Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Ice cream season, or not March 8, 2017

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peanut-buster-parfait

 

SPRING HAS UNOFFICIALLY arrived in Faribault. The walk-up/drive-through Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue is open.

Sunday afternoon I clipped a $1.99 Peanut Buster Parfait coupon from the Faribault Daily News to celebrate. DQ is a rare treat for Randy and me, afforded only when money-saving coupons are available. Opening weekend at the DQ always brings deals. Perfect.

I envisioned sitting on the DQ patio under sunny blue skies in predicted 60-degree temps. Perfect.

But forecasts do not always equal reality. I suggested Plan B—going to a park. In hindsight, I wonder what I was thinking. After an attempt to eat our parfaits on a park bench, I caved and headed back to the warmth of the van. There we sat, savoring ice cream, peanuts and fudge while grey skies hung and the temp locked at 48 degrees in a still slightly snowy landscape.

Monday brought much warmer temps, like those promised on Sunday, along with intense wind followed by storms. Remaining snow melted.  And two tornadoes touched down, causing damage near Zimmerman and Clarks Grove. These are the earliest tornadoes of the season ever in Minnesota, breaking a record set in 1968. Here in Faribault, we experienced heavy rain and even small hail for a brief time Monday evening. A light dusting of snow fell overnight. The Dairy Queen may be hinting at spring. But winter seems determined to cling to March in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No limit on Minnesota fish fries March 3, 2017

This recent roadside photo I snapped of Mac's Fish & Chips, on the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur in St. Paul, prompted this blog post. Mac serves deep-fried halibut, walleye, cod, shrimp, clams and, yes, chicken, along with a few sides in this former Clark Gas Station building. You can also buy Mac's battered walleye at Target Field in Minneapolis.

This recent roadside photo I snapped of Mac’s Fish & Chips, on the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur in St. Paul, prompted this blog post. Mac’s serves deep-fried halibut, walleye, cod, shrimp, clams and, yes, chicken, along with a few sides in this former Clark Gas Station building. You can also buy Mac’s battered walleye at Target Field in Minneapolis.

IT’S THE SEASON of the Friday Night Fish Fry in Minnesota.

As a life-long Lutheran, I’ve never been part of the Catholic-based tradition of eating fish on Fridays during Lent. But I respect that deep-rooted practice of shunning meat, although I will admit I’ve always considered fish to be meat. Catholics have a different opinion.

A snippet of two side-by-side ads that published on Thursday in the Faribault Daily News.

A snippet of two side-by-side ads for a Friday Fish Fry and for a Friday Lenten Soup Luncheon that published in the Faribault Daily News.

That aside, the beginning of Lent this week kicks off church and community fish fries, not to mention Friday fish specials at restaurants and Knights of Columbus halls. The Twin Cities-based The Catholic Spirit contacted all of the parishes in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese for a list of fish fries and Lenten meals. Ninety-one responded. From Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine to St. Bridget of Sweden in Lindstrom to St. Albert the Great in Minneapolis, congregations will be serving fish aplenty and accompanying side dishes.

Fish Fry details from the St. Bridget of Sweden website.

Fish Fry details from the St. Bridget of Sweden website.

I’ve dined at enough church dinners—Catholic, Lutheran and otherwise—to know that food prepared by the faithful is often some of the best and tastiest. Perhaps it’s time I tried a fish fry.

TELL ME: Have you dined at a church-hosted fish fry? Where? Here’s your opportunity to recommend a fish fry.

FYI: Click here for the list of fish fries and Lenten meals compiled by The Catholic Spirit.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My current favorite national marketing campaign December 29, 2016

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SEVERAL WEEKS AGO a billboard along Interstate 94 in Rogers popped out at me. Not like a jack-in-the-box or a creepy clown. But visually.

The simplicity of the graphic design and the short, powerful message of “Good choice, kid.” made this advertisement noticeable among all the roadside clutter.

This Wonderful halos billboard is part of a $30 million ad campaign focusing on kids who choose mandarins over something less desirable. So I learned while googling the slogan. To totally understand this, you have to view the television spots that are part of this campaign. Kids star in videos with storylines that present a temptation—like sleeping over in a creepy doll-filled mansion or running away to join the circus—and the obvious better choice of a mandarin.

The ads are quirky, funny and, yes, most assuredly memorable. To the creative forces behind the Wonderful Halos newest marketing endeavor, well done.

TELL ME: What ad campaigns, past or present, do you consider especially well done and memorable? Why?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Experiencing the spirit of Christmas at a community dinner in Faribault December 20, 2016

Despite temperatures in the double digits below zero, people braved the cold to attend the Community Christmas Dinner. Here a diner leaves the church.

Despite temperatures in the double digits below zero, people braved the cold to attend the Community Christmas Dinner. Here a diner, bundled against the frigid cold, leaves the church

OUTSIDE FOURTH AVENUE United Methodist Church, a 1990s Ford Fiesta with 300,000 plus miles idled in the bitter cold early Sunday afternoon. Indoors, brothers Tom and Joe, bellies full from a holiday meal of turkey and all the fixings, waited. They hoped their car would warm for the 15-mile ride back home to Owatonna in minus zero temps.

Volunteers plate a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, meatballs and green beans for diners. Additionally, cranberries and Christmas Cake were on the menu.

Volunteers plate a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, meatballs and green beans for diners. Additionally, cranberries and Christmas Cake were on the menu.

They’d driven here for the free Community Christmas Dinner served by volunteers from this Faribault congregation. Joe wondered aloud whether he’d need to eat later at an Owatonna church which serves a free meal each Sunday evening.

Stunning stained glass windows at the back of the sanctuary.

Stunning stained glass windows at the back of the sanctuary.

While the two waited, I encouraged them to step inside the sanctuary to view the beautiful stained glass windows. The brothers admired the art, Tom pointing to a smaller pane resembling one in his childhood home, the house that became his after their father’s passing. Soon, I bid them farewell, wishing them both a Merry Christmas.

Doesn't he look just like Saint Nick?

Doesn’t he look just like Saint Nick?

Back in the church basement hallway, I came face-to-face with Santa Claus. Not in his suit, but looking every bit the part with a full white beard and a twinkle in his eye. The guy (whose name I didn’t get because who asks Santa for his “real” name?) plays Santa occasionally—for his step-daughter’s special needs class. He clearly enjoys the opportunity to bring joy to these students.

Exiting the church after dinner.

Exiting the church after dinner.

Later, I observed an elderly woman climb the basement stairs, plastic bag in hand with meal left-overs inside. I watched as my husband held the door for her, stepped outside and helped her across the snow-packed sidewalk to her car.

Diners sat down to a holiday meal in the church basement.

Diners sit down to a holiday meal in the church basement.

In all three instances—in the conversations with brothers Tom and Joe, in the quick photo shoot of Santa, in the care Randy showed to the elderly woman, I experienced the spirit of Christmas. Gratitude and giving. Giving and gratitude.

This bulletin board, just inside the side entry to the church basement, proclaims holiday joy.

This bulletin board, just inside the side entry to the church basement, proclaims holiday joy.

To the many volunteers who prepare, serve and clean up after this holiday community meal, thank you. You provide more than food for the body. On this Sunday, in your church basement, you blessed me and others with Christmas joy. In conversations. In smiles. In helping hands. What a gift.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Volunteers served Christmas Cake (aka Poke Cake) and brought left-overs to the Cake Room following the meal.

Volunteers serve Christmas Cake (aka Poke Cake) and return left-overs to the Cake Room following the meal.

Slices of Christmas cake are plated and then delivered to diners on vintage trays.

Slices of Christmas cake are plated and then delivered to diners on vintage trays.

Baby Whitney with her Christmas Cake.

Baby Whitney enjoys Christmas Cake.

Holiday banners hang from basement walls.

Holiday banners add a festive flair to basement walls.

Signs posted throughout the basement welcome guests to Christmas worship services.

Signs posted throughout the basement welcome guests to Christmas worship services.

Volunteers can reach into this tub for aprons.

Volunteers can reach into this tub for aprons.

Behind the scenes, volunteers are busy washing dishes.

Behind the scenes, volunteers are busy washing dishes.

Each table is decorated with unique and festive holiday decor.

Each table is decorated with unique and festive holiday decor.

This is the view walking into the dining hall. Diners can leave a free will offering, a portion of which goes to Rice County charities.

This is the view walking into the dining hall. Diners can leave a free will offering in the basket, a portion of which goes to Rice County charities.

Christmas decorations grace a shelving unit.

Christmas decorations grace a shelving unit.

Back in the kitchen, the crew continues to work.

Back in the kitchen, the crew continues to work.

After serving ended, I spotted this food list on a table.

After serving ended, I spotted this food list on a table.

Washing tables after 210 meals were served.

Washing tables after 210 meals were served.

© 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling