Leftovers

After a great visit in Cleveland with my brother and sister in law, we’re back home in Virginia. Our recent road trip included 12 states, six national parks/monuments, a dozen different animals, 11 new dishes, 13 blog posts, one new squirt ring, and 4,730 miles of driving. Here are a few other places of interest that we left out of previous posts, listed in no particular order.

DSC_0008Pioneer Trails Regional Museum: In the unlikely spot of Bowman, North Dakota (pop: 1800), you can see things ranging from a Triceratops skeleton to Vietnam artifacts. There is also a whole section on recipes froIMG_4246m the frontier, and a gift shop with local products. We were expecting to see farm equipment and maybe a covered wagon replica (actually, it had those, too). Drop everything and get to Bowman.

JL beersJL Beers: This pub in Sioux Falls was one of the few places open on the 4th of July (hey, it’s hard to be a patriot without adequate time for firecrackers). They serve excellent $5 burgers (no veggie options, this is cattle country), offer a vast selection of beers, and have several big TVs mostly tuned to Fox News and baseball. The 46 different beers on tap range from obscure microbrews to Budweiser, Miller, Busch, Coors, Pabst, even Hamms (who in the world is ordering Hamms draft?). It’s an interesting mix of beer geeks and farmers; the table next to us spent their entire meal talking about repairing a tractor.

IMG_4411Beermail: Another fun thing about JL Beers is that they offer a free post card and postage to every patron…a bit like the postal version of the phones that used to be on airplane seatbacks (“hey, guess where I’m calling from?”). They reportedly send out about 3000 cards a month–that’s a thousand bucks worth of stamps. I guess Hamms drinkers like getting mail.

IMG_4227Food Shopping: There are quite a few differences at grocery stores in the northern plains, mainly a zillion meat choices (including parts of IMG_4228the cow that I couldn’t even identify), brat and sausage aisles as long as the store, fresh baked goods everywhere, bins of corn the size of large hot tubs, baked potatoes the size of your head, and casings galore. What’s a casing, you might ask? Apparently, nothing says “I live in the city” like asking that question.

And, lastly…

DSC_0051Heated Seats: The stadium at South Dakota Tech is the home of the Division 3 football Hardrockers. It was the first stadium in the world to offer heated seats…assuming your car has a functioning heater. There is tiered drive-in parking on one side of the field and grandstands at the other. Watching the game from your car was–and remains–a common practice, as is honking your horn and flashing your headlights after a big play (seriously). It’s safe to say that the wave cheer was not invented in South Dakota.

With that, our travelogue shifts back to a foodie blog. Which reminds me, where did I put those casings?

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Hardrockers Stadium in 1968

 

A Miner Addition

Cornish_pasty_-_cutNo visit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is complete without eating a pastie (pronounced “pass-tee”), a small meat pie that was first introduced by miners back in the day. As I drove east on Route 2 (the main drag across the U.P.), pasties were available at just about every restaurant, mini-mart, and even at gas stations (buying food at a gas station is a worthy goal for all of us, right?).

The recipe varies, but it is generally a crust that is filled with diced potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions and some sort of meat. It’s been described as a pot pie without the pot, and there are vegetarian options, too. A friend from the U.P. told me that having a pastie for lunch generally meant that you didn’t need to eat again for the rest of the day.

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1895 photo

I googled a bit, and I learned that pasties came from Cornwall, England in the early 1850’s when the copper and iron mines were first opening in the U.P. (I learned some other things about pasties, too, maybe for a different kind of blog). Pasties are artful in their simplicity, and the miners appreciated a lunch that they could stick in their pockets–and a heavy lunch at that. If a pastie got cold, it could supposedly be re-heated by holding it on a shovel blade over a headlamp candle.

My pastie stop of choice was the Hog Island Country Store not too far east of the tiny community of Naubinway. The store was cash-only, as many businesses here tend to be. The owner was very friendly, something that is also quite common up here. It was a small one-room shop, and yet she had several different kinds of pasties as well as smoked fish (another can’t-miss UP delicacy).

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I ordered a beef pasty and a smoked menominee and ate them on their picnic bench out front. I was feeling smugly local until I saw my reflection in the store window. Not a lot of khakis and short sleeved polo shirts up here.

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While I was in the Hog Island Store, a couple from Iowa came in and asked “so what are these pay-stee things we’ve been seeing signs for?” The owner felt no need to correct her new friends. She just smiled and said “it’s what you are smelling cooking right now. I have beef, chicken, pork, or veggie. Which kind would you like?” 

Superior Experience

Souzz flew back on Sunday from Minnesota, so I’m flying solo in a beautiful remote cabin in the woods on the banks of Lake Superior, near Grand Marais, Michigan. As long as Jason doesn’t show up jasontapping on the windows in a goalie mask, it should be a Walden Pond kind of an experience. It certainly has been so far…although that Thoreau guy has a more well written blog.

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Grand Marais means “big marsh,” and it has a shallow harbor that is perfect for sailboats, sea kayaks, and most anybody that appreciates the water. There’s also a quaint main street with a number of restaurants, gear shops, etc.

I ate dinner at the West Bay Diner, well worth the stop. Note that a ham and cheese sandwich up here means a pound of ham along with the cheese. It was served with a stack of potato slices, as well, so I’ll be hungry again in about a week.

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The Chippewa called Lake Superior Gichigami, which means “a great sea,” while Longfellow called it Gitche Gumme in The Song of Hiawatha. Whatever one calls it, it’s the third biggest freshwater lake in the world, behind only Baikal in Russia and Tanganyika in Africa (thanks, Google!). And even on a low cloud day, it is a stunning sight.

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last night
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this morning

There is another side to the lake, and it’s got nothing to do with food–so feel free to skip the rest of this entry if you aren’t interested in a little maritime history.

Since 1885, forty-five ships have gone down on Superior, including the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, which sank only about 40 miles from here. I got a hint about the many moods of the lake from the temperature this morning, 45 degrees Fahrenheit (in early July). This far north and with all of this open water (the lake is 159 miles wide), the weather can be a very big deal.

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Winston Brown photo, 1971

The Edmund Fitzgerald was a 729 foot Great Lakes Freighter. She was built in 1958 and named for a Wisconsin businessman whose son later brought the Brewers baseball team to Milwaukee. On her fateful voyage in November of 1975, she was loaded with taconite iron ore in northern Wisconsin and was bound for Detroit.

The ship’s story is perhaps best known through Gordon Lightfoot’s song about the wreck, released in 1976. My sister loved that song, while my brothers favored Uriah Heep–and their stereo was louder. It’s amazing that I can still hear at all.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was bigger than most of the freighters on Superior and had the best technology of her era. Nevertheless, she went down in a massive storm, and the entire crew of 29 was lost. The weather was obviously the trigger, as there were 25 foot waves and sustained winds of more than 65 miles per hour. But to this day, it is not known for certain exactly what happened to cause her to sink. Repeated dives on the wreck have generated a range of theories, from structural failure to swamping.

Looking out at the calm lake now, it’s hard to imagine that kind of fury. If I had more time, I’d head over to the Great Lakes Shipwrecks Museum at nearby Whitefish Point to learn a little more.

A Good Year for Cheese

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The non-descript front door

Passing back through Wisconsin on the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I barely spotted a small sign for Joe’s Cheese House in Marinette, a town of about 10,000 at the mouth of Green Bay. The shop was a few blocks off of the main drag, and the giant mouse on the outside of the warehouse-style building was my first clue that this wasn’t going to be like Cracker Barrel.

Wisconsin is obviously known for dairy, and I’ve learned that the state protects this key industry very well. For example, it is illegal to substitute margarine for butter at a restaurant, and margarine itself was illegal from 1925 to 1967. My neighbor in Virginia, a Wisconsin native, shared that folks back in the day used to make trips to neighboring states to get margarine, commonly called “Oleo runs.” She added that “folks are very friendly in my home state, but don’t cross the dairy industry.”

For the throngs of readers that are no doubt planning visits to Marinette, I’d highly recommend Joe’s for your next trip. It’s got a lot of variety, good prices, a knowledgeable and friendly owner in Carol Cubalchini, and an amazing selection of aged cheddars (some 20+ years old). Believe it or not, 20 year old cheddar fetches more than $200/pound in New York. Up here it’s only $45/pound, so I bought ten pounds or so (ok, I bought a very small piece).

IMG_4418People at other shops in Wisconsin had told me that it was hard to find even 15 year old cheddar, and yet Joe’s had an overflowing bin full of 18s and 20s. And if there was any doubt about the quality of this shop, it was dispelled by the walls…which were full of notes of praise from customers near and far.

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As for the cheese, I had a taste of the oldest stuff and it’s very flaky and seemed to have a lot of different flavors all at once. In one word, I’d describe it as complex. A restaurant owner in Madison described it this way: “it will knock your face off.” Thankfully, my face is still intact (good news and bad news, I suppose).

After a long conversation–probably a good 20 minutes–about cheese and headier topics, it was time to pay. Carol let me know that she didn’t take credit cards, but that she’d be happy to take a check…or she would bill me by mail later. (Did I just go back in time?). I wrote a check, shared my ID, and was told that she never bothers to match IDs with checks. I guess fraud isn’t popular in Marinette, or perhaps I really did time-travel–in which case the cheese is younger than I thought.

It’s funnyoopery to me to think that products like Velveeta have an expiration date despite being pasteurized and chock full of preservatives–and yet shops here are putting away cheddar for 20 years on purpose. If I store something for 20 years, it’s going to be because it was hidden behind the margarine.

This Palace is All Ears

A few posts ago, I mentioned that there were some stops that one just has to make on a road trip. The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota is one such place. It was built in 1892 to showcase the rich soil of South Dakota and to promote one of the state’s most popular crops. Some 120+ years later, it still claims to be the only palace made of corn in the entire world–a dubious claim when one considers how popular corn must be as a building material.

DSC_0295Ok, so the Corn Palace isn’t actually made of corn; it’s just decorated with it–and the decorations change every year. It’s only partially completed now–although it will be done in time for the Corn Palace Festival in late August. But even without the towers on top, it’s looking good, and it brought back more childhood memories.

Here’s a look at the Corn Palace today versus 1968. 

DSC_0302 1969 Corn Palace

In a fit of tourist fever, we bought some popping corn at the gift shop; I really hope we didn’t compromise the foundation.

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Holiday Road

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Sioux frybread with wojapi

Our Fourth of July started with breakfast at a diner in the Badlands that included Sioux frybread with wojapi, a traditional berry dish. While there, we tapped into wifi to do a bit of planning. It was quite a contrast to the days of getting a “trip tik” auto-bingomap from AAA, changing cash over to traveler’s checks, and handing auto bingo cards to the kids. Today it’s Google Maps, Apple Pay, audio books, and movies, and even the dustiest diner has wifi.

The plan was to head a bit out of the way to Wessington Springs, a small town of about a thousand people in the central part of the state. We wanted to see their Running Irons/Cowboy Mounted Shooters horseback riding competition. Neither of us knew what this event even was…which only added to the intrigue (although we were hopeful that it didn’t require all attendees to ride horses and shoot). No matter what it was, we were looking forward to our techno-spontaneity.

We arrived in Wessington Springs just as their Fourth of July parade was starting, with the VFW presenting the colors and the local church choir leading a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The sidewalks were lined with flags and people wearing red, white and blue, and the parade lasted a full 30 minutes. It included a lot of older farm equipment, some fancy cars, some horses, a softball team, and several fire trucks. Each tractor was announced with a year and model, information that seemed quite familiar to the folks around us.

At one point, an antique tractor stalled and halted the parade…but not to worry. A truck driving behind the tractor had a tow line and enough power to haul a tractor up hill. Toto, we are now in South Dakota farm country.

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Check out the cartoon on the fire department’s water truck 

After the parade, we had lunch at the Springs Inn, a classic diner on Main Street (butterscotch pie highly recommended)) before heading over to the horseback competition at the Foothills Rodeo fairgrounds on the edge of town. The horseback competition included some amazingly skilled competitors, and several spectators were scoring the event themselves on small spiral notebooks.

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Celebrating the Fourth of July in a small town in South Dakota farm country was memorable to say the least, and the folks in Wessington Springs were quite friendly to the tourists from Virginia. What started as a wacky idea over breakfast quickly became the highlight of our trip.

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A Wall of People

IMG_4313One of the amazing things about this country is the amount of “must-stop” places on road trips that don’t offer much in the way of a reason to stop–except to mingle with all of the other folks that have done the same math. It seems that we are all herd animals, and I have to admit that it’s fun to go to an occasional roundup.

Wall Drug is one such roundup, a thousand tourists in a IMG_4301town of 800, all crammed into a mall-like building browsing through key chains, jackalopes, cheaply made cowboy hats, rock art, and jewelry. In my case, jewelry meant replacing my lost squirt ring from my first trip to Wall Drug as a kid–which I was thrilled to find among the displays of plastic dog doo and fake spilled Coke. Souzz is now in goggles as a precautionary measure.

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Wall Drug, 1968

Truthfully, we wouldn’t have missed stopping in Wall, as it’s definitely a part of the road trip experience. It gave us a chance to marvel at kids panning for gold in a man-made creek, to eavesdrop on a salesperson for South Dakota wine (we passed), to mix in with family reunions in matching shirts, and to see throngs of travelers taking pictures next to a 25 foot long plastic Rushmore replica (some of whom were surely just at Rushmore).

One of the restaurants had pizza in the window that would have IMG_4314made 7-11 proud. I asked Souzz if she wanted to stay for lunch. Now I’m no expert in non-verbal communication, but I got the idea that we’d be eating later.

Black and Tan

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Needles Highway, Black Hills

We are making our way east by way of the Badlands after a nice visit with my brother and his wife in the Black Hills. We drove the Needles Highway, visited Sylvan Lake and Custer State Park, and checked out the marvel that is Wind Cave.

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Sylvan Lake
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Wind Cave
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hail-proofing

Arriving in Pringle, my brother asked if I had full insurance on my car–a curious question to welcome a guest. Apparently there was a storm on the way, and golf-ball sized hail was in the forecast. With the carport full, it was time to get creative with windshield protection, local style.

While in the Black Hills, we asked about a Dakotas dish called fleischkuekle–and nobody had even heard of it. Hmm…. The locals do, however, seem to eat plenty of beef and also a fair amount of buffalo, which is easier to prepare and easier to pronounce–so it’s on tonight’s menu.

Next stop, Badlands, by way of the small settlement of Scenic. While misnamed, Scenic gave us the chance to pick up some buffalo steaks at the only store in town, the Tatanka Trading Post (Tatanka is a Lakota word that means “bull buffalo”). The friendly and helpful owner was happy to see us, and the guest book may explain why. We rolled in at noon and we were the first visitors of the day.

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photo by Heyn, 1899

From there, some gravel back roads brought us to the heart of the Badlands, named hundreds of years ago by the Lakota Sioux due to the difficulty they encountered in traveling this land (Badlands is “mako sica” in their language). The terrain is rugged, the heat is intense, and there isn’t much water in the park. Moving around on horseback would have been no easy feat.

While the heat and terrain haven’t changed, travel today is of course a different story, with an excellent road that loops the park. The Badlands are spectacular, a study in shades of tans and greys and colors that seem to just fall off of the prairie above it.

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Bighorn sheep

Back at camp, we served the buffalo steak with brats. The buffalo steak was tender and flavorful, somewhat sweeter than beef, and a nice addition. I would choose buffalo above fleischkuekle, but that may be because I don’t know how to say fleishkuekle.

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Home Again

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel some years ago that suggested that you can’t go home again…and he’s wrong. We just finished visiting my former home, Rapid City, South Dakota, and it was even more charming than I had remembered as a kid–and the city hasn’t changed as much as I have. I lived in Rapid from 1968 to 1971; old pictures say that I was pencil-thin and had a bit of a moptop–words that haven’t been used to describe me since about 1980. But I do still use pencils and (occasionally) mops.

IMG_4269Last night near Main Street Square in Rapid, we had a lovely dinner IMG_4267at the Independent Ale House (who in the world wants partisan ale, anyway?). Apparently enjoying local fare means 46 beers on tap, Sicilian pizza and Greek Salad. The food was very good, the service great, beer selection excellent, and there was a moving display of beers that even included the date that the keg was tapped.

The opportunity to drive by my former houses and a few other significant places in town, like Dinosaur Park, was a strong draw…and Souzz was extraordinarily patient. She even repeated a few of my sister’s poses from 1968 (see photos).

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After visiting Rapid City, we had a nice visit to Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park and are now heading south to Pringle, a small community of about a hundred that my brother Jack calls home. Jack has always called summer tourists (like us) “pilgrims,” so I am tempted to show up in a Miles Standish costume. But whatever I wear when I go to Pringle, my experience in Bell Fourche taught me one thing: it won’t be shorts.