Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve Holiday Menu

Ring in the New Year with family, friends and GOOD FOOD with these recipes from the University of Iowa Press's cookbooks.

Oyster Salad (Mrs. J, V. Brann) from P.E.O. Cook Book

One can cove oysters, one cup powdered crackers, one-half cup butter, three eggs, scant half cup vinegar, one teaspoon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Drain off liquid and heat; stir in eggs, crackers, and butter; let come to a boil and stir in vinegar and mustard. When it thickens pour over oysters. Garnish with parsley.

German Potato Salad (Aimee Cornell) from P.E.O. Cook Book

One dozen medium-sized potatoes boiled. While still warm skin potatoes and slice thin. Chop in a stalk of celery and a small onion. Season with handful of sugar, teaspoon of salt and dash of cayenne. Take a couple of slices of bacon and cut in small cubes. Put in skillet and brown, then pour in a pint of vinegar. Mix all these together. Garnish with parsley.

Roast Goose (Mrs. C. W. Cornell) from P.E.O. Cook Book

Rub pepper, salt, and celery salt over and inside goose. Prepare a dressing of one loaf of stale bread, soaked then squeezed dry, a small onion, stalk of celery cut fine, browned in butter. To this add the bread, four eggs, stir until heated, remove from fire. Stuff goose and sew up. Put a small onion in roaster, cover and bake slowly one hour. Remove grease, sift a little flour on top. Add a little water and a few crusts, then bake three hours. Cover giblets with water and cook until tender and cut in small pieces. Make a little thickening of flour and water, and with giblets add to gravy. Serve with apple sauce. Garnish with parsley.

P.E.O. Cook Book (Souvenir Edition), edited by David E. Schoonover

Friday, December 28, 2012

Carl Kurtz's Photo Essay: Taking Off

In preparation for the upcoming second edition of A Practical Guide to Prairie Restoration by Carl Kurtz, we're excited to be sharing Carl's beautiful photos and observations about nature!

Carl Kurtz is a professional writer, teacher, naturalist, and photographer. He and his wife and partner, Linda, live on a 172-acre family farm in central Iowa that is one of the few prairie seed sources in the Midwest.

Mallards are called dabblers and feed by dipping their heads down under water. They are omnivorous, feeding on insects above and below water, and also consume seeds, grain and green vegetation.  Their take off is abrupt as they arise directly up and out of the water, unlike coots, grebes or loons who need a running start to get airborne.  Wild mallards such as this drake are extremely difficult to approach, while city mallards in urban areas readily accept a handout.   

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Gardening Tip

"To avoid using insecticides, both on indoor and outdoor plants, spray them with a strong, steady stream of water."—Connie Staples, Business Women's Garden Club, Des Moines

page 121 and 118, Gardening in Iowa and Surrounding Areas by Veronica Lorson Fowler

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The World Beneath Your Feet: Glaciers in Iowa

Above: The Front edge of a glacier

The formation of most of Iowa's soils was influenced directly or indirectly by glacial events. Glaciers slowly plowed across Iowa several times thousands of years ago. As they advanced from the north they dragged frozen soils and rocks with them. Some of this mixture of sand, clay, gravel, and boulders was pressed into the ground by the immense weight of the glaciers. These deposits made directly by the glaciers are referred to as glacial till. When glaciers melt, vast amounts of glacial meltwater wash out even more unsorted deposits. Together, the till and deposits are called glacial drift. Glacial drift in varying depths blankets nearly all of Iowa's limestone bedrock. Northeast Iowa has virtually no drift but it is over 600 feet thick in west central Iowa. Most of northern Iowa's soils were formed from glacial till.

From Mark Muller's "The World Beneath Your Feet: A Closer Look at Soil and Roots," Funded by the Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund

Monday, December 17, 2012

Always Put in a Recipe

Fried Green Tomatoes 
34 green tomatoes
1 ½ cups flour
½ cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
Vegetable oil
Mix the flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper together. Add enough milk to create a thick batter. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large skillet. Coat each tomato slice with batter, then wipe off excess. Carefully place in hot oil, browning on both sides. (A slice may or may not need turning, depending on the amount of oil.) To cool and keep the tomatoes from becoming soggy, drain in a colander or on a wire rack. Salt to taste.

Evelyn Birkby is the author of Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker, as well as Up a Country Lane Cookbook and Neighboring on the Air.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Carl Kurtz's Photo Essay: Virginia Bluebells

In preparation for the upcoming second edition of A Practical Guide to Prairie Restoration by Carl Kurtz, we're excited to be sharing Carl's beautiful photos and observations about nature!

Carl Kurtz is a professional writer, teacher, naturalist, and photographer. He and his wife and partner, Linda, live on a 172-acre family farm in central Iowa that is one of the few prairie seed sources in the Midwest.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana) are early spring plants of moist woodlands and are often found in floodplain forests.  They normally bloom from mid-April through mid-May in the upper mid-west. This year due to the unseasonably warm spring weather, they are 3 weeks to a month ahead of their normal seasonal schedule. I have seen their flowers covered with wet snow in late April.  Check out large patches carefully and you may find a plant with white flowers.  They make excellent yard flowers as they die back to the ground in late May and do not appear again until the following year. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The World Beneath your Feet: Iowa's Prairie Legacy

Above: Plowing virgin prairie with oxen. Archive photo.

When early settlers ran the first plow through virgin tallgrass prairie, they soon discovered how deep and dense the prairie root system was. New Jersey tea was known as the pest of the plowman or rupture root because its huge taproot would damage plows. Leadplant was called prairie shoestring due to the sharp, snapping sounds made when a plow point tore through its rootlets. A regular plow and a mule could not cut the tough sod, it took a breaking plow and a team of oxen. But break it they did. A good team and a long day of backbreaking labor could plow up one or two acres. Within one generation, early farmers—without modern equipment—plowed 99% of the Iowa prairie into cropland and stopped the cycles of the tallgrass ecosystem. Over thousands of years the prairie had built soil so rich and deep that it has been productive cropland for decades. Iowa owes its productive agricultural economy to prairie soils.

From Mark Muller's "The World Beneath Your Feet: A Closer Look at Soil and Roots," Funded by the Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund

Monday, December 10, 2012

Always Put in a Recipe

Creamed Chicken on Toast 
1 cup diced cooked chicken
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter or margarine in a saucepan and blend in flour, stirring until smooth and bubbly. Gradually stir in milk and continue cooking and stirring until it thickens. Add chicken and seasoning and serve hot over toast.

Evelyn Birkby is the author of Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker, as well as Up a Country Lane Cookbook and Neighboring on the Air.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Winter Gardening Tip

"When leaving on vacation, keep potted plants healthy by watering well and covering them with a clear dry-cleaning bag. The plants will stay watered for up to three weeks."—Darlene Lorenz, Independence Garden Club

page 120, Gardening in Iowa and Surrounding Areas by Veronica Lorson Fowler

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The World Beneath Your Feet: Soil

Dirt is something you wash off or vacuum up; you want it to go away. Dirt is inert, it's lifeless. Soil, on the other hand, you hope stays in place; it is teeming with life. Soils are complex, fascinating ecosystems. Soil scientists have identified over 100,000 different soil types around the world. One trait all soils share is that they are the primary source of the food that sustains life on Earth: plants. An Iowa Beef Council bumper sticker reads, "The West Wasn't Won On A Salad." One might argue whether the West was actually "won" or not, but for sure the steaks that early settlers were eating came from cows that ate salad: plants that grew in the soil. Most life on Earth would not be possible without soil. It is as important to life as air and water.

From Mark Muller's "The World Beneath Your Feet: A Closer Look at Soil and Roots," Funded by the Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund

Monday, December 3, 2012

Always Put in a Recipe

Raymonds' Chocolate Drop Cookies
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter (or part shortening)
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup nutmeats
Cream brown sugar and butter. Add egg. Dissolve cocoa in hot water (this amount may be increased if your family likes lots of chocolate flavor, or 1 to 2 squares of melted chocolate may be used instead). Add cocoa to the above mixture. Measure flour into the sifter (do not sift before measuring). Add baking powder.
Sift together and add to mixture alternately with nutmeats. Chill and drop by teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven.
These are good frosted with any kind of frosting. The Raymonds use the following easy frosting.
½ cup cream or half-and-half
1 heaping tablespoon cocoa
½ cup brown sugar, packed
Mix together: cream or half-and-half, cocoa, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the stove and sift in confectioner’s sugar until it is of the right consistency to spread. Flavoring may be added if desired.

Evelyn Birkby is the author of Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker, as well as Up a Country Lane Cookbook and Neighboring on the Air.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November Gardening

Mowers and other large power garden tools should be taken in to be serviced. Have the mower blade sharpened to prevent browning of the grass tips next spring. Check out the snowblower, too, to make sure it's in shape for the first snow.

Excerpt from Gardening in Iowa and Surrounding Areas by author Veronica Lorson Fowler

Monday, November 26, 2012


The lesser creatures under the marsh ice--the numerous kinds of water bugs and water beetles, the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, the small crustaceans, the leeches, the mollusks--gradually approach states in which an observer may hardly judge whether they are alive or dead. A motionless specimen from oxygen-deficient water may move when transferred to tap water or it may never move again. Masses of invertebrates may, like fishes, collect at strategic places under the ice. Once, after chopping ice that covered a water hole at a trapping camp, I dipped out several pails of the misnamed water scorpions--harmless but bizarre in appearance and something to see when looked at by the pailful.

From OF MEN AND MARSHES by Paul L. Errington

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Carl Kurtz's Photo Essay: Greater Yellowlegs

In preparation for the upcoming second edition of A Practical Guide to Prairie Restoration by Carl Kurtz, we're excited to be sharing Carl's beautiful photos and observations about nature!

Carl Kurtz is a professional writer, teacher, naturalist, and photographer. He and his wife and partner, Linda, live on a 172-acre family farm in central Iowa that is one of the few prairie seed sources in the Midwest.

Shorebirds come in all sizes, shapes and color styles.  The smallest are species like least sandpipers and semipalmated plovers at 6 or 7 inches in size up to the largest, godwits and curlews, varying from 18 to more than 20 inches. Plumages can be mottled with fine streaking or barring, while some species have more striking coloration.  Their bills vary from long and straight to short and stubby, some bills curving downward, some upward and most designed for probing in moist soil or in muddy shorelines. The greater yellowlegs featured here are medium in size at about 14 inches.  They are currently in mid-continent migration heading for their sub-arctic breeding grounds. 

Thanksgiving Holiday Menu 2: Desserts

What Thanksgiving meal is complete without dessert?

Election Cake from Seasons of Plenty

2 and 3/4 cups flour, sifted                          1/4 cup warm water
3/4 teaspoon salt                                          1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon nutmeg                                      1/2 cup raisins
1 cup milk                                                   1/2 cup citron
3/4 cup sugar                                               1 egg
1 envelope yeast                                          1/2 cup shortening

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, salt, and nutmeg. In a saucepan scald the milk; then add 1/4 cup sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, sprinkle dry yeast into warm water. Stir lukewarm milk mixture. Add 1.5 cups sifted flour mixture and beat with wooden spoon until smooth. Cover with towel and set in a warm place. Allow to rise - about 1 hour. Dough should be light and bubbly.

In a second bowl, crea shortening and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Add egg, beating well.

Using your hands, mix dough with creamed shortening and sugar. Add remaining 1 and 1/4 cups flour. Knead in citron, raisins, and nuts. This must be thoroughly blended, so take your time.

Place dough in a well-greased 10-inch tube pan and cover. Set in a warm place and allow to rise about 1 hour. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan before inverting.

Combine ingredients for sugar glaze. When cake is still slightly warm, drizzle with sugar glaze.

Pumpkin Pie (Mrs. S. D. McClelland) from P.E.O. Cook Book

Peel the pumpkin, remove seeds and the stringy parts. Cut in small pieces and steam. When done beat to a cream with large spoon; press through sieve. to each quart of pumpkin, add three well-beaten eggs, a helping coffee cup sugar, one pint of new milk, one teaspoon each of ginger and nutmeg, half teaspoon allspice and tablespoon melted butter. Line pans with crust. Bake half done, remove from oven and fill with pumpkin and bake again until a light brown.

P.E.O. Cook Book(Souvenir Edition), edited by David E. Schoonover

Seasons of Plenty, by Emilie Hoppe

Thanksgiving Holiday Menu 1

Surprise your family with this delicious meal from the University of Iowa Press's cook book collection. Come back on Wednesday for our dessert ideas!

Roast Turkey (Elizabeth Hiller, Cooking School Instructor) from P.E.O. Cook Book

Select a plump, young, ten-poung turkey, dress, clean, stuff and truss. Place it on a rack in a dripping pan, rub entire surface with salt and spread with a butter paste, make by creaming together one-third cup butter an adding slowly one-fourth cup flour. This is spread over breast, wings and legs. Place in a hot oven and borne delicately, turning turkey often. Reduce heat when evenly browned, add two cups water to fat in the pan and baste every fifteen minutes until turkey is cooked.

Buttermilk Biscuits from Prairie Cooks

2 cups all-purpose flour                                  1 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons sugar                                           2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup butter or margarine

Sift flour and sugar together. Add butter and cut in as if mixing a pie crust. Stir soda into buttermilk and add all at once to flour mixture. Stir with a fork until it holds together. Turn out on floured board and knead two or three ties. Pat dough into a 1-inch-high round and cut out with a 1.5-inch biscuit cutter. Gently bunch any remaining dough to form and cut last biscuits. Place closely together on buttered baking sheet and brush tops light with buttermilk. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until brown. Makes 16 - 18 biscuits.

P.E.O. Cook Book(Souvenir Edition), edited by David E. Schoonover

Prairie Cooks, by Carrie Young with Felicia Young

Monday, November 19, 2012


In cutting through ice, the muskrats are adept if they work from below, and they may work well at this in water. They may gnaw upward through the ice in the middle of a marsh, and then heap up the vegetation for  a new lodge around the new hole. I happened to be walking across the care ice of a marsh center when a muskrat cut through ahead of me. It pulled its wet body out, and there it sat amid ice splinters beside a hole leading down through a foot or so of ice. A muskrat may similarly gnaw from below the ice over the plunge hole of a solidly frozen, abandoned lodge and rehabilitate the lodge in a few hours.

From OF MEN AND MARSHES by Paul L. Errington

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gardening in November

Saturday, November 18

...Dan turned the soil and I pulled out the dried corn stalks and the dead cosmos, marigold, okra, and sunflower plants. The accumulated stuff of an entire season's growth, fruition, and decay so quickly cast away. A mess of rotten straw, dried-up cucumber vines, sodden leaves, and soggy squash plants gradually turned under, gradually exposing the rich dark soil itself, chiseled by the spade, moistened by the snow, glinting suddenly in the noonday sun. Just the dark soil and the white row covers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


With the first freeze-up, mallards typically appear by thousands. They cover the remnants of open water or sit on the ice. If the ice melts again in a day or two, the waterfowl population may not be so much different from before except for the departure of the coots and the mild-weather ducks and for the great proportions of mallards. More of the ducks have brighter plumage in late fall: the green heads of the mallard drakes stand out and so do the white throats and brown necks of the pintail drakes. The drakes of what are locally known as the "northern spoonbills" do not look like the same species as the brownish shovelers of early fall.

Mallards may be in no hurry to leave as long as they have access to cornfields and a safe place to sit between feedings. They may still be on the larger lakes by early winter.

Excerpt from OF MEN AND MARSHES by Paul L. Errington

Monday, November 12, 2012

Michael Lannoo Interview Part 3

Your new book has convinced me that conservation biologists trained at Lakeside Lab—and biological research stations like it—might just be able to solve today’s huge array of environmental problems. Tell us more before we forget about this summer’s extreme heat and drought.

Our current societal emphasis on the spending habits of 15-year-old girls at shopping malls means that we are culturally ill equipped to understand the things that are really important to us. Further, we retain little memory of critical events such as environmental disasters, especially when we were not directly affected or inconvenienced. At some point in the future, for civilization to continue, we will have to place our emphases on things necessary to propagate civilization. And both our resources and our models for operation will come from ecosystems. Right now, nobody understands ecosystems better than people working at field stations. These rubber-boot biologists collectively know everything that we now know about ecosystem functions and services. Lose these guys (of both sexes) and you’re left with folks trying to understand life by sitting in front of a computer screen. And life is still too complicated, and probably always will be, for us to adequately model it in any sort of reasonably predictable way. Concerning this past summer’s weather, people sitting in front of their computers and looking at their models say, “Wow, we never thought this would happen!” while field biologists are out in it looking. Getting sunburned, sweating their rear-ends off, measuring everything they can, observing effects firsthand. In science, these facts should always take precedence, and by and large it’s folks at field stations who are collecting them.

Circling back to the younger Michael Lannoo who discovered his future at Lakeside in 1977, what advice would you give to a similar nineteen-year-old taking a course there for the first time?

Become a sponge; look, listen, and absorb. Know that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Also know that the first rule of life is living. Have a good time—but not so good that your fun gets in the way of learning—and know that human memory functions best when experiences are tied to deep emotions. Lakeside has always been a place where you can discover who you are and what you’re about, if you’re open to it. Right now our society sets us up to be clueless, and to be absolutely serious about our cluelessness. So much better to know yourself, and with this knowledge learn not to take yourself so seriously. During that first summer at Lakeside you’ll become knowledgeable, you’ll become competent, and if you want, you’ll begin to understand who and what you are.

Friday, November 9, 2012


My memories of marshes in fall are so loaded with nostalgia that I often find myself enjoying Iowa or Minnesota or Nebraska marshes largely to the extent that they remind me of my youth and early manhood in South Dakota. I find old copper bases of shotgun shells working out of an Iowa beach, read the "U.M.C.," "New Rival," "Referee," "Premier," along with older trademarks that long ago disappeared from hardware shelves, and visualize the distinctive colors of the cartridges as they came out of the cardboard boxes. I remember wet shells so swollen that I could not push them into the chamber of a gun, shells that would not always fire if I did get them in, the bellow and smoke of a heavy charge of black powder, the smell of a freshly fired case, the feel of a jolted shoulder, the picking up of game.

From Of Men and Marshes by Paul L. Errington

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Michael Lannoo Interview Part 2

It’s ironic that Lakeside, with its diverse plant and animal communities, is surrounded by what may be the most intensely cultivated landscape on earth. How does this affect your teaching and fieldwork there?

Iowa is iconically the Midwest: an agricultural desert. Its beauty is acquired, subtle, and because its agriculture is so large-scale, its native ecosystems are necessarily small. Iowa’s natural history tends to be squirreled away in this nook or that cranny, a bend in the road, a ravine, a railroad track right-of-way, a field too rocky to plow, a seep that cannot be drained, a grove that meant something to a family and therefore was never logged. In 1977, Okoboji was a lot like that. Sure there were more state parks and natural areas than in most other parts of the state, but classes found areas to explore and plants and animals to study based on experienced faculty knowing where to look. There was a cumulative institutional knowledge about where things were, and new discoveries were shared immediately: an orchid in that woods, a new fish species in that stretch of river. Classes were visiting small remnant habitats that almost everyone else overlooked. Many of these sites were on private property. Beginning around 1988, that all changed. The state and federal governments working with NGOs such as Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited began purchasing property from farmers who approached them. Gradually, vast grasslands were established around restored wetlands—basins that hadn’t held water for 70 years. Today, Okoboji supports over 24,000 acres of “natural” areas that weren’t present 30 years ago. The difference has been remarkable and has fundamentally changed how we teach. Thirty years ago we’d spend afternoons sampling specks on the landscape; today there are areas where we spend days and do not see everything.

A quick story. There is a little wetland on private property along a road about two miles south of Lakeside where, if you sampled early enough in the year, you would find these beautiful, transparent fairy shrimp—the only place in all of Okoboji that supported them. It was a Lakeside secret; not because we wanted it to be, it’s just that nobody else cared. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came in and bought land from a farmer named White in the section east and south of this little wetland. A few years ago they bought much of the remaining section, including land immediately adjacent to the wetland. Last year I noticed that the wetland, too, had been purchased. When I saw the Iowa DNR biologists responsible, I mentioned how happy I was that Fairy Shrimp Pond was now protected. They had no idea what I was talking about, and when I explained we all laughed at the serendipity. The current program of land acquisition and restoration had enveloped one of the Lakeside faculty’s favorite little sampling hotspots.

You are a professor of anatomy and cell biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, yet you also teach field biology during the summertime at Lakeside Lab. Tell us how you balance these very different kinds of teaching.

You have to live in the moment. In Young Men and Fire, Norman Maclean notes that some people have to do more than one thing to be complete, and that certainly holds for me. Here at IU, I argue that there’s a huge component of human health that’s tied to environmental health, and that it is important to understand environmental health; thus, both the human neuroscience and conservation biology foci. But deeper than that, the two major opposing (they don’t have to be) forces on earth today are 1) the way the human brain puts humans first versus 2) the resulting loss in biodiversity and ecosystem function. I figure if I understand both of these issues deeply enough to teach them, I may be able to help us find a way out.

Interestingly, my IU med students tend toward an extremely conservative political outlook, while my UI Lakeside students tend toward an extremely liberal outlook. Instead of trying to exert any political leanings on either group of students, I tend to listen without comment; I will however moderate extreme views on either side.

As an aside, after writing the previous paragraph I now have a marker for retirement. If I find that I cannot keep UI and IU straight, it’ll be time to hang it up.

Michael Lannoo, author of The Iowa Lakeside Laboratory: A Century of Discovering the Nature of Nature

Monday, November 5, 2012

Michael Lannoo Interview Part 1

In an earlier interview for this blog, you said that Iowa Lakeside Lab was the place where your nineteen-year-old self decided to become a field biologist. Now some decades later, you have written a book that celebrates Lakeside as a permanent biological field station dedicated to the long-term study of nature in nature. How did this book evolve?

The summer of 2012 marked the 36th summer that I’d been associated with Lakeside in one way or another. In ’77 and ’78 I was an undergraduate taking classes and doing research, in ’80 and ’81 I was a master’s student doing research, ’88 was my first year on the faculty. While people have been associated with Lakeside longer (for example, in the 104 years of the Lab’s existence, there have been only four caretakers), few have gone through the undergraduate–graduate school academic progression, then spent a quarter of a century serving on the faculty. In total, I’ve spent about five years of my life at Lakeside. So, I’ve had plenty of time to think about the place and to consider it from different perspectives. At some point in my thinking, I got around to the question “What does this place mean?” To answer that, I had to put Lakeside in the context of its time, and to do that, I had to both document and understand its history. Only then did I have the makings—both philosophical and factual—of this book.

I realized early that if this book was to be any good, two things had to happen. First, it could not simply be a history. Instead, it had to show how Lakeside provides the information—the ecological detail—that can point us toward a sustainable society. And second, despite my history at the place, the book must not be about me. So many times when someone writes about something, it becomes primarily about them and secondarily about their subject. I consciously avoided that. There are only two places where I show up, and there was no getting around these mentions.