Soup and Bread

S&B Tour 2011: Madison

One week and one day after pulling our raggedy tails back to Chicago, Sheila and I took a quick trip to Wisconsin to seek out our people. In Madison, we found them. Now, if only we had had some books to sell them.

But I’ll back up …

Our first stop was actually Rockford, Illinois — home of Cheap Trick, fugitive Wisconsin lawmakers, and the greater Sachs family. Sheila hadn’t made it home for Thanksgiving, so she promised her mom we would stop for lunch. We interrupted mom, two aunts, and a sister playing cards, then noshed on tuna salad and pickled herring — and two kinds of soup — before trading her sister some cookbooks for a pair of Boy Scout Christmas wreaths and getting back on the road. The wreaths proceeded to obscure my driving and shed needles all over the car for the next two days, but they sure smelled pretty.

We got to Madison’s High Noon Saloon just before 4, in time to rendezvous with our local fixer, the indispensable Nancy Sorensen. Nancy and I were introduced by Leah Caplan, with whom she works part-time at the local, sustainably minded Metcalfe’s Market. She’s also a server at L’Etoile and the mother of adorable Owen — and in her spare time (spare time?) she organizes her OWN charity event, Iron Cupcake Madison. Basically, she’s four kinds of awesome and, as the next 24 hours would prove, handy in a crisis.

A few days earlier we had realized that we were running low on books. Surely we would need a few more than 15 in Wisconsin, right? So we ordered two cases from Agate and, to expedite things, arranged to have them shipped straight to the High Noon, to arrive Wednesday evening. No problem.

But as soup cooks and soup eaters started to pour in, we soon realized: Problem. We sold those 15 books in half an hour, so I plunked myself at the repurposed pool/merch table to explain that we were so sorry, but we were temporarily out of books–but the UPS delivery would show up any second, for reals, and we would be back in business. No problem.

Over by the stage a dozen cooks were busy behind bubbling crocks. We had soups from avid home cooks and from Madison’s finest professionals — including an Italian wedding soup from Leah, squash soup with sage and apples from the Weary Traveler, a vegan chipotle-kale soup from the Willy Street Co-op, and still more savory kale in the form of lentil, kale, and sweet potato soup from Tory Miller at L’Etoile. All of it — this being Madison — made with locally grown and carefully sourced ingredients. Above, Isthmus food writer Marcelle Richards ladles up some of her garlic-“smashed potato” soup, made (with help from Isthmus creative director Ellen Meany and features editor Linda Falkenstein) from spuds grown by Ellen’s husband, Farmer Rob.

More and more people showed up, from UW students to graying Madison hippies to the littlest of little kids. “Recall Walker” buttons were everywhere. I met some Chicago expats who had been loyal Soup & Bread fans at the Hideout before they scooted up north. I had a great chat with writer and local foods guru Therese Allen. DJ 45 Freakout, aka Isthmus music writer Bob Koch, kept things lively. And still: No books.

Eventually I got up to say thank you — and point out that you can always buy the book online from Agate or from Amazon. Hell, it’s actually CHEAPER online (though less of the profits go directly to your two road-weary travelers, if you care about that kind of thing). Or, you can go to your local independent retailer and urge them to get the book in stock. That’ll help your local businesses and help us get the word out!

All in all, despite the lack of merch, it was a great night (and if you don’t believe me go here to read someone else’s recap). All the soup cooks, patient soup fans, and unflaggingly helpful High Noon bartenders were swell — and we were so very happy to be back in the Midwest, where everyone owns a Crock-Pot or three and where people just seem to get it. In Madison, in fact, they got it to the tune of $1060 in donations raised for Second Harvest Food Bank of Southwest Wisconsin. Not that it’s a competition — but that’s a Soup & Bread tour record.

The next day, after some martinis and a good night’s sleep on Ellen and Bob’s farm, we set to finding our wayward boxes, so that at least we wouldn’t show up in Milwaukee empty handed.

Now, anyone who’s ever dealt with UPS knows that UPS central is useless. After many tries we couldn’t get anything out of them but the info that the books were “on the truck.” But after setting the Agate staff on the case, we did determine that, in fact, only ONE of the boxes was on the truck. The other one was … well … lost.

We’ll take what we can get. Back in the car we hopped, and after a quick cruise through Stoughton, WI — where a set of defeatist bars named, respectively, the Never Mind and the Whatever, flank the main drag — we were back in Madison and in hot pursuit of Big Brown and our one established box.  Sheila had managed to sweet talk a lady at UPS-Madison into giving us our driver’s coordinates and, after roping Nancy into this crazy caper, we set out to track him down. Along the way we ambushed a pair of babyfaced UPS dudes, who clearly thought we were insane, but were kind enough to give us a direct line to Angie, the helpful lady in the Madison dispatch office. Thanks, Gubby!

Nancy took the square; Sheila and I took Johnson Street — and a low-speed, high-comedy chase ensued, with Sheila on the phone with Angie, who was herself on the phone with our driver, as she balanced her GPS-enabled iPad in her lap and gave directions. Go left! No – around the square! Meanwhile, Nancy is texting updates: No UPS delivery on Washington Street yet, so he must be running late.

And then, just as we were about to give up — we found him, idling quietly on a residential street just east of the square. He was expecting us, having been warned by Angie that two crazy ladies were hot on his trail. Thanks, Mark, for being so patient! And for giving us our dearly desired books.

We threw the box in the car (behind the damn wreaths); texted Nancy (We got him!!!!!”); and took off for Milwaukee, right on schedule. No problem, right?


PS: Nancy’s hoping to make this a monthly thing at the High Noon, so if all goes well we’ll be back in January. With books.

Posted: Monday Dec 5,2011 12:06 PM In S&B Cookbook

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