A hodge-podge of things I’ve done/thought/seen/ate during the recent days of my ongoing residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City:
--I finally had a runza, a Nebraska specialty that, despite the fast-food appearance of the Runza mini-chain of restaurants, is based on an old-time recipe. Dough filled with seasoned ground beef and cheese and jalapenos…pretty darn good! (The original, which I will have to return to try, is ground beef and cabbage.) Also, who can argue with the brilliance of “frings,” a mixture of French fries and onion rings?
--A fun night around the firepit...on one of the few non-rainy, non-cold nights. Poets can build lovely fires.
--Mostly I’m doing simple cooking for myself, and in this back-to-basics mode, I’m being reminded that perfection of taste can be humble. One night I had one of the best baked potatoes of my life—cooked exactly the way I like it by which I mean horribly overdone so the skin is a lovely crust with a slab of butter—and for lunch yesterday, the grilled cheese sandwich was elegantly gooey and delightfully buttery. ( Maybe at this rate I WILL go through the four sticks of butter I bought at the store?)
--The Wheel is a fabulous bar with a good mix of leave-you-alone and so-are-you-from-around-here conversation. Thursdays are dollar beer nights (in DC, I don’t even think you’re allowed to utter the word “beer” without paying a buck), and I had some fried jalapeno cheese balls that were so satisfying that I find myself dreaming of them. (This was not on Wellness Wednesday, the day I eat hyper-healthfully!) I don’t really like the phrase “dive bar” because it sounds sort of condescending to me, but if you’re a fan of that word and of the concept, you need to get yourself to The Wheel. Frankly, though, what I love most about The Wheel is meeting people from around town and getting a glimpse into Nebraska City life.
--I got to hold IN MY OWN HAND a letter written by TOLSTOY—his own hand!—to William Jennings Bryan. Some Nebraska friends were going through the scary boxes at the back of the scary corner of the scary area where all the scary ancient ancestral clutter had accumulated, and lo and behold! Tolstoy! Pretty cool, I must say. And very casual…we were sipping drinks as we passed the letter around.
--I saw wagon traces from a section of the Oregon Trail.
--Nebraska City has a public charging station for electric cars. Okay, one car at a time, so not cars, but still…I’m impressed. Will I be seeing Ed Begley Jr. at The Wheel one of these Thursdays?
--I’m in love with the Missouri River. I try every day to walk down to the industrial area where I can stand at the river’s edge and watch the currents and ripples and the water’s fast, flat flow. On the other side of the river is Iowa—not at all far away. In fact, there’s a plaque at the post office about slaves who escaped over to Iowa at that point of the river. The town was once a major port and did a big business in the freighter industry in the 1800s, provisioning wagon trains. Every day when I stare at that river I feel like I’m somewhere different.
--Train whistles in the dark soothe me. The days and night are criss-crossed with train whistles, some lonely, some companionable, each urgent…I like to think of them as I write.