Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Holy Smoke, what talented musicians & what great food July 18, 2017

 

TWO TURKEY VULTURES rode the wind high above the church on the hill. Dipping, circling, gliding.

 

Sweet Potato Jackson performs.

 

Far below in the grassy side yard of Christ Lutheran Church, Sweet Potato Jackson and the Todd Thompson Band entertained with foot-tapping bluegrass, pop, country, gospel and other tunes. Adults settled into lawn chairs and listened. Kids ran—to the playground and back. A wee girl swayed to the rhythm of the banjo, the guitar, the mandolin and other string instruments.

 

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience.

 

I sang the lion sleeps tonight, only 10 feet from the quartet performing the catchy tune I remember from decades ago. My husband and I were front row with the Todd Thompson Band, four guys standing on the lawn and performing music with an unbridled passion. I could see their love for song in the rapid movement of their fingers across strings, hear it in their enthusiastic voices.

 

 

They exuded joy during this event billed as Holy Smoke by the host Lutheran congregation. Several Wednesday evenings during the summer, this church on Faribault’s east side offers a free concert as a community outreach. The music is served up along with savory homemade pizza and smoked pork and brisket sandwiches and sides available for purchase.

 

The hilltop location offers a wide view of Faribault and beyond.

 

The descriptive words Holy Smoke fit both the food and the featured musicians. And the setting. This is a tranquil location overlooking this southeastern Minnesota city and beyond. Wind blowing a cool breeze through trees after a hot and humid day. Shifting white clouds in a blue sky. Lovely. Kids and music and the occasional adult conversation blending in a soothing harmony.

 

 

I delighted in the carefree feel of this event, of watching children run and play like kids should on a summer evening as perfect as they get in Minnesota. I was reminded of bygone years when my extended family gathered to visit and we cousins played without adult direction, without any planned activity.

For a few hours I forgot about the problems of the world, about the challenges in life. I simply was—enveloped in Holy Smoke.

 

FYI: The next Holy Smoke event/concert is set for 6 – 9 p.m. Wednesday, August 9, at Christ Lutheran, 1200 NE First Street (along Minnesota State Highway 60), Faribault. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and an appetite for great food and equally great music.

Note: I’ll rephotograph Holy Smoke (including the food) once I’m healed from my shoulder fracture and able to shoot with my Canon DSLR camera.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Loving the settings & beer at these greater Minnesota breweries July 14, 2017

A flight of craft beer from F-Town Brewing in my community of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FIVE YEARS AGO if anyone had suggested I would drink (and like) craft beer, I would have laughed. I was only the occasional have-a-beer-with-your-pizza or on a hot summer evening type of beer drinker. And at that, I drank whatever mass produced beer the husband had stocked in the fridge.

How my tastes have changed. I can no longer drink beer that flows by the gallons into bottles or cans inside a sprawling factory. Those beers taste like water to me. Rather, I’ve become a beer snob, preferring hoppy IPAs crafted at small breweries.

I’ll be the first to tell you my preference for craft beer developed over time as an acquired taste. But once acquired, I was hooked, enough so that I, along with my husband, seek out craft breweries. These specialty businesses are an experience, not just a place to try new beers.

 

Reads Landing Brewing Company in Reads Landing, Minnesota.

 

Two recent road trips took us to Reads Landing Brewing Company (between Lake City and Wabasha) and to Imminent Brewing Company. They are distinctly different breweries, but both with excellent beer. And I don’t say that about every craft beer.

We almost missed the Reads Landing establishment in the same named unincorporated community along U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Minnesota. The brewery sits at the base of a hillside, a train track away from the Mississippi River. Housed inside an historic 1870 former dry goods store, the setting hearkens to bygone days. As an appreciator of old buildings, I delighted in the location and the wide window view of the Mississippi.

 

Randy and I shared a sampler flight of Reads Landing beer.

