Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala


I know this is in no way “authentic” tikka masala. I use cream cheese in place of heavy cream, for one. Um…pretty sure they don’t do that in India. And I cook it in a crockpot. But it’s good! And it’s easy! I think I’ve finally (after the “terrible” trial of making and eating this over and over again) nailed this yummy, comforting recipe for you…so without further ado:

Aryn’s Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala

Prep Chicken:
• 2-3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut up into 1-2 inch pieces (TIP: no need to cut off the fat…you want it there to keep the chicken from drying out…and I use a kitchen scissors to do the cutting…so much easier!)
• 1 tsp kosher salt (regular is really just fine though)
• 1 Tbl ground coriander
• 2 tsp ground cumin
• 1 Tbl garam masala (you can find this in the bulk section of our local co-op…check yours, or the spice section of your favorite grocery store)
• 3/4 plain yogurt
Cut up chicken and mix up with above ingredients in a bowl. Set aside for now.

Everything else:
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 cans (16 oz) garbanzo beans (chick peas).
TIP: If I only have 2 lbs of chicken, I add a third can of beans. This is a saucy recipe and my kid LOVES spicy “bongo” beans!
• 6 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 large piece of ginger (2-3 inches in size), peeled and grated
TIP: really do use a grater…it makes it so much nicer
• 1 Tbl kosher salt
• 2 Tbls garam masala
• 1 lg can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
• 1 Tbl sugar
• 1 tsp cocoa
• 1 whole jalapeno, washed, stem removed, and pierced several times with sharp knife
TIP: Make sure the jalapeno doesn’t explode…or it’ll be super hot. Remove it if it’s starting to fall apart. If you make chopped, pickled jalapenos (we do), just throw a few pieces in there instead with a bit of the pickled juice. Yum!
• 8 Tbl butter (Yes, that’s a whole stick…you need it all. Just cut into Tbl and pop into slow cooker.)

Later (about 30 minutes before serving… do this right before you make rice!):
• 1 brick (8 oz) cream cheese, cubed up
TIP: I actually use Neufchâtel and it’s totally still great
• 1 Tbl coconut oil (if you’ve got it…it’s a nice addition…could be optional though)
• Juice from half a lime


1. Put all the “everything else” ingredients into the crockpot. Then put the chicken mixture on top – don’t stir it in. Why? Chicken can dry out in a crockpot, so keeping it father away from the heat source is best. It will clump together initially, but will break up when you stir it in. I tend to stir it in about halfway through cooking (yes, I open my crockpot while cooking, gasp!)…if you’re not home, it’s fine to just stir it in when you add the cheese.

2. Cook on LOW for 5-6 hours. So if you work out of the house, it would be good to have it all ready to go in the fridge, then come home for lunch and put it on.

3. 30 minutes before serving, stir in the chopped up cream cheese (or Neufchâtel), coconut oil, and lime. Cook rice.
TIP 1: I always make double the rice I need so we can use it for leftovers.
TIP 2: We like to use basmati rice and add in some frozen peas at the end of the cooking. It adds some sneaky vegetables to the dish and stops the rice from getting overcooked!

Stir up the tikka to make sure all the cheese is melted and serve over rice, and maybe with some naan and a bit of plain yogurt if you’d like (we like).





Wisco Pop!


Story by Aryn Henning Nichols . Photos by Komifoto

It’s no big surprise that it was a bit of a treasure hunt to find great soda with all-natural ingredients.

“If you think you’re in the wrong place, you’re probably in the right place,” says Hallie Ashley, one of the three founders of Wisco Pop, Wisconsin’s Holy Grail of soda.

WiscoPop kitchen headquarters can be found in a non-descript, former cash register factory on the north side of Viroqua, Wisconsin. From the outside, it appears that there’s very little happening there, but things are really – and literally – cooking inside.

The Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) has turned this 100,000 square foot building – with the help of a $2 million grant – into a Food Enterprise Center. It’s an incubator for businesses that are involved in local food production, processing, marketing, and distribution, and the just-added element: exercise and movement.

Keewaydin Farms, Just Local Foods, LuSa Organics, Fifth Season Cooperative, Sole Expressions Dance Studio Cooperative, Kickapoo Coffee, and – of course – Wisco Pop all currently or will soon utilize the space in one way or another.

The day Inspire(d) made the trip to Viroqua, Wisco Pop’s Austin Ashley (married to Hallie) and Zac Mathes were in the center’s commercial kitchen cooking up a 60-gallon steam kettle of ginger for their popular ginger soda. Bits of ginger peel and spent lemons, juiced one-at-a-time, marked the start of their 125-gallon Monday production. The two self-proclaimed “cosmic brothers” obviously work well together, as conversation easily flows from the Food Enterprise Center to Viroqua to the Driftless Region and even pizza farms. A reporter could easily get off track!

“Let me get out my list of questions so I don’t forget anything,” I say, pulling my notebook out of my bag just as Hallie arrives.

“That’s funny,” Austin says. “We have a list of questions for you too! Is your first one, ‘Why are we so good looking?’ ‘Cause we just can’t explain it.”


Jokes aside (even though they are a dapper crew), what they can explain is their quest for really delicious soda.

It all started with Austin. He was making ginger beer and kombucha at home, and wishing there were more options for natural and even organic sodas.

“I was sitting on the idea for a long time,” he says. “Hallie kept saying to me, ‘Just start it. Just do it.’”

And so they did. Wisco Pop launched just over a year ago at the Kickapoo Country Fair in Viroqua. The response has been amazing, and rightly so.

“People at first are all, ‘Craft brewed soda?’,” Austin says. “But then they taste it and are like, ‘Oh! We get it now! Craft brewed soda!’”

“This is what soda is supposed to be. It’s the way it used to be,” Zac continues. “No chemicals, just good ingredients.”

They stand by their motto: “Keepin’ it real. No processed corn, no artificial flavors. Just fresh fruit juice, pure honey, genuine spices and herbs for a real brew.”

Take their Cherry Bomb soda, for example. They whisked me across the kitchen to take a whiff of the kettle brewing for this batch. (Below, much lower-quality photos, by Aryn Henning Nichols


“You really have to get your face in there,” Austin says as I lean in for a sniff. “Can you guess what’s in it?”
“Hmmm…something I cook with,” I muse.
“You’re on the right track,” sings Hallie.
“I can’t quite place it…”
“It’s probably the vanilla.” Zac interjects.
“No, that’s not it…”

Each flavor – they currently have three: ginger, cherry bomb, and root beer – is filled with complex flavors that keep you guessing, “What’s in there?”

“Comparing it to craft beer is a good analogy,” Zac says. “We spend a lot of time making sure it’s just right.”

The root beer was recently released and is Austin’s Sistine Chapel, although like an artist, he’s his own biggest critic.

“Ask Austin how long it took him to ‘perfect’ the root beer,” Zac says with a smile.

“A while,” Austin replies. “I don’t know if it will ever be perfect.”

It’s pretty darn delicious though. Not too sweet, with hints of maple syrup – local, of course. That is just one of the ingredients keeping the root beer subtly different with each batch. If the syrup’s different, so’s the soda. Same goes for the local honey in the oh-so-delicious ginger brew. Following that ever-changing notion, in the future Wisco Pop hopes to release special seasonal brews that will highlight special flavors or fruits.

Even though they’re obviously a happy little a Wisco Pop family, they’re business partners as well. Austin is the head crafter and develops those new brews – they’re working on a cola recipe now! – then Zac and Austin head up production together. Zac follows through on details such as ordering supplies and building useful things. “He’s our mathematician,” Austin jokes. And Hallie is the manager, bookkeeper, and customer contact person. All three work together on sales.

On top of that, Hallie works at Kickapoo Coffee and Zac runs Heartbeet Family Farm – along with a brick-oven-on-wheels pizza business called Homegrown Pizza – with his wife, Sara, and four-year-old daughter, Noa. Austin holds down the Wisco Pop and daddy front – he and Hallie have three kids: 11-year-old Alden, two-year-old Fern, and newborn Otis.

It’s this combination of family, business, community and good taste that brings it all together. In a time when soda gets a bad rap – commercial soda is filled with high fructose corn syrup and preservatives – Wisco Pop is out to bring back the charm and integrity what was once a very real craft. As they like to say: “Wisco Pop makes it okay to drink soda again. So welcome back old friend, welcome to…craft brewed soda.”


Aryn Henning Nichols is amazed she failed to use any bubble puns in the story. Guess she’ll have to save them for the story on carbonation! She wants to be part of the Wisco Pop! family ‘cause they’re so fun, and also because she’d like to have a lifetime supply of ginger soda. Yum.

