‘City girl’ loves country life


By Katie Zerr

Leah Rath

Leah Rath

How does a self-proclaimed city girl find life on a west river ranch, tucked away from any metropolitan life? Much to her liking, according that ex-city girl Leah Rath.
Leah, her husband Michael, and their twin six-year-old daughters (their birthday is in April) Cheyenne and Shayla, live on a ranch owned by Kim and Jackie Ulmer, where Michael is the ranch manager. She is the lodge director at the Grand River Casino where she oversees the hotel and gift shop.
“He is a jack-of-all-trades and pretty handy,” said Leah.
They met at Black Hills State University in Spearfish. She is from Hill City, he is a McLaughlin native. They moved back from the Black Hills to this area in 2011.
“We are big outdoors people,” she said. “We love it here. Sundays are ‘Daddy Day’ and we like to go boating, fishing or hunting. If daddy has to work, the girls ride in the tractor with him.”
Leah said supper is the most important meal of the day for the family. They sit at the table to discuss what happened during the day and connect with each other.
“During the week, it is whatever I can put together quickly after I get home from work. But on weekends I like to cook. I love to experiment then,” she said. “We are meat people, so every meal includes beef or wild game.”
She said she likes to make soups and casseroles and will try anything that sounds interesting or looks good in pictures in the recipe book. Her husband is a good sport and will try anything, which makes it fun for her.
“I am not a very good baker, but I am getting better at it,” said Leah.
She said Mike is the grill master because she is a bit scared of it. Leah said once she decided to grill chicken breasts, and during the process started a fire on the grill. Not knowing how to put it out, she threw water onto the grill.
She lets Mike do all the grilling now.
Having lived in well-populated areas throughout her life, Leah considered herself a true city slicker whose idea of cooking meant the drive-through window at Taco Bell. But a husband and two daughters changed that.
She now has a garden, began canning last year, and said she loves it.
“Living out here you kind of have to grow your own,” she said.
Her cooking experiences have had ups and downs, and Leah remembers a peanut brittle disaster that taught her a lesson about how sensitive making candy can be.
She decided she would make the peanut brittle recipe from the “Joy of Cooking” recipe book they had received as a wedding gift. She was going to package the candy into beautiful paper and ribbon to give as gifts. She followed each step carefully, but the candy would not harden enough for her to break into pieces. Calling her aunt for help, she learned that weather, including high humidity, could mess with her homemade candy.
Deciding to scrap her plan, Leah tried to get the candy out of the pan, but no matter what she did, it was solidly stuck.
She took it on the deck and pounded it out of the pan in one chunk.
“The dogs went up to it and sniffed around it, but they wouldn’t eat it,” she laughed.
Her girls like to help in the kitchen and know what they like and don’t like.
Once, while baking cookies with her girls, they informed her they liked Aunt Jackie’s cookies more, because her recipe didn’t have the black stuff on the bottom of the cookies.
Her mother has a hard time believing her city girl has become a true South Dakota ranch wife, but Leah said the lifestyle fits her family perfectly.
She said she misses the Black Hills, but living the ranch life is what is right for her family.
“The girls can be painting their nails in the morning and helping daddy with chores at night,” she said. “They like to spend time playing with their cousins and Mike and I take that time to drive around and check calves.”
The hours spent in the pickup together are special and gives them time to connect as a couple.
“This is the way life is supposed to be,” she said.

Taco seasoning
1/2 cup chili powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1/8 cup ground cumin
1 Tbs. garlic powder
1 Tbs. paprika
1 Tbs. sea salt
Put ingredients into jar and shake.

Any game chili
1 1/2 pounds ground elk, venison or beef
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 32-ounce can tomato juice
1 can chili beans, undrained (I prefer the mild flavor)
1 can beef broth
1 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
2 Tbs. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sugar
In a stockpot, brown meat, pepper, onion and garlic until pink. Drain and return to pot. Stir in tomato juice, beans, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, and Tostitos Scoops or Crispy Rounds. Freezes well for 30 days and keeps for up to one week.

Shepherd’s Pie
6 large potatoes or use leftover mashed potatoes
1 1/2 pound ground beef
2 cans creamed corn
2+ cups shredded cheddar cheese
Make mashed potatoes as usual adding salt and pepper to taste. If using leftover mashed potatoes, layer in a deep casserole or baking dish. Brown beef with seasonings as desired. I use Rick’s Salt and either fresh chopped onion or dried onion flakes, just enough for taste. Drain meat and make the next layer over potatoes. Make the next layer by pouring the creamed corn over meat. The final layer is the cheese. I usually use at least 2 cups but more can be used if desired. Tent tin foil to cover the dish or use an oven-safe lid. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Cheese should be melted all the way through and the corn bubbling. Let stand for about 5 minutes and serve. This is the best comfort food dish! Serve on its own or with a Caesar salad and fresh baked bread.

S’more bars
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbs. milk or cream
2 cups mini-marshmallows
1 cup chocolate chips, divided
1 Tbs. shortening
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix first seven ingredients in large bowl, blend until crumbly. Press into a greased 9-inch by 13-inch pan, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 2 cups mini-marshmallows. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips with 1 Tbs. of shortening and drizzle over bars once removed from oven. Let cool. Cut and serve.

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