The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

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Back garden at The Livingston Inn

It’s that time of year when summer is at its fullest. There are plenty of warm days where everyone is outside taking in the lakes, parks, events, concerts, and festivals. It seems every day, and well into the evening, downtown Madison is buzzing with people walking around, finding fun things to do and dining out at so many fantastic restaurants.

Coinciding with all this activity, it’s also the time of year in Madison when the plants, gardens, and trees seem to be at their peak. A neighbor calls this the “full riot of summer” where every plant and flower has shot up, has bloomed, is blooming, needs trimming, or is getting ready to grow more heading into fall. Walking around neighborhoods, parks, or through Olbrich Botanical or Allen Centennial Gardens, there is so much beauty in all the varieties of flowers and plants enjoying the summer.

At this time of year, though, I also often think about what Madison looked like before humans tamed it. What did it look like before trees were planted along streets, grass was seeded, and all types of plants and flowers, not necessarily native to the area, adorned the many manicured flowerbeds and gardens? Thankfully, there is a place right in our city to find that answer. The UW-Madison Arboretum sits on 1,200 acres on the near west side of Madison, and it’s a place where you can see firsthand what Madison may have looked like before an influx of settlers changes its landscape a couple hundred years ago. The Arboretum is a beautiful setting with an ecological restoration of the Upper Midwest prairie along with some traditional horticultural arrangements of labeled plants in garden-like displays.

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Civilian Conservation Corps restoring farmland to prairie

Several well-known figures in Madison’s history had a hand in the making of the Arboretum, including John Nolen, Michael Olbrich, and Aldo Leopold. It’s important to understand the Arboretum is not on acreage untouched for hundreds of years. Instead, as first proposed by Nolen in 1911, it was the vision of early residents to take farmland in Madison and restore an historic ecological community. It was Olbrich who convinced the UW Board of Regents to aid in the land purchase of the first 246 acres acquired in 1932, growing to 500 acres two years later. Following the land purchase, the Depression-era Civilian Conversation Corps provided the supply of workers who turned the farmland into a prairie restoration.

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Aerial view of UW-Madison Arboretum and Visitor Center

Through additional gifts and purchases, the UW-Madison Arboretum has grown to its present 1,200 acres and features an abundance of hiking trails as well as options for bikes, cars, skis, and snowshoes. The trails and roadways will take you through areas restored as if you were in Madison hundreds of years ago. An outing to the Arboretum may involve encountering wild turkeys, turtles and other wildlife, or in addition to the hiking trails, touring three of the gardens where you can discover an impressive variety of woody plants, Viburnum, arborvitae, and other native plants. There’s also an outstanding Visitor Center and plenty of volunteer and educational opportunities.

140922_juniper-knoll_1586SD_web-348x232Today the Arboretum is undoubtedly the gem of Madison. While we love our lakes, plentiful parks, and neighborhood communities, the Arboretum, while large in size, quietly holds its place among us. Many days most residents likely forget it’s there, some not noticing it even when going around its edges on Madison streets and highways. But when we need a refuge from the busy and growing city around us, it’s always waiting there for us, allowing us to take a peaceful walk through it and marvel at the beauty and simplicity of a natural ecosystem.

imagesYou can bike in the Arboretum and on Sundays drive through it from one side to the other, but the best way to enjoy the Arb is on foot. The website has an easy-to-read map noting parking lots for trailheads. An ideal first trip would be to drive to the Visitor Center and make time to hike through at least a couple of the gardens and then venture out onto one of the many hiking trails. If you like to ski or snowshoe, take note of areas you’d like to return to when winter comes to our area (note: some trails are for hiking only).

With summer in full bloom, I strongly encourage you to put a trip to the Arboretum on the top of your list. While the excitement of summertime in the city is all around us right now, including beautiful flowers and plants, the Arboretum is a perfect respite to take a few steps back in time and picture the natural beauty of our area. It’s an opportunity to enjoy it now and enjoy as it always was.

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Now Eligible To Vote

 

To start, this blog has nothing to do with presidential politics. I’m sure many readers are thankful for that. Instead, there is an event that turns 18 years old this month – the age eligible to vote – and has embraced the democratic process for many years. A warm welcome to spring, the Wisconsin Film Festival (WFF) begins this week on Thursday and celebrates its 18th year bringing the joy of film to its fans.

There’s a lot of voting that happens at the festival. Some individuals have spent the last several months watching films and participating in the collaborative process to figure out the best films for this year’s audience. The jury reviewing Wisconsin’s Own – the category of film dedicated to our state’s filmmakers – have made their selection for the Golden Badger Award, akin to a WFF Oscar. The ceremony for the winners is held on opening night. Most importantly, this year’s cinephiles again have the opportunity to vote for their favorites as part of the Steep & Brew Audience Award. Categories for the award are narrative, documentary, and best rediscovery.

Opening NightEach year the festival becomes more exciting to us as the organizers expand and come up with fabulous ways to make the event something for everyone, yet in Madison’s unique way. The 2016 festival expands to the east side with films shown at the historic Barrymore Theatre. Opening night will also feature Madison’s own disco cover band, VO5, playing at the Harmony Bar just down the road from the Barrymore. For families attending the festival, the “Big Screens, Little Folks” program returns with films geared toward children ages 5-11 (and a great option since Madison schools happen to be closed on Friday during the festival due to a professional development day).

In the spirit of the voting theme, and bringing back something we did a couple years ago, below are Peggy and my top selections for the festival. While there are many more fantastic films, we hope these will pique your interest to fully immerse yourself in a week of cinema here in Madison.

Peggy

  1. ApostateThe Apostate. Set in Madrid, a young man tries to leave the Catholic Church and runs into some baffling obstacles. The film is a humorous examination of the contradictions among religion and agnosticism.
  2. The Club. Peggy is on a theme here. The Club is another film in Spanish, this one set in Chile, and with a storyline related to the Catholic Church. The narrative film, however, has a much more serious theme with its story about transgressions of modern-day priests.
  3. The Crow’s Egg. An engaging and warm move, The Crow’s Egg follows two young brothers growing up in an Indian slum and their dream to eat a slice of pizza B010_C003_0804BAfrom the newly opened pizza parlor. It’s a feel-good movie with an element of social conscience.
  4. Kill Me Please. Brazilian director and screenwriter, Anita Rocha da Silveira, offers a macabre tale about a wave of murders using the artistry of brightly colored cinematography combined with a “killer” soundtrack.
  5. The Love Witch. A witch seeks a lover using potions in this sexy and funny film. Reflecting the art of film in the late 60s and early 70s, the director photographs her movies on 35mm film and WFF will screen The Love Witch from a 35mm print.

Dave

  1. CosmosCosmos.  Cosmos is the much-anticipated first film in fifteen years from Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, who sadly died in February at the age of 75. Hailed by WFF as a “cinematic maelstrom”, the film follows two friends to a guesthouse in Portugal and chronicles a story full of omens, obsession, paranoia and jealousy.
  2. Louder Than Bombs. Featured at the Cannes Film Festival and a Best Film at the Stockholm Film Festival, Louder Than Bombs is a story about the revelations of a father and his two sons upon going through the departed mother’s work as a war photographer. The story masterly fragments time and reality using flashbacks, voiceovers, and dreams to understand the characters’ psyches.
  3. Mad About Madison. This WFF Shorts Program features selections from local filmmakers. Laugh at the Atwood Avenue turkeys, discover local preservation efforts, and take in a couple of perspectives on life at UW-Madison.
  4. Sing Street. Set in Ireland in 1985, Sing Street is a heroic tale of success and conflict when a 14-year old boy forms a band and becomes all the rage in the neighborood. Directed by John Carney, whose credits include Once and Begin Again, the film is a sure favorite for those who enjoy the nostalgia of 80s pop music.
  5. Under the SunUnder the Sun. This documentary filmed in North Korea reveals the unseen daily life of the country’s citizens. Directed by Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, Under the Sun provides a rare glimpse into the homes, schools, and factories behind the Bamboo Curtain.

To read about these films and more, you can visit the WFF website at 2016.wifilmfest.org or pick up a paper film guide at many outlets around town. We hope to see you out and about during this year’s festival and to celebrate Wisconsin Film Festival’s 18th birthday. It’s sure to be a nice break from the ongoing news about the other votes we’re making in 2016!

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Beauty in the Eye of the Holder

IMG_0680About three weeks ago, I watched a commentary on CBS Sunday Morning about “death by selfie”. You may have heard this is an actual occurrence in our world today where people come into harm’s way while trying to take the perfect photo of themselves on their mobile phone. The commentary went on to talk about how selfies, and the proliferation of camera phones in general, have caused us to stray from enjoying the moment, most importantly when we travel. The CBS story showed tourists crowding around the Mona Lisa, many with cameras raised high to take a photo, and the reporter wondered how many people simply enjoyed taking in the beauty of the Mona Lisa. This behavior, according to the reporter, relinquishes our recollection of people and places. In essence, we have no memory of the event or special occasion because we spent all our time uploading photos and posting them to social media. We didn’t take time to remember the feeling and emotion of what we saw or did.

The commentary got me thinking about our digital world and online reviews. Today, we can’t use an app or make an online purchase without being asked to review it. At The Livingston Inn, we are just as guilty at it, but we know it’s a very critical and required component to ensure our business succeeds. And we love our reviews, too. We have received so many kind and thoughtful comments from guests, and we greatly value the time it takes for them to write something. We read them all and feel supported for all the hard work we’ve put into our B&B.

Since we opened in 2011, we have also been honored to receive many handwritten thank you letters and notes. We have placed each one in a large manila envelope kept in a chest in our front parlor. As I pondered online reviews and “death by selfie”, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at the contents of the envelope. As I pulled out each piece of correspondence, it was a beautiful example of the not-yet-lost art of the handwritten thank you letter. The beauty of the experience was not the self-centeredness of receiving praise (although most everyone finds praise rewarding, whether in their career or personal life) but the feeling of connecting to the writer.

IMG_0660I don’t understand the psychology of it, but that feeling could come from many places. It could be sensing someone’s uniqueness through his or her handwriting style, stimulating a memory or two when reading the words, or the simple tactile sensation of holding a card or piece of paper. And it’s important to note that, some assumptions aside about the younger generation, the thank you letters have been sent to us from people young and old, near and far, and many walks of life. The time I spent taking out each note, card, and letter, reading them, and then placing them together was quite powerful. It made me very happy that, despite all the stuff in our lives, people take the time to write thank you letters and that Peggy and I have made the effort to hold on to them.

IMG_0666I am grateful for the many things and experiences we have in today’s world — mobile phones, our capabilities to travel and see the sights and cultures around the world, and even the ability to conveniently read a review about almost any item to purchase or a place to visit. They all are admirable accomplishments in the 21st century. But I am also very appreciative of this manila envelope inside a chest in an old historic home in Madison. It holds something very precious, something perhaps many years from now that another person will open to remember how humans are connected and what life was like at The Livingston Inn during its early years. It holds a gift of words written in a very personal way that, despite an online world that saves everything, endures because it has a timeless quality like a cherished piece of art.

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The Year to Honor and Remember

We have many interesting and lively discussions with guests during their stay at The Livingston Inn, whether at the breakfast table or at impromptu moments in the evening. There’s no shortage of perspectives and life experiences, creating a wide spectrum of ideas and opinions.

There are a couple of areas where guests almost universally share the same thoughts and feelings. One of those would be the beliefs and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago, Dr. King took his honorable place in U.S. history when he started a Civil Rights Movement to ensure equality for all Americans. His vision, courage, and determination were qualities that opened many eyes to injustice and suffering, both during the brief time he was with us and still to this day.

wpt_1358187062As we head toward a weekend when we celebrate Dr. King, I think this year, more than ever, is an important one to recognize what he accomplished and to show support to the people and ideas which carry on his legacy. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight some of the events happening here in Madison for MLK weekend and hope, whether you are a resident or visitor, you will take the time to participate.

FS-03-07-25-65-Dr. King and Rev. AbernathyJanuary 12 – United Nations of Dane County monthly Lecture Series, Madison Central Library, 7:00pm. January’s presentation is “Remembering the Dream: Living the Vision” A Salute to the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King” with Barbara Nichols. Ms. Nichols has extensive experience in executive leadership and international initiatives and is currently a Diversity Consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. As featured in my last blog, the Madison Central Library is a great place to visit in our downtown area, making attendance at the lecture even more appealing.

January 15 – Free Community Dinner, UW-Madison Gordon Dining and Event Center, 4:30-7pm. The King Coalition welcomes all community members to the 29th annual dinner. Join more than 500 community members and enjoy a wonderful meal with friends, old and new, in Dr. King’s spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

January 18 – 36th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration, Capitol Rotunda, 12:00 noon. This year’s celebration will highlight the role of women in the Civil Rights Movement.5690442018741.image

January 18 – 30th Annual City-County Observance, Overture Center, 5-7:30pm. The evening’s festivities start with singing in the Rotunda followed by presentations and performances in the Capitol Theater. The observance will feature the MLK Community Choir led by one of Madison’s most-noted music directors, Leotha Stanley. Mr. Stanley has amazed audiences for years with his Mt. Zion Baptist Choir and his involvement in public school music programs. The program will also feature

Earnest Green, "Little Rock Nine", Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, “Little Rock Nine”, Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, one of nine students, known as the “Little Rock Nine”, to first integrate Central High School following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

I hope you find an opportunity to take part in MLK events this upcoming weekend, whether here in Madison or your own community. Remember that one of Dr. King’s core ideas was service to the less fortunate around us which sometimes requires us to look outside of the comfort zone of the people and life experiences familiar to us. As the organizers and coalitions behind MLK day tell us, it’s not a day off. Instead, it’s a day on. As we start 2016, I hope this “day on” becomes for many of us a “year on”, not just to remember Martin Luther King but also to honor him through actions that guarantee the equality at the core of our country’s values for many generations to come.

Resources:
http://www.thekingcenter.org/landing_page.html
https://www.facebook.com/kingcoalition
http://www.ulgm.org/mlkevents
http://www.africanamericancommunication.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0yP4aLyq1g – The March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech – August 28, 1963

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The Best Spot Around

We don’t normally write restaurant reviews, mostly because there are so many reviews out there plus an abundance of fabulous restaurants in Madison. However, this week we’d like to make an exception because we have become so fond of a neighborhood restaurant. More than anything, a local establishment you can walk to for a great meal from a place you call home is really something special.

524c5efff363e.preview-620The Spot, a restaurant at 827 East Johnson Street, opened just a couple years ago. It took the place of Mildred’s, a sandwich shop in business there since the early 1970s. From the beginning, we’ve enjoyed The Spot because it goes about its business without pretention, offering excellent food at reasonable prices. It’s simple but with an eye toward the palate of our “foodie” nation. Week by week and month by month, The Spot becomes more inviting the longer it’s there. After all, the restaurant survived the nightmarish Johnson Street re-construction, emerging last fall as one of the places to be when the street re-opened. The street re-reconstruction now allows The Spot to have front patio dining in addition to its delightfully cozy back patio. The interior is equally inviting with a neighborhood feel – a small but functional bar in the back and tables nestled around an open kitchen. But let’s get to the food.

IB-Sandwich-TheSpot-jpgThere has been some turnover in chefs at The Spot but we’ve not seen it affect the quality of its food. The menu still features a broad range of items starting with its already famous saltimbocca-wich – a chicken sandwich with prosciutto, sage, arugula, mozzarella and aioli. There’s also the gorgonzola chips as a tasty way to start a meal along with well-prepared salmon, pasta, and sirloin entrees. Everything is made with fresh ingredients for both the meat-eater and vegetarian along with homemade desserts and a nice selection of cocktails, wine, and beer.

lsJust this week, Peggy and I went for dinner, a welcome date after a busy fall at the inn. The cioppino is some of the best you can find anywhere, and I was happy to discover it as delicious as ever. We started our meal with the vegetarian trio, which Peggy had the week prior. Served with pickled green beans, each spread of sweet pea hummus, spinach saag, and muhammara was perfectly seasoned and light, ideal as an appetizer. While I savored my cioppino, Peggy enjoyed an impeccably cooked salmon fillet with mashed potatoes and green beans. It was the ideal comfort food on a cold, snowy evening in Madison. We each complemented our meal with a very nice, and reasonably priced, glass of Pinot Noir. To finish, I tried The Spot’s homemade citrus sorbet. I’m not a big chocolate fan when it comes to dessert, and the sorbet was a superb way to end the meal, refreshing my palate with something not too sweet or heavy.

There are a lot of restaurants in Madison and many new ones making a splash lately. It’s exciting to see, but when it comes down to it, we are so happy to have a place like The Spot just a couple blocks from The Livingston Inn. Even though the restaurant is still in its first few years, it’s somewhat like its predecessor, Mildred’s. It’s a place you can count on despite so many changes around you. The Spot has found the simple things you need in a great restaurant: excellent food with friendly service and a place that welcomes everyone. Whether you live here in Madison or visit us sometime soon, we highly recommend you include The Spot in your dining plans.

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The Farm-to-Table Economy

In our last blog, we celebrated the many successful farmers’ markets around Madison and their foundation to the growth of organic and sustainable farming. Now that farmers’ markets are the norm for the daily and weekly needs of a household, we are starting to see other industries develop and succeed as part of the farm-to-table movement. In Madison, restaurants have really hit their stride in this area, and recently at The Livingston Inn, we have also found a new grocery delivery service that is doing an incredible job at bringing local products to our doorstep.

There are many fantastic restaurants in Madison that support local, organic producers and farmers. Many of them shop directly at the farmers’ markets mentioned in last week’s post, reducing trucks bringing in product and keeping “food miles” to a minimum. It would require a very long list to describe all of them, so we’ll feature just a few that are near our B&B and frequent spots for our guests.

Heritage Tavern3Heritage Tavern. Opened in 2013 by Chef Dan Fox, Heritage Tavern has quickly become a favorite spot among locals and visitors. The essence of this restaurant starts with Dan’s involvement in raising heritage pigs at his Fox Heritage Farms, becoming part of a growing movement away from factory pig farms. With his colleagues, he also orchestrates the annual Slo-Pig festival, an event that celebrates a better and closer relationship to the food we eat. Dan’s commitment to heritage pigs has led to many local restaurants purchasing pork from him such as Hamilton’s on the Square and The Madison Club. But his restaurant is more than just about the meat. Many of his dishes also feature the local produce at our farmers’ markets. Recently, Peggy and I went there for dinner and ate incredibly tasty beets and tomatoes, fresh and full of flavor since they came from Dane County and not halfway around the world. We have never had a guest disappointed with Heritage Tavern and highly recommend it to anyone looking for an excellent farm-to-table dining experience.

ForequarterForequarter. Amid the growing little business community around The Livingston Inn, Forequarter opened in 2012. Only one block away at 708 ¼ Johnson Street, the restaurant has also been a guest favorite for the phenomenal food, with the enjoyable walk to get there as an added bonus. Like Heritage Tavern, Forequarter’s roots are in its commitment to local produce and meats. The restaurant is one piece of the Underground Food Collective where the organization processes its own meats, sells its product in a butcher shop, and operates a catering service. A recent Madison Magazine article noted the Underground Food Collective business model has returned $1.5 million to local producers each year. The creativity of the menu at Forequarter and the intimate setting create a very special dining experience, and we are very happy to have them in the neighborhood.

Madison ClubThe Madison Club. Farm-to-table and support of organic products isn’t just for the new and up-and-coming in our city. The Madison Club, an inviting private club on Lake Monona, has been in existence since 1909, and Chef Andrew Wilson has beautifully incorporated local organic produce into the menu over the past couple of years. Besides purchasing from Fox Heritage Farms, The Madison Club regularly shops at the downtown farmers’ market just steps from its front door, creating fresh menu items incorporating the bounty of the seasons. The Madison Club also dedicates a page on their website to their Food Philosophy – fresh, local, incredible – and provides a list of all the local farms from which they purchase ingredients and products. We are always very impressed by how The Madison Club respectfully embraces giving back to the community, and its support of organic farming does so wonderfully while also creating an outstanding dining experience.