 

With the exception of slow service on a weekday afternoon when the place wasn’t overly busy, I rate Reads Landing Brewing highly. Randy and I settled onto high chairs at the front window for a perfect view of the river and a slow moving train. Then we waited and waited until the bartender/waiter finally got off the phone, noticed us and then made excuses for his lack of attention. Thankfully, the house-made beers in the sampler flight and accompanying Bavarian Style Soft Pretzel Sticks with homemade beer cheese and mustard dipping sauces compensated for the inattention and left us with a mostly good impression of this brewpub.

Of special note is the Cap’n Amber beer, a beer into which Cap’n Crunch cereal is incorporated in the mash. All of the beers were to our liking; we’d recommend this beer and brewery.

 

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota.

 

Farther inland to the north and east in the riverside college town of Northfield, we checked out the recently-opened Imminent Brewing. I love this place, declaring to Randy that this was my absolute favorite brewery. Located in a former National Guard Armory garage, the brewery has an industrial look and a welcoming vibe. There’s just something about this place that seems particularly comfortable for anyone from a blue collar worker to a college professor.

The brewery also features an expansive patio. And, bonus, food trucks. On this particular weekday evening, Randy and I enjoyed arepas from Noris Cuisine. We didn’t stick around for the live music.

We shared a flight sampler of simply superb craft beers. We’ll be back, given the location some 15 miles from our home.

And we’ll be checking out Tanzenwald, the other new brewery in Northfield, sometime soon.

TELL ME: Do you drink craft beer and/or visit craft breweries? Share your favorites.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Homemade pizza is back on the menu July 13, 2017

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FOR THE FIRST TIME in seven weeks, I made homemade pizza. But this was not your ordinary pizza. This pizza represented something much more than food to fill the belly on a Saturday evening. The pizza I crafted signifies healing.

I have reached the point in recovery from a broken right shoulder that I no longer feel the need to clamp my arm protectively to my side. I am reaching, pulling, even eating with my right hand. I am free of my arm sling except to sleep and to use in crowded public places.

I figure if moving my arm doesn’t hurt, then I’m OK doing whatever. So far, so good. I’m doing laundry, washing dishes and making pizza, with some assistance from the husband.

This Friday I start physical therapy. I am ready and could have begun 10 days ago had an opening been available. My goal is to lift 21 lbs, 10 oz., the current weight of my 15-month-old granddaughter, ASAP. I miss cuddling Izzy. Realistically, I expect I won’t be holding Isabelle for quite some time without supervision. But I need a goal, right?

My short term goal is to pull a t-shirt over my head, to dress my upper body by myself. I’d also like to use my Canon DSLR camera soon. I am passionate about photography and really miss that creative outlet. Sure I’ve been using my smartphone. But even that is challenging and the results not nearly as good as those of a DSLR.

 

Up until my fall and resulting broken shoulder, I crafted homemade pizza every Friday evening, always served with mugs of icy beer.

 

When I consider how much I’ve improved since May 22, the day I missed a step on a hospital stairway and fell while on my way to donate blood, I am amazed. My post injury exhaustion and need for daily naps have vanished. Sore muscles have replaced pain. My once purple, yellow and green arm is now almost free of bruises. I am healing. I can feel it in the handles of a rolling pin as I work dough across a floured board. And I can taste it in a bite of fresh pizza spread with homemade pizza sauce and sprinkled with Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and slips of fresh basil and oregano clipped from plants potted in my backyard.

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SORT OF RELATED, because I fell on my way to donate blood…please consider donating blood to the Red Cross if you are able. The current shortage of blood is termed critical. I’ve been bombarded with emails requesting that I donate. I need to check with my doctor whether I can resume donating. By giving blood, you may save a life. Blood transfusions saved my mom’s life about a decade ago. I am grateful to those many many donors.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Food art at the library April 4, 2017

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WHAT COULD YOU CREATE with an orange, pretzels, sweet potatoes, marshmallows, coconut, cake and frosting, lots and lots of frosting? Or with other food?

 

Winner of the People’s Choice Award and also winner of the Most Humorous in the Families division.

 

Contestants in the Edible Books Festival & Competition at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault proved they could craft some impressive edible representations of books.

 

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

The display generated lots of interest, which is precisely what Public Services Librarian Allyn McColley hoped to get people into the library. The contest showcased the artistic side of books while also promoting reading, she said.

 

 

Based on the 14 entries and the estimated 80 people who perused the 90-minute April Fool’s Day exhibit, the Edible Books Fest was a success.

 

The book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspired the entry below.

 

This interpretation of Girl with a Pearl Earring won Best Literary Theme in the staff competition.

 

I was impressed by the creativity.

 

Medals were awarded to winners in various categories and divisions.

 

Go ahead and scroll through selected photos and decide for yourself which is your favorite. I expect favorites will be as diverse as reading lists.

 

The artistic entry for How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods. We all have days when we feel rotten.

 

On the Families table, I spotted this book label. Great creativity in printing, I say.

 

The Needle’s Eye, Passing Through Youth, won Best Literary Theme in the Adults Category.

 

Orange is the New Black, My Year in a Women’s Prison, inspired the entry below.

 

A singular food item becomes book art.

 

The Hat entry up close. Look at the work that went into creating this hedgehog.

 

Pooh’s Hunny Pot, chosen as Most Visually Appealing.

 

Heaven Is Paved with Oreos earned Most Visually Appealing among City of Faribault staff entries.

 

Two books, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Bob the Builder, inspired this Most Visually Appealing entry in the Adults Category.

 

This cake was inspired by the classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, awarded Best Literary Theme.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy spring from Minnesota & DQ March 20, 2017

 

The Dairy Queen along old U.S. Highway 14 in Janesville, Minnesota, in 2012. The sign is vintage late 1940s or early 1950s. Click here to read my story about the Janesville DQ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

HAPPY FIRST DAY of spring, dear readers!

If you live in a cold weather state like me, you welcome March 20, even if the weather and landscape feel and appear more winter than spring. It’s a mental thing for us Minnesotans, a reminder that the “real spring” is only months away. Spring, in my Minnesota mind, arrives in May.

Over at Dairy Queen, they’re going by the calendar, celebrating spring’s official arrival today with “Free Cone Day.” You can get one free small vanilla ice cream cone at any non-mall participating DQ in the U.S.

And, if you’re so inclined, you can donate to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, DQ’s March 20 fundraiser focus. Because, you know, you’re getting that freebie and you’re generous.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Minnesota: Neither rain nor snow or… March 12, 2017

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…shall stop my husband from grilling in our Faribault backyard.

Grilling conditions: 19 degrees Fahrenheit and heavy snow falling around 6 p.m. Sunday

On the menu: Chicken breasts, baby red potatoes and asparagus.

Bonus for the husband’s work lunches: brats

TELL ME: Would you grill in these conditions or worse? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A new spin on carrot cake, four-year-old style March 9, 2017

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WHEN MY GREAT NEPHEW Landon turned four last week, he asked for a carrot cake. What preschooler chooses that flavor of birthday cake? A kid who loves vegetables and, as far as I have observed, every food. I’ve even watched Landon eat an ear of raw sweetcorn just pulled from the stalk.

His mom, Amber, makes one delicious carrot cake. She bakes and cooks from scratch. No boxed mixes or convenience foods for her or her family. Or guests. Lucky me.

I could end this story here by singing praises about the carrot-cake-baking mom and the boy who loves carrot cake.

Landon, with help from his nearly two-year-old sister Evelyn, sticks raw carrots into his carrot cake. And, yes, he chose to wear a Halloween shirt at his birthday party. When you’re four, you can do that.

But Landon is Landon and he took this carrot cake thing a bit further. As Amber finished prepping his birthday meal of spaghetti and meatballs, Landon pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter. He then reached into a container of raw carrots, celery, radishes and peppers and pulled out the carrots. As we watched, Landon poked the carrots, like candles, into his birthday cake. How’s that for a veggie loving four-year-old?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling