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Cucumber Chef Salad

I have been craving cucumbers since I watched Katie Lee make a yummy cucumber salad (I know it is yummy because I made a version of it at home…) on “The Kitchen” last weekend. So, I packed a cucumber with my salad fixings for my lunch yesterday. Unfortunately, I forgot my lettuce. This actually turned out to be a good thing.

I decided to use the cucumber as the base of my salad instead of lettuce. After peeling the skin, I cut it lengthwise into quarters and then cut those quarters into smaller bite sized pieces.

Chopped sundried tomatoes, olives, palmitos (hearts of palm,) shredded mozzarella, shaved turkey breast, and some pepitos were added to the cucumbers. A bit of sea salt, pepper, and Caesar dressing (because that’s what was handy…) topped off the creation. I did manage to wait long enough to eat it to snap a photo.

It shouldn’t be too much longer before Southern Illinois cucumbers are ripe. I can’t wait to try it again with some local produce and perhaps a homemade vinegrette.

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The Annual “Cemetery Run”

One day plus two restaurants plus three counties and six cemeteries equal my family’s annual “cemetery run.” That’s the day on Memorial Day Weekend that we meet somewhere and travel as many of the cemeteries where are loved ones are buried as we can fit in to place flowers on gravestones. Actually, there are more than six cemeteries, but some were done on a different day as the geography makes it extremely difficult to accomplish in one day.

This has been a tradition within my family for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty sure my parents did this before I was born, and I’ve included my children in the tradition. Personally, I believe it is one way to reach respect for those who have come before us.

It is sad to see the disrepair of some cemeteries, especially older ones, as not all receive any funding, and some rely on donations. Repair and upkeep might be a good project for groups looking for service projects as it preserves a part of our country’s history.

Below are some photos from Marion and Wayne county cemeteries. They are not necessarily any of relatives, but I liked the pictures.

Memorial Day Traditions in Southern Illinois

Southern Illinoisans have a rich history of family-based Memorial Day Traditions. Some families gather for reunions and picnics. Others get together to honor the memory of loved ones by placing flowers on graves. Communities gather to remember and honor those who have served our country. Swimming pools open, and annual festivals bring people together to kick off the unofficial beginning of summer.

Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971. Its origins were in Decoration Day, which came from a need to deal with grief during the Civil War. It appears that many locations claim to be the founder of that holiday. With so many people now researching their heritage through DNA testing, it seems likely that even more will be at cemeteries this year to remember and learn about their ancestors.

For many years, East Lawn Cemetery in Salem (Marion County) would accommodate many visitors-both decendants of the Joles and Broadway families buried in East Lawn Cemetery and people driving by to watch them. In 1891, “Gypsy Sam” and Betsy Joles reportedly traveled through Salem during a journey from Ohio to Southern Missouri. While camping in Salem, they could view East Lawn Cemetery and thought it was beautiful. When their daughter died in Missouri, they returned to Salem for her burial. Unfortunately, another daughter passed away while they were in Salem and was also buried in East Lawn. These are the first two known graves that started the annual Memorial Day Weekend gypsy pilgrimages to Salem. For many years, the Broadway and Joles Family graves were adorned with beautiful, elaborate floral arrangements. Some of these depicted the loved ones hobbies or favorite foods. I can remember watching the procession of cars and all of the colorful decorations as a child. It really was a nice way that their family remembered their loved ones. Sadly, in recent years, there has not been as much decoration as in past decades.

Many communities will have ceremonies honoring those who have served our country. There is a Memorial Day Service planned at Mound City National Cemetery. The Carterville Lioness Club will once again have a beautiful display of flags at Cannon Park for their Military Salute.

Herrinfesta Italiana, an annual celebration of Herrin’s Italian heritage since 1981 is already in full swing. Carbondale has Memorial Day Sesquesentennial Observation planned. Marion will be holding Memorial Day at Ray Fosse Park. These are just some of the things going on throughout the weekend.

A link to information on some of the Memorial Day events in Southern Illinois will be available in the “Events” section of this website as well as the ASOSI app. The app is available for free download in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

It’s Festa Time!

HerrinFesta Italiana kicked off this week in Herrin. The event has been a Memorial Day Weekend tradition in Southern Illinois since its beginning in 1991 and celebrates Herrin’s Italian heritage.

There are two entrances to the Festa: The Piaza and The Midway. An admission fee is required for many of the concerts in the Piaza, but admission to the Midway is free. While beverages requiring proof that one is 21 years of age or older are sold within the Piaza area, (with the exception of Faith & Family night,) they are not permitted on the Midway. A carnival, food, and shopping opportunities make up the Midway.

Over the years, many local and famous acts have graced the HerrinFesta stage in the Piaza. Some of these include Survivor, Firehouse, 38 Special, Drew Baldridge, and Three Doors Down. 2015 became known as the year that “Riding the Storm Out” was not an option when a heavy downpour and lightning storm interrupted the REO Speedwagon concert. (It was still a great performance as the band played as long as feasibly possible.) The 2018 line up includes The Beach Boys, Slaughter, Queensryche, and a first for the event, Faith & Family Night at the Festa with Natalie Grant and Jordan Feliz.

Some of the special events that people look forward to each year include the parade, bocce ball, pasta eating contests, and the Road Races. This Year’s HerrinFesta Parade Grand Marshalls are Mayor Steve and Sharon Frattini. On May 21, Lexie Tourville was crowned Miss HerrinFesta Italiana 2018.

More information is available at http://www.herrinfesta.com

Photos from Past Years at the Festa:

Farmer’s Market Salsa Fresca with Homemade Baked Tortilla Chips

As we are heading full swing into the summer farmer’s market season here in Southern Illinois, I am sharing a staple of sorts from my house: salsa fresca. I prefer somewhat of a kicked up pico de gallo. When time allows, I prefer to bake my own tortilla chips.

Salsa Ingredients:

2 to 3 large tomatoes

2 to 3 peppers

1 large onion

handful of basil

2 garlic cloves

a pinch each of sea salt, sugar, cumin powder, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder

a dash of freshly cracked black pepper

the juice of one lime

Salsa Directions:

1. Chop the tomatoes, peppers, and onion into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.

2. Finely chop the basil and mince the garlic.

3. Add all ingredients together in bowl and mix together.

Tortilla Chip Ingredients: One bag of flour tortillas.

Tortilla Chip Directions: Cut or tear tortillas into chip size pieces. Bake at 350 degrees F on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet until they reach the desired crispness. You can also get fancy and cut them into special shapes to fit whatever theme you desire. Be creative.

Note: Cilantro and parsley work just fine too. Use as hot or as mild of peppers as you prefer. Mix it up a bit! Have fun and enjoy!

Strawberries and Memories

Strawberry Season is upon us in Southern Illinois, and it brings many sweet memories with it. Believe it or not strawberries were probably one of the few things that we did not grow on our family’s acre and three fourths in the country. (Gooseberries-check, rhubarb-check, asparagus-check, strawberries-uh, no?) So, we piled into the family car, Pacer or Granada, depending on the year, and went to a local u-pick farm. Often, this was a farm in the Farina, Dix, Kell, or Centralia area. The one by Farina was especially fun because we would stop at Frontier Village for a restroom break and to cool off. My brother and I looked forward to getting those those huge, old-fashioned colorful lollipops.

Once home with our berries, my parents and sometimes my grandma would prep and freeze them by the pint. As a special dessert, my mom would make some wonderful strawberry shortcake.

As unique as it may sound, our kitchen walls actually were covered in strawberry wallpaper. To top it off, a local grocery store sold Strawberry Shortcake (remember her and the dessert squad?) glasses that we would collect to use and display.

Seeing melting chocolate for fruits in grocery stores triggers memories of making chocolate covered strawberries in my dorm room at the Baptist Student Center at SIU-Carbondale. We had potable water, microwaves, and mini fridges. Life was good. My co-ed music fraternity often catered events on campus, and from what I recall, there was sometimes a need for chocolate covered strawberries… I continued making these in grad school too, when I lived in Lewis Park and had an actual kitchenette.

If you have an opportunity to get out and pick your own strawberries, especially as a family, try it at least once just to have that experience. It’s also nice for kids to be able to connect in their heads the process of food growing and making its way to the table. More importantly, family memories you create will last much longer than strawberry season.

Here are some places to contact about U-pick strawberries in Southern Illinois:

ALAHAMBRA

Reinhardt’s Berry Patch, 618-633-2888

BELLEVILLE

Eckert’s Country Store & Farm,

https://www.eckerts.com/belleville-farm

BUMCOMBE

Hallsberry Farms

https://www.facebook.com/Hallsberry-Farms-607311662746573/

CARLYLE

McConauchie Manor Farm

http://mcmanor.com/

CENTRALIA

Schwartz Farms

http://www.schwartzfruitfarm.com/m/

COBDEN

Blue Berry Hill Farm

COLLINSVILLE

W.J. Donahue Sunshine Farms

DIX

Schwartz Farms

http://www.schwartzfruitfarm.com/m/

KELL

Sager Farms

https://www.facebook.com/Sager-Farms-1338423922880064/

MILLSTADT

Eckert’s Country Store & Farm

https://www.eckerts.com/

MURPHYSBORO

McLaughlin Strawberry Farm

https://www.facebook.com/MclaughlinStrawberryFarm/

SIMS

Freelands Strawberries and Vegetables

https://www.facebook.com/FreelandsStrawberries/

ST. JACOB

Demange Farm

https://www.facebook.com/demangefamilyfarms/

Strackeljahn Farms

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Strackeljahn-Farms/126200920766900

WATERLOO

Stuckmeyers Plants & Produce

http://www.stuckmeyer-illinois.com/

WILLOW HILL

Rising Sun Family Farm

https://www.facebook.com/Rising-Sun-Family-Farm-663357053748679/