Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Would you try these uniquely-flavored potato chips? March 16, 2023

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Purchased, unbeknownst to me, at Aldi. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2023)

A NUMBER OF YEARS BACK, I banned potato chips from our house. Not because I don’t like them. I do. But rather I banned them for health reasons. We don’t need all that salt and extra empty calories. This marked a notable change, especially for Randy, who packs his lunch for work. Instead of potato chips, he now eats almonds, albeit the salted variety. I had to compromise.

There are times, though, when we still buy the occasional bag of chips. Usually I can talk myself, or Randy, out of purchasing potato chips. And then there are the impulse purchases that go unnoticed. Like Randy’s grab of Bratwurst Flavored Potato Chips, which I only saw upon our arrival home from the grocery store recently. How did I miss those in the grocery cart?

Before I even opened the bag to accompany our usual Saturday lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup, I predicted that Randy, who loves brats, would not like these chips. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t. I don’t like brats and will eat them only when no other option is offered.

Yet, I had to try these unusual chips tagged as “YUMMY” on the bright yellow packaging. So I opened the bag and took a whiff. Yup, they definitely smelled like brats. Next, I tasted one. Yup, they definitely tasted like brats. I ate another and another and another. At that point, Randy had to wonder what was wrong with his brat-despising wife. I wondered myself. I determined that the coarse texture has a lot to do with why I dislike actual brats. Or so I told myself.

I asked Randy for his opinion of the brat flavored chips. He initially said they tasted like hot dogs, then changed his evaluation to tasting like brats.

After our meal, I found the taste of those chips lingering for way too long. And not in a good way. With ingredients like spices (hmmm, what spices?), onion powder, garlic powder and natural smoke flavor, it’s no wonder I experienced such a long-lasting aftertaste.

The 9.5-ounce bag is in the cupboard now, clipped shut and still more than half full. I have not been tempted, not even once, to dip into those Bratwurst Flavored Potato Chips again. But I sure do have a craving for Dill Pickle Chips.

TELL ME: Have you eaten, or would you eat, bratwurst flavored chips? Is there an unusual flavor of potato chips you like? Please share.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Mystery of the Inflated Mozzarella Cheese Bag November 7, 2022

The unopened bag is rock-hard solid inflated. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

IT’S A MYSTERY, The Case of the Inflated Mozzarella Cheese Bag. To be sure, this is no Nancy Drew mystery like the vintage Carolyn Keene books shelved in my living room. Rather, this mystery centers in my kitchen, on the second shelf of my refrigerator.

Preparing dinner recently, I reached into the fridge for a bag of shredded cheese. What I pulled out stopped me in my meal prep. I held in my hands an unopened, inflated 16-ounce bag of Happy Farms by Aldi low moisture part skim shredded mozzarella cheese. The bag looked like a fully-blown balloon with no air leakage.

What the heck? I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever. Not in an opened or unopened, fully-sealed bag of cheese. My initial thought was that the cheese was old and spoiled as I purchased it sometime ago. I keep multiple bags of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses on hand. But the “best by” date is December 22, 2022.

I needed to solve this mystery, or at least gain some insight. So I sleuthed online, leaning into the theory that bacteria growing inside that cheese bag produced the gas which inflated the plastic bag. That makes sense to me, but then doesn’t answer the question of how bacteria got inside an unopened bag of cheese.

Whatever the cause of this mystery, I did not eat that cheese. Rather, I returned it under the “Aldi Twice as Nice Guarantee” with the item replaced, money refunded. In these days of high inflation and soaring food prices, “inflated” has assumed a new meaning.

Before returning the cheese, I sealed the sealed cheese bag inside a plastic bag lest, for some mysterious reason, the bag exploded inside my fridge. As much as I appreciate a good mystery, I didn’t need a sequel, The Case of the Exploding Cheese Bag.

TELL ME: Have you ever seen anything like this in food packaging?


Popping spring into a Minnesota winter February 1, 2022

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A hyacinth blooms inside my Minnesota home in January. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

IN THE DEPTHS of a Minnesota winter, when snow layers the landscape and cold settles into my bones, I long for spring. I yearn for color, for warmth, for stepping outdoors without first donning, boots, winter coat, scarf, hat and mittens.

In a mini vase, set on a windowsill, greenery emerges. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

In that mind frame, I recently purchased a hyacinth bulb at Aldi. It was in the non-food aisle of oddities—those items you don’t necessarily need but may buy on impulse. But I did need this. I needed a visual pop of spring, of color, in my home.

In the warmth and sunlight, roots spread inside the vase. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

A year ago I bought a hyacinth bulb in a mini vase at Aldi, too, but for my son who at the time lived in Madison, Wisconsin. He struggles with the cold, with winter in general. So, for a few bucks, I jolted color into his apartment. He’s now living in Indiana, some eight-plus hours away, thus no hyacinth this winter.

Beauty even in the green of tight buds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Instead, I would delight in this spring flower associated with the Greek god Apollo. I chose a pink hyacinth this year rather than the blue gifted to Caleb. My granddaughter loves pink and I was hoping to give the spring flower to her. But then my mom died and Izzy was sick (not COVID) and time got away and I haven’t seen the grandkids since early January.

Set against a snowy backdrop, the hyacinth blooms inside my home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

It was meant to be—for me to tend this bulb with buds clamped, then lengthening and unfurling into two beautiful blossom branches.

In the morning sunlight, the bulb sprouts roots, then greenery, then flowers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Each morning I moved the vase to the east-facing front picture window, into the morning light. I delighted in white roots expanding in the water-filled vase. I topped the water as instructed. I watched the greenery grow remarkably fast…until the first flowers bloomed. Lovely pink. And a fragrance equally lovely in intensity.

Hyacinth silhouette against the snow outside the picture window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Then the bulb tipped in the vase at the weight of the blooming stem. I leaned the heavy bloom against the window, propping it into balance.

A beautiful second blossom followed the first. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Soon a second shoot shot to the side. More flowers. Flowers set against a backdrop of snow. A symbol of spring in the depths of a cold Minnesota winter.


TELL ME: Have you grown a spring bulb inside your home in winter? I’d like to hear what and why.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling