Home on the Rainbow

There are so many amazing things happening right now in Kansas in art, music, and food. Today, on the eve of Kansas Day Eve (because, let’s be honest, there’s plenty of build-up to my favorite holiday), I have the opportunity to host the World Premier of a song about Kansas here on my blog.

My friend Adam Inman, who never misses an opportunity to make fun of me eating chicken and noodles every year at the Kansas State Fair, put together a mash-up of two of the most beloved songs in our state, with all sorts of twists.

So check this out: “Home on the Rainbow,” arranged and performed by Adam Inman.

It’s back!

Some of this year’s hottest food news in Kansas is becoming old news, but it’s still good news, so I am excited to share it.

Mo’s Place in Beaver has re-opened!

The bar and grill has long been on my top three list of my most favorite Kansas places, mostly because of the plucky story associated with it. Len and Linda Moeder, the original owners of Mo’s, as the tale goes, left a high-stress lifestyle in California to realize their dream of opening their own microbrewery and restaurant in an old metal-building beer joint … in the shadow of a Central Kansas grain elevator.

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I was so excited to get inside that I didn’t notice that this photo was crooked. Just focus on the “open” sign. And the grain elevator. Kansas!

The Moeders retired in 2014. They’ve since sold the building and the beer brewing equipment to Austin Bell and Dale Kaiser, who will now call it Beaver Brewery.

My 90-year-old grandfather and I recently made the trek out to northern Barton County to check it out. While some things remain exactly the same – including the red-and-white-checked tablecloths that cover the tables – the menu received a serious upgrade of freshly prepared classics: burgers, hot dogs, chili, and a fried bologna sandwich.

 

We both ordered the Hickory Burger – a fresh ground beef burger with BBQ sauce, cheese, bacon and an onion ring – and split a basket of hand-cut fries. We should have split the burger, as the portion sizes are clearly aimed at the local contingent of hungry oilfield workers and farmers with whom we dined.

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Old and new, all in one photo.

I can’t wait to go back to try the beer. Bell said they were waiting on the final necessary approval from the various governmental agencies to fire up the brewing operation – hopefully by May of this year. Until then, they have a full cooler of all the local favorites, including Bud Light and Coors Light.

Beaver Brewery at Mo’s Place, 1908 Elm Street, Beaver, Kansas. (620) 587-2350. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. https://www.facebook.com/beaverbrewery/

(This review appeared first in Hawver’s Capitol Report on April 27, 2016. HCR is a great source of news from the Kansas Statehouse.)

On Jury Duty

I served, ever-so-briefly, as a juror in a criminal trial this week. Here’s what I learned.

  1. When you tell others that you have been summoned, they will tell you how to get out of it.

Seriously. This is the number one reaction. My observation: it isn’t socially acceptable to the working public to serve on a jury. And I get it. I’m a freelance consultant; I’m only paid for the hours I work. I earned a whopping $20 for two days of service (and they’ll pay mileage to my zip code, which is maybe 3-4 miles away.) I had to cancel meetings only to re-schedule them minutes later upon learning that the schedule had changed. It’s a very fluid process. It’s also a very bad day for the defendant.

Every person of authority in the justice system who spoke to the potential jury pool acknowledged the fact that none of us probably really wanted to be there. Once voir dire began, though, we were given multiple opportunities to declare that jury duty would be an inconvenience, a hardship, a conflict with our religious beliefs. No one took any of those outs, which made me wonder if we were all taking it very seriously. I know I was.

2. If you have served on a jury, you’ll probably remember the experience.

Chances are pretty good that most of us will be summoned sooner or later. The people with whom I’ve spoken in the last few weeks who have actually served or been called remember a surprising number of details: the nature of the case, how long they served, how much they were paid for their service. The gravity of the situation is real.

