Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shorty Pants Lounge, Lake of the Ozarks

On Sunday, Sue and I made an impromptu trip to the Lake of the Ozarks and ate, for a second time, at Shorty Pants Lounge. Again, we were favorably impressed by the food. Enough to want to tell you about it!

I’m not very familiar with this restaurant yet, but I can tell you that everything we’ve had there has been not only delicious, but also carefully prepared. The presentations aren’t stellar in a Michelin-star kind of way, but their efforts to make the dishes look good are successful.

You can tell that most of the food here was prepared from scratch onsite. Take, for instance, one of the place’s most remarkable appetizers, the “alligator eggs.” This is their version of the now-ubiquitous jalapeno popper. “Poppers” at most restaurants come premade and frozen, ready for the deep fryer—and boring.

At Shorty Pants, however, the “alligator eggs” must be a painstaking affair for someone in the kitchen. They start with real, fresh jalapenos: They cut off the tops and carefully core the chilis. Then, I understand, they bake them until they are almost completely cooked. After that, I imagine they must let them cool a little—right? Then, they carefully pipe in the cheese mixture—cream cheese in a smooth blend with four others: provolone, mozzarella, parmesan, and feta. Then, they wrap each stuffed chili with a slice of prosciutto.

These appetizers are finished in the oven, just to heat them through, melt the cheese, and make the edges of the ham a little crispy. Five “eggs” come with each order, garnished with mixed greens and served with Shorty Pants’ homemade raspberry-habanero dipping sauce—which adds another, completely welcome, flavor dimension.

Shorty Pants is famous for their barbeque (you can smell the smoke from far away) as well as for their many Cajun/Creole dishes. As far as we can tell, it’s all fresh and delicious.

The menu’s broad categories include appetizers, soups and salads, wraps, sandwiches, burgers, a kids’ menu, desserts, “Bourbon Street Eats” (étouffée, jambalaya, red beans and rice with andouille, voodoo chicken, and more), and “Signature Entrées” of lobster, steak, fish, ribs—that sort of thing. Quantities are generous.

Here’s their andouille sausage po’boy, with a side of their “vegetable medley”; after that, a side of red beans and rice:

There’s a nice big lounge area, plenty of alcohol and other beverages, an upstairs loft for extra seating, and lots of outside lakefront seating on their big porch and patio. In cooler weather, you can still enjoy the outdoors: The covered patio just outside the entryway is set up with comfy chairs, coffee tables, a big screen TV, and a fireplace.

You can get there by car or by boat. They have their own dock and, by all accounts, an excellent marina and gas dock; if you’re out on the water, you can find them at the 21.2 mile marker.

There are two drawbacks, as far as I can see. First, the place is extremely popular, so if you go at dinnertime or bar-partytime on a Friday or Saturday night, expect a wait and then a loud, boisterous atmosphere. But if you go there on an off-night or during non-peak hours, it can be incredibly relaxing and cozy, the servers attentive.

The other drawback is that Shorty Pants can be challenging to find by car—it’s not on any “strip” or “strip mall,” with no glaring billboards to mesmerize you from afar. To get there from Highway 54, turn west on Route KK (like you’re going to Tan-Tar-A); then turn right on Three Seasons Road (after passing most of Dogwood Hills golf course). Follow Three Seasons Road (and signs for Shorty Pants) all the way to the restaurant. As you approach it, you’ll see it’s right on the Lake. The road curves to the right and descends rather steeply to the parking lot.

One final note—if you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to this: Shorty Pants was voted “Best Dining on the Water” in Lake Lifestyles magazine’s 2010 “Best of the Lake.” The reviews on UrbanSpoon are very favorable, too.

Long story “short”? Shorty Pants is highly recommended, and worth seeking out.

Shorty Pants Lounge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Autumn’s Progress

I usually equivocate when asked to name my “favorite” of anything, but I can safely say my favorite season is autumn. At least, here in Missouri. (See, I just equivocated again, didn’t I.)

One of the big reasons to love autumn in Missouri is the fall color. I feel sorry for children who grow up in parts of the country where the local trees are just firs, pines, and aspens, so that “autumn” to them is only big patches of yellow interspersed with the ubiquitous, “ever” greens. Those children read books about “the seasons” and see pictures of deciduous trees in a riot of what we would call “fall colors”—and they must feel out-of-touch, if not outright deprived.

If you live in the Midwest, it can be easy, sometimes, to take our four true seasons for granted. But autumn usually makes itself hard to ignore.

As Pulitzer Prize–winning natural history writer Edwin Way Teale showed in the third volume of his American Seasons quartet, Autumn across America (1956), great pleasure can be gained from tracking autumn’s progress across the continent. It glides in a band southward, like a magically drifting rainbow, its spectrum enveloping the tired greens of late summer and leaving husky browns and tans in its wake.

Here in Missouri, autumn is delivered to us from Iowa and Nebraska, who got it from Minnesota and the Dakotas and ultimately, like all cold weather on our continent, from Canada.

In our state, fall color usually starts becoming visible in the northern counties in about mid-September and moves southward to finish completely in southern Missouri by the middle of November. The central counties (on a north–south gradient) are about one week later than the northern third, and the southern counties are about one week later than the central ones.

The peak of fall color usually occurs in the northern counties during the first third of October, in the central zone in the middle of October, and the southern counties in the last third of October. Again: generally speaking.

The timing can vary from the average, mainly due to vicissitudes of temperature—but the amount and types of color can vary drastically because of many additional factors, including timing and amounts of moisture during the summer and fall, whether drought was an issue, problems with any number of tree diseases and parasites, and more.

Each year, there are some trees, shrubs, and vines that are usually the first to change color—harbingers of autumn such as Virginia creeper and poison ivy, black walnuts, and dogwoods. And the trees that are the last to turn include the oak trees, for instance. In our state, like most of the eastern North America, fall color is said to reach its climax when the sugar maples are most colorful, with their fiery oranges, opulent golds, and glowing reds.

But even the sequencing can be thrown off by various factors. Also, most years there is at least one species of tree that fizzles out like a damp firecracker. This year, for instance, a lot of oaks are affected by a parasite called “jumping oak gall,” so we can’t expect to see much of their deep maroon this year—many oaks will be going straight from green to brown. Woolly oak leaf galls can have the same effect.

“Leaf peeping” is a big part of Missouri tourism; even when it’s not the sole point of the travel, fall color adds greatly to our enjoyment of our outings, whether we’re heading out on a weekend day trip to a church supper or an afternoon hike, or planning a more involved “staycation” down at Branson, or camping at Bennett Spring State Park, or bird-watching or hunting at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

When I was a teenager, back when I was under the influence of Leo Buscaglia, one of my sad attention-getting behaviors was to designate some random autumn day as “Leaf Day” and make my own little holiday out of it. I showed up at school with a bag of fresh, gorgeous fall leaves, arrived at all my classes early, and placed a leaf on each of my classmates’ desks. It often started conversations about the beauty of the season and the wonderful structure of leaves, and even the miracle of our ability of perceive—or construct—the idea of “beauty.” (Well, in my honors classes it did.)

At this point in life, my habit is not to “twirl buttercups,” waxing on the sheer loveliness of nature—but today’s an exception. My sole motivation is a hope that I’ve caused a few people to stop and be aware of whatever beauty may come.

Monday, September 27, 2010

“Trail Mix” Oat Bran Muffins

We’re just now getting a taste of autumn weather, and with the chill breezes from the north, the blue-sky sunny days, and the forests starting to show hints of warm yellows, golds, rusts, and reds, it’s a perfect time for hiking.

And one of the things you think of with hiking is “eats,” so naturally, trail mix comes to mind.

You know how much I’m into oat bran muffins! They’re low in fat and satisfyingly filling, they can help reduce cholesterol, and if you use them to replace the typical American breakfast, they can certainly help you lose a few pounds.

And the “trail mix” flavors might encourage you to get outside and hike! (See how incredibly healthy these are?)

Admittedly, this is kind of a “wing it” combination—but that’s how trail mix usually is. Enjoy!

“Trail Mix” Oat Bran Muffins

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F; line muffin tin with paper liners.
In a big bowl, mix together the dry ingredients:

2 1/4 cups oat bran cereal
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Then add the following morsels, modifying or substituting to suit your tastes (use a small handful of each—about 1/4–1/2 cup):

—coarsely chopped walnuts (or other nuts; if you don’t use crunchy peanut butter among the wet ingredients—see below—then add peanuts here)
—pumpkin or sunflower seeds
—sweetened carob chips (or chocolate chips, or M&Ms)
—diced, dried mango (or other dried fruit in small pieces)

In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients:

3 egg whites (or equivalent quantity in egg substitute)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk (or low-fat yogurt, skim milk, etc.)

Add wet mixture to dry mixture. If too dry and sticky, add additional milk, yogurt, or other liquid. (Hmm: apple cider?) Consistency should be similar to corn muffin batter. Spoon batter into muffin cups and bake for 10–15 minutes, or until lightly golden on top and toothpick comes out moist, but not wet.

Turn out of muffin tin and let cool. Once muffins are completely cool, store in a plastic bag; refrigerate after about one or two days. Reheating makes them better, especially as more days go by.

Makes one dozen muffins.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oktoberfest Preparations

Looks like it’s going to be a great festival this year! I know you all think I’m just being all chirpy and advertise-y because I’m with the group that’s sponsoring the festival, but really: This event has grown over the years and become big, fun shindig.

Honestly, those first few years—how it rained! There was one year we joked about changing our logo to an umbrella. I truly didn’t think we’d keep having Oktoberfest. But here it is, ten years already.

