Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fields of Corn & Squeaky Cheese

Well, my laptop is terminal. I found a computer service center in Minot, ND that diagnosed it and gave me the bad news. Fortunately, I have a smart son who made me back up the whole thing before we left on the tour, so my files will eventually be available to me again, but not until after I get home from tour.

It reminds me of moving. You drag boxes and boxes of stuff with you from the old place, store it in the new place until you've got the time to unpack and find new official places to store it.

"It" being stuff you probably don't really need. Or even really want. But certainly can't part with.

Just in case.

So I'll probably get a new computer, load it up with all the backed-up files and wind up with a completely cluttered computer that I need to sort through and clean up.


When I have more time.

All this to say that I'm sorry to not have been more conversant over the tour, but I will do a little catch up here...

As of tonight, we are at the 'tag' spot. You know when you're a kid and you have to run relays and you get to the turnaround point, tag the wall or post or whatever, then charge back? Well, that's where we are. We have tagged the post. Or, in this case, an Irish inn in Milwaukee, which is located across the street from Lake Michigan. Pretty nice turn around point, especially after about 7 hours of driving today.

Working backwards, it was a beautiful drive through Wisconsin. The trees are in full fall regalia, and the farms with their red barns and silos are so picturesque. We did an event in Spring Green, WI at a small but delightful store (Arcadia Books) where the stew was delicious and the people attending were great. I gave away a lot of Sammy shoelaces! Wisconsin is known for its cheese, so we asked for a recommendation and were told to get Carr Valley cheese. So afterward on the drive to Milwaukee, we skidded into a roadside store that had that name on the building.

Cheese curds were both something I'd heard of and something that didn't sound too appealing, but when in Wisconsin...  We didn't really want to buy a full pound, though, (which was size they were selling), so the woman broke up a bag for us and sold us a quarter pound. I commented that we didn't have a refrigerator, and she informed us that cheese curds need to be at room temp when eaten. "You want them to squeak!"


Well, guess what? Cheese curds squeak when chewed. They sound like someone cleaning a window.


Guess what else? They're delicious! They taste like mozzarella sticks, only...with better texture and...saltier and...just better!


Good thing we only got a quarter pound.

Backing up to Minneapolis, we had a wild time at Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, where the store is a sort of hybrid between bookstore and pet shop. Or, maybe, zoo. They had ferrets, chickens, cats, a tarantula, cockatiels, chinchillas, fish and...well creatures I can't recall right now, but the place was bouncing with people, there to shop for books and check out the critters.

And my big visual impression of the past week (actually, almost two, sorry) is corn. Miles and miles of corn. I cannot believe the massive volume of corn that is grown in Illinois, North Dakota, Montana and Missouri. Wisconsin's got it, too. It stands 6 feet tall and is visible for miles, dried to blonde stalks. I first noticed it from the air when we flew to Illinois, pre-Puyallup. I couldn't figure out what it was until we were on the ground, driving miles and miles through it. Apparently it's not table corn. I was told it was used for other things--like oil and corn meal--and that the harvesting combine separates the ears from the stalks and strips the kernels right off. Incredible.

Randomly: We're up to three "stars" in the windshield. There's the one we picked up in Texas that looks like someone hit us with a baseball bat. Despite its size, it's minding itself quite nicely. The other two are little, and one has inferiority issues, as it's spreading across the glass, expanding its territory a little each day. Other than that, it's been pretty smooth sailing through the cornfields of the northern USA.

I've met a few people "from the blog" these past two weeks, which has been excellent and really fun. One crocheted a Penny-the-Pig for me, and now I have a little black pig on the dash, reminding me to "follow the pig!" (Something I've been known to advise aspiring writers to do.) Another made a paper flower out of the pages of a Sammy Keyes book (that had already been thrashed). And others delivered warm hugs, which has been so nice!

We have an early morning with a gym full of sixth graders tomorrow, so I'm wrapping this up here. Thank you for checking in and for keeping us company on this journey!  Have a good week, and remember: follow the pig!


Ryan said...

With all of the traveling you do, I'm a little surprised you've never stumbled onto cheese curds along the way. There's even a store in downtown Seattle that sells them and gives out samples on a toothpick. None of that 1-pound or 1/4-pound stuff if you just want to taste! =)

If you ever make it to Tillamook on the Oregon coast, they have a great factory tour and also let you "sample" cheese curds. I may have sampled them many times... you know, just to make sure they were good! =)

And because they squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

-- Ryan

Jessica said...

I've always thought of cheese curds as sort of like cottage cheese but without the whey, but I guess they're not. I'm glad you enjoyed your curds and weigh. Have you tried poutine yet?

It's good that you had your laptop backed up. I've gone through several iterations of "throw the back-ups on the new computer," and I have 4-5 copies of some files -- ones I haven't even opened in years! Sometimes I feel like the Junk Lady from the Labyrinth.

Enjoy the second half of the second half of the tour!

Kylie said...

Cheese curds have always sounded odd to me. I have always pictured them like dip n dots but cheese instead of ice cream. But hey I tried shark today so I guess cheese curds won't be that much of a leap from normal cheese as shark was from salmon.

I am so glad that your computer was recently backed up. I should do that soon now that I am thinking of it...

Also did you know that most of the corn grown in the US is actually used to make oil and such products? Little of the corn that is grown is used for food. Weird right?

Well have a glorious (I am trying out new words for great) week everybody!


Shaina said...

I like your positive take on the miles and miles of corn in this country. My own cross-country drives have left me with...shall we say less kind things to say about cornfields, ha ha.
Also--I think Wild Rumpus is an awesome idea for a bookstore! If I ever go to Wisconsin, I plan to check it out! I have this thing for Where the Wild Things Are. It's basically my family blog slogan :)
I hope the windshield keeps it together for you!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Heading west this morning! Mark says he can't wait to get to Iowa, 'cause he really wants to see some...corn!
Enjoyed the comments, thanks everybody!

Yusa said...

I can't wait until you're back in California again so I can have the pleasure of meeting you both again! And this time I can actually discuss my broken heart aka KG. I'll be following the pig to a bookstore near me on November 6th.


Karen said...

I can't believe it's Saturday already! So much going on--including getting to meet Mark and Wendelin and hear a bunch of stories and play Mark's cajón. And hug them. Like five times. (Wendelin said she was teasing everybody that they were just there for the shoelaces, and I teased her about being there for the shoelaces and Mark, but I was really there for the hugs. And to say thank you for all your books.)

And now I can read the blog posts in your voices, which is fun.

Oh, and I told Wendelin and Mark I’m changing my name to Kasey, for reasons that have nothing to do with Casey Acosta, although sharing a name with him is definitely a bonus. ;) So I’ll have to get around to changing that on blogger, but I just watched an absolutely spectacular Game 4 of the World Series and I don’t want to deal with it tonight. (11-4 with NO home runs! Second and third stolen in the first inning! Miracle catches galore! Brown patches on everybody’s uniform from all the sliding on the bases! My jaw is still somewhere around my knees!)

Karen said...

Wait, you don’t have cheese curds in California? (At the Minnesota State Fair they sell deep-fried cheese curds, no batter, just a crunchy, greasy outer layer of cheese and a gooey melted-cheese middle. Delicious, but not something you want to eat a lot of.)

Kylie and Jessica, cheese curds are about a half inch across, between one and three inches long, sort of shaped like oversized tootsie rolls, but with bends in them because the cheese doesn't form a neat cylinder. And flat spots on the sides where the curds were pressed together in the bag.

What are poutine and shark like?

Californians (and anyone else who's waiting for this week's post tomorrow and wants to join in): What do you have that I would need to try if I came out there?

(Wait, I read Road Rash, maybe I know this--real sushi?)

Jessica said...

Karen, so glad you got to meet them!

I've never had poutine, but it's the only dish I know that involves cheese curds. It's French-Canadian, and it's French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.

Let's see... in Virginia, I guess the most famous regional dish is crab cakes (made with Chesapeake Bay blue crabs), followed by Smithfield ham, I guess (really salty ham...). In North Carolina, it's East Carolina barbecue (pulled pork with a vinegar-based sauce, and you eat it on a bun with hot sauce and cole slaw right on the sandwich) -- served with hushpuppies, of course (fried cornbread, but a gazillion times better than that sounds). They also have a Carolina-style hot dog, which I've never tried, but has chili, cole slaw, and onions. In Georgia, my favorite new-to-me dishes have been sweet potato rolls and sweet potato fries.

Kylie said...

I don't really know what California's good is. Although I would say we have avacado a ton more then other states. I know one time my dad went to a Utah's subway and asked for avacado on his sandwich and they looked at him like he was crazy.

Ooo also maybe fish tacos. I would say seafood is a big part of our diet (depending on where you live).

And also sourdough bread. Mmmm best stuff around.

Last one, California Mexican food. So much good Mexican food!

Leslie said...

I have never had cheese curds because I have sadly not yet been to the part of the country that makes them, but I have had “poutine” that people in Germany tried to make without access to gravy or to cheese curds, and also “disco fries” which is New Jersey’s version of poutine. It is cheese fries (with regular cheese) and gravy. I would love to try real poutine with real fries, real gravy and real cheese curds!

Wendelin, sorry to hear about your computer and your windshield! Hope you are having a good trip.