Sunday, September 26, 2021

Jefferson City’s Das Stein Haus: Retro Menu

With a chill in the air and time Oktoberfests starting up, we turn our thoughts to the Holy Trinity of Bratwurst, Sauerkraut, and German Potato Salad (GPS). And beer. And other Germanic things. And look what I found at a local flea market recently: an old menu from Jefferson City’s longtime German restaurant, Das Stein Haus.

I’m old enough to remember when it first opened in 1981. It was a big deal, because it was very near to where my Grandma Renner lived (her house is gone now; Southwest Animal Hospital is where her house used to be, so you can see how close it was to Das Stein Haus).

Grandma Renner, who was already pretty housebound at that point, especially being practically deaf, was really tickled when the dashing young restaurateurs—native Germans, no less!—stopped by her house to introduce themselves with their German accents! Later, they even brought her some food. Helmut und Dieter!

It was so thrilling to have such a nice, fancy restaurant so near! And German!

. . . Yet we rarely went there. I wonder why not? Perhaps because it was too fancy . . . or pricey. Or perhaps because Grandma had trouble getting around and couldn’t hear well in crowds. Perhaps Grandma Renner—despite growing up knowing some German and having learned her “Vater unser im Himmel, geheiligt werde dein Name” in German—was not quite a German cook. She was more of a Midwestern American cook, more familiar with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and country ham.

Or, perhaps the family just wasn’t in the habit of going out to fine restaurants very much. Frugal Midwesterners. We all mostly ate at home. And with its tablecloths, cloth napkins, and use of charger plates, Das Stein Haus certainly seemed high falutin’, for the early 1980s.

Anyway, a lot of years have gone by. I have no idea what happened to Dieter, but Helmut’s still there running the place. Reviews of the restaurant vary widely. Some people say it’s the Greatest Ever, Five Stars; others say it’s abysmal, dark and dusty, with overpriced “meh” food and pathetic service. Apparently some of the problems people have with Das Stein Haus is that Jefferson Citians are not accustomed to making advance reservations; we rarely need them in Missouri restaurants, so if you show up and no table is available, it seems outrageous.

The last time I went there was a night I needed a little cheering up. The neon lights appealed to me, and I thought it might be fun to go there, where nobody knows me, to sit at a bar, and have a drink. Maybe to strike up an interesting conversation. . . . And hey, I’m Germanic, sort of. . . . The bar was awful. First, it was smoky (this was before JC’s non-smoking ordinance went into effect, but I’ll bet it still has that stale stench). No one in there seemed happy, or perky, or even very awake. It was the kind of bar where, if you sit there too long, looking around, you’ll decide to stop drinking forever, because you don’t want to end up like this crowd. . . . And then I overheard some loud, homophobic conversation nearby, so I decided I truly didn’t belong there at all. So I haven’t been back. It’s not my scene.

Could be, the dining room is much better. But then, the last time we ate in the dining room (nearly twenty years ago), I realized my cooking is just as good, plus I would have better bread and better salads (at the time, I recall it being a standard iceberg lettuce salad and mass-produced soft sandwich bread, very underwhelming).

Anyway, I’m not here to review Das Stein Haus; it’s been a long time since we’ve been there, so who knows. The place is a true Jeff City treasure that has withstood the test of time, and at least the exterior of the building, as it’s aged a little, has actually gained in charm.

And—not counting frankfurters and hamburgers—where else in town can you get an array of German food?

So, here you go—a blast from the past—an old menu from Jefferson City’s Das Stein Haus. I’ll bet it’s from their first decade in business, ca. 1981–1991. If you know more, please leave me a comment below.

It’s interesting how the menu hasn’t changed much at all, except for the prices doubling or more. (See their current website, where the menu is under “services”.) There’s a good chance that the recipes might have changed somewhat over the years, even though the name of the dish is the same, but who knows.

Also, I’m pretty sure the display type on this menu was originally hand drawn line art. “Jerry Sanford” is the artist’s signature at the bottom of the second page. You don’t see much hand-lettered type anymore; it’s all digital today.

Das Stein Haus has been around a long time—forty years!—and it’s been a lot of things to a lot of people. So what do you think? What are your memories of Das Stein Haus?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Frosted Orange-Apricot Jell-O Salad, Retro Recipe

It’s been a while since we’ve celebrated a retro Jell-O recipe here at the Op Op. I do not remember members of my family making this particular formulation, but I certainly remember it from miscellaneous childhood potlucks: church, Camp Fire, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, PTA, you name it, there were always Jell-O salads. And this is one.

It is most memorable, I think, because of the sprinkles of yellow cheese garnished on the top of the sweet “frosting” layer. What-the-whaaaat??? Yeah, mild cheddar, or American cheese, shredded up and sprinkled over the top of this otherwise sweet Jell-O salad. The only thing that seems to link the cheese with the rest of the dish is the color orange.

In fact, this dish is so orange, it could be a fine addition to your Halloween spread, especially if you sprinkled the cheese in, say, a Jack-o-lantern shape. (Now, there’s a thought, eh? . . . “Follow me for more cooking tips!”)

Searching my memories, I searched for this dessert all over the Internet. I settled on a formulation from a blog called “Pocket Change Gourmet.” . . . And then I discovered that it appears in a variety of church lady cookbooks, under a variety of names. (This is why pictures are worth a thousand words—I knew it when I saw it!)

The same basic recipe (albeit with plenty of variation) appears in my beloved Faith Lutheran Ladies Guild cookbook from 1975 under the names “Apricot Salad” (twice) “Frosted Apricot Salad,” and “Apricot Cheese Delight.” Apricots are actually the least notable of the ingredients, so no wonder it’s hard to find. Instead, what you notice most is the ORANGE JELL-O.

Here it is in a nutshell. It’s a two-layered Jell-O salad. Use a 9 x 13 inch dish. The bottom part is two small boxes of orange Jell-O with canned crushed pineapple and canned apricots, using the juice from the fruits as part of the cold water. Bonus points for letting the Jell-O set slightly before adding the fruit, so the fruit doesn’t all sink to the bottom. Then you add mini marshmallows on top, and you let it set completely (overnight).

The second layer is a little trickier. You make a pudding out of sugar, flour, egg, and orange juice; you heat it until it thickens; then you stir in some butter; then you let it cool a bit. Then you whip cream (or, some recipes call for Cool Whip, or whatever), then fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream. You spread this over the gelled first layer. . . . And then you sprinkle on the shredded cheddar. Yep, wacky, wacky cheddar on the Jell-O salad.

Some of the variations involve whether or not to chop the canned apricots; whether to used pineapple chunks or crushed pineapple; whether to include canned mandarin orange slices; and, for the pudding layer, whether to use the juices from the canned fruit instead of the orange juice my version of the recipe calls for. You could omit the marshmallows, too—but why would anyone do that? And considering you’re using whipping cream, I’m not sure what the butter adds, either, except for more richness and calories.

Truly, the shredded cheese doesn’t taste particularly weird; it kinda tastes just tangy. In the 1970s, moms probably thought, “this cheese will give my family more protein and calcium in their diet! It’ll help them have strong teeth and bones!” (This is sounding like Halloween again, isn’t it.)

According to my memories, this was a very common Jell-O salad from the 1970s. At first, it may seem strange to have shredded cheese atop what would otherwise resemble a dessert. I guess it helps you pass it off as a “salad.” It also gives a visual interest to what would otherwise be a vast expanse of yellowish-white color across the 9 x 13 pan. Once again, the cheese tastes fine in this preparation. So don’t laugh. This is a doggone tasty Jell-O salad.

A few tips for preparing the topping/second layer: to prevent scorching, it’s best if you use a heavy saucepan when making the “pudding.” Keep in mind that the pudding will thicken more as it cools. Then, when it’s time to fold the cooled pudding into the whipped cream, fold it in properly. Review or learn the technique for folding, as in preparing a mousse or soufflĂ©, if you’re not completely hip to this technique, so you can combine the two without losing the fluffiness of the whipped cream.

Jell-O salads have kind of gone out of style, but that’s too bad. Look, every time we make a good Jell-O salad, everyone loves it! We recently made this particular formulation for my dad’s birthday, and Mom really loved it. Dad just wrote to tell me so. So, give it a try. Have it for a side dish or as a dessert. You’ll love it, too.

A classic from the 1970s. A classic from my childhood.


1970s Frosted Orange-Apricot Jell-O Salad with Cheese Sprinkles

Adapted from Pocket Change Gourmet, which states it’s an original family recipe from Lois Kimmel

Use a 13 x 9 inch glass pan; build in time (overnight) for the two layers to gel.

Ingredients, Layer 1

  • 2 reg. boxes (or 1 large) orange Jell-O
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 15 oz. can apricots, cut in small pieces, drained, reserving juice
  • 20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained, reserving juice
  • 2 cups mini marshmallows (enough to mostly cover top of the Jell-O, or whatever you wish)

Ingredients, Layer 2

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup whipping cream (heavy cream)
  • approx. ½ cup grated or shredded cheese (use mild or medium cheddar, or American cheese)

Prepare Layer 1

In a large bowl, mix the Jell-O and 2 cups boiling water, stirring to dissolve. Add 1 cup of the reserved juices, stir, and place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or until the Jell-O is thickened slightly (consistency of egg whites). Fold in the fruit and pour into a 13 x 9 inch glass (Pyrex) pan. Add the marshmallows on top. Put into the fridge until the gelatin is set (I recommend overnight).

Prepare Layer 2 and “Frost” the Jell-O Salad

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add combined sugar and flour, beaten egg, and orange juice. Whisk constantly, until it thickens. (Once it starts to thicken, it will thicken even more rather quickly and continue to thicken as it cools.) Add butter and stir until it’s melted. Remove from heat and let it cool, about 30 minutes. Beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form; fold in the pudding mixture. Spread it onto Layer 1 of the Jell-O. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Return to refrigerator until serving time.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Do You Love Our Country? Then Please Get Vaccinated and Wear a Mask

I usually stay away from political topics, but this shouldn't be political. The nice thing about science is that it's true whether you believe in it or not. We have a diverse and educated (or at least trained) society; we actually have experts to rely on. Pros, aces, specialists. You don't cut your own hair; you don't do your own wiring; you don't do surgery on yourself. Most of us don't even make our own pizza crusts. And of course, only fools represent themselves in court.

I'm having a hard time trying to feel patriotic this weekend, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Here's why: We Americans are doing much, much worse to our country than bin Laden and those other terrorists ever did.

On September 11, 2001, the terrorist attacks killed 2,977 people (the people on the planes, including the terrorists, plus the deaths in the World Trade Center buildings and surrounding area, plus ones who died at the Pentagon). (The number is from Wikipedia, which I don't think is a very controversial source.)

In addition to the deaths, more than 6,000 people were injured that day.

That makes a total of (more than) 8,977 killed or injured in the 9/11 attacks.

Meanwhile, as of today's Google search, 661,000 Americans have died as a result of COVID-19, and 41.1 million Americans have been infected (that they know of; you know there are plenty of infections that go unreported, so they have to make an estimate). (So far in Missouri, there have been 11,574 deaths from COVID, and 804,000 cases.)

The number of people killed as a result of 9/11 is a mere, mere, 0.45 percent of the number of Americans who have died from COVID. A drop in the bucket. Why are we all sniffling and saying "never forget!" about 9/11, when COVID is ravaging us far, far worse? Is is that the people in 9/11 mostly died suddenly, in a spectacular fashion? Is it that the people who died in 9/11 were the victims of a malicious attack?

With COVID, our nation has been averaging more than a thousand deaths per day, since late February 2020. Why are COVID death numbers a nebulous "thoughts and prayers" concept for so many, fodder for whacko-conspiracy, anti-science people to argue about? Why are these anti-vaccination, anti-science, anti-doctor people so often wavers of US flags and Bible-boppers, uber-patriots, who claim they'd do anything for our country? Do they simply not care about other Americans, including their elders who are more vulnerable to the disease? And why can't they see their spineless political leaders are simply telling them what they want to hear, just so they can get reelected in red states, even though it's causing death and suffering on a scale 222 times as bad as that of 9/11? . . . And counting.

Osama bin Laden was malicious, all right, but what do you call politicians who work to prevent local governments from implementing mask mandates that will save the lives of Americans? Especially when the same politicians insist that regulations of that sort should be left to local governments? "Hypocrites" is the nicest thing I can think of. "Enemies-from-within" seems a fairer assessment.

Can't these people count higher than 2,977? Maybe they didn't get past simple addition: You need to multiply 2,977 by 222 to get close to the number of Americans killed by COVID (so far). . . . That's 222 9/11s, just in terms of deaths.

And we're not even talking about long-COVID; it's such a new disease, no one really knows how people who have been infected by COVID will fare in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if a high percentage of them end up with COPD or cardiac disease in future decades.

We go on and on about the heroic 9/11 emergency responders, especially the firefighters, who died, or managed to survive, while doing their duty. And I agree; they were heroes. . . . But I also think we should offer the same thanks and reverence to the doctors, nurses, and countless hospital workers who have put their lives on the line every day helping people with COVID.

What's going on with COVID--with coughing, gasping anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers filling up the hospital ERs and cardiac units--is akin to a bunch of people all running right back into the Twin Towers after having been escorted safely out. Early COVID deaths, before the vaccine, were bad enough, but at this point--with plenty of evidence showing that the vaccine prevents COVID hospitalizations and deaths--how can an anti-vaccine person look a medical provider in the eye, when he shows up in an ER with COVID? "Help me, I can't breathe." It's like slapping a firefighter in the face and marching right back into that burning building.

So, is the risk, pain, and toil of our healthcare workers not as dramatic as the firefighters marching up the stairs of a multistory building destined to fall? Think of the numbers, the daily grind, the day after day of intubations, changing of bed linens, IV drips, oxygen feeds, heart monitors, the difficult conversations with family, the hand-holding (through gloves), the sad news, the body bags. Trying to find open beds in the region for people who need hospital care, when your hospital is full. And worrying about carrying this damn disease home to family.

We've seen too many action movies, perhaps. If the building isn't on fire and ready to collapse, then it's not really an emergency--is that it?

If people really want the economy to come back, they should get vaccinated and wear masks until we get this deadly communicable disease under control.

If people really respect and love their elders, and their families, their communities, their schools, their churches, they should get vaccinated and wear masks until we get this deadly communicable disease under control.

If people really love our country, they should get vaccinated and wear masks until we get this deadly communicable disease under control.

Until we get this deadly communicable disease under control . . . I really don't want to hear any more pious BS about 9/11.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Our House of Blue Lights

Gosh, we’ve had a hot summer, with plenty of bugs. Odgen Nash, as usual, hit the nail right on the head: “In this fairly temperate clime / Summertime is itchy time. . . . Beneath the orange August moon / Overfed mosquitoes croon. / After sun-up, flies and midges / Raise on people bumps and ridges.”

But as the weather seems to be getting cooler, I’m hoping we’ll also have breezes enough to push aside some of the insects while also making it more pleasant to be outdoors in general. So we’ll be spending more time on our patio. (Such as it is.)

I’ve mentioned our little oasis in Central Missouri before (like when I wrote about playing the zither or our guitars out there), but today I’m frankly just crowing about our outdoor lighting, which I’m so proud of.

Sue and I were recently sitting out there, playing our guitars, and Sue mentioned that we have “The House of Blue Lights.” She hummed a few bars, and I was like, “What song is this?” She said, “Don’t you know that song?” So we had to Google it, and I learned a new song. And I got a title for this blog post! . . . Here.

I started the lighting project in 2018. I basically copied an idea from Kansas City’s Cafe Trio (yeah, one of my happy places). (And yeah, you should really go there and check it out.) That restaurant has a deck/patio with an attractive view overlooking the iconic Nichols Memorial Fountain and looking beyond toward the KC Plaza. I was fortunately able to be there alone one night and noticed the lighting.

They had gobs of those bright, cold LED Christmas lights overhead—enough to cast a cool, cobalt-blue glow over the entire patio. So that people could see (and read the menu and stuff)—but also to create a compelling visual contrast—they also had regular warm-colored patio lights overhead, too. The warm and cool lights combined to produce interesting reddish or even purplish hues where they intersected.

Then—and here they were really inspired—they had a number of rotating LED projecting spotlights (you know, the kind that people use to beam rotating snowflakes onto their homes at Christmas) mounted overhead, too, facing down onto the bar, the chairs, the floor, everything. Because it beamed down from above, it wasn’t in anyone’s eyes. And it wasn’t snowflakes, though—it was just blue revolving and rotating splotches of color. The lights overlapped a bit, so there was no discernible pattern. The overall effect was like being underwater.

I took note of the idea.

I started with the screened-in part of our sunporch. While Sue was out of town for a while, I did it all unilaterally. I put a super-blue LED light bulb into our overhead fixture, and it emits enough glow for that small portion of the porch. Then, I copied Cafe Trio’s method, stringing plain patio lights overhead and rigging our rotating LED projector so it would beam down onto the table and the rest of the room. We don’t use it for Christmas decorations anymore! And it has a little remote control, so I can change the colors a bit: blue, red, green, or combinations of the three. (It looks best when it’s set on all-blue.)

I was so pleased with the effect, I extended it to the backyard patio area. I found a LED blue spotlight for above the steps (you can still see to get up and down them, but it’s blue now). I purchased a bunch of plastic blue LED stringlights and hung them in the lower portion of the canopy of our big yew tree that overlooks part of our patio area.

Next, I strung regular patio lights from our downstairs back door along the walkway to the patio area. I was proud of myself for using some plant hooks for those. . . . And we already had our tiki torches, and the firepit.

We still really miss Vines, but even when it was still open, there were many nights when we had opted to stay in our own little private oasis in our backyard. Hopefully, now that the weather’s starting to get nice again (with, I pray, a corresponding decrease in itchy bugs), we’ll be out there again.