Tag Archives: david williams

Like a Kid Again

September 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don Byers’ teammates on the Bellevue University golf team saw the notion of shooting your age—one of the rarest feats in the sport—as a canard of the wildest conceit.

But the athlete who played for one semester with the Bruins came within a mere stroke of doing just that last year during a golf vacation in Arizona.

That’s because Byers, who is 61 (and shot a 62 on a Par 62 course that day in the desert), had a four-decade advantage over most of his collegiate competitors.

This most unlikely of feel-good sports stories began with a chance meeting on the first tee of his home course, Champions Run, when he was introduced to Rob Brown, the school’s head golf coach and a friend of one of Byers’ golfing buddies. 

There was nothing senescent about Byers’ swing that day. He was crushing it—with drives of nearly 300 yards and playing well under par.

Brown came to learn that Byers was a former pitcher who had blown out his arm before ever taking the mound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha baseball team back when Gerald R. Ford was in the White House. The coach playfully inquired as to whether Byers had any remaining college athletics eligibility.

But Brown, it turned out, wasn’t joking, and he discovered that Byers could play for Bellevue University because the Bruins play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. While the NCAA restricts student-athletes to playing within five years of graduating from high school, there is no such limit in the NAIA. So the longtime insurance agent, who lives in Elkhorn with his wife, Debra, enrolled at the university with an undeclared major and green goals.

Byers encountered several challenges in joining a team of students who could be his grandkids, the first being that he was no longer the lean, lanky, 6-foot-4-inch fire-baller of his youth. 

When uniforms were issued, the father of three and grandfather of four explained, “Coach handed me a pair of 38-inch-waist pants, the largest size they come, and I just kind of stared at them. I hadn’t worn a 38 in, well, quite a while.”

The team’s winter training regimen incorporates CrossFit, and Byers’ return to college athletics led to him shedding 50 pounds the hard way.

“The whole floor around me was soaked at the end of our first workout,” he says, “but the other guys hadn’t even begun to break a sweat.” 

And it wasn’t the end of the workout, one of his teammates explained. “That was just the warm-up!” Byers recalls, “I could barely walk the next day.”

As he came back into fighting weight—and shape— he looked forward to contributing on the course. 

He played in three rounds in the spring 2018 semester: shooting 21 strokes over par in two rounds at the March 30-31 TPC Deere Run Invitational in Silvis, Illinois, then finishing seven strokes over par at the April 17 Midland University Spring Invitational.

Records on the subject are sketchy, but Byers is among the oldest players in any sport in the history of college athletics, and his back-to-school story was featured in Sports Illustrated, the Golf Channel, Golf Digest, ESPN’s website, and USA Today.

Although he only pursued collegiate golf for five months, Byers insists his quest was anything
but quixotic.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Byers says, “and this [was] no lark. My goal was to make the team and then make the starting five” on the squad of seven golfers. “I was treated like everyone else. I earned my place.”


Visit bubruins.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

We All Scream for Ice Cream

July 18, 2018 by
Photography by provided

Growing up in the second half of an earlier millennia, the lilting jingle-jangle chimes of an ice cream truck was my soundtrack to summer. The common Fudgsicle had the power to induce a Pavlovian response in any young child. Buying a red, white, and blue Bomb Pop was an act of patriotism. The chocolaty/nutty Drumstick was considered the pinnacle of atomic age engineering. But ice cream no longer comes right to our doorstep as much as it once did, so let’s point you to where you’ll find the most tempting opportunities for a hurts-so-good brain freeze treat. 

Zesto

– 610 N. 12th St. (inside Blatt Beer & Table)
– 8608 N. 30th St.
– 7130 N. 102nd Circle
– 1317 S. 204th St. (Elkhorn)

Generations of college baseball fans have made the pilgrimage to Omaha for the NCAA College World Series, and no sojourn to TD Ameritrade Park would be complete without a visit to the mecca that is Zesto. The seasonal location that operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the one so often name-dropped by ESPN announcers, is co-located with Beer Blatt & Table just a Texas League single from the ballpark, but be sure to also check out the other locations, especially the frozen-in-time, throwback shop on North 30th Street.

eCreamery

– 5001 Underwood Ave.

Zesto may get lots of love from ESPN, but Dundee’s eCreamery has been heralded by…well, just about everyone else. From all the big morning shows to the New York Times to Shark Tank to such celebrity clients as Oprah, Taylor Swift, and Sir Paul McCartney, eCreamery is a darling of the ice cream world. Think you have what it takes to design your own blend? Give it a shot, but just know you’ll be up against some pretty stiff competition, including flavors from their collaboration with celebrity chef  Emeril Lagasse.

Neveria y Paleteria La Michoacana

– 4002 S. 24th St.
– 4924 S. 24th St.

Do monarch butterflies like ice cream? If so, they’d flock to South Omaha’s Neveria y Paleteria La Michoacana. That’s where they’d find the same sweet nectar flavors as those of their winter grounds in the Mexican state of Michoacán, the shop’s namesake. In flavors from guava to passion fruit to piña colada—even exotic tamarind—only the freshest real fruits are used in these delicacies that are also distributed through Guerrero Grocery and about 20 convenience stores across a broad southern swath of the city.

Jones Bros. Cupcakes

– Aksarben Village, 2121 S. 67th St.
– Westroads Mall, 10000 California St.
– 2615 S. 180th St.

August’s Maha Music Festival will rattle the glass of the windows across the street at Jones Bros. Cupcakes in Aksarben Village, but all will be serene inside, thanks to the calming, Zen-like powers of a scoop of ice cream floating in a Bursting Boba Tea, a popular summer selection from the folks who have made three appearances—and taken home one win—on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Or try one of their couture shakes and malts. Maybe the Salted Caramel Explosion with its combination of chocolate-covered potato chips, sweet and salty cupcake, and salted caramel brownie?

 

Petrow’s

– 5914 Center St.

Petrow’s isn’t your granddad’s ice…no, wait…Petrow’s is, in fact, your grandad’s ice cream. And your great-grandad’s. While the iconic family restaurant has occupied the same plot of land on the corner of 60th and Center streets since 1950, the Petrow name is associated with a continuous stream of Nebraska ice cream history that can be traced all the way back to the Fremont Candy Kitchen, which was established in 1903. Not many places can boast a 115-year-old recipe, but maybe that’s why their famed, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink clown sundae remains popular to this day.

Eileen’s Colossal Cookies

– 1024 S. 74th Plaza
– 210 S. 16th St.
(inside Brandeis Building)

One of the few places on our list that does not make its own ice cream, Eileen’s is still worthy of a mention for their amazing ice cream sandwiches. With usually something like nine flavors of ice cream and about 13 flavors of cookies from which to choose, the possibilities for tasty combinations in building your own ice cream sandwich are almost endless. (Available only at the two locations listed above.)

Freezing

– Aksarben Village, 1918 S. 67th St.

Watching the crew work at Omaha’s newest ice cream place is part middle school science fair and part Japanese steakhouse acrobatics. To create their Thai rolled ice cream, a viscous glob of semi-liquid ingredients is plopped onto a frozen disc the size of a pizza pan. The mix sets up as it is chopped, kneaded, and otherwise manhandled before being smoothed out into a crepe-thin layer that freezes in a matter of moments. Using a deft hand and what looks to be a broad-bladed drywall knife, the ice cream is then gently scraped off the disc in a way that forms perfectly coiled spirals of Thai yumminess.

Dolci

– Old Market, 1003 Howard St.

Dolci gets a nod for sheer ingenuity. Check out their fanciful Spaghetti and Sweet Balls sundae, where vanilla soft serve is extruded through a ricer to form a bowl of ice cream noodles. Add a few oatmeal peanut butter meatballs and a marinara of strawberry sauce topped with a grated, white chocolate topping in lieu of Parmesan cheese. Surely one of the Old Market’s funkier concoctions.

Ted & Wally’s

– Old Market, 1120 Jackson St.
– Benson, 6023 Maple St.

With a recipe that includes 20 percent butterfat, Ted & Wally’s, a local pioneer in upscale ice cream, lays claim to being the area’s only “super premium” product as defined by industry standards. And it’s all churned out in century-old White Mountain freezing machines. Both businesses operate out of equally antique, converted filling stations. The original location is an Old Market fixture, and the newer shop in the beard-and-beer borough of Benson has served to expand the reach of one of the city’s favorite brands.

Helados Santa Fe

– 4807 S. 24th St.

The only thing more colorful than the annual Cinco de Mayo parade that passes its front door is the collection of popsicles in the huge freezer case that welcomes you to Helados Santa Fe in the heart of South Omaha. In an array of hues straight out of Andy Warhol’s color palette from his Marilyn Monroe series, you’ll find such ice cream curiosities as cheese, Mexican bread, and avocado. And ice cream infused with hot chili peppers? Yeah, it’s a thing.

Coneflower Creamery

– Blackstone District, 3921 Farnam St.

The “Farm to Cone” tagline says it all at the shop in the resurgent, hot-hot-hot Blackstone District. Using a network of local partners from fruit and vegetable growers to dairies, coffee roasters, and locally made root beer—even the sprinkles are made in-house—Coneflower Creamery is committed to supporting local producers while delivering only the freshest of ingredients in a menu that changes with the growing seasons. A chef-driven philosophy is behind the quest for flavors not normally associated with ice cream. Basil? Saffron? Ginger? Turmeric? Yes, please!

Additional Metro Area Shops

– Dairy Chef  (3223 N. 204th St., Elkhorn)
– Dairy Twist  (2211 Lincoln Road, Bellevue)
– 80’s Snack Shack  (4733 Giles Road, Bellevue)
– Tastee Treet  (13996 Wabash Ave., Council Bluffs)
– Christy Creme  (2853 N. Broadway, Council Bluffs)
– Doozies  (321 Comanche St., Council Bluffs)

Have we neglected any local ice cream shops? Let us know on social media at @omahamagazine. 


This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

A Cathedral for Cooking

June 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most first-time attendees at Crème de la Crème instructional cooking events enter chef Paula Dreesen’s home as if they are crossing the threshold of a church. Perhaps overly aware of their guest status, they edge in on padded feet and speak in hushed whispers, the kind usually reserved for the gentle echoes of a house of worship.

“They may enter as strangers,” the gregarious Dreesen says with a broad smile, “but they leave as friends. That’s what good food and good conversation does. It draws people together.” 

But the night I became a parishioner at Crème de la Crème was different. And loud.

It was Dreesen’s 150th event, and all the other cooks-in-waiting were repeat guests, longtime disciples with as many as five previous evenings under the belts of their aprons. The only icebreaking required this time around involved that which was needed for a decidedly less than pious procession of mojitos which ushered in the evening.

Teaching, now so seemingly natural for the outgoing Dreesen, was an evolutionary process paralleling the arc of her life in food.

“My mom started me in the kitchen when I was a little girl,” the chef says, “and I worked in and around the restaurant industry for 35 years. Cooking has always meant so much more to me; so much more than just food.” 

After years of being asked by friends for help or advice in the kitchen, she began informal instructional sessions in her previous home, then launched her Crème de la Crème business plan three years ago in the sprawling 1,000-square-foot kitchen of a new home that was designed specifically for such group culinary gatherings.

“People always ask me why I never opened a restaurant of my own,” the chef says, “but I don’t think I have that in me, the seven-day commitment and endless hours that go into making a restaurant work. What I do have is a husband [Dr. Adrian Dreesen], five kids, and a dog. Crème de la Crème is the perfect fit…the perfect way to find and express my creativity and share it with others in a fun, social environment.”

Several globetrotting themes are available for Crème de la Crème soirees and, taking the farm-to-table philosophy to its logical extreme, Dreesen rotates her menus based on the availability of bounty from her expansive backyard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards perched high on a hill overlooking the Elkhorn River in West Omaha.

Crowd favorites include such Mexican menus as “Casa de Crème” and “A Tale of Two Tacos.” Italian is also popular with her “Pizza Party” and “Cozy Italian” evenings. 

And, in tribute to Dreesen’s culinary idol, Julia Child, there’s even a more highbrow “French Crème Countryside” menu for pilgrims in search of new frontiers.

Dreesen also offers the “Crème Conquest,” a hit with corporate clients that use the experience as a team-building exercise. Groups are split into teams and given a set of selected ingredients, but no recipe. The challenge is to guess the secret recipe from which the ingredients are derived. Even if the food sleuths fail to solve the underlying mystery, they get to battle it out, Iron Chef-style, in devising and preparing a delicious meal to be shared by their co-workers.

But it was the “Grillin’ Cuban Style” menu on tap for the night I attended, where anxious students took turns in preparing pineapple mojitos, mojo-grilled chicken with black beans and crispy sweet plantains, all followed by a decadent tres leches cake.

Although I was present as a journalistic observer—and my culinary prowess is pretty much limited to melting Velveeta—I was also invited to participate.

My assigned task, perhaps mercifully, was to blend the tres leches ingredients into a velvety symphony of num-num-numiness ready for the oven. Based on the baking, cooling, and refrigeration time called for in the recipe, I had accurately surmised that Dreesen had prepared a cake, the one we would later be eating, a day in advance, but I was still resolved to approach my job as if I were engaged in the sacramental rite of turning flour and eggs into manna from heaven. My apron, not to mention my nascent reputation as a capable hand in the kitchen, emerged unscathed. High fives all around.

Dreesen is often asked to take her show into other people’s homes, but now it’s her turn to speak in hushed, reverent tones.

“It’s doing it here that makes it meaningful for me,” she explains. “Cooking right here. Cooking with family helping me. Not just in any kitchen but in my kitchen. It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.”


Visit cremedelacremeomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Taking Off the Training Wheels

December 22, 2015 by

The old adage about never forgetting after learning how to ride a bike is pure hokum, and this grandpa is living proof.

On a camping trip this fall with grandsons Barrett (4) and Easton (5), I climbed aboard my daughter-in-law’s girlie bike—the robin’s egg blue cruiser outfitted with a cute basket that is perfect for holding…I dunno…kewpie dolls or friendship bracelets or other sugar-and-spice paraphernalia.

About three feet into my wobbly peddling it struck me that I could not remember the last time I had been on a bicycle. After giving it some thought, I pegged the year to be 1981. I won’t bore you with the comical, look-out-for-that-tree details of our ride over hill and over dale (poor Dale) through the campground that day.

The experience reminded me that Barrett and Easton are born-to-ride daredevils when it comes to two-wheeled action. Not 10 days after the training wheels came off Barrett’s bike he was already flying along the Wabash Trace Trail over in Iowa on one of the popular Taco Rides, and his family has since taken 10-mile jaunts along other, sometimes more challenging trails while crisscrossing the metro.

The thought of which is all absolutely horrifying to me.

And doubly so for my wife, Julie. When we let our imaginations get the best of us, life as grandparents can be a pins-and-needles game of waiting for that inevitable phone call from my son or daughter-in-law where we are informed, “Well, just thought we’d tell you that we’re on our way to the emergency room.”

That’s where this story was supposed to end. Sure, I would have yammered on for a paragraph or three on the terrors of being the grandpa of two young, adventurous boys who don’t know the meaning of fear…but that was going to be pretty much it. Column done. Over. See ya next issue.

Except that we did, in fact, get that phone call.

One week to the day after my tottering bike ride inspired this column, Barrett did a face-plant onto the pavement off his otherwise trusty steed. Yes, he was wearing a helmet, as always, but he knocked out three front teeth, and his bruised and bloodied face looked like a punch-drunk Robert Ne Niro in Raging Bull.

My son, Eric, was a BMX rebel in his teen years, and I recall holding my breath (thank goodness for a gold-plated medical plan) every time that starter gate dropped with a clang and a quartet of riders hurtled toward certain doom. That was at the bicycle track down in Lincoln but now, a generation later, Omaha has a BMX death trap of its own.

And Eric’s reaction to the events of last weekend? He plans to have Barrett fitted with a new mouthguard before going airborne for the first time in a gravity-defying ride on and over the dirt moguls of the local track. All before my grandson’s fat lip is even given a chance to recede to its former pretty-boy profile.

God help us all.

Bicycle

What Happened to My Lincoln Logs?

September 17, 2015 by

The interwebs tell me that the academic term I’ve been searching for is something called “structured block play.” You know, LEGOS, building blocks, and the like.

My 5-year-old grandson, Easton, is particularly enthralled with structured block play. Such toys in the hands of growing minds have many benefits in childhood development. Besides the obvious of honing fine motor skills—that ability to dope out how this piece fits into that one—there are higher cognitive functions at work here.

Children must be able to envision a finished product, one that begins with nothing more than a mental blueprint of their own making. They are confronted with a hodgepodge of disparate parts and must somehow envision a cohesive whole. Along the way they learn about spatial relationships, geometry, math, and problem-solving.

But that’s not Easton’s game.

He almost never sets out to build anything. Sure, he’ll occasionally erect a towering skyscraper of sorts, but his structured block play is almost always a lot less…well, structured.

He can occupy himself for what seems forever assembling intricate two-dimensional patterns on the floor, ones that seemingly serve no purpose other than to fuel his imagination. Some look like abstract art. Others evoke images reminiscent of those spindly models of molecules seen in science labs. The only common denominator appears to be the establishment and repetition of pattern for pattern’s sake.

Further distancing himself from the intended purpose of his toys, he eschews the “connectedness” functionality of the blocks. Instead of joining the pieces together, he lays them end-to-end.

Easton is usually at a loss for words in describing his convoluted creations, and I learned long ago to consider his installation art as something dwelling in the realm of the arcane, even the trippy.

I’d give anything to get inside Easton’s head to survey the workings of his brain as he puzzles through these puzzling arrays. Just what the heck is going on in that noodle of his as he conceives such fantastical explosions of variegated color?

I intended to begin this column reflecting on childhood memories of playing for hours on end with a set of Lincoln Logs. The problem is that such a statement would be a lie. It was impossible to tinker with toys like Lincoln Logs for any period of time without quickly losing interest. Maybe that’s because they represented an entirely different form of play, one decidedly lacking in possibilities compared to the limitless selection of block toys available today.

No, young children now have a more unfettered mode of play. Millennials are the first generation to have had the benefit of such free-association upbringings, and they’re the people who are defining a brave new world where imagination is the most prized of skills.

Baby Boomers like me had the endgame—the desired finished product—handed to them for all to see right there in the picture of a fort on that box of Lincoln Logs.

Easton is learning to think outside the box.

DWilliams1

Editor David Williams

Blocks1

Of Sophocles, Mutants, and Warhol

August 11, 2014 by

My wife, Julie, and I have amassed a library of perhaps 75 children’s books for story time with our grandkids, Easton (4) and Barrett (3). I’m also augmenting the collection with titles that were my faves as a kid.

Hold on a sec. To describe them as mere “titles” doesn’t paint the whole picture. I’m now on a kick of haunting antique stores and used book shops in search of early ’60s editions of works like The Snow Treasure (Marie McSwigan, 1942), a tale of heroism that finds Norwegian schoolchildren devising an ingenious scheme to keep a hidden stash of gold out of Nazi hands, and Daybreak: 2250 A.D. (Andre Norton, 1952), a post-apocalyptic adventure where the mutant-battling protagonist stumbles upon the ruins of a place that was apparently once called “New York City.”

The Snow Treasure is still in print and could be acquired with a few clicks of a mouse. But I don’t want just any copy of this classic. I want to read from the exact same edition with the exact same cover art that I so cherished as a young boy. It is difficult to put into words, but I think there is something magical—almost transcendent—about the reading experience when connecting to the past through vintage books.

A love of old books, avid readers already understand, can sometimes lead to the most unexpected of discoveries. Did you know, for example, that Andy Warhol began his career as an illustrator? He gained fame in the ’50s for his ink drawings used in, of all things, shoe advertisements. And before executing his first soup can, the artist augmented his income by illustrating children’s books. He was also known for his cats. Lots and lots of cats, just like the ones from Warhol’s work shown on this page from “Sophocles and the Hyena” (Best in Children’s Books No. 33, 1960).

The grandkids don’t care about the provenance of the books we select, but their grandpa is treating the collection process as something akin to a sacred quest, a decidedly idiosyncratic one that speaks to the power of memory and the magic found in dusty, musty volumes of the printed word.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” begins an old adage. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

I want my grandsons, Easton (4) and Barrett (3), to live those thousand lives. Now with the addition of Andy Warhol, let’s make that 1,001.

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