3. Civic duty looks like a lot of different things.

The final surprising observation: once someone found out that I was actually going to serve, they usually thanked me for my service. This made me feel good. It also made me realize that I am often content with letting someone else do the stuff that’s important, but inconvenient, or uncomfortable. Jury duty is no more or less important that many of the other things we need to do in society to keep things going, to keep us all healthy and safe. We shouldn’t get a pass just because we voted, or volunteered at a community event, and have decided that we’ve engaged enough.

I’m writing this to remind myself that there are a lot of things we can do to strengthen our democracy. Jury duty is just one of those things, and there are more that I can be and should be doing if I really care about where I live.

#GBD

Last week was a big week in the Kansas culinary world, friends: the Kansas Sampler Foundation named Hays (America) as the Green Bean Dumpling Soup Capital of the state.

It’s a pretty simple dish with just a few ingredients – a simple dumpling made of flour, eggs and water, boiled until perfectly chewy, stirred together with green beans, cream and a light-colored roux. It’s surprisingly rich for its relatively humble components.

I get more questions about eating options in Hays than anywhere else in the state. My top choice is Gella’s, for several reasons – the warm interior, the giant sunflower art, the inventive yet classic beer they brew. My favorite meal there: a bowl of green bean dumpling soup, a soft pretzel, and a shared plate of whatever’s on special that day. (With a pint of Liberty Stout if you’re lucky enough to be there for the seasonal tap.)

Best. Art. Ever.

Best. Art. Ever.

I love that the restaurant celebrates the town’s heritage. The Volga-German settlers who moved from Germany to Russia to Ellis County, bringing with them a culture of growing wheat, brewing beer, and making fantastic food, made barrels of this soup. 

The recipe I made came from Das Essen Unsrer Leute. Women from the small towns in Ellis County compiled the recipes in 1976 to celebrate the centennial of their ancestors settling in the county.

I made a batch last night for an out-of-town colleague, who brought a guest from Chicago. We went all in with the Volga-German theme and made our first batch of bierocks of the year – another Volga-German staple – and some chewy ginger cookies that Andrea shared last week.

I’m far from a seasoned dumpling maker, and am on a quest to learn what the perfect “sticky dough” consistency looks and feels like. The good news is that this soup is great even with wonky dumplings. Perhaps my technique would be better if I actually lived in the Green Bean Dumpling Soup Capital of Kansas?

Finished product, imperfect dumplings and all.

Finished product, in its imperfect and delicious glory.

Creamed Bean and Dumpling Soup
from “Das Essen Unsrer Leute” – 1976

Put one can of cut green beans into 8 cups of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt. While bringing to a boil, mix 2 cups of flour with 2 eggs and enough water to make a sticky dough. Drop by spoon-full into boiling water, when dumplings float to top remove from stove. Melt 1/4 cup cooking oil in pan add 3 tablespoons flour and brown, pour into hot soup, stirring so it doesn’t get lumpy. Add one cup cream. Serve.

 

 

Canning salsa

We’ve had a bountiful summer, between the farmers’ markets, friends and family, and our CSA.

A week ago, we received 10 bonus pounds of tomatoes, an unexpected windfall from the CSA to which we belonged last year.

We’ve been doing a LOT better about not wasting food this year. But this was a true test.

The tomatoes were heirlooms – lots of Green Zebras, and some that might be German Red Strawberries, along with some possible Brandywine Yellows. (Thanks, Google, for helping me ID these.)

They were gorgeous. They weren’t perfect. (Neither am I.)

Gorgeous, right?

Gorgeous, right?

So we decided to try our luck canning salsa. Reasons why I’d never canned anything before:

  • It seemed like a lot of work
  • I was worried about killing someone because I didn’t know what I was doing (hello, botulism)
  • I didn’t have the proper equipment (or didn’t think that I did)

This year, I’d inherited my grandmother’s trusty canner, which kept our family in green beans and pickles for years. I picked up a jar lifter a few years ago during an well-meaning attempt to can a single jar of pickled okra… and I knew exactly where it was. (After moving twice in 2013, this might have been the greatest miracle of all.)

The real tool that I had was enough time to figure out the process. This proved to be crucial to the endeavor. (Also, I remembered the advice I had been given about canning: keep everything hot, and keep everything clean.) Note to my future self: this is not a project to start at 8 p.m. the night before you need it.

Chris and I agreed to devote the better part of our Saturday to this project. We hit the farmers’ markets in Wichita for the remaining ingredients. I invested in a wide-mouth funnel, and a Ball Blue Book for good measure.

We set to our task with good music, a fresh six-pack of beer, and a recipe from the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. We blistered and peeled peppers (we went with a “garden salsa” variety); we peeled, cored and chopped tomatoes, and made sure our jars were properly sanitized in the dishwasher.

A few hours later, we had 11 tiny jars of salsa to show for our work.

We did some things right. We did some things not-so-right. We had a good time. We’ll try it again.

The finished product.

Hello. How are you?

I recognize there could be many interpretations to the title of this post.

Here’s the path I’ll take: I’ve noticed since returning home from Uganda that I have a different approach to talking to people.

There’s a different conception of time in Africa… “African time,” I joke, means adding five hours to your expected ETA. Things just happen at their own rate of speed… there could be a traffic jam, an elephant in the road, a long line at the store. So you go with the flow.

Cattle truck near Fort Portal... like you do.

Cattle truck near Fort Portal… like you do.

An unexpected perk to this that I observed is that people take more time to talk to each other. This means making eye contact, and waiting for the answer to a question. The full magnitude of this attitude hit me when a well-dressed man walking rapidly through the grocery store bumped into me on accident.

He turned around, apologized, and asked, “how are you?” Upon hearing my response, he turned and was off on his errand.

How many times have I been too busy or distracted to wait for the answer to “what’s been going on? how was your weekend?”

If I care enough to ask the question, don’t I care about the answer, too?

I’m still processing my experience visiting Africa for the first time. This post represents my first stab at trying to convey my thoughts into words.

So, how are you? Let me know. (I’ll wait.)

An Open Letter to the Hipsters of Kansas

Dear Kansas Hipsters,

I have been to the place of your dreams.

It’s a land of wonder and enchantment, filled with all the things you hold dear: pickled vegetables in glass jars! Knitted sweaters and funky scarves! Ironic food! Chickens!

Where is this wonderland?

It’s the Kansas State Fair, which takes place in Hutchinson every September.

And I think it needs your help.

I’ve worked for the past five years in the Domestic Arts building. This is the building with the quilts, the latch-hook portraits of cats, and the exhibition kitchen for the SPAM and hash brown recipe contests.

The median age of the workers is approximately 70. That’s counting myself, which is a number so low that it should be tossed because it’s an outlier.

This year, as I helped my friend Andrea carefully arrange beautiful hand-knit sweaters, scarves and mittens on display racks, I wondered where you were.

Where are your full-arm fingerless mittens for those cold roller derby days, your wacky socks in tie-dyed colors? Where’s the blanket you knit for your baby, the one with the intarsia skull-and-bones? What about the sweater for your boyfriend, which covers up his tattoo sleeves when he visits his grandma?

Where are you, O Urban Pioneer, with your beer-pickled okra, your gluten-free cookies, your heirloom tomatoes?

This could be you.

This could be you.

It’s time to take part in this grand tradition, to stand next to those who have come before you, and learn all that you can before they pass on. You possess an amazing blend of appreciation for traditional art and modern style.

It’s kind of the best set-up, when you think about it, to display your talent with a relative cloak of anonymity. Your photo isn’t included with your work. There are no computer screens for anyone to interact with you.

On the other hand, it’s a way to be recognized for your hard work. It takes time to knit a garment; it’s hard work to stand over a boiling pot while canning pickles. And you could be an inspiration to others who visit and think, “hey, maybe I could do that.”

As a hipster, you want desperately to be cool, without being cool.

I can assure you that this is the best possible place for that to happen.

Start thinking now about what you’ll enter. Next August, make sure everything is finished and hop online to enter your goods.

I’ll see you there.

Xoxo,
Sarah