HERE WE GO AGAIN. Due to extreme cold temps, the first-ever Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast at an historic Minnesota country church grounds has been rescheduled for the second time.
The event at Valley Grove churches is, as of today (Thursday), slated for 2 – 4 pm Saturday, January 8. Weather forecasters predict a temp of around 30 degrees, much warmer than our recent weather. Saturday will also be warmer than the predicted three degrees on Sunday, the first rescheduled date.
If you attend the Saturday gathering in the parking lot of this rural Nerstrand hilltop setting, dress warm. Even 30 degrees can feel cold if the slightest wind blows and you’re not dressed properly. That includes wearing warm winter boots. Organizers also encourage guests to bring blankets, chairs and hot beverages. If you have snowshoes and want to walk the prairie, bring that footwear.
On bitterly cold January days like today I respect the hardiness of those early Norwegian settlers who endured much to make a new home in America, in rural Rice County. This morning when I shoveled snow from my driveway and sidewalk, I three times returned to the house to warm myself. Even wearing long johns under jeans, a heavy parka over my clothes, boots, a hat, mittens and a scarf wrapped around my neck and face, my fingers and toes began to numb. That’s a warning sign that, if ignored, could lead to frostbite.
So here I am, inside my cozy office, fleece throw tossed across my lap, thankful for the warmth of the overworked furnace. Thankful to have finished that shoveling in, according to the local radio station, a wind chill temp of -31 degrees. No wonder I felt cold.
When the Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast happens on Saturday, the temp will feel some 60 degrees warmer.
OH, TO BE THREE AGAIN. To see the world through a preschooler’s eyes. To view the world with unbridled excitement. To find wonder and excitement…in a rainbow birthday cake.
This past Saturday, I watched as my grandson Isaac focused on his beautiful rainbow-themed birthday cake crafted by Sweet Kneads by Farmington Bakery in Farmington. After posing for countless photos, he rested his arms, elbows bent, on the kitchen island and admired the work of culinary art at eye level. Isaac, encouraged by his mom (my eldest), chose a rainbow theme because he attends early childhood class in the “Rainbow Room.”
Shortly thereafter Isaac leaned over the counter, watching as his dad sliced into the cake, cutting the first thin piece for the birthday boy. Nearby, his older sister hovered. Soon we all savored the layered chocolate cake with strawberry filling.
There would be no blowing out candles in this pandemic year.
Afterwards, we gathered in the living room to watch Isaac open his stack of gifts. I love how he first opened each card, not simply as a precursory gesture, but because he genuinely wanted to see the special wishes for him. He delighted in Mickey Mouse, three monkeys… But, by far, the greatest hit proved to be the musical “3” card with its happy birthday song. All gift unwrapping paused as he opened the card. Closed. Reopened. Celebratory music filled the room.
Finally, gift opening resumed. With lots of help from Isabelle. This year Isaac didn’t mind; next year he may. Among the gifts—a mini lantern to take to the “brown house” (Isaac’s label for an extended family lake cabin; his party location was listed as “the blue house”), a sensory exploration kit, puzzles, a sprawling farm play set, a suitcase and more. The “more” includes clothes from his other grandparents. I especially like the gold plaid flannel shirt. When you live in Minnesota, you can never have enough flannel. Even when you’re three.
What joy-filled hours we spent with the birthday boy. Randy and me. His uncle from Indiana, back in Minnesota for the holidays. His California grandparents and uncle and aunt now permanently relocated to Minnesota. His parents and sister. Only Isaac’s aunt and uncle from Wisconsin could not attend. Family embraced the birthday boy in a circle of love. To have those who love this little boy the most together to celebrate him swelled this grandma’s heart with endless happiness. What a joyful way to begin 2022.
EVERY DAY WE PASS BY sights which often become so woven into our environment that we no longer see them. Until one day we pause. And notice.
Recently, I stopped to look around me, standing in a parking lot along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street, a half-block off Central Avenue next to Corks & Pints.
I rotated, taking in seemingly ordinary scenes. Part of the fabric of Faribault. Past and present.
Cruikshank Construction. I don’t know whether Jack Cruikshank still has his construction business. But, many decades ago, he installed replacement windows in our home. And he operated a paint store that was our go-to place for paint. Jack knew paint and was willing to share his expertise. For a while, he also had a bookstore in his shop. Jack was/is an exceptional individual and businessman—trustworthy, friendly, kind, knowledgeable, genuine and caring…
I saw the same care written upon windows of a van, from which a couple disembarked while the driver of Cross Road Cab waited inside. I didn’t talk to him, but rather noted the messages of support for veterans, troops and freedom. Plus his stand against driving while intoxicated.
The pair walked toward Corks & Pints and 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers. A mural, “Ice Skating on the Straight River,” graces the side of 10,000 Drops. It’s based on a vintage photo. The transformation of this downtown anchor corner has been a real asset to our community. Pre-distillery, the building housed an antique shop and architectural salvage business. It was dark, cluttered and not all that appealing. But now, wow. With the inside gutted and opened up, the distillery interior features wood floors, exposed beams, brick walls and much more, including cozy spaces to visit. It’s unlike any other place in Faribault. An inviting setting to enjoy a locally handcrafted cocktail with friends. Inside, or outside on the patio. Corks & Pints is part of the complex, housed next door in the former F-Town Brewing located in a former garage. It’s a tap house and wine bar, another welcoming spot to connect and converse.
A while ago, Cry Baby Craig’s focused conversation in our downtown. Craig Kaiser moved his hot sauce business to Faribault, into a former sporting goods store at 405 Central Avenue North. CBC’s highly-acclaimed habanero and garlic hot sauce is a staple in our refrigerator. And it’s become a favorite among restaurants in the metro and beyond.
If you’re mostly unfamiliar with Faribault, I hope you’ve learned a thing or ten about our town via my pivoting parking lot perspective. And, if you’re local, I invite you to pause and appreciate all that our community offers.
AT THE END of the growing season a few weeks back, I walked into Buckham Memorial Library and spotted a stash of green tomatoes free for the taking. To say that I reacted with joy might be an understatement.
I felt practically giddy at the thought of preparing green fries, a coveted food I haven’t eaten in years because…I don’t have a garden.
But, back in the day, my mom planted a sprawling garden, growing vegetables to feed our farm family of eight. Green fries were a summer-time to harvest staple as were the tomatoes left to ripen on the vine.
Earlier this summer and fall, when I stopped at The Friends Organic Learning Garden on the library’s east side to look for produce, I noticed choice green tomatoes. I was tempted to pick a few. Who would miss the green orbs? But my conscience prevailed and I walked away empty-handed.
So when those green tomatoes appeared inside the library, I quickly took four, reining in my greedy impulse to grab more.
The next day, I sliced two of those beautiful green tomatoes, dipped both sides in all-purpose white flour and laid the slices into a hefty cast iron skillet sizzling with butter. Lots of butter. I ground on fresh black pepper, sprinkled on salt and then waited for the slices to brown, flipping and seasoning and adding butter as needed.
The result: golden circles of green-fried tomatoes that tasted of sun and sky and earth. And of yesterday’s garden.
As I forked into the savory rounds, I thought of Mom and how she spaced tomato plants evenly in the tilled soil and ringed each with a rusty tin can opened on both ends. The cans protected the tender plants from the prairie wind and cold. I remember pouring water into those cylinder reservoirs, overflow sometimes flooding the surrounding ground. When the plants edged over the cans, Mom removed the weather shields.
To me, green fries rate as much more than a food I enjoy. They are part of my culinary family history. A connection to my now 89-year-old mom who, though no master chef, did her best to feed her family with food sourced from our farm.
TELL ME: Do you have a favorite food tracing to your childhood and that you crave today? I’d like to hear. And, have you ever eaten, or made, green fried tomatoes?
INSIDE THE ENTRYWAY of the Cannon Falls Library, a multi-tiered mini vegetable stand holds an array of fresh vegetables on a mid-October morning. Green peppers. Green beans. Cucumbers. Squash.
The produce is artfully displayed in a beautifully-crafted wooden shelving unit labeled with an appealing graphic of colorful vegetables and the words, Harvest Box. I figured this was the yield of an on-site garden, similar to the one at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.
But assumptions are not always correct as I discovered. Rather local gardeners provide the produce. That includes Quiet Waters Ranch, a 22-acre Sogn Valley farm owned by Ben and Amanda Luther. Their non-profit received a Healthy Eating in Community mini-grant in 2018 from Live Well Goodhue County for a Community Giving Garden. Now they supply free fresh, organic produce to the library’s Harvest Box which launched in June. The library also received Live Well funding in late 2020 for the display unit and a mini fridge.
