As does most of the rest of our country, as does most of the rest of the world, we find ourselves confined for the most part to our homes and our yards. If we follow the guidelines we have been given, we can go out for groceries, medicine, gas, and a walk in a local park or our own neighborhood.
It is during this period of “Stay Home, Save Lives” that I am so grateful for the opportunity to go out into the natural world. It is during this moment that I am so grateful to be able to connect with family members on various social media platforms. Nature and family…my two favorite things. And that got me to thinking…
We went to our hometown conservation area the other day to look for spring. Spring is truly breaking out, so we walked and walked. I was on my way through the woods looking for wildflowers, when I turned around to see if Jim was behind me. He was, but I could not see him for a minute or so. And then, suddenly, I knew he was coming…it was his red St Louis Cardinals hat that gave him away (Oh, how I miss baseball!). And that gave me an idea for interacting with my youngest grandchildren. I sent them two pictures, and asked them to find Grandpa. It is so fun to find a way to be close to them, and give them the opportunity to respond in some sort of shared activity.
Since we are told we can safely go to parks and nature areas, Jim and I do so at least once or twice a week. Other days we walk in our neighborhood, or just visit our own yard. It is so nice to see spring unfolding, and new life returning. I hope you enjoy these pictures of what we have found…not too far from home.
I love encountering wildlife! These Canada Geese are a resident pair at Bray Conservaton Area. They return each and every year to build a nest and raise their goslings to the age when they are ready to strike out on their own. The little orange skipper was a special treat!
Walking in the neighborhood and in the conservation area, we find many wildflowers beginning to appear among the dry leaves of autumn and winter.
But what I love the most on these early spring walkabouts are the lichen and the mosses.
Coming home from one of our walks to a lawn full of violets just makes for a big smile and a better day…
…and then I always feel like cooking, or baking, making some kind of treat to end a great day, no matter what the news is reporting.
Using What I Have
I go shopping once a week during the seniors hour early in the morning. Tomorrow is shopping day, so we are low on a few things…like milk. My daughter-in-law mentioned that she had made a cake with out milk or eggs called Vanilla Depression Cake. That seemed like something I could pull off, and as I looked for the ingredients I would need I found some cocoa way in the back of the cupboard. Chocolate Depression Cake, why yes, thank you very much!
During the Depression years, homemakers tried to make tasty treats for their families even when the cupboard was almost empty. Depression Cake was first developed during this very hard time for our nation. It had to put smiles on otherwise worried and distracted faces, because it is really delicious. I like to think of Depression Cake as proof that you really do not need a lot to show your love, you only need the desire to show that love to those around you…and a bit of creativity.
Chocolate Depression Cake
A great way to make a great treat with no eggs and no flour.
Credit: Adapted from Chocolate, Chocolate, and More
- 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. white vinegar
- 1/3 c. vegetable oil
- 1 cup water
- confectioners sugar for dusting the baked cake
- In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda.
- In another bowl, combine vanilla, vinegar, oil and water.
- Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until completely combined and no lumps remain.
- Bake in a greased 8×8 pan at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
- Allow cake to cool completely and dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Remember, we are all in this together…God bless and keep each of us!
Unlike the beautiful sunrise just outside my bedroom window, not every day this winter has been full of sunshine and hope. But when this view does appear as I sit with my first cup of coffee and whatever book I am currently reading, hope always encourages me that better things are yet to come…you just have to keep looking for the good, you have to turn off the bad, and you have to strive to do your own part to make this world a better place.
So…we just keep looking, just keep sharing, just keep going. During the Christmas season we visited our son who recently moved from Michigan to Texas. We delighted at the lights in his neighborhood. Nearly every house is lit up for the holidays, a truly memorable, and beautiful experience.
And it was my introduction to mistletoe. The only mistletoe I have ever seen is that which is found in a plastic package at the grocery store. The mistletoe, a parasitic plant that grows at the tops of primarily oak trees was so much more interesting than those packages. Seeing the “kissing ball” in its natural habitat led me to learn more about the plant itself. I love research because I love to learn about new things.
Our youngest grandchildren came from long distances to visit us before Christmas. They, with the help of their very crafty mommas, decorated our windows with snowflakes, and our dining room doorway with a garland.
One of my favorite conversations, a bit bittersweet too, came at the end of January when I went to take the garland down.
Jim: I think you can stop now!
Me: Why, it is almost February, time for hearts and cupids.
Jim: Well, I like that just where it is!
We do miss all our kids who live in five different states, but as I posted on facebook…apparently you can still come to visit our grandchildren’s art gallery on the 4th of July! And that is okay with me too.
And we went for long walks in nature…
Winter is a marvelous time to look up into the tree tops and down onto the ground beneath your feet. Absent all the green growth of spring and summer, absent all the extraordinary color of autumn, you can see so much that you miss during those seasons. The world is an exciting place, a fantastic experience, and…well, just plain fun and exhilarating!
Walks along our rivers, drives through the countryside, hikes in the woods, and visits to the woodland ponds always make for good days…and muddy shoes, even after I try to clean them off!…
Plants are as interesting and beautiful in winter as they are any other time of the year…
But my favorite find of the winter plant season was finally seeing a frost flower. Frost flowers can be seen in early morning after a very cold night. As the liquid inside certain plants freezes, it expands, cracks open the plant stem, oozes out, and makes these beautiful ribbons of ice. This was a really good morning!
Without leaves on the trees, the birds are easier to see. I love the way the little woodpecker and the northern cardinal are all puffed up to stay warm. The last picture, though not a very good one, is of a yellow-rumped warbler. I had never seen one, so I just had to share it…
And then there was the armadillo who scared me way more than I scared him…
It has been a long, gray, winter, and we found ways to experience every sunny day we had, some cloudy ones too! There have been personal challenges we had not anticipated this winter, I am not very proud of my country right now, and I sure would like the gray to go away.
But…as long as the two of us can roam the countryside together, as long as I can read and learn, as long as I can teach nature classes to young children, as long as I have family, as long as I can enjoy a sunset, there will always be hope for tomorrow. There really is no other choice but hope!
Tortellini and Spinach in Broth
Any time we come in out of the cold, or the gray, I like to fix something simple, warm, and comforting. This tortellini in broth is just that!
So good on a cold, gray, day! A loaf of crusty bread, lots of creamy butter, and a glass of white wine make this a great evening dinner!
Tortellini and Spinach in a Leek Broth
So good on a cold, gray, day!
A loaf of crusty bread, lots of creamy butter, and a glass of white wine make this a great evening dinner!
I love being out in nature…climbing to the tops of hills, hiking through the woods, walking along a sandy ocean shore, or even just taking a tour in my own backyard. Recently, while visiting my sister in Florida, I had an opportunity to visit the Hernando de Soto National Memorial near Bradenton. I went planning to take a stroll through the mangroves, but was struck by its historical significance as well.
I just finished reading a book by Jack E. Davis, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea. It reminded me of the many times I have walked the Gulf coast, and it reminded me of my trip to the mangroves at de Soto. There the history buff in me joined forces with the nature lover to learn what I could about de Soto and nature at the gulf shore.
Hernando de Soto landed on the shore of Tampa Bay at what is now Bradenton, Florida in May of 1539. He came with between nine and eleven ships on which he had loaded somewhere around seven hundred men, two hundred twenty horses, four hundred pigs (yes, that is where all those nasty, nearly uncontrollable, wild boars came from), and about a hundred dogs of war. His purpose for coming to the American continent was for God, glory, and gold.
At the place where the expedition landed they found a Native American village called Uzita. The men stayed with the natives for a while before moving on in search of riches which would, in turn, bring them power. From Uzita, de Soto and his men would go on to explore areas that are now parts of ten states in the United States, and he would meet many more Native American tribes.
The legacy of Hernando de Soto in North America is not a good one. He had been tasked with making Christians out of the “heathen” natives. But instead, he mistreated the Native Americans he met. In addition to cruel treatment, he had many natives killed, and forced many others into slavery. His expedition also brought disease to a people who had no immunity to illnesses they had never encountered. Thousands died, and later settlers coming to America, such as the Pilgrims and the settlers of Jamestown found nearly empty villages which had once been occupied by proud native people. He never realized the glory he sought because he never found the gold that would bring him favor and influence.
But there is more to Hernando de Soto National Memorial than the sad story of European exploration in the New World. There is the natural side of the memorial, and that was my favorite side…
Walking the trails through the park, you find yourself in a tropical mangrove forest.
Red Mangroves are tropical trees which grow around the world from 25 degrees S to 25 degrees N, though that might change a bit as climate change deepens. They look more like thick impregnable bushes than trees, but can reach a height of 70 feet and a breadth of 20 feet. They have been around for thousands of years, long before any human set foot on the sandy soil of the Florida intertidal zone.
Mangrove forests are habitat for many coastal animals. They serve as nurseries for young fish, and nesting places for the birds of the Florida coast.
As we began to understand the climate change threats to our planet, we also began to understand how very important these wild, unmanageable trees are to the future of our warming world.
The mangrove is an edge plant…it lives at the edge of two habitats. in the ecotone. In Florida, mangroves live at the edge where the land meets the salty sea. They are, in fact, the only tree in the world that can tolerate salt. Mangroves build the coast line, keeping the sand from eternally washing out to sea. There are actually tiny islands out in the Gulf that are nothing more than large clumps of mangrove forest. They can hold back storm surge, and they can break large waves as they crash into shore. You might say they are a natural sea wall!
But possibly the most important characteristic of a mangrove tree is its ability to capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are ten times more effective in storing carbon dioxide than any other tropical forest plant anywhere in the world. They are important to the future of the planet, yet they have been endangered by the draining of wetlands, and the clearing of land for man-made construction projects.
Efforts have begun in the state of Florida to replant some of the mangroves that have been lost. De Soto park has joined this effort.
Young mangrove sprouts like the ones above are being planted along the shoreline to help reestablish a healthy forest. I saw many newly planted mangrove trees on my visit. The mangrove plant below is full of brown seeds that produce the root spikes that will fall and float in the water until they find a suitable place to settle and take root.
The mangrove forest is full of wonderful sights and sounds, and it is important to future generations who will be working to combat a changing climate in a changing world.
Simple Saturday Shrimp
When I think of the Gulf Coast I think of shrimp, and …
Saturdays around our house are often very busy, but just as often they are lazy days of relaxing, watching sports, and reading. On Saturdays it is hard to get me excited about spending a lot of time in the kitchen! One of our favorite Saturday night dinners is Simple Saturday Shrimp. It is easy, and really requires very little in the way of a recipe.
Place the number of shrimp you will be serving into a baking dish in which the shrimp can lay in a single layer. Make a butter sauce with a quarter cup of melted butter, some minced garlic, salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Pour the sauce over the shrimp and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Serve with some fresh home-made bread for soaking up all that butter sauce…and enjoy!
Several months ago I saw a notice on a Facebook page I follow of trolls at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, not too far outside of Chicago. It was accompanied with a picture of one of the trolls..and I knew I had to go, I had to meet these trolls!
So we packed our bags and got on the highway toward Illinois…not as easy as it might sound with all the flooding along the river that divides Missouri from Illinois, that mighty and surging Mississippi.
I always tease about the flatness of the terrain in Illinois, but there is something comforting about driving through the comfortable Midwest of this great country we call home…
An arboretum is defined as an “outdoor museum of trees”. Morton Arboretum, dedicated to the conservation and study of trees, was established in 1922 by Joy Morton, founder of the Morton Salt Company. He was from a family that loved the outdoors and especially trees. His father, J. Sterling Morton, was the force behind the creation of Arbor Day, and the family motto was “Plant Trees”.
We had come to see the trolls, but first, as we walked around the lake, we saw the Lego creations on display at the Arboretum. They were amazing and were placed at intervals surrounding the lake.
And then it was time to go looking for trolls. The trolls are the creation of Thomas Dambo, a Danish artists who uses reclaimed wood to build amazing pieces of art. He has created six trolls for Morton Arboretum, his first large exhibit in the United States.
The trolls at the Arboretum are angry with humans who are more interested in getting rich than caring for the environment. They have come to tell us we need to stop destroying nature…or else! They are truly wonderful, and the most amazing thing about them is how very detailed they are. They are between fifteen and thirty feet tall, with one that is lying on the ground, ready to eat any human that comes along, measuring an amazing sixty feet.
We found all the trolls, and enjoyed walking and driving through the property while we “searched”.
My favorite troll was Niels Bragger. He is a big bragger and carries an even bigger club! Niels is found deep in a wood, and walking the 200 feet into his hiding place took us by large trees and beautiful woodland flowers. My favorite were the wild geraniums which were the biggest I had ever seen.
As we drove into Lisle, we saw our first troll high above the highway at the edge of the Arboretum. He is called Joe the Guardian, and he will be guarding all the trees at Morton throughout his stay until the end of the year. I climbed up to visit Joe, a muddy trip after all our rain…and I will not be wearing the snowy white tennis shoes I wore that day ever again!
The largest troll is Little Arturs, who at sixty feet is anything but little! His mouth is wide open, so keep your distance!
We saw Sneaky Socks Alexa, whose job it is to try and catch the little humans who are causing pollution and destroying nature’s trees.
Furry Ema has a trap also, just waiting for anyone who bears ill will toward the tree under which he is sitting.
And then there is Rocky Bardur who does not like the pollution caused by cars, and is really unhappy about the parking lot built at the Arboretum, a sanctuary for nature. I was personally happy to find a nice place to park our car, but I get his point.
But there was more to this day than Legos and trolls. Morton Arboretum is a beautiful place with my favorite habitat, woodland. I took full advantage of walking many of the trails, breathing the woodland air, and enjoying the sights and the sounds of the woods. Enjoying a walk in the woods with my husband of almost fifty-one years, being in nature, seeking fantastic trolls…I just feel better. And I just leave the real world behind for a bit!
Thomas Dambo’s trolls will be on exhibit at the Arboretum through the end of the year, and is well worth an adventure into America’s Heartland.
I looked into the significance of each troll, and learned more about the artist at Thomas Dambo’s website.
Maid-Rite Hamburger Sandwiches
When I was a little girl, my mom used to fry hamburger with onions, a bit of salt and a dash of pepper. We would take slices of Wonder bread, put some of the loose hamburger on one half of the bread, then fold it over to make a sandwich. They were simple to make, they were cheap to make, and they made a perfect dinner for our family of six. Mom usually added a serving of corn or green beans that she and my grandparents had canned in the summer, and life was good.
Maid-Rite is a hamburger sandwich restaurant chain in the Midwest that makes a very similar sandwich and is very popular. It was founded by Fred Angell in Muscatine, Iowa, who opened his first Maid-Rite restaurant in 1926. It is one of Illinois’ iconic foods. There are as many variations as there are restaurants, but here is the way I like them…if I don’t just use my mom’s very simple version.
Maid-Rite, Right at Home
- 1 small onion, diced into very small pieces
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 1/2 c. low sodium beef broth
- 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
- dash of pepper
- 4 wheat hamburger buns
- Heat a skillet over medium high heat.
- Saute’ the ground beef and onion until the onion is translucent and the ground beef is browned. As the meat cooks, use a spatula to break the meat into small pieces. Drain any fat that has gathered in the pan.
- Add the broth, salt and pepper.
- Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Divide the ground beef mixture between 4 toasted wheat buns. Add a slice of onion, ketchup, mustard, pickles, or anything else you would like. Or eat it as I sometimes still do…folded inside one slice of soft white bread!
Sometimes, for many reasons, most beyond our control, plans that have been in place for months don’t turn out quite the way those plans were originally written. So, what to do? We looked at our options, and turned our attention to what was possible.
Spring in mid-Missouri is absolutely gorgeous, due primarily to the dogwoods and redwoods that explode in the woodlands, on the cliffs, and even along the interstates. We have had an unusually cold start to spring this year, so those two spring staples are not yet in bloom.
So we went to the woodland looking for the blossoms of spring…and the ephemerals, those small, delicate, flowers of very early spring that do not last too long. Some of them, especially the ones that show up in the lawn are called weeds. Maybe, but I love them anyway.
In my backyard I have found…
We have some bird feeders, so I took time to sit and watch the birds. Some mornings there is a symphony of birdsong in our yard.
We traveled to Montauk State Park near out home to see what we might find, and were not disappointed. We did not find wildflowers…it was a bit too early, but we did find critters…and some evidence of critter activity…
We saw some watercress in the Current River as well as a beautiful Fritillary butterfly…
We have also visited Shaw Nature Reserve just west of St. Louis several times in the last couple weeks.
The trails there are varied in length and habitat type, as well as well maintained. One of my favorite trails is the Wildflower Trail, a woodland with a section of rocky outcroppings. It is the rocky outcropping that I most love, as that is where I find the most wildflowers of spring.
But the first thing you notice at Shaw in the Spring are the massive clusters of daffodils throughout the reserve. The daffodils bring in visitors from all around, and they never disappoint.
So following a walk among the…daffodils, we head up to the Wildflower Trail…
And we find a few critters, too…
Yes, I missed my trip, but my goodness, I have had no time to pout…there is just too much to see out there. You just have to go out there and look for it!
Sometimes, after returning from a day outside exploring, we just want something for dinner that is easy and quick, but still really good. One of my favorites is this pasta dish I make with Missouri grown walnuts we get in the fall and freeze to use all year. I originally found the recipe in an article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times, and have adapted it to our liking over time.
Pasta with Walnuts and Olive Oil
- 1 c. walnut pieces
- 1/2 c. parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic,roughly chopped
- 3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lb. spaghetti
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- While the water comes to boiling, combine the parsley and garlic in a small food processor. Add the oil and process until you have a nice mixture. Stir in the walnut pieces, and season the with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta to desired tenderness.
- Toss the pasta with the sauce.
The number one item on our Bucket List has always been to visit each and every one of the fifty American states. And now, after fifty years, we can officially check that one as done. We visited Hawaii in November, having a great time and learning, once again, so very much about the world in which we live.
I say we visited Hawaii, yet we actually visited only one of the five islands that make up the state of Hawaii. The island of Oahu afforded us some fantastic and breathtaking sites, along with incredible new food experiences.
Our first view of Oahu came as we circled around to land at the airport in Honolulu. That is Diamond Head at the top of the picture.
Diamond Head, called Le’ahi in early Hawaii, is a tuff cone from a volcano that erupted some 100,000 years ago. The volcano that formed Diamond Head is no longer active. Its tuff cone was formed as cinder and ash accumulated following the volcanic eruption. No matter what formed it, I found it a spectacular site. Also amazing was having the ability to “look” beneath the surface, into the shallow edge of the Pacific Ocean. But if you look out to that very deep blue color…that color is what informs you that the ocean is not shallow very far out, as it drops off very quickly to enormous depths.
While on Oahu, we took several tours to see nature on the island. We did not spend the greatest amount of time in the city of Honolulu…I am a creature of nature, and nature is where we went. The island is beautiful once you make it out into the countryside…
One of the places we visited was the Waimea Falls Park. It is on the north side of the island and has a trail through a tropical forest to Waimea Waterfall.
We were treated to so many new sights…things people from the Midwest will never see at home…
Along the trail you can stop at a reconstruction of a historical Hawaiian village including signage which helps explain the lives of the people who lived on the islands many, many years ago.
What I liked best about my trip to Hawaii was the clouds. The clouds on the island were, for me, mesmerizing. I could not take my eyes off of them, and I will never forget them. As they form and move across the island, they run into the two ranges of mountains on Oahu. They are unable to climb over the mountains, and so they lay on them, slowly dropping their moisture as gentle rains. I tried all the time we were there, and was never able to get a picture to convey what I actually saw as I looked at the magnificent clouds every morning, every evening, and throughout most of the day.
One of the most amazing things you will see on Oahu are the flowers. They are abundant, and they are beautiful. Here is a collection of some of the flowers we saw on the island. I have tried to identify as many of them as possible…
One flower is very important to the people of the Hawaiian Islands…the Hibiscus. Hibiscus “breeders” have hybridized the plant to many different varieties. You will find them everywhere, and they are beautiful. The Yellow hibiscus is the state flower.
We stopped at an overlook on the way back to town one night.
While the view was gorgeous, I most enjoyed the tree we saw climbing up to the overlook. I have no idea what kind of tree it is, but the trunk was amazing. I also like the way the flower has found a home in the crook of the trunk.
And two more pictures…just because I cannot resist sharing them!
Hawaii is an amazing place. If you find yourself on Oahu, make sure you get out of Honolulu, off the beach at Waikiki, and into the countryside, into the real Hawaii. We want to go back someday to see the big island of Hawaii, to visit the big volcanoes, some of which are still active.
In my next post I will share the historical and cultural places we visited while on the island of Oahu.
On these really cold days of December, here in the middle of America, I can’t help but remember how warm it was on the island of Oahu, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of November.
Luau Teriyaki Chicken Thighs
While we were on Oahu we attended two luaus. They are so much fun and the food is simply fantastic. The teriyaki chicken was our favorite dish at the first luau The natural setting for the luau was smaller and more intimate. It was our favorite of the two luaus we enjoyed. We were brought to the stage with other couples celebrating anniversaries, and as this was our fiftieth anniversary, we both received authentic flower leis, and I got a beautiful bouquet of flowers. A gentleman sitting with us took our picture…kind of grainy, but I love it anyway. What a special evening!
Before I give you the recipe, here are some shots from our first luau
Luau Teriyaki Chicken Thighs
A taste of Oahu at home in the contiguous 48.
I adapted this recipe only very slightly from Creme de la Crumb
- 4 boneless chicken thighs (I have the butcher debone the them for me)
- 1 1/3 c. soy sauce
- 1/2 c. water
- 1/2 c. rice vinegar
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 3 Tbsp. corn starch
- 1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees, Place chicken thighs in a greased baking dish in a single layer.
- Combine 1 cup of soy sauce, the water, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic in a saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil.
- When the sauce begins to boil, mix the remaining 1/3 cup of soy sauce with the corn starch until it is dissolved and add this mixture to the boiling sauce. Cook and stir to thicken for 1-2 minutes.
- Pour half the sauce over the chicken, turning to make sure the thighs are covered with sauce.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Check to make sue the chicken is 165 degrees at it thickest point.
- Carefully remove thighs to a cutting board and cut if you would like. Serve on a plate with the remaining sauce and extra sesame seeds for garnish.
We live in a world that at times seems turned upside down. Often I feel a need to make sure I am standing, and thinking, right-side up. So I go outside, I go into nature, I go where it is quiet, taking with me only those people I want to have close, and who want to be close to me.
Within an hour’s drive of our home in mid-Missouri is Montauk State Park. It is far from any big city, it reaches into the edge of the Ozarks, and I love the place. I love Montauk in any season, at any time of day, and in any kind of weather. Missouri’s state parks are incredible, and they have free admission whether you are a citizen of Missouri or you come from any other place in the world. Montauk is the park closest to me…so, it is my personal favorite.
I love Montauk in the springtime…
I love Montauk in the fall…
That is because spring and fall are my favorite seasons in Missouri. But mostly I love Montauk any season at all…
I love the fauna…
and the effects some of that fauna have…
I love the flora…
Our state parks will often have public programs. Montauk is one of Missouri’s trout fishing parks, and many activities and programs based on fishing are offered at the park. But they have many other programs, including hikes, night sky viewing, and children’s programs.
Montauk was, at one time, a small village on the Current River, and near several springs. It was the perfect place for a mill to service people in the area. The last mill built at Montauk was constructed in 1896, and still stands on the property today. Several times each year, the park gives tours of the mill. A most exciting project has begun that will make these visits to the mill even more fun. The original equipment is being restored, and in not such a very long time, Montauk will once again be milling grain to be sold on site. I can’t wait!
If ever you find yourself in mid-Missouri I strongly suggest visiting Montauk State Park.
But if you never get to my part of the woods, state parks are all across our land. No matter where we wander, where we roam, where we travel…countries across the globe have established parks for people; parks to explore, parks in which to learn about this amazing world…parks to cherish.
So, go on, go find a park…relax, take a deep breath, I promise the world will look better, and you will feel better too!
Easy, and Best Fish Recipe
This is the very easiest way to make the very best tasting fish. It is so simple and uncomplicated, making sure that the fish is the star of the show. Whether you catch your own fish in a stream near you, or buy sustainably caught fish at the market, you will love this recipe.
The Very Best Fish Recipe
Place a cast iron grill pan under the broiler for 15 to 20 minutes, until it is sizzling hot. There is nothing better than the sound of the sizzle you will hear when you lay the fish on that hot pan!
- fish to be grilled
- melted butter
- bread crumbs
- salt and pepper to taste
- herbs to compliment the fish, to taste
While the grill pan heat under the broiler…pat the fish dry. Liberally lay bread crumbs on each piece of fish to cover. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs of your choice. Drizzle melted butter over the fish and place on the sizzling grill. Is that sound amazing or what!
Grill 3 to 4 minutes til fish is done.
I live in the American Midwest. Many Americans call this “fly-over country”, and within that unseen part of the country is what is known as “drive right through it country.” If you are the type of traveler that sticks to the interstate highway, zooming through state after state, as quickly as you can in order to get to those famous mountains and ski resorts in the western United States…well yes, Kansas and Missouri, Illinois and Nebraska become “drive all night to get through them” states. And you would be missing so much of what is beautiful about this vast nation.
The best example of a traveler’s missed opportunity I can think of is the state of Kansas. If road trippers would get off of I-70 and drive along Kansas state and county roads, they would find a land that is beautiful and mesmerizing, a place that makes you understand how big this country really is, and how vast its opportunities. We have driven along Kansas highways and byways many times, and I never tire of its beauty and its openness. As my granddaughter would say, “It’s so grand, Grandma!”
This is America’s heartland, and the world’s breadbasket. Once, this heartland was covered in acre upon acre of tallgrass prairie. Today the National Park Service estimates there is less than 4% of the original prairie remaining. Other sources estimate a mere 1%, while some optimistic souls believe there may be as much as 18% remaining due to unknown patches here and there. Original prairie refers to tallgrass landscape that has never been plowed for other uses.
The largest swath of original tallgrass prairie remaining is in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas. It extends from the northern border of Kansas on the Nebraska border, 200 miles south to just inside the state of Oklahoma. It is 80 miles wide at its widest point.
Its rocky terrain made it an undesirable area for farming. If you walk through the tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills you will find pieces of chert, big and small, scattered across the landscape. The underlying bedrock of the area is limestone and shale. Over time this bedrock weathers, erodes and dissolves. Chert is a very hard rock found within the layers of the bedrock. When the limestone and shale erode away, the chert is left behind. Another name for chert is flint, and flint is what Native Americans used to make their spear and arrow heads.
We have been to the Flint Hills before, but one of my bucket list items has always been to attend the “Symphony in the Flint Hills”. This year was the year, and we gave each other the trip to the symphony as Christmas gifts. We spent three days exploring Kansas in addition to attending the concert. We were also excited to visit a place about which I have read a lot…Konza Prairie in Manhattan, Kansas. It was a major goal…to walk that prairie!
I have visited several prairies in Missouri, where our Conservation Department has saved many remnants of original prairie. But, honestly, there is simply nothing I have ever experienced on the prairie quite like the thrill of hiking Konza Prairie…even if it was 100 degrees when we finished (that is why you start out early in the day)! Please understand, trees are not a common feature in the tallgrass prairie, and that sun is hot as you approach noon. We were happy we had taken a lot of water with us…and our hats. The following pictures are but a few of the many I took as we hiked the shortest trail, about 2 1/2 miles.
When you hike the prairie, landscape is not all there is to take in. I have never seen so many butterflies on so many flowers in all my life…and I have been around a very long time. Butterfies, wildflowes, birds on plant tops…I call it eye candy!
And so, so many butterflies…
Finally it was time to experience the purpose of this trip…the “Symphony in the Flint Hills”. We arrived early in the day, and took in the many events that are part of this big day. We heard talks on issues important to those who live in, as well as those who visit the Flint Hills, took walks through the open land, and rode a covered wagon, until we got to the highlight of the day…the Kansas City Orchestra playing on the open prairie as the sun sets and the sky becomes a field of stars in every direction. It is simply stunning.
A trip to the middle of America, a trip to the tallgrass prairie is a truly inspiring experience. I hope you might consider stopping sometime in this fly-over country, country Midwesterners call Kansas! To learn more about the “Symphony in the Flint Hills”, you can visit their website. More information on Konza Prairie can be found on the Nature Conservancy website
While visiting a new place, I always like to find a food that is unique to the area. In Kansas, I found Bierocks (pronounced “brocks”). Bierocks are a traditional German food, brought over by immigrants who settled in Kansas and established the farming that has made Kansas part of the world’s greatest supplier of food.
Bierocks are traditionally made with ground beef. I use ground bison for our bierocks, it is lower in fat than beef, and is a traditional food source of the western United States. For many years you could not find bison to purchase for food, but there is a resurgence in its use…and it tastes really good.
These little pocket meals are tasty, and though they take a bit of work, we always have extras. I put the leftover Bierocks in the freezer, and we take them out from time to time for a quick and delicious lunch that takes only two minutes to heat in the microwave.
This recipe has been adapted from “Taste of Home”
For the dough:
- 5-5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 1/8 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup whole milk (it is the only kind I use)
- 1/4 cup butter, cubed
- 1 large egg
- 1 lb. ground bison (you may use ground beef instead)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1 lb. shredded cabbage, cooked and drained
To make the dough:
- Combine 2 cups of flour, yeast, sugar and salt in your mixer bowl and mix well. Set aside.
- Heat water, milk, and butter in a small pan just until the butter has melted, no warmer than 130 degrees.
- Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix.
- Add egg.
- At low speed, blend until moistened, then beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.
- Gradually add remaining flour by hand, until you have a stiff dough.
- Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes.
- Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top.
- Cover and let rise in a warm place free of drafts until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down and let rise again until almost doubled.
To make the filling:
- Brown bison with the onion, salt and pepper, then drain.
- Mix in the cabbage and set aside.
Putting it all together:
- Divide the dough in half
- Roll each piece into an approximate rectangle that is 15×10 inches. (Mine never looks like a real rectangle!)
- Cut into 5 inch squares and spoon about 1/2 cup of meat mixture onto each of the squares.
- Bring up the sides of the dough to enclose the filling, pinching it closed to form a meat pocket that looks a lot like a hamburger bun.
- Place on a greased baking sheet, and bake at 375 degrees until golden brown.