckoning. Sadly, the brief trip to Door County ended all too soon. We have many other stories to tell…but these will have to do for now.
Ah, summer in Wisconsin—with all the fun-filled activities one can encounter, it’s hard to make a decision between swimming in the lake, kayaking, hiking, or even sitting around the campfire snacking on s’mores. This year, Mike and I decided we would try some new activities and revisit some long-forgotten ones.
Unlike last summer, the weather this year has been beautiful—not too hot or humid, not too wet or dry. One bright July day, we packed our car and headed for Door County, Wisconsin’s premier vacation destination. We had two goals for our mid-week getaway: 1) to pick cherries, like we did when we were children, and 2) to try something we had never done before. We knew how to do the first, but had no idea of what the second would be. We drove to Sturgeon Bay and then to Egg Harbor where we checked into the Shallows Resort (www.shallows.com) for our brief 2 day stay.
Owners Bob and Liz Dickson have created a family-friendly environment where little kids are free to enjoy the grounds as much as the adults. Although the resort is located on the shores of the Green Bay, there is a swimming pool, playground, and bikes available to guests. Our room was located on the second floor with a beautiful view of the bay where we watched the beautiful sunsets every night.
The first activity on our list was to pick cherries—something we had not done wince we were children. We went to Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market (http://www.orchardcountry.com/) outside of Fish Creek and wondered if we would have to climb ladders in order to pick the tart Montmorency cherries. Mike and I told each other stories of picking cherries with our grandparents, aunts and uncles. The ladders were somewhat scary when we were kids and we were relieved to learn that over the years, the Montmorency trees have transformed from the tall cherry trees to the hybrid, much shorter trees whose cherries are much easier to pick. Typically the cherries are harvested by machines that shake the trees, but enthusiasts can also get a pail and pick—if they prefer.
The cherries were bright, beautiful spheres hanging heavily from the low branches. As children, we remember picking until the cherry juice was running down our arms (and a little on our chins), but this time, we picked quickly and experienced only a slight stickiness on our hands. In an hours time, we had picked 20 pounds of cherries and immediately decided we would make cherry bounce when we got home along with a few cherry pies.
Cherry bounce is a wonderful concoction made with 1 pound of tart cherries, 1 cup of sugar and 1 quart of brandy. Mix the whole thing together, place in a jar, and store in a dark closet until Christmas. Because both Mike and my family are originally from the Door County region, cherry bounce was a Christmas staple and we hadn’t sampled the cordial in a long time.
After we picked cherries, we decided that we would do something that we had never done before—rent segways from Seaquist Segway in Sister Bay (www.seaquistsegway.com). At first, I was a bit scared—the segway seemed to have a life of its own, but owner Steve Seaquist was a master not only in his ability to ride the, um, vehicle, but also in teaching others to ride it. Segways are computerized devices that move based on the rider’s movements.
If you lean forward, the segway moves forward; if you lean back on your heels, the segway moves backward. If you turn to the right, the segway moves to the right. It’s really a marvelous little machine, but it does take some practice to make it do what you think you’re telling it to do. Seaquist explained that the segway really is telling you what’s going on in your head. If you’re hesitant, the segway will make little bouncing movements—indicating that you are putting a little weight on your heels, overcompensating, and then leaning forward. The segway, in essence is a measurement of ‘monkey mind.’
Seaquist had complete control over his segway and moved as if it was an extension of his body/mind. In a short time, he had the 8 people who had signed up for the tour completely relaxed. He then took us on an hour-long ride through the forest that lined Lake Michigan near Sister Bay. We moved smoothly over the rough path, skirting trees and climbing hills (remembering not to lean back on the climb). We effortlessly glided over sandy patches on the trail and even downhill wasn’t too scary, as long as you kept your hands firmly on the brakes.
Day 2 of our Door County Adventure will be posted tomorrow.
Author Gustave Flaubert once said that Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the ocean were God’s three greatest creations. Having seen the play and played in the sea, we dropped into Madison Opera’s recent production of Mozart’s masterwork to see if the author of Madame Bovary was accurate on all counts.
It would seem that Flaubert knew a bit what he was talking about, but he failed to comment on how funny Don Giovanni can be. One would think the tale of the world’s greatest lover ultimately being dragged to hell for repeatedly violating most if not all of the Seven Deadly Sins would not set off so much as a wry chortle. But Mozart apparently knew that there is always a little light within the darkness, order amid the chaos, and more than a few knee-slappers threading the tale of rape, murder and anything but a bid for redemption.
Add to that a food fight, more than one confetti snowstorm, spooky dry-ice clouds billowing from an open tomb and a title character so ripped that he may simply have been augmenting his day job with Chippendale’s and you have a pretty lively production of what is considered one of the world’s ten greatest operas.
Central to the humor is the role of Leporello (baritone Matt Boehler), Don Giovanni’s wiley servant cast in the same mold as many of Shakepeare’s servants, henchmen and lackeys. It’s through Leporello that we have an objective eye as audience members, a tempered insight into the doings both Don Giovanni (baritone Kelly Markgraf) and the nobles and commoners victimized by his exploits.
Leporello interprets both the humor and horror in the opera’s unfolding, ultimately burying his face in a delicious-looking cake at the opera’s climax. I would want to play Leporello if I could sing. And if I could understand and rhythmically repeat lengthy passages in Italian.
As for Madison Opera’s production, both cast and crew did an outstanding job bringing the tale to life. Dueling sopranos Elizabeth Caballero (Donna Anna), Caitlyn Lynch (Donna Elvira) and Angela Mannino (Zerlina) all did fine jobs in their respective roles, more than once creating a chorus of angelic voices to complement the play’s dark doings. Guest conductor Joseph Mechavich marshaled the talents of Madison Symphony Orchestra members to good effect, and Mozart’s memorable melodies were beautifully interpreted.
In fact, there are only two complaints. The scenic design, courtesy of the Virginia Opera, was functional, but not especially fanciful and did not live up the scenery from past Madison Opera productions. However, lighting designer Ben Zamora’s subtle shadings of the play’s interesting abstract backdrop brought both intrigue and pathos to the proceedings.
As to the final appearance of Il Comendatore (Nathan Stark), who rose from the dead to drag Don Giovanni to his ultimate demise, there certainly are images more chilling than an old man in a nightshirt.
But those are minor points in a production that otherwise pleases on all levels. Madison Opera once again deserves kudos for its interpretation.
If food is an art form, and to many it most surely is, then there was wide and impressive array of “canvases” on display Sunday at Madison’s Concourse Hotel for the second annual Flavors of Madison. Sponsored by Madison Originals, an association of the city’s locally owned and operated eateries, the evening event offered foods of all types prepared by some of the city’s best kitchens.
We ate our way through the hotel’s Grand Ballroom for nearly 90 minutes sampling salads, enjoying enchiladas, dining on desserts and grabbing all gustatory experiences in between. Our goal, like that of other visitors, was to take our “wooden nickel” token and drop it in the box of what we enjoyed most from the 27 restaurants represented in the show.
Our only problem? We only had one token apiece, and there were so many good options from which to choose.
We were pleased by Chef David Heide’s jambalaya from Liliana’s, the Fitchburg Cajun restaurant named for Heide’s young daughter, who also was in attendance. Nueske’s bacon joined with sausage, rice and all those other good ingredients for a semi-spicy version of the Cajun classic.
A bratwurst kabob and Reuben rollup demonstrated how clever the Essen Haus could be with standard German ingredients and a little creative thinking.
Clam chowder was once again on the menu from Captain Bill’s, a creamy smooth delight that we well remember from last year. Sister restaurants The Mariner’s Inn and Nau-Ti-Gal were also on hand with such a wide selection that a stop at those three stations alone could have constituted an entire meal.
The meat lovers in us thoroughly enjoyed the ribs with homemade bourbon sauce and pot roast from Bonfyre American Grille. We bellied up for the pulled pork sliders topped with seasoned chopped cabbage from Hawk’s Bar & Grill. And we simply couldn’t pass up the Original Gritty Burger served on a pretzel roll from The Nitty Gritty.
Our inner health nut appreciated the two different salads from Fit Fresh Cuisine and we enjoyed the culinary creativity of the vanilla bean and vodka-cured salmon served on a bed of mixed greens from Dayton Street Grille. The prevalence of greens from the two restaurants in what seemed to be a meat-heavy menu provided a delightful contrast to the evening’s dining experience.
There were many others, most of which met and exceeded our expectations. But we each only could make one choice, and after much deliberation cast our coins.
When our evenings call for pizza, we generally opt for a trip Roman Candle in Middleton, but for all our visits over the years we’ve failed to sample their full menu. The restaurant’s red peppers soup, which we were introduced to last night, received a big thumb’s up for its savory flavors and creamy texture. It also received one of our two coins.
For sheer creativity and satisfaction, however, we had to cast our other coin for the Daisy Café & Cupcakery’s roasted vegetable enchilada. The serving, dressed with romatillo-avocado salsa and pico de gallo with a goat cheese sauce, was both rich and subtle (and it didn’t hurt that the restaurant brought along mini-versions of six of its cupcakes for dessert.)
By then our food comas began to take hold and it was time to leave. But we’re happy to report that The Flavors of Madison was once again a success and we salute all the foodies who participated on both sides of the serving tables.
When an orchestra receives a more enthusiastic audience response that its internationally known guest soloist, that response says something not only about audience expectations, but also the orchestra’s ability to fulfill them. When the group is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, such a response no longer comes as any surprise.
WCO, under the baton of Maestro Andrew Sewell, closed is season Friday at the Capitol Theater in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts with a rich program that lived up to the series name of Masterworks. The two-hour concert was bookended by Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 in G minor (La Poule) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major. Sandwiched in between were the Joseph Cantaloube’s Chants d’Auvergne and a pair of Mozart arias masterfully performed without amplification by soprano Susannah Phillips.
Phillips’ soaring voice and delicate phrasing left none in the audience wondering why she had just completed her fifth consecutive season with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Yet her performances — which included Cantaloube’s haunting, heartbreaking “”Bailero”, the famous “Non di mir” aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and the composer’s rarely heard “Bella mia fiamma” – were greeted with respectful and appreciative applause.
The audience saved its cheers, applause and standing ovation for the Beethoven, which closed the evening.
That’s not to say the enthusiasm was not deserved. WCO and Sewell performed with their usual gusto, delivering the work and its familiar third movement “Scherzo: Allegro” with the precision and tempo required to bring the music to life. Sewell himself looked like he was getting more of a workout during that number that he did throughout the entire rest of the program.
But then the response may have been for more than just the Beethoven composition. Haydn received the same doses of energy and finesse, and Phillips’ performance was superb in its delivery. (At the close of the second Mozart aria, written for his hostess, soprano Josefa Dusek, who was jealous of the Donna Anna role in Don Giovanni for which she had been overlooked, Sewell accidently kicked over his music stand — a curious but effective way to signal his enthusiasm for Phillips’ performance.)
Instead, the ovation may have been for one of the best conceived and executed WCO concerts in this and many other seasons, and perhaps the season itself. Sewell has made himself and WCO a hard act to follow, but we’re confident they will once again rise to the occasion for the 2013-2014 Masterworks series.
Is success a matter of luck, the result of hard work or a combination of the two? What do we owe one another as human beings? And is it really so bad to forget your roots, at least until those roots rise up and entangle you in your past?
Those questions drive Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” Forward Theater Co.’s season finale that opened this weekend at The Playhouse in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts. In a relatively simple narrative layered with humor and despair, Forward and its stunning cast may have uncovered the crown jewel of the troupe’s brief four-year existence.
In the play, single mother Margie (said with a hard “g” and flawlessly performed by the Milwaukee Rep’s Laura Gordon) is dismissed from her low-paying job as a dollar store clerk in South Boston (“Southie” as the rough, lower-class neighborhood is better known.) Desperate for money to support herself and her disabled daughter, she visits Mike (Richard Ganoung), a former boyfriend and now a doctor at the advice of friends Dottie (American Players Theatre’s Susan Sweeney) and Jean (Madison Rep founding member Celia A. Klehr). All Margie wants is a job.
The pair joust verbally and Mike ends up reluctantly inviting Margie to his birthday party being thrown by his elegant African-American wife Kate (Milwaukee actor Malkia Stampley) at the couples’ stylish Chestnut Hill home. The day prior Mike calls Margie to say the party has been cancelled. Sure that she has simply been “disinvited,” Margie shows up anyway, the only guest at a party for three that takes a very nasty turn.
Despite the dour scenario, the play is rife with laughter as Margie and her friends verbally spar during several bingo games. Ganoung proves an able, if malevolent foil, but this show belongs to Gordon, Sweeney and Klehr. The working class trio banter and box in a no-holds-barred manner available only to those who have spent a long, hard life together. Director Jennifer Uphoff Gray coaxes award-winning performances from all three veteran actors throughout the two-hour show.
Dialect coach Annelise Dickinson and dialect consultant Jan Gist get credit for creating a flawless collection of Southie accents among the six-member cast, which also includes Whitney Derendinger as Margie’s former boss Stevie. Keith Pitts’ set design, which literally rises step by step from a trash-strewn alley to Margie’s small, battered kitchen to Mike and Kate’s elegant living room was as effective as the design was simple.
The characters in the play may or may not be good people, as the title asserts. But “Good People” makes for an evening of great performances and another impressive win for Forward Theater.
“Good People” runs on select dates through April 21.
Other than perhaps zombies, vampires are the current hot commodity when it comes to cultural icons. The romance, the danger, the less-than-subtle sexuality … now, if only they could dance.
W. Earle Smith, artistic director for Madison Ballet, is the latest in a number of impresarios nationwide to tackle the question. Madison Ballet’s production of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror novel opened at Overture Center for the Arts’ Capitol Theater this past weekend to enthusiastic audiences who came to see just how much life the undead could breath into classical dance. The answer is quite a lot.
Smith is not the first area dance master to bring Dracula’s story to the stage. Milwaukee Ballet’s Michael Pink produced his own version of the timeless tale a number of years ago and it’s now become part of the company’s revolving repertoire. What Smith’s version has that others lack, however, is a rock music score by local composer Michael Massey and a “steampunk” esthetic by set designer Jen Trieloff and costumer Karen Brown-Larimore. However, chances are that neither element adds as much as Smith probably thinks it does.
The production is at its best when the dancers are allowed to do their jobs, and there are some lovely balletic moments buried under the thundering synthesizer notes. Dancer Matthew Linzer plays an androgynous, almost serpentine seducer in the title role, his long hair and towering height making him a physical standout among the crowd of 10 male and 8 female dancers. The fiery Lucy Westenra (Marguerite Luksik) succumbs to the vampire’s charms, while the more chaste Mina Murray (Jennifer Tierney) does not. But then Mina is betrothed to Jonathan Harker (Brian Roethlisberger) who himself is almost, ahem, sucked in. Dracula, it seems, is an equal opportunity vampire.
Despite the helpful program notes, the narrative is difficult to follow unless you know the story well. We lost track during the 90-minute program’s first act until the appearance of Renfield (Jams Stevko), the asylum inmate who goes on to become Dracula’s minion. The pair dance a very engaging, even humorous pas de deux to one of the more lyrical moments in Massey’s largely derivative score. From a dance perspective, it was one of many such engaging moments.
The rock music may help make the event accessible for ballet novices, but it does little to enhance the show’s artistry. Massey himself leads a seven-person ensemble at the back of the stage, sounding like part of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra that had gone off on its own rail spur. It would have been better to dial back the growling guitars and try for a sound a little more etherial, or at least original to give the ballet its own distinct voice.
As for the steampunk esthetic – that fantastical view of the future through a Victorian lens – it does fit, but mostly because it applies to the same era in which the original novel takes place. With the exception of some ornate weaponry and the need for some of the characters to wear goggles on their heads, the costuming likely would have been about the same without the steampunk flavoring. Trieloff’s set is multi-tiered and nicely staged, but in the same way that “Phantom of the Opera” has become known as “The Chandelier Show” for the obviously dominant set piece, Madison Ballet’s production can be referred to as “The Gears and Girders Show.” Those who have seen it know what I am talking about.
During Friday’s premier performance there were a few awkward moments that probably would work themselves out during subsequent performance. Dracula, after being mortally wounded by one of the many ornate weapons (not sure that part was accurate but I will have to check my vampire lore) takes awfully long time to dance himself to death before Van Helsing (Jacob Ashley) places an oversized stake near the vampire’s heart. He never quite plunges it into Dracula’s chest, but apparently the mere suggestion that he could is enough to finish the job.
Taken in the spirit in which it was presented, “Dracula” is a lot of fun and good way for newbies to get their first taste of ballet. Smith, who sported a blood-red mohawk on opening night, has a little more work ahead of him, but no doubt the production will rise from the grave in future years.
So, what’s next? “Swan Lake and Zombies?” The mind reels at the possibilities.