Tag Archives: travel


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.



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.)

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.

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.