Thursday, September 17, 2015

Head to 4M Vineyards—It’s Concord Time!

Oh, joy! The concord grapes are ready at 4M Vineyards! You can buy 3-lb. boxes, 20-lb. half bushels, and 40-lb. whole bushels of them at excellent prices through about the end of October. (The grape season usually starts in early to mid August and extends into October.)

Most people make jelly or juice from concords, but I like to make them into grape pies, tarts, and kuchens, and “pickled grapes” (which is really a spiced grape jam, akin to pickled peaches). The latter is a favorite of Dad’s.

Right now, I’m giving you links to 4M’s website and Facebook page—look at those for official info and updates on what’s currently available.

During grape harvest season, they’re open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. When it gets to be late October and the grape crop is finishing, to make sure to call ahead to make sure they’re open: 573-265-3340.

Once there’s a hard frost, that’s the end of the grapes: 4M typically has them available for about a week after the frost, but then that’s it. So call ahead if it’s late October.

4M Vineyards and Farms is located at 20670 State Route KK, which is 4 miles east of St. James, Missouri. Where they’re at, Route KK, actually old Route 66, runs along the south side of I-44 like an outer road, and 4M and some of its vineyards are plainly visible from the interstate.

If you’re on I-44, get off at the Highway 68/St. James exit, go south, and turn left (east) at the first stoplight (James Blvd., which becomes Route KK). (Often, people actually park on the shoulder of the interstate and walk up the grassy slope and across Route KK, but that’s not recommended!)

This, by the way, is the Ozark Highlands/St. James/Rosati grape-growing region of Missouri, a distinct American Viticultural Area (appellation) designated by the U.S. government (TTB). For more about that, visit the St. James Winery on the north side of the interstate.

Okay: Of all the places to purchase grapes in Missouri, why am I telling you about 4M Vineyards?

Because they’re the real thing, they’re local, they’re friendly, and their products, though unpretentiously presented, are deserving of the highest praise. It’s been a family business since 1984. My blog has always been about things like that.

One look at 4M’s annual letter and price list says it all. (Seriously, click on the link, and you’ll find an informational, entertaining announcement about 4M Vineyards’ progress and offerings this year. You’ll especially enjoy the story of the grapevine-chomping deer, the air cannon . . . and the neighbors!)

I love 4M Vineyards, and I deeply admire Mike and Jody Rippelmeyer, who own it. There are incredibly good reasons why their vineyards are expanding, why their preserves and baked goods are so delicious, and why a visit to their market is so pleasant.

We always make an annual trip to 4M! It’s worth it. I need my nice big box of concords!

I process (deseed) grapes in 3-cup batches, put them in quart-size freezer zip bags, and freeze them—each is enough for a pie or a kuchen, or a pint or so of pickled grapes.

But at 4M, we can also start our Christmas shopping: They sell a glorious variety of homemade jellies, jams, and other preserves that you can’t purchase just anywhere. Think how much your impoverished friends who live in big cities will love these goodies!

I mean, seriously! Here is a PARTIAL list (partial, because I ran out of room on my notepad!):

  • Apple butter; amaretto apple butter
  • Blackberry jelly
  • Cantaloupe marmalade
  • Catawba grape jam and jelly
  • Concord grape jam, jelly, and juice
  • Corn cob jelly
  • Cucumber pickles (various kinds)
  • Elderberry jelly and jam
  • Green tomato chutney
  • Jalapeno jelly (several kinds)
  • Niagara grape jam and jelly
  • Pear jelly; pear honey
  • Pineapple jelly
  • Pumpkin butter; pumpkin pie jelly
  • Relishes of various kinds
  • Salsas of various kinds
  • Tomato jam and jelly
  • Wild plum jelly and jam
  • Wine jelly (this is incredibly delicious!)
  • Zucchini pickles (various kinds)

—Wowsa! Doesn’t that sound tempting? Their shelves and shelves of preserves make me feel proud, and I didn’t lift a finger. And yes, they have samples for you to try.

And they make these goodies themselves—this isn’t just shipped in from Pennsylvania or someplace.

They also sell homemade banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, and apple chip bread. (Just typing this, my mouth is watering.)

And they also make and sell grape pie—which is my favorite kind of pie. Not many people in Missouri make grape pie, but it’s well worth the extra effort. It is not only exquisitely delicious, but also a joy to behold, being a glorious, deep, royal purple.

Local honey and low-priced, top-notch fresh fruits and vegetables round out the edible bounty.

There’s also a fun selection of antiques and collectables, with an emphasis on cooking supplies. (Christmas is coming; and you know you could always use another cookie sheet, baking pan, or casserole dish!)

And although they don’t make and sell wine themselves, they sell wine-making supplies, including a selection of yeasts and (of course) bulk grapes! You can buy grape plants, too.

This is the best time of year to be in Missouri, and while you’re driving around enjoying the crisp air and scenery, stop at 4M and get some concords, while they last!

4M Vineyards and Farms
21000 State Route KK
St. James, MO 65559

  • Farm stand is typically open Aug. 7 to Nov. 1
  • Opening depends on ripening; closing depends on how long the crop holds.
  • Call ahead in early August or late October, to ensure they are open.
  • Open daily, 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Millet: “Often Called Birdseed in the U.S.”

It started with Aunt Carole giving me a bag of millet seed: “What do you do with this stuff?” She’d bought a bunch of it somewhere and hadn’t found anything decent to make with it. I suppose you can cook it simply, as a grain, like rice or quinoa or buckwheat kasha. It was flattering that she would think I had a clue about its usage.

It’s taken me a while to act on this uncommon gift. Millet. Millet.

It’s like tiny yellow balls.

Here in America, it’s a primary ingredient in birdseed mixes—in fact, of the inexpensive birdseed mixes. What birds eat it, exactly? Most simply flick it out of the feeder onto the ground. Mourning doves, with their muscular crops, can digest the stuff, I believe.

As I’ve told you (see sidebar “About Me”), I’ve been teaching myself Indian cooking. One of my references has been India Cookbook, by Pushpesh Pant (London: Phaidon Press, 2010). It’s thorough, well-organized, and provides a good introduction to the different regional cuisines.

In the glossary of that book, millet is defined as “an alternative to rice. The seeds can be used whole or ground and have a slightly nutty taste. Hulled millet is also often called birdseed in the US.” . . . Called birdseed? No, Mr. Pant, it is birdseed!

Why don’t more people here cook millet as a side dish, a grain? I know there are people interested in it because it’s gluten-free. But as a side dish, I guess it must be hard to beat rice and other more popular grains. So millet, I thought, might be better as a flour. And, being interested in flatbreads recently, I consulted my book.

There are some recipes in the “Breads” section of the India Cookbook that use millet flour. I decided to try the simplest one first.

And it is simple, indeed! Bajare ki Roti (Millet Bread) is not something I’ll try again. It is, essentially, millet flour plus water and a pinch of salt, mixed to a “semi-hard dough,” and allowed to sit for half an hour. Then (more or less) you make it into “flattened rounds” with your hands, then cook on a hot griddle or tawa on both sides . . . well, maybe I wasn’t doing it right, but it sure didn’t “puff up,” and instead of getting “crisp,” it just got hard. Like you might expect, actually.

And buttering it didn’t really help much.

For a breakfast, it was pretty grim. I’d gotten up early to grind the millet seeds into flour in my spice grinder, straining it through a wire sieve to make sure it was smooth. I’d followed the instructions pretty carefully, and the results were flat, hard disks that might have been used as hubcaps, if they were not brittle.

Sue and I gnawed on them for a bit, sipping coffee, then Sue got up and found a cup of yogurt. I kept chewing on the one I’d taken, just for the point of it. The flavor was indeed kind of nutty. Yeah . . . nutty, gritty, dense, hard, dry, bland. We agreed they might be welcome if you were, say, going on a long sea voyage, in the eighteenth century.

We didn’t throw them away, however. Because I had another plan!

I redeemed them, and also my labor in making millet flour in the first place: Another recipe in Mr. Pant’s book is “Bajari-Methi na Tepla,” or “Shallow-fried Fenugreek and Millet Bread.” This flatbread recipe uses many more ingredients, including whole wheat flour, and it definitely showed more promise. And apart from my time, what did I have to lose?

These teplas use equal parts whole wheat flour and millet flour. I made “millet flour” by pulverizing, then running through a sieve, the “Millet Bread” I’d made previously (yes, it was that dry, even with the oil it was fried in).

Additional ingredients include coriander powder, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, ginger, brown sugar, salt, and fenugreek (methi) leaves (although it’s harder to find fresh methi leaves, you can buy them dried at an international store, and they keep for a while if you seal them up really well).

The dough is moistened with yogurt (it calls for “soured natural yogurt,” but I used plain yogurt). (You can see why my bread-baking often doesn’t “turn out,” since I often don’t follow recipes very closely . . .)

And guess what! These were great! They even puffed up a little—how exciting! The methi/fenugreek leaves give it a distinctive butterscotch-like flavor. They’re really delicious alone! I had one of the first teplas out of the pan and noshed on it while I fried the rest. I had to restrain myself from having any more!

And that is the story of the millet. Aunt Carole, this is a great recipe! If you are wanting a recipe for millet (flour), here you go.

Fried Fenugreek and Millet Flatbread
Based on Pushpesh Pant, India Cookbook, p. 622.

Mix together the following:
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. millet flour
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. turmeric
1 t. chili powder (to taste; depends on how hot your chili powder is!)
1 t. ground fresh ginger
2 T. brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 T. dried fenugreek leaves (find these at an International grocery)
2 T. vegetable oil (plus more for shallow-frying)
1 c. plain yogurt (or more, to make semi-soft dough)

Dough should be semi-soft, light, rather sticky.

Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll into balls, flattening them with your hands (hence the name tepla, apparently), and roll with a rolling pin into rounds 4–5 inches in diameter. Keep rolling them out as you fry them.

Heat a little oil in a heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat (as for pancakes). Add a tepla and shallow-fry about 2 minutes until dark patches form on side facing pan. Turn over and cook another minute or two, until dark patches form on the second side. Repeat with remaining dough balls until finished. Serve hot.

I would recommend having these for breakfast, perhaps with some plain yogurt, or yogurt and chopped tomatoes. Or chutney, if you’re into it. I think they’d be a yummy platform for simple soft-cooked eggs, too.

They are great as a snack, too!

Here is an informative cooking video for making a very similar recipe: “Methi Thepla or Dhebra, by Bhavna”. Bhavna points out that her family really enjoys these methi thepla as a snack while they’re traveling. What a great idea!

Though teplas are slightly sweet, I think they are definitely more in the “savory” category.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Audubon’s Paper Menageries: Birds and Quadrupeds

Places to go! Things to do!

If you love art, and you love nature, here’s something you don’t want to miss: An exhibition, at the State Historical Society of Missouri, of several of John James Audubon’s famous, hand-colored engravings and lithographs depicting American birds and mammals.

The State Historical Society (SHS) owns lots of wonderful art pertaining to Missouri the state, and Missouri the territory (that is, the western U.S.). I’ve told you about their collection of Charles W. Schwartz’s artwork before.

They also possess several of the engravings and lithographs that constitute Audubon’s incredible, huge books Birds of America (printed between 1827 and 1838), and The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (printed 1845–1848). (Viviparous quadrupeds means “live-bearing four-footed creatures,” that is, the mammals.) (Such as the opossum!)

If you don’t know who Audubon was, or if you want to learn more about him, click here.

Sue and I were pleased to attend the “Curator’s Walk-Through” of the exhibit, led by Dr. Joan Stack, curator of art collections, on August 29. Her presentations are always first-rate, exemplifying the best of the cultural opportunities that college-town life offers.

Her talk, like the exhibit itself, started with Audubon’s image of the eastern bluebird, which is the official bird of Missouri. She pointed out something I have always sensed, but never fully understood, about Audubon’s bird images: Many times, birds are shown offering food to each other, and these poses have a famous artistic predecessor.

For example, in the case of the eastern bluebird, a female is offering a caterpillar to her fledgling.

Stack pointed out that this image recalls Michelangelo’s famous Creation of Adam fresco painting in the Sistine Chapel. One wonders if Audubon had this image in mind as he created his art. . . . Or if Michelangelo had contemplated birds feeding their young as he composed his fresco.

Anyway, those are the kinds of connections that a good lecture inspires, and I love it. During the talk, there were many more interesting, and compelling observations.

Details were pointed out.

History was discussed.

And technical matters were explained.

We’ve all seen Audubon’s prints reproduced in books, but it’s not common to get to see some of the actual prints themselves. Take this opportunity to stand in front of these enormous (life-size, in many cases), incredibly detailed artworks. Plus some major artworks by George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton.

Did I mention it’s free to go there and enjoy all this great art?

(Of course, if you’re inclined to do so, however, memberships to the State Historical Society of Missouri are only $30 and include all sorts of perks, including the highly respected quarterly Missouri Historical Review as well as the Missouri Times, not to mention the good feeling you have for supporting the SHS and its vast collections of genealogical resources, photos, city and county histories, manuscripts, and newspapers.)

The Audubon exhibit runs until November 28.

The State Historical Society Gallery in Columbia is located on the University of Missouri campus, on the ground floor of Ellis Library, Hitt Street at Lowry Mall. Detailed directions and parking suggestions are available here.

By the way, the State Historical Society of Missouri is planning a major expansion, and relocation, in the coming few years. This move is long overdue for an organization that has enriched Missouri for more than a century, and it will include a larger gallery for its many valuable paintings, illustrations, maps, and other graphic treasures.

. . . Including artwork of opossums.

Note: Except for two images of opossums, and the photo of Dr. Stack, all the pictures in this post were recklessly, unconscionably photographed from my copy of a modern-printed, downsized reproduction of Audubon’s Birds of America. These are only lame representations of some of the same plates that are on display in the exhibit. The artwork you’ll see at the SHS looks much, much better!!!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Patio Tables, Part 2

This is part 2 of two posts about a pair of patio tables my parents bought in the 1960s or early ’70s: Repainting them was one of my summertime projects this year! Click here for part 1, the history of these little tables.

So here we are in 2015, and the tables are renewed. This is at least the sixth redo! I wanted them to scintillate again, to have something “groovy” on them.

Preparing the surfaces is always a bear—scraping, sanding, and scouring off the rust and flaking paint is never fun, but it gives you time to think, and to visualize.

Since I’ve been enjoying the Bhagavad Gita in recent years, I thought the symbol for Om would be kinda neat. I visualized it as being so large that it kind of dripped off the edges.

Sue scanned the quarter-inch-high Om character that appears as a decorative type dingbat at the end of each chapter in my book, then enlarged it to table-size with her amazing computer graphics skills. She printed it out for me, tiling it on four sheets of typing paper, making me a pattern.

From the moment I hatched the plan, I envisioned the character as dark or forest green on a lilac background . . . but as I kept thinking about it, I decided I wanted it to be more energetic, less restful. I wanted it to scintillate!

Why the Om? I like the idea that sound, vibration, music underlies or permeates all of creation. This sound, this music, is not only creation itself but also the name of God, the true nature of reality, and Om is a sound we can produce that connects us to all of the above. And I don’t see it as a counterculture or anti-Christian symbol at all. I see it as one of many human efforts to express and celebrate the vast, majestic, all-encompassing oneness of God, the All That Is.

Plus, it’s an elegant symbol, appealing on a purely visual level. (Especially when it scintillates!)

The second table was much more challenging to paint, with all its persnickety straight lines and perfect corners. At its center is a pan-Asian, Greek, European, African, and Native American symbol for good luck, eternity, and other sacred and auspicious ideas. Before Hitler appropriated that symbol and gave it evil connotations, it was a commonly used decorative element worldwide, with nothing but positive connotations. (Gee, thanks, Hitler, ya asshole. You also ruined a perfectly good mustache style, as well as the once-fine name of Adolph.)

As you can see, my table includes a much more elaborate design than just “that symbol” (long called a gammadion, from the Greek)—and hopefully by making the positive and negative spaces somewhat ambiguous I’ve downplayed anything startling, and emphasized the symbol’s original meaning. Visually, you kind of have to follow a maze before you can see the “eternity” symbol in the center. Hopefully, by then, the act of looking at the entire design has gotten my intended meaning across intuitively.

What do you think? Pretty cool, eh?

. . . Anyway, I’m happy with ’em!

And yes, we’ll be bringing them inside when we’re not actively using them outdoors. I think I want to keep them nice for a while!

Bonus fun! I made a wonderful discovery soon after I’d finished painting the first table: If I stare steadily at the center of these designs for about 20 or 30 seconds, then close my eyes or look at a blank paper or wall, the image remains as a retinal negative-colored afterimage—the red parts of the designs appear as blue, which fades gradually into turquoise and green. What a cool surprise! Try it with the images above! (Remember, you can click on any image on my blog to see it larger.)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Patio Tables, Part 1

This is part 1 of two posts about a pair of patio tables my parents bought in the 1960s or early ’70s: Repainting them was one of my summertime projects this year! So first, a little walk down memory lane. As far as I can tell, this is at least their sixth refurbishment since about 1970.

I’ve found some pictures of them in my parents’ photo albums, so you can have glimpses of their former incarnations.

I love these tables, though maybe they’re not the best design for lawn furniture. There’s a small lip along the edge, so they tend to collect water. They’re slightly top-heavy on their tripod legs, so in strong winds they tend to tip over, banging the edges on whatever concrete or patio bricks they’re on. And they’re steel, so they rust.

But I like them. First, they’re not plastic! Woo-hoo! Second, they’re the perfect size for holding a cold beverage plus a book, or a hardcopy printout of that chapter or bibliography you have to edit. That’s how my dad used them on the patio beneath our back porch.

Third, at this point, they’re “vintage,” thus cool. Dialing back, I think their first paint job was white—flat white. Or maybe that was their second paint job. I wonder how they came from the factory? Soon after, Mom dressed ’em up by putting Peanuts (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, et al.) decals on them. See?

As a kid, I loved those Peanuts decals! Mom’s putting them on the tables was a brilliant idea! We all loved Peanuts! (And I liked to paint with watercolors beneath the shade of a lawn chair! Hard to imagine I was ever that small . . .)

By the time I was well into elementary school, Mom had stripped off the decals, sanded off the rust that had accumulated, and given them a nice coating of hot orange-red Rust-Oleum. (Remember, it was the seventies.) At some point, she (or maybe we kids) added a bunch of stickers to decorate them.

The tables were starting to acquire rust again by the time I was in junior high and high school, and by then I’d discovered the fun of enamel paints. (My folks gave me some “beautification projects” to do.) So I’d had a little practice using Rust-Oleum in a creative way.

In ninth grade geometry class, Miss Avery had provided us (for fun) a dittoed handout showing a variety of super-cool geometric designs. I think she was trying to remind us that there were actual creative applications to mathematics, that it wasn’t all just proofs, apothems, and other headaches. (Hooray for teachers who keep in mind that some students are simply more interested in other subjects, and who make an effort to connect their subject to other fields!)

So my parents invited me to do a new paint job on the tables. Being a smarty-pants overachiever (or an obsessive little nerd, I don’t know which), I looked through the designs from Miss Avery (which I had saved—okay, more evidence for the “nerd” category) and selected one that seemed easy enough, though it was intricate. It was really just a series of concentric circles expanding by equal radial increments, overlain with a series of parallel lines intersecting them. Alternate boxes are in contrasting colors, like a chessboard. (It’s been called a “circular chessboard.”) I painted it in Rust-Oleum paints: a bright blue (almost a cyan), and a bright red. It scintillated!

I put a lot of work into it, using the fine paintbrushes I used on my model cars (oops, more evidence of nerdiness!) and even toothpicks to nudge the paint into the narrow, pointy corners, and to touch up the many, many places where paint blurped over my penciled outlines. (The lines had to be absolutely precise in that design, or it wasn’t gonna work.) It took a lot of patience!

It was a masterpiece when it was done! Fortunately, my parents let me keep it in my room as part of my indoor furniture, or that paint job wouldn’t have lasted the ca. 15 years that it did. The one picture I could find of it shows it in my bedroom in 1982 or 1983, in front of my aquarium, with Katie perched on it in order to view the fishes better. (Awww, Katie, what a sweet little girl!)

Then a lot of time passed. I was at college, then went to Arizona for graduate school, then to Montana for my first publishing job. By the time I was back in Missouri and Sue and I had moved to Jeff City, my folks had let us have the tables. We’d been using that table and its twin outdoors again, and they’d received some dings and gotten rusty and needed a new paint job.

So most recently, I just sprayed it: All red. (Yawn!) We painted its twin with a yellow center in a gradient to red edges. Still pretty boring. I’m kind of glad we kept them outside, where they collected rain, acquired some blackish mildew, got dinged, and developed rust spots . . . and finally needed another new paint job!

. . . And my next post will show pictures of their new incarnations!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Remembering King’s Food Host, Columbia, Missouri

My purpose in this post is not to give the official history of this chain of family diners that operated in at least 17 states and in Canada in the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s. Let’s get the background info over with quickly. Indeed, if you want to learn more than I’ve already just said, I recommend the following:

—Randy Hoffman, “What Ever Happened to King’s Food Host?” at, Dec. 14, 2009.

—Jan Whitaker, “Frenchies, Oui, Oui,” at Restaurant-ing through History, May 4, 2011.

There’s also a commemorative Facebook page, with loads of photos of King’s restaurants and King’s-belia: Kings Food Host—Home of the Cheese Frenchee.

From those websites, I gather that King’s focused on putting franchises in college towns (so our King’s in Columbia, Missouri, fit that pattern . . . though its location on Business Loop 70 made it a little far from campus, in the days when few students owned cars or lived off-campus).

I also read that cigarette machines (so ubiquitous in those days) were not allowed in King’s restaurants, because the owner didn’t want them there. Apparently he wanted to have a less smoky atmosphere in his family restaurant. (He was truly ahead of his time!)

Perhaps, with the college-town focus, he was thinking not so much of college students, but of smart young faculty members, like my father, juggling teaching, grading, research, and working toward tenure, and their families, who liked to go out to dinner occasionally, and who all would have preferred a nonsmoking restaurant.

Dining out was much less common then.

I was born in 1965, so nationwide, King’s was pretty much gone by the time I was ten. I vaguely remember when they closed in Columbia, driving past with my parents, staring out the window at the empty building, wondering what would become of it. Later, I saw it converted into a variety of other businesses. (Businesses I’ve never stepped foot in.)

The one in Columbia was ultimately torn down, but the concrete foundation is still there. A local bus/shuttle service has taken over the land and they park their big tour buses on the concrete pad where the restaurant once stood.

The metal roof for the drive-in portion remains. The shuttle company parks its vans and minibuses under it.

Anyway . . . see these links for photos of King’s restaurants during their heyday: one in Manhattan, Kansas, the other from Ames, Iowa. They’re both pretty close to what our Columbia King’s looked like—the textured horizontal roof treatment, the big yellow crown-shaped sign, the huge wall of windows across the front end of the building.

Personal Memories

My personal memories of King’s are rather fuzzy, but in many ways, they are especially nostalgic.

There was apparently a telephone at each booth for placing orders, which I don’t remember because my parents wouldn’t have let me do the ordering, and annoy a busy food-service worker with my soft, uncertain, hesitating delivery.

There was a similar ordering system in the drive-in parking behind the restaurant. The drive-in was a long, metal-roofed structure extending straight back from the restaurant, with parking spaces on either side. (Gosh! Remember how cars in the ’50s and ’60s had circular depressions on the inner surface of the glove compartment door, which always opened flat into a miniature table surface? The circles were designed as a place to set your Pepsi or milkshake while you ate in your car at the drive-in!)

We went to the King’s drive-in occasionally—I recall going there for lunch with Paul and my Mom.

But we went to King’s more often, I think, as the whole family, in the evenings, and we sat in the dining area. Interestingly, when I asked my parents recently about what they recalled of King’s on the Business Loop, they both drew a blank. I guess it made a far bigger impression on me!

Remember the crown logo and the gold, brown, and orange diamond motif? I recall the seats being orange—but that might be a false memory (specifically, mental pollution from listening to the snarky 1987 Uncle Bonsai song “Family Restaurant,” which recalls “rolling hills of orange Naugahyde”).

I remember walking in the door, which was on the east side of the building. The restaurant was fairly brightly lit with florescent ceiling fixtures. To me as a little kid, the place seemed huge, and kind of magical.

Yes: that big, open dining area, with large plate-glass windows facing Business Loop 70. At that time, the Business Loop was full of family-friendly food places, such as Columbia’s Zesto, a Dog ’n’ Suds, and the city’s first McDonald’s. . . . Was all the seating at King’s at booths? I think it must have been, since the telephone was key for ordering. But maybe they had a row of stools along a counter, however.

Here’s a picture of the inside of a King’s in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I remember it being a fairly quiet restaurant, though since I was a child that memory could also be skewed. Let’s put it this way: I’m sure it was a great place for parents to bring young kids who were still learning to behave like little ladies and gentlemen when dining in public.

I’m sure I must have requested other foods at times—chili dogs, for example, and little chocolate sundaes, and, when I was really little, I must have had the “Kiddie Platter”—but what sticks in my mind, as my very favorite, is the “Cheeseburger Platter.”

I still can’t say “Cheeseburger Platter” without feeling a huge, silly grin blooming inside me. On the King’s memorial Facebook page, someone posted a menu revealing that the Cheeseburger Platter came “with cole slaw, golden French fries, and onion rings.” . . . Yep, yep! That’s what I remember. That menu, from who knows when (the early ’70s, I’ll bet), gives the cost of the Cheeseburger Platter as $1.10. Oh, and I remember having an orange drink with it. (Ha! An “orange drink”! Remember that stuff? And those gigantic clear, cubical drink dispensers every restaurant used to have, with the lemonade or “orange drink” sloshing around inside? So tempting! And hey, I was, like, seven.)

I also recall the food being served on actual cafeteria-style china dishware.

The button I photographed at the top of this post was undoubtedly given to me (and Paul must’ve gotten one, too) by a server, to reward me for “cleaning my plate,” which was something all kids were strongly encouraged to do back then. (As with about every other paragraph in this post, please join me in a resounding: “Boy, times have sure changed!”)

Regarding the Famous “Cheese Frenchee” Sandwich

Many people fondly remember King’s “Cheese Frenchee” sandwiches, but I don’t recall them. Because I was pretty young, I suspect my parents, thinking of my health, had guided me away from them. The Cheese Frenchee, a King’s signature dish, was a midcentury, midwestern, family-restaurant version of the famous French croque-monsieur. There are lots of recipes approximating this popular King’s menu item; here are some:

—At, there is a cheese frenchee recipe purportedly from a former employee at King’s.

—Pam Patterson, “Recipe: Cheese Frenchees,” at

—R_Mess, “Cheese Frenchee” at

Interestingly, there are still some King’s restaurants that remain as restaurants, operating under different names, but in many ways similar, including, with some, the tableside telephones for ordering; one is The Wood House Restaurant, in Bismarck, North Dakota; another is the Pantry Family Restaurant, in Boise, Idaho.

. . . Hmm. Suddenly, I’m thinkin’: ROAD TRIP!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Switchel, Stichel, Switzel, Swizzle: Ginger Water for Hot Days

Six years ago, in a post I’d almost forgotten about, I talked about our sweltery summertime heat. And that’s where we’re at again: heat and humidity. Well? It makes the corn and the tomatoes grow!

But it makes me wilt. And it, with all the rain we’ve had, makes the watergrass, crabgrass, or whatever-it-is grow like crazy. So I’ve gotta mow the lawn it again. I’m going to wait until the sun starts to set tonight. Ugh! I’m dreading it. (Compared to this heat, my hot flashes seem cool!)

Revisiting that older post I did about “Heat,” I recalled John Madson’s description of an old-timey lemonade-like beverage that farmers used to gulp when they had to thresh wheat in the hottest part of summer. It must have been hell on earth. That’s how Madson describes it, anyway.

Madson called this beverage “stichel,” but from what I can see online, it’s more commonly called switchel, switzel, swizzle, ginger-water, haymaker’s punch, or switchy. It’s an incredibly old concoction, a centuries-old thirst-quencher, an antique equivalent to today’s “energy drinks” or “electrolyte beverages.”

Wikipedia’s entry on “Switchel” notes that the beverage is also mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book The Long Winter. In it, Laura’s mom tells her to make up a bunch of the stuff to take to the laboring men, explaining that cold well water, alone, would make the overheated men feel sick, while the ginger-beverage would quench their thirst better.

Today it’s a super-trendy hipster beverage! Who knew? All the cool kids are drinking it!

You can find plenty of different recipes online, but here’s the one I tried. It seemed simple, basic, and it seemed to fit what Madson described Iowa farmers drinking “by the gallon.” (Sorry, but I can’t remember where I got this particular recipe.)

Use this recipe as an idea starter, and mess around with it until you get it just right: try pure maple syrup instead of brown sugar, as they do in Vermont, here and here. Molasses and honey were probably popular in some areas, too. Or try using the juice from fresh ginger instead of powdered.



3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ginger (powdered)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 quart cold water

Dissolve together the first three ingredients, then shake with the cold water. Serve chilled.

The recipe, wherever I got it from, also suggested you could mix it with equal quantities of ginger ale. Or, I would suggest, mix in some club soda or seltzer, if you wanted it bubbly and less strong.

How does it taste? Well—Sue and I think it’s actually pretty darned tasty! The hardest part is the first sip, because you can smell the vinegar, and the immediate thought is: This is going to taste like something you’d dip Easter eggs into. Or: “Ugh! pickle juice!”

But despite that initial panicked thought, it really does taste very good, and it goes down easy, and I’ll probably be making it again. The vinegar does the same thing that lemons do in lemonade. (Hey, remember the Greek lemonade recipe I shared with you a while back?)

I hope you’ll give switchel a try! When you do, let me know what you think of the flavor. Bonus points if you report on its efficacy as a thirst-quencher during these beastly hot days!