Rutabaga Boogie

I’m a sucker. The Dihedral tells me to write, I write. Carrot recently posted about cakes with unusual ingredients, which brought up rutabagas and radio, only one of which goes in a cake.

Every industry needs its trade association and rutabagas are no different. Grocery co-operatives tend to emphasize local ingredients, and community radio tends to be more eclectic than commercial radio. The three coalesced back in 1976.

I was the produce manager of a Wisconsin grocery co-operative. I emphasized local and seasonal foods. South American fruit was relatively new on the market and I refused to stock peaches in January. January in Wisconsin is not prime growing time. What is available is what can be stored – mostly apples and root vegetables. Mushrooms were grown all year. Back then, pickings were slim. When the local broccoli and Brussels sprouts ran out, we turned to California and Arizona for more and more. At least it wasn’t halfway across the world. Now farmers are extending the growing season with hoop houses.

Rutabagas were plentiful, but the commercial ones were heavily waxed for storage which scared people. Plus, folks of that generation were not familiar with them and didn’t know how to prepare them. Since they are known in some parts as “yellow turnips” and people thought of turnips as bitter, that didn’t help. What to do?

I found an ad in a trade journal from The Ontario Rutabaga Council. Ontario, Canada, grows a lot of rutabagas and had a trade association devoted to their promotion. The best I can find now is the Southwestern Ontario Rutabaga Growers’ Association, though I also found the G2G Rutabaga Ride. If any of you folks in Canada have done the ride, tell us about it in the comments.

I wrote to the Council and they happily supplied me with lots of rutabaga recipes. I wrote them up on 3×5 stock and went to a print shop where I had them made up into tear-off pads that I could display with the rutabagas. While there was something to be said for the Rutabaga Turban, it was the Rutabaga Spice Cake that caught my eye. Having made Chocolate Potato Cake from a 1930s era edition of The Joy of Cooking, Rutabaga Spice Cake sounded like the next step.(Mashed potatoes or shredded rutabagas, like carrots, add a rich moistness to a cake. You could probably make a parsnip cake. Someone probably has.)

Community radio was and is a different animal. When I started, I did a ½ hour children’s show, in which I read stories with the promise to stay away from damsels in distress rescued by knights in shining armor. I found a world of children’s literature I had never imagined, but I had trouble getting people to talk with me at parties when they asked what I had been reading lately. Among my finds were stories by the playwright (The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros) Eugene Ionesco and poet ee cummings. Ionesco’s stories and the accompanying art were surreal. cummings was surprisingly sweet. Too late for the show I found the work of novelist (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) Ken Kesey, as it was not yet published. “The Girl Who Cried Flowers” by Jane Yolen was another favorite.

I had a deal with a local bookstore in which I could borrow any book to read as long as I acknowledged the loan on-air. I spent hours in the kids section. Since I ended up buying my favorites, everyone did well on the deal.

The station changed formats. It became “free-form”. That meant that, instead of ½ hour, I had 3 ½ hours and, instead of limiting myself to children’s stories, I could do anything. Musically, radio tends to organize itself by genre, so you don’t get your mind stretched very far. In free-form, I was free to make any connections my little brain cared to follow. Starting from, say, the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Rheinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, one could go in several directions. Violin-based jazz? Violin in rock music? Bluegrass? A violin concerto? From each of those there are more options. Or maybe it was Roma music, which could then lead into other ethnic folk musics. Or maybe guitar-based jazz, or virtuoso guitarists in other genres. A ½ hour set could go anywhere and end up nowhere near where it started, leading into the next set that could be nothing like the previous one. Or it could be brought full circle.

I was encouraged to continue to read, but I was expressly told not to confine myself to children’s literature. One day was devoted to the music and poetry of San Francisco, starting with the beats and moving through music inspired by them. On a -20º day I read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”.

So how did this all come together? I started a news segment with news of the food industry, and called it Rutabaga World News. It became a brief market report about seasonal foods. My first foray into interviewing was an absolute disaster, with a much too esoteric topic, a single interviewee, and a light hand at editing, trying for the extended story model of All Things Considered. It was not a topic worthy of an extended story.

I wrote a much tighter story on a Florida freeze and its effect on the citrus crop and how that would soon affect pricing and availability. I had a great interview with an industry spokesperson in Florida. It was punchy, timely, and tightly edited. When I put the tape reel in the machine and pressed “play”, nothing happened. The station’s tape deck had died. By the next week when the tape deck would be fixed, it would be old news. I tried to fake it by conducting the interview with myself and changing my voice for the interviewee.

The show needed a theme song. The Mothers of Invention, on the album Absolutely Free (1967), had the solution. I used an excerpt and you can probably discern where I made the cuts.

I later changed to an excerpt from this live version with The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles) on vocals.

Never one to stand still too long, I needed a new theme song, something easier to dance to. I discovered The Good Ol’ Persons and “The Rutabaga Boogie” (1977). Here is the definitive version. Since I recorded from a radio broadcast, I missed a bit, so following it is the original by composer Paul Shelasky.

For those of the Northern California persuasion, this was from a one-time broadcast on listener-sponsored KKUP out of Cupertino, featuring the on-air staff from the legendary KFAT in Gilroy (which later rose from the ashes as KPIG).

Alas, I seem to no longer have the recipe card. I can’t guarantee this is the same recipe, but here it is. Notice that this version calls for milk and eggs, as well as rutabaga, from Ontario. I think you can get away with substituting ingredients from wherever you live, if that is not Ontario.

Rutabaga Spice Cake (from Foodland Ontario)

Rutabaga Spice Cake

  • Cooking Time: 35 minutes
  • Servings: 12


  • 1-1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) each of salt, ground cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda
  • 1 cup (250 mL) grated peeled Ontario Rutabaga
  • 1 Ontario egg
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) each of molasses and Ontario milk
  • Icing sugar


In medium bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup (50 mL) packed brown sugar, 1 tsp (5 mL) ground ginger, 1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in 1 cup (250 mL) grated peeled Ontario rutabaga. In small bowl, lightly beat 1 egg; add 1/4 cup (50 mL) vegetable oil and 1/2 cup (125 mL) each molasses and milk. Stir liquid mixture into dry mixture. Pour into greased 8-inch (2 L) square baking pan. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Dust with icing sugar, if desired.

I made it as a layer cake and used a buttercream frosting.

Addendum, 12 hours after publication: I just learned that this recipe is quite different from the one I made, and that a friend has a copy of my earlier recipe from the Ontario Rutabaga Council. When I get it, I will post it.


More serious athletes than I speak of the value of cross-training – doing some other form of exercise than one’s primary endeavor. Being half-fast, I prefer cross-funning. For my cross-fun this week, I walked the kayak down to the river, locked the trailer to a tree, and paddled to the biergarten. (Not trying to be pretentious here by using the German – its actual name uses that term.

Needing only an hour and a half, I was able to get across the lake to the park (which holds said biergarten), enjoy a taste of a local microbrew while reading my book, and still paddle and walk home in time to cook dinner. It was about a 20 minute paddle each way. I think I’ll be making that trip again soon.

“Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Water Rat to Mole in “The Wind in the Willows.”

Diabetes commercials

YouTube showed me a commercial for Jardiance, a diabetes drug. I watched a happily dancing woman while they listed side effects. Drug commercials scare me because they show happy people while they list horrific possibilities. The best are the ones that don’t even tell you what the drug is for and end with “Ask your doctor if Xyz is right for you.”

While it wasn’t named specifically (they said “a rare, life-threatening skin infection”), Fournier’s gangrene is a known side effect of the class of drugs that includes Jardiance.

When I worked at the hospital I developed a list of things I didn’t want to have happen to me. Over time, the one I least wanted to have may have changed, but the clear winner was Fournier’s gangrene. This is a bacterial infection of the perineal/genital area; a form of necrotizing fasciitis, or what is known commonly as flesh-eating bacteria. (Necrotizing = causing death, fasciitis = inflammation of a particular type of tissue – fascia extends deeply, so it can kill off a lot of tissue. Fournier was a doctor who studied it, though it had been described by Baurienne in the 1700s.) Numerous surgeries are required to cut away dead and infected tissue. I’m sorry, because you are probably squirming in your seat to read that; but don’t squirm if you have Fournier’s gangrene – that would be painful.

As usual, please note that I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, and Jardiance may, indeed, be the drug for you.

