This column recently appeared in my hometown newspaper the Devils Lake Journal in Devils Lake, N.D.

One of my favorite Food Network shows is “Chopped.” If you’re not familiar with the program it features four chefs in a cooking contest in three, timed challenge rounds with a chef being eliminated after each round by a panel of three judges. The rounds are generally appetizer, entrée and dessert with 20 minutes allotted for the first round and 30 minutes respectively for the last two rounds. I don’t know about you but I can barely make spaghetti and a salad in 20 or 30 minutes much less a gourmet dish, which is what these chefs are darn well expected to do. However, even these experienced chefs struggle to create something uber fancy in the allotted time and make their fair share of mistakes in their efforts to create greatness, and oh yea, win $10,000.

In the beginning of each round the chefs open a mystery basket of ingredients with which they have to make the dish. The longer this show is on the air the more wacky the ingredients seem to get and the more unlikely they really go together to make a cohesive dish. In some recent episodes the mystery baskets have contained leftovers, often met with disdain by the competing chefs. In one episode the chefs got leftover tacos, cake fondant and I don’t remember what else and were expected to make something edible.

I recently was perusing my cable lineup trying to find something to watch when the word lutefisk popped out at me from the program description for an episode of “Chopped,” and being a good North Dakota Lutheran I thought “well I gotta watch this.” Lutefisk was one of the mystery basket ingredients in the entrée round and it was paired with hazelnuts, Pinot Noir wine and dried lobster mushrooms. At least two of the chefs had never even heard of lutefisk, and one of them gave it such a look of disdain you would have thought it was an undesirable creature from another planet. I guess these chefs weren’t Midwestern Lutherans whose church had an annual Lutefisk supper. But the chefs literally have about 20 seconds to decide what they are going to make, so there really is no time for ingredient contempt. One of the chefs decided to make a fish cake with the lutefisk and two of the chefs opted to make something more soup like, one making a noodle dish and the other lutefisk laksa, (which actually has a nice ring to it) which the chef says is a soup from Singapore. After much high intensity cooking, the fish cake chef got eliminated with the judges saying the chef didn’t cook the fish cakes all the way through. The other two chefs’ dishes looked very similar with both chefs using a lot of exotic spices and ingredients, which must have been the key because none of the judges really made any comments about the taste of the lutefisk itself, although they liked both dishes overall.

St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Devils Lake, N.D. - home of many lutefisk suppers.

St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Devils Lake, N.D. – home of many lutefisk suppers.

I haven’t had lutefisk in oh probably more than 30 years. I think the only time I have ever had it was at the annual lutefisk supper at St. Olaf Lutheran Church, and my only real memory of it was that I thought it smelled bad and that I didn’t like the way it tasted, although I have no real clear memory of the actual taste. I don’t think my mom or dad, Fast Eddie, ever prepared lutefisk, however, they will certainly let me know if I’m wrong. However, these “Chopped” chefs showed there is more than one way to cook a lutefisk – season the heck out of it and bury it in soup! So here’s a shout out to the Lutheran churches still doing a Lutefisk supper – make some lutefisk laksa or noodle soup!

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What to write?

Greetings Small Town Word Nerd Blog Followers!

I have been writing this blog for more than three years now, and it definitely is an activity that I thoroughly enjoy! When I first started writing it the focus was on job hunting and unemployment, as at the time I had been unemployed for quite awhile. Then I became a reporter (and employed thank goodness!) for my hometown newspaper, the Devils Lake Journal, where I began writing a column called “Adjusting to Life in My Hometown.” The column also often served as my blog post. And although I haven’t worked for the Journal for more than a year, I still occasionally write a column. However one of the reasons I don’t think I write one more often is that my column/blog has lost focus. For the last year or so my blog posts have been all over the place in terms of subject matter.

So I am asking for input. Based on what I have written about in the past or what you would like to see in the future, what would YOU, my blog followers, like me to write about? Continue the focus on small town life, something about food – any input would be appreciated!

cropped-blog-pic-21.jpg Lisa

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Prison Pot?

(A version of this column recently appeared in my hometown newspaper The Devils Lake Journal, published in Devils Lake, N.D.)

Shortly after I moved to Brush, Colo., to work for its newspaper, I began covering its city council meetings. At the time, the city was considering passing an ordinance that would allow residents to have chickens in their back yards. It held a community meeting to allow residents to voice their opinions. If I remember right about 20 people showed up for the meeting with several having very strong feelings both pro and con about chicks in yards, which the city ultimately decided not to allow. When the city council recently decided to hold meetings regarding whether or not to allow marijuana sales in Brush, nobody was quite sure how many people would show up and what they would say. It turns out nearly 100 people showed up at the first meeting, and more than 160 at the second one, and they had plenty to say.

A businessman wants to turn this former prison into a facility to cultivate and sell pot.

A businessman wants to turn this former prison into a facility to cultivate and sell pot.

Let me back up. First, marijuana is now legal in Colorado and also Washington. However, municipalities can pass their own rules on whether or not to allow it. Brush passed an ordinance last summer creating a three-year moratorium on any type of pot sales or cultivation, etc. About a month ago the city received a letter from a businessman who wanted to turn a former and now empty prison in Brush, which he purchased last spring, into a place to not only sell retail marijuana but to cultivate it. This request resulted in the meetings for citizens to voice their opinions about pot sales. At the first meeting, people packed the council chambers, filling up all of the available seats leaving people to stand against walls throughout the room, even those behind the council seating area. The second meeting attracted even more people. Most of the people who spoke were against it, and passionately so – not a surprise in a small, rural, mostly conservative community.

There are people in Brush who, in part because of the tax revenue pot sales can generate for communities, are for allowing this prison pot operation or retail marijuana sales. Unfortunately many of those who are for it are afraid to speak out publicity due to fears it will jeopardize their business or standing in the community. Some who are against sales scoff at this idea, but it’s true and it was actually confirmed at the second community meeting when a man stated he would boycott businesses who were for pot sales. It’s hard to believe in the year 2014, members in a small, American community would be afraid to voice their opinions about an issue – any issue -because of possible negative repercussions. I find it quite surprising.

My guess is that if marijuana were to become legal in North Dakota, which I don’t foresee happening any time soon, many in the Devils Lake community would probably feel the same way as many here in Brush do – they would be opposed to marijuana sales. However I’d like to think that community members in my hometown would feel they could freely voice their opinion, pro or con, without worry about their position or their business in the community.

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Published in the Post!

Dear blog readers:

An article I wrote for the Brush News-Tribune appeared today on the Denver Post home page. The article is about a community hearing that was held this week in Brush regarding allowing the cultivation and retail sale of marijuana in Brush, which currently has a three-year moratorium on any type of pot sales, as well as cultivation. The hearing was the result of a businessman wanting to use a former and now empty prison for marijuana cultivation and sales. Look for a future blog post about the issue. Click on the following link to read the story.

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Dock What, Where?

There is a scene in the movie “Pretty Woman” where actor Richard Gere’s character tries to open his hotel room using a magnetized card key rather than an actual key, causing him frustration in trying to get the card to work during which he mutters “I miss keys.”

“Pretty Woman” was released in 1990 and those card keys have been in use in most hotels since that time, at least at places I have stayed. However, over the last five years or so I haven’t traveled as much as I used to so I’m not up on what’s new in the world of travel with things like hotel room keys. That all changed when I recently stayed in an upscale hotel in downtown Denver with a contingency from Brush. When I checked in I received a key that looked a lot like the standard hotel card key, however I discovered when I got to my room there wasn’t a slot for the key in the door. I looked at the key and it had some small pictures on it indicating the key should be swiped on the room door handle. This turned out to be a somewhat tricky and, yes, a little frustrating when it wouldn’t work the first time, or the next time or the time after that. Eventually I did get the darn thing to work, however during that whole weekend I don’t think I ever got it to work on the first try.

You also had to swipe the card in the elevator if you got on the elevator on the first floor and you were going up. I don’t know how many times over the course of the weekend I forgot to have my key ready when I got in the elevator and had to rely on a fellow elevator passenger to swipe it for me or ride up in the elevator and back down again and start all over.

photo 3However, what turned out to be the biggest challenge of all during my hotel stay was the alarm clock in the room, although I wouldn’t really call it a clock. It was much larger than the standard alarm clock and looked more like some sort of device you might find on a spaceship what with all of its gizmos and buttons. It also had a place where you could “dock” your iPhone or iPad, both of which I have, but have long guessed I am not using to the fullest of their abilities. I am not sure what the advantage of docking these devices would be – I guess to listen to your own music you may have downloaded. (I am sure you younger, more tech-savvy people reading this are shaking your heads at my lack of techie knowledge.) However, at the time I was viewing this space clock in bewilderment all I really wanted to do was set the alarm. For the life of me I could not figure out how to do that, so I decided to use the alarm on my phone instead.

I do give myself brownie points for attempting to even mess with the clock because the next morning I asked members of my group if anyone else had found the clock challenging. One person said “I decided to not even attempt to use it. I just called the front desk for a wakeup call.” For now that’s an option, but who knows, wake up calls or phones in rooms or even a front desk could also soon be a thing of the past like the slot in the door for a card key.

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Lost love found – 70 years later

(This column appeared in a May edition of my hometown newspaper the Devils Lake Journal in Devils Lake, North Dakota)

newspaper officeThe newspaper I work for now in Brush CO is smaller than the one in Devils Lake, We are a staff of two and half, plus a part time baby. We all, minus the baby, wear a lot of hats in addition to our primary responsibilities, including receptionist, subscription taker, ad salesperson and often even delivery person. Some days are quiet when the phone seems to hardly ring at all and not many people stop by. Others days are hopping, including one recent Wednesday when the phone seemed to ring non-stop and just short of hoards of people coming in and out the door.
Some of this particular Wednesday’s conversations had a rather unusual twist beginning with a caller asking me after I cheerily answered the phone “Brush News-Tribune” how much a half of a whole pig with the skin on would cost. Say what? Of course I didn’t say that, but I did say this is the Brush News-Tribune. And the woman said oh I thought I was calling the Brush Meat Locker. It did get me wondering just how much said pig would cost, and one of these days I need to mosy on down to the meat locker to find out.

Some days people, often retired folks, come in and just need somebody to talk to. And later that afternoon an older gentlemen wearing a VFW cap approached my desk which is about 10 feet from the front door and plopped himself in the chair in front of me, which happens quite frequently, and said this question is about me and I hope you can help me. Oh boy, I thought, what is he going to share. It turns out “John” was 91 years old and had recently received a phone call out of the blue from a high school sweetheart “Mary” now living in another town in CO. He was wondering if we could help him track down her phone number as he only knew her maiden name. When I asked if he had caller ID, he gave me a puzzled look.

He then stood up and with great animation began reminiscing about Mary saying how pretty she was and how he used to take her out in his Model A Coupe with a rumble seat and then it was hi ho silver. I’m not exactly sure what the hi ho silver meant, but he was really jazzed about the call and even said he hadn’t felt this excited since his wife died five years ago. After he left, I thought about his request and wondered how I could help. Without her married name a google search wasn’t much use. I tried with her maiden name but came up empty.

About a week or so later, John returned to our office and plopped back down once again in the chair and pulled a letter out of his shirt pocket, and with a wry smile he handed it to me. Mary had called him again, followed by a letter, which he wanted me to read. Mary also had thoroughly enjoyed their visit and wrote that he had made her feel like a schoolgirl again. John said he had been working on several drafts of a return letter, but didn’t feel any of them were worthy. As he headed out the door to buy Mary not one but two cards, I told him I wanted an invitation to their wedding.

Update: John has been by several times since I wrote this column and shared another of Mary’s letters with me. She may be making a trip through Brush sometimes this summer and John is giddy with the prospect. And who wouldn’t be after 70-plus long years.

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Devils Lake’s Quadruple D

(This column recently appeared in the Devils Lake Journal, my hometown newspaper in Devils Lake, North Dakota.)

A few months ago I made a super quick trip to North Dakota. I flew into Minot late one Friday night, and my Dad Fast Eddie came and picked me up the next morning. On the drive back to Devils Lake I enjoyed a leisurely chat with my Dad. Talk turned to what we might have for supper, aka is dinner in some parts, that night and Dad said he already knew, which was a good thing because I had absolutely no clue. Taco pizza from the Pizza Ranch my Dad replied. That immediately got me excited because taco pizza is one of my favorite things and you don’t find it on the menu at the hundreds of pizza joints in Colorado, at least not how it’s made at the Pizza Ranch and other ND pizzerias. It’s not something I ate every week when I lived in DL last year, but the Pizza Ranch was definitely a go to place for taco pizza and its tasty buffet. We also sometimes got take out from there when I worked at the Journal.

Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve always had my go to restaurants, some of them the type of place you might find on the uber popular Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” also referred to as Triple D. I was watching an episode recently where host Guy Fieri visited a good ole-fashioned drive-in restaurant. It made me remember that Devils Lake used to be home to at least four drive-in restaurants – hopefully I’ll get the names right – Dels, Nick’s Chicken Inn, the Barrel and A&W. I remember going to Nick’s Chicken Inn with my parents when I was in grade school. My sister and I would be in the back seat, my parents in the front. I don’t recall what I had to eat when we went there, probably a hamburger and French fries, however I do remember silently praying that after our meal we would go to the Dairy Queen for ice cream. Thinking back on it I see now that praying for ice cream at such a young age was an early sign of the serious sweet tooth I was developing.

The drive-in Barrel restaurant where I worked as a car hop.

The drive-in Barrel restaurant where I worked as a car hop.

When I was in junior high school, one of my friend’s mother and her sister bought the Barrel restaurant and hired my friend and many of her friends, including myself to work as car hops. For those who don’t remember the Barrel it was actually shaped like a barrel and was a small place, which made for a cramped but interesting work space. My friends and I worked there several summers and had so much fun, yucking it up when things were slow and making lists of the “Top 10 Cute Boys in DL” on our green order pads. One of my high school gal pals brought one of the lists to a high school reunion where we laughed and reminisced about how much we enjoyed working there. We also ate a lot of ice cream, one of my favorites being maple nut. However, what I loved eating most at the Barrel were the pizza burgers. I don’t remember if they were made there or were purchased, I just remember how yummy and juicy they were and that I have never found anything like them since at any restaurant. I’ve even tried making them at home, and I can’t seem to get it just right. The burgers were made with a spicy, saucy hamburger mix with mozzarella cheese inside that would melt and dribble down the bun with each bite. Guy Fieri himself would have approved and given these juicy burgers one of his signature “this is killer” kudos.

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