All Shish, No Kebab

One year ago, when we were just beginning the onerous task of preparing for our big move and South Dakota was this great, exciting unknown, I learned about chislic and other regional food favorites of the Midwest. Chislic is simply deep fried cubes of meat, liberally seasoned with garlic salt and other spices. It is traditionally served on toothpicks and accompanied by Saltine crackers. Think of it as a shish kebab that is all shish, no kebab. While its origins are open to debate, most believe GermanRussian emigrants in southeastern South Dakota – some pinpoint Freeman, and have christened a 30-mile radius around the town “Chislic Circle” – are to thank for the dish, which has become an icon of South Dakota. Lamb, beef, and venison are the meat of choice. “Shashlyk” is a popular dish of cubed meat originating in the Crimea region of Russia, so it seems reasonable that this is what evolved into the beloved regional delicacy few people outside of South Dakota have even heard of.

The South Dakota State Legislature passed Senate Bill 96 in 2018, making chislic the official state nosh.

I’m all about trying regional cuisines, and was eager to sample chislic when we moved here. It didn’t take me long to find it, either. Despite claims that chislic is confined to East River – local slang for the area east of the Missouri River, i.e., eastern South Dakota – it’s pretty readily available in the western part of the state. I’ve had the pleasure of trying about half a dozen versions since moving, and I’ve gotta say, I’m a fan. It’s hard to go wrong with fried cubes of meat!

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You might notice in this photo that the meat is not skewered. Only once have I had it served with toothpicks (and it has never been accompanied by crackers, Saltines or otherwise). Out in West River, restaurants usually serve chislic with a side of dipping sauce – often a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. And the meat has always been beef. Sometimes it’s breaded, other times it’s naked. The only thing consistent across the board? It’s always delicious. The photo above was, hands down, my favorite. The meat was so tender it practically melted in your mouth and was perfectly seasoned. This plate didn’t come with any sort of dipping sauce and it didn’t need it. Hats off to The Gaslight Saloon in Rockerville for dishing up my favorite chislic (so far, anyway). Thirsty’s in Rapid City is a close second, and Jake’s Good Time Place in Pierre (technically East River) was both tasty and skewered, so bonus points for them. Regardless, I haven’t had a bad dish of chislic yet. My next goal is to make a homemade version.


We’ve enjoyed a fine stretch of spring weather the past few days. It’s been in the 70s, comfortable enough to stroll around without long sleeves. After the winter we just had, that’s a novelty. We took advantage on Saturday by hiking to the top of Buzzard’s Roost. It’s a great spot with breathtaking views of the Black Hills, located just five miles west of town.

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By late afternoon dark storm clouds were piling up to the west and we were treated to our first thunder and lightning of the year. Nothing major, and most of it stayed to the north, but it marks the beginning of storm-chasing season. One of my favorites!

Oh, and speaking of storms…

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Yeah. Winter isn’t quite finished with us yet.

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This is a rare Friday where I haven’t carpooled to work with Tara. My criteria for driving in solo has evolved quite a bit this winter. Initially, if there were even a few icy spots on the road, I’d grab a ride with her in the truck. But after six weeks where the temperature has only cracked 32° a couple of times, there’s pretty much always snow and ice on the road. That’s kind of forced my hand, so now I’m game to take the Mazda as long as a ton of snow hasn’t fallen overnight and isn’t forecast to begin falling before 5:00. I have to say, I’ve gotten a lot better at navigating my car through snow and ice and can’t help but feel a sense of pride over this accomplishment, even though it’s probably pretty basic for a lot of you. Hey, living in climates where snow is a rarity for three decades dulls your driving senses, so I think I’m entitled to feel good about this newfound skill!

It’s supposed to snow again overnight, but the 3-5″ and blizzard conditions they were predicting yesterday has been downgraded to a couple of inches, so it looks like we’re dodging a bullet. I have to admit, like so many other locals (and probably the entire Midwest), I’m actually looking forward to spring. I won’t say I’ve had my fill of snow and cold – that’ll never happen! – but it will be nice to venture outside without fear of frostbite. Plus, we’ve had 50 inches of snow since October (normal for the entire season is 42″ and we ain’t done yet) so, you know, I can’t complain about a lack of the fluffy white stuff.

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Kinda looks like Mount Hood, but it’s the sidewalk in downtown Rapid City.

I will say, living here has given me a newfound appreciation for spring and summer – seasons that I never much cared for living in the PNW. Probably because I was always  a bit underwhelmed by winter out there and always wanted more. It was never cold enough or snowy enough for my liking, so by the time March rolled around and our chances of seeing any exciting weather for the next eight months were pretty much dead, I grieved with the same passion I might experience laying a loved one to rest. That is so not the case in South Dakota! If we didn’t see another snowflake until November I would still be completely satisfied with this winter. So yeah, I’m actually looking forward to spring and summer for maybe the first time in my life, and all the possibilities that accompany warm weather: hiking and camping and grilling outside and Summer Nights concerts downtown and, of course, those spectacular (and ominous) thunderstorms that roll across the Great Plains unleashing their fury. And I’m sure, six months from now, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the first snowfall again. It’s great living in a place where you can appreciate all the seasons instead of just a couple of ’em!


You know what else I’m looking forward to? This magnificent product they were discussing on the local news a few days ago.

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Isn’t it beautiful?! Heinz is coming out with this mustard-mayonnaise hybrid (and a mayonnaise-BBQ sauce mashup called, naturally, Mayocue) on the heels of its successful Mayochup (mayonnaise/ketchup) product launch last year.

Scoff if you will, but I’m excited for this product! Back in 2012, Tara and I went to a street festival in Portland and grabbed a couple of reindeer meat hot dogs (because this was a street festival in Portland). The vendor had squeeze bottles of condiments in which to top your Rudolph dog (for lack of a better term) and one of them was a delicious concoction that he was super cagey about. He wouldn’t admit that it was a mustard-mayo combo, even when pressed, but obviously it was a mustard-mayo combo. I thought that was a genius idea then, so I am thrilled that Heinz is rolling out this product nationally next month.

I mean, I suppose you could always make your own rather than shelling out $3.49 for a bottle, but in this fast-paced and hectic world, who’s got time for that?! I, for one, am all about convenience. Plus, I’m sure the scientists in the Heinz food laboratory spent countless hours perfecting the ratio to get the formula exactly right. I trust their expertise a whole lot more than my sure-to-be-foolhardy attempt at mixing just the right amounts of mayonnaise and mustard together to achieve the perfect flavor profile.

This all might sound a little tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not kidding. I’m already clearing a prominent spot on my refrigerator shelf in which to showcase Mayomust!

Connecting the Dot’s

The moment we arrived in South Dakota last summer, we were inundated with pretzels.  They popped up everywhere we went, ubiquitous bags with a bold red logo. We had never heard of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels before, but it quickly became apparent they were a “Pride of Dakota.”

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I am not exaggerating: they were everywhere. Gas stations. Hardware stores.  Gift shops. Meat markets (and by that I mean butcher shops, not pick-up joints). Meat markets (and this time I do mean pick-up joints). At first, we didn’t bite. Literally. A pretzel is a pretzel is a pretzel, right? They’re crunchy and salty and, if I’m being honest, kinda boring. Not nearly as satisfying as a potato chip or a Triscuit or a Cheez-It. Hell, they even play second fiddle to Pepperidge Farms’ Flavor Blasted Xplosive Pizza flavored Goldfish crackers, and stickler for spelling that I am, that’s saying a lot.

Then one afternoon we were out shopping. I can’t remember what I was standing in line to buy – probably a miter saw or case of spark plugs or somethin’ – and there was a bowl of Dot’s next to the cash register with a sign that said, EAT ME.

After smirking a little, because I’ll always be a 12 y/o at heart, I decided to give ’em a try. See what all the fuss was about.

ONE BITE AND I WAS HOOKED.

These pretzels, guys. They are indescribable. A flavor xplosion much more intense than anything Pepperidge Farms ever bagged up. The secret to Dot’s? SPICES. There’s more than just salt flavoring these amazing little corkscrew-shaped nuggets from heaven. The exact mixture of spices is a secret – Dot won’t divulge that info (yes, she’s a real person, from a small town in North Dakota you’ve probably never heard of, who decided that regular pretzels were boring (see above) and figured she could come up with something better, so she puttered around her kitchen, experimenting with different seasoning combinations until she got it just right (and isn’t that the most North Dakota thing ever!?)) – but there’s definitely a hint of ranch dressing in there (hello, buttermilk!), and garlic and onion, and a touch of cayenne to give them a slight burn. It’s a complex flavor profile that will have you wondering why nobody else thought to MacGyver up pretzels before!

With all those secret herbs and spices, Dot is like the Colonel Sanders of the snack world, minus the all-white wardrobe.

I’m not saying these things are particularly good for you. Anything that contains carboxymethyicellulose can’t be! But one bite in and you won’t care, because you have just found Utopia, my friend. A land of unicorns and rainbows and the most delicious pretzels in the world. Forget the 72 afterlife virgins you’ve been promised if you’re Muslim; you’d trade them all in for one bag of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels if you could. These are true Paradise.

Suffice it to say, we count ourselves among Dot’s biggest fans now. There is always a bag (or five) in our cupboards. And, we’ve been spreading the Dot’s love! Sending them to family and friends far and farther. Just today, I had four bags delivered to my former Fuel coworkers back in Camas, Washington. Apparently the moment Hana opened the UPS box, 20 colleagues descended upon her en masse, demanding their share of pretzels, too. And now there are 20 more Dot’s fans in the world, only they’re kinda out of luck, because the snack is a lot harder to find in the Pacific Northwest. If you walk into a hardware store in Portland looking for pretzels, you’re going to be stuck with nails and electrical tape and stuff. How boring! One more reason I am #teammidwest now.

If you’ve never tried Dot’s, I feel sorry for you. But fortunately, there’s this marvelous invention called the internet. Dot’s has a website (which I linked to above). Dot’s accepts all major credit cards. (And no, Dot’s did not pay me to endorse their product – though I wouldn’t turn down a few free bags of pretzels for all this publicity.

D’ya hear me, Dot?

That Voodoo That I Do

A few weeks ago, we went through the pantry and mentally catalogued what was in there. After finding a random assortment of items – garlic chili paste, barley, a packet of fajita seasoning (to name but a few) – we began to plan dinners around those things in order to use them up. Waste not, want not is something my mom always said!

Actually, I don’t think she has ever uttered those words in her life. She also never told me to clean my plate because there are starving children in Africa and didn’t warn me not to make a face or it would freeze that way, so she missed the boat on stereotypical parenting tropes. But it’s sage advice regardless, so those odds and ends stashed on the back of the shelf turned into Asian lettuce wraps, beef and barley stew, and shrimp fajitas. Mmm, right? I’m thinking we should have cleaned out the pantry a heck of a lot sooner.

With our time here dwindling rapidly, we’re also being very conscientious with what we buy at the grocery store. Think a small bottle of cooking oil vs. a bigger one, for instance, because there is no way we’ll go through 48 ounces in five weeks, you know? I’d rather not haul boxes full of half-used groceries 1,250 miles.


Tara drove up to Tacoma to spend the weekend with her mom on Saturday, which gave me an opportunity to tie up a few loose ends.

Which is really just a fancy way of saying I ate a donut.

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Not just any donut, mind you. Long-time readers will recall my fondness for Voodoo Doughnut. I mean, we even served them at our wedding in lieu of cake. Despite this, I had not been there in years, for a variety of reasons. Namely, sugar. I mostly avoid it these days for health reasons. Also, if I’m being honest, Voodoo doesn’t make the best donut in town. I’m not even sure they’re in the top five. It’s all about the experience, which includes long lines of tourists, off-the-wall flavor combinations, and a few XXX-rated sugary confections.

But the bacon maple bar is really good, and I decided I needed one more in my life before we move.

Mission happily accomplished.

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On Sunday, I loaded Sydney into her carrier for a test run. Results were mixed.

First off, she is a full-time indoor cat. Has been for her entire life, the occasional foray onto the back deck being the lone exception. So the moment I carried her outside, she was uncomfortable. Started meowing on the way down the stairs, and really let loose once we were in the car and started driving.

But she sort of settled down after a bit. These quieter moments were punctuated by periods of not being settled down. All things considered though, the experience wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I think she will eventually accept the fact that she’s going to be stuck in the car for a while and that cat brain of hers will conclude that complaining about it is useless.

Of course, we might be halfway across Montana before that happens…

Countdown: 38 Days

What’s Wrong with 69?!

69 days to go!!

Speaking of 69, about a month ago I decided to create a new gmail account because the one I’ve been using for years was getting a lot of spam. And I don’t mean the good kind that comes in a can! So I chose first name last name 69 at gmail dot com. Deb and Not A Palindrome at work were all, “No, don’t do that!” When I asked why not, they said, “69, Mark? Really?”

Now, I’m no dummy. I know full well there is a sexual connotation associated with the number 69. But I figured my coworkers were blowing things way out of proportion and over-exaggerating the negative response such an email address would receive. 69 is a perfectly respectable number and, conveniently, the year of my birth, so it made sense for me to use it. Throwing caution to the wind, I set it up and messaged all my contacts, asking them to update my information.

And then the emails started pouring in.

I fired up Ye Olde Internet and learned that Deb and NAP were correct. Using 69 in an email address is a no-no.

Don’t ever use the number 69 in your email address, even if that’s your birth or graduation year. Assume readers will think the worst.

Well, crap. Quit thinking the worst, ya perverts!

For the record, you should also never use 420 or 666. Who knew?!

I walked away from the experience pretty embarrassed after so many people had a good laugh at my expense. And also, I might add, feeling sorry for the number 69. What did it ever do to earn such a reputation, anyway? Other than look like…well…umm…

Never mind.

Anyway. 69 days until we move. One month ago was our STP concert and the next day our countdown dropped into double digits and I thought, holy shit, 99 days. It’s coming up fast. Well, folks: now it’s coming up really fast!

With this in mind, yesterday we started packing. We spent 3+ hours boxing up a whole bunch of stuff – mostly books, but also miscellaneous living room, bathroom, and kitchen items. On the surface it doesn’t look like we did all that much, but step into Audrey’s vacant bedroom now and there’s a pretty good pile of boxes there. It’s a process, one that we will devote a few hours every to weekend between now and late June. I’m glad for the early start. Breaking down the work into manageable little chunks like this makes it feel much less overwhelming.

By evening we were ready for a break, and embarked upon a date night. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those. I wanted to treat Tara to a nice dinner to celebrate my impending remote employment opportunity, so we settled on a little French bistro in Portland called Verdigris. Dinner was good from start to finish: an asparagus soup amuse bouche with crumbled bleu cheese; sea salted dinner rolls; lobster bisque and scallops for her, a mushroom tarte and duck two ways for me. Plus a couple of pineapple and rosemary greyhound cocktails.

We drove to Powell’s Books next, and I got a little choked up when we walked through the doors. I love that place and have many fond memories there. I consider Powell’s the single best thing about Portland. We wandered around for close to an hour, which is barely enough time to scratch the surface, really. Inspired by “Hamilton,” I picked up a couple of books on the American Revolution. Ahh, Powell’s. I shall miss you dearly.

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After shopping for books, we drove across the river to Rimsky-Korsakoffeehouse for coffee and dessert. I’ve mentioned this place before; we took blogging friends from Texas there when they were visiting Portland in 2016, and have gone a few times on our own. It was definitely on our list of places to visit again before moving. Besides having a very clever name, it’s the very definition of “keep Portland weird” – dim lights, flickering candles, creepy piano music, tables that move on their own accord, and a bathroom that defies description. I had a slice of warm ginger cake and a cinnamon latte, Tara got the chocolate pot de creme and a cinnamon mocha. Both were superb. We got back home around 10:00 and declared it a perfect night.

Today won’t be nearly as exciting, but also, we aren’t packing. So there is that.

Countdown: 69 Days*

*quit snickering

From Chinook to Chislic

I came across an article in Portland Monthly last week on bierocks, a Midwestern staple that resembles a glorified Hot Pocket. Apparently I am not the only one who has never heard of them because Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize the word, underlining it in red and suggesting I really mean “bureaux.” I do not, MS Word, but thank you for assuming I am an idiot.

In any case, the article was an eye-opener. It made me realize that not only will the climate in South Dakota be quite different than what I’m used to; the food scene will be equally foreign.

I’d already learned of chislic when researching the area. No, MS Word, I do not mean “Chasidic.” Get over yourself already. Chislic is a dish of deep-fried cubed meat served on toothpicks. It’s like a shish kebab, but without the fancy skewer or vegetables. Chislic is a regional specialty of our soon-to-be home state.

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Can’t wait to dive into a heaping plate o’ this!

I’m kind of excited to try some new foods I’d never heard of before. There is a wealth of Midwestern cuisine just waiting to be discovered. Thrillist came up with this list of the most popular dishes there (bierocks and chislic are both represented) and I have to admit, I’m genuinely curious.

It’s a good thing I like meat and cheese. Just sayin’.

Regional cuisines have always fascinated me. No childhood trip to New Jersey was complete without tomato pie or Tastykakes (butterscotch Krimpets, please), and in Hawaii, kalua pork, huli-huli chicken, and hot malasadas were staples. The PNW has its own go-to foods; salmon, huckleberries, hazelnuts, and the infamous geoduck. Trust me, if I can choke down something that phallic-looking, chislic will be a cakewalk.

I’m curious what some of my Midwestern readers’ favorite local dishes are, so if Jess Witkins and Bijoux care to weigh in, I’d love to hear their thoughts!

Actually, I want to hear about your favorite regional dishes, wherever you hail from. What is something you enjoy eating that the rest of the country might not be familiar with? Bonus points if Microsoft Word tries to correct you.

Countdown: 83 Days