Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Yeah, the Little DQ opens in Faribault February 28, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of the Little DQ of Faribault.

 

JUST AS WINTER BEGINS to feel too long, a sure sign of spring springs forth in my southeastern Minnesota community. The Little DQ of Faribault opens today. And the masses are rejoicing, if Facebook is an indication of how much locals welcome need this break from winter.

Every year for the past several, Randy and I, like so many others here in the land of cold and snow, have embraced this re-opening of the walk-up/drive-up Dairy Queen at 309 Lyndale Avenue North. The cozy ice cream shop closed for the season on November 1, while the larger Dairy Queen Brazier, just down Minnesota State Highway 60 to the west, stays open year-round.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Around this time each February, the Little DQ opens with a Peanut Buster Parfait special, this year priced at $1.99 (same as last), limit of three, from February 28 to March 1. The deal is good at both locations. But you can bet the lines will be longer at the smaller DQ. This place holds nostalgic charm. That coupled with the traditional spring opening special draw winter-weary ice cream lovers.

 

Set against a backdrop of snow, the Peanut Buster Parfait. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Never mind the calories—710. It’s best not to think about those as you dig into the hot fudge, the peanuts, the sweet sweet ice cream.

It’s seldom Randy and I indulge in Dairy Queen. But this Peanut Buster Parfait special, well, we can’t let it pass. We sit in our van with the heater blasting warmth while we enjoy our first unofficial taste of spring.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about community at annual Christmas dinner in Faribault December 16, 2019

 

IT IS, IN EVERY SENSE of the word, a community dinner.

 

 

From the moment I arrived at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church annual Community Christmas Dinner late Sunday morning in Faribault, I felt welcomed. Welcomed first by the door-holder/greeter dressed like an authentic Minnesotan in winter coat, boots and warm bomber hat. I didn’t envy his job on this cold December day. But he greeted me with a smile, commenting on Randy’s kindness in dropping me off at the door per my desire to avoid walking on snow and ice.

 

 

 

 

Down a flight of stairs, David and Jack greeted me, David being a Vietnam vet and Jack his service dog. A free-will offering at the dinner benefited the Northfield-based nonprofit Believet Canine Service Partners, which trains service dogs for veterans. I thought it particularly effective to have a vet and his dog at the dinner.

 

Volunteers serve a generous Christmas dinner.

 

 

Cupcake servers delivered the dessert to diners.

 

Once shed of my own winter garb, I waited for Randy and then, together, we walked through the doorway into the basement dining hall, already filling with dinner guests. There another greeter welcomed us and directed us to find a seat while waiting to get in the buffet line. Randy found a place next to Dale, a Wabasso High School classmate of mine, and his wife. Dale lives near Faribault and works in town. It’s always nice to occasionally run into him. Later, over dinner, we caught up and chatted about the class reunion he attended, and I missed, in September.

 

The scene outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault, on Sunday.

 

Before I got my meal, though, I roamed taking photos. But not before I stopped to say hi to Greg, a friend and pastor of this church. He stood near the buffet line greeting guests. Yet another warm welcome.

 

Refilling the roaster with chicken.

 

A short while later Randy and I stood in line next to the mayor of Faribault, familiar with my blog, he said. I’m always thankful for those who appreciate the work I do here on Minnesota Prairie Roots. I try, in many ways, to build a welcoming sense of community through my writing and photography.

 

 

 

A print of the Minnesota state photograph, “Grace,” graces the basement dining hall, foreground. It hung near the table where I ate.

 

As servers scooped chicken breast, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, carrots and a roll onto my plate, I thanked them. It takes a lot of work to put on a dinner that feeds around 400 people in my community. The serving portions were especially generous—too much for me. I later invited Randy to eat the remainder of my food, including half of a carrot cake cupcake that, although delicious, I simply could not finish.

 

The assortment of cupcakes led me to Cupcake Central.

 

Cupcake Central.

 

Enjoying a cupcake, the guy with the personalized tie.

 

While Randy continued eating, I looked for more photo ops, chatted with a man sporting a tie that featured photos of his grandchildren. He has a personalized tie collection numbering in the hundreds and used the photo ties as conversation starters while working as a speech pathologist. Oh, the things you learn when you pause to engage others. It’s all about community.

 

 

Not to be missed, the important dishwashing crew.

 

Then I popped into the kitchen.

 

These women wait for their ride.

 

I paused also to chat with a pastor I know from a rural church. Then another friend. More community connections. I could have talked longer. But Randy and I had an afternoon engagement to wrap Christmas gifts for the Angel Tree Project at our church, Trinity Lutheran. So we grabbed out coats and headed up to the sanctuary for a quick look at this beautiful, historic church. (See those photos in a future post.)

 

I took this photo through the window as the greeter helped a guest into a car.

