Sunday, October 30, 2022

Jar of Goodness 10.30.22: Gans Creek

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Gans Creek Wild Area.

I’ll never get tired of this view.

Gans Creek is part of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. I’ve been going there for hikes since the place opened in about 1981. It’s always been a favorite hiking place of mine. Lots and lots of my early journal entries begin “At Gans, at my outlook.”

I had to call it “my outlook” and “my precipice” because that was before anyone declared that it should be named “Shooting Star Bluff.”

Indeed—this was so long ago, there was a sea of perennial wildflowers, yes, called shooting stars, that quite literally carpeted the triangle of ground between the main trail and the V of trail leading to and from the outlook. It was a magical scene each April, with them and bird’s-foot violets all over that outlook.

The shooting stars, violets, and all their topsoil are a memory now at that spot; it’s been trampled to death.

I don’t go to Gans nearly as often as I used to. The old field at the beginning of the trail has turned into second-growth woodland characterized by cedars and autumn olive.

But the older forested areas along the bluffs still feel like a home to me, and it was good to visit the place last Thursday.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Halloween Party Food!

So! Have you decided yet what kind of food you’re going to have at your Halloween party? If you haven’t, you’d better hurry up!

Fortunately there’s a lot you can do almost at the last minute, taking not much more time than any other meal, with a bit of creativity. You know how to draw a face, right? Or at least a pair of eyes? I mean, I’m looking at you!

I’ve gotten more serious about Halloween eats in the last ten years or so. It started in 2015, when Sue and I decided to take Halloween on the road! We don’t usually get many trick-or-treater children in our neighborhood, so we decided to show up at my parents’, unannounced, with a meal and goodies, and in costume. We rang the doorbell and when Dad opened it (expecting children), we yelled “trick or treat!” and then took over their living room.

We hung orange and black streamers, replaced all their normal light bulbs with orange or purple ones, strung up some purple string lights, stuck a battery-operated strobe light in a plastic pumpkin, and handed funny hats to them to wear. I think we all had stick-on fake mustaches that year, too.

We had all kinds of goodies to eat. That year (as I recall), we had a frozen cheese pizza to which I’d applied pieces of black olives, bell peppers, and pepperonis arranged to look like spiders, bugs, and spooky faces. I made a sweet, cream-cheese pumpkin dip (to have with sliced apples), and cookies in the shape of “witches’ fingers.” I carved a “barfing pumpkin,” set it on a big tray, and had a mild black-bean-and-corn salsa coming out of its mouth, and blue corn tortillas strewn around.

It was such a fun time, we did it the next year. And the next. And indeed, each year since then. The costumes and makeup change, the decorations change, and the food changes, but the fun continues.

The past few years, I’ve taken the time to click some photos of the food. And I’ve got a nice little “Halloween” section of my recipe files. What will I make this year?!

Here are some possibilities. Some are pretty basic; you just add decorations clipped out of vegetables, like I did atop the pizza. The recipes for lot of these can be found online.


  • Caramel-Apple Sangria (pinot grigio, apple cider, Smirnoff “Kissed Caramel” vodka, sliced apples).
  • Anything brightly colored served in test tubes. I don’t know where you get test tubes.
  • Apple Butter Old Fashioned (apple butter, bitters, apple cider, bourbon, club soda, serve on rocks in bar glass; sugar rim; garnish apple slices and cinnamon stick).
  • “Jason’s Juice” punch (Google it; make a sugar syrup with orange zest, cloves, cinnamon stick, plus cranberry (crangrape?) juice, sparkling cider; freeze water in a Halloween mask and float it in the punch as a creepy face).
  • Fun fact: tonic water glows under a black light!

Main Dish Ideas

  • Meatloaf shaped like a big hand, onion “bone” sticking out of wrist, beet leaf midvein/stem as “veins”; once cooked, carefully move onto a bed of green-colored mashed potatoes (see side dishes below).
  • Meatloaf shaped like a zombie head (chopped white onion teeth, olives for eyes, ketchup in the mouth, etc.).
  • Cheese pizza decorated with trimmed veggies, pepperonis, to make faces, spiders, etc. Sausage or hamburger meatballs plus sliced olives can be eyes.
  • Lasagna decorated as above.
  • Shepherd’s pie decorated as above (use pureed-spinach-green-colored mashed potatoes).
  • Any autumnal/hearty dish, such as baked squash, bean soup, beef stew, chili, haluski (kielbasa and butter-fried cabbage and onions).
  • Hot dogs wrapped with puff pastry to look like mummies.
  • Poke uncooked spaghetti noodles through uncooked hot dogs; plunge into simmering water until both are cooked. They will look like space aliens or squids.
  • Ruby Ann Boxcar’s Monster Casserole (from her Down Home Trailer Park Holiday Cookbook), “the color alone is enough to frighten small children”: cream of corn soup colored green; cooked egg noodles colored orange; cubed Spam, a can of corn, a small package of Velveeta, cubed . . . put in a casserole and bake. (I’ve never made this one . . . yet.)

Side Dishes

  • Mashed potatoes (buy them premade to save time), colored green with pureed fresh or thawed frozen spinach (use a bullet blender). Pro tip: heat the mashed potatoes well, first, and then add the spinach puree. If you heat the spinach too long, your green will turn olive green, and the flavor will suffer.
  • Cornbread colored green with food coloring. You can put faces on each piece, using cut up veggies.
  • Deviled eggs (roasted red bell pepper puree makes the middle nice and orange); shape like pumpkins; or can turn upside down, poke out holes using a straw to make a “Jason” face mask.
  • Spooky tomato slices (add eyeballs made of olives); serve on lettuce leaf.
  • Brain-shaped Jell-O molds are mighty useful for Halloween Jell-O salads!
  • Bell peppers carved like Jack-o-lanterns; can steam, carefully, and fill with mac and cheese, or sauteed veggies, or whatever.
  • Barfing pumpkin: carve to make it look like a puking face, including a gaping mouth low on the face. Chopped salads or dips can be arranged to look like they are spewing onto a tray. Guacamole is good; so is black bean and corn salsa; slaw, Waldorf salad, or chopped kale salad work well, too.
  • Colorful Halloween slaw: shredded red cabbage, shredded carrot, some matchstick/julienned tart apple; a light vinaigrette; garnish with raw pumpkin seeds.


  • Brain mold cheesecake: use a Jell-O brain mold and instant cherry cheesecake mix. You night need two boxes. Add some Knox gelatin to ensure it will gel hard enough to unmold; spray mold lightly with Pam. Serve atop the blood-red cherry goo.
  • Pumpkin patch brownies (a pan of brownies decorated with candy-corn pumpkins, with vines added using green icing and appropriate pastry tips).
  • Pumpkin roll (you can buy these now!)
  • Sweet Pumpkin–Cream Cheese dip (cream cheese, pumpkin puree, powdered sugar, pie spice, vanilla extract; can fold in whipped topping and chopped snickers, Kit-Kats, mini M&Ms, whatever); dip apple slices, plain cookies, carrot and celery sticks, pretzels, whatever.
  • Ye Olde Kitty Litter Cake, with crushed sandwich cookies mixed with crumbled cake and vanilla pudding, and Tootsie-Roll cat turds. A beloved Halloween classic.

More Sweet Treats

  • Nutter Butter cookies dipped in melted chocolate (milk, dark, or white) on one side, with 2 eyes added (Wilton makes edible cookie-decorating eyes).
  • Witches’ fingers cookies; roll cookie dough like a snake and shape into gnarly fingers; use sliced or blanched almond (or a cashew nut) for fingernail. Extra points for red gel icing “blood” at base of finger.
  • “Impaled head” buckeye candies. You draw little faces on them with a toothpick and dark food coloring. I saw this online somewhere but it’s disappeared. Maybe it was too gross and they took it down.
  • Rice Krispies Treats, colored green or purple (food coloring); decorated with Wilton eye decorations.
  • Spider cookies: make chocolate chip cookies; while still hot, use a toothpick in the melted chocolate drops on top to delicately add “legs.”
  • Gingerbread haunted house.
  • Pretzel cigs. Dip small pretzel sticks 2/3 of the way in white chocolate. Dip the tips in bright orange chocolate and then dip in silver sugar sprinkles. When dry/hard, arrange on a big (clean) ashtray, with extra sugar sprinkles in the middle for “ashes.”
  • Popcorn balls: an old-school favorite. There are many recipes for these. This year, I’m trying the one made with Orange Jell-O.

Old School Halloween Refreshments

These are from old party books from the late 1930s and 1940s.

  • Nut cookies
  • Candied apples on sticks
  • Cake
  • “Witches’ brew” (fruit punch).
  • “A Halloween Campfire”: bacon, wieners, buns, eggs, pickles, coffee; molasses candy; toasted marshmallows.
  • “A Hard Luck Hobo Party”: hot dogs; coffee or hot chocolate.
  • “A Hard Times Party”: sandwiches wrapped in newspaper; coffee.
  • “A Harvest Party”: corn muffins, coffee, popcorn balls, crackerjacks
  • “A Halloween Frolic”: coffee, sandwiches, pumpkin pie, apples (bobbing)

Are you still out of ideas? Then do what I do every year, just for fun: do a Google image search on “Halloween food” and “Halloween beverages” and see what you get!

Friday, October 28, 2022

Public School Lunches, Columbia, Missouri, 1974

I recently found some local newspaper archives online from when I was about nine years old. Wow! Did I look at the news headlines? Did I look at the sports section? Did I look at the ads for local businesses? No!

I went straight to the weekly lists of Columbia Public School lunches. —Yay!

Each week, Mom and Dad would clip out the school lunch menus and pin them on a bulletin board in the kitchen. That way, we could review the next day’s offerings and determine if we wanted to pack a lunch or buy the one provided by the school.

It’s a blast from the past. Here are some weekly menus. These are all from the Columbia Missourian. I’m only providing the sections from the Columbia elementary schools. The secondary schools, University Elementary, New Haven R-II, Hallsville R-IV, and Ashland/Southern Boone County R-I had separate menus, which I’m not copying out.

Looking at these, I feel kind of nostalgic, and maybe even a little hungry!

School Menus

January 26, 1974

MONDAY—Country fried steak with gravy, buttered sliced potatoes, tossed green salad, hot roll with butter, cookie.
TUESDAY—Chili with crackers, peanut butter sandwich, carrots and celery sticks, sliced peaches.
WEDNESDAY—Hot dog with bun, pork and beans, cole slaw, cup cake with icing, ice cream.
THURSDAY—Turkey with gravy, whipped potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, hot roll with butter.
FRIDAY—Hamburger on bun, french fries, applesauce, peanut butter cookie.

February 2, 1974

MONDAY—Pizza, buttered peas, orange juice, no bake cookie.
TUESDAY—Taco and cheese, buttered corn, tossed salad, cinnamon twist.
WEDNESDAY—Fried chicken, whipped potatoes and gravy, buttered carrots, hot roll and butter, fruit punch.
THURSDAY—Macaroni and cheese, green beans, cole slaw, hot roll and butter, surprise dessert.
FRIDAY—Fish sandwich and T.S. [tartar sauce], tater tots, buttered corn, strawberry Jello cubes.

February 9, 1974

MONDAY—Pig-in-blanket, escalloped potatoes, green beans, chocolate pudding–whipped topping.
TUESDAY—Homemade noodle and chicken casserole, lettuce salad, cranberry sauce, hot roll–butter.
WEDNESDAY—Chili–crackers, peanut butter sandwich, carrot and celery sticks, purple plums.
THURSDAY—Italian spaghetti, tossed salad, hot French bread, orange juice.
FRIDAY—Hamburger–bun, French fries, cole slaw, brownie.

February 17, 1974

MONDAY—[Washington’s Birthday, so no school.]
TUESDAY—Country fried steak and gravy, buttered sliced potatoes, tossed salad, hot roll and butter, no bake cookie.
WEDNESDAY—Beanie weenies, cole slaw, hot roll and butter, applesauce.
THURSDAY—Turkey and gravy, whipped potatoes, tossed salad, hot roll and butter, cranberry sauce.
FRIDAY—Fish and tartar sauce, tater tots, Jello cubes, hot roll and butter, fruit punch.

March 24, 1974

MONDAY—Macaroni and cheese, green beans, sunset salad, hot roll and butter, cake.
TUESDAY—Cowboy meat loaf with catsup, escalloped potatoes, cole slaw, home-on-the-range biscuit, sweet-tart punch.
WEDNESDAY—Chicken noodle soup with crackers, peanut butter sandwich, carrot coins, chilled fruit.
THURSDAY—Pizza, tossed salad, buttered corn, white cake with chocolate sauce.
FRIDAY—Star-Trek burger, Scooby Doo sticks, Flintstone Swingers, Mulligan’s favorite fruit, Josie’s cookies.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Jar of Goodness 10.23.22: October Day at Painted Rock

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for today’s trip to Painted Rock Conservation Area.

Yeah, mainly I’m talking about the fall color change. It’s simply amazing. Even though you know it’ll happen, you’ll still be speechless when you look out at a landscape that for months had been all the shades of green . . . and you suddenly realize it’s glowing yellow instead.

The whole world is yellow and orange. It’s glowing.

It doesn’t last long.

It’s that sweet transition time between “much too hot and humid; waaaay too many insects” and “freeze-your-ass-off, teeth-chattering cold; hardly anything living outside the window.” In October, you have some warm days and some cool days. Rainy and dry, windy and calm.

When you get a sunny, blue-sky day in the height of fall color, you grab it and get outside. Especially when it’s right near your birthday!

So we went hiking at Painted Rock Conservation Area, since it’ll be overcast and rainy tomorrow.

It’s one of our favorite hiking places nearby, and I’ve blogged about it before. It offers beautiful Ozark landscapes, both upland and lowland areas; a view of a serious river as well as several creeks and a few ponds.

We knew the popular, scenic Osage Bluff Scenic Trail would be busy, since it was such a gorgeous day, so we opted to hike the unnamed middle trail (that is, the other one, which is between it and the “Clubhouse Lake” trail).

This trail has a couple of designated, completely undeveloped camping places near the parking area, at around 800 feet in elevation. Then the trail leads west along a ridge for a while before splitting into a Y: the left branch continues straight west to an upland wildlife food plot (a field of crops planted for wildlife) and apparently to nothing else. Meh. . . . But the fragrant sumac along this upland part of the trail was gorgeous.

All the understory shrubs and trees were being spectacular.

Meanwhile, the right branch of the Y veers northwest, working steadily down along the north side of the east-west ridge. No switchbacks. It’s an antique road that must have been used by the original Painted Rock Country Club, pre–World War II.

You can see hints of its former development—a culvert running below the road at one point; down lower, a concrete slab as a simple bridge over a creek; and more. It tickles me to picture Model A’s putt-putting down this little road, so the mayors and governors and fat ol’ senators could get close to the river.

Yes, the trail ends at the Osage River, around 530 feet in elevation . . . though if we’re being honest, the trail peters out before the river. The lowland brush and brambles, fallen branches, and what-not obscure where any official trail might be. And once you beat your way to the precipice, you’re on your own to figure out how to scramble down the steep riverbank. Sometimes you can use exposed tree roots like stairsteps.

Once you’re down the bank, though, there’s a nice wide, rocky gravel bar to explore.

With the river so low, we had a lot to explore! The gravel bar was covered with dried mud; the rocks were not clean-looking as they would have been if we’d had some decent rains this late summer, even as the river levels dropped. Oh well.

Sue loves Nicola White’s videos about mudlarking in the River Thames, in London. So she pokes around looking for seventeenth-century clay pipes, Tudor money boxes, and George III ha’pennies. Naturally, she finds none of these, but she finds fun objects anyway. Old bottles, pieces of broken plates and dishes, old bones (deer bones?), rusty objects.

I find fun things, too. Where the bar was still muddy, hornets and some of the last butterflies of the season sought moisture. And did you know that Missouri is basically the global center of diversity for freshwater mussels, with about 70 species occurring within our borders? It’s thanks to our various, separated river systems. About 42 percent of our species are species of conservation concern, including several that are listed as threatened or endangered.

I also found a single Osage orange fruit lying partially embedded in the river mud—of the Osage River.

Who knows what curious things you’ll find when you look around.

I’m always interested in seeing the remains of the country club’s concrete steps leading down to what must have been a dock.

The old steps are gradually being erased by time and the river.

I’ll bet they had a structure here, like a fishing cottage, but I think their bona fide lodge was farther south, where their lake still exists and where you can still drive down a road to park near the river.

Anyway, I enjoyed taking pictures; breathing the fresh air, letting the gusty breezes flip my hair around. I even took a picture of my feet to show I was there.

It was a good day. Now it can rain for a few days, because we really need it.

I hope you’re enjoying this October, too!

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Jar of Goodness 10.16.22: Houseplant Dance

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for our houseplants.

I think.

Every year, it seems like more work to move them in and out of the house. They love being outdoors in the growing season, and we enjoy having them decorate our yard, so we move them outside in the spring, when the frost danger is over. But to survive winter, they need to move back in before it freezes.

And it’s probably going to freeze tomorrow night. So, the dance of the houseplants.

If I don’t celebrate it, if I don’t cultivate a sense of happiness about them, then I run the risk of them seeming like a complete chore.

So, hooray for houseplants. I need some more ibuprofen, by the way, I’m running out.

Here’s a list of some of the houseplants we’re dealing with today and tomorrow.

Sanseveria, “mother-in-law’s tongue” (Dracaena trifasciata, until 2017 Sansevieria trifasciata), which had been Grandma Schroeder’s as long as I can remember.

Splitleaf philodendron (Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum), which had been Grandma Renner’s for many years.

Terrestrial orchids, or jewel orchids (Anoectochilis sp.).

Pothos ivy (Epipremnum aureum).

Several airplane/spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum), plain and variegated.

Scheffleras, or umbrella trees, two types (S. arboricola, with smaller leaves, and S. actinophylla, with larger leaves) rescued from Hickman Hall at Stephens when someone there had disowned the poor things that had gotten full of scales.

Tradescantia zebrina, inch plant or “wandering Jew.”

T. pallida, purple secretia or purple heart.

Plectranthus “Mona Lavender” Swedish ivy.

Dracaena marginata, or what Dad calls a “Dr. Suess plant,” which just grows taller and taller and taller.

Hart’s tongue fern, Asplenium scolipendrium.

Arrowhead plant, Syngonium podophyllum.

. . . Plus the bonsai.

Plus the elephant ears (Colocasia).

We’ll get to the elephant ears tomorrow, since we have to dig them up, lop off their blades, and tuck them away into the garage; there will be two big garbage cans full of their enormous, loglike corms and stalks.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Jar of Goodness 10.9.22: Fall Color

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for fall color. For the beautiful leaves!

Leaf Day! Back in high school, one of my best friends and I would select a random day at the height of fall color season, and we would collect a bazillion lovely, bright-colored, fresh-fallen leaves, and then, in each of our various classes, arrive early and place a leaf onto each of our classmates’ desks. Plus the teacher’s. Everyone would be bewildered, but we’d simply reassure them: It’s Leaf Day! We’re celebrating! Aren’t they beautiful?

And our classmates would twirl their leaves and ponder nature during the rest of the class. (The janitors that evening were probably like, “what the hell—?”) Some of our classmates apparently enjoyed it, some thought it was stupid, but most, I think, really understood our point.

I think my friend and I had been inspired somehow to do this by listening to Leo Buscaglia talks on PBS, if that gives you a sense of the time period!

Wait, you haven’t heard of Leo Buscaglia? In the eighties, he was a big star on PBS. He gave lectures. He was a TED talk before there were such things. He was a great story teller, and all his stories made strong points. His favorite topic was love. Love was the title of his first bestselling novel.

We all oughta be reading and listening to Leo Buscaglia again. It would set us to rights again, maybe, for at least a little while. Here’s a video (in two parts) of perhaps his most famous lecture, “What Is Essential Is Invisible to the Eye.” The lecture, this time, was given at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.

The lecture title was from The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, and that was another book we devoured and got deep meaning from. Richard Bach’s Illlusions, another huge bestseller, and all this introspective, pop-psychological stuff set me going on a personal path that has given me a rich life. Not all of what followed was so great, but I’ve mostly managed to keep a balanced view. At any rate, it has helped.

Buscaglia’s lectures were full of humor, poignancy, and basic human wisdom. And emotional intelligence. We internalized tons of it. (And there was tons of it.) “People first, things second.” . . . “Life is God's gift to you; the way you live your life is your gift to God. Make it a fastastic one.”

My parents drove us to see Dr. Buscaglia speak at Kiel Opera House (now Stifel Theatre) in St. Louis. He was touring, and St. Louis’s KETC channel 9, the PBS station, was sponsoring him.

I don’t remember any direct connection our annual Leaf Day celebration had to Leo Buscaglia (his book The Fall of Freddy the Leaf wouldn’t come out until later) . . . but there’s a connection somewhere. (“The trees outside of your home are doing wondrous things; watch them step by step, it’s like magic.”)

But the connection is ultimately about love, and enjoying all the beauty all around us, perfect and imperfect. We don’t have forever; look around and see!

A reminder: to track the progress of fall color in Missouri, make sure you visit the Missouri Department of Conservation's Fall Color Reports page. It gets updated each week, on Thursday, by around 5 pm. Reports come from foresters in MDC's eight regions. And yeah, there's a little bit of me in there. But much better, when you read them, you can tell that the reporters, all professional foresters, really dig their subject.