Yeah, there’s the vendors and the car show, the craft booths, the wiener dog derby, the kids’ area, and so on, but the heart of it all has always been the German dinner.

Central UCC lets the Old Munichburg Association use their kitchen and cafeteria for the dinner; and many of the women at Central Church volunteer to help with the food service. They also donate all kinds of nifty homemade German goodies for a bake sale.

Each year, the organizers try to offer something new, something different. Like the Hott & Asel sausage (from the original recipe used by a local butcher shop that closed in the sixties but which all the locals remember).

Or one year, we had authentic German beer, sent to us in kegs from our friends in partner city Muenchberg.

This year, one of the new things is a special sauce for your bratwurst—made using an authentic German recipe from Muenchberg.

I got to see it as it was being cooked today in big pots in the church kitchen: It’s got mustard in it. And some chicken broth. And bacon! (Plus other ingredients I won’t go into; some things ought to remain proprietary secrets, huh?)

I’ll be working at the OMA booth tomorrow, if you want to drop by and say hello. Though of course, I’ll have to sneak out for a few minutes to get me one of those saucy brats!

See you there!

Jefferson City/Old Munichburg Oktoberfest
Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010
Hours: 10–6
Old Munichburg district (Dunklin Street, between Broadway and Jefferson), Jefferson City

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Saturday Is Oktoberfest!

Get out your dirndls and lederhosen! Jeans and tee-shirts! Time to polka and have a beer! Saturday, September 25 is the annual Oktoberfest held in the Southside/Munichburg area, centered around the intersection of Dunklin and Washington Streets. (If you’re from out of town, this is the same basic area as the Ecco Lounge, Central Dairy, and the Schaefer House.)

Looks like the weather will be perfect! Click here for more festival schedule and more information.

I’ve told you about the Old Munichburg Oktoberfest before, and even shared a video with you. This festival is a fund-raiser for the Old Munichburg Association, which does all kinds of things to promote and uplift this historic “Germantown” neighborhood.

The festival goes from 10 to 6. Lots of food and vendors, authentic German dinners, two stages, vintage cars, a performance by a bona fide “strongman,” grape stomp, dachshund derby, and plenty of fun stuff for the kids—including the supremely cute “Hansel and Gretel Root Beer Garden.” And of course, a real beer garden for the grown-ups.

The Loehnig band from Hermann and the Rhineland Wurstjaegers will perform in the afternoon at the German stage; the beer garden stage will feature bluegrass and easy rock.

The official tee-shirt this year has a color reproduction of a nifty antique beer logo from C&L Wagner’s brewery, which used to stand right about where the festival is taking place.

And while you’re in the area, you can visit the newly dedicated Munichburg Corner, with its many commemorative bricks.

This year at the festival, there’s a renewed emphasis on authentic German artwork and crafts—artisans from the German Künstlerhaus (Artists House) in Hermann will be inside the Coca-Cola Community Building on Washington St. Here’s some of what you’ll see:

—Scherenschnitten, or scissors paper cutting, and you can buy intricately designed greeting cards, including Christmas cards.

—Schützenfest targets, shooting-match targets, which are elegantly painted targets to fire guns at—but you’ll want to hang these on the walls as art.

—The Friends of the Deutschheim State Historic Site will be selling imported German Christmas ornaments of fantastic design and quality—at good prices!

—There will be show of nifty antique memorabilia from Central Missouri’s historic breweries.

—Outside the Coke Building on Washington Street will be the Osage Bluff Blacksmith (look for the billowing smoke), making useful objects for sale. The blacksmiths at work will fascinate your kids!

—Next to them will be the Firehouse Woodcarvers at work carving delicate figures to delight all ages.


Obviously, you need to go to this festival. “Get your German on”!

—I’ll see you there!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grape Crumble Cake

Here’s what I finally did with those grapes I processed. (Remember that earlier post?) I didn’t have enough grapes for a pie, so I decided to “wing it” and adapt a recipe from Dr. Oetker’s book of German baking. (See “Books . . .” at the bottom of this post.)

Dr. Oetker, the company, is the German equivalent of Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines—a manufacturer of packaged baking and pudding mixes, which you can easily find at international groceries. There was a real guy behind the name: Dr. August Oetker developed and sold baking powder in the late 1800s, and it kinda grew from there. His descendants still run the now-international company.

So there’s this cookbook, too—Dr. Oetker’s German Baking Today—whose recipes are all from scratch, with good descriptions and photos of technique. Which I for one need.

The following is adapted from Dr. Oetker’s “Cherry Crumble Cake,” on pages 88–90 of the book. Don’t be put off by all my text—it’s not a difficult recipe. I don’t know how much of a professional baker you are, but I’m intimidated by “pastry” and always appreciate such explanation.

Grape Crumble Cake

You will need a springform pan for this.

First, process about 2 cups of Concord grapes (see my earlier post for pictures): Pluck and measure grapes, slip skin from each grape, reserving skins and putting grape-innards into a small saucepan. Simmer the innards until the tissues start breaking down and seeds start coming loose. The use a food mill or sieve to strain seeds out of the pulp. Recombine the innards with the skins in the saucepan; throw away the seeds.

Next, make the dough for the crust; it will need to chill in the fridge for half an hour, giving you more time to mess with your grapes and the crumble topping.

To make the dough for crust, start with:

1 1/3 c. flour
1 pinch baking powder

Sift together the above into a mixing bowl; then add the following:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla dissolved in a tablespoon of sugar
1 pinch salt
1 egg
3/4 stick butter, somewhat softened

Combine with a pastry cutter until a dough is formed; shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and put into the fridge for half an hour.

While the crust dough chills, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Finish preparing the grapes. To the processed grapes in the saucepan, add the following:

2/3 c. sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch (dissolved in a little grape juice or water first)
dash salt
dash nutmeg
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Heat slowly to boiling, then simmer a few minutes until thickened. Turn off heat; set aside.

Prepare crumb crust from the following:

1 1/3 c. flour (sifted as above)
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla dissolved in 1 tablespoon of sugar
3/4 stick of butter, slightly softened.

Mix together with a pastry cutter until desired crumb texture is achieved. Set aside or better yet in the fridge.


Grease the springform pan and take it apart. Take the dough-for-the-crust out of the fridge and roll out like a pie crust. Then, using the bottom platform of the springform pan as a stencil, cut out a circle of dough to fit it. Place that dough circle onto the bottom of the greased springform pan, and then put the springform pan back together. Press the edge of the dough so that it lightly seals around the edge. Lightly prick all over with a fork.

Bake just this bottom part for about 10 minutes or until it’s just cooked; remove from the oven, place on a wire rack, and let it cool down some.

Once it’s cooled a bit, roll/shape the rest of the crust dough into a “snake” (or snake segments), and press it lightly against the sides of the springform pan to form an edge, sealing it against the bottom crust. It should go about 3/4 inch up the sides of the pan.

Pour/scrape the grape mixture onto the pastry base and spread evenly. Top with the crumble topping, and place the whole shebang into the oven. Bake for about 20–30 minutes or until done and attractively golden on top.

Let the cake sit in its pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Then run a knife or thin spatula carefully along the edge to unstick it, and carefully remove the ring. Next, run the knife or thin spatula carefully underneath the cake to free it from the springform base, but don’t take it off the base. Finish cooling on a wire rack.

Then, you have to think of something special to have for dinner, to go with this awesome dessert. I leave that part to you—but make it light, fish or salad or something—because this cake is full of buttery goodness!

(If “grape pie” sounds familiar, you might recall another recipe for grape pie I gave you last year; here’s a link to it!)

Books Admired in This Post

Dr. Oetker, German Baking Today (English edition) (Bielefeld, Germany: Dr. Oetker Verlag, 2003).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dixon Cow Days, September 18, 2010

Well, that was fun!

Yesterday, my folks, Sue, and I drove down to Dixon, Missouri, to see the twenty-seventh annual Cow Days festival. This was a new one for us, and Dixon is a little far south to be on our beaten path. You can tell from all the English surnames and place-names that you’re getting away from the German-occupied Weinstrasse region along the Missouri River.

It was warm yesterday, and even more than that, it was humid. But at least it didn’t rain on the parade.

What was the scene like? Well, first of all, you have to imagine Dixon without a festival—a small town without much going on. You could easily drive right through it. It’s that kind of town. No offense to its Chamber of Commerce, but it doesn’t exactly “bustle.”

Cow Days is actually a renewal of a series of festivals that Dixon merchants sponsored during the Great Depression, as a way to get folks to visit the town and spend money. The draw? A cow was given away to some lucky festival-goer. Yee-haw!

And that’s still the draw today—now, what other festival can you go to where you could potentially win a cow?? That’s basically what drew me there—what a thrill! (What the hell was I gonna do if I won it?)

(Probably take the $600 instead.) But still—“Win a cow!”

The festival covered about two blocks of downtown—vendors, craft booths, political booths. One whole section of food vendors—meat smoke, powdered sugar, and hot grease!

The parade was fun—very small-town; makes the Macy’s parade look like something from Alpha Centauri. Here are some photos.

There were lots of classic cars, of course, and vintage tractors, Farmalls and John Deeres.

There was patriotic everything, and lots of plugs for state and local candidates. This pickup went a little overboard, I thought, but it was fun to see its “windshield wipers” flippin’ away.

Of course, the fire trucks were all there, honking their horns, and everyone was handing out or pitching candy.

The different classes of the local high school had a competition for best float. This year’s theme was “Racing to Cow Days,” so there were a lot of checkered flags and NASCAR references. Combined with cattle and other barnyard imagery.

Yeah, go figure. But it gave everyone something to do and to be proud of.

And there were scads of queens and princesses. Here’s the Pulaski County Miss Outstanding Teen, handing out candy. If the look in one’s eyes and kind mannerisms count for anything, this teen queen looked to be a sincerely nice young woman.

I told you everyone was handing out candy. About three-quarters of the way through the parade, I noticed that much of the candy being tossed at the audience was just “bouncing off” people in the front row.

The best parts of the parade, as usual, were the bands. There was the Dixon combined middle and high school band, and the Lebanon High School Yellowjackets. They all played very well, and their horn carriage and other marching skills were admirable. Good job, kids!

I have to confess I can be a real turkey when high school marching bands go by—sometimes I can’t resist calling out some uber-popular name for kids in that age group: “ASHLEY!!” or “TYLER!!” Just to see if anyone looks up. I think it’s hilarious, but it makes Sue want to creep away and pretend she doesn’t know me.

The car show is always fun. Every time I see classic cars from the fifties and sixties, I find myself saying, yes, out loud: “Why did they ever stop putting vent windows on cars? They were so nice!” . . . Oh well.

What else do you do at Cow Days? Well, you visit the food vendors and look for new combinations of sugar, flour, and fat that you’ve never heard of before, and try them.

This year we had to try a “Kow Patty: The Redneck Funnel Kake,” advertised on the side of one of the food wagons. As far as I could tell, everything this particular food wagon sold was deep-fried—bloomin’ onions, deep-fried pickles, fried “twinkes” [sic], fried Oreo cookies, and “ribbon tater’s.” (Again, sic.)

Three bucks. I waited in line, got up to the window, waved my three bucks at the lady, and said, “I want a Kow Patty!”

She asked me, “Do you know what that is?

I replied, “Nope! That’s why I’m ordering it!”

She described it: It’s a honey-bun that’s been dipped in batter, deep-fat fried, and topped with powdered sugar. “When we’re done with it, it looks a lot like a cow patty. . . . You still want it?”

I told her, “Sure! We have our cameras ready.”

Here you go.

Yes, it was sticky, greasy, molten inside, strangely delicious, and, as Anthony Bourdain said about deep-fried Twinkies: “wrong on so many levels.”

Finally, there’s the cow raffle. We did buy some tickets—Well? You can’t win if you don’t play. So far, to our knowledge, neither we nor any of our friends or family have been contacted, so I guess none of our tickets won. It was fun filling out the names and numbers. But if you’re reading this, and you get a call from the Dixon Cow Days people saying you “won a cow,” don’t put them off. You might actually have won it!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Peach Lassi

Today was Clara Day—my maternal grandmother was born September 17, 1897. I usually try to commemorate my grandmas’ birthdays somehow—in some kind of small, but privately meaningful way.

Last year, we had a dinner of some of Grandma Renner’s favorite foods.

This year, I spent most of the day cooking (which was rather commemorative in itself, given the amount of cooking she did in her life). I made several batches of pesto, cleaning out some of the herb garden. And I fussed over a grape tart (more on that soon). And more; a terrific dessert calls for a special dinner. This activity wasn’t consciously part of Clara Day, but in retrospect, it does kind of fit.

But I did find time to make a couple big glasses of peach lassi, and Sue and I tipped them in honor of Clara—who was so fond of peaches.

Granted, the lassi was kind of a stretch—it’s like a Punjabi milkshake made with yogurt and pureed fruit—but I think Grandma would have enjoyed trying it. Peaches are great in almost anything. And Grandma loved peaches.

Here’s the formula I used. Quick and easy.

Peach Lassi

Take 2 nice big juicy ripe peaches, peel and stone them, and puree them, with a small pinch of ground cloves, in a blender or food processor.

Add about 16 oz. of vanilla yogurt. (This is about half of a 32-oz. tub of Dannon. I didn’t have any plain around. It’s what I had on hand. And this way, I didn’t need to add much sugar. And the Dannon isn’t very thick, so I didn’t need to add milk or water.) Blend and blend.

Okay, taste some: sweet enough? I added about 1/8 cup sugar, and a small pinch of salt, blended again.

Take two pint glasses and half-fill with crushed ice. Pour in the lassi and stir well.

Garnish with ground unsalted pistachios.

Peel Me a Grape

How I do love weird pies! Of course, it seems that almost any pie that’s not apple, peach, cherry, blueberry, or cafeteria-style chocolate cream is “out of the ordinary.” Considering all the wonderful possibilities, the sameness is kind of sad.

Tonight I’m reflecting on the good ol’ Concord grape pie, which you rarely see. At least, not around here. I had never heard of grape pie until about 1988, which is when I made—and tasted—my first-ever Concord grape pie.

The occasion was that I was dating someone whose mother used to make grape pies, back in the forties and fifties. Mrs. S had made her legendary grape pies in a tiny town in northwestern Ohio, and I came to suspect that grape pies must simply be more common in northern Ohio, where folks grow more Concords than we do. That, or maybe women were more willing to "peel grapes" back then.

