Thursday, June 8, 2017

Springfield- Land of Lincoln

I grew up in Illinois and enjoyed the few occasions we went to Springfield to see the Lincoln home and tomb. When my older kids were younger, I made the effort to bring them to New Salem, hoping they'd enjoy the log cabins and people dressed as early pioneers. Now it was Omar's turn. We only had the weekend, so we had to choose carefully to see the best places.  There are three that I think are the most family friendly.

The first place, where we spent half a day, was New Salem.  It's a town that has been rebuilt using the original foundations. While in his twenties, the future U.S. President made his living in this frontier village as a boatman, soldier in the Black Hawk War, general store owner, postmaster, surveyor, and rail splitter, and was first elected to the Illinois General Assembly. It includes these buildings as well as a school house. There is no set admission, but donations are encouraged.

When I'd been there before, we saw many more actors/volunteers, however it was a hot day and we only met the "school teacher," who was male and full of great stories about how it would have been back in the 1830s when Lincoln lived there. He had a small fire going in the huge fireplace and said it provided a draft which cooled off the cabin and took away the humidity.  Who would have known? He explained that Illinois was really the "wild west" of the day, yet it was a hub for gathering and early trade.

With a small museum and a film about Lincoln playing in the theatre all day, you can easily spend 45 minutes in the visitor center.  We even bought tickets for the evening outdoor performance behind this building, where we saw a great kids' production of Aladdin Jr. They provided bug spray because the mosquitoes were out in force. There was also a concession selling snacks and drinks. It turned out to be a fun evening.

The Lincoln Museum is really fun for families, with lots of interactive exhibits and wax figures.  Smaller kids can dress up in costumes and play with toys. Others will enjoy the movies and information on well designed displays.  Omar got a bit upset at seeing the slave market wax figures, as well as Lincolns doting on their bed ridden son just before his death, but otherwise, everything is tame by comparison. They offered a military discount, which I always like. Though there is no flash photography, you can take photos.  We ended up buying a t-shirt and Lincoln hat in the gift shop. I thought everything was pretty reasonably priced.

It was funny that we later ran into a Lincoln look-alike at Cozy Dog Diner and Omar wore his hat with Abe. Turned out to be a perfect photo op.  The chamber is doing a promotion this summer where you can look for Lincoln at local businesses, and I was told more information will be up on the Visit Springfield Facebook page. Be sure to check out the participating places doing the History Comes Alive Program too, which runs through August 13.

Our last stop was the Lincoln tomb where most of the family is buried, except for Robert who is buried at Arlington Cemetery. From the parking lot and from a distance you can see the monument, but the tomb is inside the monument, using the front door. When we visited, there were several tour groups so a narrator was giving a talk about Lincoln and his entombment, but I'm not sure if someone is there every day.

You walk through a corridor with bronze statues depicting different times in Lincoln's life.  It's very nicely done, with nothing scary. Outside was a bust of Lincoln with a stepstool in front. It's thought to be good luck to rub his nose.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Road Trip on Route 66

Summer is the season for road trips, and we have several planned.  The inspiration for these came from a National Parks website for shared heritage travel. I like the variety of themed itineraries on this site, and plan to come back for more tips. If you're someone who enjoys learning something on a vacation, this is for you.

This weekend we did the Illinois Route 66 trip, though we deviated a bit from the itinerary to include more places because we used the state brochure for the route also. Much of our drive was actually on I-55, with detours to the towns listed. In some cases we drove on the old route 66, which has now become frontage road or a town road. That's when it was great to put on our road trip playlist and drive with the windows down. Here's just a sample of what's on our list: Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Bee Gees, John Denver, and of course "Route 66" by Chuck Berry.  Road Trippers also has some highlights as well as the Roadside America app.  It seems like every website picks just a few sites, but once you arrive in town, you'll no doubt find other historic places or photo ops.

We stopped at Dwight for a meal and ate at the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant, where Linda was our waitress.  She found a unique Chicago Route 66 T-shirt for Omar. Food was great and the place is loaded with things to look at while you wait. Just a block away is the visitor center/gas station. We arrived after closing time, but we could still look through the windows at the old equipment and car.

At Atlanta, we loved the murals, enormous Paul Bunyon holding a hot dog, and old mill.  The highlight would have been The Route 66 Arcade Museum, but it was closed.  They will be open for the summer, so check the hours and bring your coins. I would have enjoyed playing some pinball with Omar.

Pontiac has a great route 66 museum which includes a variety of photos from the entire route on the upper floor.  Once you've looked at these, you may feel inspired to keep driving west. The town has murals all over, as well as cute mini trucks painted in different themes, so it's a great place to stretch your legs.

Springfield is a place you could spend several days. We visited a few of the presidential sites, but made time for a corn dog at Cozy Dog Drive-in. Imagine our surprise when Abe Lincoln came through the door and ordered lunch.  I wasn't sure what to order, but the locals standing in line suggested the cheeseburger and cozy dog, so that's what I tried.  Both were very tasty.

Now that we've done this small portion, I'd love to see more.  The route has a bike map for anyone with loads of stamina, though I think we'll stick with the automobile.  We had a couple friends who did this on a tandem two years ago and blogged about it. How about you?  Have you done Route 66 in any state?  

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Powerful Breakfast for Fasting Muslims...and Everyone Else

I've been with my husband for almost 13 years of Ramadan.  The hardest part for him has always been eating enough at breakfast to get through 17 hours of fasting.  I searched blogs and recipe books, written by Muslims, but the best solution comes from a combination of sources unrelated to Muslims. I found advice from weightlifters and people with successful weight loss. What a bonus if it keeps weight off and gives energy.

It all boils down to protein and fiber. And the best part is that it can be made ahead. It's a steel cut oatmeal mix. This is accompanied by a vegetable juice, made in a juicer.

Power Oatmeal

4 cups steel cut oats
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup couscous
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut sugar

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container. When you're ready to cook it up, mix 1 cup power oatmeal with 3 cups water or milk (you can use almond milk or coconut milk) in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Then turn burner to low and cook uncovered for 25 minutes, adding more liquid if it becomes too thick. Be sure to stir this as it cooks. At this point, you can eat it or put it in the refrigerator for the next day.  I find this enough for 4 servings.

Top with greek yogurt, nuts, and mixed berries.

Power Juice

2 stalks celery
1 cucumber
2 carrots
handful of spinach
1 beet
2 apples
1 tbsp. chunk fresh ginger

This makes 2 large glasses of juice.

If you still feel hungry, a hard boiled egg added to this combination might help.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cooking for Ramadan

We're not even a week into Ramadan, and I'm already tired of cooking the same old thing.  My husband likes to eat a large variety of foods, so everyday cooking goes out the window during this month.  Some days I feel like a short order chef, though I try to smile and just carry on.  Many people feel sorry for the people fasting all day.  I mean, who would purposely choose to eat breakfast at 3 am, then wait to eat dinner at nearly 8:30 pm?  A lot of Muslims living in the midwestern US, that's who. Depending on where you live, the fast can be longer or shorter because it goes from before sunrise to sunset.  He eats it, but I cook it. So I thought I'd share some of the recipes I'm using this week for dinner, which is called iftar.

He starts with water, strong coffee and dates- they have to be American grown California Medjool because I like to support local growers, and many of the dates grown in the Israel/West Bank region, have been suspect to using children in the processing. You can read about it here. Last year there was an effort to boycott dates of "unknown origin."

Then it's crepes, though called different things in different countries. There are many recipes, but this one is very close to the one my mom always made. Sometimes I add a teaspoon of vanilla, or change out some of the all purpose flour to include some wheat flour and wheat germ. He likes to eat them smothered in honey.

Next it's a cup of soup.  Lentil is his favorite because it's high in protein. This recipe is good on its own, but I often add a Tbsp. of curry, just because he likes it a bit spicier. And I usually clean out the vegetable drawer with whatever we have because I can hide vegetables in this he won't normally eat (like broccoli) because it goes in the Vitamix. Shhh...don't tell him.

Lentil Peanut Soup

Today I got out a recipe for Lentil Peanut Soup. I received this from Astrid, a woman I met while living in Denmark.  She was from Rhodesia. I wrote that on the recipe. It doesn't even exist under that name anymore. Now it's Zimbabwe.  She and her husband were white, and had come to Denmark because her husband found work at a garage doing bodywork. I always liked eating at their house because she used a variety of recipes, some African, but others were from her Danish/Dutch heritage.  If you want to try this, here's the recipe:

1 cup red lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
2 carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
2 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 can diced or crushed tomatoes 
5 cups broth (I use bone broth made from chicken carcass)
1 bay leaf

1 Tbsp. grated ginger
1-2 Tbsp. peanut butter

Saute the veggies in ghee or olive oil until onion is translucent.  Add lentils, barley, spices, tomatoes and broth.  Stir and cook until everything is cooked through.  I use a pressure cooker, but it can be cooked stove top for about an hour.  Add ginger and peanut butter. Then blend in Vitamix if you want to hide the veggies too.  It's pretty tasty, though the peanut butter overpowers any veggie taste. 

After the soup, we're on to the main course, which has been beef tips in gravy, with peas, and rice.  I make enough to last three days. Sometimes just before bed, he'll have a yogurt to top it off.

Want more recipes?  Here is the article from 2012 the local Milwaukee newspaper did.  The recipes listed are staples for us during Ramadan. The sambusa can also be made using tortillas and baked or fried.  Sometimes I freeze them and just take out a few every day.  Here's a Kenyan/American recipe with tips on how to do that. You don't have to be Muslim or wait for Ramadan to eat these recipes.  Let me know if you try them.