Double L Cafe: a great destination for a ride

Ever since Bugman and I bought our tandem in 2013 and started long-distance road riding, Highway 71 south of Scottsbluff-Gering has been a favorite route.

downhill grade

For one, it has a shoulder, and its two lanes in each direction means that drivers can (and usually do) pull into the passing lane to give people riding bicycles on the shoulder plenty of space. Since the portion of the road over the Wildcat Hills was repaved in 2015, the ride has gotten even better on the new, smooooooth surface (though there are still gravel bars that form on the shoulder after heavy rain, and there are long un-repaved stretches of road in Banner County where the shoulder pavement cracks are terrible: ka-BAM! ka-BAM! ka-BAM! – so we sometimes still need to ride out in the lane).

For two, it’s a great workout to be able to get in (from Scottsbluff) ~750 feet of climb to the top at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center parking lot, ~1,300 feet of climb with a up-and-over turnaround at the Highway 88 west intersection, and even more if you continue further south into Banner County.

hello banner county

But the highlights of a two-wheeler journey south on Highway 71 go beyond road surface and climb.

There’s the scenery through the Wildcat Hills and the wide-open spaces of Banner County. I love how you can smell the ponderosa pine at the top of the hill, or the fragrance of grasses or wildflowers in other places. Traffic on Highway 71 is usually light, so you have plenty of opportunities between the roar of engine and tire to hear meadowlarks and crickets, and perhaps a spring peeper calling from a puddle or a hawk screeching overhead.

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One of the emerald views of the Wildcat Hills in spring.

banner county cattle

Cattle in picturesque Banner County.

And then there’s my favorite part of this journey south over the Wildcat Hills: the destinations. While the sole remaining incorporated town in Banner County – Harrisburg – has no services, there are still a couple of places in this sparsely-populated county worth biking to and which – importantly in this largely shadeless, dry countryside – have beverages.

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There’s the Beehaven Farm Roadside Market about 33 miles from our house, which I’ve written about previously.

And there’s the place Bugman and I finally rode to this weekend, about 26 miles one way from our house, which just opened late in 2015: Laura Lee’s Double L Country Store and Cafe (previously incarnated as the Banner County Cafe or the Hilltop Cafe).

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A sign announcing the cafe ahead to southbound traffic: next 2 exits!

The small cafe building is set on the east side of the highway on a hilltop, surrounded by ranchland. At first glance, you might think such an isolated little restaurant is a dive. You would be sorely mistaken.

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Laura Lee’s place – or the Double L, as the staff answers the phone – has been extensively renovated into an oasis of charming nostalgia.

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Check out the penny-surfaced countertop!

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Mmmmm . . . old-fashioned candy!

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Even the stove used in the kitchen is charmingly vintage! (Her name is Milly, and she is 85 years old.) Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

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There’s also a gift shop that includes locally-made goat milk soaps and lotions, some vintage items, stationery, high-quality toys and kids’ items.

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And there are nice bathrooms, too. And country humor. (Which always has a grain of truth!)

While the building is fun to look around in, the real star of the show is the food.

After biking for two and a half hours over hilly terrain, Bugman and I had sure worked up an appetite – especially after we were passed on the road by a barbecue trailer!

BBQ truck

The wood-smoky aroma coming off this barbecue trailer just about made me faint with hunger. Thank goodness we were only about 4 miles from Double L!

We timed our arrival perfectly, getting there just before 11 a.m., when the breakfast rush had cleared out, and the lunch menu was just starting.

cafe view

The cafe during a lull between breakfast and lunch.

The awesome thing about Double L is that ingredients are super local as much as possible. To quote a post from their Facebook page:

All of our meat is raised within twenty miles from us! How many restaurants can say that? Our beef is from Holt Farm’s and Lazy W Diamond, pork from Ben McGowan, Bison from Rocky Hollow, chicken from Lazy W Diamond. Talk about knowing your farmer. Our farmers are not only suppliers but regular customers.

Another awesome thing is that “from-scratch” is a cafe philosophy: hamburger buns, bread, sausage, biscuits, pies, cookies – are all made in house. The folks in the kitchen know what they’re doing. Chef Gay Olsen was trained at the Denver Culinary Arts Institute and has been cooking professionally for over 25 years.

OK – time for some food pix. (Dang, am I hungry looking at these! Wish the cafe was open right now!)

bugman with elk burger

Bugman ordered off the summer special menu: an elk burger with meat from a Colorado elk ranch. This meal disappeared with a whooshing sound in approximately 47 seconds. 😉 (Note Bugman’s appropriate biking attire for the July 4th weekend.) I had what is becoming my usual: a whiskey cheddar burger.

And, since we biked two and a half hours to get to the cafe, we deserved dessert, right?

pie

Bugman opted for blueberry pie a la mode.

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I was torn: pie is the traditional biking fuel, but the cinnamon rolls at Double L are to die for. Then again, their ice cream sundaes are marvelous – the nut topping is candied pecans! I opted for a single-scoop chocolate ice cream sundae with caramel sauce.

Since we’d missed the 18th Street Farmers Market that morning to get in our bike ride, we picked up a loaf of bread from the cafe, too. It fit perfectly in our bike trunk.

baked goods

Mmmmm . . . bakery items! Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

When we headed back towards home, owners Laura And Dave Whelchel came out to bid us adieu (and to show their youngest kiddo our tandem bike) and to take our picture.

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Note the loaf of bread in the bike trunk. Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

Laura and Dave are great people. I first met them when I worked for the newspaper and covered Camp Grace – a summer camp for kids with special needs that they hold on their Banner County farm. (More about Laura and Dave’s awesomeness here.)

Another unique thing about Double L is that it’s nested in western Nebraska ranch country. A visit here can be a cultural experience.

Once, while I was waiting to pay at the register, I overheard a group of ranchers discussing cow insemination technique. On this visit, we chatted briefly with a customer as we were saddling back up on our tandem, and, as I clicked into my SPD pedals, and he asked, in true cowboy fashion, “Do your feet lock into your stirrups?”

In addition to keeping an eye out for bicycles on Highway 71, it’s good to keep a lookout for cattle and horses, too.

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Spring cattle drive on Highway 71 in front of  Laura Lee’s Double L Country Store and Cafe. Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

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There’s a reason the parking lot has a hitching rail – some customers arrive on horseback! Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

If you happen to be biking – or driving – in the vicinity of Banner County on a Tuesday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., I highly recommend stopping by the Double L!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw, except the photos courtesy of Double L

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Kauai foodie tales

I don’t really consider myself a “foodie,” but I suppose I should, given that one of my top raves about my visit to Kauai was the food.

A-number-one reason I cried about my departure from Hawaii – I did not want to leave the farmers markets behind!

Oh, man . . . fresh papaya with a squeeze of lime!

Crisp, perfumy starfruit!!

Citrus to die for!!!!

Fresh apple bananas – the tangy sweetness brought tears to my eyes!!!!

Boo hoo hoo! It was sooo depressing to come back to the aged produce in our western Nebraska grocery stores, with the only upside being the root vegetables available at our Scottsbluff Winter Farmers Market. (I should thank my lucky stars we HAVE a winter farmers market here in Wyobraska!)

For the 411 on farmers markets on Kauai, check out this page from Kaua’i Grown.

Our first haul, from the Monday afternoon farmers market at Kukui Grove Shopping Center, which is in the parking lot behind the Kmart. It was the best of the three markets we attended.

Our first haul, from the Monday afternoon farmers market at Kukui Grove Shopping Center, which is in the parking lot behind the Kmart. It was the best of the three markets we attended. Pictured above: green onion, baby bok choy, passionfruit, limes, starfruit, zucchini, grapefruit, pineapple, winged beans, ginger, papaya, eggplant, daikon radish, apple bananas, mango, lettuce, tangerines, avocados, and banana flower.

