Sunday, September 6, 2009
I have made mention of the theme of our 2009 visit to North Dakota: Creature Comforts. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I get older and creakier and crankier, I tend to place more emphasis on the things that really matter: good food, comfortable clothes, frequent stops. I have a secret theory that people who attend bird festivals feel this way too. Most of us aren't the springy chickens we used to be. So I resolved to take matters into my own hands on my Dawn Outings to Kidder County. If you're going to drag somebody out of bed while it's still dark, trudge hundreds of yards through soaked grass to a place where they may or may not get a decent look at a teeny bird circling way overhead in the rain,
There Had Better Be Pie.
Yes, there were boxed lunches in the van, and there were hand wipes and paper towels and bottles of water, but there was No Pie.
We had all eaten boxed lunches before. There is no glory in a boxed lunch. There is No Pie, No Coffee, No Warm Buttered Carrots. No Bun. No Mashed Potatoes or Meatballs, and definitely no Gravy.
So we stopped at the Woodworth Diner. And the Robinson Diner. And we had Pie.
We shrugged off our wet clothes and settled into the vinyl chairs and fully appreciated the chance to sit down in a warm dry place and eat Pie.
And Knoephla soup, which is a soup with Knephlas in it. It took me two years to find this out, but Knoephlas are flour dumplings, and the soup is a buttery creamy chowder with diced potatoes, carrots and a chicken base that was brought over by German emigrants from the Russian Empire and is absolutely Out of This World. Especially when 10 AM feels like 2 PM because you've been up since 4 AM. Does that make any sense?
Knephla soup is a North Dakota specialty. Most North Dakota specialty foods are white. And they stick to yer ribs. Gimme gimme gimme.
I was charmed by these chairs, made by a local man well renowned for his ironwork.
Those are old tractor seats, and there are casters or wheelchair wheels on the bottom. I plopped down and rode them around the linoleum floor of the diner, which seemed to be something the diner ladies had seen done before. I wasn't at all worried about looking like a fool. That has already been established many times. It's too bad the chairs wouldn't fit into my luggage. I don't know the significance of the green rubber duckies suspended from the bottom of the chair; they just were.
Here is the sign-up sheet for cafe duty. Note the sponsorship from Woodworth Farmers Grain Co. Townspeople come together to make sure somebody's always working at the cafe, to keep it open and available as a social center. Even if they don't get paid. It's worth it to them to band together so everyone can have a place to go eat that isn't their own kitchen table. There are no other options for a lot of folks who can't get around any more, especially in the depths of winter. North Dakotans are like that--they do what needs to be done for the community. Here's the Hotel, Cafe and Beauty Shop in Pettibone, North Dakota. Everyone needs to eat, get their hair cut, might as well throw in a couple of beds while we're at it.
As if that weren't endearing enough:
Full disclosure: On the off chance that someone who works at or frequents the diners in the prairie pothole region is reading, I must tell you that this rhubarb pie was from the Robinson diner, not the Woodworth diner. Anyone who lives there would know that. Both were equally delicious, both home made. Mmmm. Robinson adds a generous twirl of soft serve ice cream.
Liam thinks, and announced in pure ShoomStyle, that the Woodworth Diner ladies make the Universe's Best Grilled Cheese.
"Oh, don't take a picture of me!" she laughed. As if. She's way too cute to escape.
My field trip participants came back to base the happiest of any of them. They'd seen wonderful birds (Sprague's pipits, Baird's sparrows, ferruginous hawks), compared the scent of white and purple lilacs, and Had Pie. Oh, how I wish I could have dinner there tonight.