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 ancestry.com 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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Happy Blog Anniversary to Me!

Three years ago this week in May of 2011 I began writing my blog. At the time, I had experienced several years of underemployment and unemployment and was nearing the point where I could no longer afford to live in my apartment in Denver. I decided to pursue finding a job in my home state of North Dakota by making several road trips back there. Although these trips resulted in interviews, they did not result in a job offer. However, writing the blog eventually led to a job offer from my hometown newspaper the Devils Lake Journal, where I worked for about a year, and one longer winter, before returning to the more balmy winter clime in Colorado.

Check out one of my first blog posts from May of 2011 about my stay in Linton, North Dakota, where I have the world’s best ever caramel roll, made only like they can in North Dakota. And I also stay with my friend Bonnie the Beekeeper who shares tales of the booming oil biz in western North Dakota.


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Gone Goose Gone

This column appeared in the April 24th issue of the Devils Lake Journal in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota.

It was about this time last year that I was preparing to leave Devils Lake and move back to Colorado. These preparations included holding my first ever yard/moving sale. Since storing and moving even a relatively small amount of household items can be expensive and some of my stuff such furniture were aging and had seen better days, I decided it was time to do a wholesale purge.

Deana still stuck in the snow last spring.

Deana still stuck in the snow last spring.

There was still snow on the ground late last April and I remember my sister saying that it might be too early in the yard sale season to get a turnout. However the Saturday morning of my sale there was already a small crowd outside my door a good hour before the sale was to begin, a hardy group of rummage sale aficionados eager for one of the first sales of the season. One item in my front yard attracted the attention of one these avid rummagers – an ornamental, concrete goose that was still firmly ensconced in a good six inches of snow in front of my north facing house. Years ago I had named the bird Deana the Duck – obviously not paying too much attention to the fact she was actually a goose. Deana had previously belonged to a friend of mine named Deana who years ago had left her in my garage when she was moving. I actually never intended to keep her, for one thing Deana must weigh a good 30 pounds. Yet she somehow managed to stay with me during my next couple of moves. I eventually decided to embrace her and put Deana on my front porch wherever I might be and begin decking her out for the holidays and seasons – shades and a straw hat in the summer and a wool scarf and cap in the winter.

Deana in my parent's front yard.

Deana in my parent’s front yard.

Even though Deana had become a fixture, like I said she weighed a ton and I figured it was time for her to find a new home, so I told the young man interested in her that she could be his at no cost if he could dig her out of the snow and ice. That tenacious guy actually tried twice throughout the day of my sale to dig her out but to no avail. Over the next week or so Deana finally did thaw out, and I brought her over the my parent’s house where she was placed in the front yard. As I have mentioned here in this column before, I’ve had my regrets since that sale about ridding myself of so much of my stuff, and I still do to this day. In the couple of short trips I’ve made back to DL during the last year, it warmed my heart to see Deana with her wry smile sitting in my parent’s front yard. So it’s no surprise that I was extremely disappointed when my Dad Fast Eddie sent me a text late last week saying someone had taken my goose from their front yard. Who would do such a thing? She actually wasn’t all that easy to spot in their yard, so the thief had to be someone who was pretty observant. I am hoping someone will read this and know something about Deana the Duck/Goose and see that she is returned to her rightful location.

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A Girl, a Book, a Place

If you regularly surf the internet via Google you’re familiar with its colorful logo, which changes on occasion to commemorate events of historical interest, sometimes the birthday of a famous person long dead to note how old they would be if they were still alive. On Feb. 27 that person was John Steinbeck who would have been 112. To commemorate the day, each of Google’s letters was replaced by an image related to one of Steinbeck’s books.

I think I’ve read all of this Nobel Prize winner’s books and reflecting back on them, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I read one book in particular. It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college when I read East of Eden lying by a lake near Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. My roommate Diane was with me, and I remember remarking to her how much I liked the book. All these years later, if I close my eyes I can be right back on that beach lying on a towel in the sand. I can smell the suntan lotion, feel the hot sun beating down on me and hear the waves lapping against the beach and the roar of motorboats going by. I remember that the book got a little sandy as I turned the pages reading about Adam and Cathy and Caleb and Aron, and I had a tough time tearing my eyes away from it at the end of that sunny day on the beach.

I can’t remember where I was when reading each of the many books I’ve read over the years, but I do remember some specific locations. When I was in college I went through a phase of reading authors from the John Steinbeck era. I read books by Irwin Shaw, Herman Wouk, Theodore Dreiser and Wallace Stegner, some while working in my Dad Fast Eddie’s dry cleaners when business was slow at night. Fast forward a decade and one December I was on a train cruising along the Australian coastline when I finally decided to tackle Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. When I lived in the DC area, I was part of book club and living in my small apartment in Falls Church when I read Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. When I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible I was living in an apartment in Denver suburb that had a giant bathtub, and I spent hours soaking in it and reading that book. I also read parts of The Poisonwood Bible during a plane trip, one of many books I’ve read on planes, and left it on the plane requiring me to purchase another copy.

Yet to be read. Alice in Wonderland was my Grandma B.'s book. It was given to her one Christmas around 1915.

Yet to be read. Alice in Wonderland was my Grandma B.’s book. It was given to her one Christmas around 1915.

Lots of books were read sitting in the backyard of my house in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, including The Time Traveler’s Wife, one of my favorite books of all time (the movie, not so much). My introduction to the funny and laugh out loud Janet Evanovich series marked the first time I listened to a book on tape. Over the years I’ve listened to many of Stephanie Plum’s bumbling adventures as an inept bounty hunter while traversing the miles between Colorado and my home state of North Dakota. During my stretch of unemployment in Colorado I reread To Kill a Mockingbird, and I also read The Help with reading at the time being a free and much needed escape from my pressing money woes.

I could go on and on – so many riveting books and so many varied and interesting places where they’ve been read, providing fond memories of not just the book but the unique reading location and related life experiences.

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Midwest cuisine gets a boost

I enjoyed canning pickles with Fast Eddie during my year in North Dakota.

I enjoyed canning pickles with Fast Eddie during my year in North Dakota.

During my recent year long stint in North Dakota I enjoyed many things after being away for so many years, including quality time with my family and foods generally only available in their particular form in North Dakota and neighboring states. These foods include homemade lefse, available for sale at many of the craft fairs, gigantic caramel rolls, chokecherry jelly, knoephla soup, Indian tacos and taco pizza. I also savored my brothers’ fish fries with fresh-caught fish from the waters of Devils Lake, veggies from my Dad Fast Eddie’s garden and also his canned pickles and beets. And I occasionally snacked on some guilty pleasures in the form of my favorite regional junk foods such as Old Dutch Sour Cream and Onion potato chips, Nut Goodies and Twizzlers chocolate licorice.

It was those experiences that made me thrilled to see a new show last fall on the Food Network called “Heartland Table” featuring Amy Thielen. A Minnesota native and chef, Thielen was born and raised in Park Rapids, Minn., which she left in her early 20s to head to New York City. There she attended culinary school and spent about six years working as a chef before she returned to her roots and her family’s Minnesota cabin. “Heartland Table” is set in the cabin, where she reinvents some family and regional favorites, gathering ingredients from the land and the small communities nearby. Many of the show’s recipes are part of a cookbook Thielen also published last fall called “The New Midwestern Table.” I bought the cookbook for my sister for Christmas and got one for myself as well. I recently spent some time perusing it and find it to be an interesting read as it’s not just a cookbook. It’s also part memoir and part education about Midwestern foods and their origins and has gorgeous photographs of not only Thielen’s culinary creations, but also the Minnesota landscape, family gatherings and local food establishments such as the family business Thielen Meats.

All the chapters and nearly all the recipes include meaty introductions explaining the relationship of the recipe or food group to the area or herself. The chapters are truly indicative of Midwestern foods with one chapter solely devoted to Lake Fish, with twists on recipes for walleye and pike and the traditional fish fry. There is another chapter devoted to Potatoes and Onions, where she says “it’s hard to find good ole’ Midwestern hash browns in New York City.” Another chapter called Projects includes a mish mash of concoctions such as pickles, chokecherry nectar and an explanation on how to make birch tree syrup. In the chapter Early Day Baking, Thielen’s recipe for Peanut Maple Fudge Bars emulates the Nut Goodie candy bar.

Thielen mentions South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska multiple times throughout the book, however, the only reference I have found so far to North Dakota is in the Sides chapter where in a recipe for Milk Cabbage she mentions that a friend’s mother was from North Dakota where she used to bathe her garden veggies in milk while still in the ground. If you’re in the market for a new cookbook and looking for some new ideas for traditional Midwest dishes, I highly recommend “The New Midwestern Table.” Also, it appears “Heartland Table” returned to the Food Network in March airing on Saturday mornings. Check it out!

The taco pizza with hot sauce from Abo's Pizza in Bismarck, ND, is fantastic!

The taco pizza with hot sauce from A&B Pizza in Bismarck, ND, is fantastic!

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Curl it

My 100th blog post!

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

I love the Olympics, along with many folks around the world. I enjoy it for lots of reasons, including the opportunity to watch sports for a couple of weeks that you only view every four years such as curling.

curlingWhen I was growing up in Devils Lake, we used to go curling as part of our high school physical education class. I enjoyed it, partly because it was an opportunity to do something a little different outside of the gym even though most of us didn’t really know how to curl. One of my classmates remembers during these PE curling outings some of our fellow students flinging the rock down the ice as if it was a bowling ball and going a little crazy with it. And then there was the whole sweeping the ice to make the rock go faster (if I remember right that was the idea). I know we also had curling teams but I am not sure if they were affiliated with the high school.

Even though curling has received more exposure since it became an Olympic sport in 1998, I think it’s safe to say that a relatively small percentage of Americans can say they have ever curled. I used this to my advantage some years back when on a business trip Austin, Texas, several co-workers and I got stuck in traffic for hours on the freeway due to a bad accident. To pass the time, we decided to play a game of “guess what thing I am thinking about.” I am not sure if that’s the official name of the game, but it’s where you think of a word and people ask you yes or no questions until someone figures out the word. I asked my two co-workers to guess what sport (curling) we did in high school PE in North Dakota. My co-workers asked lots of questions but they never did guess curling.

There was recently an article in the Wall Street Journal that was, believe it or not, called “Curlers: They’re Not So Fat Anymore.” It was about how the sport of curling has changed in recent years. Apparently back in the day it was typical for curlers to be rather out of shape and often a little on the chubby side, chain smoke throughout the game and for the winning team to buy the losing team a round of beers. Now a days more and more curlers are healthier and take pride in staying fit to improve their game and are forgoing the cigs and suds. In fact the name of the Canadian men’s curling team, who are expected to take gold at the Sochi Olympics, is The Buff Boys.

The article said the need for buff bods doesn’t sit well with some of the old time curlers, who claim a high level of fitness isn’t necessary to curl well. I disagree. I think no matter what the sport being as healthy and fit as you can be makes you a better athlete. So you go Buff Boys. I’ll be watching.

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