Second haul, from the Tuesday afternoon farmers market in the parking lot of the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center. This was the smallest of the three markets we attended, with only about 4 or 5 vendors present that day.

Second haul, from the Tuesday afternoon farmers market in the parking lot of the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center. This was the smallest of the three markets we attended, with only about 4 or 5 vendors present that day. Our third haul, from the Thursday afternoon market at the parking lot of the Kilauea Neighborhood Center, I did not photograph, alas, but we didn’t buy as much that day because we were leaving the island in two days. Pictured above: green onion, turnip, apple banana, tangelo, macadamia nuts, mizuna, pomelo, rambutan, lettuce. At the last market, I recall we bought carrots, winged beans, tomatoes, and papaya.

Things I learned about / experienced for the first time, thanks to the farmers markets:

1. It’s fun to thoroughly bruise a tangelo, then clip the top and drink the juice straight from the fruit. Nature’s juice box! But beware – squeeze at an inopportune angle while you’re drinking, and you’ll get tangelo juice in your eye. (Yes, I did that. Ow.)

2. I don’t know how to do passionfruit. How can something smell so good and taste so vile? The fruits perfumed the air with a come-hither Sweettartiness, but the gelatinous seed inside was horribly sour and bitter. I read later that you’re supposed to choose passionfruit with a wrinkly skin, as this indicates ripeness. The passionfruit we purchased were smooth-skinned, so maybe that was the problem?

3. Mizuna is a tasty, piquant addition to a salad. Just cut off the inch or two at the root end, chop, and add to other greens.

4. Macadamia nuts in the shell are so perfectly round, they are a pleasure to roll around in the hand. I’d eaten plenty of the nut meat before, but I’d never seen one in the shell. They are a bit difficult to crack, but no more so than, say, Brazil nuts. Actually, they’re easier than Brazil nuts, in my opinion, if you have the right tool. Some sources I found online suggested using a vise grip and hammer, or two rocks (one of which would have a round indentation to prevent the nut from smashing). I happened to find a very sturdy seafood cracker in the drawer in our rental kitchen that was just perfect – the nuts fit right into the rounded part, so they didn’t smash. Sometimes I had to turn the nut around until I found the place where it would crack, and I kind kind of wore my forearms out, but it worked!

5. Rambutan is nature’s gummi candy. They look a bit scary, but they are tasty!

Just peel off the thick, hairy hide off a rambutan to get at the fruit inside, which has a kind of gummy texture. The seed, which you have to eat around, reminds me of the seed of a mango in how it clings to the fruit's flesh.

Just peel off the thick, hairy hide off a rambutan to get at the sweet fruit inside, which has a kind of gummy texture. The seed, which you have to eat around, reminds me of the seed of a mango in how it clings to the fruit’s flesh.

6. It looks like a gigantic grapefruit, but a pomelo is much more mellow in flavor. I resorted to the Internet in my quest for a good pomelo-peeling technique.

We ate our pomelo out of wine glasses. Why not?

We ate our pomelo out of wine glasses. Why not?

7. OMG! Winged beans! Fun and tasty! Apparently, the winged bean is “like an ice cream cone – you eat the whole thing” – immature pods, mature seeds, dried seeds, leaves, flowers, roots. I wish I could grow these here in Wyobraska, but they only flower with warm temps AND short day length – something you’re not going to get around here without a greenhouse.

Pretty!

8. Banana blossom – the ultimate Kauai farmers market experience, and probably not one to be repeated.

Bugman knew what the banana blossom was when he spied it on a table at the first farmers market.

Bugman pointing out a banana blossom at a botanical garden.

Bugman pointing out a banana blossom at a botanical garden.

He just had no idea how to prepare it to be edible. He asked the lady at the booth, and she said you peel it apart and get the flowers out from inside and prepare each one. “It’s a lot of work,” she said, “You can Google it.”