Luckily, Wisco Pop! is making the great soda search a whole lot easier for the rest of us. You can find it in the Driftless Region here:

Driftless Cafe
Brew Dog
Rooted Spoon
The Root Note (La Crosse)
Viroqua Food Co-op

Plus multiple locations in Madison and Milwaukee. See or Wisco Pop! on Facebook for details.

Update: Wisco Pop held a Kickstarter fundraiser in December of 2013 to move on to bottling their delicious brews for the masses. They’ll be available EVEN MORE locations soon. Hooray!

‘Red Barns and White Clouds Are Not Always Stereotypes’


An exhibition of life and purpose by artist Dean Schwarz

Story and Photos by Kristine Kopperud Jepsen

HarryBaumertDeanPotAcquainting one’s self with potter Dean Schwarz isn’t as simple as looking at his finished works, neatly numbered and named. To get his particular sense of craft-as-life, you really need to hear his narrative: A looping, mingling romp through the history of functional studio pottery – and the life he and his family have built around it.

Spend enough time immersed in creative expression, Schwarz suggests, and you’ll find that it’s not just the work that remains, but the shape of a whole life and the lives it’s touched. This degree of dedication can also, on occasion, connect the lives of two different artists in different times – such as Dean Schwarz and painter Marvin Cone – without their ever having met. (Photo at right by Harry Baumert.)

Cone, a prolific life-long painter, lecturer and community advocate, studied and traveled, first as an interpreter of French in the military in World War I, but his roots were, like Schwarz’s, always twined in Cedar Rapids, where he was born. In all, Cone spent four decades teaching at Coe College there, founding the art department in the process.

Over the past three and a half years, more than five decades into his own vocation as artist and teacher, Schwarz has created a distinct series of pots inspired by Marvin Cone’s paintings – 512 pieces, to be exact.

The exhibition, “Marvin Cone On My Mind: The Ceramics of Dean Schwarz,” pairs many of Cone’s works with Schwarz’s pottery, creating a unique conversation between the two media and the two artists. The exhibit will be housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, March 15 through November 2, 2014.

“Growing up in Cedar Rapids, I was aware of Marvin Cone ­– and his good friend [widely known ‘American Gothic’ painter] Grant Wood – even though I was more into athletics,” Dean says. In retrospect, Dean knew he had been introduced to art growing up, but he never planned to become an artist. Ever the athlete, he went to the University of Northern Iowa – at that time Iowa State Teacher’s College – on a basketball scholarship. It was there that he first got his hands in clay.

“I was required to take a class called ‘Man and Materials’ in college. And voila! To my great surprise, I found the same excitement in using my hands to make pottery as moving a basketball on the court,” he says.

He also met another love in college – his wife, Geraldine (Gerry). After earning a masters degree, finishing his navy stint and teaching one year in Independence, Iowa, Dean spent his first of three summers at pond farm in California. He was about to embark on an influential alliance with mentor and master potter Marguerite Wildenhain, utilizing the functional artistry embraced by her masters’ school, the Bauhaus of Weimar, Germany.

Following Wildenhain’s example, the Schwarzes – with fellow Luther College professor and Decorah art-gallery owner Doug Eckheart – established South Bear School in the summer of 1970. In the tiny hamlet of Highlandville, Iowa, on the banks of South Bear Creek, a 14-room former hospital became the first home for South Bear’s master classes, apprenticeship program, and momentous community in pottery and other arts. After six summers, the art outgrew the space, and South Bear School was moved – with the infusion of new collaborators, the John Nellermoe family – to the former Aase Haugen retirement home, a 65-room facility on a dead-end drive in a wooded valley southwest of Decorah.

(Schwarz family photo circa 1972 by Joan Liffing Zug-Bourret.)

The school followed the European Bauhaus model of apprenticeship, in which children serve as craft apprentices from ages 12 to 18. The Schwarzes raised their six children – Bill, Gunnar, Lane, Jason, Sheela, and Nan – at South Bear, and each was required to study pottery – or another functional art – each summer with the older students enrolled.

“That’s just what we did,” says Gunnar, who threw many of the medium and large (up to 40-inch) pots in the CRMA exhibition – saving Dean’s ailing back. Gunnar and Lane have been making a living in the studio, adjacent to their dad’s, since the mid ‘80s, and all the Schwarz siblings are ‘proficient’ in pottery, as Gerry says, whether they profit from it professionally or not.

GreenKitchenThe work ethic and immersion experience seem to have gotten into the Schwarz DNA. Daughter Nan studied art on scholarship at the University of Iowa with interest in photography, and her work appears throughout South Bear School. Today, she performs acupuncture and Chinese medicine through her private practice, Nanarita, in Seattle, and says artistic value plays into her everyday activities. “It feels like everything I know about artistic flow, movement, and consideration weighs in on any diagnostic evaluations I make when considering a patient,” she writes via e-mail. “Form and function should be recognized in every aspect of your life. And there is nothing more functional than the human form.”

Similarly, son Jason did some of his childhood apprenticeship in fiber arts and is now the editorial associate of South Bear Press (, a publishing company begun by Dean and Gerry as a vehicle for their research. He threw a series of bowls for a friend’s wedding reception, and though the intent was for guests to take them home, they turned out so beautifully that the bride and groom kept most of them. Daughter Sheena is the owner/director of Squirrel’s End Gallery in Iowa City, specializing in ancient Chinese artifacts, vintage decor, jade jewelry, and American pottery, paintings, and prints. Finally, son Bill teaches and is head coach of boys cross-country and track and field at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s a pretty neat collaboration,” Gunnar says of working side-by-side with his dad, in his childhood home, this nexus of familial interests. He bikes to work in the summer, and cross-country skis out in winter. “There was a time when working there was more of a mentorship, but we’ve always been encouraged to grow into our own expression. So, sometimes Dad will tell me about something he wants, if it’s a specific form, but most of the time it’s more like, ‘What do you want to do right now?’”

Years became decades of near-daily work in the studio, resulting in vast collections of pieces. In storage in the basement, on shelves floor-to-ceiling, this body of work is formidable as a library — but all upside down. “We store them that way to keep the bats out,” Dean explains, only half joking. “Otherwise, Gerry has to get in here with her terrific sniffer and ferret out the casualties.”TallPots

To their mutual credit and amusement, Dean and Gerry orbit each other comfortably, fact-checking each other and adding details the other skipped. They are lively bookends, as Gerry tries to keep Dean on task (such as eating lunch while it’s actually hot) and Dean pauses in his steady narrative to pull a date or name from Gerry’s encyclopedic memory.

Since he stopped traveling to and selling at art fairs nearly a decade ago, Dean has settled into a creative hermitage at South Bear, preferring to keep the studio and apartment at 50-odd degrees in winter and wearing, almost without exception, a pair of singular blue insulated coveralls. (He still plays competitive tennis each week with former colleagues at Luther – but also in blue coveralls, cut off at the shins.) Gerry, on the other hand, stays on her family’s farm near Mason City during the week while teaching writing and literature at North Iowa Area Community College and travels home on weekends.

DeanMary_Pot“She has a special relationship with the thermostat around here,” Dean says mischievously. “When she’s home, it’s suddenly jumped to 65!”

But beneath their banter, the Schwarzes take seriously the honest, earnest creative work that fills their days, not to mention the business of documenting it. Together they have authored and published several respected books through South Bear Press.

Each title is carefully researched with first-hand access to the artists, locations, artifacts, and artistic subject matter at hand, incorporating such experiences as the family’s time spent in South Korea, where Dean studied and taught ceramics as a Fulbright-Hays Research Fellow, and in Israel, where he was an on-site restorer of pottery on an archaeological dig. Dean also visited Japan, where he studied traditional pottery, and he made several trips to Panama, where he researched Pre-Columbian pots. Their 770-page compilation Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus: An Eyewitness Anthology, weaves together essays, memoirs, diaries, letters, interviews and other written documents by or about Bauhaus or crafts-related professionals. The project took them more than a decade.

“It makes perfect sense to me that my parents would eventually go into publishing, as they are both storytellers and believe in passing on the traditions that make them/us what we are,” Nan writes via e-mail.

Gerry notes that with such creative longevity, subjects and interests have a way of cycling back into their lives, inspiring new bodies of work. “You don’t really know you’re in a series until you’re in it,” Gerry explains, “and then there it is, all its own.”

TallPotDean’s Cone series ranges from two-inch-tall ‘mini’ pots thrown by Lane, to pots so tall and heavy that Gunnar and Dean had to work together just to lever and strap them safely into the kiln. (Photo at right by Harry Baumert.)

“When I got into Marvin Cone’s collections, I saw that he spent time with some of the subject matter – rural landscapes, elements of architecture – that I had been after, too,” says Schwarz, who, in the ‘70s, made a practice of hoisting himself – canvas and materials in tow – up any limestone outcropping to get some perspective on Northeast Iowa’s landscape. The mill stands tall over here. Expansive barns with hay lofts there. “As a person and an artist, Cone was ‘quiet,’ I think, but he was a great observer and brought out what he ‘saw’ when he looked at a bend in a river, or a homesteader’s barn. He seemed to get what was ‘going away’ and what would be lost with it. Most of all, his work was a love of place and spirit.”

Dean, now in his mid 70s, is keen to the precariousness of productivity. “The most difficult thing for me is that I cannot work harder, share more spirit, and develop new ways to live and love,” he says.

But, in reality, he’s still no slouch at celebrating and remixing the eclectic successes of his many friends, family, former students, and colleagues the world over. In his studio, he’s surrounded by totems – collages of artifacts, assembled like complex personas.

“That’s my dad’s welding mask,” he says, pointing to the wall above a bench of pots-in-progress. It’s mounted atop a canvas stunt suit – or straight jacket? – that, fyi, once belonged to Houdini-era escape artist and Decorah local Roy Jaegerson. “Both my parents were welders, actually,” he continues. “My dad was once told that his were the only seams in the construction of the Duane Arnold [atomic] Energy Center, near Cedar Rapids, that had no bubbles in them. He was quite proud of that.”weldingmask

On another wall, capped by a Panamanian sun hat, hangs a tweed duffle coat wrapped in cotton fishing net and bobbers Dean painted himself. In front hangs a walking stick carved by a former student; at the head, a tin dish Gerry once used panning for gold on a short stint in Alaska. “I’ll never get over the thrill of seeing or hearing or feeling something and remembering where you were when you first encountered it,” Dean says. “We have so much to learn from where we’ve been.”

DeanHatWallAfter a few beats, his thoughts turn back in the direction of the exhibition and the buzz it’s generating among former colleagues and students, many of whom haven’t seen him since he largely retired from lecturing and art fairs. “I’ll be really happy if people think [CRMA] is a good place to show this series, seeing it in direct relation to Cone’s paintings,” he continues. “That’s what I want.”

The exhibit commands two of the museum’s 16 galleries and involves nearly 100 of Schwarz’s pots, displayed in cases, with Cone’s paintings arranged on walls. The pairings were selected by CRMA interim director Sean Ulmer.

“Dean’s interaction with Cone’s work isn’t replication,” he explains, “as though he could take a Cone painting and wrap it around a pot. In some cases, the relationship is a familiar form – a barn or silo or field. Sometimes, the title of Dean’s piece references one of Cone’s lectures at Coe. Or, it might be an archetype – a portrait of an older MAN – that shows up in both works. To me, Dean is referencing Cone as teacher, as friend to Grant Wood, as a man in the community, Cone the artist. And, the show also contains works that are outgrowths, not related to Cone – where you can see a transmutation, where Dean is now a step away, or two steps away.”

Schwarz himself, however, seems never to have been far away at all, despite his pots and acclaim having reached galleries and collections all over the world.

“When my mother had died, and my father was dying, I would visit Cedar Rapids, and every time I drove away, about 20 minutes down the road, a profound depression would wash over me, knowing that their end meant I wouldn’t be ‘going back,’” he says. “This exhibition feels like coming home. I’m quite honored to do it.”


Kristine_Spring14Kristine Jepsen loved being immersed in the Schwarz’s world of functional studio pottery while writing this story. And she’ll be over the moon if she can produce anywhere near 512 related articles, essays, and other written works in her own career. When not tap-tapping at a keyboard for magazines and the Web, she works with Grass Run Farms, a grass-fed beed company she owns and manages with her husband.

The Boy and the Old Dam – By Dean Schwarz. Memories of an eight-year boy living in the heart of Cedar Rapids. Available In 2014.

Also available in 2014, a biography of Dean Schwarz written by South Bear School student and professional potter Brent Johnson.

Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus: An Eyewitness Anthology ISBN 978-0-9761381-2-9, and Centering Bauhaus Clay: A Potter’s Perspective, ISBN 978-0-9761381-5-0, both edited by Dean and Geraldine Schwarz, (Decorah, Iowa: South Bear Press, 2007).

Schwarz’s ceramics are owned by private collectors, museums and universities throughout the world, including, the Museum of Art and Culture (Wu Han, Hubei, China), University of Nottingham (Nottingham, England), Collection of King Olaf (Oslo, Norway), Pottery Museum (Mikawachi, Japan), Burg Giebichenstein (Halle, Germany) and the White House Collection (Washington, D.C.).