Monday, December 15, 2014

On Wisconsin!

I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for this week’s state.  I mean, any state that prides itself on cheese curds, beer and having ample toilet paper has to be worth delving into deeper, right?  Plus, (geeky Kristi fact comin’ at you!) this week’s state is the subject of my very first state research project waaaaayyy back in 1992.  (Yep, I was in fourth grade!)  Back then it was an easy pick for me because it was a place outside of Ohio I’d actually been!  You see, the REAL reason it has a soft spot in my heart is there were (are) Kosakowski’s there to visit!  My aunt, uncle and four cousins made their home in Mequon for quite some time and it was through them I learned about being a cheesehead, frozen custard at Kopp’s, and toured my first brewery!  If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re off to the Badger State of Wisconsin this week!  I’ve had a blast researching and planning my menus for the week, so without further ado, let’s hit some of the highlights I plan on sharing with my Dynamic Duo on Wisconsin!

You know I’ve got to start with the obvious (no, Grant, not the beer) which is Wisconsin’s dairy industry.   The history of commercial cheese making in Wisconsin dates back to 1841 and today approximately 10,000 dairy farms, with over 1.27 million cows producie an average of 21,436 pounds of milk each per year. Cheesemakers use approximately 90 percent of this milk to produce cheese at 126 plants.  (via Wisconsin Dairy Council).  My mind was blown by some of these dairy statistics that I found like that Wisconsin produces 13.7% of the milk for the entire nation and 45% of all the specialty cheese!  The state even has “America’s Dairyland” on its license plate, and that’s no joke!   Dairy has a huge impact on Wisconsin’s bottom line as dairy sales make up $43.4 billion of its $88.3 billion total agriculture sales.  California does, technically, produce more diary than Wisconsin, but given its size and number of people, it should!  I can tell you that around here, dairy is going to play a huge role this week in our discussions and of course, in our menu.  (Did I mention cheese curds yet???)

I guarantee you that some of that milk is used to make some very famous frozen custard.  One company from Wisconsin that has gone national with custard sales is Culver’s.  Opened in 1984 in Sauk City, the restaurant prides itself on its signature combination: Culver’s ButterBurgers and Fresh Frozen Custard.  Since franchising in 1990, over 500 Culver’s in 22 states have been opened.  And while Culver’s is well and good (have I mentioned cheese curds yet???) my first frozen custard memories stem from the Milwaukee based Kopp’s Frozen Custard.  Kopps’ was founded in 1950 by Elsa Kopp and was the first custard stand to offer a special "Flavor of the Day" in addition to the more traditional chocolate and vanilla flavors.    You can even go online and check out their Flavor Forecast!  (Today’s flavors are Mint Chip and Pralines ‘N Caramel ‘N Cream in case you were wondering.)  Kopp’s has three locations but if you’re not nearby, they do have an online store!

You know a place in Wisconsin that I’m pretty sure they consume a whole lotta frozen custard?  The Wisconsin Dells!  Billed as “The Waterpark Capital of the World” the Dells are only 19.5 square miles of space with less than 6,000 permanent residents but it has more hotel rooms than any other city in Wisconsin!  (Over 8,000!)  And whether they stay in the many hotels, motels, cottages, condos or campgrounds, it’s pretty safe to say the biggest draw in the Dells for the tourists are there are the water parks!  The largest indoor park (Kalahari Waterpark Resort Convention Center) has over 125,000 square feet of fun!  America’s largest waterpark, Noah’s Ark, spans 70 acres and has over 3 miles of water slides.  And to accommodate those that love indoor and outdoor parks (we are talking about Wisconsin after all, it’s not really warm there year round) tourists check out Wilderness Hotel which has 4 indoor and 4 outdoor waterparks totaling nearly 500,000 square feet.  I’m hesitant to even add the Dells to our “Famous For” wall this week as I think my Bean may just pack her bags and take off once she hears about it.  This is right up my little mermaid’s alley!

And if I lose the Bean to the waterparks, there’s no doubt that my NJ is going to be all over the fact that Harley Davidson got its start in Wisconsin!  William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson made their first ‘motorbike’ available to the public in 1903.  The ‘factory’ they worked in (a wooden shed in Milwaukee with “Harley Davidson Motor Company” on the door) built the original bike to be a racer.   The idea took off, with a dealer opening in Chicago in 1904, and the Detroit police department using the bikes for patrols in 1908.  In both World War I and World War II the bikes were used for combat missions.  Since 1977 the only motorcycles sold to the public under the Harley-Davidson brand have been heavyweight motorcycles designed for highway cruising.  Harley enthusiasts can visit the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee for exhibits of people, products, culture and history of Harley or the Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations Plant in Menomonee Falls for two tours. 

If motorcycles aren’t your thing, what about a trip to the Circus?  Circus World, in Baraboo, celebrates the birth of “The Greatest Show on Earth!”  It also happens that Baraboo is the home of the Ringling Brothers, who began their Ringling Brothers Circus there in 1884.  The circus wintered in Baraboo for 34 years before it merged with the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1918 to create “Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.”  The circus continues to tour (there are three different units – red, blue and gold) and visitors to the Circus World Museum also get in on the action.  At the museum, you can check out Ringlingville which consists of the remaining buildings of the original wintering grounds of the Ringling Brothers Circus, the Hippodrome which houses the museum's daily circus and magic show performances and the W.W. Deppe Wagon Pavilion which houses a collection of fifty restored antique circus wagons.

And what’s a circus without a little bit of magic?  I honestly debated including Harry Houdini on this weeks “famous for” wall because he wasn’t born in Wisconsin – he just told everyone he was.   Houdini was actually born in Budapest, and moved to Appleton where he often claimed he was born.  He was fascinated with magic, particularly feats of escape.  The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton has an entire exhibit dedicated to Houdini.  Some of the magician’s most noteable escapes include from a pair of specially designed handcuffs on a challenge from the London Mirror, his own milk can escape where he was cuffed and sealed inside an over-sized milk can filled with water and made his escape behind a curtain, an escape from a Chinese Water Torture Cell, a suspended straight jacket escape, and being buried alive.  Houdini was often billed as “The World’s Greatest Magician” and is remembered as unique, talented and motivated magician who was a terrific showman and self-promoter.

If you’re not a magic fan, how do you feel about live music?  Milwaukee’s Summerfest, held on 11 stages, over 11 days, with over 800 acts and 1000 performances – making it one of the largest music festivals in the world.  Plans for the first Summerfest began in the 1960’s as a way to revitalize downtown Milwaukee.   In 1968, the first Summerfest debuted at 35 separate locations throughout the city.  Two years later the festival took up permanent residence on the lakefront, eventually becoming a permanent 75-acre festival site.  Summerfest 2014 had over 851,000 attendees with a line-up ranging from Ludacris to Neon Trees to Lady Gaga to Brad Paisley!  Summerfest is known for being an affordable and family friendly event filled with amazing music, fun activities (you can zip line 40 feet above the Summerfest grounds, take a spin on an array of carnival rides or enjoy a paddleboat ride on the lagoon) with tons of good food (Nearly 168,000 mini donuts, 60,000 cheeseburgers and 42,000 ears of corn were consumed during Summerfest 2013, according to Milwaukee World Festival, Inc)  Kayla can have the Dells, Noah can have Harley, gimme Summerfest!

Of course, I can’t get through a state with my crew without paying homage to its sports teams.  I again have a special place in my heart for the Milwaukee Brewers as I remember attending a game or two at the old County Stadium as well as having had the opportunity to see a game at Miller Park.  We’re not a huge basketball family, but the Milwaukee Bucks are the Badger State’s NBA team of choice.  And I’m going to wrap up the famous for the same way we started – with cheese.  Or cheesheads to be more precise.  The Green Bay Packers began in 1919 and have been one of the most dominate NFL franchises in history.  The play at the famed Lambeau Field, also known as the “Frozen Tundra”.  The Packers' fan base is famously dedicated. Regardless of the team's performance, every Packers game has been sold out since 1960 – you don’t mess with Cheeseheads!

I’m so excited to take on all things food this week in Wisconsin.  I’m starting us off with these Cheesy Crescent Bratdogs (because it’s Monday!  And I can make them in shifts!  Silly religious ed timing…)  It’s safe to say LOTS of this week’s recipes feature cheese.  And a bit of beer.  (And have I mentioned cheese curds yet??)  I have a feeling it’s going to be a good week around here.  Plus I tried my hand at these State Fair Cream Puffs for dessert.  These treats have been served at the Wisconsin State Fair since 1924 and even have their own specific pavilion at the fair.  How can you go wrong with pastry and cream?

Alright, have I convinced you to be excited for Wisconsin this week?  Do I need to mention cheese curds again?  I’d say we have plenty to cover and I for one am stoked!  (Grant says forget the cheese curds, bring on the beer!)  Back tomorrow with a fun project and a recipe for my Bean (hmm, seafood anyone?)!  So until then…

Wisconsin Fun Fact of the Day: Wisconsin snowmobile trails total 15,210 miles of signed and groomed snow highways. Eagle River is known as the Snowmobile Capital of the World.

Wisconsin wall is up!  (side note - the state tree (sugar maple) is now up too, got misplaced when Mom was down for the count yesterday

Oh yes, definitely Wisconsin week

The Bean helping me bake bratdogs

Rolling 'em up like a pro

Cheese on the top

Beating the cream puff dough

Ready for the oven

We poked them as soon as they came out of the oven and they stayed nice and puffy!

Ta da!

The benefit of going to religious ed early - taste testing!

Crescent dogs

Wisconsin Dinner is served! 

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