I had the opportunity to visit Todd’s hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, this weekend. I didn’t know what to expect, really, other than flatland and corn fields.
I was half right.
There’s a lot of corn up there, lining the roads almost as soon as you leave any metro areas, and wheat is plentiful, too! It blows around and gets to where it lines the streets, cornfields and even finds root in bushes planted at the cemetery (we were in town for the unfortunate reason of a funeral).
But Lincoln didn’t seem all that flat to me. Apparently it’s in a bit of a basin and there’s a gently rolling hill sort of quality to the parts that I saw (Lincoln and the highway to and from the Omaha airport).
While in town we had time to do some sight-seeing and the first place we stopped was the historic Haymarket District. Including the railroad station and several blocks of warehouses converted into shops, restaurants, galleries and lofts, it’s full of old, picturesque brick buildings that kept my camera and I happily clicking away. At least, that is, after we stopped into the From Nebraska gift shop to find batteries.
We mostly walked around and looked in windows, not really shopping (our checked bag weighed-in at 45 lbs, after all, not much room for souvenirs), we did see one store we just had to take a look it: Licorice International. How much licorice could there really be? Enough to have an entire store dedicated to it?
In a word: Lots.
They carry licorice candies from 13 countries, both the traditional black licorice as well as the licorice-like twists in a variety of colors–I even saw some licorice root available for sale!
We were able to taste an Kookaburra Strawberry Twist from Austrailia that was quite tasty, but I’m afraid I made a bit of a fuss when I saw monkey-shaped licorice. A squeal might have escaped my lips. I was even a bit giddy at the possibility of tasting one (turns out most of the items are available to taste if you but ask). The ears and such are traditional black licorice but the yellow muzzle? It’s banana flavored! And with a texture that reminds you of circus peanuts in the best possible way. Even though the Dutch Ape Head licorice only came in 1 lb bags, I had to buy them if only for the novelty factor. Imagine my surprise when we got home and found them utterly addictive.
The rear of the spacious warehouse at Licorice International is used for packaging and shipping orders that keep them quite busy, as I understand it.
“Knee High by 4th of July”
As mentioned above, cornfields are plentiful. We stopped by the family farm which was being rented and worked by a local farmer. Even though my own grandfather was a farmer and I’d seen his fields off and on, growing up, he dealt in strawberries, peppers and beans. Corn fields are another sight to behold.
The phrase ‘knee high by the 4th of July’ refers to a benchmark in the growing season. The corn was quite a bit higher from where we were standing; more like that line from Oklahoma–as high as an elephant’s eye. Well, maybe a young elephant.
As we wrapped up our tour of the Haymarket, we stepped back into the From Nebraska gift shop and were greeted by a wall of wine bottles. As the store purports to carry only items made in Nebraska, I was astonished to find so many different brands and types of wine available from around the state!
We noticed Plum and Rhubarb wine as well as the usual reds and whites, though the varieties were a bit foreign. The store appears to offer tastings and there were signs posted of various festivals in the area (one that morning, in fact, though it was a bit of drive to get to and too late in the day to start). There was also a map of the state that showed over 20 wineries sprinkled around the state (many accessible off of I-80) and half a dozen tasting rooms besides.
Our next trip up there will have to include at least a few of them!
A Trio of Local Favorites
With only 2 days in town we had a lot of nostalgia for Todd to catch up on. First was a Runza–a “loose meat and cabbage sandwich”–sold by a regional chain by the same name. Now, “loose meat” does not a appetizing thought create, yet that’s how I heard it described several times over the weekend. While it’s not incorrect, I prefer to call it a ground-beef and cabbage hand-held pie. Either way, it turned out to be yummy when we did get one after a trip to the Children’s Zoo.
Monkey & a Runza
Todd still maintains the bierocks I made for New Year’s Day were better but, frankly, I think it comes down to the seasoning. Runza seems to concentrate on pepper alone whereas we added ginger, paprika, nutmeg and caraway seeds along with cooking the cabbage in beer. We also didn’t cook the mixture until it was mush and sort of a grey color all the way around. There’s some benefit to homemade over mass production.
Another well-remembered spot was Vanetino’s. Known from their excellent pizza and rich tomato sauces, it wasn’t exactly as he remembered. The location we went to featured an extensive buffet that included barbecue, Asian and Mexican options in addition to pizza, pasta and salads. Something definitely gets lost with all that “variety” but we hear good things about the smaller locations and the pizza delivery.
Finally, a trip to the grocery store yeilded a salad dressing infamous with the locals: Dorothy Lynch. Diluted tomato soup is the primary ingredient in the sweet and spicy French-style dressing. This got packed in our checked back with the other over-3-ounce contraband and made it safely home. I think Todd is looking forward to salads this summer!