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Breakfast among the Bald Eagles
by Betty Sayers, Pam Soreide and Phil Soreide
If you don’t live in south central Nebraska, you may imagine us up to our hips in snow about New Year’s Eve. Although in many years that is the case, this is not one of them. Since Christmas, our temperatures have been in the very comfortable forties with clear, sunny skies and little wind.
The Christmas holidays were over but had left the memory of too many rich banquets and too many sweets; the prospect of another big dinner – even at one of our favorite restaurants – was more than we could bear. So the talk turned to the large contingent of Bald Eagles that our friend Pat Underwood, director for Harlan County Tourism, told us were wintering at (relatively) nearby Harlan County Lake. Somewhere in there the conversation shifted back to food, and the idea of a “Norwegian” breakfast adventure to see the eagles first thing in the morning on New Year’s Eve day began to take shape.
A little background
When Pam and Phil honeymooned in Norway a million years ago, they were introduced to the concept of a breakfast table laid with whole grain bread, sausage, cheese, bell peppers, onions, soft Blue Costello cheese, cream cheese, peanut butter, and jam. They learned this is common throughout Scandinavia: each person makes his or her own breakfast sandwich and the intention is that they also make their own lunch sandwich(s) at the same time. Thus, everyone gets exactly what and as much food as they want.
Good bread and cheese with a spicy summer sausage is a hard breakfast to beat in our book, and it seemed to fit in with the romantic vision we had of ourselves sipping wonderful coffee and toasting the passing parade of eagles with glasses raised. So we set about to make it happen.
Early in the morning
Our plan was to start by picking up some good coffee to go at Joe Camera, a mainstay of Alma’s main street. We chatted with proprietor Dusti Torrey as she brewed our lattes and a cappuccino and strolled around the space that the Dusti and her husband Joe had restored and repurposed as a coffee house and photography/print studio. It’s a cozy place, with mellow wood floors, wide window sills and exposed-brick walls as well as the sun beaming through a large front window framed by deep green leafy plants, and the whole scene suffused with the enchanting smell of freshly brewed coffee.
Also on display are three sculptures by artist Sally Jurgensmier, part of a city-wide art installation coordinated by our friend Pat Underwood. We also chatted with cake artist Cheryl Brown who owns Dragonfly Desserts, located catty-corner from Joe Camera. Cheryl invited us to visit her establishment and pick-up fresh scones and maybe a cinnamon roll for our adventure. We happily took her advice and bought both from Cheryl’s personable teenage son whom she’d left in charge.
All to ourselves
The campgrounds were deserted, with not a soul in sight. We spread our vintage tablecloth on one of the picnic tables in full sun and with a good view of the reservoir and hauled out our feast. Our picnic backpack is fitted with storage places for china plates, juice glasses, silverware, food and the bottle of champagne we’ll need for mimosas. Betty brings out an old-fashioned wicker picnic basket with a cutting board, knives, and summer sausage from Lone Wolfe Wurst Meats in Eustis (which we’ve known since it was the Wurst Haus), and homemade Swedish rye bread, courtesy of her mother. We chat about her latest kitchen gadget from Knowlen and Yates in McCook, a ceramic cheese knife that neatly and easily slices our whole array of cheese, even the Maytag blue cheese.
Since this is a federal campground, once our table is set, we toast each other and the New Year with champagne and orange juice mimosas – a delightful way to get a little sparkle in your morning. As we did so, a lone eagle floated by high over the edge of the water but quite visible to us. Breathtaking.
The sun is bright on our savory little meal, but with the temperature just above freezing, we don’t linger long. Once the coffee is finished, and the last scrap of the slightly sweet, moist, blueberry scone (really excellent scones – the best we’ve had in a long time) has been licked clean, we are newly inspired to pack up and head out eagle hunting.
Eagles and more eagles
At the east end of the lake, the massive Harlan County Dam controls the flow downstream. As we drove slowly across the causeway we could see hundreds of ducks and geese bobbing in the water and scores of birds hovering overhead. As we got closer, we realized that although many of these birds were gulls, mixed in with them were a score or more of Bald Eagles who feed on sick or injured birds in the flocks below.
They are truly magnificent birds to see – strong and muscular and steely-eyed. We checked out the campgrounds below the dam, but it was quiet; the real show was across the causeway. As we watched them balance on the wind, we are struck with the purity of the air, sky, ice and this ancient ballet of nature.
When we started talking about this idea, we all knew that whatever else had happened, ending the year with a picnic breakfast would make it an event to remember. And we were right.
Who to Contact
Coffee House and Printing
717 Main Street, Alma, NE
Open: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. M-F, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday
802 Main Street
Open: 8-4:30, Tuesday – Friday; 8-12, Saturday
Order Lone Wolf sausages from:
Der Deutsche Markt
105 North Main
P.O. Box 358
Eustis, NE 69028