We figured, “What the heck – once in a lifetime experience, right?” and bought the thing. The lady looked kind of skeptical; I wish we’d been able to go back and tell her that we persevered and succeeded!

First things first – banana blossoms reek! The thing was sitting on the countertop, and I kept smelling its astringent funk. Imagine the smell of a banana peel, but not with any of the sweetness of the fruit inside. Imagine that bitter banana peel smell warped and intensified so as to resemble some kind of industrial paint thinner, and you’ve just about got it.

I wrapped it in a couple of plastic bags and put it in the fridge (which is what you are supposed to do with them, as they go bad quickly). Despite the double-bagging, every time I opened the refrigerator door, that funky odor would smack me in the nose. “Please!” I begged Bugman, “Please cook this thing and get it out of the fridge!”

Bugman did some Googling, then sat down to the task.

Here's what it looks like when you peel one of the bracts off of the banana blossom - under each bract is a cluster of little flowers - baby bananas if you will. Each flower has to be processed individually, with the too-tough/bitter-to-eat pistil and calyx removed from each one. Then the flowers have to be soaked in lemon water to prevent them turning brown.

Here’s what it looks like when you peel one of the bracts off of the banana blossom – under each bract is a cluster of little flowers – baby bananas if you will. Each flower has to be processed individually, with the too-tough/bitter-to-eat pistil and calyx removed from each one. Then the flowers have to be soaked in lemon water to prevent them from turning brown.

Working on processing the banana blossom. Per online advice, we slathered olive oil on our hands to prevent the sap from staining our fingers. We both tasted the banana flowers as we worked - YUK! Bitter! Astringent! Can this really be edible?? Hooboy. This may be a lot of work for nothing. (Photo by Ma Bug)

I helped Bugman process the banana blossom. Per online advice, we slathered olive oil on our hands to prevent the sap from staining our fingers. We both tasted the banana flowers as we worked – YUK! Bitter! Astringent! Can this really be edible?? Hooboy. This may be a lot of work for nothing. (Photo by Ma Bug)

Once you get far enough into the core of the banana blossom, there is a "heart" that is entirely edible and can just be chopped up. It turns brown in the blink of an eye - faster than cut apples and pears do.

Once you get far enough into the core of the banana blossom, there is a “heart” that is entirely edible and can just be chopped up. It turns brown in the blink of an eye – faster than cut apples and pears do.

Bugman chopped up all the banana flowers and sauteed them in olive oil and garlic with soy sauce, and something magical happened! The horrible bitterness and astringency disappeared, leaving behind a vegetable somewhat reminiscent of artichoke in flavor and texture.

We served up the banana flower as an accompaniment to a meal of sauteed winged beans, brown rice, and bigeye ahi steaks.

We served up the banana flower as an accompaniment to a meal of sauteed winged beans, brown rice, and bigeye ahi steaks (procured from the Koloa Fish Market as a one-pound chunk of fish), with a side salad of fresh greens and sliced daikon radish. Everyone agreed – it was the best meal we’d had the whole trip, probably in part because of the unique learning experience.

For dessert that night, we had Hawaiian sweet potato pie (also purchased at the Koloa Fish Market), topped with haupia (kind of like coconut pudding/gelatin).

I love this stuff!

I loved this stuff! It was not too sweet, and very rich. As soon as I can get my hands on some Okinawan sweet potatoes, I plan to make it myself!

I’ve transitioned into the “prepared food / restaurants” category of my Kauai foodie tales. Here are a few more notes on places we ate on Kauai that are worth mentioning.

a. The Feral Pig in Lihue. This Irish pub emphasizes using local foods. I ordered the fish and chips. The fries were just OK, but the fish was the best fried fish I’ve ever had in my life – thick and meaty and perfectly cooked. And, they did have malt vinegar available, as I would expect from a place that hosts wonderful live Irish music.

b. Oops – one Oahu restaurant worth mentioning – Roy’s Waikiki. Super spendy, but super delish. I got a sweet potato bisque with kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, and goat cheese creme fraiche as an appetizer, followed by a main dish of rice-crusted opakapaka (Hawaiian pink snapper) with caprese ravioli, “sea asparagus,” and, I think, artichoke puree. It. Was. Amazing.

c. Back to Kauai, and a Brazilian/Mexican restaurant in Hanalei – Neide’s Salsa and Samba. I’d never had Brazilian food before. I ordered the traditional moqueca fish stew. Loved it!!!!

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d. Chicken in a Barrel – it was next door to the place where we rented our tandem bike, and their literal barrels of smoking chickens smelled really good. Plus, with all the danged chickens I’d seen roaming Kauai, I needed to eat some chicken! Tender chicken meat, served with chili and rice. Pretty good – and messy! Good thing they have a handwashing sink at the corner of the counter of their food stand.

e. Kauai Chocolate Company. OMG – HOMEMADE ICE CREAM!!! One variety was made with vanilla beans from the owners’ backyard. My favorite that day was the coffee ice cream. They also make chocolates, as implied by their name. The aroma of chocolate about knocked be backwards when I opened the door to the shop – they were in the process of making their specialty, chocolate opihis (limpets). Soo goood!

Anyplace that makes a wee deck chair for and begoogles their product get extra points from me.

Anyplace that procures a wee deck chair for and begoogles their product get extra points from me!

All that’s left to mention is the beer. We tried a few brews from Kona Brewing Company and Maui Brewing Company. Nothing particularly noteworthy, apart from Maui Brewing Company’s limited-release Lorenzini Double IPA. Wowza, is that good stuff!

great beerThe citrus juice added during the brewing process really gave this beer a tropical overtone and complimented the natural citrus-y taste of an IPA very well. I loved it and wish I could get my hands on some more! (Anyone traveling there and want to ship me some??) 😀

Apologies to those of you reading this during the lunch hour. Just know that I went through several hours of wish-I-could-have-that-again torture while writing this post.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

My experiment with fasting

Most people think of Monday dread in terms of their jobs.

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Hat tip to my sister for having a Persian cat who always looks cranky.

My early-week apprehension has recently been directed towards something else entirely:  fasting. I have been restricting my food intake on Mondays and Wednesdays for the last couple of weeks.

For someone who gets “hangry” on a regular basis, this seemed like a crazy idea. (I’m sure Bugman would agree!) I remember wondering how in the world my Muslim friends could tolerate their daily fasts during the month of Ramadan. Sometimes I could hardly wait for dinner without getting snappish.

If not for a couple of well-timed articles and the desire to lose some weight, I never would have tried fasting.

The backstory:

I had been dealing with stress by overeating (cheese-and-chocolate addiction!) and drinking more beer than I should (I love craft beer!), and I wasn’t getting any exercise. I gained 15 pounds in six months. Yikes!

I thought about getting back into running and cycling, to lose weight that way.

I am working on an exercise program (will post about that later), but there are a couple of problems with using that as a way to lose weight – for me, anyway.

1. When I increase my exercise, my appetite increases.

2. I have this bad habit of getting injured. I would love to be able to go knock out a 7-mile run and burn 1,000 calories, but, right now, that would kill my [choose a body part: ankle/hip/knee].

While I was thinking glumly about my New Years resolution to lose weight, I read an article on the BBC: In search of a personalised diet. The article talks about pairing the right solution with the right problem, explaining that there are hypothesized to be three “types” of overeaters, which are determined by personality and hormones: feasters, constant cravers, and emotional eaters.

The article included a link to a quiz where I could find out what my type was. (Oooboy! A quiz!)

Based on what I know about myself, I thought for sure I would classify as an emotional eater.

Nope.

My quiz results were: 11% emotional eater, 26% feaster, 63% constant craver. The following was included in the explanatory text accompanying my quiz result:

You have a strong biological drive to eat[,] and in today’s world, where there are many eating opportunities, you easily put on weight. It will take more effort for you to diet than for most people.

Oh, goody.

Then, the kicker: the recommended strategy to lose weight is “intermittent dieting” AKA “fasting.”

Double goody.

The type of fasting recommended in this approach is not a complete abstention from food. You’re supposed to consume something like 600-800 calories on two fasting days out of each week – ideally two consecutive days.

“Aw, what the hey – couldn’t hurt to try it,” I thought, and started right in on a mini-fast. My food intake that day, a Monday, consisted of just bran cereal with skim milk, a banana, and black beans with Sriracha.

Poor Bugman.

I was pretty hangry that day.

But worst of all, I found myself engulfed in a mental fog, unable to think clearly or make quick decisions.

I probably would have completely scrapped the idea of fasting, but for another article I read on NPR that same day: Minifasting: How Occasionally Skipping Meals May Boost Health. The article said that scientists were studying the potential health benefits of fasting: memory improvement, better immune system function, blood sugar control.

I was definitely interested in blood sugar control. Diabetes runs in my family. I don’t have it myself – yet. I’d like to avoid developing it if I can.

There was also the fact that “intermittent fasting = health benefits” made intuitive sense to me. The NPR article noted:

There may be an evolutionary explanation for [the health benefits of fasting] because humans (and other animals) have fasted intermittently for much of our time on Earth, after all. As a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes, “The most common eating pattern in modern societies, three meals plus snacks every day, is abnormal from an evolutionary perspective.”

I decided to give the idea of fasting another go.

On Wednesday, my next fasting day, the hangry fog returned.

I returned to my regular eating schedule for a few days:  went lunch with a friend, had a crazy pile of nachos and a beer at a meeting.

And then – Monday dread! – it was time to fast again. That day was frustrating, filled with a “swirling-head-I’m-going-to-die-if-I-don’t-get-food” feeling.

I decided to complete the second fast that week only because my wii Fit program told me I’d lost four pounds the previous week. I’m suspicious of the accuracy of that number, but it was at least headed in the right direction.

Strangely, I seemed to better tolerate the lack of food that day. I could still think!

The following Monday, the fast seemed to go OK, though it was a little hard to tell because I was recovering from a cold.

Today, on my sixth mini-fast day this month, I am writing this blog post. Proof that my brain is now able to function well on a low-calorie day! (I await the rebuttals to that last statement.)

I’m not seeing the other benefits from fasting that some people have reported – more energy (ha!) or decreased appetite – but because I’m still able to think without having to constantly stuff food in my mouth, I’m hopeful that perhaps something good in terms of energy regulation is happening in my body.

**I will put a couple of asterisks in here, in case someone is reading this and thinking about fasting to lose weight. I am not just fasting. I am also working on an exercise program for strength and aerobic fitness. I tend to eat healthfully in general anyway. I made a few new eating rules for myself as well:

  • Write down everything you eat
  • No eating in areas of the house other than the kitchen, dining room, or TV room
  • No eating when you are not hungry
  • No daily alcohol – special occasions only
  • Do not buy cheese, ice cream, or chocolate for snacking – these are your triggers
  • Eat lots of fruits & vegetables – prepare weekly meal plans and on-hand veggie snacks
  • If you feel the desire to eat when you are not hungry, take evasive action: go for a walk, drink water or tea

I’m willing to keep up the fasting for another couple of weeks – especially if I still have weight to lose. I have reservations about this “5-2 diet” in the long term, though.

I wonder if the cold I caught last week was in part because the fasting stressed my body too much. On fasting days, I feel resentful when I’m around other people who are not fasting, which kind of puts a damper on my social life. I don’t think fasting would be compatible with half-marathon training or long-distance cycling.

Finally, I will note this: intermittent fasting has developed my empathy for food-insecure people and increased my propensity to donate to anti-hunger causes. I won’t claim that choosing to forgo some calories a few days a week has suddenly made me knowledgeable about world hunger. But I do understand a little better what hungry folks are going through.

It’s not easy.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw