Tag Archives: Archaeology of Food

Flag Day and Thoughts on Art and Growing Gardens

On Thursday evening (06/12/2014), Molly and I strolled down to the Plains Art Museum to hear Sandra Menefee Taylor speak about her exhibit, Heart/Land: Sandra Menefee Taylor’s Vital Matters. This exhibit is on the 3rd floor of the Plains, at 704 First Avenue North in downtown Fargo, just in case you’re in the area and want to visit. Two things among many stand out as I think back on taking in the talk and the exhibit.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

The first was an all too brief conversation with Abby Gold about farming, or gardening, at the historic Probstfield Farm just north of Moorhead, Minnesota. Molly and I, and two of our friends, decided to go in on a small community garden plot, the idea being that the four of us can more easily tend to such a garden than two or one of us.

I told Abby that when one has a garden, or a farm, one is suddenly paying more attention to weather patterns, especially rain. If we don’t have rain for more than a day and a half, then it means someone has to go and irrigate: literally one of us has to coordinate with the others, and say, “Okay, we’ll run up to the farm this evening, walk over to the watering station with buckets, and haul water back to our plot and gently water each row.” This, in turn, means that we are connected to the soil and land, at least if we want a harvest (and at least if we want to harvest beans so we can pickle them).

I said all this (more or less) to Abby, with the broader idea of how gardens are healthy for the psychology and soul. If I did not have a garden like this, irrigation would not cross my mind, and I would not pay as close attention to rain patterns as well. This garden, too, is bringing Molly and I, and our two friends, closer together, since we are privileged with the obligation of caring for our small rows of crops. We are a team.

The second point that stands out in my mind from Thursday evening was brought up during Sandra Taylor’s talk. It dealt with four ways in which one might consider approaching life. The four ways are as follows (and it turns out a lot of us already carry out these ways, but it’s nice to have someone articulate them):

  1. Show up. Be on time. I’ll add even another point: be early.
  2. Pay attention to what is going on in front of you. I’ll also add: research and think about what will go on in front of you, and then actively pay attention when it is happening.
  3. Speak the truth, and do so without judgment. I’ll add: we can tell the truth all the time, and we can do so without judging. It does not have to become entangled in emotion, or polemics, or name calling, and so on.
  4. Be open to the infinite range of un-intended outcomes. Or don’t be attached to a particular outcome. Things will never play out the way we think they will. So we might as well remind ourselves of that, and carry on.

Okay, I’ll end there. I just wanted to set this down and float it out there into the blogosphere. Happy weekend all. It’s Flag Day by the way, too.


Memorial Weekend

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

It’s Friday evening and Molly and I are sitting on the living room futon which now faces west. It points us in the direction of a screen porch, and beyond this we can see the youthful spring green of deciduous trees and leaves set against a background of grayish-blue sky. A storm is brewing out west for sure. You can smell it. Something to do with the ozone.

We live in pre-WWI construction, so we are also treated to a kind of pre-WWII sense of place. I haven’t been able to put words to the smell, but the smell I’m smelling reminds me of my late Grandma Christy’s house on the 700 block of North 4th Street in Bismarck, North Dakota. That house, too, was built prior to the First World War. Anything built before the Second World War has this sense of smell and place to it. The homes and apartments all have hard wood floors, radiator heating, and super tall ceilings. They were built before the invention and ascent of conditioned air.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

So now that it is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I would post the epitome of Americana. I love this stuff. Baseball and cowboy charcoal grilled burgers. Memorial Day weekend is a grand extension of Decoration Day, a Civil War day of remembrance.

This evening also got me thinking a bit about all the German-Americans that poured into the United States when, in the words of Lt. Aldo Raine, people were getting out of Europe while the getting was good. Massive religious and political upheavals in the 19th century (this is the most focused brush stroke I’m going to use right now) induced hundreds of thousands of Europeans to simply leave Europe. They crossed the Atlantic and poured in the United States. A large swath of these immigrants came from Germany, or German-speaking countries (I have often hypothesized that the reason Germany started two big ones in the same century had to do with this intellectual emigrant drain from the previous century). And the Germans, when they arrived in the United States, took up numerous causes. In some cases they played baseball. And in other cases they agitated for emancipation. I like to imagine that they also grilled burgers, too. Baseball and burgers. Happy Memorial Day.


Dungeness Crab and North Dakota Walleye

Sensibly priced Dungeness crab.

Sensibly priced Dungeness crab.

Over the weekend I located some Dungeness crab at the Costco in West Fargo, North Dakota. To clear it up for non-Fargoans and non-North Dakotans, yes, Fargo is large enough to have a West Fargo (perhaps an idea for a second Coen Brothers film entitled West Fargo, which Molly says is on the east coast of North Dakota). The crab was so sensibly priced that I couldn’t avoid it. A small contingent — Mira McLain and Ben Simonson — from Valley City, North Dakota, came as well, bringing fresh-caught North Dakota walleye and sauger. Aunt Chris McLain also joined us, as did Matthew Trefz and Karis Thompson.

North Dakota walleye and sauger fish fry.

North Dakota walleye and sauger fish fry.

While eating the crab, I noted a couple things: first, fresh crab eaten in the middle of North America almost confuses one’s sense of place. It’s something that tastes like the ocean but it is so far removed from that locale. So if you’re in Fargo, or Ohio, and if you locate delicious and sensibly priced Dungeness crab, go for it. You get to taste the ocean while on a sea of prairie.

The second thing the royal we noted was that eating whole crab is an event: it takes patience and effort, and plenty of melted butter. Up to this point in time, the lot of us were land-lubbers the most if not the majority of our lives. Sure, one or two of us had the occasional deep-sea fishing experience, but that was more exotic than frequent.

After the feast, even the Chihuahuas were exhausted.

After the feast, even the Chihuahuas were exhausted.

Like I said, Ben, who often squeezes 25 hours of ice fishing into his 24-hour vacation days, brought the North Dakota walleye and sauger. And the feast was just that, a combination of steamed crab from the Pacific Northwest and North Dakota freshwater fish, fried up on the spot to absolute perfection. Aunt Chris provided a homemade fudge and ice cream desert, something she learned from her mother. Heritage dinners are real, and they often involve statements such as, “My mother used to make this.” I thought about that, and how the Sunday evening meal created a memory we could someday look back on 20 years from now.

Note: Twenty-four hours later, a March 31-April 1 blizzard is going full tilt. I just wanted to document it all. Here’s a video short of Matt Trefz offering a balanced assessment of Dungeness crab.


Langdon Locker

Langdon Locker, 324 6th St., Langdon, Cavalier County, North Dakota, on the morning of February 27, 2014.

Langdon Locker, 324 6th St., Langdon, Cavalier County, North Dakota, on the morning of February 27, 2014.

This morning just after the sunrise, the car thermometer registered something like -18° F in Langdon, northeastern North Dakota. I’m on detail up here for a couple days, dissertating (a verb in grad school) and so on. But before getting started on that, I decided to track down the famous Langdon Locker, home of the famous Langdon Locker Sausage (caps is warranted).

This, says Tom Isern, is the greatest sausage in all of North Dakota. I once pressed Isern to explain why it was the best, and he (paraphrased) chalked it up to preparation and texture. I think the texture reminded him a bit of sausage production around and near his historic family farm in western Kansas. It is no surprise that certain smells and foods activate otherwise hibernating memory files within our brains.

Langdon Locker.

Langdon Locker.

In any case, I tracked down the Langdon Locker. Then I tracked down an ATM. Then I returned to Langdon Locker and purchased one of their regular staples, the smoked garlic pork sausage. It is locally made, and goes for just over $4 for one-and-a-half pounds. There are rumors that this sausage is available through distributors in Fargo. But there is something fun about getting the stuff at the source too.


White Chicken Chili

Molly's white chicken chili.

Molly’s white chicken chili.

There’s something like a 3rd or 7th polar vortex bearing down on the northern Great Plains and Great Lakes region on this sunny, cold Saturday lunch hour. Yesterday Molly suggested that we make white chicken chili. I set the navy beans to soaking yesterday afternoon, and she put soup together just before lunch today. Lots of coriander, cumin, Tochi’s taco seasoning, green and red chilies, etc. This is what she was telling me after I asked, “Why is this so delicious?” We also added cilantro just before serving. Note: what you can’t see in this photo are the two chihuahuas at my feet. Seriously. They are named Willow and Honey. This soup is heating us up for sure. Polar vortex, your serve.


Harley McLain

In 1979-1980, JB and Harley McLain (brothers) cut this wrote, played and cut this album in Hollywood. It appropriated the "NPL" acronym, but replaced the Non-Partisan League with the Natural People's League. Note the earthworms that make up the "NPL."

In 1979-1980, JB and Harley McLain (brothers) wrote, played and cut this album in Hollywood. It appropriated the “NPL” acronym, but replaced the Non-Partisan League with the Natural People’s League. Note the earthworms that make up the “NPL.” Photo by Darren King.

If you haven’t yet caught the passing of Harley McLain, here are some links on stories that The Bismarck Tribune, The Fargo Forum, and News Dakota have put together. Please take the time to read them. They are beautifully written. While I have only known Harley since 2012, it appears that the entire northern Great Plains has known him since at least the 1960s. This is testament to his beautiful soul.

I was thinking the other day about a photo of a younger Harley with his wife, Julie. In the photo Harley’s shirt read, “Question Authority.” He did that, of course. It made me think about how in Harley’s questioning of authority, he himself became his own author. In that, he believed in the state of North Dakota, and therefore the country and world (I’m convinced that he still does from the other side). He believed in it so much that he decided to speak up about a variety of issues, and with his particular charm and wit.

Tracy Potter, after hearing about Harley’s passing, remembered his good friend on Facebook. Tracy said,

Sad news today from Molly McLain. Her father, my friend, Harley McLain rejoined his beautiful wife Julie yesterday. Harley was a remarkable man, who had more influence on North Dakota with his guerrilla theatre approach to politics than many much more serious reformers. Out of his campaigns and legal action, North Dakota’s corrupt ballot structure (which Harley argued offended his “poetic sensibilities”) was ruled unconstitutional by Federal courts, giving us the modern, rotating ballot. Always fun, always interesting, and always the kindest, gentle heart. I’ll miss him.

Harley McLain, circa 2007.

Harley McLain, circa 2007. Photo by Logan Hanson.

Today and tomorrow and forever, we will continue recounting Harley stories and memories. They bring simultaneous tears and laughs. Harley impressed himself upon anyone who was within his range. Darren King, a slaying upright bassist and family friend of the McLain’s, said:

A couple of days ago North Dakota lost one of its great dreamers, political activists, songwriters, fathers, and forward thinkers. I look forward to jamming again someday Harley. Thanks for helping to raise me.

In conversations around the McLain family table last night, between JB McLain, Chris McLain, Molly McLain, Mira McLain, Matthew McLain, and Ben Simonson, we figured out that Harley, during his life, hung out with Allen Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, potentially Keith Richards (happening into one another on some boat in the Mediterranean), and for a short time he lived down the street from one if not all of the Ramones. And these were just the individuals we pegged around the table last night. The list by no means is exhaustive.

The most important thing about Harley is that he would treat these individuals the same way he would treat anyone else: without pretension, with respect, and ready for insight and humor and give-and-take conversation. Harley loved people. He loved individuals. If you look at someone who knew Harley, you’re looking a bit at the man himself.

Bless you, Harley McLain. Thank you for the wonderful family you and Julie gave to North Dakota. And to use a bit of Scandinavian subtlety, I’m particularly fond of Molly.

From a sunny Valley City, North Dakota, Aaron L. Barth.


Blizzard Grilling On the Northern Great Plains

Rick Gion recently returned from southwestern North Dakota, having hunted pheasant around Mott and Regent. He brought back pheasant, and we — Rick, Molly and I — ended up grilling them last night. Rick pounded out the pheasant breasts and made a roulade, tying them up with peppers, jack cheese, and prosciutto. It, the weather, also decided to turn to a blizzard — icamnatanka — leading up to the grilling. So we just forged ahead. Molly prepared a delicious wildrice-mushroom hot dish, inspired by Linda Whitney (my aunt) and her knowledge of how they prep wild rice hot dishes up around Devils Lake, North Dakota in general. It was a northern Great Plains winter meal through and through. Here are some photos from the late afternoon and evening.

A bag of sensibly priced charcoal purchased as the blizzard set in.

A bag of sensibly priced charcoal purchased as the blizzard set in.

Rick prepares the pheasant-breast roulade.

Rick prepares the pheasant-breast roulade.

Molly's wild rice-mushroom hot dish. This is perfect eating for a blizzard.

Molly’s wild rice-mushroom hot dish. This is deliciously perfect eating for a blizzard.

Grilling the roulade. The temps were sub-zero at this point. In the distance from the grill is a mildly creepy-looking snowman I built the night prior, in anticipation for the sub-zero weather.

Grilling the roulade. The temps were sub-zero at this point. In the distance from the grill is a mildly creepy-looking snowman I built the night prior, in anticipation for the sub-zero weather.

The plated meal. We ended up finishing the roulade in the oven after putting a char on it with the grill. Wild rice-mushroom hot dish to the left, and steamed broccoli above, this just below a bit of table red.

The plated meal. We ended up finishing the roulade in the oven after putting a char on it with the grill. Wild rice-mushroom hot dish to the left, and steamed broccoli above, this just below a bit of table red.