Monday, July 7, 2014

Huskin' it through Nebraska

Normally I start Monday’s blog by bidding a fond farewell to last week’s state, but it seems a little inappropriate this time since we’re not actually leaving Michigan.  Besides, after all the fun we had last week who would really want to say good-bye?  Nonetheless, we’re going to move our celebration away from our home state and move on the smack dab middle of the country (the city of Kearney is exactly halfway between Boston and San Francisco) to The Cornhusker State of Nebraska.  I can’t say that I was overly familiar with the offerings of Nebraska (other than it had a whole lotta corn) before I started my research, but was pleasantly surprised by all I found when I started to dig in.   So if you have aspirations of being rich, like making drinks out of powder or have used a TV tray for its intended purpose you’re going to want to stick around for Nebraska week!

There’s no denying that agriculture plays a HUGE role in Nebraska’s make-up as nearly 93% of its land is devoted to agricultural purposes – the most of any state in the Union.  It ranks third in corn production and corn is so important that The University of Nebraska even adopted ‘The Cornhuskers’ as their nickname (complete with mascots Herbie Husker and Lil Red).  What you may not be as familiar with is with the part of Nebraska referred to as The Sandhills.  Described sometimes as Nebraska’s Desert, the Sand Hills (both versions are considered ‘proper’ spelling) is a region of mixed-grass prarie on grass-stabilized sand dunes in north-central Nebraska covering just over one quarter of the state.  I will admit that I had never heard of this before and was amazed with the pictures as it was not what I pictured Nebraska looking like.  I myself thought more along the lines of this and was excited to share both of these extremely different aspects of the land with the kiddos.

The kids on the other hand, have heard enough about corn and farming after we’ve successfully navigated through nearly all the Midwest now.  But two words sold them on Nebraska for the whole week (and me too honestly – I have such big plans!) – Kool Aid.   Invented by Edwin Perkins in Hastings in 1927, it was preceded by Perkins liquid concentrate “Fruit Smack” until he discovered a way to remove the liquid and leave only a powder, which he then named Kool Aid.  It’s even Nebraska’s official state soft drink.  Trust me when I say there is going to be a whole lotta Kool Aid used in a whole lotta ways around here this week.  If that wasn’t a big enough culinary contribution, Nebraska also lays claim to the first TV Dinner!  In 1954, Swanson employee Gerry Thomas came up with an answer to the problem of what to do with all of the Thanksgiving Turkey leftovers the company had.  “Thomas had just seen the airplane-friendly compartmentalized aluminum trays used by Pan American Airways and introduced the idea to the Swanson brothers back home in Nebraska. They packaged turkey, corn bread stuffing, peas and sweet potatoes and hung their advertising campaign on the newest craze to hit the nation: TV. That year, Swanson sold more than 25 million TV dinners to hungry Americans, at 98 cents per package. TV dinners were a hit.” ( .  Have a feeling these may be making an appearance as well…

Nebraska is also known for taking care of its own.  In December of 1917, Catholic Priest Edward J. Flanagan borrowed $90 to pay the rent on a boarding house. Flanagan welcomed all boys, regardless of their race or religion. By the spring, 100 boys were living at the Home.  In 1921, Father Flanagan purchased Overlook Farm on the outskirts of Omaha and moved his Boys’ Home there where it eventually became known as “Boys Town”  The organization, which promotes  social preparedness as part of its structure, has helped countless children and even spawned a major motion picture.
Just for my Dad, I made a point of telling the kids all about Nebraska native Richard N. Cabela, who turned to national newspapers and magazines  after an ad he placed in a local newspaper for "12 hand tied flies for $1” failed to sell the items.  The national exposure built a loyal customer base, inspiring him to create a catalog that offered all types of fishing gear.  By 1961, the idea had taken off with the end result being Cabela’s which has a catalog business and stores with annual revenue of over $3 billion.  I think it’s safe to say the Kosakowski’s are responsible for at least some of this J

Another huge corporation based in Nebraska is ConAgra Foods.  The parent company for brands such as Hunt’s, Reddi Whip, Peter Pan, Pam, Egg Beaters and Chef Boyardee (to just name a few!) was formed in Grand Island, in 1919 under the name Nebraska Consolidated Mills.  (The name changed to ConAgra – standing for consolidated agriculture – in 1971)   After purchasing Ralcorp in 2013, ConAgra became the biggest private-label packaged food business in North America, with sales of $18 billion annually.

Speaking of billions…  The man that claims the #4 spot on Forbes billionaire list hails from OmahaWarren Buffet whose nicknames include “Wizard of Omaha", "Oracle of Omaha" and the "Sage of Omaha” has spent his entire life in Nebraska and is known for his  adherence to the value investing philosophy and for his personal frugality despite his immense wealth as well his passion for philanthropy, most notably in his work through “The Giving Pledge” with Bill Gates.  He is CEO for Berkshire Hathaway (based in Omaha) which is the fifth largest public company in the world.  Hmm, wonder if there’s something in the water in Nebraska that I need to get my hands on for inspiration for my own big money maker. Living in Nebraska even means you may become President – just ask Gerald Ford!

While it may not have raked in billions, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which made its debut on May 19, 1883 in Omaha definitely made an impact on the tourism budget in Nebraska during its heyday.  Creator William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) turned real life adventure into the first and greatest outdoor western show featuring reenactments of history combined with displays of showmanship, sharp-shooting, hunts, racing, or rodeo style events. Each show was 3–4 hours long and attracted crowds of thousands of people daily.  I have a feeling a few games of “Cowboys and Indians” may take place this week when I share this with Noah.  And I have a feeling my own little female dare devil may be excited to learn more about Annie Oakley and her role in the show.

And of course, I haven’t forgotten about the food!  After taking a bit of a cooking hiatus the past couple of weeks while everyone was dispersed and then with all of our business with Michigan, I was excited to get my hands dirty in the kitchen again and I’ve found plenty of fun Nebraska stuff for us to try out.  I kicked it off tonight with the one “must do” Nebraska dish, the runza.  In Nebraska, these little babies are so important they have their chain own restaurant that features them.  Very similar to our pasties from last week, they are a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, pork, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions and other seasonings.  The Nebraska version is usually baked in a rectangular shape.  I came across a TON of different recipes and versions but used this one tonight.  They went great with the Lemon Glazed Corn on the Cob I also made (because you can’t do Nebraska without corn, I figured).  And for dessert, Kool Aid Pie!  I know, it sounds crazy, but don’t knock it until you try it – so ridiculously easy and adaptable considering how many different flavors of Kool Aid there are out there!

So I’ve got the kids on board (and my Dad for that matter) what about the rest of you, my faithful readers?  Have I convinced you we’re going to have some fun with Nebraska this week?  I promise you’re going to want to stick around – I have some very colorful and hair raising things planned.  (hehehe)  So until then…

Nebraska Fun Fact of the Day:  Between Northport and Ogallala on Highway 26 there is a shoe fence. The fence line, which runs for miles and miles, is adorned with mounted upside down boots and shoes.

The kids are so excited about this

Lunch today (so not a staple around the Gatchel's, but when celebrating Nebraska and ConAgra...)

Speaking of not a staple... ;-)  My kids are through the roof

Ready to make kool aid pie

Step One - Sweetened Condensed Milk

Step Two - Add and whisk in kool aid

Step 3 - Add cool whip

Step 4 - enjoy the leftovers

Thanks Miss Morgan - our last Michigan post card arrived today (Funny note - Morgan actually mailed this from Mackinac Island 3 weeks ago and it JUST arrived today)

My own personal cornhuskers!

They were excited to try this out

And I'll admit they did a pretty good job

Nebraska wall is up

This is the results of when I told them about The Wild West Show - cowboys, Indians, buffalo hunting (and at one point I believe there were aliens...)


Our kool aid pie

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