With so many reasons to participate in Bike the Barns and Bus the Barns — the delicious food and drinks, terrific live music, gorgeous rolling route through southern Wisconsin — we wanted to ask some of our long-time riders and volunteers why they ride. In our first conversation, we met with Ashley Kuehl. Now we’re going to hear from fundraiser extraordinaire, John Kovalic.
John Kovalic is an award-winning cartoonist and writer, who lives in Waunakee. Games such as Apples to Apples and Munchkin that he helped create have sold millions of copies, and his Dork Tower comic strip recently passed its 20th anniversary. His work has been translated into dozens of languages, but you probably know him best as “the guy who cycles Bike the Barns with a duck on his helmet.”
John, how long have you been participating in Bike the Barns, and what inspired you to ride the first time?
I started because my friends Jon Michael and Nichole had been riding Bike the Barns for a while, and the photos they posted of the food stops were incredible. But I never was able to register before it sold out. Once I finally got my act together, and registered in time, it was the fundraising aspect that really made the difference, for me. The FairShare CSA Coalition is a relatively small, local charity, doing amazing work – so every single dollar you raised made a difference. And making a difference feels great.
I honestly don’t remember what I was thinking when I first used the duck as a goal for my readers. The Duck of Doom is a character from a popular Munchkin card. For some reason, I told my readers I’d cycle the ride with it on my helmet, if they raised a certain amount…which they did: soon donations started coming in from all over the world.
Fortunately my wife Judith figured out a way to attach the duck to my helmet, as they’ve hit the new goals every year, since.
Anyway, first ride was in 2013, so this is my (does the math quickly) 7th year riding! “Making a difference” is addicting.
What are you most excited about for this year’s ride?
The lovely scenery? The people? Seeing everyone coming together to raise money for an incredible charity? The party at the end? A stop at Sassy Cow? There’s so much to love about Bike the Barns. But possibly I’m *most* excited by the fact that the route isn’t supposed to be hilly. I don’t do hills well. I suck at hills.
What is your favorite way to prepare summer vegetables? Any perfect recipes?
Right now, we’re hitting the height of tomato season. So between our backyard garden and our Tipi Produce farm box (HI, Beth and Steve – you are AWESOME), we have a ton of amazing tomatoes. A really quick, easy and delicious way to use them up is a Spanish gazpacho.
Many Americans thing of Gazpacho as a chunky thing, full of chopped vegetables – almost a salsa. But in Southern Spain, it’s often served in a glass, completely smooth and bursting with flavor. And it’s so easy to make!
My recipe is based on Chef Jose Andres’, which is ridiculously good: I thought I knew gazpacho, then I tried his, at one of his restaurants. Unlike most Spanish gazpachos, there is no onion and no bread in it…but there is a drop of sherry, which adds a subtle, nuanced depth to it.
I blanch the tomatoes for a minute, to help remove the skins. Just make an X on the bottom of the tomatoes, throw them into a pot of boiling water for 90 seconds. Fish them out with a slotted spoon, plunge them into an ice bath, and then the skin peels off easily with a knife or your fingers.
Blanching is not absolutely necessary. You can just dice the tomatoes and throw them in a blender, with the rest of the diced vegetables, garlic, sherry and vinegar. Blend on high until smooth. Continue blending as you add the olive oil into the gazpacho. Add salt to taste. Refrigerate.
(Depending on the size of your blender, you may need to do this in a couple of batches – or simply halve the recipe.)
Super simple, super delicious. It’s like summer in a glass. (Or you can serve it in bowls, garnished with other chopped vegetables).
You’re known for giving excellent prizes to donors. What are you offering this year?
As usual, folks who donate $25 get a postcard that lets them begin a game of Munchkin with a head-start. I create a new postcard every year for backers, and they’ve become quite collectible. There are also pins and plushies available at different support levels, but the new item this year is an Owlbear backpack. It’s something I designed for the Worldbuilders charity, and they sent a few to offer for Bike the Barns. (It’s a lot to keep track of, but my friend David Michael, who created the Dork Tower web store, handles the fulfillment to backers – that’s a huge help, and I’m enormously grateful for it!)