Real Cooking

I try not to purposely embarrass my children, so I was really surprised that they put up such a fuss when I wanted to take a picture of them standing in front of the world’s largest ball of twine.

While making our way to and from our vacation spot in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Keith and I decided it would be far more interesting to drive the back roads. No Interstate travels for us, no siree. We wanted to experience the highways and byways of this great United States in the style of Jack Kerouac or Charles Kuralt.

Well, actually, after studying the maps of southwestern South Dakota and western and central Nebraska, we came to the realization that Interstate travel would be for the most part impossible. There just aren’t any major highways coming and going from the places that we were coming and going to. Or from.

So, we loaded the van on a Friday evening and headed north. The trip to our destination was a more hurried affair because we needed to be in Bonesteel, S.D., by two o’clock the next afternoon for a wedding. But after a four-hour drive, we were ready to stop at a hotel in Grand Island, Neb., where we met the rest of the Jost cousins who were also traveling to Bonesteel.

OK. Now the next part of our trip was covered in last week’s column. If you were with me last week, just skip this paragraph. But if for some reason you missed last week’s installment, here are the highlights. Dam burger, lovely wedding, Hawaiian Wedding Song, Gross catering.

After the wedding, we moved on toward the Black Hills. I don’t know how many of you have traveled through South Dakota (this was a first for me), but there are stretches of road that seem to roll on forever with little to see except hay stacks and cows.

Maybe that’s why I got so excited when we hit a small town-could it have been Gregory?-and there along the side of the road was a huge sculpture of a pheasant.

“Did you see that? We should pull over and get a picture.”

My husband turned his head and looked at me soberly as he sped up to get as much distance between me and the 8-foot statue as he possibly could.

“Let’s just get to our hotel in Murdo, OK?”

“Oh, all right. But I’m putting you all on alert that I’m planning on being a tourist on this trip. I want you all to be on the lookout for stuff like…well, giant birds by the side of the road.”

I continued my harangue from my place in the front seat.

“On this trip, we’re going to actually stop and read the historical markers. We’re going to eat in roadside diners and farmers’ cafes instead of McDonald’s or Taco Bell. We’re going to take the “scenic route” as much as possible- and we’re not going to whine.”

“Right, Mom,” my son answered as he reached for his Game Boy.

“Sounds like fun,” my daughter pushed her nose back into the book she had been reading.

Catching the spirit, Keith pointed out we would be at the world famous Wall Drugstore by lunchtime the next day.

“They serve buffalo burgers… would that be touristy enough for you?”


After a night in Murdo, where the water tastes as bad if not worse than Hillsboro in pre-reservoir days, we traveled westward. We got past Kadoka and decided to take the loop through the Badlands National Park.

As we turned off the interstate onto the highway that would lead us to the park, we came across a sign advertising “Prairie Dog Town.”

Keith read my mind as he slowed the car and pulled into the dusty parking lot that was guarded by (what else?) a statue of a giant Prairie Dog.

We read the signs that warned us not to touch the prairie dogs and not to feed the prairie dogs anything but the official prairie dog food. Which of course could be purchased for a small fee.

Those were some fat little prairie dogs. After visiting the animals, I wanted to take a picture of my kids with the giant prairie dog statue, but they didn’t seem to want to comply. So, we traveled on to the Badlands, which lived up to their name.

After a stop at Wall Drug, where we dined on buffalo burgers, we pushed on to our cabin in Keystone at the Powder House Lodge. It was everything I had hoped it would be.

We had a spacious two-room cabin surrounded by pine trees and a conveniently located swimming pool. The lodge’s restaurant was just a short stroll down the hill and served some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Dodging thunderstorms for the next couple of days, we were still able to take in all the sights. Mount Rushmore stood majestic over the surrounding pine forest and we got to pet an albino python and a baby crocodile at “Reptile Garden.”

When we visited Custer State Park, we had to stop for a herd of buffalo on the road and we pulled over to look at a herd of prong-horned antelope that were grazing in a roadside meadow.

Meg was the first to spot the white-tailed doe with her two fawns that were trying to hide themselves in the trees, and Alex got a kick out of feeding the “begging burros” carrots.

We shopped for trinkets and T-shirts-Alex ended up with one that features “South Dakota’s Finest Road Kill Cafe” with menu listings like German Shepherd Pie and Flat Cat served as a single or in a stack-toured an abandoned gold mine and then headed back home.

On the way, our route took us through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“Look children,” I said to those riding in the back of the van. “Look and remember the squalor that this nation’s native people are living in.”

Pine Ridge was in sharp contrast to Hastings, Neb., our final stop on our trip back to Hillsboro. This was my first time in Hastings and I was duly impressed. A clean, lovely college town with a lot of amenities. We spent a nice evening going out for dinner and then catching a movie at one of their two theater complexes.

Our final day’s trip was spent meandering down the back roads between Hastings and Hillsboro. We found the geographical center of the United States near Lebanon, Kan., and we stopped to see the largest ball of twine in Cawker City.

“Come and get your picture taken with the ball of twine,” I called to my kids.

“Do we have to?” came their reply.

As they stood in front of the twine with their father coaxing smiles from their expressionless faces, I heard my son whisper to his sister, “This is so embarrassing.”

This coming from a boy wearing a road kill T-shirt that says, “Eating food is more fun when you know it was hit on the run.”

* * *

Simple and refreshing on these hot dog days of summer.

Real Old-Fashioned Lemonade

7 large lemons

2 oranges

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Squeeze juice from lemons and oranges. Set aside. Boil water with sugar until sugar is dissolved. Cool. Combine juice and sweetened water. Add enough cold water to make eight cups. Makes one-half gallon.

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