Tag Archives: Kansas

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.

 

 

Beer. Here?

I have been to the Sunflower State’s newest brewery.

And it was weird.

The Walnut River Brewing Co. opened to the public on Saturday in El Dorado.

(For you non-Kansas-natives, it’s important to pause here for a lesson on pronunciation: “El Dorado” is pronounced closer to “potato” than anything else. “Ell Door-AY-doe.” Now you’ll sound hip when you tell your friends.)

Getting back to my point. We went to the grand opening of the brewery on Saturday. Armed with the address, we found a tall, white-washed building at 111 W. Locust with a Walnut River banner hanging haphazardly from the front.

But we couldn’t find the door. This was our first clue that we were stumbling in to something unusual.

After walking around the building, we finally guessed at the entrance (it’s the closest thing that resembles a door on the front of the building) and stepped in to an antique store of sorts, where we were greeted by boxes of “fashion rings,” vintage glassware, ancient electronics, books, baskets and toys.

And, along the east wall, we found a brewery.

I really didn't take enough photos to do this place justice. Check out the bar top - a slice of a very large tree that they encourage you to autograph.

I really didn’t take enough photos to do this place justice. Check out the bar top – a slice of a very large tree that they encourage you to autograph.

The story is familiar, but it’s always a good one: a homebrewer who loves the craft decides to try his hand at brewing beer on a larger scale. So he finds a good business partner and builds a MacGuyver-like brewery out of second-hand equipment in a building that also, coincidentally, houses a second-hand shop.

The result is almost a pop-up brewery, as much as that’s possible with a cooling room and a couple of fermenting tanks.

The beer, however, is really quite amazing. We tried the Kölsch-style ale, one of the closest representations of a German beer that I’ve had outside of Germany; the California Common, which was toasty and reminiscent of an Anchor Steam; and the super-malty Irish Red.

So we stood in this melee of stuff, resting our sample cups on a case full of baseball cards, and marveled at the scene. Great beer? Check. Fantastic people-watching? Check. Need a toaster? They’ve got you covered.

A growler, a sample, and a full case of baseball cards. Par for the course.

A growler, a sample, and a full case of baseball cards. Par for the course.

For now, they’re selling the beer in growlers direct from the brewery, but soon hope to move to restaurants in and around the Wichita area. And there are apparently plans to expand into the entire space, which would not be the same as what we saw on Saturday, but will be very cool anyway.

Now that I think about it, the experience was everything I hope for when I go to a new place for the first time. It’s fun to feel like a pioneer, to see things that you can’t wait to tell the folks at home all about. And it’s fun to find an experience that, while authentic, defies all logic and expectations.

We left with two growlers tucked under our arms and a hope that this place makes it. Y’all should check it out.

Fusion food in my ‘hood

We’ve experienced great kindness from our fellow Wichitans since moving here earlier this year.

On my second week of living here, in full exploration mode, we popped in to an Indian grocery that happens to be less than a mile from our current home.

The India Emporium sits in a non-descript white cube of a building, next to a Korean BBQ joint (I know! In Wichita!) and across the parking lot of a tire shop. A small green-and-gold sign along the top of the building  was one of the few clues that tipped us off to what might be inside.

We had just a few minutes before closing, but browsed the aisles of spices, stacks of bagged long-grain rice, racks of bottled drinks and parcels of snacks and candy. We found an incredibly affordable jar of tahini, replenishing our supply. We’d discarded the rest of our ancient tahini stash when we moved, and thoughts of hummus danced in our head.

They didn’t dance for long. The kind and bespectacled proprietor sized us up in a matter of seconds. “You like hummus? I’ll bring you some of mine.” After ducking into the back, he brought us each a spoonful of the creamy, garlicky concoction. I completely forgot that I was standing very close to a large display of saris and other traditional Indian attire.

He urged us to come back for lunch sometime, gesturing to a small menu on the counter. We thanked him, paid for our jar, and left, intending to return soon to eat more of the creamy chickpeas.

Fast forward three months. Last week, after a handful of meetings, I found myself in that state of being that can only really be described as “hangry.” The trip to the grocery store would come later that evening; the last CSA box was but a distant memory. I remembered the lunch invitation and headed over.

The luncheon menu is Mediterranean, not Indian; there’s schwarma as opposed to saag paneer; falafel instead of dal. I’ve had both the beef and chicken schwarma (because I might have gone back a second time already.) They defy classification: thinly sliced meat, hummus, tomatoes and a wonderfully spicy cilantro sauce are all wrapped up in what I believe is a tortilla, then are grilled on a panini press into a slightly flat, burrito-shaped wrap.

Beef schwarma with fattoush salad. It's a keeper.

Beef schwarma with fattoush salad. It’s a keeper.

I can’t completely bend my brain around this; all I know is that it’s delicious, and it comes with a generous helping of fattoush (or Greek, if you’d prefer) salad to boot.

Some of my favorite colleagues loved the Indian buffet  down the street from my old office in Topeka, and a good plate of that amazing Indian turnip dish is hard to beat at lunchtime. I might have been a little bummed when I realized I was getting into something completely different than the food to which I’d become accustomed.

But I came up with a solid compromise: mango ice cream, fetched from the frosty cooler near the cash register and pried from the tub with flat wooden planks. A fitting end to any meal.

Potlucks are the BEST.

I’m not sure I love anything more than eating really great home-cooked food.

Which means, of course, that potlucks are the best thing EVER.

One of my favorite springtime events during the past two years has been a soup potluck at the East Lawrence home of William S. Burroughs, the beat poet, troubled marksman and, at the end of his life, Kansan. (I’m claiming him. I think it counts.)

The Burroughs house in East Lawrence.

The Burroughs house in East Lawrence.

The setup involves a crowded stovetop and a host of crock pots bearing the most fantastic soups: some old family recipes, some new favorites, all homemade and all delicious. Salads, bread and dessert round out the meal — for the lucky ones who have room left in their bowls.

A few of the soup offerings, in the sunny kitchen window.

A few of the soup offerings, in the sunny kitchen window.

It’s tough to pick a favorite when everything is AMAZING, but here are some worth noting:

  • A simply gorgeous beans and greens soup with gigantic Christmas lima beans and kale. A dish so earthy and complex that I said “mmmm!” with every bite.
  • A pork posole, with a bright red broth, tender pork and soft hominy. All texture, all the time. The soup went under a pile of fresh radishes and jalapeños that added an additional layer of crunchy goodness. (We snuck back over for another bowl of this for lunch the next day. I can truthfully report that this got even more amazing over 24 hours.)
  • A creamy golden corn chowder, the color of late-afternoon sunbeams, with roasted red peppery sweetness and a hint of spice.
  • An Italian wedding soup with dainty meatballs and thick-cut homemade noodles.
  • A Greek avogolemono, a soup that almost defies logic: the broth is neither thin nor thick, but an opaque white and oh-so-lemony. There’s orzo, too, and some other chewy goodness involved.
  • A wonderful warm borscht with tender beets and a deep dill flavor.

And then there was the gingerbread. With fresh whipped cream. DELIGHTFUL.

Extra bonus points were awarded to this particular potluck because we got to hang out with some awesome if not a bit distant cousins who were also in attendance, including Mazlo, the next generation of Schneweis descendants to rule the Earth.

This is my cousin Mazlo and his awesome mom Laurel. I think Mazlo and I are like 61st cousins, or something like that. His great-grandpa was a first cousin of my great-grandma. So, you know, we're tight.

This is my cousin Mazlo and his awesome mom Laurel. I think Mazlo and I are like 61st cousins, or something like that. His great-grandpa was a first cousin of my great-grandma. So, you know, we’re tight. Cute kid, right?

Family, friends and food? Kind of like Christmas. In April.

A trip to Cuba

Last week, before the heat and the sleet kicked in, I made a trip to Cuba.

Cuba, Kan. has been well-documented by others, including Jim Richardson of National Geographic fame. My recent trip was my second to the tiny town of about 150 in far north-central Kansas.

I drove up through the Ark River Lowlands and through the gorgeous Smoky Hills, crossing the Saline and Republican Rivers, to get to the location of a sunny Thursday meeting.

Cuba's main drag.

Cuba’s main drag.

It’s possible to do some urban exploration, even in the tiniest of Kansas towns. The meeting took place in a community space tucked away behind an unmarked door on the downtown strip. A handwritten sign on the wall indicated that the space had been used for community events years ago — perhaps as recently as the 1980s — but was now used for smaller gatherings. Card games, maybe? Pitch is big here. The group that gathers at the cafe on Thursday mornings invited me to join for a hand or two. (I declined, mostly because of the meeting, but because I grew up playing six- and seven-point pitch. Woe to me when I inadvertently ditch the trey.)

I'll take an apricot kolache and a cup of coffee (hot), please.

I’ll take an apricot kolache and a cup of coffee (hot), please.

No kolaches were to found in town, but the luncheon special at the cafe was a deconstructed bierock, swimming in cheese sauce but boasting a thick and homemade crust.

After the meeting, I made a stop for the thickest-cut smoked pork chops at the Cuba Cash Store, which also has some of the best homemade ring bologna around. The pork chops rode home in a cooler on the back seat and became a fantastic kässler rippchen for Monday’s supper.

Perhaps not the most typical version of this meal, but definitely delicious. It screams, "welcome, Spring! Bring on your potatoes and asparagus."

Not the most typical version of this meal, but definitely delicious. It screams, “welcome, Spring! Bring on the boiled potatoes.”

Scenery, geography, history, food, exploration and kind people make for a pretty fantastic day.

Grocery stores as art

Grocery stores can be different things, depending on where you live.

In Hutchinson, you used the closest grocery or convenience store as a landmark. “I live on Sierra Parkway — off of 30th, near the big Dillon’s.” “Turn at the Pic Quik on 4th to get downtown.”

I’ve dragged my husband and family into grocery stores around the country and around the world. Grocery shopping on vacation is one of the best ways I know to find out what other people eat. (And I admit that I sometimes go to Aldi just to pretend I’m on vacation in Europe.)

I have the opportunity to work with the Rural Grocery Initiative, a project at Kansas State University that studies the importance of grocery stores as a key quality of life indicator — and economic driver — of rural communities. Through working with the group, I have a new appreciation for grocery stores as community centers. I like thinking about them as more than just a place to gather supplies, but as a place to check in with your friends and neighbors.

A couple of weekends ago, I found another way to view groceries and grocery stores. There’s a fantastic exhibit on at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University that explores the connections between culture and the routine act of shopping.

Stocked: Contemporary Art from the Grocery Aisles isn’t just a display of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans (although those are there.) First Nations artist Sonny Assu uses altered images on cereal boxes to discuss the relationship his tribe and others have with food. Karyn Olivier installed an actual library on the shelves of a Carribean supermarket, and captured the images on film.

My favorite piece, which I’ve included below, was a short video shot by German artist Christian Jankowski, who, in “The Hunt,” hunted his food with a bow and arrow — in the aisles of a grocery store. The video may be accessed here.

Image from "The Hunt." Photo credit: Lisson Gallery

Image from “The Hunt.” Photo from http://www.lissongallery.com.

Admission to the show at the Ulrich, slated to run through April 14, is free.