My day job is being the arts, food and wine reporter for The Capital Times. I’m also host of a new Capital Times podcast about food and drink in Madison called The Corner Table. I listen to a lot of food-related podcasts and I thought it would be the perfect way to share information about cool and interesting things that are happening in Madison’s vibrant food scene that might not rise to the level of a feature story.
In addition to the various roles I play at the Cap Times, I’ve had the good fortune to indulge my passion for food and the arts as a volunteer. I’m on the committee for the Steinberg and Osborn Awards, $40,000 awarded to new plays each year by the American Theatre Critics Association. I’m also a volunteer with the Bartell Theatre’s Bartie Awards.
One awards program that has a special place in my heart is the Tommy Awards, a program of Overture Center for the Arts (they’re named after a Lodi native, the actor Tom Wopat). These awards encourage, recognize and honor excellence in high school musical theater and there are currently more than 70 Wisconsin schools participating. Since 2009, I’ve run the Tommy Awards Student Critics Program, where I work with high school students on how to review touring Broadway productions and community performances alike.
My most memorable caffeine is the coffee I’d drink with my best friend JoAnna before we went to musical rehearsals in high school. I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio and we would go to Sufficient Grounds, which was run by a lawyer. They had a “Cappy Hour,” during which you could get a cappuccino for $1. Let’s just say that 16-year-olds should never be allowed to have two shots of espresso! We would drink these and head off to rehearsal. I’m sure we were incredibly hard to be around.
My caffeine of choice has changed over time. I started with mochas when I was a teenager working at a bagel shop — for some reason if you were under 18 you weren’t allowed to operate the espresso machine in Ohio, but the son of the manager was happy to indulge my mocha needs. I made the switch to vanilla lattes one year in college when I gave up chocolate for Lent and later switched to skim lattes with honey.
I finally landed on the Kerry latte, which is a Barriques coffee drink named after one of their employees. It has two shots of espresso and is made with skim and soy milk — for just the right mix of flavor and thickness — and is delicious.
I make cold brew at home year-round with a Toddy coffee maker and have recently been drinking a lot of nitro, which is cold brew that’s infused with nitrogen and usually comes out of a tap. (You can find it at Crescendo Espresso Bar and Music Café, Madison Sourdough and Chocolaterian, among others.)
My favorite place for caffeine at present is Crema Café. I also like Colectivo, the Willy Street Co-op has great coffee and lately I’ve been heading to the new Stone Creek on E. Wash because they have great cold brew and it tends to be a nice quiet place to get some work done.
The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with fall into two categories: food and theater.
In the world of theater, I’d pick Richard Christiansen. He was the theater critic for the Chicago Tribune for three decades and championed Off-Loop theater — the smaller, more experimental theaters of Chicago, which is how companies like Steppenwolf got started. He was a big part of my master’s thesis and I would just love to hear his stories.
The other theater person I’d like to have coffee with is Linda Winer, who, until this week, was the theater critic for NewsDay. I actually did get to meet her once at the O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute and was completely tongue-tied, which is unusual for me. I think I was able to say about four words. She is funny, smart and began to write at a time when there were very few female critics. Many of the things I teach my high school students come from her.
On the food end, I’d choose Mark Bittman. His early work with food was more geared to things like recipes, but more recently he’s focused on food policy and finding ways to address food insecurity.
My other food person would be Judy Rodgers, the author of the Zuni Café Cookbook. The basis for how I cook is strongly tied to her approach — I’m a passionate and enthusiastic home cook and she influenced me heavily. She completely changed the way I roast a chicken!
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine would again be two-fold and revolve around the two things I care about most: theater and food.
On the theater end, I’d like to help people understand the arts are part of what makes us human. The arts allow us to express our humanity and contribute to our ability to be compassionate and empathetic. They’re part of what gives us a soul. I’d like to see the arts prioritized at a policy level.
On the food side, I’d address the issue of food insecurity. We waste an incredible amount of food in our country and there is absolutely no reason that any child should go hungry.
I’ve been involved with the Fair Share CSA Coalition, which gives low-income families access to nutritious food and also works to address complementary issues like the ability to prepare it. Local, accessible, organic, “farm-to-table” foods shouldn’t just be available to people with money. They should be available to all.