 

But then I spotted one more photo op—the greeter helping two elderly women to a car pulled curbside. He asked for my help holding the church door. I leaned into the cold and held the door. Because this is what it’s all about. Being there for one another in this place called community.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Faribault’s holiday generosity December 12, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE WRITTEN THIS BEFORE, but I’ll repeat it. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Example: Randy and I visited some older folks last Sunday afternoon, delivering poinsettias as part of a shut-in outreach at our church, Trinity Lutheran. We talked everything from art to farming. We remembered, laughed, delighted in the conversations which took two hours out of our day. Two hours. Time is a gift. We gave it and experienced the joy that comes in connecting with those who can’t get out and about like they once did.

This coming Sunday afternoon we’ll gather with friends to wrap a whole lot of gifts for individuals and families in need through Trinity’s Angel Tree Project. My friend Mike heads that annual endeavor and tells us we have more gifts than ever to wrap. The need is great. But so is the generosity of those who each December amaze us with the items they purchase for Angel Tree gift recipients. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

 

A Community Christmas Dinner sign banners the front of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

Another Faribault church, Fourth Avenue United Methodist, is also giving back to the community this Sunday with its annual free Community Christmas Dinner. We’ve attended numerous times, delighting in the company of other guests and of this friendly congregation. A dinner of chicken breast, meatballs, King Hawaiian stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, candied carrots, dinner rolls and cupcakes will be served from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the church basement.

 

Another giving and embracing message posted outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church. Love this.

 

But Fourth Avenue United Methodist is doing more than serving food. A free-will offering at the dinner will go toward Believet Canine Service Partners, a Northfield-based nonprofit which provides service dogs to disabled veterans at no charge. Since 2015, Believet has paired 12 dogs with vets. Cost to train and place a single service dog is approximately $28,000, according to the Believet website. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

 

Inside the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Also this weekend, the Faribault-based choral ensemble Beau Chant (French for “Beautiful Singing”) presents two holiday concerts in Faribault. They will perform “Tis the Season” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 14, in Newhall Auditorium at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and at 3 p.m. Sunday, December 15, at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. Cost is $12. When I consider the time these singers commit to practicing and then performing during the busy holiday season, I realize that this, too, is a gift. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

 

A streetscape shot along Central Avenue shows the restored marquee at the historic Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

And, finally, the Faribault Area Community Band gives a free hour-long holiday concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, December 15, at the Paradise Center for the Arts. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me how you, or others in your community, are giving back this holiday season.

 

NOTE: I have highlighted here only a few of the many ways individuals and organizations in my community are giving to others during this holiday season.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Belview: A taste of small town Minnesota November 13, 2019

Looking to the south in downtown Belview.

 

TOO MUCH TIME HAS PASSED since I’ve explored small towns with my camera. Things happens and we get diverted by more important matters that require our full attention. So life goes. But life is settling somewhat now and I have time to pause and take in the nuances of places, which I love to document.

This past weekend Randy and I traveled 2.5 hours west to my native Redwood County to visit my mom in a senior living center. But before we pulled into Parkview, we swung through the heart of Belview, population around 350. It’s a small farming community on the southwestern Minnesota Prairie.

 

The sandwich board caught my attention as we drove by.

 

Belview did not disappoint. I spotted a sandwich board outside the Belview Bar & Grill that required a stop and a few quick photos. The sign was, oh, so Minnesotan with a menu listing that included Tater Tot Hotdish. We joke about our hotdishes here in Minnesota. That would be casseroles to those of you who live elsewhere. Hotdish ingredients here lean to hamburger, pasta/rice/tater tots and a creamy soup (mushroom/chicken/celery) to bind everything together. Spices? Salt and pepper.

 

The sign also promoted the University of Minnesota Gophers football game at 11 that morning. The Gophers went on to defeat Penn State.

 

At some point in Minnesota culinary lore, Tater Tot Hotdish became our signature hotdish. I don’t know that it still holds such high esteem. I much prefer Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s more savory and complicated Classic Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish.

 

While I’ve not eaten at the Belview Bar & Grill, I will always choose a home-grown eatery over a chain.

 

But others, I expect, still embrace the basics of that solid and comforting tater tot-topped hotdish. Belview Bar & Grill advertised the dish, along with chili and beef stew, as hunters’ specials. That would be deer hunting. I saw a few orange-attired hunters in Belview, including two who stopped at the senior care center to drop off lunch for an employee.

These are the small town stories I love. Stories that I discover simply by observing, by listening, by gathering photos that document everyday life.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Experiencing a Northfield, Minnesota apple orchard October 23, 2019

 

THE CARNIVAL SCENT of donuts permeated the autumn air as I stepped from the van in the gravel parking lot of Fireside Orchard & Gardens. For years I’ve wanted to visit this Northfield area orchard and try the fresh-from-the-fryer apple cinnamon donuts. Apples were secondary to this first-ever visit.

 

Numerous rose gardens grace the property.