Square HarvestBeyond our excellent farm-to-table dining scene, we’d also like to mention a new business that has grown out of the local food movement. A few months ago, one of our fellow innkeepers mentioned a company she had been working with called Square Harvest. Square Harvest is a grocery delivery service with a focus on bringing local products to your house. We gave it a try, and with our first order, it has been an instant hit for us. While we have been able to purchase organic items such as dairy and eggs from the supermarket, we now have the ability, through Square Harvest, to get them delivered from local producers, reducing the food miles for our business and household. We’ve enjoyed quality and affordable products such as eggs, milk, half and half, cheese, vegetables, and fruit – all critical menu items for a B&B. We’ve also bought bread, tortillas, meat, pasta, and veggies burgers for our family’s lunches and dinners. It’s easy to order online with Square Harvest and their deliveries are always timely (even getting through Saturday Badger games around here). And every week it seems they have new items added to their selection. We are thrilled to include them as part of our operations at The Livingston Inn and hope they enjoy many successful years supporting our local farmers and businesses.

We hope you enjoyed our recognition of all that is organic and sustainable in Madison over the past thirty years. It is quite an accomplishment when you see how far we’ve come. It seems just a few years ago that organic food was something found in the far corner of the grocery store, but we are happy to see it has taken center stage among the many markets and restaurants in the community.

 

Farm-to-Table Abundance

farmersmarket2As we head toward next month where we celebrate harvest and are thankful for all that we have in our lives, we want to step back and recognize how far our communities have come with organic and sustainable farming. Without a doubt, the farm-to-table movement has grown tremendously nationwide, but we’re particularly proud of Madison’s accomplishments over the past decades.

To start, we must commend our iconic Dane County Farmers’ Market. Started in 1972, DCFM or “the Market” has undertaken ongoing positive steps to support local and organic farmers and producers, and today the Market is stronger than ever. Its flagship market day, Saturdays on the Capitol Square, continues to attract throngs of community members and visitors. It’s always the top attraction among our guests at The Livingston Inn, something they hear about whether coming from a neighboring state or halfway around the world. After an impressive forty years, you’ll find anything at the Market from the regulars at 6am zipping quickly to their normal vendors for items like honey and fresh produce to the leisurely mid-morning strollers sampling cheese bread while people watching on the counter-clockwise circuit.

561598817e394.imageThe phenomenon of the Market has led to its expansion as well as the growth of other farmers’ markets. DCFM successfully added a Wednesday market from 8:30am to 2:00pm a few years ago, attracting downtown workers on their lunch hours. Realizing a farmer’s market is more than fresh produce, the Market has also expanded into indoor winter markets at the Monona Terrace and the Madison Senior Center. Those markets can still feature the sought-after cheeses, breads, and tasty treats but then offer preserves and jarred products that extend the life of seasonal market products.

Beyond the Market, farmers and other vendors have enjoyed the opening of other markets stretching to all points of the compass across the isthmus and beyond. This list alone on the City of Madison’s website points to the incredible growth: http://www.cityofmadison.com/live-work/neighborhoods/farmers-markets. In addition, many of Madison’s local restaurants now purchase their ingredients and menu items from the many markets throughout town.

To add to our bounty of markets, we learned more exciting news this fall about our enthusiastic support of local farming. Starting up just a few weeks ago, Madison’s downtown will now also offer a Sunday Farmers’ Market. This market is open from 6am to 2pm on Pinckney and Mifflin Streets. The focus of the market is to provide healthy food to consumers from all income levels and to educate about food sources, nutrition, and preparation.

556e2116b1d6a.imageWhat’s wonderful and amazing about these markets is almost all of them are busy. The Hilldale market, on the west side, always draws a big crowd and continues to grow as well. Beyond that, no matter if it’s the Northside markets or those in Madison Southside neighborhoods, the stalls have a regular stream of patrons looking for fresh, local produce and other products for their weekly menu planning. In fact, some of those markets operate in food deserts – generally lower-income neighborhoods without a nearby grocery store – thereby offering a healthy and community-based source of food for the local residents. (Also notable is that DCFM accepts federal food assistance dollars and is the largest market in Wisconsin accepting them.)

The growth of farmers’ markets and their support of organic and sustainable farming has resulted in some positive “secondary” markets. In our next blog, we’ll feature the restaurants and a food delivery service that have helped local businesses succeed in their commitment to the farm-to-table movement.

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Taste of Madison Top 10

4a18240c1edabb5fdfdefbdbe223eef9The Taste of Madison is upon us this weekend! Our restaurant culture in Madison is fabulous and what better way to celebrate it than by sampling food all weekend long.

Starting at 2pm on Saturday, restaurants, caterers, and other vendors will surround the Capitol Square for a fun two days of food, live music, and a festive finale to another beautiful Madison summer. To add to the fun, participants vote for their favorite food in a variety of categories with a chance to win a $100 gift certificate to a participating restaurant. The Taste of Madison supports local charities as well with volunteers working at over 26 4dd7b4d73a682b25735e8c200ec93507beverage stands.

With over 80 restaurants and caterers at this year’s event, with anything from tamales to RumChata cheesecake, there’s a lot to choose from. Reviving a tradition around here at The Livingston Inn, I’ve asked each family member to pick their top two restaurants that might help our readers narrow down their list.

Peggy’s Picks
Bonzo – menu: falafel, chicken skewer, beef skewer
Lombardino’s – menu: fried calamari, eggplant fries, butterscotch panna cotta

Dave’s Picks
Lao Laan-Xang – menu: crab rangoon, coconut shrimp, vegetable spring roll
Rare Steakhouse – menu: steak slider with horseradish cream, duckfat French fries with citrus aioli

Daniel’s Picks
Lombardino’s – menu: see above
Tipsy Cow – menu: truffle fries, beer battered cheese curds, PBR fish taco

Joanna’s Picks
Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream – menu: ice cream and root beer floats
b110a6e712f5717cdef2c463a9f8d3beSai Bai Thong – menu: pad thai, squash chicken curry, yum ta wai shrimp, pad chu chee catfish

Luke’s Picks
Taj India – menu: chicken tikka masala and rice, mixed veggie curry and rice, channa masala and rice, samosa
The Old Fashioned — menu: mac & cheese, beer battered cheese curds, Wisconsin ring bologna, spicy pickled egg, brandy old fashioned ice cream

Admission is free, and this year’s Taste of Madison features over 30 diverse music acts performing on three stages. The event ends on Sunday at 7pm, so you’ll still have plenty of time for that Labor Day barbeque on Monday.

We hope to see you out there at this weekend’s festivities!

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In Celebration of Black History Month

For a small city, there’s so much yet for me to learn about Madison.

Three years ago, we set up residence on this side of town at The Livingston Inn, having spent many years on the near west side.  Several neighborhoods in Madison are ideal for walkers – interesting houses, small businesses, beautiful gardens – and the one around our B&B is no different.  On one of my first walks around here, I saw a sign posted on a street corner, something like you’d see on a historic tour.  I approached it to read: Here was Madison’s first African-American neighborhood.

IMG_0462[1]I have to admit I had heard about the recognition of this neighborhood, but I had no idea it was just four blocks from our new home.  It has intrigued me to learn more, and I found a helpful, accessible resource on the Cap Times’ website called Together Apart.  The site is home to an effort to shine “a bright light on disparities between whites and African-Americans in Madison.”

Among the articles on important social issues such as the achievement gap, incarceration, and unemployment, the site also presents an interactive timeline of black history in Madison.  I found as Wisconsin became a state in 1848, black families started moving to Madison as free individuals seeking opportunity and a new life.  William H. Noland and his family become the first permanent black residents of Madison in 1850, and among several jobs, Mr. Noland clerked for a prominent attorney.

IMG_0473[1]By 1910, the census indicated the black population totaled 69 or .4% of the population, and ten years later, it doubled to 143 or .6% of the population.  This is the same period when the neighborhood near The Livingston Inn started building an African-American community (present day pictured here).  One hundred years later, the non-Hispanic black population in Madison has risen in the latest census to 16,507 or 7.1% of the population.

I strongly encourage you to explore the Together Apart website.  Besides the census information, there is a wealth of stories ranging from challenges like discrimination and racism to accomplishments such as civil rights victories, the building of James C. Wright middle school, and Madison’s first black poet laureate.  I spent a couple of hours reading all of the articles and learning so much more about important people and events in our city’s history.

If you visit our B&B, we hope you will stroll down to the corner of Blount and Dayton Streets and read about Madison’s first African-American neighborhood.  The corner itself has a couple of other historic sites that make the short trip worthwhile.  The area must have been booming at the time the black population settled here.  You’ll find the city’s horse barn built 1910-1914, the city market built in 1909, and Badger State Shoe Factory built in 1910.  Below are photos of the structures today along with their historic significance.

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On behalf of our entire family, we hope you have found important ways to recognize and celebrate Black History Month this year and for many years to come.  Our communities are only vibrant when we take the time to see things from a different experience, whether through race or other special human conditions, and value and respect their place in our history.

Love is in the Air

After years of raising kids and taking family vacations, Peggy and I recently were able to get away and celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  We spent some time on the west coast, and the weather, attractions, restaurants, and accommodations were wonderful.  Despite all that, though, the time away heightened our appreciation of Madison.  It’s not a sense of superiority, but more an awareness of all this small city in the Upper Midwest can offer both residents and visitors.

So, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, we’re presenting the many things we love about Madison.

Madison Winter Tenney ParkThe Change of Seasons.  While we had sunny, warm weather in the high 60s on our vacation, we discovered we would miss the change of seasons in Madison if we lived in a warmer climate.  While winter is often the most cursed season here, it is also a very special time when there is a quiet and calm beauty walking around our city during and after a snowfall.  And even when it gets really cold, there’s a warmth to visiting our neighborhood outdoor skating rinks in the evening, such a Tenney Park, and joining with the skaters and hockey players for a little exercise and fun.  Besides winter, we also enjoy the hope and rejuvenation of spring, the fun provided by our lakes and parks in summer, and the color and romance of fall.

Madison Opera in the Park2The Performing Arts.  When compared to larger cities, Madison has an impressive assortment of performing arts venues and performance groups.  We have ballet, opera, orchestras, and many theater and music groups.  This leads to opportunities year-round and for all interests, including several events that are free.  Annually, patrons can enjoy Opera in the Park, Concerts on the Square, Live on King Street, concerts at Olbrich Gardens, or dancing at the Monona Terrace.  We’ve seen live theater ranging from Shakespeare at a neighborhood park to Broadway shows at the Overture Center.  As we overheard one busy afternoon this winter at The Overture Center, “the arts are alive in Madison.”

Madison RestaurantsThe Restaurants.  A commonly heard fact is that Madison tops lists of the most restaurants per capita. Whether that claim can be proved, we are very impressed by the growing number of top-notch restaurants just around The Livingston Inn.  We are very proud of our city when guests check-in and the talk turns to restaurants.  There are so many options just within walking distance and all with a commitment to a unique and memorable dining experience.

Madison Accessibility3The Accessibility.  While we may not match some larger cities’ assortment of dining and things to do, we’re pretty close, and what certainly makes Madison more attractive is the ease of getting around.  Despite this funny way of moving through an isthmus and around some large lakes, it doesn’t take long to get from point A to B in this city.  Rush hour is usually over by 6pm, and even though things get a little crazy around UW games, it’s short-lived and infrequent.  We have to give special praise for our accessible city to the intrepid commuters, both by bike and bus, we see on the roads year-round.  They are definitely a significant contributor to fewer vehicles on our streets and highways.

Madison Wisconsin People3The People.  I distinctly remember two things when we moved to Madison many years ago.  First, how several neighbors came over when they saw the moving van and jumped right in to help out.  Second, how easily people struck up a conversation with me in our neighborhood and around the city.  To this day, Madisonians remain the most friendly and open-minded people I’ve met in any city.  Yes, they have lots of opinions and often steadfastly seek to do the right thing, but they will also engage you with an interest in your background and life experience.

While the preceding are the top things we love about Madison, we could go on with so much more – its farmer’s markets, political history, museums, galleries, and breweries as well as the recreational options on the lakes and bike trails.  It would be hard to know when to stop, but like a relationship, that’s what love is all about.  It’s what makes the person or place special at one point in time, yet knowing that as you grow and your life changes, your feelings won’t change because there is so much depth to the relationship.

We believe love is in the air in Madison because so many people we encounter daily have the same feeling.  So we wish Happy Valentine’s Day to our fine city!