Monday, October 28, 2013

The Summer of Baseball

Watching this year's World Series and reading Eben Pindyck’s “The Knuckle-Curve” essay in last week’s Sunday New York Times Magazine brings back memories of my summer of 1982. That was the year the Milwaukee Brewers, dubbed "Harvey's Wallbangers" with their record 216 home runs, journeyed to the World Series to play the St. Louis Cardinals in an epic seven-game face-off.

I was 10 years old. Parenting books today will tell you it’s all about moms and dads spending “quality time” with their children, but all I knew as a kid was "quantity time." Every day was a day working with mom and dad on the farm, while evenings were spent playing cribbage and listening to Bob Eucker call Brewer games on the radio. That was our "quality time".

Once a year in the summer, we carpooled with family friends and trekked to Milwaukee to watch a live Brewers game. This was a big deal for a 10-year-old farm kid. Watching the Brewers play in County Stadium was equal to a whole day of vacation, which didn't happen often. It would be still two years before my mom got sick, so she would cook for days preparing the annual tailgate shindig of potato salad, baked beans and cold meatloaf sandwiches. We'd even get to purchase potato chips and dip from the grocery store. It was magical.

It was from these annual treks to County Stadium that I learned watching a baseball game in person is vastly different than listening to it on the radio. Armed with my $3 program and wearing my Milwaukee Brewers ball cap, I astutely kept score in the program’s pull-out paper score box, using shorthand to mark strike-outs, base hits and the occasional fielder's choice. I knew the name of every player and could recite their stats by heart.

First Baseman Cecil Cooper. This guy was the first man I ever saw do the splits. On purpose. Cecil could catch any ball thrown in the vicinity of first base and do it in style, often stretching his left leg out so far while keeping his right foot on first base that he looked like a professional gymnast. Every time he came to bat, the crowd would chant "Coooooooop" low and loud, so that if you didn't know better, it sounded like he was being booed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Coop was beloved.

Second Baseman Jim Gantner. Jimmy was a Wisconsin-native and played his entire career with the Brewers. Known as "Gumby" because of the way he could turn a double play on a dime, poor Jim got a bit outshined in the infield because of two superstars to his left. Which leads me to:

Third Baseman Paul Molitor and Shortstop Robin Yount: To a 10-year-old, these two guys summed up everything good there was about baseball in 1982. All-stars and repeat MVPs who were also nice enough to give a farm kid an autograph during batting practice, they proved their worth in every game. Yount was a 20-year career Brewer veteran, while Molitor broke all of our hearts in 1992 by accepting a three-year, $13 million deal to move to the Toronto Blue Jays. I'm still bitter about it.

Outfielders Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas and Charlie Moore
: I remember playing baseball just once on the farm with my dad. He was busy, and let's face it, I was a girl. It was a few days after we'd gone to a Brewers game and were sitting in the front yard on a Sunday afternoon after church. I asked if he thought he could hit a ball as far as it was to Center Field in County Stadium. To my surprise, he said "Let's find out." We rounded up a bat and a chewed-up baseball. I clumsily pitched and on the first try, he cracked the ball so hard it made my ears hurt. I watched the ball fly over the yard fence, past the creek at the bottom of the hill and toward the grain bins by the road. He smiled and went back to his lawn chair. I went in search of the ball in the pasture. And that was that.

Catcher Ted Simmons
: It would only be in later years that my dad and I would argue over who was a better catcher: the up and coming B.J. Surhoff or the veteran Bill Schroeder, a steady catcher but crappy batter. By 1988, I was 16 years old, and B.J. was young, cute, blond, and could both catch and actually hit the ball. I don't remember what Schroeder looked like, so that about says it all. Dad always referred to Schroeder as a "gazelle" because he once hit a rare single and lumbered to first base, where he miraculously was not called out. Meanwhile, B.J. would go on to successfully play every position except pitcher during his 18-year major league career. Google him. He's still hot. I win.

Starting Pitcher Moose Haas and Reliever Rollie Fingers: sometimes as daughters get older and dads flail at understanding what makes them tick, talking baseball is all they have left. Put two guys named Moose and Rollie in the conversation and we could talk for hours. After mom got sick, we talked about baseball a lot. Reciting stats and predicting who'd make a run for the play-offs was better than talking about hospital bills and increasingly-worse diagnoses. When mom felt good enough, she'd even take my side in the B.J. Surhoff vs Bill Schroeder debate. Because let's face it, he was hot.

These days, I'm the kind of parent who sadly refers to "quality time" because I don't have enough of it to even approach "quantity". My daughter and her father have never listened to or attended a baseball game together. It just isn't their thing. But watching the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series this year brings back good memories of my childhood. Even if the Brewers would go on to lose in the 7th game in Busch Stadium, the summer of 1982 would be one of the best ever. It marked a season of both quality and quantity in a time when I was too young to appreciate either.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Announcing the 2014 American Artisan Cheese Series

Exciting news, cheese geeks! If you're looking for a monthly night out, tasting and learning about new artisan cheeses, then Wisconsin Cheese Originals has a deal for you. Tonight, I'm announcing my all new 2014 American Artisan Cheese Series with monthly classes at the Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon, Wis.

This will mark the third year of the monthly classes, which include a tasting and storytelling of at least four artisan cheeses. I also often bring in guest speakers, such as Wisconsin cheesemakers, dairy farmers, and industry leaders. Classes begin at 7 p.m. at the Firefly Coffeehouse at 114 N. Main St. in Oregon, Wis., just 10 minutes south of Madison. Each class includes a complimentary glass of wine, beer or beverage. Cost is $22 per class and tickets must be reserved in advance at All classes typically sell out.

As a special offer through January 1, 2014: purchase a season pass to all 12 classes and get two classes for free, a perfect gift for your favorite cheese geek.

The 2014 class line-up includes:

January 16: Gourmet Grilled Cheese
Warm up long January days and kick off the new year with an introduction to three gourmet grilled cheeses. We’ll taste each cheese separately, and then compare each when warmed in a grilled cheese sandwich. Special treat: Uplands Cheese’s seasonal Rush Creek Reserve and a rustic baguette as an appetizer.

February 11: Blue-Veined Cheeses & The Wines That Love Them
Taste four of Wisconsin’s best blue cheeses, paired with four different wines. Learn the mystery behind blue cheesemaking, and what makes one blue taste different from another. If you think you don’t like blue veined cheese, we may change your mind with this evening of perfect pairings.

March 13: Fondue Fun & Swiss Specialties
Start the evening with a communal pot of yummy fondue and crusty bread. Then taste and learn about four classic Swiss cheeses perfect for fondue. Leave with a booklet of recipes to make your favorite at home.

April 17: World Champion Cheeses
With the World Championship Cheese Contest held in Wisconsin just one month prior to this class, we’ll discover and taste four gold medal world winners. Learn what it takes to make an award-winning cheese.

May 13: Butter Makes Everything Better
A few years ago, Wisconsin updated its buttermaking licensing requirements, allowing a new generation of licensed craftsmen and women to make seasonal and artisan butters. Learn and taste four of the best with breads and accompaniments.

June 12: American Farmstead Cheeses
Perhaps some of the most eye-appealing and palate-pleasing cheeses are those hand-crafted on the same farm as where the animals are milked.  Learn the stories and taste four of the best farmstead cheeses made in America today.

July 15: Summer Break: Sassy Cow Ice Cream
Take a summer break and celebrate national ice cream month with four local ice creams from Sassy Cow Creamery. Learn about the process of making farmstead ice cream and submit an idea for your favorite flavor. We’ll pick the most original and have it custom made for this class.

August 21: Pasture-Based Cheeses
Pasture-grazed cheeses are just one Wisconsin’s claims to fame, thanks to three seasons of green grass perfect for animals to eat. We’ll taste four seasonal cheeses, each made only when animals are grazing on grass.

September 16: Wisconsin Women Cheesemakers
In the past 10 years, more than a dozen women have entered the Wisconsin cheesemaking scene, winning awards and changing the face of American artisan cheese. Taste and hear the stories of four of the best women-inspired cheeses.

October 14: Amuse Bouche Cheeses
Looking for the perfect appetizer? Look no further than artisan cheese combined with original ingredients. We’ll learn how to make and taste four unique one-bite appetizers using artisan cheese.

November 13: Cheesecake and Dessert Cheeses
Start the evening with cheesecakes made locally. Then continue with tasting and learning about cheeses perfect for dessert. Learn how to make a cheese board for the end of your favorite meal.

December 9: Ultimate Wisconsin Cheddar Throwdown
A new era of Wisconsin Cheddar has emerged in the past decade, with more cheesemakers moving to artisan aged and bandaged Cheddars. We’ll taste three aged Cheddars from one to 15 years, as well as a reserve Bandaged Cheddar.

All classes are for sale individually, as well as in a season package at: I look forward to seeing you there!