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Horchata, Anyone?

Horchata…

I originally published this post almost a decade ago (2011) on my culinary stewardship blog. No, it isn’t cold here in Southern Illinois as it was when I originally posted, but it is almost Cinco de Mayo.While most of us are familiar with horchata made with rice in The Americas, other parts of the world have made versions using nuts for centuries. This version uses rice. Perhaps some of you celebrating the Battle of Puebla at home tomorrow would like to do so with a nice glass of homemade horchata

Below is the post from the Maracuya87 blog in January 2011. ¡Disfrutan! ¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

It’s really cold here in Southern Illinois right now, and it may be a while before I can get to Costa Rica to visit.  So, I decided to try to make horchata, a Central American rice and milk drink flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. 

After reviewing different recipes, some calling for almond extract and vanilla extract and even crushing the cinnamon sticks, I had to take a look at what I had in stock and go from there…

This is how I made our horchata:

Ingredients:

1 cup long grain rice

1 quart warm water

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 vanilla bean pod (after vanilla has been scraped from the inside)

1/2 cup whole milk

1/3 cup vanilla sugar (or regular sugar–I keep a separate container of sugar that I throw the vanilla bean pods into after I’ve scraped out the insides in other recipes.  That way it flavors the sugar.)

1/2 Tblsp. Tupperware Simple Indugence Cinnamon-Vanilla Seasoning Blend

Ice

Directions:

Place rice and warm water in the blender and blend until the rice breaks up but does not turn to powder.  Pour into a pitcher with a lid and add the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean pod.  Allow to sit in the refrigerator at least 5 hours (ours stayed in the fridge overnight.) 

Strain the rice water into a blender, discarding rice pieces, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean pod.  Add the milk, sugar, and Cinnamon-Vanilla Blend.  (If you don’t have this, use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.)  Blend until smooth and serve over ice. 

Chase Helicopters in the Wind. Pick Bananas in the Sun

As kids, my brother and I were fortunate to grow up on a farmette. Seeing the maple seeds fly off the trees and into the wind this week has brought back fond memories of creative play in the country.  Spring and summer outdoor play as a little kid in Southern Illinois was very special.

Those maple seeds, sometimes called whirlybirds or helicopters, were created by God as a brilliant twofer. Not only are they seeds that may grow with nurturing into solid trees, they are natural toys for kids, fur babies, and perhaps some adults. They look like little helicopters invading in a strong wind. There were actually so many landing hard and fast on our dogs’ deck the other day that they wanted to stay inside to play until their makeshift maple seed helipad had cleared…

As a kid, the maple seeds also doubled at playtime as banana bunches. My mom had an old,  long, white potting table in our backyard. We sometimes played mud bakery or restaurant there. We were pretty good at sourcing play food from the yard and large garden area. Salad was pretty easy to create from bread leafy weeds in the grass. Bark might be bread, and the dried, flaking mud in what were puddles became potato chips…

That type of creative play and outdoor activity in nature was healthy for us and our development. We were actually learning problem-solving skills out there debating the best way to make mud cake. I am sad that kids today do not seem to have as many opportunities to play unplugged as we did. I pray that during this time of sheltering at home that kids, and adults, who have not been able to experience the simple joys of nature and creative play will be able to do so. May we all experience the simple joys of chasing helicopters in the wind and picking bananas in the sun.

And the Morel Is…

Yes, I mean the mushroom–not the lesson of a story. Those elusive delicacies have been popping up across the wooded areas of Southern Illinois for a few weeks now. The southern tip of the state has likely hit its peak of the season or is a bit past it at this point as warmer days increase.

I remember going mushroom hunting with my family when I was a little kid. We would carry our plastic Bunny Bread bags and walking sticks into the woods of Marion county to look for morel mushrooms. Sometimes we brought a picnic. I was easily sidetracked by small treasures and flowers… Yes, it is good to know some things have not changed that much over time.

Bits of wisdom imparted to me on those early mushroom hunting adventures were that the morels like to grow near may apples and to be careful with sticks that might actually be snakes. Fallen trees and logs may also be spots worth checking. Anyone who plans to hunt morels does need to consult some sort of resource with experience to be sure they are not hunting the toxic, false morels. Not all mushrooms are safe. A lack of wisdom and caution can be deadly. Also, please make sure you have permission to be on a property before you start searching for morels. Please have good morals even if you find no morels… All woods in this century belong to someone. If it is private land, consult the owner. If it is public, read the signs. In this day and age, failing to do those things can be as deadly as a toxic mushroom.

When my kids were younger, we went up to look for mushrooms in my parents’ woods with my brother. Unfortunately, we did not find many mushrooms, but again, I found flowers… The kids were able to experience a bit of clean air by the muddy creek bed, unplugged, as my brother and I had when we were their ages.

Progression maps are available on various social media forms to let people know where morels have been spotted so far this season. There are multiple groups on Facebook one can request to join to share pictures of their haul and share tips or recipes. I like the graphics and info in this one:

https://www.facebook.com/IllinoisMorelMushrooms/

I know there is some controversy over the best way to prepare the morels, but just don’t consume them raw. My parents used to soak them overnight in salt water. (My mom said it drove out any little critters.) Then they were battered in a cornmeal mixture and fried. I’ve seen posts where morels have been sauteed with garlic, butter, and olive oil. Some of my relatives have made pizza with them. Friends have stuffed them rather decadently with cheese. As with most ingredients, you are only limited by your imagination.

Note: the morel mushroom photos in this post article are free stock photos from Pixaby shot by other talented people. I’m sure I have taken photos of morels through the years, but I sure can’t find them at the moment…

How Strong Are Southern Illinoisans?

Apparently, Southern Illinoisans are so strong that there were briefly two Facebook groups and a new dot com with the same name…

This morning, I heard from a friend who had said she had sent a request to join Southern Illinois STRONG, formerly the name of the Facebook group that is related to what was the “Eat & More to Help” section of this website and the ASOSI app. I went to approve her request and found others, but not hers. Then she said that it had been on the news. That was news to me…

With a little research, I discovered that there is a newer Carbondale area group that has surfaced since the sheltering at home in Illinois response to COVID-19. They use Southern Illinois Strong as the name of their Facebook group and dot com that also sells a t-shirt. This appears to be the one that was on a local news outlet with a mission of ensuring the survival of locally owned food establishments in the Carbondale area.

As a Slice of Southern Illinois also supports that mission, assumes the duplicate name was oversight, and forgives any perceived appearance of intent, we have chosen to change the name of our Facebook Group to match everything else:  A Slice of Southern Illinois.  The section of the app that has and will continue to help people find help and ways to help others in Southern Illinois will remain titled Southern Illinois STRONG. Long after COVID-19 hits the history books, we hope you will still be sharing and participating in each others fundraisers and community needs.

We feel that this is also in the best interest of both groups in terms of transparency. Our definition of Southern Illinois extends from I-70 south to the southern state line. Again we wish the other group well as we also want our local business to thrive and succeed. This is why we continue to add links to locally owned spots in the ASOSI app for shopping, artisans, food, lodging and more. There are links to sites to see and places for family fun. The Southern Illinois STRONG section has been important for helping to get the word out for local fundraisers for schools, families with medical needs, fur babies needing help, and more. Please keep sending these to us! Keeping the blog, business, group, video, and social media name the same seemed best for consistency.

A Slice of Southern Illinois is somewhat of a lifestyle blog, and you will undoubtedly continue to find recipes and travel suggestions for our region and more. It is family-inspired, from the heart, and should be Christ-honoring. I am unapologetic for those elements. Much of the app and other planning was how I kept myself occupied with something meaningful while I was mostly on bedrest during chemo a few years ago. My desire is to continue building upon it with my family.

The A Slice of Southern Illinois app,  also called ASOSI, is free for download on Google Play and in the Apple App Store. Please feel free to like our Facebook page. Requests to join the group, and start helping to spot opportunities to help in Southern Illinois may be sent via Facebook. Thank you for your continued support and participation. Even more importantly, thank you for continuing to support each other and our region. Faith, family, friends, fortitude, and more are abundant in our region. Let our hope be contagious. Southern Illinois truly is STRONG!

A Beautiful Day–to Drive Thru the Farmer’s Market

A multitude of well-behaved, socially distanced, people in cars paraded through the Carbondale Farmer’s Market this morning to shop local.

Vendors sold out of some things early. There were gorgeous flowers, plants, spring veggies, meat, eggs, and fur baby treats to buy. You could even pick up coffee, tea, baked goods, or some delicious-looking hot dogs. Even when forced to operate as a drive thru during a pandemic, the farmer’s market continues to be a treat for the senses. It operates on Saturdays mornings from 8:00 a.m. to noon at 2001 West Main Street in Carbondale, Illinois.

Loaded Carnitas Hashbrowns

How do you serve hashbrowns for dinner? I started with some smoked sea salt from GoGo Gourmet in Salem, achiote molido and oregano molido from Tienda Paisano in Carbondale, onion, mushrooms, sweet peppers, garlic, Italian Seasoning, and crushed red pepper in some EVOO.

Then I threw on some frozen country hashbrowns–my shortcut. Once they were nice and golden, some Italian blend cheese that needed to be used was melted onto the hashbrowns.

They were plated with Mexican crema, leftover carnitas ( last night,) avocado mash, and pico de gallo…

Super easy dinner since I already had the carnitas, avocado mash, and pico de gallo in the fridge 😀 #easydinner #hashbrown #carnitas #loadedhashbrowns #smokedseasalt #asliceofsouthernillinois #tastesofsouthernillinois #GoGoGourmet #Salem #TiendaPaisano #carbondale #shoplocal #loadedcarnitashashbrown #avocado #picodegallo #achiote https://www.instagram.com/p/B-RDfSYJeeY/?igshid=o4hmpl6r0tlm

Southern Illinois STRONG

Southern Illinois STRONG is the new name for the companion group to the Help Others Section of ASOSI/A Slice of Southern Illinois.  It will be a publicly listed group on Facebook. Currently, it is still showing as private, however that is expected to change soon. People are encouraged to share efforts in Southern Illinois to help others out as well as encourage and support people and small businesses who are doing positive things in our region (I-70 the the southern state line. )

Help Others:

https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/eat-more-to-help/

Everyone has the ability to help someone.

The group gives people an opportunity to help identify Southern Illinois local fundraisers (such as those for school groups, teams, medical needs, folks who have experienced loss, etc.) or regional combined efforts to help elsewhere. All are subject to admin approval, and may be added to the Help Others section of the app/blog.

People who are looking for ways to help out and connect with their community can check back regularly to see if there is something even simple they can do such as save soup labels or buy something they might have otherwise ordered online to help out someone locally.

The ASOSI app is available as a free download in the Google Play Store and in the Apple App Store. ASOSI is a tool packed with links to area info for locals and tourists that shows support for locally owned shops and eateries.

Showing support for locally owned businesses also strengthens our region. It is so important to our survival and ability to thrive as a region to support each other in the positive things when possible. Small business ownership is not easy. Those of us who grew up watching Harriett and the Olson family on “Little House on the Prairie” saw the rich business owners as being snotty (except poor Nels) to the other townsfolk and living in luxury. This not the case for most. If you read much literature on small businesses, many do not make a profit in the first few years, and owners work other full time jobs to make ends meet. A while back, I spoke with a local banker who advised that the majority of small businesses actually operate in the red. Owners sometime work extra jobs to make ends meet and provide for their families. Many of us have no idea what type of sacrifices our neighbors have made to keep their doors open and services available to us.

When we have a negative experience with a local business, before we rush to slam it on social media, the mature response woud be to perhaps discuss it with the business and allow a chance to make amends or correct misunderstandings. Easier said than done, I know… However when we just start reacting, crucifying, stirring, and jumping onto scapegoat bandwagons, we really don’t paint a pretty picture of ourselves. That hurts all of us. Would you really want to visit, shop, eat, and spend hard-earned money in a place that seemed hell-bent on finding someone to tar and feather? Perhaps if you are into the whole mystery dinner thing, you might try it once… (If you do, please don’t tell me. That gives me too much insight into your personality type…)

Having said all of that, let’s get in the habit of acknowledging when a person or a business in Southern Illinois steps up to help someone. There is enough angry, hate-filled news in the world. Let’s make our little corner a bright one. It is much better to build each other up than tear each other down. The group is also a place to give acknowledgment to people for helping out or doing a good job at something in Southern Illinois. If someone has been battling health issues, and his or her yard is a hot mess, let’s acknowledge the compassionate people who step up and step in to help-not those just out to make a buck. There are plenty of other formats for those to those who just want to complain about the temporary aesthetics to be able to see their words in print. (Seriosuly, you could play a game by tallying the predicted snide and often useless remarks of arm chair critics to news stories…) Let’s support and encourage those who are actually going to take positive action–not condemnation– toward solutions.

A friend posed the question on social media as to what made our area special. It reminded me of that May 8 storm that left so many without power for many days. Southern Illinoisans really stepped up and helped each other through a tough time. That same spirit still thrives among many. We are Southern Illinois STRONG!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2402600916667909/

For the Birds?

I didn’t slide driving around this morning, but a poor, large bird almost flew into my vehicle crossing over Crab Orchard Lake…

Please be safe driving around in Southern Illinois.  The temperature is right on that line of freezing, and some folks are reporting a few slick spots. Big, fluffy snowflakes have been falling in the Marion area. Some actually are sticking to the geound.

Can you imagine the challenges of being a migrating bird in Southern Illinois? Whiplash could be an issue. “Get in formation, we are heading south for winter.” Then a few miles over, “Hey, it’s almost 70 degrees. Time to go north.” Another few miles: ‘Ugh. Snow. Put it in reverse, we’re heading south again…”

I guess we easily forget the wide range of weather we have, and how quickly it changes. On Christmas, it was so warm outside that we seriously considered dining al fresco on the deck.

That’s not the first warm December we have had. I can remember a December in Carbondale in the late 90’s (1998?) when it was exceptionally warm. Friends and I went to see Aerosmith at the SIU Arena. Later, we all sat out in front of La Roma’s on The Strip eating pizza at midnight and didn’t freeze. I miss La Roma’s…and those concerts. But, I digress…

Above: Carbondale, file photo

I also remember a cold May in the 90’s when a friend and I nearly froze trying to walk around at Fort de Chartres at Prairie du Rocher.

I guess the flipping back and forth of temperatures gives our region more character. It also means perhaps would should cut those poor birds some slack when they poop on our windshields. They must be stressed from all the weather changes.

Above: Our beloved Heidi (Heidi’s Angel Brigade of Southern Illinois was created to honor her memory) on a walk during a prior winter

Help Others

The ASOSI app has been modified a bit to include a “Help Others” icon that corresponds with the “Eat & More to Help” section of the blog/website. This area includes local verifiable charity events, benefit dinners, fundraisers, volunteer opportunities, and more.

The section can be accessed by clicking the “Help Others” icon on the ASOSI app (free download in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. )

You can also get there by clicking on the Menu of this blog/website and choosing “Eat & More to Help.”

If you are aware of an upcoming charitable event or verifiable need within Southern Illinois (roughly, I-70 to the southern state line or the 618 area code…,) please either message through the A Slice of Southern Illinois Facebook page or send an email to: asliceofsouthernillinois@gmail.com

Although app listings are normally limited to locally owned businesses, if a national chain or corporation is having an event or program that benefits a local charity, we may choose list it as well. For example, some stores have loyalty cards that give an option to donate a percentage of purchases to local schools or organizations. If we know those organizations, we may be able to list them.

Thank you! Together, we can keep Southern Illinois Strong.

Warm Thoughts…

These were some of the first videos posted on YouTube by A Slice of Southern Illinois on the Slices of Southern Illinois channel.

It was a few summers ago, extremely hot, and as usual, the AC didn’t work in the house we were renting. The oven may or may not have been working, but when it’s already about a hundred degrees, who wants to add heat? So, we tried to make the best of it.

Yes, there is a learning curve to making videos. We are still somewhere on the bendy part…

Sundried Tomatoes Part One

Sundried Tomatoes Part Two