So after hearing my paramour glorify the exquisite joys of Concord grape pie, I decided I needed to learn to make it. I phoned Mrs. S up in Ohio for instructions, and I could almost hear her shrugging: “Well, you know . . . you just slip the skins off the grapes and get the seeds out, then add some sugar and flour, or tapioca, or cornstarch—whatever—Oh! and add some nutmeg, too.” Aha! Nutmeg’s the secret ingredient. (Many recipes suggest lemon juice and/or grated lemon peel, too.)

Wow, I remember that phone conversation so well! But it was long ago; Mrs. S has been gone nearly twenty years. Times change.

But during that time with my pie-hungry flame, I got pretty good at making Concord grape pies. Of course, I received a great deal of encouragement. And it was one thing I could do right.

Concords are available only in the fall, usually just in September, but I soon learned to buy a quantity, process them to remove the seeds, and freeze them so I could earn extra “girlfriend points” when they were out of season—for instance, as a February birthday-pie.

Honestly, who has the time to make pies? I was in grad school and working. During those years, grape pies were about the only ones I ever made, and I did it almost entirely for the “girlfriend points” in that troubled relationship.

Today, I find it ironic that grape pie—so tedious and time-consuming—has become the pie most people request of me. It just figures.

“Show me you love me . . . Hop when I holler, Skip when I snap; When I say ‘do it,’ jump to it . . . Peel me a grape.”

Three cups, enough for one pie, is about 240 grapes, for your information, each individually plucked from the bunch and hand skinned. And then there’s the cooking and processing to remove the seeds, all before you even think about rolling out any pastry.

I should have grown a backbone much sooner. But my pies are good.

Although that relationship couldn’t last, the reputation I developed among friends and family for making grape pies did. So I came to have at least one thing in common with good Mrs. S, who had peeled her grapes for her own famous pies all those years ago. Funny.

With my fame for grape pies, then, it’s no surprise that my mother, so generous, who loves to shop and give us things, dropped off a package of Concords she’d found at the grocery store this week. And so once again another one of my “signature” grape pies will be born.

. . . Now I can see why mom always warned me to be careful about my reputation.

(Here is what I did with these grapes, by the way; and here is a fun, retro alternative to the traditional grape pie.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Community Effort

More reflections on the subject of church suppers. One of the things I marvel at during these parish festivals is that they are truly a communal effort—men, women, and youngsters all have something to do; all can contribute. And the organization is truly impressive.

As we dined in the cafeteria at St. Anthony’s at Folk, Missouri, last Sunday, we sat beside one of the older members of the parish, who offered us some information. For instance, each family was in charge of donating five pies and three loaves of bread. (The pies, she noted, could not be cream pies, since the church’s refrigerated storage would be devoted to other foods.)

She also mentioned that the meat was local; in fact, her family’s farm had provided some of the beef. The sausage, also from local meat, had been prepared by a locally owned meat-packing company down by Vienna, and the people of Folk had stuffed it themselves a few days before the festival.

The Work Schedule!

After eating, Sue and I entered the church to look around. In the narthex I spied a stack of sheets listing the work assignments for the day’s events. Very interesting! Here are the categories, with the number of people listed for each shift. I’m leaving off personal names.

Most jobs have two shifts; the first starts at “beginning” or “10:45” and lasts until 3:00; the second shift starts at 3:00 and lasts until “end,” or about 7:00 p.m.

Dining Room, 26 persons per shift
Bread and Pies, 3 or 4/shift
Steam Table: 4/shift
Tea and Coffee: 3/shift
Kitchen: 5/shift
Dish Washing: 5/shift
Supper Tickets: 3 or 4/shift
Carry Food and Trash: 3/shift
Sandwich Stand: 4/shift
Sandwich Stand Tickets: 2/shift
General Raffle: 2 or 3/shift
Selling Raffle Tickets: 2/shift
Game Tickets: 2/shift
Arts and Crafts: 4/shift
Bingo: 5/shift
Toy Store and Grab Bag: 2/shift
Bounce House: 3/shift

Then, the folks assigned to the following jobs work all day, “start–end”:

Cookshed: 10 people
Carryout Meals: 5 people
Sausage Fryers: 9 men
Cooler and Meat Sales: 4 men
Shooting Match: 9 men
Splatter Cards: 3 people
Beer Stand: 10 men
Traffic: 10 men
Games: one shift, from noon to 6:45, a total of 15 folks, to oversee kiddie games of “Golf,” “Muffin Pan,” “Hoopla,” and “Plinko”


Looking at the names on the list—and observing workers at the festival—you can see there’s a separation of labor by gender, as might be expected; men typically work at the beer wagon, help drivers find parking spots on the grassy hill nearby, cook the meat, and oversee the “shooting match” (which their immigrant grandparents probably called a Schützenfeste).

Women are generally in charge of the baked goods and desserts, the beverages, dishwashing, side dishes, and most things pertaining to children.

Women and men work shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen—feeding thousands within a few hours requires a lot of heavy lifting, so any notions of cooking being “women’s work” are brushed away, since man-muscles are clearly needed.

The names on the list also provide hints to ages and family relationships—the teens and young adults are undoubtedly the ones with names like Tyler, Megan, Brooklyn (yes! such a name in little bitty ol’ Folk!), Ashley, and Cody. They carry platters of food to tables, serve the beverages, and bus, clean, and reset the tables. They’re working at the Bounce House and the games of “Muffin Tin.” The boys carry bags of trash out to the dumpster.

Folks of my generation have names like Kevin, Jennifer, Mike, and Lori. They’re doing all the stuff that’s responsible, complex, and hard: Kitchen. Beer wagon. Sausage frying. Shooting match. Sandwich stand.

Then there are the people with names like Gertie, Dick, Norma, Betty, and Herb—the retirement generation; they’re selling supper and raffle tickets, and some of the women continue with kitchen work. They also work at the “country store.” Most of these can be sit-down jobs, and most allow for plenty of “visiting.” They’ve earned it. Twenty years ago, at this exact same location, these persons were handling the tough, demanding jobs; fifty years ago, they were bussing tables and taking out the trash.

Finally, the surnames—a study in Germanness. Here are some names from the Folk parish: Baumhoer, Gabelsberger, Heckman, Huhn, Luebbering, Temmen, Veit, Welschmeyer, Stegemann, Lueckenhoff, Hagenhoff, Woehr, Massman, Reinkemeyer, Kempker, Werdehausen, Scheppers, and Leucke. And more. And if you visit the little cemetery across the road, you know you’ll see these same names well represented.

There’s something really cool about all this; from Augustus to Andy to Ashley, from Johanna to Judy to Justin, and Henrietta to Hank to . . . “Fallon”??—well, yeah!—there’s a daily continuity here that families spread across the continent miss almost entirely.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fall Supper Time

Fresh, local, whole-hog sausage. Beef roast (or turkey, with all the fixings). Kraut, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, applesauce, homemade bread, and your choice of homemade pie or other dessert. Sometimes there are extras; Taos, I recall, always has cooked turnips!

The rural ethnic-German communities in the area have begun their fall suppers. There’s at least one to attend every Sunday, from now through Thanksgiving. (These are not to be confused with the summer “picnics,” which end about Labor Day—these feature fried chicken and plenty of fresh local summertime produce—slaw, tomatoes, peppers, etc.)

The fall festivals—which include activities such as quilt raffles, bake sales, kids’ games, bingo, and the beer wagon—are fund-raising efforts by the parishes. And efforts they must be! Everyone has a job to do; thankfully, “many hands make light work.”

Last Sunday was the festival at Folk. (That’s Folk, Missouri, located west of Westphalia off Route 133—and just north of Painted Rock Conservation Area).

We usually take some time, after eating, to look inside the sanctuary of each church. They are always quite beautiful, and each unique according to the history and personality of the parish.


I wish I could give you a definitive calendar of the upcoming church suppers this fall, but I’m not Catholic, so I’m not privy to the diocese or parish newsletters that provide such information. Pity.

As far as I know, the only other ways to find out “which suppers are when” are by:

1. Scanning for ads in the Jeff City newspaper;

2. Reading the Coca-Cola building billboard facing the 63/54 Expressway at its Jefferson Street intersection (one of our Munichburg treasures); or

3. Simply asking your Catholic friends.

I guess I could, some year, make notes of which festivals are on which weekends, since these rarely change: “Oh, we’re always on the second weekend in September.”

But frankly, it’s more fun to look at our beloved Coke Sign. Long may she wave!

(Thanks, Sue, for letting me post some of your lovely pictures from St. Anthony's in Folk!)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trepidation; Elation

I feel like I’ve fallen behind in posting, but then I do realize that the only expectations here are my own. It’s my blog; I can do what I want with it. Somehow, though, I feel like it’s gotten away from me. My posts are feeling like articles or research papers, instead of, say, the real thoughts in my head.

For about three decades, now, I’ve kept a journal, so writing about my day, my thoughts, my “here is where I am right now,” is indeed the only form of writing I feel truly qualified to attempt; thus so much of my blog here is a tangent, a lark.

I honestly don’t know nuthin’ about cooking—I’ve never even taken a basic home ec class. I don’t know nuthin’ about science—I defer all definitive statements to the specialists. I’m not an authority on Missouri: I grew up here; I left; I came back. But I always feel woefully lacking in an understanding of its history and landscapes. As for Jefferson City, I am a total fraud: I come from across the river, from the rival town and ultra-rival school. I only decided to start learning about this place when I moved here a decade ago. I’m a Columbian, by birth and by culture—that means I’ll never really be accepted here.

But I do know how to tell you what’s going on right now. I’m sitting on our recently repaired sunporch, and the late-afternoon sun is slicing in. Patches, the original Opulent Opossum, is lying in the middle of the soft new carpet, on her back, her hind legs in the air, snoozing as only she can do.

It’s one of those early cool days in September, when the pleasant north breeze is still a surprise, because you’re still expecting the Missouri summertime steam bath. It will take several more days like this before our bodies begin to accept that autumn is really here.

Well, it seems that way to me.


Here’s the big news today: We said goodbye to two elderly, beat-up chairs and a sofa. But it’s only temporary—when we see them again, around the end of October (I understand), they will be transformed into elegant, fine furniture fit for high society: We’re getting them reupholstered (and repaired, and refinished).

Here’s the history: The sofa is the one Grandma S always had in her living room . . . well, until Aunt Minnie got sick and moved in with Grandma, and her (nicer) sofa was placed into the living room. Grandma’s older sofa, more beat up, was demoted to the sunporch, where it’s been since Aunt Minnie got sick—when was that? The late seventies?

Here’s a picture of Aunt Min sitting on Grandma’s sofa; back in the good ol’ days. Christmas ’75, I think.

Hmmm. I’ve always liked the old sofa—good memories, good vibes.

And one of the chairs—a “wingback” chair with nice soft arms—had long been my favorite place to sit when visiting Grandma. The fabric was a satiny damask, soft and cool, and I don’t know . . . just comfortable. When it was time to sit down and talk, I’d make a beeline for that chair.

Please understand that I’m not insane with nostalgia; when Grandma died and auctioneers were brought in to tote away everything that could possibly be valuable enough to sell—and my parents and uncles and aunts encouraged us to keep the stuff we wanted—I held back.

It’s a difficult social calculation: Would I appear greedy if I prevented something valuable from being sold and adding to the estate, just because I “want” it? If I let something be sold that really should be kept in the family for the next generation, then am I being blind, or callous? Would I appear greedy if I held on to such a thing, for that reason?

We kept things that seemed heirloom-ish, like the china cabinet, like the table. We kept some furniture and other objects just because we knew we would use them.

Understand: when they sell stuff at estate auctions, most of it goes for very cheap, sadly cheap; I couldn’t feel very guilty for keeping things that might sell for twenty dollars, for which I would have to spend a hundred to replace.

Anyway, there was another category of Grandma’s old possessions: Ones that the auctioneer rolled his eyes at and explained were worthless. The sofa and two old chairs we’re having reupholstered fit into this category. “They’re not even worth carting away.”

They were in sad shape. Poor old sofa; it will have to be disassembled and put back together. The chairs, pretty much, too. Our upholsterer helped me to feel better about it: Never were these pieces of furniture abused—they were simply worn out. Fabric ages; springs push through their bindings. It happens after, oh, several decades of use.

Yes, it will cost us some money. We’ve already purchased the fabric, which of course is no cheap thing right there. And the fabric for the sofa came from a store in St. Louis—so you can add the cost of travel to the expenses.

But I think we’ve been showered with luck, if my instincts and this fellow’s estimate are correct. We had gotten an estimate for the chairs a few years ago, and the prices from that fellow were completely beyond what we could pay. We were heartbroken; the sofa, of course, would have been impossible, if the chairs were already far too high.

We threw a big canvas sheet over the sofa, to hide its thousand imperfections. And the chairs sat in the basement. We considered putting the chairs out by the side of the road, so they could dematerialize, one way that many household items find “new homes” here in Jeff.

But I couldn’t bear to do it. You might as well have asked me to leave a box of kittens by a busy highway.

Then, earlier this year, a chance conversation with an acquaintance introduced this new fellow, who is supposed to do fabulous work and have surprisingly low rates.

I finally got around to calling him; he came over, prepared an estimate for us, told us how much fabric to buy, told us he wouldn’t be able to start until early September. And meanwhile, it has taken us this time to select and procure the fabrics—which brought us to today.

Of course, it is more complicated that that—we had to disassemble one wall of our screened porch in order to get the sofa out of the house and down the back porch steps. And you know that kind of thing is easier said than done.

But we did it, and we got it all put back (need to touch up some paint now—one thing leads to another). And so here I sit, looking at this room without the sofa. So strange.

I’m slightly fearful—what if this upholsterer is horrible? What if we’re appalled, and then still have to pay for the work? We’ll be kicking ourselves: Should have checked references! Should have asked to see some of his work!

. . . But sometimes you just trust. My friend said he does good work; and the price was indeed very doable for us. For the cost of buying a fine new sofa and two fine new chairs, we are resuscitating some of my favorite furniture in the world, with fabrics that do them justice, fabrics I’m in love with.

Yes, there’s some trepidation—but there’s also anticipation. I think we’re going to be very pleased in another month and a half.