Cannon Falls Library Director Nicole Miller initiated the Harvest Box project after learning of one in North Carolina. She sought county funding for the display unit and fridge and also connected with Quiet Waters Ranch. All of this was prompted by her concerns about local food insecurity. “It’s a low cost way to help people out and to supplement the Food Shelf on days they aren’t open,” Miller said.
She delights in watching local gardeners drop off their extra produce.
I love this concept, this spin on the Little Free Library movement which saw mini libraries popping up all over. I love when communities work together, contribute, support, share. There’s so much good that comes from unity, from understanding that we have the power as individuals and communities to care for one another in real, tangible ways.
TELL ME: Do you have a similar Harvest Box or fresh food program at your local library or elsewhere in your community? I’d like to hear.
THE SCENT OF HOMEMADE BREAD fresh from the oven. The taste of my late mother-in-law’s best-ever gooey caramel rolls. The rustic look of a cracked gingersnap cookie. All appeal to me. All bring a flood of memories.
I appreciate the love and labor that go into baking and the memories I associate with homemade baked goods.
Perhaps for those reasons I am drawn to small town bakeries, including a regional favorite, Hi Quality Bakery in Cannon Falls. On a recent day trip to that Goodhue County community, Randy and I made the bakery our second stop. After the local Chamber of Commerce office, where we were tipped off to buy-one-get-one-free Fritter Friday at the bakery a few doors down.
Soon we found ourselves inside the bakery, admiring the baked goods, but disciplining ourselves to ordering two fritters. Apple and blueberry.
This popular bakery has been a Cannon Falls mainstay since 1947 with original recipes passed through several changes in ownership. The fresh-baked treats and breads remain popular with locals, with visitors like us and with natives returning back home. A bakery clerk referenced a recent returnee from Texas who made Hi Quality her first stop.
I understand the draw. There’s something Norman Rockwell appealing about stepping inside a small town bakery. There’s something appealing about standing before glass cases of pastries and breads and sweet treats contemplating the choices. There’s something anticipatory about accepting a white paper bag with a pastry nestled inside.
Small town bakeries rate as one of life’s simple delights.
On this Friday morning inside the Cannon Falls bakery, I noticed an array of Halloween-themed cookies filling trays. And I thought of the artist who crafted these—the spiders and mummies and webs… Baking and decorating truly are art forms.
And I noticed, too, rows of rosettes neatly lining a baking sheet. The Norwegian cookie proved a popular buy during a recent local lutefisk dinner, a clerk shared.
Rosettes. Fritters. Cupcakes. Cookies. Breads. Donuts. And much more. A baker rose early to create these bakery delights. I’m grateful for that dedication to craft, for the baked goods that draw me into small town bakeries like Hi Quality in Cannon Falls.
TELL ME: Do you have a favorite local bakery? I’d like to hear. And if you have tips on the bakery’s specialty, I’d like to hear that, too.
FROM 7 am – 6 pm DAILY, Louise tends a tiny produce stand along a paved road in the unincorporated northwestern Steele County settlement of Meriden.
That’s where I met her on a recent mid-October Sunday afternoon—outside a shed the size of an outhouse. Louise lives right next door to Teb’s Food Stand, a seasonal business owned by her friend, Teborah Kath. Teb, she noted, was likely, in that moment, busy canning vegetables at her nearby country home.
Garden-fresh and canned vegetables define the bulk of inventory tucked inside this hand-built shed constructed of salvaged wood, galvanized metal and a modern front door.
Here quart and pint jars edge shelves. Green beans pack tightly inside jars labeled Dilly Beans. Rich red tomato sauce colors Teb’s salsa. Oranges and reds and yellows mix inside jars of Cherry Tomato Mix and Peppers, splashing vibrant autumn hues. For pickle lovers, Teb crafts dill and bread & butter pickles.
She also sells baked goods—I spotted a singular package of bread. Next to the face masks, accessories and scrubbies.
Seasonal fresh produce is sold here, too, and artfully staged. Piles of assorted squash fill metal tubs. Pumpkins hug a corner near the door. Decorative corn and gourds rest on shelves. And outside more pumpkins and a collection of mum plants define this as a seasonal mini marketplace.
