Dara writes:

James and I spent Christmas in the snow and winds of Madison, Wisconsin with James's mother's side of the family. Every year, this family does a grab-bag of gifts, going on the premise of, if you bring one, you get one. It's a remarkably inexpensive and fun way to celebrate. This year, it was James's idea we do "consumables." We brought Greenmarket items.

The two things that made our grab-bag gifts were liverwurst from Flying Pigs farm in upstate New York, and Thunder Pickles from Katchkie Farm, also upstate. The pickles have a stunningly spicy, vinegary, and garlicky flavor. They don't crunch, but the taste lingers and beguiles. The Flying Pigs swine enjoy a good life under the care of Michael Yezzi and his wife, Jennifer Small, who are at the Union Square Market on Saturdays. We had to special order the pickles.

James's cousin from Milwaukee added Serbian cheese and meat pies to the grab bag. Another cousin from the South (Georgia) added pickled okra and lemon-artichoke spread. We were lucky enough to take home Wisconsin micro-brews and glasses from the Milwaukee brewery. Overall, the consumables idea was a good one.

Finally, it wouldn't be Wisconsin without bratwurst. James's uncle brought us to State Street Brats. State Street is the main campus drag. Of course, school was out, but we got a taste of the storied beer hall. Wanting to be virtuous, James and I ordered just brats--not in a basket with plain or spicy fries. The brat arrived swaddled in a chewy sourdough roll, wrapped in wax paper, and adorned with a pickle. We both ordered white brats, which were delish. I garnished mine with pickle relish, red onions, sauerkraut, ketchup, and mustard. I washed it all down with a Sunset Weisse beer. It was a fab, apricot-y, thick-but-not-heavy wheat garnished with an orange slice. It chased away the cold--and it was cold. More snow than I'd ever seen. And we basically flew in during a snow storm. Before we took off the pilot said, "Basically the whole flight will be bumpy." Superior!

But it was a superior Christmas!