Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault celebrates community on the first day of October October 2, 2022

Plenty of people turned out to sample chili in downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

DOWNTOWN FARIBAULT PROVED a busy place Saturday afternoon. It was good to see people out and about on a sun mixed with clouds kind of first day of October.

Some chili makers got creative with their serving stations. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Serving up “MARVEL-ous chili. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

MARVEL characters guard the chili. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The Faribault Main Street Chili Cook-off drew me downtown to sample chili served outdoors in front of nonprofits and businesses and even on a street corner. For me the event was as much about socializing as tasting chili.

Chili servers get in the Halloween spirit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Food always brings community together. And the cook-off effectively does that. I saw people I haven’t seen in a long time. Staying connected matters to me.

Mayor Kevin Voracek flanked by city councilmen Peter Van Sluis, left, and Royal Ross converse and serve chili. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Even the mayor made and served chili with city council members assisting. I appreciate their community involvement, this everyday kind of interacting. As I spooned the mayor’s chili, a woman praised the naming of a new city park as Fleckenstein Bluffs in honor of a long ago brewery. Hearing her positive comment encouraged me as I expect it did our elected officials.

An out-of-town team works on finding answers to clues during a scavenger hunt in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The all-around vibe along and off Faribault’s Central Avenue on Saturday felt positive, welcoming, inviting. When I observed groups of people in matching tees and carrying clipboards, I finally asked what they were doing. They were part of an invitation-only scavenger hunt, HÖDAG, through southern Minnesota. I welcomed them to Faribault and invited them to return and spend more time in our city.

Serving chili with a smile. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’m a firm believer in making others feel welcome with a smile, friendly words and encouragement to return to Faribault.

Tami Resler’s art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)
Johnnie Walker’s pottery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Pet portraits by Julie Fakler. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

After eating and greeting, I headed to the Paradise Center for the Arts and the annual South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour. There I not only viewed the work of six talented artists, but also got some camera first aid from Johnnie Walker, a photographer and potter. While at the Paradise, my zoom lens locked and Johnnie, who teaches photography at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, offered to take a look. He couldn’t fix the sticky lens problem, but he semi-eased my mind and promised to reconnect with me about getting a different lens. I tend to panic if anything goes wrong with my camera gear given my limited knowledge of equipment. Johnnie’s kindness reaffirms for me that there are good, kind people in this world.

Spotted on the windshield of a jeep, identifying the owner as a scavenger hunt participant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The events in downtown Faribault on Saturday brought a whole lot of people together. To serve and sample chili. To converse and explore. To follow clues in a scavenger hunt. To showcase and appreciate art. But, mostly, to connect, to build a sense of, and an appreciation of, community. And that is how, from my perspective, the first day of October unfolded in historic downtown Faribault.

Outside the entrance to the Paradise Center for the Arts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

FYI: The South Central Studio ARTour continues from 10 am – 5 pm Sunday, October 2, featuring 35 artists at 18 studios in Faribault, Northfield, Nerstrand and Farmington.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“Dante’s inferno” chili & more in a Minnesota church basement February 18, 2014

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

THE SPICY SCENT OF CHILI wafted up the stairs as I entered the church late Sunday afternoon for Trinity Lutheran, Medford’s, second annual Chili Cook-Off.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

I shed my winter coat, got instructions on the chili sampling process and then headed downstairs to taste, and judge, 30 homemade chilis. Twas a nearly impossible task given the numbers and the home-cooked goodness.

Trinity's basement was packed.

Dining in the church basement.

I’ve found church basement food events to be, with only one exception, superb dining experiences.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Here, in the fellowship of friends, I spooned chili into numbered plastic cups, ate and then attempted to choose my favorites. I had five tickets to cast five votes.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

Some I quickly eliminated as too bland or too salty or too ordinary.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

I was looking for something savory and different.

So many varieties to taste.

So many varieties to taste.

In one chili I detected a hint of cinnamon.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Many, as you would expect, tasted of tomato in varying degrees of intensity.

Each diner got five tickets with which to cast votes.

Lines formed to spoon up the chili.

Chocolate overwhelmed one. An attempt, perhaps, to woo the female vote?

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

A chili laced with chunks of avocado won my favor, while my husband, seeing the green veggies, wouldn’t even try it. His loss.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili. Diners placed tickets in the boxes to vote. Kari Yule’s chili, number 17, took the trophy. And, yes, I voted for Kari’s chili, among four others.

Of one chili, number 25, the opinion seemed unanimous. This chili packed some wicked heat, so hot I motioned for Randy to refill my water glass and, after a few gulps, to “please pass the crackers.”

A list of those who made chili.

A list of those who made chili.

Afterward I would find the chili sign-up sheet upstairs in the church narthex with “Dante’s Inferno” on the list.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

In the end, Kari Yule claimed the trophy while Amy Grayson took second and Randy Lemke (with help from niece Brandi) came in third.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

All were winners in my eyes—especially us 120 diners.

Trinity's youth count the votes.

Trinity’s youth count the votes.

Trinity youth also earned $803 through a free will offering for the 2016 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering in New Orleans.

I'm not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

I’m not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

What a great event. If you haven’t attended a chili cook-off or partaken of food in a church basement, do. You’ll find delicious food, good company and, typically, will assist in funding a worthy cause.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Food and (some) photos October 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:42 PM
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DURING THE PAST 24 HOURS, I have eaten perhaps more food than I would consume in two days.

But three delicious food events fell on the same weekend and I was not about to skip any in the trio.

What I did skip, however, was photographing two of the three, forcing myself to leave my camera at home for one and in the van for the third, just in case. Anyone who knows me understands just how challenging camera abandonment is for me. But I did it, people, I did it.

Four of the 13 chilis/soups served at Lanae and Dale’s annual soup party.

So, instead of seeing photos from Saturday’s Fall Festival in downtown Faribault, which included a buffet of chili along Central Avenue, you will see photos only from my sister Lanae and her husband Dale’s ninth annual soup party Saturday evening.

You also will not see photos from the fall dinner I attended today at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. I hadn’t even entered the sanctuary when I was asked, “Do you have your camera?” Yesterday I heard the same question several times while strolling Central.

People have come to expect that I will always have my camera around my neck. It was time for me to break free of the camera. Besides, I’ve photographed both the Chili Contest and the Trinity dinner in the past and felt uninspired and maybe a bit lazy. (If you want to see photos from the 2011 church dinner, click here. For past images of the Fall Festival, click here.)

My floral designer sister always has her yard and house seasonally and beautifully decorated.

But, prior to scooping up soup in my sister’s garage, I shot a few photos inside and out and then put away my camera.

I hope you will be inspired by these photos to host an autumn soup party. Guests brought 13 soups/chilis like split pea, potato, Gunflint chili, white chili, minestrone, tomato and more in crockpots. Paired with homemade breads and sweetened with sweet treats, the soups and chilis presented a perfect meal for a fun-filled fall evening with family and friends.

The soup party started and ended with a backyard campfire. Here a few guests and host Dale gathered before we ate.

I was distracted from the food by this gigantic toad in my sister’s backyard.

Then 7-month-old Mychel and her mom arrived and I invited them for a quick photo shoot on the front steps because, well, how could I resist that sweet baby face?

And then I noticed the sweet baby shoes and how could I resist photographing the feet of mom and daughter?

The sweet baby shoot continued as Mychel walked with her mom toward the garage.

In the garage Mychel’s grandpa, Scott, left, and other guests eventually started filing through the soup line.

My niece Cortney and guest Sheila scoop up soup. Casual and warm attire are necessary for this event which is staged in the garage, driveway and backyard. Layers are added as the evening progresses and cold settles in.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Caution: Machinery, deer (maybe even a John Deere) & a cold front October 4, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:33 AM
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IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, in the heart of farm land, you’ll totally understand the first part of the message below posted on a sign in front of the Henderson City Hall.

Slow moving farm machinery and deer chased from their habitat most assuredly are reasons to be extra cautious while traveling rural roads during the fall harvest.

As for that “Chilli on the Hilly,” strike the second “l” in “chilli” and you have chili served this coming Saturday at the Henderson House Bed and Breakfast up that road to the left (Minnesota Highway 19) and around the curve and then to the  right up the steep hill.

Or, strike that second “l”  in “chilli” and change the second “i” to a “y” and you have the current weather in Minnesota. Chilly. Ten inches of snow forecast for northwestern Minnesota today, folks.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Let’s have some chili February 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:04 PM
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YESTERDAY THE FARIBO WEST MALL sponsored a first-ever Chili Contest. I posted about this already.

But I have more photos to show you; I didn’t want to cram all of them into a single drawn-out post.

So join me at the mall as we grab some chili.

If you’re entering on the west end of the mall, just follow this sign, posted on the door of KLIK Photography, …

…past the Lucy statue to the crowd way down at the east mall entrance.

After you’ve purchased a plastic spoon for $1, with those proceeds benefiting the Faribault Food Shelf, peruse the 16 chili offerings.

Don’t miss the condiments served by some contestants. However, if you want a true, pure taste of the chili or you are trying to avoid calories, you may want to skip the enticing extras.

But do not skip checking out the table decor like this chili station tended by Hannah Plath serving her dad Jeff Langmeier’s hot chili. I would have awarded this table top prize in decorating.

 As you’re served chili, observe the details like the pepper necklace and devil horns worn by Hannah Plath to emphasize the heat in her dad’s chili. Note the judge (Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism President Kymn Anderson) with her clipboard.

Keep a watchful eye on the judges (Faribault Mayor John Jasinski, left, and Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn) while they sample Kristen Langmeier’s chili, or any chili for that matter. 

You can tell a lot about a chili by watching the facial expressions of those tasting it. Yes, when I sampled one particular chili, the entrant and his family (Bill Frogge, winner on the celebrity judging), fixed their eyes on me. I willed myself not to flinch at Frogge’s fiery chili.  

Afterward, when they weren’t watching, I sneaked over to the water cooler.

But what the chili contestants don’t know…

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Trying tofu at a soup party September 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:57 AM
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Guests gather inside and outside a Waseca garage for an autumn soup party.

IT IS, FOR MY EXTENDED FAMILY, a rite of autumn in Minnesota.

The orange tub of cheese balls. My nieces’ bloody finger cookies. Julie’s homemade breads, still warm from the oven. Vintage trays stacked high. Crockpots, brimming with soup, crammed onto tables inside the garage. Sampling each soup or chili. And afterward, conversation and laughter around the backyard campfire.

Last Saturday night my sister Lanae and her husband Dale hosted their eighth annual soup party at their Waseca home for family and friends. For me, and many others, it’s a must-attend autumn event.

Tortellini with Italian Sausage Soup, left, and German Potato Salad and Creamy Corn with Jalapeno soups to the right in photo.

Homemade breads, this year crafted by Lanae and Dale's friends, Julie and Vicki.

Bloody finger cookies, a soup party tradition.

Sweatshirt weather on a day that transitions quickly from cool to cooler. Oranges and reds and yellows. Chili that bites and heats the innards. Comfort in the familiarity of Chicken Noodle Soup laced with thick, homemade noodles. Unfamiliarity in the Chinese Hot & Sour Soup among these mostly Germans more connected to the German Potato Salad Soup.

Trying tofu for the first time in that tasty Chinese soup.

Listening to my other sister share how her family detests the stench of the Broccoli Cheese Soup she brings every year.

Trading left-overs with Carol, who raves about my Black Bean Pumpkin Soup, which I don’t find all that great. I think I’m the winner, getting her Chicken Noodle Soup. Carols thinks she’s gotten the better end of the swap. It is a matter of opinion, a matter of taste preferences.

Crocks of soups and chilis are set up on tables inside the garage.

Vintage metal trays provide the perfect place to set bowls of soup/chili and other food.

Before the party, guests tell my sister what soup/chili they are bringing so she has labels ready to mark each soup on party night.

We don’t arrive expecting to like all of the soups and chilis—15 this year:

  • Chinese Hot & Sour
  • Reuben Chowder
  • Broccoli Cheese
  • Gunflint Chili
  • White Chili
  • Chocolate (yes, soup)
  • Lemon Orzo
  • Tortellini with Italian Sausage
  • German Potato Salad (yes, soup)
  • Ham & Bean
  • Creamy Corn with Jalapeno,
  • Pumpkin Black Bean
  • Stuffed Sweet Pepper
  • Chicken Noodle
  • Red Chili

But we arrive expecting to enjoy ourselves in the company of family and friends on a beautiful autumn evening in Minnesota. And we do. And I did.

Soups/chilis are uncovered and party-goers start lining up to sample the offerings.

THANKS, LANAE AND DALE, for hosting this fun, tasty event.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A super soup competition March 14, 2011

AT HIS DAY JOB, Steve sells cars. On the side, he raises chickens on his small Minnesota acreage. He’d like to add a few pigs and cows, but he’s not versed in raising those critters.

He’s an expert gardener, though, who cans his produce. He appreciates the taste of home-grown vegetables and those farm-raised chickens.

Steve also loves to cook.

Sunday night I met Steve and sampled some of his cooking at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s first-ever “Soup-er Bowl” in Morristown. Loaded with hefty chunks of chicken, thick homemade noodles, carrots, celery, onion and garlic, Steve’s creamy chicken noodle soup earned him a second place finish among the 10 soups entered in the cooking competition. He deserved it. I don’t typically like chicken noodle soup, but I loved Steve’s.

I asked for the secret to the cream base. A stick of butter and half-and-half combined with the juices of his home-grown chicken, additional chicken stock, bay leaves and other spices created a savory broth. By the way, Steve appears to be the kind of guy who would rather share cooking tips than keep them secret.

Steve's chicken noodle soup is in the top left corner of this photo. The winning soup, taco chili, is next to it on the right. The other soups here are corn chowder, Mulligan stew and (I think) cheeseburger.

I don’t know how the other nine competing cooks—except the youngest cook, eighth grader Louis—felt about revealing their recipes. Louis left the recipe for his fiery green chili on a table for diners to pick up. Let me tell you, when I tasted his chili laced with hot jalapenos, I gulped lemonade.

Taco chili won the 2011 “Soup-er Bowl” trophy from among entries like Mulligan stew, cheesy wild rice, corn chowder, ultimate cheeseburger, a second chicken noodle soup and Steve’s chicken noodle soup.

The "Soup-er Bowl" trophy, awarded this year for the taco chili.

This whole idea of a “Soup-er Bowl” was the brainchild of my friend Mike, who volunteers as CVLHS acting development director. Mike is one of those guys who is always giving back to the community. He remains a strong supporter of the Lutheran high school even though his eldest son graduated from there several years ago.

Wanting to connect the congregations that are part of an association supporting CVLHS, Mike came up with the soup competition. Last weekend five of the member churches held local contests with the two top winners from each church advancing to yesterday’s finale.

Soup and chili samples were placed onto vintage metal trays for each diner.

Unfortunately, I was out of town last weekend, or I would have entered a soup. Mike has already invited me to participate next year. But after tasting all of the excellent soups and chilis on Sunday, I’m hesitant to vie against so many great cooks. I might simply remain a taster.

I love soups. Each year for the past seven, my sister Lanae has hosted an autumn soup party at her Waseca home. While she doesn’t award a trophy for the best soup, the winners are really us, the invited guests. Last year we could choose from 17 homemade soups spread out on tables in her and husband Dale’s garage. Click here to read all about her 2010 soup party.

When I heard about the CVLHS “Soup-er Bowl” gathering, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to eat soup and support the school. For $5, diners got small samplings of each soup or chili, breads and sweet treats, along with beverages.

The party was not only a fundraiser for the school but, more importantly, an evening of fellowship, organizer Mike said.

Diners packed tables in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church fellowship hall to taste 10 soups and chilis and then vote for their favorite at the CVLHS "Soup-er Bowl" party.

He’s right. I met car salesman/chicken farmer/chef Steve when I sat at the same table as him. Now my name is on Steve’s list to contact when his chickens are ready for butchering next summer. I can already taste that delicious chicken noodle soup…

By the time I went through the line, the vintage trays had all been used, so seven soups and chilis were crammed onto an oval plate. I later picked up the remaining three to sample. My sister also uses vintage trays at her party.

HERE’S THE RECIPE for Green Chili from eighth grader Louis:

Green Chili

Brown hamburger. Separate hamburger from juice and let juice sit.

Sauté celery, white and green onions, jalapenos, cilantro, green peppers, black pepper and hamburger juice.

Put hamburger and vegetables in pan and add green tomatoes and stir until finished.

NOTE: Louis did not list specific ingredient amounts, so I guess you need to figure that out for yourself.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling