Brown Bag It

When I was a kid, my parents would pop some popcorn in a big pan with a lid (think stockpot) on the stove and pour it into a heavy yellow bowl for nights that we would watch TV as a family. I remember many episodes of “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” viewed from the comfy brown couch with my mom, dad, and brother. Those are fond memories.

Did you know that you don’t have to use the stovetop method, a fancy popcorn popper, or pre-packaged microwave kernels to.make popcorn? You can totally brown bag it. Think how much money you can potentially save by picking up a supply of your favorite locally grown popcorn and a pack of those brown lunch bags to fill them yourself…

A brown lunch bag will work fine. I have even used brown grocery bags… Just add about a third cup of popcorn kernels to a brown bag. Fold the top down three or four times. Then microwave the bag for approximately four minutes.  You may need to adjust the time a bit for your microwave. Listen for when the popping sound slows down to avoid burning your popcorn. Let the bag sit for a a few minutes once the microwave stops.

You can add some seasoning to the bag and shake it, or dump it in the bowl. Be aware that you may need tonadd a bit of melted or olive oil.with your seasoning for it to stick to your popcorn

The possibilities are endless. Cinnamon and sugar. Rosemary, parmesan, and cracked black pepper. Sea salt and sugar. Simply a bit of sazòn….

Shrub Tasting

No, I wasn’t out chomping on landscape. Instead, I tried The Burning Bushes Shrub, one of the drinking vinegars, from Glacier’s End. I purchased some earlier in the season from them at The Marion Farmer’s Market. I had tried earlier in the year to get some at the Winter Farmer’s Market (Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market) in Carbondale, but it was always sold out by the time I made it to the high school to shop. That told me it MUST be good!

First, I mixed up a quick marinade for boneless pork chops and added about a tablespoon of the Shrub to it before I dried them off and breaded them…

Then I added a aplash to a vinaigrette for watermelon and arugula salad.

I threw it all together, drizzled on some marinade made by shaking it in a jar with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then I tossed it  together with pieces of seeded watermelon, arugula, and queso blanco.  (Goat cheese, cotija, or feta would also have been good…) I would like to have added a bit of mint chiffonade for another layer of flavor, but I didn’t want to go out and pick it at the time…

I also mixed a healthy splash with some chilled club soda.

It was pretty refreshing. I decided I might like to add a bit of simple syrup for a bit of sweetness, but it was still good without it.  Adding a bit of white wine would probably work well too.

The Burning Bushes Shrub is a combination of elderberry, honeysuckle, strawberry, cayenne, and galangal.  I want to try Pearapple Rain next.  They actually make a variety of shrubs with unique combinations.

Links: 

Home

https://www.facebook.com/glaciersend/

You may wish to check the Glacier’s End Facebook page for updates and info on where to find the products. 

https://www.facebook.com/Marion-Farmers-Market-129111570446441/

http://www.carbondalemarket.com/

Please note that at this time, a new location for the winter market has not yet been announced. They cannot meet at the high school due to COVID-19 restrictions, but per their website, they still plan to return in December.

Surviving 2020 in Southern Illinois

It’s the year 2035, and you have been asked to write a chapter on the pandemic of 2020 in a history text book to discuss its impact on Southern Illinois. (By 2035, Southern Illinois is NOT referred to as “flyover country. ” It becomes a highly sought after cultural, culinary, and natural destination… ) What would you title it? The COVID-19 Pandemic? The Global Bio-socioeconomical Experiment of 2020? Something else?

Like the rest of the world, Southern Illinois has been affected by that “novel coronavirus” referred to as COVID-19. It’s been a destructive pandemic in more ways than just medically. Trial on error policies have been created nationally and locally to try to adapt and keep people safe from contagion. Some seem logical, while others have appeared more experimental. Even medical recommendations at the international level have kept changing. Hopefully, hindsight will at least help all of us to better prepare for any future pandemics.

Businesses have had to adapt to new safety requirements and ways of operating. (Some probably had to hire a whole new person to add all those “Walk This Way” floor decals and six foot tape lines…) On that note, shopping has now become a bit like trying to navigate a town made up of one way streets. It sometimes takes twice as long to do. Getting inside a store, due to COVID-19 limited capacity requirements, can be a bit reminiscent of camping out by the SIU Arena for concert tickets before the days of line tickets… (Was anyone else there in the late 90’s trying to get tickets to Def Leppard? Metallica? There used to be so many great bands that came here…)

Walk This Way…

HerrinFesta Italiana has been an unofficial start to summer for this region. Festa, as some affectionately refer to it, has paired with The DuQuoin State Fair for decades to bookend a season filled with wonderful outdoor activity and events.

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The DuQuoin State Fair
Fort de Chartres Rendevous, Prairie du Rocher
A car show in Downtown Carterville
Concert Time at HerrinFesta Italiana

Many events had to postpone or cancel. Others were able to adapt to social distancing ordinances or utilize technology. The Centralia Balloon Fest modified to a drive through format in four locations for the popular Balloon Glows this year. Many spring and a summer sports were cancelled. Fall football and marching band season has also been affected. The Missouri Valley Conference, to which our beloved SIU Salukis belong, recently announced possible plans for a spring season. Even playground equipment was closed off to help prevent spreading germs.

Centralia Balloon Fest
The Makanda Boardwalk

Fairs and festivals aren’t just for fun. Many area food and entertainment venues rely on annual income from these events. Others, such as those who raise dairy and other livestock animals or craft and and exhibit other items prepare all year for county fairs, 4-H fairs, and The DuQuoin State Fair. They are also part of our region’s identity and opportunity to be part of a community.

Marion County Antique Power Days, Salem
The Iconic Double Ferris Wheel at The DuQuoin State Fair

All of the sudden closures and reduced business hours delivered a huge blow to our economy. The scarcity of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks as well as meat, milk, and pantry staples may have sent sales soaring for some businesses to record highs. Sadly, others had to close.

Almost an entire wing of the University Mall in Carbondale appears to have closed. For those of us who remember shopping there as kids in the days when J.C. Penney was the west end with Sears as the east end, this is particularly sad. We remember a thriving mall where it was somewhat entertaining to ride up and down the Sears escalator… Many of us remember when the “new” addition came that extended the mall from J.C. Penney to Famous Barr (it later became Macy’s.) In fact, I still marvel at how the  sidewalk into the “new” entrance glitters like it did when it was created. (Keep that in mind if you are doing construction–whatever that material is, it holds up well…) My mom and I loved going to the little Pier One Imports store in the mall before it moved into a larger building off the Giant City Road intersection. That nice “new” store closed this spring without benefit of a long going out of business sale due to the pandemic. S & B Burger Joint, where they served wonderful burgers and spicy fried cheese curds, also closed this spring.

Relationships and mental health have suffered some big hits. Some relationships have suffered from distance, while others have become stressed from sheltering together. As we weren’t created to do life alone, in isolation, loneliness has been an issue for many. Research tells us that it can worsen and actually lead to mental health issues. Neuroscience shows that trauma also has a huge impact on emotional and behavioral health.

Obviously, severe illness and loss of life are often traumatic. Many, such as graduating seniors, have suffered a series of sudden losses this past spring. Proms, parties, college visits and more disappeared. Just the fear generated by having to stay home and fear of no longer seeing little friends, family, and favorite teachers can deeply impact children. Birthday parties, graduations, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and more have been cancelled, postponed, moved, and downsized. Some foreign exchange students and international college students either found that they had to return to their countries to avoid indefinite travel restrictions. These were all significant losses. People in long-term care facilities, treatment programs, and hospitals were isolated from family and friends.

Humans are designed to have connection to others. For those who self-identify as “huggers,” not being able to hug friends, relatives, and church family when they do finally see each other is brutal. Not shaking someone’s hand during an introduction or in a professional setting can also seem awkward.

My take on all this is that nasty devil threw COVID-19 at us to create confusion, grief, anger, chaos, and strain relationships. Since he is the author of confusion, that is not a far stretch. However, as a Christian, I know God can take what was meant to hurt us and use it for our good. It’s times like this that make me especially thankful that He does still have control.

The Original Bald Knob Cross at Alto Pass

People were placed on lockdown and quarantined. One side effect was that some families have been able to spend more time together. The fast-paced, stressful life of many has slowed down to a more manageable, healthy speed.

We have been fortunate to see many different people step up to help others out in difficult positions. Children and adults have shown gratitude and appreciation for those who have been on the front lines. Positions and jobs often taken for granted have been highlighted for their efforts to keep people safe. School employees delivered meals to students at home. Various churches and community groups such as the Southern Illinois Collaborative Kitchen provided meals to those on the front lines or in need. Individuals made countless face masks for front line workers. Hospital workers in various towns were greeted with sidewalk chalk messages of hope, thanks, and encouragement. Cities like Murphysboro encouraged residents to participate in The Great Bear Hunt (Around the country, toy stuffed bears were placed in house and business windows for families to drive around and spot.) Others posted hearts in windows or lights in their yards as symbols of hope and care. People in towns including Carbondale worked together to create and maintain community gardens.

Some people were able to spend more time with their families while others may have finally gotten a bit of rest and relaxation. Some of the new recreational activities have been gatherings via video conference, digital Corona Bingo, and Guess Who Is Behind That Face Mask… Fur babies rejoiced to be spending more time with their humans. Humans became more appreciative of their furry family members’ unconditional love for them. Some of my favorite hashtags this year have been #hopeismorecontagious and #SouthernIllinoisSTRONG.

Carbondale
Cinnamon

Others were able to get out and enjoy nature and experience the natural wonders of Southern Illinois. I know the teens in my house have enjoyed hiking at The Arboretum and Giant City State Park among other spots. Stephen Mather, who pushed and worked to establish our National Parks over 100 years ago, recognized the importance of nature in physical and emotional health. He reportedly used nature as an effective means to help cope with his own bipolar disorder.

Scenic View of The Bald Knob Cross at Alto Pass during reconstruction

Fortunately, some churches have been able to increase their use of social media to keep members connected and continue at least broadcasting services. Medical and mental help professionals have been able to provide some services by phone and video conference. Curbside pick-up and delivery services flourished, and the price of gas actually went down for a while. Farmer’s markets adapted with drive thru formats and eventually, social distancing with face masks and ample supplies of hand sanitizer. Some VBS (Vacation Bible School) programs and summer camps were able to adopt a video conference format to accommodate sheltering in place requirements.

Just as Southern Illinoisans worked together to bounce back from that May 8th Derecho in 2009, we will survive this pandemic. We may be a quilt pieced together from different preferences, beliefs, traditions, and cultures, but we are resilient, and we are capable of working together. We do not know the upcoming twists, turns, or outcome of this current pandemic, but we can persevere.

Damage from the May 8th Derecho of 2009

Despite all of our struggles and setbacks, beauty may still emerge from ashes. Pressure can sometimes still produce diamonds. Rainbows do still appear after storms.

Rainbow over Elkville

A “Berry” Tasty Road Trip

Mija and I took a short road trip this afternoon in hope of scoring fresh strawberries. (For the “Last Man Standing” fans, we wanted actual ripe strawberries–not the incandescent light bulbs that Baxter and Larabee bought in the back alley of a hardware store…) So, we headed down Route 51 south of Carbondale to Flamm Orchards.

This year, with all the interference from the COVID-19 monster, you apparently have to arrive at the orchard pretty early in the day to get berries.  Even though the day’s fresh strawberries had already sold out, the trip was not a loss.

Flamm Orchards is well known for their wonderful strawberry icecream and strawberry shortcake. We did have to stand in line for a while, but everyone was pretty friendly. I think their ice cream must have a calming effect on folks…

After getting clarification that their Razzles are a thick, tasty ice cream treat in a cup and not the gum candy from the 80’s, Mija settled on a strawberry Razzle. I had to have the strawberry shortcake with ice cream. Since they also sell their shortcake biscuits and famous strawberry ice cream in quarts to go, we were even able to deliver we some to the porch of friends who have recently joined the ranks of the quarantined.

Mija with her Strawberry Razzle
Flamm Orchards Famous Strawberry Shortcake with Ice Cream

Related Links:

http://www.flammorchards.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Flamm-Orchards-140416935995156/

Local Home Shopping is Here!

Most of us are familiar with the home shopping channels on TV. I’ll even admit to shopping and using them from time to time. Let’s face it, they do have some good things. Many years ago, after I was in a car wreck, and getting around was painful, they were very helpful to me.

Fortunately, some of our local shops and boutiques in Southern Illinois are offering a shop at home option in response to the current pandemic and its associated restrictions on businesses.

Local favorites Perfectly Posh and Splitting Image Boutique, both in Marion. are doing live shows on Facebook similar to those the national shopping channels but on a much smaller scale. People can comment that they are purchasing an item and specify if they will pick it up or have it shipped to them.

The Rusty Nail in Salem, a craft and gift shop, has a personal shopper option. People set up a Facetime appointment to have someone walk through the store and help them to shop.

Hopefully, many of the local shops we know and love will be able to keep business going with some of these options until we get on the other side of this COVID-19 thing. Please remember that although these may not be the traditional ways of shopping, we still have some options to shop local and support our friends and neighbors.

Please visit the links below to locally owned shops, markets, and more in Southern Illinois. You can also access these via the ASOSI app or the menu of this website. Ones that have recently been known to offer some type of shopping access during this pandemic are notated with an (*)

Please let us know any ones we have missed so that they may be added…

Local Shops https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/local-shops/

Markets https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/markets/

Artisans https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/local-artisans-crafters/

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…

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.

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.