Reader mailbag: Quilt retreats, snowball vs. snow cone, awards

Time to take a dip into the mailbag.

A belated, public “thank you” to those who sent notes about quilt retreats. Two were sent a copy of my book “Sidetracked in the Midwest: A Green Guide for Travelers” (Itchy Cat Press, 2012).

The last time I corresponded with Karen Brunsell of Janesville, she was leaving for the Rock Valley Quilters Guild annual retreat. “A long weekend of fabric, food, friends and fun” is how she described it. “What could be better?”

Indeed. Brunsell has gone on quilting retreats with friends for years. “I’m amazed at how many places there are and how many other craft enthusiasts – scrapbooking, knitting, etc. – also retreat. The most important part to me is getting together with friends and enjoying the time together, getting feedback on our projects and our lives in general. How many quilts and other projects get finished in the frosting on the cupcake.

“Pretty much everything is discussed, but we try to keep politics out of the conversation because it’s not worth losing friends. As we get older, we look for places that don’t have steps. Sewing machines and everything else we bring along get heavy, so we are finding ways to put everything on wheels.

“Many retreats are ordinary houses that are fully equipped, so we take turns with meal preparation and/or plan on eating out a few times. These retreats are often owned by nearby quilt shops, so there is the plus side of shopping. We think nothing of driving 50 miles or so for a good retreat.”

Her guild also rents lodging and conference rooms at a DeForest motel, “to accommodate everyone with ample space to sew, lay out our projects, cut fabric and conduct show-and-tell to get constructive suggestions.”

In the group are quilters of different generations and tastes – some traditional, some modern, some more artful. All learn from each other.

Brunsell also goes on smaller-group quilt retreats. “Usually at least eight of us go together, share the expense of renting a facility, share cooking and cleanup duties, and have a great time.

“I agree with your comparison to the deer hunters, at least in Wisconsin. It’s a sacred tradition to us quilters and we treasure our time together.”

Also weighing in with great enthusiasm was Sue Heinlein of Buttons and Bolts Fabric and Quilting Supply, Salem. “Quilt retreats abound if you know where to look,” she writes. ”Guilds are a good source to start with, but there are thousands of quilters who don’t belong to a guild,” and a Google search for “quilt retreats” helps identify prospective getaways.

Heinlein notes that quilt shop owners are a good resource beyond quality fabrics and supplies. “You can ask anything related to quilting and even take lessons,” she says. “These shop owners are happy to share their love for quilting, and some shops offer their own retreats or sew-ins. Most shops also have an online presence and list their classes and retreats.

Notice ads in quilting magazines, she suggests. Quilting cruises to Alaska and other destinations feature quilt designers and other industry leaders, such as Jenny Doan of Missouri Star Quilt Company. “Her charismatic style of teaching (via YouTube) shows how much fun can be had in quilting” and revitalized Hamilton, Mo., as a mecca for quilters. “Attending a retreat there is on the bucket list of many.”

Most of Heinlein’s own students “are older women without younger children. They enjoy making new friends, the fun of spending uninterrupted quilting time and completing projects – all of which retreats offer.”

Fiber artist Mary Hermanson of Eleva weighs in about her love of quilting as a fine art form. “One of my goals as an artist and quilter is to make more people aware of quilting as an art form.,” she writes. “That is why I present my pieces more as a painting than as a quilt by stretching them on canvas stretchers and framing them with floating frames.

“The only drawback is that I am not always accepted in the quilting world, as many quilt shows do not accept work that is stretched and framed.” She primarily enters fine-art exhibits as a fiber artist, “where I have been accepted and receive recognition.”

The Dining Room at 209 Main, Monticello, was long known for serving gourmet fare in the small-town setting. It closed in 2016, and co-founder Jane Syberzak says she has a new career as executive director of The Monroe Clinic and Hospital Foundation.

She shares this recipe for a dipping sauce or glaze for meats, something her restaurant used to use on grilled pork with a Jamaican jerk seasoning on it. “Whatever your preference, it will be delicious,” she promises. For extra zing, substitute hot curry powder for the mild version.

