Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Delighting in ice cream shops, yes, even in winter January 21, 2016

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Dairy Delite in Lakeville, photographed on a frigid Saturday afternoon.

Dairy Delite in Lakeville, photographed on a frigid Saturday afternoon in January.

IF I WAS TO CONDUCT a survey on Minnesotans’ consumption of ice cream, I expect the numbers would plummet in months like January and soar during the hot days of July. Makes sense considering the temperature.

My desire for ice cream drops considerably in winter. I’m cold enough without feeding more cold into my body. But not always.

Just the other night I craved not ice cream, but fro yo. I remember when my eldest daughter first mentioned fro yo probably five-plus years ago. The frozen treat was just trending in southern Minnesota. I had no idea what she was talking about. Eventually fro yo reached Faribault with the opening of Berry Blast in 2013. The business recently closed. I never got there.

In Faribault, Dairy Queen reigns with two shops within a short distance of one another. I like Dairy Queen. But if I get a treat there once a year, that’s about it. And then it’s only if I have a coupon to discount the high prices.

I’ve never been a chain restaurant fan. I much prefer locally-grown businesses with character, uniqueness and charm. Like the Dairy Delite, recently photographed in Lakeville. It’s closed for the season, has been since October, and will reopen in April.

I wish we had a quaint stand-alone nostalgic ice cream place like Dairy Delite in Faribault. Visitors look for such signature sites to purchase treats in the heat of a humid summer day. Locals appreciate these mom-and-pop ice cream shops, too. Here’s a thought—combine an ice cream place with promotion of the Tilt-A-Whirl, an Americana amusement ride which originated in Faribault. Just dreamin’ here in the midst of winter…

Tell me about your favorite original ice cream shop.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring La Crosse Part III: Eats & treats October 22, 2015

HOW DO YOU DECIDE where to eat in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin? You don’t. You allow your daughter to choose the restaurant.

A coaster at The Old Crow. I love the simplistic design and minimalist decor.

A coaster at The Old Crow. I love the simplistic design and minimalist decor.

Last Saturday, searching for a place to eat lunch, Miranda’s eyes landed on The Old Crow, an American Gastropub. I was expecting the usual limited fare of burgers and other sandwiches. Instead, we found those and plenty of creative menu choices. Like a burger served between glazed doughnuts. I ordered the smoked bacon, chicken and cheddar flatbread. The daughter and husband both ordered sandwiches. We all liked our food, although getting our meals took awhile. Granted, it was the busy lunch hour and we’d waited 15 minutes to be seated.

My smoked bacon and chicken flatbread cheddar. I wouldn't expect anything less in Wisconsin.

My smoked bacon and chicken flatbread with lots of cheddar. I wouldn’t expect anything less in Wisconsin.

I’m not a fan of sports bars. Typically, I’ve found the food isn’t that great. Nor is the atmosphere. But lots of natural light pours in through large street-side windows at The Old Crow. It features minimalist décor. And, as you might expect, an excessive number of televisions. A Badgers’ football game distracted my husband from conversation. That’s the primary reason I dislike sports bars. I’m out to eat and engage in conversation, not watch football, basketball or hockey. But that’s me. Sports bars fit a need. At the table next to us, a contingent of Badgers fans wore red team attire.

For a sports-focused bar and grill, The Old Crow wins with me in both food and decor.

Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., 110 South Third Street

Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., 110 South Third Street, with 18,000 square feet of merchandising space.

Details, like this tiled exterior entry, added to the charm of Antique Center.

Details, like this tiled exterior entry, add to the charm of Antique Center. This building once housed Ganterts Furniture Company.

I spotted lots of Oktoberfest buttons. La Crosse recently celebrated its annual Oktoberfest.

I spotted lots of Oktoberfest buttons. La Crosse recently celebrated its annual Oktoberfest.

A small section of the first floor merchandise in this sprawling building.

A small section of the first floor merchandise in this sprawling building.

The store offers an extraordinary amount of merchandise.

The store offers an extraordinary amount of merchandise.

I spotted two vintage dollhouses, wishing I still had mine from my youth.

I spotted two vintage dollhouses, wishing I still had mine from my youth.

I was tempted by this poster because I love vintage graphics.

I was tempted by this poster because I love vintage graphics.

It's fun to look at the clothing and wish I was about 30 years younger than I am.

It’s fun to look at the clothing and wish I was about 30 years younger.

After lunch, we checked out the neighboring Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., doing our share to support this business housed in an old furniture store and spanning three floors. We didn’t even hit the basement. You could spend hours in this shop teeming with customers.

With this signage, you can't miss The Pearl.

With this signage, you can’t miss The Pearl.

The Pearl offers m

The Pearl offers many ice cream flavors and types of ice cream treats. The ice cream is homemade by The Pearl.

Even though a tad chilly, we ate our ice cream outdoors. We ordered white chocolate raspberry, maple nut and Cappuccino Oreo.

Even though a tad chilly, we ate our ice cream outdoors. We ordered white chocolate raspberry, maple nut and Cappuccino Oreo.

The old-fashioned look of The Pearl is its charm.

The old-fashioned soda fountain look of The Pearl is its charm.

This clutch of birds dipped their beaks into spilled ice cream outside The Pearl.

We watched this clutch of birds dip their beaks into spilled ice cream outside The Pearl.

The ice cream and candy shop is housed in the complex known as Pearl Street West.

The Pearl Street West complex houses the ice cream and candy shop.

But we had a schedule to keep and ice cream to eat. Not that we were hungry after the filling lunch at The Old Crow. Still, we could not leave downtown La Crosse without eating homemade ice cream at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor. It’s a must stop, for the old-fashioned soda fountain atmosphere and the creamy ice cream. After that treat, I was ready for the 2 1/2 hour drive back home to Faribault.

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CHECK BACK tomorrow for more from La Crosse. Click here to read my first post from La Crosse and click here to read my second post in this Exploring La Crosse series.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Dari (not dairy) King (not queen) August 29, 2014

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GROWING UP IN A POOR farm family with five siblings, it wasn’t all that often we got ice cream treats in town. Maybe Schwans ice cream in a dish or cone from the basement/porch freezer. But not soft-serve at a walk-up/drive-up.

Dari King in Redwood Falls

Occasionally, though, Dad would treat us to a cone at the Dari King in Redwood Falls. This was back in the day when a small cone cost a dime. But even then a dime was a dime was a dime.

Forty years after I left the farm, the independent (non-chain) Dari King still stands, serving ice cream and more to the next generations. How sweet is that?

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

It’s ice cream season in Minnesota April 7, 2014

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Long lines formed to the two serving windows at Blast Softserve, 206 West Rose St., Owatonna.

Long lines form to the two serving windows at Blast Softserve, 206 West Rose St., Owatonna.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON AND THE LINES at Blast Softserve in Owatonna stretch sometimes 15 deep.

Lots of dogs waiting in line with their owners.

Lots of dogs waiting with their owners. Some of the canines got ice cream, too.

Families and couples and teens and dogs (yes, canines, too), all waiting for ice cream treats. No one complaining. No one seemingly in a hurry. Not even me, Ms. Impatience.

A peach pie flurry.

A peach pie flurry.

But after this Winter of Our Discontent—the winter that has blasted us with too much cold and too much snow—I am delighting in the 64-degree weather. No snow, although I order a peach pie flurry. Winter still on the brain, apparently.

Taking an order at the outdoor service window.

Taking an order at the outdoor service window.

I am still dressed in warm threads, too, a flannel shirt, while some here are baring their winter white arms and legs.

So many choices...including grasshopper treats.

So many choices…including grasshopper treats.

The mood is jovial. My husband jokes with a boy, about nine, that getting grasshoppers for a grasshopper treat may be difficult given they are out of season.

His father, quick with the wit, shoots back: “Maybe they bring them (the grasshoppers) in from South America.”

And they all laugh.

The building that houses the ice cream shop and a pizza place. Lots of loitering going on down the sidewalk and to the right at the walk-up ice cream window order area and  patio.

The building that houses the ice cream shop and Rose Street Pizzeria. Lots of loitering going on down the sidewalk to the right at the walk-up ice cream window order area and patio.

You can’t help but feel happy here at this hometown ice cream shop.

Lots of kids lining up for ice cream treats.

Lots of kids lining up for ice cream treats.

Sun and clouds. Kids and dogs. Shirt sleeves and shorts.

Kitschy ice cream art.

Kitschy signage.

Bikes parked in the bike rack. Stenciled letters. Kitschy art.

Just in case...

Just in case…

A bell to ring.

A blueberry sundae.

A blueberry sundae.

Dripping ice cream cones. A mother wiping chocolate ice cream from her son’s face. Temporary brain freeze.

Stenciled on the roof overhang above the serving windows.

Stenciled on the roof overhang above the serving windows.

Life is good on a Sunday afternoon in April in southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Serving up ice cream & nostalgia at The Whippy Dip July 9, 2013

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WITH THE WEATHER HOT as Hades, nothing beats an ice cream treat.

The Whippy Dip sign close-up

And it’s especially delicious served with a scoop of nostalgia, like that offered at The Whippy Dip in Decorah, Iowa. Don’t you just love that name? Whippy. Dip.

The Whippy Dip, overview

On a recent stop at this popular walk-up/drive-up ice cream/fast food stand, my husband waited in line to order a chocolate twist cone for me and a blueberry sundae for himself while I snapped a few photos.

The Whippy Dip, ice cream

I was impressed with the generous size of the $1.50 small cone, but soon realized my error in choosing a cone on a hot day. Picture chocolate ice cream dripping onto your fingers. Shoulda had the sundae or maybe the tornado or…

Great spot, the Whippy Dip.

What’s your favorite home-grown place to stop for an ice cream treat? And what do you order?

FYI: Look for more stories from Decorah and other northeastern Iowa communities which my husband and I visited last week while vacationing. Yes, this Minnesotan is admitting that she vacationed in Iowa. And loved it.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A wannabe dairy princess June 20, 2013

The barn where I labored alongside my father while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

The barn where I labored alongside my father and siblings while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

GROWING UP ON A MINNESOTA DAIRY FARM, I’ve always loved dairy products.

Fresh milk from our herd of Holsteins.

Butter and cheese from the bulk truck driver who picked up milk from our farm.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop's delicious maple bacon sundae.

One of my new favorite ice cream treats, a maple bacon sundae from Singing Hills Coffee Shop in Waterville. File photo.

Ice cream from the Schwans man. (My older brother often sneaked the tin can of vanilla ice cream from the freezer and climbed atop the haystack to eat his fill. He failed to remove his spoon, leaving damning evidence connecting him to the ice cream caper. I was too obedient to attempt such thievery.)

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing. File photo.

My cheese tastes have, thankfully, expanded beyond American and Velveeta, staples of my childhood. I especially favor the blue cheeses made and aged in sandstone caves right here in Faribault and sold under the names Amablu and St. Pete’s Select. If you like blue cheese, this is your cheese.

Cow sculptures outside The Friendly Confines Cheese Shoppe in LeSueur. File photo.

Cow sculptures outside The Friendly Confines Cheese Shoppe in LeSueur. File photo.

I bring up this topic of dairy products because June marks an annual celebration of all things dairy during “June Dairy Month.” This moniker is imprinted upon my brain. I once ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for Redwood County dairy princess.

Krause Feeds & Supplies in Hope advertised the availability of Hope butter and Bongards cheese. File photo.

Krause Feeds & Supplies in Hope advertises the availability of Hope butter and Bongards cheese. File photo.

Steele County, to the south of my Rice County home, is apparently a big dairy county having at one time served as home to more than 20 creameries. One remains, in the unincorporated village of Hope, producing Hope Creamery butter in small batches. The creamy’s organic butter is especially popular in certain Twin Cities metro eateries.

Owatonna, the county seat, once claimed itself to be “The Butter Capital of the World.” That butter capital title will be the subject of an exhibit opening August 1 and running through November 10 at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. The exhibit will feature the area’s rich dairy history to current day dairy farming in the county. Events will include a roundtable discussion on the dairy industry and, for the kids, butter making and a visit from a real calf.

Notice the cow art on the milkhouse in this image taken this past summer.

Cow art on the milkhouse of my friends Deb and John, who once milked cows in rural Dundas. File photo.

Calves. I love calves. More than any aspect of farming, I loved feeding calves buckets of warm milk replacer or handfuls of pellets. I once named a calf Princess and she became my “pet,” as much as a farm animal can be a pet. Then my older brother—the one who ate ice cream when he wasn’t supposed to—told me one day that my calf had died. I raced upstairs to my bedroom and sobbed and sobbed. Turns out he made up the whole story of Princess’ early demise. She was very much alive.

The vibrant art of Faribault artist Julie Falker of JMF Studio.

The vibrant art of Faribault artist Julie Faklker of JMF Studio. File image.

And so, on this day when I consider June Dairy Month, my mind churns with thoughts of butter and ice cream, of calves and of the dairy princess crown I never wore.

FYI: Faribault area dairy farmers Ron and Diane Wegner are hosting “A Day on the Farm” from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. this Saturday, June 22. Their farm is located just south of Faribault at 25156 Appleton Avenue. The event includes children’s activities, photos with a baby calf and free cheeseburgers, malts and milk. Event sponsors are the Rice County American Dairy Association and the Minnesota Beef Council. The Wegners’ daughter, Kaylee, is the current Rice County dairy princess.

The Redwood County American Dairy Association in my home county of Redwood in southwestern Minnesota is sponsoring a coloring contest for kids and a trivia contest for adults. Click here for details. 

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A maple bacon sundae & other delights at a Waterville coffee shop September 13, 2012

Singing Hills Coffee Shop, at the corner of Main and Third Streets in downtown Waterville in southern Minnesota.

KATHY GREW UP in Detroit, worked 20 years as a deck officer on a freighter for the Merchant Marine, met her husband at a Halloween party, birthed two daughters in her 40s and then, with no business experience, opened a coffee shop in December 2010.

That’s the life synopsis of the woman behind Singing Hills Coffee Shop in the southern Minnesota lakeside community of Waterville, best known for its bullheads and Buccaneers—as in the local high school champion football and basketball teams.

Inviting outside dining at the Singing Hills Coffee Shop.

One-third of a stately, anchor brick building on a corner of Waterville’s Main Street houses the coffee shop. It’s as inviting on the outside—with bistro tables and a bench and window baskets popping with hot pink petunias and luscious ivy spilling from pots—as it is inside.

The bright, cozy dining area of the coffee shop with local arts and crafts displayed on shelves to the right and on walls.

Kathy’s daughter, Marina, waits on customers.

On an early Sunday afternoon, 45 minutes before the 2 p.m. closing, Kathy hustles to prepare sandwiches and ice cream treats while her 10-year-old daughter, Marina (yes, her name is a nod to Kathy’s time on the water), takes orders, accepts payment and makes change.

Kathy hurries back to the kitchen to prepare orders while customer and friend, Kari, relaxes in a back coffee shop corner. Tim Foster’s “American lures” painting (oil paint, oil pastels and graphite on canvas) anchors the wall. It was inspired, he says, by old fishing lures. Kathy would like to purchase the $450 painting as a permanent installment in her shop. I suggested she collect tips to help her buy it. Foster sells his mostly abstract and surreal paintings through his website and studio, at Hogan Brothers in Northfield and via art shows. Kathy saw “American lures” at the 2012 Sakatah Arts Experience in Waterville and invited Foster to bring his painting to her coffee shop.

In a comfy corner chair, Kathy’s friend, Kari, is reading her bible, seeking comfort at the recent, unexpected loss of her 36-year-old cousin. Light floods the homey space warmed by walls the hue of honey on two sides and a contrasting robin’s egg blue on the other.

A printed sign on a slim spot between two towering windows reads:

Conduct Code—Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat other people the way you want to be treated!

Owatonna resident John Muellerleile’s fine art photography on display and for sale.

Kathy welcomes customers and artists here, into this corner haven in a town that thrives on summer-time business from resort guests, cabin dwellers and users of the recreational Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.

Her customers come here for the ever-popular smoothies and the favorite turkey avocado sandwich, for the coffee and the espressos and other beverages, for the breakfast and soup and sandwiches and salads and baked goods and ice cream treats.

On this Sunday, my husband and I have driven 15 miles for an ice cream treat upon the recommendation of our friend, Joy, who raves about the maple bacon sundae.

As Randy places our order with Marina, I chat with Kari in the corner, take photos and admire a focal point, 6-foot by 4-foot oil painting by Tim Foster of Northfield. His fish-themed art piece, titled “American lures,” is “so Watervillian,” Kathy tells me later, fitting this lakeside town which celebrates bullheads at an annual June festival. There’s a deeper meaning to the painting in which words like “love” and “prove it” and “Federal Reserve Bank” are hidden, Kathy says, but we don’t get into details.

An example of the handcrafted work of local artisans for sale in the coffee shop.

Kathy works with the nonprofit Waterville Local Cooperative Outlet to provide a marketplace for some 8-10 local artisans and crafters. Their creations—from woodcrafts to crocheted caps, paintings, photos and more—are displayed on walls and on shelves through-out the coffee shop.

Donald Kelm of Waterville, a custom woodworker, created this mug.

Engaging the arts community exemplifies Kathy’s efforts at community development. That extends to the food aspect of her business, too. She wanted, she says, more dining options than bar food burgers and fries for the town she and her family now call home. And Kathy offers that with a sandwich menu which doesn’t include a single burger. The closest thing to fries are the chips accompanying sandwich orders.

On her sandwich menu, you’ll find choices like egg salad on a croissant; veggie wrap with hummus, provolone, red onion, red pepper and spinach; and cherrywood smoke ham with garlic cheddar, tomato and mustard sauce. You can build your own sandwich, order a cup of soup.

Hungry for a bakery treat? Kathy has selections from cupcakes to pie to traditional Upper Peninsula style pasties, a tribute to her native Michigan.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop’s delicious maple bacon sundae.

But, on this Sunday, I’ve come only to sample the maple bacon sundae with spicy maple-glazed pecans, homemade maple caramel and bacon, yes, bacon, on vanilla ice cream. My husband questions my choice. I don’t, and find the sweet and salty mix a perfect complement to the ice cream. I’d give the maple bacon sundae a five-star recommendation.

An equally tasty blueberry sundae.

My less daring spouse orders a blueberry sundae and is equally pleased with his selection.

These two boys came with their moms, and a sister of one, for ice cream treats. The boy on the right told the boy on the left that he had a mustache. Then I told the boy on the right that he had an ice cream mustache, too.

A retired couple who spend their summers at a Waterville resort rave about the sandwiches while two moms ordering ice cream for themselves and their kids endorse the ice cream.

Kathy, though, admits that business growth was slow during her first year and that she’s still learning, given her inexperience as a businesswoman. With summer winding down, she’s cutting back on hours. Singing Hills Coffee Shop is closed now on Mondays and Tuesdays, but open from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday and from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Sunday.

On October 14, the coffee shop will close for the season and then reopen in mid-April.

So, if you want to try that maple bacon sundae…

FYI: For more information about Singing Hills Coffee Shop in Waterville, click here to reach the shop’s website.

To learn more about the arts scene in Waterville, specifically the annual Sakatah Arts Experience, click here.

For more info about Northfield artist T. Andrew Foster, click here to visit his Creative Space Art Studio website. 

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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