Blue Ridge Geschnetzeltes

Our friend Reto stopped through Virginia this weekend on his way back to his native Switzerland. As his home country boasts some amazing scenery, we were a bit surprised that he was interested in visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains during his stay. That was fine by us, though, and we had a nice little chalet in mind just a few hours to the west.

The word chalet was coined by the Swiss in the late 1700s, and it referred to the mountain huts of cattle herders. Traditionally, herders would bring dairy cattle up from the Swiss lowlands to graze during the summer months, and they would often make butter and cheese during their stays. Nowadays the word has been co-opted and chalet can pretty much mean any vacation house anywhere, maybe even a PATC cabin.

Our chalet of choice was Tulip Tree near Luray, a chalet with no power or water–probably a lot like some of the early chalets in Reto’s home country (but without the cows and fresh dairy). Tulip Tree is located in a valley just below Shenandoah National Park and is ordinarily easily accessible by a small dirt road. But it had snowed 2 feet last week, so there wasn’t anything ordinary about that road. We parked at the nearby Morning Star Lutheran Church (asking permission first) and backpacked our way in the last mile and a half.

The weekend’s fare was decidedly Swiss-American, with dishes like Sante Fe chili and buffalo wings bookended by a braided Swiss bread called zopf, cheesecake, and the centerpiece of the meal, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes. The latter is a cream sauce with beef and mushrooms served over Spätzle. Not only did we learn how to cook a few new dishes, we learned how to mispronounce a few new words, too.

For the zopf, Reto had carried a bag of flour all the way from Switzerland, so the pressure was on. It was a bit tricky to make, but Reto schooled us on the finer points and we stacked two frybakes top-to-top to create an oven. For a fleeting moment, I felt like a herder.

For the next two days we snowshoed around, we gathered wood, we cooked, we swapped stories, and we enjoyed being out of cell phone range. While the Blue Ridge is clearly not the Alps, Reto did share how difficult it was to find areas in Switzerland without cell access. It’s easy to forget how big a geography we have in this country, as Virginia is actually more than twice the size of Switzerland.

Of course, Switzerland has a few other things going for it, like mountains that soar to 15,000 feet, beautiful mountain chalets with stunning views (and power and water), and friendly folks like Reto. At least that’s what I herd.


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.


Short Memories

DSC_0027We’ve made our way down to Rapid City, South Dakota, by way of Bowman, Bell Fourche, and Devil’s Tower. Rapid City was my childhood home, and Suzy has endured countless re-tellings of stories from back in the day. I touched (or, rather, re-touched) on the fireworks caper, Mayflower moving boxes, skiing at nearby Terry Peak, football games at 20 below, and my sister’s neighborhood “day care.”

Regarding day care, it was here in Rapid in 1968 that my enterprising 12-year-old sister provided babysitting for the entire block, all for 25 cents an hour. Us kids learned things like how to hard-boil an egg, how to sew, and how to make hand puppets—certainly risky topics with two older brothers. Somehow I survived, and I owe my sister a debt of gratitude to this day (I still make amazing hand puppets).

The highlight of today was lunch in Belle Fourche (pronounced “Bell Foosh”), a ranching town of 5000 on the way to Rapid City (it’s often just called “Belle,” much like Rapid City gets shortened to “Rapid” by the locals). We were standing outside the Belle Inn Restaurant debating lunch options when a sign near the entrance caught my eye. It said “Cowboys, scrape sh*t from boots before entering.” It wasn’t a joke; it was a necessary…albeit indelicate…reminder. And it clinched our decision. This was the place for lunch.

IMG_4258 IMG_4259   IMG_4257

As we entered the restaurant, pretty much every table paused and looked up—but expressions were more curious than suspicious. We were new faces with different accents and (way) out of state tags…but there was one other thing that set us apart.

Belle is a ranching town where a lot of folks are clearly used to working in the fields around livestock and perhaps heavy equipment. The Belle Inn’s customers were younger, older, farmers, ranchers, maybe even tourists…but even on a day that hit 90 degrees, they were definitely NOT wearing shorts.