Day 455: Doorco

A relatively easy drive from Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago, Door County, Wisconsin is a favorite weekend and vacation destination for folks in the area. Its name comes from a narrow strait, which is a shortcut from Lake Michigan into Green Bay. Treacherous winds and currents make it hazardous to navigate at times, and the Native Americans in the area called it, in their own language, the “Door of Death.” Their words were translated as “Porte des Morte” by the French explorers who came later.

Laetitia and her group stopped to buy tickets for August: Osage County, a play that was being performed that evening by the Peninsula Players. They spent the rest of the day visiting the villages that populate the peninsula, doing coastal hikes and drives, and looking at lighthouses and oddities like Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, with goats eating grass on its sod roof.

Door County is famous for the Montmorency cherry, a tart variety beloved of pastry bakers, named for the Montmorency Valley in France. Fresh cherries are available from middle to late summer, but dried cherries, jams, preserves, and related products are available throughout the tourist season.

Early that evening the group went to a fish boil at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek. Laetitia’s grandmother had asked her to say hello to Russell when she was there. Russell had a day job as a pipefitter in the Sturgeon Bay shipyard, but spent his evenings on Wednesdays and weekends as the boil master at the inn. He would oversee and explain the fish boil process and then, while the food was cooking, entertain the guests with his accordion.

The fish (usually fresh Lake Michigan whitefish) is boiled in a large pot over an open wood fire. The pot is filled with salt water (one pound of salt per two gallons of water), creating buoyancy that makes the oils cooked from the fish rise to the top. When the water is boiling, the food is lowered into the pot in metal baskets. Potatoes are cooked first, and then the fish. Just before the fish is ready to serve, kerosene is thrown on the fire, causing it to flame up and the pot to boil over, expelling the floating fish oil from the pot. The fish and potatoes are served with coleslaw and homemade breads, with cherry pie as dessert.

August: Osage County is a dark play about a dysfunctional family. Tracy Letts, the playwright, received a Pulitzer Prize for the play in 2008. The evening’s performance was long, but well-acted, and it was a big hit with Laetitia’s group. During intermission, Laetitia overheard a conversation by some adolescent males about a naive acquaintance from Iron Mountain, Michigan. They had enticed him to “Doorco,” as they called Door County, to be fixed up with a cherry tart that turned out to be a pastry instead of the
promiscuous but virginal woman he was expecting. It made a lame limerick, but it was late in the day, and Laetitia was running out of time.

Some Doorco lads made up a fiction
That was worthy of a politician
When they fixed up young Bart
With a fine cherry tart
For it is but a slight contradiction.

Day 454: Green Bay Hay

Green Bay is a city of about 100,000 people located at the head of Green Bay in Lake Michigan. It is traditionally a meatpacking and paper-milling town, but it is best known around the world for its professional football team, the Green Bay Packers. Founded in 1921, the team has won 13 National Football League championship titles, including four Super Bowls. They have an international following.

It is commonly believed that the Packer colors are green and gold, but savvy game watchers have no doubt observed that at winter games in open-air Lambeau Field, blaze orange is almost as common. Why have two jackets when one will serve for both deer hunting and Packer games? That blaze orange is considered by many to be the third Packer color was brought home to Laetitia when she attended a costume party one Halloween in Hibernia, and a couple arrived dressed as Packer fans. The man was wearing a blaze-orange coat and hunting cap, and the woman was wearing a cheese head and cheese bra.

Laetitia took her group to Heritage Hill State Historical Park, a fifty-acre collection of historic buildings representing various phases of Wisconsin’s history. Afterward they went to the National Railroad Museum. Then Laetitia arranged to meet her group for dinner and went to a local bar for happy hour.

A number of years before, she and her grandmother had toured the Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, California. At the end of the tour, the guide asked the group what state was the largest consumer of their brandy. The answer was “Wisconsin. They order one third of our total production.” As Laetitia sat at the bar, it soon became clear why as she listened to the bar patrons order, “a brandy old-fashioned,” and “a brandy Manhattan,” the only ones she could remember from a list of more than 30 brandy drinks. Sometime before she had to leave to meet her group, she overheard some gossip that became the limerick of the day.

‘Twas the goal of young James from Green Bay
To take Jan for a roll in the hay
In the barn of old Mitch
‘Til the hay made them itch
And they swore they’d find a better way.

Day 453: Tabasco Fiasco

Sipping from a steaming cup of Sumatran dark roast coffee at the Emerald Victorian as she planned the day’s tour, Laetitia decided that she would go to Menomonie next. It’s a western Wisconsin city of around 15,000 people on the Red Cedar River. The city’s name comes from an Objibwe word, manoominii, meaning “wild rice people.”

Laetitia searched for Menomonie information on the Internet and found a site entitled “7 Local Things We Miss—Menomonie Edition!” One of the places listed was the Bolo Country Inn, a supper club that featured popovers along with classy dinners. Unfortunately, it closed in 2002. This would be a problem for most tour companies, but not for Mind’s Eye Limerick Tours. She decided to take her group there for dinner.

Laetitia and her group started the day just south of Menomonie in Downsville, with a hike down the Red Cedar State Trail, which runs along the banks of the Red Cedar River to the river’s confluence with the Chippewa River. Afterward they went to Menomonie and visited the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. During their visit, Laetitia noticed there was to be a bluegrass tribute band playing the music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs that evening. In the 1940s, Earl Scruggs revolutionized five-string banjo playing with his syncopated three-finger picking style. When she learned that the box office had tickets available and that her group was interested in attending, she booked the performance.

Just as the popovers arrived during the group’s dinner at the Bolo, Laetitia struck up a conversation with Jeanette and Jim, the couple at the next table, and asked them about the Bolo Country Inn. They said the Bolo was named after a champion black Labrador retriever that belonged to the owners. They pointed out the images of Bolo and other memorabilia that adorned the walls and shelves of the restaurant.

When they finished speaking, Laetitia thanked them and asked, “You’ve been married a long time; do you ever disagree on anything?”

Jeanette smiled and said, “Grits. Jim likes them for breakfast; I don’t.”

“Especially with Tabasco,” Jim added.

Laetitia thanked them again and took her group to the concert. Sometime between The Ballad of Jed Clampett and Foggy Mountain Breakdown, she wrote the limerick of the day on the back of her program.

The wife of a man from Menomonie
Thinks her guy’s taste for grits made from hominy
Well-laced with Tabasco
A breakfast fiasco
So she hopes he’ll soon find a new nominee.

Day 452: Jake, the Rake

When Laetitia walked into the kitchen of the Emerald Victorian, she found next to the coffee grinder a packet marked, “Intense French, Cameron’s Coffee, Rice Lake, Wisconsin.” Rice Lake is only about 50 miles from Hayward, where she had toured the day before. As she walked into the library with a cup of the steaming rich dark brew in hand, she decided to take the hint.

Rice Lake, Wisconsin is both a body of water and a community of about 8,000 souls on the lake’s shore. Rice Lake is named for an aquatic grass that grows in shallow lakes and rivers in the upper Midwest. The grain it produces was a staple in the diets of the Native Americans who lived in the area. Today it’s sold in stores as “wild rice.”

Laetitia and her group began the day with a visit to Indian Mounds Park, a pre-Columbian burial ground on the shores of Rice Lake. Archeologists estimate that there have been human populations in this area for at least 12,000 years. The group went to Hiawatha Park for a picnic lunch and then did a lakeshore hike.

At happy hour that afternoon, a bartender told Laetitia about a local wildlife artist whom he described as a “rake.” When Laetitia was a child and heard her grandmother use the term to describe a profligate member of the extended family, she was baffled as she tried to imagine Cousin Eddie as a garden tool. Later, as an adult, she realized that the term was short for rakehell, no doubt referring to the way a fire flares up when it is raked, allowing more oxygen to reach the coals. Those who coined the term likely imagined the dissolute life of the libertine fanning the flames of Hell. In any case, the story provided the day’s limerick for Laetitia.

An amorous fellow named Jake
Who was known as a bit of a rake
Had a habit of fetching
Girls to see his etching
Of flowers and birds ‘round Rice Lake.