Chatting with Louise, who stepped aside when I started taking photos, proved a delight. Considering her 11-hour days at this less-than-busy location, I asked how she passes the time. Reading? She’s not much of a reader, she said, referencing her farm upbringing and the need to stay physically active. Sometimes she leaves temporarily to do chores at home—like mowing her lawn. Or sometimes she simply has other things going on that take her away from the roadside stand.
A handwritten sign next to a locked honor system box directs customers to go next door or call Louise with questions. But don’t count on her having change. She doesn’t. I purchased two squash for $4, almost $5.
In addition to this small town produce stand, Teb also sells her garden and craft and baked goods at the Owatonna Farmers’ Market. Sales are good, even at the remote Meriden location, Louise noted.
Meriden is one of those rural places perhaps unknown to many. Driving into town, I noticed a former creamery, the brick building in remarkable condition.
But it is the cluster of mammoth grain bins which landmark Meriden. Homes line the road past the elevator to a dead end, an unwelcome warning sign marking the end of the street.
Back at Teb’s Food Stand, conversation halted when a train car and locomotive rolled into town, horn blaring. Soon it reversed course, crossing the tracks again, horn blaring.
By then I’d gathered enough photos and information to craft a story. To write about Lousie and Teb and this tiny produce stand edging a paved road next to a harvested bean field in Meriden, Minnesota.
NOTE: Teb’s Food Stand will close soon for the season, if it’s not already closed.
As Randy and I waited in our van, I clutched two blue tickets, our tickets to the hottest dinner in town. Or in this case, in rural Rice County. It was the annual Fall Dinner at this country church and school set in the rolling farmland west of Faribault and also the site of a popular July Fourth celebration.
We arrived early in the two-hour take-out event, a switch from the usual dine-in dinner due to the pandemic. But I didn’t want to risk Trinity running out of food. Yes, this full turkey and ham dinner with all the trimmings is that popular. And that good. And reasonably priced at $10.
So we waited. Creeping. Idling. Creeping. And while we snail-paced, neighborhood dogs barked. And free-range chickens foraged in the pastor’s yard next to the church. Volunteers sold tickets and directed traffic. And youth, some clad in cowboy boots, scurried to deliver the coveted meals prepared and boxed by many more volunteers in the church basement.
Twenty minutes later, I was reaching through my open van window to accept two bags with our meals inside. The air smelled of Thanksgiving dinner. And I felt thankful to be here, partaking in this annual event, although I missed gathering in the church basement for fellowship.
Instead of driving all the way back to Faribault to eat warm, rather than hot, food, Randy and I dined across the road at the July Fourth celebration grounds. I pulled on my flannel shirt, he his jacket, and we perched on the edge of the entertainment stage to fork mouthfuls of turkey and ham and sides.
“The potatoes are lumpy,” Randy noted.
“A sure sign they’re homemade,” I said, affirming his appreciation of real mashed potatoes. Nearly everything served in this generously-portioned meal is homemade. I especially enjoyed the squash, a vegetable I’ve not yet eaten this season.
We saved our coleslaw, cranberries and buns for later. And our dessert, too. Two bars and two slices of cake.
And while we dined, we chatted about the annual Fourth of July celebration held here on these grounds. We noted the names of parade grand marshals on wooden slabs backing the stage. We remembered the music and crowds and good food—always the food—and the fun times and talked about bringing our young grandchildren here to experience this on Independence Day.
When we finished eating, we bagged our empty Styrofoam take-out containers, plastic-ware and napkins, placed the slaw and cranberries on ice in a cooler and headed out. Randy noted how the mix of grass and weeds, always trampled flat by July Fourth fest-goers, now flourished. The site looked vastly different in the season of autumn, the season of church dinners in Minnesota. And this, my favorite, at Trinity North Morristown in rural Rice County.
TELL ME: Do you have a favorite church dinner? I’d like to hear.
CHURCH DINNERS AND ART. I love both. And this weekend, I can indulge in each in my region of southern Minnesota.
The Studio ARTour of South Central Minnesota is already underway, kicking off from 4 – 8 pm today/Friday (at select studios) and continuing through Sunday. The annual event features 36 artists in 17 studios in the Faribault-Farmington-Northfield area.
It’s been awhile since I did this tour and I’m uncertain whether I can fit it in this year. But if you’re free and want to explore the arts at a grassroots level, then this is a must-do event.
From jewelry-making to painting to textiles to photography to pottery to ceramics and more, this tour takes you into studios and/or art centers/spaces to meet the artists. To connect. To engage in conversation. To admire and purchase the work of these creatives.
Truly, talent abounds.
Just note that, with COVID-19 still running rampant, you need to mask up.
The pandemic has also affected the annual Fall Dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. That’s the country church of July Fourth celebration fame. This year’s dinner will be take-out only, with meals delivered to vehicles. You’re encouraged to arrive early for the 11 am – 1 pm dinner on Sunday, October 10.
In a non-pandemic year, crowds gather in the sanctuary and then cram into the church basement for this popular meal of turkey, ham and all the trimmings. I’ve attended numerous times and will tell you this home-cooked dinner is beyond delicious. And it’s yours for only $10.
There you go. If you’re looking for an escape into art and/or crave a meal that’s like Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house or Thanksgiving dinner, then take in both of these events. And, bonus, you’ll probably also see some incredible fall colors along the way.
MORE AND MORE, MINNESOTA apple orchards are growing more than just apples. They are growing memories, meeting public demand for experiences.
Apple Creek Orchard, located in the countryside just northwest of Faribault at 5524 185th Street, is among those producers embracing that trend. Here, in this rural setting, visitors can find not only 21 pre-picked apple varieties—including popular choices like Honeycrisp, Haralson, Zestar, SweeTango, Cortland and the new First Kiss—but also Halloween Town.
That October attraction includes a Haunted Trail Wagon Ride (Friday-Sunday), Haunted Corn Maze and apple slinging.
Last Sunday afternoon, Randy and I popped in for a bag of apples while on a country drive to view the fall colors. We had no idea the orchard had evolved into more than a place to buy local apples…until we pulled into the farmyard. There, next to the aged mammoth barn with fieldstone foundation, I spotted a seasonal display of pumpkins and other décor staged on/aside straw bales. Plus a photo prop.
Rounding the end of the barn, I saw more. Vehicles lined along lawn’s edge near the barn and the multi-purpose poleshed housing Apple Creek Boutique. And up the hill, additional photo staging.
On this glorious autumn afternoon in rural Minnesota, folks clearly arrived here not only for the apples, but also for the experiences. Young families. Grandparents. Couples. Many boarded the Fun Country wagon for a ride through the property. Former orchard owner Dan Abelman steered the Kubota M5-111 tractor pulling the wagon. We chatted with him briefly afterwards. He sold the orchard to Tami and Kevin Theis late this summer and continues to help with the transition. He’s supportive and enthusiastic about the changes the couple has made. And ready, too, to be moving into retirement.
We didn’t go on the Haunted Trail Ride on a wagon named Josephine (my maternal grandmother’s name), but we roamed the grounds. There I found more photo props. Randy prompted me to sit on Hank the Unicorn so he could take, and text, a photo to our 5-year-old granddaughter. Already I was thinking, we need to bring Isabelle and Isaac here next fall.
While they may be a bit young for the 3-acre Haunted Corn Maze, I know they would enjoy the pumpkins, the autumn displays, the photo props…the experience…the time together as a family.
I got sidetracked also by a field of sunflowers, past their prime, but still a visual delight.
Inside the on-site store, tagged Apple Creek Boutique because you’ll find more than fresh apples here, I poked around. There you’ll find local honey, apple juice-infused meat snack sticks and sausage from Odenthal Meats of New Prague, caramel apples, cider, Grandma Eileen’s homemade apple pies, mugs, seasonal décor and much more. But we came for the apples, stashed in a cooler. I opted for a bag of my favorite, Honeycrisp.
In the future, Apple Creek Orchard hopes to offer pick-your-own apples. There are more plans in the works, too. Co-owner Tami Theis, a certified wedding planner, shared that a section of the poleshed will be converted in to an event venue, The Blossom. Also coming in 2022 are homemade pizzas, donuts and cider, plus a wiffle ball field.
I left feeling excited about this new local option for families, and others, to enjoy in rural Rice County. To learn more about apples. And to create memories via the agri entertainment now offered at Apple Creek Orchard.