Apricot Curry Glaze
(Yield 1.5 cups)

1 cup apricot jam
2 teaspoons mild Indian curry powder
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Use on grilled or roasted meats.

Ryan Amundson of Potawatomi Hotel and Casino reports that the property’s Fire Pit Sports Bar and Grill features Native American items on the menu. That includes cream of wild rice soup, bison chili, fry bread with honey corn butter and fry bread tacos.

Joycelyn Ramsden of Beloit is a former New Orleans resident who noticed my mention of Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, in business since 1939 and winner of an America’s Classic award from the James Beard Foundation.

“Enjoyed your column this morning,” she writes. “Didn’t ever go to Hansen’s – our favorite was Williams. There were long lines waiting there also.”

“Not to be picky, just accurate: No one I knew ever said snow cone. We always went for snowballs. You may be aware of this, I know, and probably people in the North would not know what you were talking about” in this context.

You were reading my mind: I had noticed “snowball” and “snoball” references while in New Orleans but didn’t think the average Wisconsinite would associate that with something to eat!

My friend and colleague Lori Erickson of Iowa sent a note of thanks for mentioning her book, “Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God” (Fortress Press, $25). “I know you have a very loyal set of readers who trust your judgment,” she says. “Holy Rover will find more readers because of you.”

The author is doing just fine on her own. “Holy Rover” is a finalist for INDIES Travel Book of the Year. The winner will be announced at the American Library Association’s annual conference in June.

Joan Peterson of Ginkgo Press, Madison, reports that her international “Eat Smart” culinary travel guidebook series is the U.S. and “best in the world” winner of a Gourmand World Cookbook Award.

Winners in 40 categories will be announced in Yantai, China, in May. The newest installment of 14-part “Eat Smart” book series is “Eat Smart in Portugal,” and I wrote “Eat Smart in Germany” (the 12th guide) for this publisher.

Jon Phillips of coastal Washington says he got homesick for Iowa after reading about the Iowa Pork Tenderloin Trail during a visit to Beloit. “My wife and I are from southeast Iowa, and to our surprise there are not pork tenderloins in Wisconsin (the skinny fritters they sell at Culver’s do not count). This should be a crime,” he writes.

He says The Machine Shed (whose six restaurant locations include Appleton and Pewaukee) has “genuine pork tenderloins,” probably because it is an Iowa-based company. “You should check out this restaurant for its homemade meals,” he advises. “They bring banana or zucchini bread, rolls, cottage cheese and coleslaw before your food arrives. My wife likes the pot roast with potatoes and carrots.”

Meyer also asked for a definition of chicken fried steak, wondering if it’s the same as a breaded pork tenderloin. Although they look similar on the outside, chicken fried steak is made with beef, not pork.

“Just a note to you that I enjoyed reading your article” about the “Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip” show at Milwaukee Art Museum, writes Kathy Brand, who describes herself as a serious amateur photographer who belongs to several camera clubs. The thumbs up comes after seeing the exhibit and listening to a talk by Alec Soth of Minnesota, whose specialty in photography is the Midwest.

Rob Gard of writes to say Monona Terrace, on Lake Monona, goes above and beyond that is expected with regard to accessibility. “It is centrally located with great views of downtown and the city,” he says. “There are elevators and ramps that lead to the rooftop where guests can enjoy live music, food and other activities.”

He recommends landing there for the annual Shake the Lake (music, vendors and fireworks on June 23) in Madison. A bike elevator at Monona Terrace connects above-ground wanderers to an accessible recreational path that follows Lake Monona.

John Banks wrote after reading about Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway, Mich. “We are very proud of our Chetek Area Museum and strive to honor local history,” he says. “Chetek has a significant relationship with Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls: Early residents built cottages and family clubhouses in Chetek,” and some of these structures survive.

He counts the Leinenkugel, Mathiesen, Solberg and Midelfort families among those who settled at the north shore of Chetek Lake.

Last: A reader named Cathy “thought it would be neat to refer” one of my columns to a relative in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. How to find it? Installments are archived at Thanks for asking.