Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal for many of us. That includes tourism and food in Wisconsin; neither is a stagnant industry, and here is new-to-me proof.
Work soon begins on an almost $9 million expansion of Sundara Inn and Spa, on the outskirts of Wisconsin Dells. The nationally touted and adults-only destination opened in 2003.
A second outdoor pool, rooftop gardens, retreat space and new fitness areas are part of the project. More wellness programs and culinary experiences are additional goals.
A new indoor pool will allow swim-up beverage service. Salt water will fill the new outdoor pool, and new spa treatments will include halotherapy (using salt vapors to treat respiratory to skin ailments).
Firepits and new water features are in the blueprints for outdoors. Inside are more treatment rooms and spaces for cooking to yoga classes. Sundara remains open during the yearlong construction. sundaraspa.com, 888-735-8181
Peeps are the sugar-coated marshmallows, shaped like chicks and rabbits, that brighten Easter baskets. But they also turn into art installations during this time of year at Racine Art Museum, whose international Peeps show is April 6-23 and in its eighth year.
The fun exercise in imagination – “the only museum competition of its kind in the world,” the museum asserts online – had 123 entries from as far away as New York in 2016. Awards for entries by children, adults and groups are all about creativity and best use or representation of the candy.
Think “Four and Twenty Black Peeps,” “RaPeepsel,” “Purple Peeple Eater,” and Peeps arranged to look like a swinging parrot or Marge on “The Simpsons.”
Yes, there is a PEEPles Choice Award. ramart.org, 262-638-8300
On my radar are two unusual, food-based businesses that open to the public this year.
Under construction on Main Street in Wautoma is Living Stone Bistro, a Christian-focused restaurant and coffeehouse, described as a place with “a spiritual foundation as strong as the brick and mortar we’re building with.”
The project of Jerry and Patti Miller will involve their recipes and those of others (a gift certificate is your reward for donating a recipe that makes it onto the menu). “Ministry Monte Cristo,” “Jam of Jeriah” and “Yellow Shepherd” are part of the emerging breakfast sandwich offerings. Jerry is uncertain about the opening date; stay tuned to livingstonebistro.com.
Near Wisconsin Dells, Lisa Nelson uses lavender, herbs, honey, dried fruits and veggies (heirloom tomatoes to rhubarb) from a fourth-generation farm to infuse her delicate and artsy chocolates. The chocolatier learned her craft during classes and an internship in British Columbia.
ROOTS Chocolates were introduced in late 2010, most are made with dark chocolate and some contain fun whiffs of whimsy. Examples: Beer Naked, infused with a craft brew and topped with pretzel bits; and HotFlash, which makes room for two peppers and a chili.
Lisa says on-farm tastings and tours are likely to begin in late June. Watch rootschocolates.com for details.
Herb Kohler, known for his love of exquisite chocolates, also keeps paying attention to brandy. The new Kohler Chocolate Mint Brandy arrived just in time for St. Patrick’s Day; blend two ounces with one-half ounce of espresso and two scoops of vanilla ice cream to make The Kohler Alps, a minty after-dinner substitute for the classic Grasshopper.
Also in the Kohler liquor locker is a dark chocolate brandy, introduced in 2016. Mint is the newest rendition of Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates (the milk chocolate shell, hand-painted, covers a milk chocolate and mint ganache filling); production of the seasonal candy is matched with Easter. kohlerchocolates.com
A quintet of other Wisconsin products caught my attention at the recent Midwest Food Expo in Milwaukee.
Chowventions – Air Force veteran Amber Frymark’s first product is Spiced Zwitchel, a ginger craft cocktail syrup whose name refers to switchel, an early 18th century elixir made with vinegar, maple syrup and ginger. Amber’s version is more complex: She uses a 10-ingredient mix of spices (including ginger, pepper and cumin). A few Milwaukee-area restaurants already use the syrup in cocktails to food recipes. chowventions.com, 414-909-2469
Urbal Tea – Nick Nowaczyk of Milwaukee has studied the ancient use of tea to improve and enhance health. His products target particular ailments and health challenges. Kiwi Strawberry Energy is called an invigorating but no-caffeine alternative to coffee. For hangovers, consider Fresh Start, whose base is sarsaparilla and juniper berry. Two dozen tea combos (such as Herbal Cold Care, Rest and Relaxation, Winter Wellness) are sold by the three-serving starter pack to the pound. urbalhealth.com, 414-916-5088
Top Note – The Milwaukee line of tonic concentrates and mixers uses citrus, natural sugar sources and and botanicals to deepen the flavor profiles of cocktails and non-alcohol refreshments. Think Gentian roots and Kaffir limes, juniper and wintergreen, cane sugar and molasses – but not lumped together, of course. topnotetonic.com, 888-396-3432
Linnea’s Pops and Liqkers – Some versions of these frozen treats contain alcohol, and some don’t. Former: Lemon Blueberry, Cinnamon Chai. Latter: Jalapeno Peach Margarita, Bourbon Chocolate Milkshake. A portion of sales help fight breast cancer; product creator Linnea Harrington of Milwaukee was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2013. popsandliqkers.com, 414-520-9340
Watermelon Shandy – The best-known shandy is beer mixed with lemonade, a popular quencher during summer in Germany and at home. This newer Leinenkugel’s product from Chippewa Falls mixes wheat beer with the flavor of watermelon. Also look for Grapefruit Shandy and Harvest Patch Shandy (pumpkin spice, an autumn brew) in the Leinie’s lineup. leinie.com, 888-534-6437
Adding a nice impression from Minnesota is Loon Juice, a hard cider made with honeycrisp apples. The light bubbly is canned and not too sweet. The Loon Juice, Ginger Mojito, Strawberry Shandy and Tea Time (apple-tea combo) hard ciders are produced at Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery, near Spring Valley. loonjuice.com, 507-346-7300