Still half-fast

I rode with the Bombay Bicycle Club and had my usual problem. In this case, they gave the fast riders a two minute head start. (In case they weren’t really that fast? So as not to tempt slower riders to try to catch them down the road?) Having tried to hang with that group before, I had the sense to wait for the next group out. On the first three hills, I did my best to stay with them. By the fourth, I was in my usual no man’s land between the moderately-paced group and the fast group. I occasionally saw someone ahead of or behind me, but mostly rode alone.

I missed a turn and found myself on a state highway that was not on the route. Without cell phone service to find my way back to the route, it was a Choose Your Own Adventure day for the second half of the ride. While I normally eschew state highways, this one had several things going for it: 1) a wide, smooth, and debris-free shoulder; 2) well-placed rumble strips; 3) little traffic; 4) it was going in the right direction; and 5) a tailwind that pushed me along at about 30 mph for 10 miles. It gave me a chance to use that 52×13 gear that normally sits in wait for someone stronger to ride my bike.

It’s not about the bike…or is it?

During his incredible string of seven Tour de France victories (later reduced to zero), Lance Armstrong famously wrote that “It’s Not About the Bike”. The implication was clearly that it was about desire and hard work (not to mention having access to multiple doctors in different states for the treatments – brain and testicular surgeries, chemotherapy – to recover from testicular cancer). What he failed to tell us is that it’s not about the bike, it’s about the drugs. He and his US Postal Service team had arguably the most sophisticated illegal drugging system ever devised. He infamously told us he was the world’s most tested person and he never tested positive for any illegal substance…until he did and the whole thing came unraveled.

On Sunday, I rode 63 miles on my 35 year old bike, with limited gearing and nearly 40% heavier than my newer bike. I nearly died. That’s an exaggeration. It was a group ride with the “Alpe d’Huez option” – three significant climbs back-to-back-to-back.

I was joined by two others shortly before the climbs. We stopped for snacks and drinks in Mazomanie, then headed for the hills. With my limited gearing, I could not climb as slowly as they did, so went on ahead. One of them caught me at the top and we did the next climb together. He was clearly taking it easy on the first climb to chat with the third rider (who then took the shortcut and skipped the next two climbs).

We rode up that climb at my pace – but he was chatting the whole way. The third quieted him down a bit – he also had to breathe. We descended the steep side after I had told him that I found 40 mph fun, 45 exciting, and 50 scary. When we hit the flats after the descent he told me we had hit 49.4. I guess it’s less scary when someone is in front of you, clearing the way of deer and birds, as I had guessed we had topped out at 44. (Or his fancy speedometer exaggerates.) The three climbs were fun, beautiful, and not particularly hard work.

We (or he) continued to chat for the next 30 miles or so. I was pushing my limits. The hard part of this ride is the series of roller coaster hills as we come back into town. By then I was spent and let him go ahead. He’d already told me he’d done a coast-to-coast tour averaging 140 miles/day, back-to-back 200 mile days, and a 260 mile day, as well as training camps with RAAM (Race Across America) riders. Definitely out of my league. I stopped for a snack and more water when I felt a sartorius cramp coming on. Arriving home, it hurt to go up and down stairs.

My next big rides were planned for Wednesday – close enough to my planned June 1 bike switch to take the lighter bike with lower gears.

On Wednesday we headed out early to get a head start on the heat. The heat caught us. After a 55 or so mile loop north and west out of Spring Green, we settled in for liquid refreshments in town before heading to the Wednesday Night ride out of Lodi, with a stop in Mazomanie for a late lunch. By day’s end, I’d ridden 90 miles on the newer bike (and drunk more than a gallon of various fluids). I did the long ride, not the extra-long ride that included climbing the Baraboo bluffs twice, so I wimped out a bit. We climbed Devil’s Delight and ended up at Devil’s Crown (the top of the bluff by the cell towers). A bit of rain at the end was just enough to cool me down and make the bike dirty. The wind, on the other hand, was enough to be annoying.

Snacks at an Amish crossroads store yielded interesting finds.

Evidence of last year’s coast-to-coast tour remains – I recognize Ed’s “handwriting”.

63 miles Sunday, 90 today. Both hilly. I feel better tonight after riding 90 miles in 90 degree (32 C) heat. Same rider, different bikes. Maybe it is about the bike.

Remember, kids: hydration is about electrolytes, not just water; salt on the rim of your margarita glass is in order.

Three Stars

Another blogger recommended a book, which got me started on a series of music books. I just finished “Dream in Blue” by Chris Morris, about Los Lobos. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a fan.

Los Lobos were kids at Garfield High in East Los Angeles. They were playing in various rock bands until they coalesced around Frank González and began playing traditional Mexican music. Frank left the band before they hit the big time.

They got involved with the LA punk scene via Dave Alvin and The Blasters, from whom they “stole” sax player Steve Berlin, the one guy not from the neighborhood.

I first heard them when my friend David gave me a copy of their EP “And a Time to Dance”. He was a classmate of theirs at Garfield High, and of mine at Immaculate Heart College.

From the EP, they moved on to “How Will the Wolf Survive?” which garnered some national recognition, and followed up with what I consider their masterpiece, “By the Light of the Moon”. An Amazon reviewer called it “rock and roll literature; a serious contender for the best rock album of all time; it is an album, not just a bunch of songs thrown together, nor is it a pretentious ‘concept album’. In the days of trade guilds, a young journeyman put his heart and soul into one project to showcase all of his skills in order to advance from journeyman to master. This is that piece for Los Lobos and why they call it a masterpiece!” Chris Morris (in the book) called it “one of the quintessential albums of the Reagan era…[it] gave the lie to the Reagan administration’s bright, hollow vision for the country.”

They co-wrote (without credit) and performed one song on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album and were then tapped to perform as Ritchie Valens for the film “La Bamba”. Lou Diamond Phillips played Ritchie except for the musical parts. Ritchie Valens died at age 17 after just a six month recording career. He went down in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, immortalized by Don McLean as “The Day the Music Died”. But well before “American Pie”, Carol Kay and Tommy Dee sang of that day on the ballad “Three Stars”. I grew up with that single. Though I was pretty young in 1959, I knew every word of this song. We had the 45 of The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” and a couple of sides by Buddy Holly (including “Peggy Sue”). Mostly I remember the posthumously released album “The Buddy Holly Story”, amazingly put together and released in just three weeks (2/28/59).

Carol Kay and Tommy Dee

Lest you think that this is just another Los Lobos entry, here are those three stars.

Ritchie Valens (and another guy you might recognize) from the movie “Go, Johnny, Go!”
The Big Bopper on American Bandstand – what we all watched after school

It followed me home when I asked for The Big Bopper. Since we’re talking about dead musicians, here is Luther Allison from his debut album (1969) with “The Sky is Crying”. Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins on second guitar.
Speaking of rockabilly (The Blasters), Buddy Holly with “Rave On”.

And since I couldn’t resist, Gary Busey played Buddy in “The Buddy Holly Story” (1978) and did his own singing.

Buddy Holly & The Crickets at the Apollo Theatre (Gary Busey as Buddy Holly)
Buddy Holly & The Crickets on Ed Sullivan, 1957. The guy who brought you the Fender Stratocaster.

Rather than continue in the vein of the single “La Bamba” (a rock version of an old folk song), they went back to their roots with an all-acoustic rendering of traditional songs, with two originals, for “La Pistola y el Corazón”.

Oops. The plan was to embed one song. I got the whole album. Oh, well.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, they launched into a new experimental era. With production by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, using ambient sounds, backward masking, and obscure instruments like the Chamberlin and the Optigan, the new records, starting with Kiko and getting stranger with Colossal Head, often sound muddy to my ears, but definitely take the band in a new direction.

They wrote and performed the score to the Robert Rodriguez film “Desperado”, David Hidalgo and Louis Pérez went on to record as “The Latin Playboys”, César Rosas recorded a solo album, and they were all part of various incarnations of Los Super Seven.

For their 30th anniversary they took the route of The Band for The Last Waltz and called a bunch of friends and influences and performed as back up band to take them all along on “The Ride”. Singers included Little Willie G (Thee Midniters), Dave Alvin (The Blasters), Mavis Staples (The Staples Singers), Tom Waits, Bobby Womack, Ruben Blades, Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention), and Elvis Costello, with Café Tacuba, Garth Hudson (The Band), Lonnie Jordan (War), and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

Mavis Staples with Lonnie Jordan (Hammond B-3) and Los Lobos

Fifty years after they first got together under the leadership of Frank González, Los Lobos are still making music and still touring. They count among their influences Mexican and Chicano music (Los Tigres del Norte, Lalo Guerrero), blues (Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed), punk, rockabilly revivalists (The Blasters), and farther out there (Captain Beefheart). Here is 2021’s “Native Son”.