EVERY DAY IS NATIONAL something or other day, right? Typically I hear or read about a national whatever designation and then promptly forget. But not National Sundae Day, which was Friday, November 11. Not wanting to detract from the really important designation for that date, Veterans Day, I delayed posting about this.
When I heard about National Sundae Day, I was also reminded of the soda fountain owner who invented the sundae in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, back in 1881. I’ve been inside the Washington House, where Edward Berners first topped a dish of ice cream with chocolate sauce in a treat initially sold only on Sundays.
Today visitors to The Washington House Museum and Visitor Center can still purchase sundaes and other treats inside this former 1850 hotel with replica ice cream parlor. I did in 2011, when Randy, our daughter Miranda, our son Caleb and I visited this charming Lake Michigan side town. At the time, Miranda lived in Appleton about an hour to the west.
While the rest of my family headed to the ice cream parlor, I lagged behind at the neighboring Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. The working museum houses the world’s largest collection of type. For someone like me, with a journalism background and past employment at a weekly newspaper that used old typesetting equipment, this museum held great interest. I love old type. I love letterpress. I love the artsy look, the craftsmanship, the hands-on passion in creating. The ice cream sundae could wait.
Eleven years after my tour of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, I remember the joy I felt in being there. I remember, too, how the tour guide chided me for taking photos. Apparently he found my photographing intrusive, even though I lingered at the back far from other visitors. Despite his reaction, I still delighted in the smell of ink, the slim drawers holding type, the chunky blocks of wood type, the artsy results inked onto paper.
And I delighted, too, in the community of Two Rivers. I recall its quaintness and beautiful natural setting along Lake Michigan. I recall, too, the historic Rogers Street Fishing Village. Just thinking about this eastern Wisconsin community makes me want to return. To view the expansive lake and follow the sandy beach. To take in weathered fishing boats and learn of lake lore. To meander through a museum that smells of ink with camera in hand. And then, finally, to step inside the Washington House ice cream parlor, the birthplace of the sundae, to savor a sundae served on more than just Sundays.
TELL ME: Have you been to Two Rivers? What’s your favorite sundae flavor? Do you share my interest in wood type and printing? Yes, lots of questions today.
IT’S A MYSTERY,The Case of the Inflated Mozzarella Cheese Bag. To be sure, this is no Nancy Drew mystery like the vintage Carolyn Keene books shelved in my living room. Rather, this mystery centers in my kitchen, on the second shelf of my refrigerator.
What the heck? I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever. Not in an opened or unopened, fully-sealed bag of cheese. My initial thought was that the cheese was old and spoiled as I purchased it sometime ago. I keep multiple bags of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses on hand. But the “best by” date is December 22, 2022.
I needed to solve this mystery, or at least gain some insight. So I sleuthed online, leaning into the theory that bacteria growing inside that cheese bag produced the gas which inflated the plastic bag. That makes sense to me, but then doesn’t answer the question of how bacteria got inside an unopened bag of cheese.
Whatever the cause of this mystery, I did not eat that cheese. Rather, I returned it under the “Aldi Twice as Nice Guarantee” with the item replaced, money refunded. In these days of high inflation and soaring food prices, “inflated” has assumed a new meaning.
Before returning the cheese, I sealed the sealed cheese bag inside a plastic bag lest, for some mysterious reason, the bag exploded inside my fridge. As much as I appreciate a good mystery, I didn’t need a sequel, The Case of the Exploding Cheese Bag.
TELL ME: Have you ever seen anything like this in food packaging?
I LOVE APPLE SEASON here in Minnesota. Stopping at a local apple orchard for recently-harvested apples or picking my own (especially with the grandkids) gives me joy.
That joy comes in supporting locally-grown, in the experience and in that first bite into a crisp, fresh apple. I love the crunch, the tang, the juiciness. An apple tastes of sun and rain, summer and autumn… so much goodness inside.
I live in a state known for developing apples through a breeding program started at the University of Minnesota in 1878. The U has released 28 apple varieties like Haralson (released in 1922), Keepsake (1978), Honeycrisp (1991), Frostbite (2008), SweeTango (2008) and First Kiss (2017). My favorites are Honeycrisp and First Kiss.
Beyond apples, some orchards in my area also offer freshly-pressed cider, apple crisps, apple pies, caramel apples and my must-have, sugary apple cider mini donuts hot out of the grease. Yum.
Many other non-apple goods are also often available such as local honey and maple syrup, pumpkins, squash, fudge, crafts and more.
More and more apple orchards are offering experiences to draw in young families or anyone really who is looking for something to do in the Minnesota countryside on a beautiful autumn day. There are corn mazes and apple tosses, photo ops, wagon rides through the orchard… It’s all about creating experiences and memories.
Tucked into my memory is an apple orchard outing with my eldest daughter and her family and our son-in-law’s family a few weeks back. Our group of 10 aimed for the apple trees, 3-year-old Isaac bumping along in an oversized wagon pulled by his mom under a cloudless sky. A lovely morning with an edge of cool. As the crew gathered apples, I mostly watched, taking in this precious time together—how Isaac thrilled in twisting an apple from its stem. How Isabelle, 6, raced ahead. How our bags filled with apples. How we later shared a bag of apple cider donuts, sugar coating our greasy fingers, as love filled our hearts.
TELL ME: Have you visited an apple orchard this fall? I’d love to hear about your experience.
A few months back while passing through Monticello on the way to a family reunion, I noticed an eye-catching FREE PIE MONDAY sign and cherry pie graphic on the window of Perkins® Restaurant & Bakery. It was enough to make me wish the day was Monday rather than Saturday.
I can’t tell you the last time I dined at Perkins, but it’s probably been decades. I prefer home-grown to chain restaurants.
Yet, the offer of free pie…
As far as I can tell, the 11 am – 9 pm free pie on Monday comes with the purchase of an entree. Reviews of Perkins’ pie point to good pie. I’d need to sample it to offer my opinion. Make that blueberry, please, or French Silk.
Now it’s your turn. If you’ve indulged in Perkins’ pie, how is it? Or where have you found really good pie? What’s your favorite type? This is, after all, pie season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a firm believer in making others feel welcome with a smile, friendly words and encouragement to return to Faribault.
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.
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.
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.
IF EVER THERE WAS A WEEKEND packed with community activities, especially in Faribault, this is the weekend. Here’s a summary list of events, most of which I’ve attended through the years.
Let’s start with Friday, September 16:
The final Faribault Car Cruise Night of the season takes place from 6 – 9 pm in the parking lot of Faribault Harley-Davidson. Besides vintage vehicles, there will also be food vendors and music.
Moving to Saturday, September 17:
Start out early by shopping the Faribault Farmers’ Market, which opens at 7 am in Central Park and closes at noon. But this isn’t any ordinary market day. This is Family Day with farm animals, a bounce house and more for kids. That starts at 9 am and continues til noon.
Blocks away to the north, the Rice County Historical Society hosts its popular Fall Flea Market from 8 am – 2 pm in the parking lot and on the grounds.
At 11 am, until 2 pm, Harry Brown’s is hosting a Car Show at the fairgrounds.
Meanwhile, way across town, Faribault Harley-Davidson celebrates an Anniversary Bash from 9 am – 10 pm as the motorcycle dealer marks 45 years in business. There will be a bike show and ride, music and food vendors.
At Divine Mercy Catholic Church on the south edge of Faribault, folks will gather from 4 – 9 pm for the annual Spirit Fest. That features food, music, an auction, bake sale, hay maze, drive-in movie, fireworks and much more.
Out-of-town events on Saturday, September 17:
The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery has a morning full of activities that include a book-signing by Barbara Marshak of New Prague, author of Painted Skies, beginning at 10 am. Sister Anita Smisek presents on “Minnesota’s Big Woods Musicians” at 11 am. Guests can also view the work of wildlife artist Tom Miller, current exhibitor, and see the Czech dancer topiaries created by Meghan Petricka. The arts center opens at 9 am and closes at noon.
From 11 am – 6 pm at Central Park in Northfield, Hispanic Heritage Celebration 2022 is happening. That event features food vendors, arts and crafts activities, dance and art, all themed to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
One more nearby event, on Sunday, September 18:
The Valley Grove Preservation Society hosts the Valley Grove Country Social from 1 – 4 pm at its hilltop location near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. This is the site of two historic churches. The event includes an organ recital at 2 pm, Scandinavian music performed outdoors, prairie and cemetery walks, horse-drawn wagon rides, rope-making and more.
There you go. Rain, unfortunately, or fortunately since we need moisture, is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday…
For detailed information on all of these events, please search online.
THERE’S STILL TIME. Still time to indulge in a sweet treat before winter closes in and home-grown ice cream shops shutter for the season here in Minnesota.
On an August weekday afternoon in Northfield, Randy and I popped into The Blast, an ice cream shop in an out-of-the-way spot just west of the library, off Division Street and down the sidewalk toward the Cannon River. The walk-up window is located inside a “tunnel” wedged between buildings and labeled “The Nutting Block, Est. 1893.”
We happened upon this business a previous summer Saturday, but left after seeing the lengthy line of customers. This time, on a Wednesday, there was no waiting. Rather, the friendly teen behind the window waited patiently for us to choose from a wide array of treats.
I opted for the limited specialty Puppy Chow Flurry while Randy chose a Red Raspberry Sundae. Puppy Chow is a snack made from Chex cereal covered first in melted chocolate and peanut butter, then coated in powdered sugar.
Selections at The Blast are vast and deciding isn’t easy when the choices in smoothies, slushies, shakes, malts, floats, frosties, flurries, sundaes and cones seem nearly endless.
We both enjoyed our soft-serve ice cream treats at a riverside picnic table on a perfect summer day. There’s something about summer and ice cream that go together, especially soft-serve ordered at a walk-up window.
The Blast has adjusted hours now that school is back in session and days are shorter. Current hours are 3:15 – 8 pm Monday – Friday and 11 am – 8 pm Saturday and Sunday.
As with the limited edition Puppy Chow Flurry, The Blast continues to offer seasonal or limited edition specialty flavors. Like the current pumpkin spice and apple crisp, oh, so fitting for fall in Minnesota. This time of year we crave those flavors.
My appreciation for home-grown ice cream shops with creative offerings runs deep. I’m all in when it comes to trying something new, something different, something decidedly cold and yummy and all about summer here in southern Minnesota.
TELL ME: Do you have a favorite home-grown ice cream shop? What’s your ice cream treat of choice? The Blast also has a location in Owatonna, where I’ve found another terrific ice cream place, The S’Cream.
BARELY INSIDE THE GATES of the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show mid Friday morning, I boarded a train. It was an unexpected ride, this double loop around the tracks while straddling a slightly swaying model train car. I thought these free train rides were only for kids. Not so, the crew assured me.
When I disembarked, a preschooler sandwiched between two adults for his turn on the rails.
What a fun way to begin my four hours at the show, which continues through Sunday at the event grounds south of Dundas, which is south of Northfield. This 47th annual gathering is about “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” And that’s exactly what you will find here. Old. Aged. Vintage. Snapshots into the past. Farming as it was done back in the day. Agriculture/farming/rural life center the show.
Vintage tractors are the focus with a field of tractors on display. This year’s featured brand is Massey-Harris. But brands ranging from the well-known John Deere, Allis Chalmers, International Harvester…to the rare Gambles line the grassy grounds.
Other farm machinery is also on-site, including a threshing machine, typically threshing oats, but under repair during my visit.
There’s simply so much to see here, so much equipment to take in, so many demonstrations to watch. I observed blacksmithing and sorghum pressing. There’s also syrup making, corn shelling, flour milling, lumber sawing… Not all were up and running yet Friday morning.
While demonstrations are a major draw, so are the aged farm buildings moved onto the grounds. Inside the 1912 Drentlaw farmhouse, my friend Ruth served cookies made with sorghum.
Across the way, two men fed sorghum stalks into a press, liquid streaming into a bucket.
As I walked upon the wood floors of the farmhouse, I felt immersed in the past. A wood-burning stove anchors the small kitchen where a water dipper rests in an enamelware bowl in the sink. Embroidered dish towels drape a drying rack.
In the dining room, with fine china set upon a lace-covered table, the morning breeze billowed lace curtains.
Outside the main house sits a summer kitchen with a corn crib and granary nearby. Replicating a farm site of yesteryear seems a goal. As a farm girl, I appreciate these efforts to preserve a bit of yesterday. Our Minnesota agrarian history needs to be shared at events like this which connect all ages to a way of life that is quickly vanishing.
Even the flea market connects attendees to the past where old stuff mixes with crafts and an assortment of other merchandise. Every time here, I challenge myself to find oddities, weird whatever that makes me do a double take. This year’s vendors did not disappoint me.
Nor did the food. Vendors offer an assortment of tasty food and beverages ranging from burgers and fries to Mexican food, milkshakes, lemonade, kettle corn, mini donuts and more. It’s all about food and conversation and watching the daily tractor parade at noon while seated at a picnic table in the Food Pavilion.
Over in the poleshed style music building, I listened to the bluegrass band Steam Machine. A couple danced across the cement floor, nearby hay racks piled with oats bundles. I photographed, then attempted to cool down after too much time in the heat and humidity.
I love how so many people care about our agricultural history. That includes the guys from the Credit River Antique Tractor Club who were selling raffle tickets for a 1952 Ford 8N tractor. Their annual show is set for July 14-16, 2023, in rural New Prague.
The Rice County folks will be back, too, in 2023, “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” There will be a tractor parade, a Kids Pedal Pull, demonstrations, tractors galore and, oh, so much more at the Labor Day weekend show. Even train rides…
On Tuesday, Andy delivered 2,600 duck eggs to the Hideway fair location in the upper grandstand veranda area. Graise Farm has committed to providing 5,000 eggs.
Besides my excitement for Tiffany and Andy, who truly are deserving of this sale and the resulting exposure this will give their business, I love the name. All Quacked Up! is memorable and just plain fun. And even if I’m not a fried egg foodie, the sandwich sounds tasty. Here’s its description:
Fried, farm-fresh duck egg from Graise Farm in Faribault atop shaved smoked ham, aged cheddar cheese, tomato and spinach, served open-face on toasted sourdough bread with paprika aioli.
When I consider a fried egg sandwich, I think of my dairy and crop farmer father who often ate fried eggs for breakfast. Chicken, not duck, eggs. Plain, not fancy. Fried in lard, seasoned with salt and pepper. I can picture him now in his striped bib overalls, forking mouthfuls of egg, the yolk running across his dinner plate. And then, when the egg was mostly gone, he sopped up the remaining yolk with a slice of toasted homemade bread.
I expect many other farm kids share that fried egg memory. Perhaps even Tiffany, who left the family farm after earning degrees in agricultural economics and Spanish to work and travel the world, then returned to the family farmstead in 2012. Andy isn’t a farm kid. But, together he and Tiffany embrace rural life, sharing their passions of “raising animals humanely and eating healthy, delicious food grown locally.” Their animals are pasture-raised and/or organic-fed, including those free-range ducks.
The pair raises ducks, chickens, pigs and goats. They sell eggs, pork, and stew chickens and ducks. For more information, visit the Graise Farm website, which lists locations to buy those typically jumbo-sized duck eggs. And, yes, that includes in the Twin Cities metro.
FYI: Tiffany was instrumental in establishing the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market with food and products from small-scale farmers and producers in the Cannon River Valley. In the warm weather months, that market is open from 4 – 7pm Thursdays at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Cold weather moves the market indoors to the Faribo West Mall.
But I’m not going to the Great Minnesota Get Together. I haven’t been there in decades. I find nothing appealing about the massive crowds, the pressing together of fair-goers, the congestion, the waiting in lines, the dealing with metro traffic. Nope. Not my thing.
Yet, many Minnesotans love the State Fair and there are many reasons to appreciate it from the Seed Art to the entertainment to all that vended food.
My youthful fair memories—I attended a few times—are of the giant slide, Machinery Hill (no longer there), an overly-crowded conservation building stocked with fish and dining at a church diner.
That brings me to the Rice County Fair, done and over for this summer, but set for July 19-23, 2023. I didn’t attend this year and haven’t for several. But I should return, check out the food stands, see what I’ve missed.
Recently, I walked through a section of the vacated fairgrounds, camera in hand, with no worries about bumping into fair-goers. My primary focus was on signage, on food service buildings, some of them aged, some new. I never made it to the animal barns.
The Rice County Fair does a good job of drawing local food vendors, many mainstays of the fair. Like the St. Luke’s booth, stationed here for nearly 80 years.
Likewise, the Rice County Pork Producers have been around for some 50 years serving pulled pork, sandwiches, pork burgers and pork chops on-a-stick.
And 4-Hers (along with their parents), I expect, have served food for decades at the 4-H Food Stand.
The gastronomical offerings far exceed what I’m showing you from my brief post-fair visit. Many locally-based concession stands are mobile, without on-site buildings like that of Farmer’s Delights. That needs to be noted here. I expect Rice County fair-goers find plenty to please their palates.