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2/18/2009 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson

Well, it’s that time again. Here comes the report of my annual extended vacation in the Omaha, Neb. area. I left Minnewaukan February 10 at 5:15 a.m., taking the scenic route through Maddock to pick up my traveling partner, retired baker Art Duren, who rode along to visit his daughter, Jan, who lives in Omaha. ND 19 was slippery from Minnewaukan to the junction of ND 19 and ND 30 west of Minnewaukan. After that the roads were perfect all the way.

We took US 281 south to Aberdeen, SD avoiding the Red River Valley because I-29 was reportedly slippery. At Aberdeen we took SD 12 east to I-29.

The temperature was 35 degrees above zero all the way to Flandreau, SD, where the sun broke through and dissipated the clouds. The temperature went to 42 almost immediately. By the time we crossed into Iowa at about 2:10 p.m. the temperature was 56. When we arrived in Omaha, the temperature was 64 above zero. Kids were playing outside in their T-shirts. We ran out of snow about at the South Dakota border. We saw a huge herd of deer north of Ellendale and lots of pheasants.

We didn’t see any deer south of the North Dakota line. We only saw a handful of pheasants in South Dakota. Maybe that was because the wildlife didn’t stand out against the snow, which was absent except for small patches in the ditches and trees.

Like Art, I go there to visit relatives. My brother, Jim and his wife, Sue, live in a western suburb of Omaha on a man-made lake in the vicinity of Waterloo. It’s about 21 miles west of downtown Omaha.

His three kids live in the area and one of her two kids is also a resident of Omaha. There are six grandchildren and one on the way.

Upon arrival we were treated to a supper prepared by Jim’s son-in-law, Jeff Benak, who knows his way around a kitchen. He prepared a roasted beef brisket rubbed with spices, mashed potatoes, homemade baked beans and salad. Just before serving, he turned up the heat on the brisket to give it a crust and smoke filled the kitchen and living room. I thought maybe he was going to give us a burned offering, but it turned out he knew what he was doing because everything turned out perfectly for the 13 of us there for supper.

The weather was too beautiful to ignore, so I went outside in my shirtsleeves and inspected the new back yard that was installed between the house and the lake. The drop in elevation between the house and the lake is too great so it’s terraced. The original terrace structure consisted of railroad ties that were placed there by the previous owner. Over time the railroad ties rotted and there was danger the terraces would collapse, so they had to be replaced.

The new terrace walls consist of red concrete blocks, each weighing more than 100 pounds. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these blocks making up the three terrace barriers, which are at least 100 feet long and five feet high. It’s an engineering feat that rivals the Pyramids at Giza.

Wednesday morning I set out for the Hy-Vee store on Maple and 156th.

There I had the Country Sampler, which consisted of three eggs over easy, two strips of perfectly fried bacon, two nicely spiced link sausages, hash browns and two biscuits with gravy. This huge meal came on two plates. Cost was $7.49 with coffee (99c) and tax (38c).

That tells me the sales tax in Omaha on eat-in food is 5.5%. I also spent 50c on an Omaha World-Herald, Omaha’s daily newspaper.

It is estimated the Omaha metropolitan area contains a population of 830,000 people. The Fargo metropolitan area has an estimated 200,000 people. So Omaha is about four times the size of Fargo. The Forum at Fargo has about the same number of pages as the Omaha World Herald, so that’s definitely a feather in The Forum’s cap.

We were going to have 15 for supper that night so we decided to eat in to save money. I found some ribeye steak at Super Saver for $4.98 per pound, about $4 per pound cheaper than we normally find it in Devils Lake. I couldn’t pass up a bargain like that, so the supper guests had to settle for what I found. With the steaks we had baked potatoes, salad, fresh sliced fruit and a relish tray with shrimp and seafood sauce. The only dessert available was cheesecake with fresh strawberries. When you can’t afford to eat out, you have to make do at home. The steak chef was Bob Case of Madison, Wisc., Sue’s brother. General Sue, as I call her, handled all the other meal details. There’s nothing she can’t organize.

It’s like Grand Central Station at Jim and General Sue’s. The phone rings constantly. The grandchildren are playing and running. Jim and Sue’s eight-month-old Golden Retriever never stops chewing on whatever she can get her jaws around. If Jeff’s dog, Peanut is there, the two dogs romp and play with each other. It’s chaos. I love it!

You might have noticed I didn’t mention anything about a noon lunch.

I generally skip noon meals in an attempt to keep my weight under control. Eating a big breakfast also helps.

Thursday morning I stopped at another Hy-Vee store and had two eggs over easy, two toast, three link sausages and hash browns. I didn’t quite finish the hash browns because they weren’t too tasty. Hash browns should be browned, not just warm and white and tasteless.

I bought a couple pineapples for $1.99 each at Aldi, a food store I had never been in before. It was different. There are no shelves. The food is stacked in its boxes to make aisles. Most of the items are not well-known brands. The prices are pretty competitive. Those $1.99 pineapples got my attention. They charged 10c for a plastic bag to put them in, plus 1c tax. You could bring your own bag to save money, which I could have done. I’ll do that next time. The sales slip says the tax is 7% on the bag, so the total cost came to 11c. There was no tax on the pineapples.

For supper that night we went to the HuHot Mongolian Grill at 177th and Center. There were 10 of us at $12.49. That’s expensive, all right, by our standards back here where living costs are low. But it isn’t expensive by Omaha standards. Anyway, it’s worth it.

You go through a buffet line with two bowls and pick out slices of pork, beef, chicken, sausage (spicy and mild), lamb, etc., cod, calamari (squid), swordfish, imitation crab, other fish, scallops, onions, cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, squash, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, cilantro, celery, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, tofu, green peppers, water chestnuts, pineapple, baby corn, peas, potatoes, black beans, Chinese noodles, Thai noodles and Japanese noodles. Then you ladle on sauces from mild to hot.

The bowls are taken to the grill where the chefs empty them on the very hot grill. There the food you’ve picked out is stir fried until it’s done. Then you take it to your table and enjoy. You can go back through the buffet line until you’re full. I piled my bowls high so only one trip was necessary. Good, good, good!

HuHot is a chain with quite a few locations in 14 states. There’s one in Fargo at 1801 45th Street SW.

I have to add a little confusion. The sales tax on that meal came to 7%. So I’m not sure what the sales tax is across the city. Do you suppose different areas have different rates of taxation? Or that they charge less sales tax for breakfast? The sales slips I saved all state that the city was Omaha. I don’t know.

Friday morning I drove around trying to find a place that serves something other than the normal American breakfast. I had a hankering for maybe a couple hamburgers or a Polish sausage with sauerkraut.

Nope. No luck. I was getting pretty hungry so I had to settle for a sausage croissant meal at Burger King. It was OK, but nothing to write home about, so I won’t.

Wednesday and Thursday the weather was pretty nice. The highs were about 45 and the lows were in the teens. There was no wind. All week long the news media reported there would be significant snowfall in the Omaha area on Friday.

They were right. It began snowing about 9 a.m. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get around with up to 10 inches forecast, so by 9 a.m. I had finished shopping for that night’s supper and high-tailed it to Jim and Sue’s to hole up and wait out the storm. It quit snowing about 2:30 p.m. About six inches fell.

I prepared spaghetti with garlic and shrimp for supper. Also included with the spaghetti were capers, breadcrumbs, diced tomatoes, parsley and parmesan cheese. It was pretty good even if I have to say so myself.

February 14 at 6 a.m. I picked up Art Duren at the home of his daughter Jan and we drove home. The trip home was uneventful, and that always pleases me.

Gas was $2.09 at Minnewaukan, $1.99 at Watertown, SD, $1.88 in Omaha, $1.78 in Sioux City, Iowa and $1.88 at Fargo.

Hollys and I celebrated our 31st anniversary Saturday. I celebrated by driving home and she celebrated at home. She chose not to go on the adventure to Omaha. She probably regrets that decision after reading this exciting account of the trip.

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