Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Through a SoMinn Lens August 27, 2019

 

 

AS A CREATIVE, I always appreciate the opportunity to get my work out to a broader audience. I want to share my images and words. Not because I possess some big ego. But rather I want others to view the world around them through an artful perspective. With joy. With appreciation. Through the creative lens of a writer and photographer who seeks to notice the details within the wider picture, to engage all the senses. I strive for that in my art.

My newest creative endeavor landed me at Southern Minn Scene, a Southern Minnesota arts, entertainment and lifestyle magazine. The publication’s coverage area stretches from just south of the Twin Cities metro to the Minnesota/Iowa border and from the Mississippi River on the east to Mankato on the west (although I aim to stretch that western boundary farther west toward my native prairie).

Each month I’ll craft a photo essay, accompanied by several paragraphs of text, in a column titled Through a SoMinn Lens. If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you’ll see familiar images. And other photos I haven’t previously published here. All the copy, though, will be new with my column leaning toward poetic prose. As a published poet, I value that art form. Journalistic style writing is reserved for the occasional features I will also pen for Southern Minn Scene.

 

 

My column debuts in the just-published September issue, which you can read online by clicking here. I focus on Wabasha’s SeptOberfest, a two-month celebration of autumn. I love this Mississippi River town any time of year for its natural and historic beauty, but especially during this family-friendly event.

 

 

I also crafted a feature on the annual Germanfest at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township. That’s east of Faribault and near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. I’ve posted about that ethnic celebration several times here. I love the people of St. John’s. They are friendly, kind, and incredible cooks and bakers. The story proved an ideal fit for this food-themed issue of Southern Minn Scene. Be sure to read other writers’ food-focused stories about tasty desserts in the region to new foods at the Minnesota State Fair.

Beyond that, thank you for valuing art, whether literary, visual or performing. Today, more than ever, we need the arts. They enhance our lives, bring joy, broaden our worlds, our perspectives.

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work published by Southern Minn Scene, but not for this post.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Pass the gizzards, please, or not February 28, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE HEARD OF PIE, hot dog, even sauerkraut, eating contests. But a Grackle Gizzard Eating Contest? Never.

But that contest opportunity happens during Winthrop, Minnesota’s 35th annual Grackle Days from April 5 – 7. What’s a grackle you ask? A blackbird.

Participants won’t gobble down grackle gizzards, though. Rather, organizers of this first-time contest have substituted turkey gizzards.

 

 

Grackle. Turkey. I don’t care what type of gizzard is on the table. I won’t be among those flocking to sign up for a contest limited to 10 competitors on two teams. Just the thought of eating a gizzard grosses me out.

How about you? Would you eat a gizzard? Have you eaten a gizzard?

Hand me a plate of sauerkraut and I’ll happily indulge. But a plate of gizzards? No thank you.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An, oh, so Minnesotan celebration at Faribault Flannel Formal February 5, 2019

 

Me in flannel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MINNESOTA STATE LEGISLATORS recently considered the Labrador retriever as our state dog. The loon is our state bird, the Lady Slipper our state flower. And so on.

Now, if our elected officials decided we also need a state winter dress code, I’d push for flannel shirt and jeans. That’s my outfit of choice from late autumn into spring, or whenever winter ends. Because I work out of my home office, Friday casual fits daily. And because I’ve never been pegged as a fashionista (ask my sister who got my childhood hand-me-down clothes and still reminds me to this day of my horrible fashion sense), I embrace comfortable attire. Like blue jeans and flannel.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

So does my community. From 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. this Saturday, February 9, Faribault Main Street celebrates its annual Faribault Flannel Formal. It’s a fitting event for Minnesota, home of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan, typically dressed in red and black buffalo plaid flannel and sturdy jeans.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

To promote the event, locals have been wearing flannel to work and about town on Flannel Fridays.

 

Legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

 

The lumberjack theme is very much a part of the Faribault event at 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and adjoining Corks and Pints in the heart of our historic downtown, just a block off Central Avenue. The dress code obviously calls for flannel with honors awarded to the best-dressed lumberjack and lumberjane.

 

A ticket to the Formal will get you a free commemorative jar. I love these. Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

Attendees can also get into the Paul Bunyan spirit by competing in lumberjack themed games—the giant beaver toss, hammerschlagen and duck the branch.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another Minnesota staple—hotdish (not casserole)—also is an integral part of the Faribault Flannel Formal. Folks are invited to cook up their favorite hotdishes for sampling and a $100 Chamber Check top prize. Who doesn’t love hotdish, the ultimate Minnesota winter comfort food? I’ll take Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish, thank you. She hosts Heartland Table on Food Network, among other accomplishments.

No Formal is complete without music. The Rochester Caledonian Bagpipers kick off the evening with the classic rock tribute band Horizontal Hero following.

 

Past Faribault Flannel Formal attendees. Photo compliments of Faribault Main Street.

 

While I’ve not attended a Formal yet, I’m pretty certain I’d enjoy it. I mean, I wouldn’t need to dress up. The challenge would come in choosing which flannel shirt to wear. Blue/gray/black? Red/black/gold? Green and black? Teal/black/subtle orange? Green and brownish? Yup lots of choices in my closet.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

FYI: For more info on the Faribault Flannel Formal, including tickets, click here.

© Copyright 2019 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

 

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