Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting a community at a Christmas dinner in a church basement December 13, 2018

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY COMMUNITY HAS ITS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. There’s comfort in that sameness, in the sense of community constructed from repeating events. Faribault is no exception.

Each December the Paradise Center for the Arts features a holiday play. Every year the Rice County Historical Society hosts A French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. Every December Shattuck-St. Mary’s School invites the community to A Campus Christmas Walk.

 

Dining at a previous Community Christmas Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And on one Sunday in mid-December, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church serves a Community Christmas Dinner. There’s something about sitting down with others for a good home-cooked meal that fosters an even stronger sense of community. Food brings people together in conversation. We need more of that—pulling up folding chairs in a church basement to talk between bites of mashed potatoes and gravy. Comfort in food and in conversation.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner. This year pork will replace the turkey.

 

Fourth Avenue hosts its annual Christmas dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, December 16. I’ve attended numerous times, photographed the event nearly every time. I delight in the words chosen to promote the dinner: Your Friends at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Invite you to be our Honored Guest at a day of Feasting and Fellowship with your Neighbors.

Reread that. Friends. Honored Guest. Fellowship. Neighbors.

Those words exude warmth, welcome and a sense of care and community. Your economic status, your job status, your situation—none of that matters. You are welcome.

 

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Welcome to enjoy a meal of roast pork and stuffing, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, freshly baked rolls and Christmas cupcakes. The menu has changed slightly from previous years. But that’s OK. I like pork (actually more than turkey). And Christmas cupcakes can replace Christmas cake.

 

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect to see a crew of volunteers busy as ever cooking, serving, clearing tables, washing dishes… It takes a well-organized team to pull together a home-cooked meal for the community. I appreciate this gift which extends beyond those being fed. Monies collected from a freewill offering will benefit Operation 23 to Zero, which assists vets in need.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Be sure to read the sign on the wall above the kitchen window.

 

This Community Christmas Dinner is about so much more than food. It’s about care and comfort and connecting and community. And hope. It embodies the spirit of Christmas.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Who screams for ice cream? November 19, 2018

I’ve never been to Conny’s Creamy Cone, just noticed it recently while enroute to Como Park. The shop, open from March to October, is on the corner of Dale Street and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. It features 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream and a menu that includes burgers, cheese curds, onion rings and much more. Have you ever been here? Spotting this shop inspired this post.

 

SEASONAL ICE CREAM SHOPS have mostly shuttered here in Minnesota as demand drops with the onset of cold and snow. Or does it? I still eat ice cream from November – March. Straight from a carton in my freezer into a bowl onto a spoon and into my mouth. Yum.

 

The Betty, Cool Mint Flavor Burst ice cream, crème de mint and Oreos flurried together, then topped with whipped cream, and served at The S’Cream in Owatonna, one of my favorite ice cream shops. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

As much as I enjoy ice cream at home, I also enjoy the occasional stop at an ice cream shop once those businesses re-open around April 1, depending. There’s just something about standing outside a walk-up window, scanning the choices and choosing a treat to welcome spring or to cool down on a humid summer day that makes me happy. You know, the kid with an ice cream cone kind of happiness, although I seldom choose a cone. I prefer a shake or something more complex.

 

Lots of dogs waiting in line with their owners at Blast Softserve. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

I also prefer homegrown ice cream shops with creative names for both business and offerings to chain anything. Ditto for restaurants. I want to experience a sense of place by dining at original, hometown eateries.

 

One of my favorite area bakeries, Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I like small town bakeries, too. And craft breweries.

 

Long lines formed to the two serving windows at Blast Softserve, 206 West Rose St., Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

None of this should come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile. I delight in exploring small towns, discovering that which defines the character of a community and makes it memorable. It could be a sign, architecture, a person, an event… Or a sweet little ice cream shop.

 

Serving up a cone at The Whippy Dip in Decorah, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite homegrown ice cream shop?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Even in rural Minnesota, ag knowledge sometimes lacking October 25, 2018

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Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Shown here for illustration only.

 

ARE WE A GENERATION away from losing the farm? Not in the literal sense. But in the sense of understanding agriculture.

Do you know, do your children know, do your grandchildren know the sources of ingredients in food and other products?

A recent test shows me that, even here in rural Minnesota some 50 miles south of Minneapolis, people are not particularly knowledgeable. Granted, this was no scientific study. And it was limited in scope. But results were enough to make me realize that we could do a better job of educating our young people about agriculture. Even those who live in a city like Faribault surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

 

A fest-goer attempts to match animals and plants to products I set out.

 

How did I reach this conclusion? Well, I pulled together several farm-themed matching and other games for a recent kids’ fall fest at my church. One of those required players to match farm animals and plants to five products. Only one boy successfully completed the task as did some, but not all, adults.

 

Registered Holsteins photographed at a Faribault area farm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I laid pictures of the following on a table: cows, sheep, pigs, corn and soybeans.

Then I set out a can of cranberry sauce, a box of Velveeta cheese, a brush, a bottle of Thousand Island salad dressing and a wool blanket.

The goal was to match the image and product.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Shepherd’s Way Farms.

 

As you might guess, the sheep and blanket, cows and cheese proved easy matches.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a cornfield.

 

But not the other three. Can you figure it out? I’ll help. The first ingredient on the dressing label is soybean oil. The second ingredient on the cranberry label is high fructose corn syrup. That leaves the brush. Some brush bristles are made from pig hair.

I expected the game might challenge little kids too young to understand what comes from where or what ingredients are in our food. But I was surprised by mid to upper elementary kids and adults who got the matches wrong.

Does it matter? I believe so. Our kids and grandkids, even us adults, need to be knowledgeable about food and product sources. We need to understand that our food and more doesn’t just come from the store or some online source. It comes from the land, directly or indirectly, grown or raised by farmers. When we realize that, we begin to value and appreciate rather than simply consume.

 

In the window of Ruf Acres Market in historic downtown Faribault, egg cartons promoting eggs from Graise Farm. The eggs are sold at this market and elsewhere in the area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ASIDE FROM THIS EXPERIENCE, I’ve seen strong efforts locally to educate consumers about agriculture. Leading the way in my community is Tiffany Tripp of Graise Farm. She and her husband raise grass-fed animals in a sustainable environment, according to their farm website. I’ve seen Tiffany out and about selling and promoting locally-grown/raised. She is currently co-coordinating efforts to market locally-grown/raised/sourced products under a Cannon Valley Grown label. What a great idea. I love her enthusiasm and that of others who recognize the value of what is grown and raised right here in southeastern Minnesota.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lots to do in the Faribault area this autumn weekend October 12, 2018

“Grandview Farm Cat” by Faribault animal portrait artist Julie M. Fakler. Julie is among artists participating in this weekend’s South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ART. FOOD. FUN. Those and so much more are part of multiple events scheduled in and around Faribault during a jam-packed autumn weekend. Here’s a list of area happenings. For more information, click on the highlighted links within each event mini snapshot.

 

Kelly Lake, rural Faribault, photographed last October. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

We’re only an hour south of Minneapolis along Interstate 35, making this a perfect day trip destination. While you’re here, check out our historic downtown and even take a drive in the country to see the fall colors. The rural areas, especially around Rice County’s many lakes, present some of the best colors in this region of Minnesota, in my opinion. (Click here for a view of last year’s fall colors.)

 

Art supplies photographed during a previous Studio ARTour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

2018 Studio ARTour of South Central Minnesota

Meet 38 artists at 19 sites (many of them studios) during this weekend arts event that covers the Faribault, Northfield, Nerstrand and Farmington areas. This presents a great opportunity to talk to and view and buy art from artists who work with everything from wood to ceramics to paint and much more. Some studios open on Friday already with others open Saturday and Sunday. Click here for details.

 

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Big Woods Run

Rise early Saturday to take in this annual marathon and more hosted by St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township east of Faribault. Start time is 9 a.m. with later starts for the kids’ K. The route takes participants into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its remarkable autumn beauty. Click here and here for registration, schedule and more.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Athens of the West Free Walking Tour

Local historian and artist Jeff Jarvis hosts two free walking tours through downtown Faribault, beginning at Buckham Memorial Library on Saturday, the first tour at 11:30 a.m., the second at 2 p.m. Jarvis will explain via this tour how Faribault became known as “The Athens of the West.” Tour groups are limited to 15. Click here for details.

 

Costumed kids parade through historic downtown Faribault during a previous fall fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Faribault Main Street Fall Festival

Historic downtown Faribault is the setting for this annual October celebration that features a costume parade for kids, a chili cook-off, Faribault Foods Fall Frolic 5K Walk/Run and lots more. Come hungry as you can sample the chilis for $5. Click here for everything you need to know about this event set for Saturday.

 

Perusing merchandise at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The Legendary Warehouse Sale, Faribault Woolen Mill

From 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, the historic woolen mill offers selected products at sale prices. This event always draws a crowd to the mill store along the banks of the Cannon River on Faribault’s north side. Click here for additional info.

 

Attendees at a past A Night at the Museum fill the one-room school for classes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Night at the Museum

The Rice County Historical Society hosts its annual Night at the Museum, a living history type event from 4 – 7 p.m. Saturday at the county museum followed by music and stories around the campfire from 7 – 8 p.m. Click here for details.

 

You’ll get this food and more at the Trinity North Morristown church dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Harvest Dinner & Fall Festival, Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown

If you crave great homemade food prepared by church people, this dinner is for you. From 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday, the good folks of this country church will serve a turkey and ham dinner with all the fixings. I’ve attended this dinner multiple times and it is, by far, my favorite church dinner. Also browse the crafts, canned goods and treats for sale. Find more info by clicking here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those elephant ears September 4, 2018

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MY THREE ADULT CHILDREN MAY SEE each other only once a year. But their love for one another remains. Strong. Unaltered by time and distance. Bound by shared memories.

 

At the Minnesota State Fair. Photo by Miranda.

 

Take the photo my second daughter, Miranda, texted from the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday afternoon to her brother in Boston. The photo of concession stands is meaningless to most. But not to our family.

You see, back when Caleb was much younger and took words literally, he could not understand the serving of elephant ears at the fair. He considered those poor elephants with the missing ears and how awful the thought…until his dad and sisters explained. (I was smart enough to stay home and avoid the masses of fair-goers.) These elephant ears, they clarified, are sugar and cinnamon loaded pastries that, well, resemble elephant ears.

This fair story remains entrenched in our family’s collective memory. So I was not surprised that Miranda, back in Minnesota for the long weekend to visit and attend the State Fair with her sister, photographed the elephant ears concession stand. (I was smart enough to babysit my granddaughter and avoid the masses of fair-goers).

Caleb took his sister’s teasing in stride, now all these years later laughing with the rest of us at the elephant ears story. It is these types of family memories that bring joy. I have five siblings and, believe me, not all resurrected memories bring joy, especially when versions vary and some stories are best left untold.

This story is not one of those hurtful remembrances, but rather one that connects us and takes us back to a time when we were a family of five living under the same roof. We were not separated by nearly 1,500 miles or several hundred miles or 50 miles. I miss those days of togetherness. I know that life goes on. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my kids. I do. Every day.

So when my second daughter drove to Minnesota this weekend to visit her sister and niece for the first time in more than a year, I was over-the-moon happy. The sisters needed this time together. And I love that they thought of their brother while at the State Fair. They thought of me, too, returning with a bag of sugar-laden mini donuts. They remembered just how much I love that fair treat, a memory pulled from their childhood of attending the Rice County Fair.

This is the stuff of family love. Elephant ears and mini donuts. Sweet memories that endure time and distance.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve never been so happy to make mac & cheese August 3, 2018

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The mac and cheese I make from scratch. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I PREPARED HOMEMADE macaroni and cheese for supper Wednesday evening.

That’s a big deal for me as I recover from a broken left wrist with a currently unusable hand. I managed one-handed, without assistance, to boil and strain the macaroni, make a cheese sauce, combine both and then slide the glass casserole into the oven.

When Randy arrived home from work, the dish needed an additional 15 minutes of baking time. I should have started prep earlier given the slowed pace of cooking with only one hand.

Even something as simple as choosing kettles required thought. I couldn’t use the usual two-handled pot for boiling the macaroni. And when I opened the package of cheddar cheese, I cut it with a scissor. I can’t separate the sides of a ziploc bag. Thankfully I could punch the top of the evaporated milk can and pour the liquid through that hole.

Eventually I got the mac and cheese ready and in the oven.

I’ve learned much since the June 16 fall resulting in a broken left wrist followed by surgery to implant a plate held in place by 10 screws. I’ve learned the value of patience, the importance of two hands and that I really don’t dislike cooking as much as I’ve always claimed. Now I wish I could cook regularly. But my cooking has been sparse given so much done in the kitchen requires the use of two hands. I dislike constantly asking Randy to help when he already has enough on his plate (pun intended). Can you open this can? Can you open this jar? Can you open this bag? Can you, can you, can you? My frustration grows.

So far he’s been patient and helpful and does nearly all of the cooking after a long, hard day of physical labor at his job. But I haven’t asked him yet to deal with an aging head of cauliflower, hoping he will notice the vegetable on the top shelf of the fridge…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet love June 24, 2018

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HE TOLD ME TO EXPECT a package. Next week. But the priority mail box arrived from Massachusetts on Saturday. I was almost certain the techie son had shipped a one-handed keyboard, even though I told him I didn’t need one. I don’t as I can manage with one-handed typing until I recover from my broken left arm.

 

 

But I was wrong. Inside I found a surprise so sweet that I cried. I cried at the thoughtfulness of Caleb and his girlfriend, who had baked chocolate chunk cookies for me. Thick cookies with dark chocolate, my favorite chocolate. The best chocolate (chip) cookies I have ever eaten.

Turns out Caleb messaged his oldest sister earlier in the week for my cookie recipe. She didn’t have it and sent another recipe instead. I love these cookies.

Even more, I love that Caleb and Sunny thought of me and took the time to bake this gift. It was perfect. Such love and care cannot be bought, only given in an act of love.

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TO MY MANY FAITHFUL READERS (friends), thank you for your prayers, encouragement and well wishes as I deal with this injury and pending surgery. Your words are a gift. I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling