Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Dandy Lion Cafe, Ashland, Missouri

Also known as The Dandy Lion on Main, this is the new cafe in Ashland, Missouri. They just had their ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Southern Boone County Chamber of Commerce on Friday, April 22, with a packed house enjoying the wide-open doors, blue sky, and sunshine, which seemed very, well, Dandy-Liony. I’ve been there a few times, now, starting with the ribbon-cutting day. (My pictures are from that day.)

So what is this place, you ask? Well, it’s a new cafe on the southeast corner of Ashland’s Broadway and Main, nestled between Century Tattoo and a carwash in what clearly used to be a garage attached to the back of the tattoo parlor. To spiff up such a hole-in-the-wall place—to add a picnic patio, to replace the routine garage door with a glass one that admits sunshine, to decorate the space with living plants and colorful, boopfy furniture, to decorate the walls with fanciful art, to fill the air with the sound of laughter and the scents of coffee and freshly baked, legendary cinnamon rolls, to have the gall to fly rainbow, transgender, and BLM flags outside for all to see—well, that’s very much like the stubborn glory of a dandelion.

Indeed, Dandy Lionness is very much like Opulent Opossumness, and they have my high approbation.

(By golly, we both even seem to have a "Jar of Goodness"/gratitude thing going on!)

Here’s their official description: “Serving: specialty espresso drinks and cocktails; local beers and coffees; delicious sandwiches and soup; legendary cinnamon rolls; good vibes.” Here’s another statement from them: “A space for creation, connection, and caffienation in Ashland, MO.” And their hours? “Dandy Hours: W–F: 7 to 7; S/S: 8 to 3.” I suggest checking their Facebook or Instagram pages, or calling or texting ahead, if the weather’s dicey or if you want to make sure their hours haven’t changed. (I suspect they may be adjusting for a while.)

A core mission of Dandy Lion is to create a welcoming space open to everyone (hence the flags that fly outside their doors), and they’ve had at least one drag queen story hour (yes, a kid-friendly event), right there in downtown Ashland. (If you’re not from Missouri, you might not know what this means, but trust me, this is big, almost as big as the fact that Ashland how has a few traffic roundabouts, which in some circles is practically countercultural in itself.) They also had a drag Bingo & Brunch, with performances and bingo for adults and kids hosted by queens Amanda Lay, Karma Cassidy, and Faye King.

Another focus is on sustainability, by sourcing foods from local farmers, and on sheer deliciousness. The sandwiches are grilled in a panini press, making them hot and simultaneously gooey and crispy. Examples include the Fluffer Nutter (which is just fun to say, already), with peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, banana, and honey; the Classic Grilled Cheese (with your choice of two cheeses, plus hot pepper jelly); the Caprese Grilled Cheese (with pesto, sun-dried tomato mayo, mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar); and the Chicken Bacon Pesto (with the obvious ingredients plus the sun-dried tomato mayo, cream cheese spread, and greens). There are soups, the afore-mentioned legendary cinnamon rolls (“we were told they should come with a warning and a cigarette for afterwards”), yogurt parfaits (also highly lauded), and various brunch/breakfast dishes (such as egg, bacon, sausage, cheese combo sandwiches).

The beverages are just as much of a feature as the food, and someone there is very serious about making sure you have plenty of delicious beverage choices while you sit and talk. The coffee is from Columbia’s Fretboard Coffee and Z Best Coffee in Rocheport, and they offer a variety of lattes, espressos, and teas, plus lemonade and orange juice and a variety of milks and milk alternatives. We’ve also spied local favorite Central Dairy ice cream. And then there’s the adult beverages.

On the current menu, the alcoholic beverages are summed up with “Full Bar Available! (Let us impress you with our limited experience.)” Which I think means that, in addition to beer (Logboat and 4 Hands cans) and a basic decent selection of wines, “we’ll mix drinks for you to the best of our ability and with whatever liquors we have on hand.” Since they’re open for breakfast and brunch, they offer mimosas and bloody Marys, for sure.

There’s such an eagerness to be a part of the community. This would be a great place for your reading group, or your deconstruct-after-the-workday coven. Stop by on your commute between Jeffy C and Como. Get a bunch of cinnamon rolls, bring ’em to work, and be a hero. You get the idea. If you're not sure you agree with all the politics of this place, I hope you'll give it a try. One of the BEST things about small towns is that we're small enough to know you and know that you're a good-hearted, decent person, even if we might disagree about some things.

I think Dandy Lion on Main is very much a work in progress, but I find it infinitely more fun and interesting than a corporate behemoth with an astronomical budget, billboards on the interstate, a sleepwalking marketing department, a zillionaire CEO who only wants your money. You know, those kind of places introduced by the indefinite article (such as an Olive Garden or a McDonald’s).

No, this here is THE Dandy Lion Cafe. It’s the only one . . . and Missouri’s lucky to have it.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Jar of Goodness 4.24.22: Natural Foods Stores

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for the natural foods movement in America, and the organic, health-food stores and restaurants that helped us all to eat better (better for us, and better for the Earth).

I’ve timed this post for Earth Day, because our food and the environment are so closely intertwined. How we treat the earth, how we till it, what we plant on it, which and whether we are applying chemicals, affects the soil and its natural communities, including all the organisms, from native plants, pollinators, birds, and yeah, us.

The natural foods movement has been pointing this out for more a century, a century that corresponds with our civilization’s increasing capacity for industrialized agriculture.

It goes back to religious groups in the late 1800s who practiced vegetarianism and temperance for physical and mental health. It goes back to Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, with his spiritualized view of agriculture called anthroposophy. It goes back to J. I. Rodale’s emphasis on organics, starting in the 1950s and continuing into day with its institute. (Alas, the publishing branch of the company went the way of lots of other natural foods companies, being bought up and sold and merged into oblivion.)

Southern California and the Hollywood set made their contributions to health foods, too, undoubtedly spurred by their desire to remain youthful and desirable. Their fad diets included juices, sprouts, avocados, lots of dietary supplements, and so on.

In the 1960s, macrobiotics came on the scene, founded by George Ohsawa and promoted by Michio and Aveline Kushi. It was basically Japanese peasant food: brown rice and beans (adzuki and soy were big favorites), miso soup, seaweed, some fish. It was bland, because when you balance yin and yang in your food, you avoid anything strongly sweet and light or strongly savory and meaty. So, a flame-broiled cheeseburger followed by a milkshake are no-nos. Turns out the brown rice, which peasants ate because they couldn’t afford white (processed) rice, is healthier for its fiber and whole-grain nutrients. Macrobiotics was still going strong when I started paying attention in the 1980s.

And hooray for the hippies! All those ideals! We are indebted to them. They’d read about the dangers of America’s increasingly synthetic agricultural practices. They’d read Rachel Carson and knew that we have to be vigilant about pesticides and herbicides. Many of them remembered growing up on family farms and were concerned about what they were seeing, and reading about. (It was just the tip of the iceberg compared to how it is today. Geez, there are no fencerows and thickets anymore! They even mow the field edges like grass lawns. Farm fields used to be so much smaller. Weeds and wildflowers, birds and butterflies, used to abound in those thickets and other scruffy places. Now, huge farms have Roundup-Ready crops which they blast with herbicides, removing all non-crop plants from acres and acres and acres . . .)

But I digress. The hippies! Their communes, their experiments. I’ve read that their first experiments in organic and whole foods cooking were pretty awful. I’ve experienced some of it. I’ve actually had dishes like “tofu and Spike” and “tofu and sprouts” at potlucks (back in the day). Notoriously tasteless. And we were all catechized: Vegetarianism is moral. What kind of vegetarian are you? There were three kinds (at that point): ovo-lacto, lacto, and what we’d call today “vegan.” Was it okay to have honey? Were beekeepers enslaving bees and stealing their honey, so is that wrong? Brown rice syrup, or natural sorghum, seemed like a better choice.

Sometime in the 1970s there was a turning point. The cream was rising to the top. Each commune was finding individuals who excelled at making the food taste delicious. Think of Edward Espe Brown, cheffing at Tassajara Zen Center and writing his groundbreaking Tassajara Cooking . . . or Ruth Reichl, who started out working at the collectively owned Swallow Restaurant in Berkeley and rose to become the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and then for the New York Times, then editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine. Influencing people’s thinking about food and sustainability the whole time. Think of Mollie Katzen and her Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest; everybody had at least one of her books. And who else remembers The Vegetarian Epicure, with its whimsical line drawing on the cover, which promised to “bring vegetarian cooking to new gastronomic heights”? All that hand-lettering. These books were true labors of love.

These promised much, much tastier foods. The whole-grain bakery coops and health-food restaurants were turning out delicious foods, genuine treats. In addition to the brown rice and other whole grains, the soy products and other beans, the steamed vegetables, the overreliance on onion and garlic, they were looking around the world for spices, sauces, and recipes.

This is about when I got on board, when I was in late high school and college. Columbia had a cooperative health food store on the southeast corner of Hitt and Locust. Next to it was the Catalpa Tree Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant. On Business Loop 70, in that little business strip squeezed between the Loop and little North Blvd., east of Coats Street, there was Columbia Specialty Foods, which in the 1990s became Clover's, which is still going strong. By the mid-1980s, too, grocery stores were starting to pay attention. The Gerbes on Broadway had a large natural foods section.

At all these groceries, there were bulk foods in bins, which you scooped out for yourself. Carob, rice, beans, spices, brewer’s yeast, teas, and so on. (Gosh, remember kukicha twig tea?) There were also increasing amounts of prepared or packaged organic foods from national companies. Many of them still exist today (though now, after corporate acquisitions and mergers, often in much different forms). Santa Cruz Organics, Blue Sky and Hansen’s sodas, Arrowhead Mills, Eden Organics, Food for Life (Ezekial 4.9 bread is still available, though the flour is not, and I miss it); Yogi Tea (their line of products is quite changed these days, and I miss their carob-flavored tea); Celestial Seasonings (which you can buy nearly everywhere, though I’ve found their good ol’ flavors, such as Red Zinger and Morning Thunder, are hard to find in big mainstream groceries).

By the late 1980s, the corporate acquisitions and mergers had begun. There was money to be made! And in the 1990s, many of the idealistic cooperatives (community-owned food coops) were starting to fold. They couldn’t compete with places like Trader Joe’s, which sold what were apparently a full line of healthy or organic foods, but also gourmet treats made with white flower and white sugar, plus meat (sustainably produced), and alcohol.

My beloved Gentle Strength Cooperative in Tempe, Arizona, folded, thanks in large part to competition from the for-profit Trader Joe’s. The Gentle Strength board of directors was conflicted about the choice between sticking to the core mission of healthy, whole foods, versus moving forward with a business-minded savvy, selling the items, such as meat alcohol, that people wanted. By the time they went through their lengthy, contentious, consensus-building process and decided to move forward and be competitive, they had already lost. (There’s an enormous apartment building now, where Gentle Strength once stood; nearby is a slick, new, for-profit, Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market.)

Somewhere along the way, now, the natural foods movement has been watered down, appropriated, lost sight of its core mission. In addition to the white sugar, refined flour, meat, and alcohol, even the juices and other canned products have departed from the high road, using evaporated cane juice, or concentrated apple or grape juices as sweeteners, which are not much different from white sugar . . . they just sound better. A far cry from the natural brown rice syrup.

And the corporate buyouts are regrettable, too. Whole Foods is owned by one of our biggest twenty-first-century lords and masters, corporate behemoth Amazon; it went and tried to engulf-and-devour Wild Oats (which had itself engulfed-and-devoured Alfala’s Markets), but the FTC got after them, and someone else bought Wild Oats, and now Wild Oats is partnered with—brace yourself—Walmart.

As the acquisitions and mergers proceeded in the 1990s and early 2000s, the federal government decided it should create national standards for claims like “organic.” Naturally (no pun intended), big agriculture and food processing companies got involved and watered down the official definitions, so now we have to have a variety of confusing labels on our foods.

I saw an article awhile back in which a nutrition scientist at a large, public midwestern university did research into the nutritive quality and healthfulness of “processed foods.” She started by defining “processing” as anything that happens to a food item before it reaches the supermarket, such as picking an apple off a tree and rinsing it, or trimming bunches of grapes and portioning them into bags; or it could mean heating, cooling, or fermentation; or it could be mixing two or more kinds of foods together. With that definition of processing, her study inevitably ended up with “processed foods aren’t necessarily bad; many of them are quite healthy! My research shows that processed foods are not necessarily bad!” Her study, of course, can be pointed to by any number of corporate factory foodmakers, ultra-processors, food technologists, who will cite her out of context and proclaim that the businesses, providing cheap chips and cheese-doodles to the masses, are healthful.

And the health-food crowd seems to have decided that GMOs are the new devil, when in actuality, big corporations, their ownership of nearly all broad-casting media, their enormous advertising budgets, and their grip on government regulations, are much bigger threats to environmental health and human well-being.

So . . . with all this history, I have to proclaim that the locally owned, idealistic, crunch-granola, vegetarian places are complete treasures, so you should patronize them. Savor the fact that they exist. The vegetarian cafes, the cooperative food buying clubs, the health-food stores.

You’ll know you’ve arrived when you step in the door and inhale. I guess it’s the combined scents of the bulk foods and teas and spices, the carob powder, the fresh, organic roasted coffee, the nontoxic, lavender-scented bulk cleaning supplies, the essential oils (including the patchouli that cute babe of a shelf-stocker is wearing), the olive-oil bath soaps and candles, the hand-built wooden shelving units . . . and the produce section, with all its colorful fruits and veggies. If you’re in an especially older health-food store, you might also pick up a clean, musky scent of sweat, from the generations of hippies who donated their labor to the cause.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Silog Breakfasts Are Great!

Filipino breakfasts are wonderful! They’re called “silog sets” or “silogs,” and they’re enough like American breakfasts they can slip right into Americans’ breakfast menus like a sunny-side-up egg off a greased rubber spatula.

Tapsilog: Filipino steak 'n eggs with garlic fried rice. Note the spicy-vinegar dipping sauce.

I’ve never eaten this stuff at a restaurant; I’ve only followed recipes and watched videos, but I think I’ve got the idea. In fact, I think it’s understood that everyone has her own way of making a silog breakfast, so there’s not any official way to do it . . . although for you there might be a perfect way of making it.

If you’ve never heard of a silog breakfast, or never seen it at a restaurant, then that’s only temporary. People in American coastal cities are catching on to this wave, big-time, so those of us here in the Midwest mid-sized cities will soon see it at our restaurants in the next decade or two! . . . But you don’t want to wait for a Pinoy food truck to come park on your Main Street.

My silog-set explorations come from a lovely, huge cookbook about breakfasts entitled Breakfast: The Cookbook, by Emily Elyse Miller. It’s one of those huge Phaidon cookbook compendiums: “the only book about _____ you’ll ever need.” In this case, it’s a huge collection of breakfast recipes from around the world. Like, almost everyone on Earth tends to have eggs for breakfast, but there’s a big difference between American sunny-side-up eggs, artfully folded, lightly sweetened Japanese tamago, Iranian scrambled eggs with dates and turmeric, and veggie-packed Korean omelet sandwiches. And guess what? They’re all delicious! . . . Same goes for porridge, toasts, sweet rolls, meats, and so on.

Back to the breakfast style in question. A “silog” is a Filipino combo-breakfast. You know how traditional American breakfasts have eggs (“how you want that cooked, sweetie?”), hashbrowns (or grits—a starch), and your choice of meat: bacon, ham, or sausage? And you can ask for a bottle of Tabasco to spice it up? Well, a “silog” is about the same thing, only it’s egg (usually sunny-side-up, but it’s your breakfast and your choice), a quick-cooking meat (thin-sliced, marinated, cooked steak; homemade longanisa sausage; fried sweet-cured pork; fried Spam; etc.), and garlic fried rice. To jazz it up, there’s a dipping sauce or garnish called sinamak, a spicy vinegar with ginger, garlic, onion, chilis, and black peppercorns (it varies with region and what you like; you can buy it at an international store, but it’s super easy to make on your own, and it lasts a long time).

(I love these kinds of cultural parallels. It’s like when I realized that both Korea and Germany have (a) a history as a divided nation, (b) powerful industrial economies, (c) a huge love of beer, of fatty meats, and of singing, and (d) fermented cabbage as a national dish.)

Anyway, the name of each version of the Filipino breakfast meal changes as the protein changes. The rice and egg are the constants, so the term “silog” is a contraction for sinangag (the garlic fried rice) and itlog (egg). Then, the first part of the meat-name is tacked to the front:

  • Tapa (beef): Tapsilog
  • Longganisa (sweet and/or garlicky pork sausage): Longsilog
  • Tocino (sweet, meaty, fried cured pork): Tocilog
  • Spam (yes, from the can): Spamsilog
  • Bacon: Bacsilog

Why not also turksilog (turkey), chicksilog, hamsilog, and so on? Indeed, they really do stuff like this. There’s even a hotsilog (you guessed, it, with hotdog). I think “kielbasilog” would be good.

Here’s the fun part: it’s all easy to make from scratch, using ingredients readily available at any standard American grocery store. Ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil are the most unusual ingredients, unless you also count good white rice as an unusual ingredient, too.

Here’s the part that makes it especially perfect for breakfast: you can do most of the work the day before. The meat is prepped and marinated well ahead of time (or if you make your own Filipino sausage, then you can do up a big batch, freeze it, and use it here and there as you wish). Or, just use whatever meat is leftover. And the fried rice, like fried rice everywhere, uses leftover rice—such as leftover rice from Chinese takeout.

Sinangag: Filipino garlic fried rice.

The only real prep work is peeling and mincing garlic right before you fry the rice, though I bet a lot of people will just use minced garlic from a jar.

Breakfast-making needs to be simple, you know? You’re staggering around, you’re in a hurry, you haven’t had your coffee yet . . . (Please, please read this essay about breakfast by my beloved John Thorne. This one, too.)

I’ve found that I can use the same nonstick wok for all of it: cooking the garlic fried rice first, putting it in the oven to stay warm beside the serving plates; then cooking the meat and putting it in the oven, too; then rinsing or wiping the pan and doing the fried eggs. Ta-da!

Cooking tapa.

It’s a really tasty breakfast. It seems less heavy and salty than the traditional American breakfast. The garlic makes the whole house smell delicious. The runny yolk of the fried egg is a creamy dressing for the rice and the meat, and the meat and its juices dress the rice and the egg. The spicy vinegar dresses and brightens everything with ginger-black-pepper-pickled-onion flavor.

Tapa is thin-sliced steak cooked in a delicious marinade.

It's a lot like teriyaki beef.

Oh, I forgot to garnish my plate with anything fresh, like sliced tomato or cucumber, but yeah, you can do that, too, if you can think to do it before the rest is done. Because once this food is ready, it’s definitely time for breakfast!

I’m not gonna give you any recipes here, since I’m still in the phase of tweaking the recipes like I want. (Like, my cookbook calls for “sugar” in the tapa marinade, but I’ve decided to use “brown sugar.”) There are plenty of places to find recipes online (here’s a good one that introduces basic techniques for the big three meat choices, though you can find much simpler and perfectly fine recipes elsewhere; and this one has good commentary on the garlic fried rice), plus, again, that highly recommended, highly entertaining breakfast cookbook I told you about; it has good basic recipes, enough to get you started.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Jar of Goodness 4.17.22: Oasis United Church of Christ

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for the Oasis United Church of Christ.

. . . Because it’s Easter Sunday, and I have a church home that feels comfortable to me, and which is happy to fully include people like me.

Also, the sermons are insightful and intelligent. We are not asked to check our brains at the door. If you think logically and scientifically, even if you’re a skeptic, you are perfectly welcome. We don’t want you to blindly believe literal nonsense. We simply strive to follow Jesus.

Our mission statement reads:

The Oasis UCC is a diverse community of action-oriented followers of Jesus, who humbly strive through worship, faith formation and the practice of Jesus’ teachings to love God and our neighbors as God loves us.

God calls us to care for and meet people where they are; share a life of prayer and joyful service with all; and together–worship, rest in, and serve God. We are seekers of justice and lovers of all of God’s creation. Through the community formed by the Holy Spirit, we are consoled, forgiven, refreshed and inspired.

We extravagantly welcome all people; believers, non-believers, doubters, questioners, no matter who they love, their gender identity or expression, their marital standing or family structure, their race, culture, ability or their economic or social circumstance. All are a blessing to our journey of faith and we seek to share God’s love and grace with all.

We are a church that is committed to radical hospitality, living with total authenticity, real diversity, and agenda-free relationships. The Oasis UCC is a place for the thinking heart, a place where people don’t need to leave their mind or their heart at the door.

Find out more about Jefferson City’s only United Church of Christ congregation on our website and on Facebook.

You can watch services (live and archived) online on the website, Facebook, or YouTube.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Jar of Goodness 4.10.22: Prairie Dogtooth Violets

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for prairie dogtooth violets. The official name is Erythronium mesochoreum.

Although prairies are in my genetics, I grew up spending much more time in wooded Ozark landscapes. So the dogtooth violets I adored were the woodland species called white dogtooth violet, Erythronium albidum.

The prairie dogtooth violet is a newer friend and companion, one that lives on prairies and glades. It’s not mottled like its woodsy cousin, and it has several other distinctions as well.

So today, we visited Friendly Prairie, south of Sedalia, where they’ve recently done a controlled burn. That got rid of all the built-up dry grassy thatch, so the shrimpy little early-spring wildflowers are peeping up out of the moonscape, getting all the pollinators to themselves.

Did you know there is at least one species of native andrenid bee that specializes in visiting dogtooth violets? Sheesh. If any of those visited that prairie today, they were in heaven. HEA-VAN.

Did you know that the presence of prairie dogtooth violet is a good indicator that the land, where they’re growing, might never have been plowed? Ever?

It was a windy, blustery day, and the gusts swept right over the prairie parcel. The hundreds, thousands of little bell-shaped lily flowers shook and waved. Somehow I kept expecting them to make a tinkling sound.

Anyway, it was a really special day. Palm Sunday—while others were waving palm leaves, I watched these humble lilies wiggle in the undying wind. It was The Day of the Prairie Dogtooth Violets, and one I’ll never forget.

If you want to learn more about prairie dogtooth violet (and there’s lots of cool information to learn), see this page, which I might have had something to do with.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Findin' Any?

Morel-hunting season has begun in Missouri. It’s hard to believe that I grew up in central Missouri and had almost no idea about this whole scene. My family’s food came from the grocery store and it came from people’s gardens. We were not big mushroom eaters, probably because my mom isn’t a big fan of mushrooms.

Once or twice, perhaps, we had mushrooms at the commons of Grandma Schroeder’s house (yeah, where I live now), if, say, Uncle Richard and Aunt Carole had had a bumper harvest in Moniteau County—enough for them to not eat up immediately; enough for them to bring to Jeff City and share as part of a planned rendezvous for the whole family, perhaps on a work day at Grandma’s yard—I can imagine that could have happened. I can imagine Grandma frying up some chicken and having some potato salad; I can see Aunt Carole frying up the morels just before serving.

I can imagine me looking at the gorgeous, hot, perfectly fried morels with skepticism, taking a bite, and finding them good.

But I don’t clearly recall it.

And even though I spent tons of time hiking and exploring the woods, I also don’t recall ever seeing a morel until I was more than full-grown and had moved back to Missouri in the late 1990s. That’s when Sue and I had started our “Year of the’s” and had two back-to-back “Year of the Mushrooms” (two, on account of the first year being abnormally dry and droughty, so there were few mushrooms to find). (By the way, our “Year of the” projects included all species in the group, not just edibles, so having two years dedicated to learning about mushrooms still only scratched the surface. It’s such a large, diverse group, it was like having “year of the animal” or “year of the plant.”)

I highly recommend having yourself a “Year of the.” Decide on something you’d really like to learn about, and just saturate yourself with it. Turn it into a year-long master’s program on that subject. Devour books about it. Talk about it with others. Look for lectures (and now, YouTubes) about it. Join a club that does it. Every time you go outdoors, look for it. If it’s an activity, like painting or playing an instrument, then try doing it every which way; go to concerts or museums; learn its history; take lessons; attempt related artforms. Spend a year seeing the world through the lens of that thing.

And it will stay with you forever. Like any part of your education, no one can take it away from you.

So as we enter morel season once again, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite morel-hunting stories. (Everyone has a ton of morel-hunting stories, right?) This was during our first Year of the Mushroom. Sue and I were still living in Columbia then, in a duplex in the Country Hill subdivision in southwest Columbia, near the Columbia MKT trail. We spent a lot of time on that section of trail between Columbia and McBaine.

Well, since we were saturating ourselves with mushroom consciousness, we were always on the lookout for morels. We couldn’t go outside without scanning the ground . . . looking.

If you haven’t hunted for morels, you don’t know what a dickens it is to try to see them. This time of year, the ground is covered with dead leaves that are the same colors as morels, plus pinecones . . . and little dead flower stalks from last year, and newly sprouted brittle ferns, and all kind of other odd things that cast reticulated shadows that look like the pockmarked pattern of morels, and catch your eye.

Anyway, we had taken to always carrying a wadded up plastic grocery bag in our back pockets “just in case” we found any mushrooms. (Yes, plastic is not optimal, but we’re talking “just in case.”)

So we got a little sidetracked. We stepped off the trail and down the shallow slope toward a nearby dryish creekbed. Again, . . . just in case. We didn’t have any luck, but as always, we enjoyed poking around. We didn’t have any reason to even pull our plastic bags out of our pockets; it was a bust.

But as we were doing this hunting, several well-coifed ladies had hustled by in their colorful new track outfits; I sensed them looking down at us, casting disapproving looks in our direction. Yes, we had roamed off the trail onto private land (I suppose). We might have even looked sketchy. I don’t think they had a clue what we were up to. Whatever; I don’t care what they might think.

Anyway, we finally gave up and were trudging back up the slope to the MKT trail, and at that point we met a fellow on the trail. He was loping along, but I don’t think he was there to get exercise. He looked like he was out for a nice walk, just kind of sauntering. He was fairly young, in his mid-twenties, I’d say, and he had on a pair of jeans, some worn work boots, and no shirt. He had kind of longish, dirty-blond hair. He looked to me like a native Boone Countian.

And he just half-smiled at us and said, knowingly: “Findin’ any?

This, my friends, is one of the best things about morel hunting. It’s a club, and an offbeat one. It has nothing to do with race, class, ethnicity, religion, politics . . . anything, other than a taste for morels, a willingness to go into nature, and the thrill of the hunt. And a kind of time-honored competition, with a strong impulse not to divulge the precious locations of perennial troves.

. . . So, how did we respond to this fellow’s inquiry? We said, after a healthy, slightly less-than-innocent pause, “. . . no.” And we all kind of smirked and nodded, and we left him to wonder.

Happy morel-hunting, y’all. And if you’re “findin’ any,” I hope you leave a few for someone else!

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Jar of Goodness 4.3.22: The Violets of April

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for April flowers, specifically violets.

Did you know that seventeen species of violets have been recorded in Missouri? In recent years (like, the past decade or so), I’ve been taking pictures of our different violets as I encounter them. I’ve posted photos of violets—mostly different variations of the common violet (Viola sororia) that grow in our yard—on my blog before.

In early April, it’s still kind of early for a lot of violets, but I know they’re coming, and I relish the opportunity to enjoy them again.

Here are some of my catches.

In 2017, I was really jazzed up to discover this violet, which is uncommon. It’s the plains violet or wayside violet, Viola viarum. There’s a population growing amid rock riprap in a small creek bed near the Katy Trail somewhere in this state. (I’m not saying where.) Most of the violets I’d seen until then had round or heart-shaped leaves, so the leaves of this violet kind of blew my mind.

Once my eyes were opened to that, I started looking more closely at violets. Only about a week later, I found that species’ doppelganger, cleft violet (Viola palmata). It was growing along a gravel roadway on my cousin’s property in Moniteau County. The leaves are really variable on both these species, but the main distinction is that cleft violet has hairy leaves, while plains violet is glabrous.

That same spring, while I was taking pictures of violets willy-nilly, I also took some pictures of Missouri violet (Viola missouriesis), which has distinctively elongated, heart-shaped leaves, whose outer third is not serrated like the rest of the leaf is. The flowers are said to be more of a lilac hue that the similar common violet, with a slightly darker ring around the pale throat.

While I’m on the subject of violets with weird leaves, here’s the only halfway decent picture I have (so far) of an arrow-leaved violet (Viola sagittata), taken on a prairie south of Sedalia in 2012. The flower of this species isn’t anything unusual, but the leaves are remarkable and, among our violets, unique.

In the woodsy-woods in springtime, you should always be on the lookout for yellow violets (Viola pubescens. This is possibly one of our most pleasing violets.

Then there’s pale violet, or cream violet (Viola striata). I don’t think I’ve ever seen this species in nature, but we have scads of it in our yard. I think Grandma or her parents must have introduced it and cultivated it.

Another violet that grows for free in our yard is field pansy, or Johnny-jump-up (Viola bicolor). Unlike the others I’m showing you, this is an annual, and kind of weedy. It volunteers and reseeds in our yard. I’ve seen it growing along the Katy Trail, too. It’s pretty cute, with pansy-like faces.

Well, I’m all enthused now about the possibility of taking some more pictures of violets. I’d like to improve on some of the pictures I’ve taken so far (such as bird’s-foot violet, the queen of eastern North American violets), and I’d like to locate some of the other violet species I haven’t seen yet. Some of that will require traveling to the eastern Ozarks. At least one is found on prairies.

Mainly, though, I’m just enthused about seeing violets, and other wildflowers, in general. Who knows what else I’ll find while I’m at it?