Ring of Cheese

I thought for once I would try and experiment with composing this blog while I’m still awake, inspired, and freshly caffeinated.  Whatever else the calendar might have to say about it, I consider Labor Day to be the official end of summer.  September brings a birthday, fall, at least two concerts, and perhaps other delights yet to be revealed.  This weekend went by all too fast with little downtime, but I have no regrets.  I reconnected with an old friend I hadn’t seen in six years, fed my face, stayed in a stunning Lake House, took a few pictures, swam a bit, slept very little, spent too much time in the car, and regretted yet again that my friend lives in Seattle, so far away.

As we finally headed out the door Saturday morning, I declared “No food ’til the Cheese Castle!”  I was referring, of course, to the legendary Mars Cheese Castle near Kenosha, where I fully intended to eat my lunch if at all possible.  A bit down the road, my daughter asked my spouse “Was Mommy joking when she said we couldn’t eat until we got to the Cheese Castle?”  Like a damn fool he said yes I had been joking, on which point I sternly corrected him and clarified my determination to stake my lunch claim on the overpriced yet atmospheric tourist attraction rather than the usual fast-food establishment or Illinois Tollway oasis.  I knew this was the closest thing I would have to a vacation in who knows how long, and I wasn’t about to let such an opportunity or cheese curd sample slip through my greedy fingers without fully savoring each moment.

It so happened this was the weekend of Harley Fest in Milwaukee, which was why we had no hope of obtaining a room anywhere in the area on the relatively short notice we had for this trip.  This otherwise-unfortunate concurrence did compensate us with a great deal of entertainment and a few choice photos, as there were bikers, bikers, everywhere all weekend, everywhere we went.  Bikers on the road, bikers at the oases, bikers at the Kiltie, bikers zooming past the house where we were staying and waving back at us when we waved at them.  I have to say, this was an exceptionally well-behaved bunch of bikers.  I don’t think I have a single complaint about any of them, and taking their pictures gave me something to do on the long, slow ride.

Born to Be Mild

Born to Be Mild

I highly recommend you click on this image for the full effect of her stunning buckskin fringe, because I went to some great effort to get the shot.  Befringed Biker Lady had a rather surly expression, but I like to think she might finally manage to crack a smile if she knew she made me happy.  Making me happy is a goal that all people should aspire to, so if you aren’t grinning from ear to ear as you read this, I damn well want to know why.

My other favorite couple that I managed to obtain a shot of was this one, who apparently saw the fringe of the others and raised them two ‘coon tails.  As before, click on this image and open it up for the full effect.

What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

All this work and excitement made me hungry, so I was relieved when we spied the looming signage of the venerated Mars Cheese Castle on the left side of the road.  I informed my daughter we would soon be leaving earth for an alien atmosphere, having already failed to convince her the attraction was an actual castle made of cheese, and I was absolutely right.

Earth Needs Cheese

Reading the reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor, the Mars Cheese Castle is one of those places about which people tend to vehemently disagree.  Some despise it for high prices and claim everything there can be found at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for less, but my love for the place is based as much on the sheer visual appeal and iconicity as the food.  More than just cheese, it stands for all cheese and for Wisconsin itself, not to mention they have a bathroom and free samples of cheese curds.  My daughter said her hot dog was the best she’d ever eaten, and while I’m not sure I’d say quite the same about my bratwurst with sauerkraut, it was char-grilled to order and entirely delicious.

Shopping there was as overwhelming as usual, but I grabbed a t-shirt (a gift), peppered salami, pretzel crisps, a bar of soap, a Skyway Bar, and a Jelly Belly Dino Egg and forced myself to head to the checkout before I did any further damage.  Reluctantly passing up the cheese curds and Kringles, I told myself there would be more than enough food where we were going and the last thing I needed was to consume a full bag of cheese curds on the way there.  You see, unlike Jay’s Potato Chips, I can’t stop eating them.  As for the Kringles, I thought there just might be some of those where we were going.  I was right, but that was understating it.

The house we stayed in was one of the more lavish I’ve ever seen, second only to the Hearst Mansion.  It was right on the lake, with huge windows showcasing the view.  So lovely was it that when I staggered back to my bed after my daughter awakened us shortly after dawn, I stopped to feast my bleary eyes on the sheer beauty of it.  The tone of the trip was set shortly after we arrived, when my friend’s mother and in-laws emerged bearing three of the most immense cheesecakes I had ever seen.  Click on this image at your own risk if you love cheesecake as much as I do.  Cheese may bedevil my waistline, but it rocks my world and may very well be the ultimate comfort food.  Gouda, Swiss, Alouette, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, pizza, macaroni and cheese, Cheetohs, cheese danishes, quesadillas, and those delicious Kaukona cheese balls rolled in chopped nuts, but not the port wine ones.  J’adore carrot cake almost as much as cheese, which is why I am at least a bit proud that I only had one immense slice of the carrot cheesecake pictured on the right.

Cakes of Cheese

Cakes of Cheese

We had eleven people there; seven adults and four children.  That’s a lot of people, but I count ten slices on each of those cheesecakes, allowing for almost three slices per person over a 24-hour period.  Even in the wildest excesses of self-indulgence, this is not and should not be within the realm of possibility.  Besides, we had to leave room for our trip to the Kiltie on Saturday night.

After the initial round of eating and a dip in the lake, the three grandparents headed off to a movie and the rest of us piled into two cars and headed for the Kiltie Drive-In, located in Oconomowoc.  The Kiltie has been there for sixty years and is beautifully preserved, right down to the Scotch plaid light fixtures above the serving area.  The menu hasn’t changed in many years, nor does it need to.  If you go for just one thing, go for the ice cream.  Along with a pork tenderloin that was not at all the fried monstrosity I expected, I had the lime Pike’s Peak, a shake topped with vanilla custard.  How sweet is was to have two meals out in one day, both freshly prepared and non-cardboard.

The ride back home on Sunday was hellish and exhausted, but we took some recovery time today and got in a final swim at Evergreen Aqua on the last day of the swimming season.  I knew it would be mobbed because it was Labor day and hot, but I’ve never seen the place so crowded.  It was more a symbolic swim than anything, given that barely could you move without nuzzling someone’s armpit or having a kid plow into you.  I can’t complain, because living two blocks away has provided us with so many opportunities to have the big pool nearly to ourselves.  Sometimes they blow the whistle and the kids all have to exit, leaving me the only adult in the immense middle pool.  Other times a few other adults stand or walk around in pairs, chatting with each other as I skim around them on my back.  Swimming is the most effortless form of exercise I know, and I’ll miss it.  We do have a high school pool that has open swimming hours, but I have only hellish memories of high school swimming pools.  Now and then I wonder if Valerie remembers putting her hand on my shoulder and pushing me down into the deep end quite as well as I remember her doing it, but somehow I doubt it.  She is probably still prettier than me, but I’ll bet she can’t string a sentence together worth a damn.

Since I am a hippie-dippie weirdo, I sometimes like to consult my Q Cards before I undertake a major endeavor.  I don’t particularly believe the cards have the capacity to tell the future, but they do serve to help jump-start my creative thinking and to frame events in ways that are meaningful to me, much like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. This time I drew a card I don’t think I’ve ever had before:

  1. On Saturday night, my friend’s mother told us a story about an alleged long-ago act of tax fraud involving a ring.
  2. Also on Saturday night, my friend played me Johnny Cash’s amazing Spanish version of Ring of Fire, entitled “Fuego d’Amor.”
  3. A ring appeared on Sunday, but not on anyone’s finger.

Rings on my fingers and bells on my toes, I leave you to ponder that with Johnny Cash while I nibble that last piece of chocolate cheesecake:

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