Friday, August 20, 2010

Go ask Alice

Go ask Alice. About her gardening that is
By Sheryl Popp

Garden Tour 2011 spoiler alert: Next year, the gardens of Alice Iaquinta will be part of the Gardens of West Bend tour. But when I visited with her recently, the focus was really on what she had to say about herself and her yard. Generally speaking, people favor gardening interviews with me mostly in July or August. This year, many gardens are past their peak, although I haven't been anywhere that some vivid colors spots don't remain. So our chat in Alice's cozy backyard was most pleasant.

Alice made time for me on her last vacation day before returning to her teaching job at Moraine Park Technical College. There she teaches ethics, interpersonal communications and marriage and the family courses - a pretty full load. In 2006, Alice earned a masters of divinity degree from St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee. After that, she was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest through a movement that is gaining momentum in the church, despite the Vatican's official position. Part of her course curriculum for the degree was in philosophy and ethics, so that is why she was asked by MPTC to teach the course. "It's really perfect for me," said Alice. "But it is gut wrenching to teach ethics in today's world. I need my sanctuary here." Her career does create time conflicts in spring and fall, but more on that later.

Alice moved into her Villa Park area home in December of 2000. There were five crab trees and a blue spruce in the back yard, and a maple and purple plum in front. Some tiered garden plots had been constructed in the front of the home, between the house and driveway. "The grass was nice," said Alice, "but it was my goal to reduce it." That winter was pretty blizzard-intense, Alice recalled, and she spent a good deal of time dreaming of how she would like her space to be someday, and drawing sketches. Alice has always gardened, and inherited her love of growing things from her Italian grandmother, Dominica. "She was a wonder with her gardens," said Alice, "but flowers were secondary to vegetables. I think she would relax in the evening by watering her flowers, especially phlox. So my phlox garden is sort of a tribute to her. She taught us how to suck the nectar out of phlox, and she had an enormous snowball bush. We would pick the flowers and have snowball fights with them. My grandmother would still spade by hand, in her house dress, when she was 78." The first summer in her new home, Alice was determined to carry out her plans, convinced a woman could handle the workload. She began rototilling the first flowerbed on July 4, 2001, and is currently putting the finishing touches on the last one.

There have been some obstacles, One summer, Alice became ill after a huge load of mulch was delivered. A man and his son from her church appeared on her door step and moved the load to the rear of the home, so she could place it when she recovered. "One funny story was about a lot of trees," said Alice. "I shopped at Trees for Less to buy two to three foot trees, because they have a root ball I could carry. I drag everything home in my convertible. When the truck delivered them, I had all the holes dug, but the trees were all six to eight feet tall! The driver said the owner of the place was making me a gift of the bigger trees for the same price. I asked the driver if he could place them next to the holes, and he said they didn't do that. But, when he learned I was moving them by myself, he did place them for me. So I enlarged the holes, and watching me kick, pull and push those big root balls into them must be been pretty funny. But I'm proud of myself for it." Then there was the time when it all just become too overwhelming for Alice. I had asked how she managed to keep everything so nice with her teaching schedule. "I have learned I have to ask for some help," answered Alice. "That was hard for me. That summer I was ill, I was thinking about giving up the house because I was so worried about the work. I ran into Mary Steiner and her friend Kristine Brundl, and told them that. They just looked at each in perfect agreement, and then they came to my house several times and cleaned up the yard. They were wonderful. They truly turned me around."

In the back yard, there is the phlox garden, and one on the property line that is more of a cottage garden. Looking in that direction, Alice enjoys seeing the taller flowers, shrubs and trees abut the skyline. She has one flowerbed devoted to antique Buck roses. These roses grow from the root up, and are not grafted. "I needed something that didn't need to be covered," said Alice. They bloom at various times, providing consistent color. The backyard has both gazebo seating to one side and a cozy patio to the other side. Alice places a great deal of value on enjoying each spot as it peaks: the early spring sea of yellow digitalis (foxglove), a cloud of purple flowers on her redbud tree, a circle of parrot tulips in a front bed. Flowering shrubs in the front yard provide six weeks worth of aromatic delight, a double mock orange, then ruby weigela, and lastly Jedi viburnum. Alice's favorites are whatever is currently blooming, although because of her schedule, she doesn't have fall blooming flowers. "My goal now that the last bed is in," said Alice, "is just to maintain. I feel like I've done everything I set out to do, and proved that a woman can do a lot on her own, although I must say the rocks I move have gotten smaller over the years. But I created the ambiance I wanted to, and I feel like that's part of living a full life. I love to entertain here now, and the gardens give me the opportunity to replenish, refuel and nourish myself. Also to pray. It's easy to meditate when you're pulling weeds."

Alice's tip. I hate dividing hostas, so I really thought this was a good idea. Alice buys her hostas at end of season sales, and immediately divides them into pieces. Then the plants can grow and fill into their spaces. It also saves her a wad o' cash.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Allenton Lions Club hosts 28th annual jam-packed event
By Sheryl Popp

You might think that the Allenton Lions Club annual classic car and truck show / swap meet & flea market / pancake breakfast event might not garner top attendance when the first Saturday in July falls exactly on July 4. Well, then you and I, and even Gerald Schulz, event co-chairman, would be wrong. "We have a good size crowd every year," he said. "It doesn't seem to matter if it's the fourth." I sat down with Gerald to learn a bit more about the big bash. The Allenton Lions have 52 members. Those on various car show committees start planning at their February meeting. Gerald is on food detail, I learned, and is actually so busy that he only takes brief breaks to quickly tool around the event and check out the crowd and the fun. "I've been a member since 1996," he said. "I've been taking tickets and serving food at the show ever since."

Classic Cars
The car show dates back to the first year after the Allenton Lions Club formed. Event co-chair Al Luedtke remarked in a 2009 TV interview, that the charter members of the club just thought it sounded like a fun thing to do. Each year, he continued, a different car is featured at the show. In the early years, the feature car would be one belonging to a club member. Last year's featured cars were GTOs, and this year it's flat head Fords. That car becomes the symbol for the year's event advertising. Over 400 cars are expected to show up and show off. The Lions award dash plaques to the first 300 cars arriving at the event. All cars must be 25 years or more old. The show is held in Veterans Park in Allenton (at Hwys. 33 and 41), and admittance is only $2.00 for adults. Children under 12 enter free with an adult. Even last minute entrants will be accepted day of show. The fee is $10.00 per vehicle.

Pancakes Galore
Another popular component of the car show is the annual pancake breakfast. It's all you can eat, from 6:30am until 11am. Henneberry Pancakes of Hartford provides sausage and applesauce to accompany their flapjacks, and served over 1,400 folks last year. The fee is $6.00 a person. Other refreshments are available throughout the day, and provided by the Lions. Burgers, cheeseburgers, foot long hot dogs, fries, roasted corn on the cob, ice cream and popcorn are on the menu. Beer, I asked? "Yes, of course," laughed Gerald.

More activities!
I can't figure out how come my shopping ESP hasn't directed me to the car show, because each year there is flea market and swap meet. There are about 100-110 booth spaces available for vendors. The flea market and swap meet, like the car show, are open from 6am until 4pm, rain or shine. "I think it's really nice that there's something for everyone to do," said Gerald. But wait, there's more. At noon, the pedal tractor pull begins. Live music, provided by two acts, Kenny Brandt and Revival, goes on throughout the day. Additionally, there are cash door prizes, a bucket raffle and a Chinese auction. At noon, the Lions will have selected a number of donated raffle prizes to be auctioned off. This list could include such items as fireworks packages, Packer autographed footballs, Bucks and Brewers tickets or hotel getaway stays. The community donates generously to help the Lions make this event a success every year. Three fire departments park cars, businesses donated prizes, cash, time or materials needed.

I looked up a few pertinent facts about Lions. The Lions Clubs were founded in 1917, and today, the International Association of Lions Clubs is the largest service organization in the world. The major focus of Lions fund raising activities is sight conservation. Who has not seen the collection boxes for used eyeglasses, or heard about the Lions camp for blind children in Rosholt, WI? I grew up near there, so I thought it amazing to read that Lions took up this cause after a speech given by Helen Keller at the Lions International Convention of 1925. She challenged the Lions to become "Knights of the Blind." The Allenton Lions support an additional variety of local causes. "All the money we make above expenses goes to various causes and people," explained Gerald. He brought me a list. Forty organizations are on it, and recipients range from fire departments to school districts to youth groups to community medical expenses. And of course, vision projects and the Wisconsin Lions Camp. Speaking of vision-related Lions’ efforts, please bring your used eyeglasses with you to the car show. Also, there will be free eye screening for children at the event. Gerald personally wanted to acknowledge charter members of the club, Ken Goeman, Ken Gross, Harold Krebs, Jim Wiedmeyer and Tom Buckingham. The Allenton Lions also sponsor four blood drives a year. The next is July 12 at the Allenton Town Hall. To learn more about becoming a Lion, call Robert Klockow at 262-673-4834.

I get the idea from Gerald that his wife, Elaine, is a super cook. He brought along a number of her recipes and it was hard to choose among them, but popular vote went with two dessert choices.

Elaine's Pecan Toffee Squares
1 pkg. yellow cake mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 6 oz. pkg. chocolate coated toffee bits
1 cup chopped pecans
Heat oven to 350º Grease a 9x13" pan. In large bowl, combine cake mix, margarine and 1 egg. Mix well with pastry blender or fork. Press mixture into bottom of greased pan. Bake for 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in med. bowl, combine condensed milk, vanilla & 1 egg. Mix well, stir in toffee bits and pecans. Remove pan from oven, pour filling over warm base. Return to oven. Bake for 22 to 30 minutes, or until filling is set. When cool, cut into bars. Store in refrigerator.

Elaine's Dream Bars
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbls. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Combine first three ingredients and mix to crumbly mass. Pat lightly into 8x12 shallow baking pan. Bake at 375º for 10 minutes, remove from oven. Combine 1 cup brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients, nuts and coconut. Add to sugar-egg mixture. Pour over baked crust and bake 20 minutes at 375º.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Farm Fresh Atlas of Southeastern Wisconsin

Farm Fresh Atlas is invaluable (and fun) resource
By Sheryl Popp

From pumpkin farms to fresh eggs, from roadside stands to organic produce, look into the Farm Fresh Atlas of Southeastern Wisconsin to find a place to buy these items locally. I came across the Atlas several years ago, and thought it would make for a great story.

To learn more, I spoke with Rose Skora, agriculture educator for the UW Extension, Racine/Kenosha counties. She was pleased to share the history of the Atlas, now in its sixth edition. There are five independent atlases in the state: Eastern, Western, Central, South and this one. The idea for a southeastern version happened at a meeting in Dane County that Rose attended. At that meeting were representatives of the UW Co-op system, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Town & Country Resources Conservation and Development. "The last two are grass roots organizations supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Slow Food of Wisconsin," said Rose. "Everyone who was at the table was there to talk about local food issues and educational issues." She was referring to the importance of sustainability, or sustainably grown food. Sustainable food growing practices, and the products thereof, benefit the consumer, the producer and the environment. "At the time," said Rose, "we were focusing all our efforts on farmers. But if the consumer base doesn't support their (the farmers') effort to market locally, it can't work." The focus group decided the Atlas was a great idea, and why reinvent the wheel? They contacted the appropriate people at the Southern (and oldest) Atlas, who supported the idea of a southeastern Wisconsin version of the publication.

"Each year in the off season," said Rose, "representatives from the different atlas areas have a collaborative meeting, but each version is its own entity. Our first year was a challenge. No one had a database of direct marketing farmers, so we used a lot of state agency lists. Also each committee member used their own mailing list. It was a lot of work to put together, and also to get press releases out to promote it." Rose went on to say that now, the Atlas is a recognized entity, and farmers contact them. "Having a waiting list of people to get into the Atlas is a nice problem to have," she said. "The business side of it is still a challenge. For example, it's eight pages longer this year, and we have to find the funding to pay for the printing costs. All our funding comes from the listing fees the farmers pay."

The Atlas is a year round guide. It reaches 80,000 consumers. It lists what products a participating farm produces (eggs, meat, flowers, etc.), whether they sell on-site or participate in farmers' markets (and which ones), if they're organic, a U-Pick or a community supported agriculture (CSA) site. A map shows the general location of each. Indexes list business sponsors and southeastern Wisconsin farmers' markets. Listees pledge their commitment to the following principals, developed by the Southern Atlas people: reduce synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, conserve land and water, treat animals with respect and give them access to the outdoors, support local and sustainable business partners and provide safe and fair working conditions for employees. Further, they are family or cooperatively owned. In the last several years, 70% of the advertisers have reported they have had known sales as a result of the Atlas. There is also complimentary email arriving on the Atlas' site from consumers. "That's the really exciting part," said Rose. "Seeing the enthusiasm and interest from customers who use the Atlas and know it helps keep farmers on their land. It's the key driving component for doing it."

Rose mentioned that Alan Linnebur, Agricultural Agent with the UW Extension for Washington County, is the local distributor of the Atlas, and the link with participating farmers and other participating businesses in the county. He can be reached at to learn more about listing in the Atlas. He also highly recommended getting the perspective of several of Washington County's listers. I spoke to Diana Susan, at Meadow Creek Elk Farm, and several folks at Wellspring, a CSA in Newburg. Diana sent these comments:

Many years ago when we became a part of the Farm Fresh Atlas, we realized it was more than marketing our elk meat to consumers; it’s about being a part of a movement that links neighbors to one another, resulting in building a stronger, healthier community.

We believe that offering products and food that is produced locally, we are a part of an enduring stimulus plan that will energize the community allowing dollars to be recycled over and over again.

The customers that visit Meadow Creek Elk Farms are eager to purchase our elk meat, knowing that what they are eating is free of hormones and antibiotics, but they also are there because they want to contribute to a better environment by supporting local agriculture.

I drove to Wellspring, having never visited before, and because it was an opportunity to take some photos on pack-out day. Jeff Schreiber, farm manager, was busy working and directing the volunteers who very efficiently washed and packed the day's produce. "This is a great resource for us," he said. "We have had direct results from the Atlas. We have four or five drop off sites, and about 30 members that pick up here. Today, we're packing about 100 boxes." They had a great variety of early produce, lettuces, spinach, chives, radishes and different greens. Some workers trade labor for part of the cost of their share. I also chatted with Angie Restler, executive director of Wellspring. She believes Wellspring is the first organic CSA in Wisconsin, having begun in 1988. The 36 acre property was purchased by Mary Ann Ihm in '82. It was her dream to launch this type of cooperative farm. "Half of our 100 shares are half shares, so we reach 200 families," said Angie. There is so much more going on at Wellspring that I have agreed to feature Wellspring's operation in an upcoming In Good Taste story. Look for that this summer.

You can request a copy of the Atlas online at You can also simply look up all the information on the main website. Many of the folks in Washington and Ozaukee counties are at our local farmer markets, but making farm visits is really a lot of fun too. Whenever I have done this, I always feel a lot more connected to both food and producer, and have learned more than one can on market day. There are more than a dozen listings in these two counties, with many others just a short drive away.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

To continue their mission of helping others, Washington County Red Cross needs our help
By Sheryl Popp

The Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross always depends on the financial support of businesses and individuals to operate. Since the Stonebridge Apartment Building fire in West Bend last April 2, the need for funding has accelerated. I visited with Kim Maggraf, executive director of the Washington County Chapter, to learn more.

This was not my first visit to the Red Cross in West Bend. In December of 2004, I chatted with the previous director and two local volunteers who had spent time in Florida, helping people recover after a number of hurricanes. As its new director, Kim was pleased to point out that the office has grown to encompass not only West Bend, but all of Washington County. That happened almost two years ago. Obviously, serving the entire county can stretch resources further than before. The mission of the American Red Cross is to prevent, prepare for and respond to, disasters. "We provide disaster services, disaster preparedness classes and emergency response services to the entire county," explained Kim. "That includes CPR training, first aid training, defibrillator training, swimming and lifeguard classes and babysitting training. We offer classes to the general public, businesses, schools and at area recreation departments," she finished. Classes are regularly provided in schools, and to businesses as they need it. "Businesses will generally try to have at least one or two employees per shift who can use a defibrillator and who are trained in CPR and first aid," said Kim. Regularly posted community training classes have fees associated with them to cover Red Cross expenses. Classes are held at various county locations. A brochure of summer offerings is now available, or visit for a listing.

Another vital role of the Red Cross is one I had not known about. "I don't think most people realize that we provide emergency services to members of the armed forces and their families in times of crisis," said Kim. I think, like me, most people believe that soldiers and other armed services personnel are more accessible to their families than during any other period in our wartime history. We see commercials about picture phones, and we're solicited to send all kinds of holiday messages to soldiers. "People also think that the military knows where everyone is at all times," explained Kim. "But these days there are just so many unknowns, especially in highly dangerous areas. So that kind of information is not always readily available. The Red Cross is the only organization that can provide these services. So, say a person serving overseas has an emergency at home. A family member can contact us and we will ask the military to help locate the service member. The US Armed Services trusts that the Red Cross will have investigated the situation quickly. And if the emergency is something like a medical crisis, we have to document it. In a recent case we just handled for a West Bend family, the military went through five units in five cities before they found the person we were looking for." Red Cross personnel are on call 24/7 for this service. Another way they offer assistance to families of active military personnel is emergency financial assistance, for example, travel expenses. "Often this is the form of a loan however," added Kim.

Kim Marggraf is making a daily commute from Sheboygan to perform her duties as director of the Washington County Red Cross. She doesn't mind the commute too much, since the drive down Hwy. 28 is enjoyable. "I was looking for a new position with a non-profit organization whose mission I believed in," she explained. "I happen to know the executive director of the Milwaukee Chapter, who let me know when this position opened." The decision was made last November, and Kim began working part time in January and full time last March. She has a professional background with non profit agencies, event planning and fundraising, so she was well equipped to take on this job. However, if she wanted a challenge, she got one. "I was still part time when Haiti happened, and hadn't been here very long on a full time basis when the West Bend fire occurred on April 2," said Kim. "We really had a lot of donations made to us after the Haiti disaster. We would like to recognize DCI Cheese in Richfield who donated $45,000 - $100 for each employee," she continued. "We're very grateful for all of the donations, and the situation there continues to be serious. But we still need monies directed toward Washington County too."

On April 2, some Red Cross volunteers were on the scene of the Stonebridge Apartment fire almost instantly. Others went to the office to help handle logistics. Area residents, according to Kim, gave generously to the families who lost everything. Donations included money, food and clothing, which was to go directly to fire victims. Other donations were made to the Red Cross, to be used by them for fire assistance. But the Red Cross' expenses still exceeded $10,000. "There were 60 homeless people after the fire," said Kim. "We provided them three nights of shelter if needed. We gave them a cash allowance for food, clothing and medical expenses. Our disaster budget has to be replenished." I asked what would happen if another disaster occurred in Washington County tomorrow. "We would be there," said Kim. "We would find a way because that's our mission and our commitment. We might have to cut down on staffing, or ignore building repairs and maintenance, but we would help." Another component of disaster assistance Kim thinks people might not know about is after care. The Red Cross offers counseling services, continuing into the weeks following the event, and also provides links to other service agencies that can offer more assistance. In addition to volunteering your time, or writing a check, there are two upcoming ways to assist The Washington County Chapter of The American Red Cross. The first is Culver's Walk for the Red Cross, on Sat., June 12. You can sign up for the walk at, or for more info, call 262-334-5687. Check in is at 9am and the walk is at 10am. The fee is $7 for individuals and $15 for a family. Not only do you get a great walk along the Ice Age Trail beginning at Culver's (as little or much of the five mile loop as you would like), you can also have lunch or a treat at Culver's and they'll donate 10% of all orders to the Red Cross. On Sat., June 26, Noodles & Company is donating 25% of all sales to the Red Cross when you mention the Red Cross with your order, between 11am and 7pm. How could helping out be any easier than ordering a bite to eat?

Kim provided the following fun recipe with a healthy sounding twist.

Sunflower Crisp Cookies
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups cornflakes
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup salted, roasted sunflower nuts
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg & vanilla. Crush cornflakes; there should be about 3/4 cup. Blend in flour, salt and 1/4 cup of the cornflake crumbs, reserve remaining crumbs. Stir in sunflower nuts. Chill dough thoroughly. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in remaining crumbs to coat evenly. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375º for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A trip to Widmer's Cheese Cellars in Theresa, oh boy oh boy oh boy!
By Sheryl Popp

After all these years, you can probably imagine I've duplicated types of events and businesses in articles any number of times. I'm then challenged to find a new angle, and give both subject and readers their due. But send me out to a cheese factory, and I'll go every other week. I have a great friend named Dave, who says he would never have to diet if he could give up cheese. Alas, silly man, c'est impossible. Really, is there any other food as versatile as cheese? Sauces, sandwich component, snack, dessert tray with fruit, grated and melted, cheese simply makes everything better.

We are so lucky in this state, to have as many family owned cheese factories still in business as we do. I visited with Joe Widmer, owner of Widmer's Cheese in Theresa, for this week's story. His family history is intertwined with Wisconsin cheese making, and he has many facts at hand. "At one time, there were a lot more cheese makers in the state," he said. "There were 140 in Dodge County alone and over 2,000 in the state. Now, there are about 130 in the state and five or six in Dodge County." Widmer Cheese was founded by Joe's grandfather. "The Germans came to Wisconsin first, and the climate here was similar to Germany's, and good for dairy production," Joe began. "Other immigrant cheese makers followed them here, which is why you have so many third and fourth generations making cheese." Joe's grandfather was Swiss, and he left home in 1905 when he was very young, only 17 or 18. "In those days," said Joe, "you had to have not only a visa, but a job lined up, and also three job references from your home country. My grandfather's job was only 10 miles away from here." Joe's grandfather John had a girlfriend back home, who wanted to visit him and the United States. In 1911, John traveled to New York to pick her up, only to find that she had no visa, and the authorities intended to send her back to Switzerland. "My grandfather asked if there was anything he could do to keep her here, and they told him he could marry her then and there," said Joe. "So he did. They honeymooned in New York, then returned to Wisconsin. This factory became available in 1922. They bought it and raised four children here." Joe explained that in those days, most cheese factory owners lived above their business. He was raised there, one of six children. "My wife and I lived here with our children too, until we built a home 10 years ago," he said.

Joe's the youngest in his family, and when he got out of high school, his father asked him if he wanted to continue his education or go into the family business. "I told him neither," said Joe. "I was sick of cheese and sick of school." Joe went to work on the railroad for several years. Whenever he came home, his dad talked up the idea that a food sciences degree in dairy was available at Fond du Lac Technical College. Joe decided to go, and graduated in 1978. He's gone to the Center for Dairy Research at UW-Madison twice, to obtain master cheese maker status for cheddar, brick and Colby cheese. Joe's father retired in 1980, and he ran the business with two uncles until 1997, when he was able to purchase their shares. Things have gone well, and Joe is happy with his career, but says it was a bit daunting to make the decision to enlarge the factory in 2004, when he added new offices, warehouse space and mail order capability.

Here is the greatest thing about Widmer's. What Joe decided not to do is automate. His cheeses are hand made, and they use the vats his grandfather John purchased in 1922, and the very same bricks to press the whey out of the cheese. More of an explanation is needed here, and it really fits in with my idea of valuing significant flavor in cheese. (My feelings were hurt a bit when I read in Widmer's info that one of the reasons for this is that aging baby boomers have aging taste buds and therefore seek more full flavors!) Widmer makes the same three cheeses that Joe obtained master status in. Within those three types, a number of variations are made possible by either adding flavorings (ie. caraway brick) or by varying the amount of time the cheese ages. Widmer's is perhaps most well known for their mild brick, but as most foodies know, that's not how brick began. It was invented in Wisconsin in 1877 by another Swiss born cheese maker, John Jossi. It's a derivative of Limburger, and uses lower levels of the bacterium rubbed on the outer rind of the cheese. Rubbing the rind is what develops the aroma, outer coloring and flavor. Jossi also had the idea of pressing the cheese with bricks, ergo its name. Although not as strong as Limburger, brick is still a heady cheese. Brick aficionados love the original version. But many people have more conservative tastes. Widmer developed its mild brick by rubbing the rind less, and wrapping it air tight, which stops the aroma from developing. "The primary reason we make cheese the same way as my grandfather is taste," said Joe. "It's like the difference between eating your grandmother's doughnuts and buying pre-packaged doughnuts at the grocery store. But there is secondary bonus. Using the same vats, the same bricks and the same rubbing methods makes for a great tour." Widmer offers guided tours Monday through Friday, at 9:30am, by reservation.

Joe's grandfather chose to produce Colby because it was another Wisconsin original, and cheddar because it was a popular, flavorful cheese. Widmer's ages cheddar from one to 10 years, and I sampled the eight, which was to die for. I inquired about the other items sold in the factory store. "All cheese factories will sell a greater variety of cheese than they manufacture on sight," said Joe. "You want people to be able to purchase everything they need from you. But, although we have some imports, most of our products are made in Wisconsin." More recently, Widmer's created an aged brick spread, which is mixed with cheddar. This too, is a super tasty, must try item. There's a lot more to learn by going to, plus all their great cheese can be ordered off the website. The factory is located at 214 W. Henni St. in Theresa, just off Hwy. 175, which is the main street. The phone number is 920-488-2503. The store is open from 7am-5pm Mon.-Sat., and 10am-4pm on Sun., June through Oct.

If you like to cook with cheese, one of the super features on the Widmer website is a collection of recipes. Here's one I think would really impress your guests.
1 lb. potatoes, cooked, skin on, cooled
6 Tbls. olive oil, divided
2 tsps. minced garlic
2 Tbls. basil leaves, shredded
2/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 lbs. smoked turkey, shredded
1-1/2 tsps. salt, divided
1-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, divided
8 ozs. leeks trimmed, rinsed, sliced (4 cups)
12 ozs. Wisconsin Brick cheese, shredded (3 cups)
Peel potatoes, slice into thin round slices. Reserve. Heat 2 Tbls. olive oil in cast iron skillet; add garlic and saute' 1 minute. Add basil & stock and cook until reduced to form syrupy glaze. Remove from heat, add turkey, season with half the salt and pepper. Reserve mixture in skillet. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat remaining 5 Tbls. olive oil over med. heat, add leeks and saute' until limp, about 2 mins. Add reserved potato slices and press down into pan to form a cake. Season with remaining salt and pepper. Continue cooking undisturbed over med. to low heat several minutes or until well-browned on bottom.
To Serve: Sprinkle Brick cheese evenly over turkey mixture in skillet. Flip the potato cake over and place on top of cheese and turkey. Bake gratin in skillet in 350º oven 10 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. Cut into wedges and serve with crisp green salad and sliced tomatoes.
Makes 6 servings or wedges of gratin.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Go on in for Go Karts and more at Stocky's Fast Track
By Sheryl Popp

Photo: Jeff Stockhausen (seated in go-kart) is shown at Stocky’s Fast Track in West Bend. His son, Steven, stopped in just in time to share photo duty with his dad.

I looked forward to seeing the indoor race track at Stocky's Fast Track in West Bend. I'd only driven a go kart once, and as you'd expect, that was an outside track. (If the DMV had seen me, they'd revoke my driver's license.) Jeff Stockhausen showed me around, and explained how he and his wife, Sandy, came to open the track.

Those not raised in the area might not be that familiar with the Stockhausen family. They have, for a number of generations, been in the building and farming businesses. Jeff's dad, Vince Stockhausen, started the family's grading and excavating business in 1955. Jeff and Sandy are simultaneously juggling the track, family and other careers. Jeff was second assistant chief of the Newburg Fire Department, retiring from the department with over 20 years in. He is still a part of Vince Stockhausen Excavating and Grading. Sandy is still a member of the fire department, is lieutenant of the rescue squad, and is a diabetic nurse educator for Aurora. Additionally, Jeff retired from competitive jet-ski racing in the late nineties. "I was an amateur up until my last year, when I turned pro," said Jeff. "I learned you couldn't be a pro racer and work full time." During those racing years, Jeff traveled all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico. He saw an indoor go kart race track for the first time in Texas, and learned they were popular in Europe. "Sandy and I began talking about opening a family business," recalled Jeff. "We have six children, so we wanted something everybody could be involved in. Of course, none of them work here now," he laughed.

They hatched the idea after Jeff quit racing, and opened the first track in April, 2001. There weren't many indoor race tracks in the country, and this was the first in the state. Jeff and Sandy designed the track themselves, with advice from the vendors who manufacture the karts. The first track was next door to their current location. The original building had been constructed as a shop for the excavating business, but only part of it was used. Stocky's remained there until 2005, when the track moved next door. "We went from about 15,000 sq. ft, to 25,000 sq. ft.," said Jeff. "This building is more open, and we built onto the front of it." Why the need for more space? Naturally, to expand their offerings. The idea of an indoor race track went over very well, right from the beginning, but they were only able to offer limited food service. "We have bachelor and bachelorette parties, corporate events, and kids' birthday parties. Our customers range from about age nine (kids have to be 54" tall to reach the pedals), to age 70," said Jeff. "I tried to get my 94 year old aunt to take a ride, but just couldn't quite convince her to try." In the new building, Jeff and Sandy are able to offer expanded food service, and more separate event areas, including a banquet area. "We built a full kitchen, a full bar and a bigger arcade, so there is a lot more to do now," said Jeff. The bar is a sports bar, with lots of TVs, and has special promotions for Packer and Nascar events. "Robbie Riser (GM of Roush Fenway Racing and Allenton native) stops in with his kids whenever he's in town," said Jeff. The restaurant serves home made pizza, which is quite popular, a good size list of appetizers, sandwiches and burgers, and a Friday fish fry that is well attended. Prices are competitive. "If people don't want to choose from our menu for their event," added Jeff, "we'll help them arrange other catering." Corporate customers have included Miller Beer, Johnsonville Brats, Harley and Rockwell Engineering.

The Main Event
What about go karts? Well, I learned a bit. The track is 420 ft. long. Drivers can make between 10-15 laps per race, depending on how disciplined they and how well they follow the rules. For safety purposes, all karts can be remotely slowed, or shut down. "We have the best driver safety system available." said Jeff. Any or all of the karts can be stopped at the same time. Customers can purchase a single ride, a four or a ten ride package. Prices are less for children, and there are even double karts available for a parent to accompany a child not tall enough to drive solo. There are three different speed options. Everyone actually races against the clock, not the other drivers on the track, the same as Nascar Formula 1 racing. The karts are electric, and each has a transponder installed that registers with a loop in the floor of the track. That tracks one's time, and projects it on an overhead score board. Five to six karts can race at once, and Stocky's owns 14, although they'll be switching them out soon. "It's a big investment," said Jeff, "even without counting new chargers for them, but the technology has really advanced and we need to upgrade." The electric karts must be charged about the same amount of time they run. However, if they run as long as a half hour, they'll need to charge an hour. And...they charge overnight. That's a big electric bill. "But it's better to be green and not use gasoline, right?" said Jeff. Jeff's son Steven had stopped in, and helped explain another benefit of electric karts. "They have higher performance than a gas go kart," he said, "because they have more acceleration, with no arc (just think of speed increasing in a straight line) and increased torque."

Just like practically everyone else, Stocky's is struggling against the economic downturn. Less people come in to drive a kart just for fun, although many groups or individuals still make Stocky's a destination from out of town or even out of state. "People will drive," said Jeff, "because there just aren't that many indoor tracks. So you can have your event rain or shine." I believe that more people should take a look at Stocky's birthday party packages. A party for five kids includes two races per child, two pizzas, two pitchers of soda, an ice cream birthday cake and two hours at a party table. (Additional children may be added for additional fees.) Pretty darn good deal huh? Stocky's Fast Track & Grill is located at 6389 Stockhausen Lane, just off Hwy. 33 in West Bend. The phone number is 262-306-0100. Anyone interested in league racing should give Jeff a call. To see some good photos of the track, go to The track is open Tues.-Thurs., 5pm-10pm, Fri., 2pm-midnight, Sat., Noon-Midnight & Sun., Noon-8pm.

Jeff provided the following recipe, a long time favorite from up north hunting trips and family events.

Egg Bake
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
12 eggs
chopped mushrooms, onions, green peppers, etc., optional
2/3 cup whipping cream
1 lb. cooked ham, bacon or sausage
Spray 9x13 glass pan w/non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese on bottom of pan. Crack the eggs into the pan, to cover the bottom. Break yolks with a fork, do not scramble them. Sprinkle in vegetables of choice, or leave plain. Top with the meat. Pour the whipping cream over the top, but don't mix in. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Put in unheated oven and bake at 350º for 35-45 minutes, or until top is browned. This recipe is very flexible. A few more eggs can be added to cover bottom of pan, or more cheese or meat can be added. Use as many vegetables as desired.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Local author's book about and for Moms, is released on Mother's Day
By Sheryl Popp

Bonnie Lowell has penned a book titled Maternally Speaking: I Gave Birth to Four Eggs. (One Scrambled, Fried, Over Easy and Sunny Side Up). It's a humorous book, as you can tell not only by the subtitles, but also from the cover's caricature. I was thrilled when Bonnie dropped off a copy of her book and press kit, as I don't often have a topic in hand that's timely. This has to be the most timely of all time! I invited Bonnie to share her background with me, and tell me in person what led her to write such a book.

Bonnie is a native of the area. She was born in Cedarburg, and lived in Erin and Hubertus before settling in Slinger. One reason was that she was pleased with the Slinger school system. When her children were younger, she was a stay at home Mom. Bonnie was always the type to record her thoughts and jot down amusing anecdotes about mothering. When she decided she needed an outlet away from home, those stories were invaluable. "I saw an ad for the Ozaukee County Fair, inviting the public to perform in an entertainment tent," recalled Bonnie. "I was the only comedian to sign up! There I was, on stage for the first time and I just loved it - the immediate audience feedback." That was about 1990. Bonnie went on to book herself into local comedy venues, and took second place in a Menomonee Falls comedy contest. "Talent scouts saw me there and I got some Milwaukee gigs out of it," said Bonnie. "I would take just about any opportunity to get on stage." She and some fellow comedians even set themselves up a regular performance night at the Safe House in Milwaukee, before her stand up comedy career ended several years later. "After a family tragedy, and my own divorce," explained Bonnie, "it just became hard for me to be funny, and something had to give."

Bonnie needed to retool and rethink herself, and move on with her life. Over the next decade, she struggled to raise three children, and get back into the work force. And she didn't quit writing. Before her current book, Bonnie wrote several children's books, and a sad, cathartic book relating to the family tragedy. The new millennium brought a new marriage and a fourth child into Bonnie's life. She also pursued a new career. "I needed something that was flexible," she said. "I had customer service and sales experience and I thought being a realtor would be a good fit for me." Bonnie has now been a realtor for eight years, and she enjoys the work very much. But, given market conditions, she once again had extra time on her hands, and less money. "I wanted to feel more productive, so I went back to writing," said Bonnie. "I'd tried to have my serious book published and leaned then that it was easier to have a humorous book published. So I pulled out the material I'd compiled about parenting and motherhood for my comedy act. It was a lot more fun to write." That was around a year and a half ago. Six months or so ago, Bonnie began looking for a publisher. She had found one on line, and after attending a publishing conference in Minneapolis, she gained the last bit of confidence she needed to think she could really make this happen.

"It took a while, but the publisher I'd found did get back to me," said Bonnie. "They were a good fit for this type of book. Working with my editor, I learned my strength was storytelling. I actually had tried to write as if I was talking to you now. So there were rewrites that took several months." Bonnie also learned that her publisher expected her to handle a lot of her own promotional duties, but luckily, she wanted to be involved. She drew out a sketch for the cover of her book, and asked a local caricature artist to develop it. Bonnie was able to order advance copies of the book, and has had several smaller book signings. "All the books I ordered are gone," she said happily. "And it has been very well received so far." Her children are all supportive, and the youngest, Alex (age 10), loves the idea that his name is in the book, and that word is spreading at his school.

What's the premise?
"My book is really a tribute to all Moms, even though it's my story," said Bonnie. "I think women make awesome support groups. I was alone a lot of my kids' childhoods, and I needed humor to get through everything. I love Erma Bombeck, but I think there was a need for a more modern voice. Times have changed, and I wanted to bring issues like dealing with divorce(s) and Internet dating into my book." Bonnie divided the book into two major segments. The first, called "The Seven Wonders of Womanhood," deals with women's issues while growing up. A chapter about Bonnie's experience the first time she shaved her legs hooked me while I was leafing through the book. Totally hilarious! The second two thirds of the book are primarily about motherhood and her parenting experiences, and some of the differences between Scrambled, Fried, Over Easy and Sunny Side Up. "My stories are relatable," said Bonnie. "And I think that's why the book is going over well. I feel like I've found my audience again, sort of like I'm going home with my readers. I'm an optimistic realist. I don't gamble with money, but I gambled on this. I thought, other people are writing books. Why not me?"

There are several upcoming opportunities to see Bonnie in person. She will be at the West Bend Community Memorial Library on Sat., May 22, from 9:30-10:30am for a talk and a book signing. Then in June, she will be at Perc Place in Hartford for a reading, book signing and talk on Sat., June 5, from 3:00-5:00pm. Her book sells for $14.95. It is also available through There is an email link through the site, or you may email her directly at, or find her on Facebook. Bonnie is actively looking for speaking engagements, so please inquire if your group or organization would be a good fit.

Bonnie said of her recipe choice: It is rare to get four kids to agree on anything except maybe that they all love snow blizzards that cause snow days. But I can honestly say they all love my lasagna. Here's the recipe:

Bonnie's Lasagna
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 15 1/2 oz. can tomato sauce
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/3 cup water
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 lb. (9) Lasagna noodles
3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese
3/4 lb. Velveeta cheese
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
Brown ground beef and add onion. Cook until tender. Stir in tomato sauce, paste, water, garlic and seasonings. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Cook noodles according to pkg instructions. In an 8 x 12 baking dish, layer 3 noodles, meat sauce, parmesan cheese, sliced mozzarella and sliced velveeta cheeses. Repeat layers 3 times. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes. Delicious! Usually I make a double batch and freeze one pan for an easy meal for a later date.