 

While many of the roses were no longer blooming, I found enough to dip my nose into.

 

Walking toward the retail store, I spotted this sign.

 

After stopping to smell a few roses in the frontyard rose garden, I aimed straight for the retail store and the source of that sugary cinnamon scent. The place was busy with people buying bags of apples, cups of apple cider, fudge, caramel apples and those donuts that couldn’t come off the fryer conveyor fast enough. Fireside also offers a lot more foods, including bacon ketchup (not made on-site).

 

Most of the apple trees we saw, but not all, were picked clean of fruit.

 

I figured I better sample a few apples first. I tried SnowSweet and Sugar Bee, both new apples to me, and the familiar Honey Crisp. Hands down, Honey Crisp remains my favorite apple, developed right here in Minnesota.

 

There are lots of apple varieties filling these coolers.

 

I watched donuts roll off the fryer.

 

The hardworking young employee.

 

By the time I’d finished my third apple slice, Randy had already purchased a half dozen of those coveted donuts. We headed out the back door, right behind the kid pushing a cart holding a crate of apples. His job seemed that of keeping apples in stock as I watched him several times hustle between nearby storage building and retail store.

 

A pond centers the grounds.

 

Ornamental berries pop color into the landscape.

 

An overview of the pond looking toward the orchard.

 

This place was abuzz with people enjoying a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon in rural Minnesota. Fireside is a truly welcoming place with assorted sitting areas, yard games and property open to wandering—from orchard to rose gardens.

 

Pumpkins aplenty…

 

Apples aplenty…

 

Gourds aplenty…

 

Pumpkins and gourds for sale add to the seasonal appeal.

 

I considered for a moment asking Randy to take a picture of me by the tractor.

 

Two parked vintage tractors present fun rural photo ops. This is just a relaxing family-friendly and dog-friendly place that is family-run.

 

The barn style building design is especially welcoming with covered open air spaces.

 

Within a half hour drive of the south metro, just 1.5 miles east of Interstate 35 along Minnesota State Highway 19, Fireside Orchard is conveniently-located, easy to find. A fun and beautiful place to visit.

 

A note posted inside the retail store from a grateful teacher.

 

As for those apple cinnamon donuts, they were a tad greasy, just as one would expect from a fair-type food. I’m certain I’ll return to Fireside. I love orchards like this that realize folks today want more than just a place to buy apples. They want an experience.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite apple orchard? If yes, tell me why it’s your favorite.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting at the Faribault Farmers’ Market September 27, 2019

 

Garden-fresh flowers, like these spider mums, are available at the Faribault Farmers’ Market, open now on Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. – noon in Central Park.

 

SHOPPING AT A FARMERS’ MARKET is not simply about shopping for garden-fresh produce, home-baked goods, handcrafted items and more. It’s about the experience. That much I’ve learned in my many years of frequenting the Faribault Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.

 

Musicians perform at the recent Faribault Farmers’ Market Family Day while shoppers visit the market.

 

A Minnesota item crafted by Becker Woodcraft LLC.

 

Vegetables are in abundance.

 

The experience is one of community—of coming together, of connecting, of appreciating this place and the people committed to sharing their products.

 

My friend Al sells his flowers and produce.

 

Old-fashioned zinnias grown by Al.

 

One of the youngest vendors from 3 Glad Girls sells gladiolus.

 

My local farmers’ market offers opportunities to chat with vendors like Kelly of The Giant’s House Bakery, Al with his ever-brilliant bouquets of my favorite zinnias, Denny with whatever creative treat he concocts (like chocolate-dipped jalapenos), Tiffany of Graise Farm with her duck eggs…

 

 

Heirloom tomato.

 

One of the more unusual items for sale, agates displayed in a bowl of water.

 

 

I often pause and chat with friends who are also seeking locally-grown/baked/crafted food/goods. Pumpkins. Kolacky. Homemade jams and jellies. Cookies. Bouquets of flowers. Jewelry and art.

 

A bouncy house provides fun for the kids during Family Day.

 

A musician plays the flute during Family Day.

 

The goats were a popular Family Day draw.

 

Meet the goat.

 

Milk the goat.

 

When the Faribault Farmers’ Market hosted Family Day a few Saturdays ago, I was pleased to see Central Park crowded with young families enjoying the extras of fun activities, informational booths, music and farm animals up-close.

 

Kids make fruit and vegetable prints during Family Day.

 

The atmosphere felt festive and spirited with a prevailing sense of community. More than ever today, we need to reclaim and maintain that feeling, that sense of connection that brings us together. We need one another. Whether we live in town or the country. Your local farmer’s market is a good place to start building community.

 

 

TELL ME: Do you shop farmers’ markets? If yes, what do you buy? Tell me also about your experiences.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Food stories from Minnesota as I celebrate my birthday September 26, 2019

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Assorted hot dishes, salads, desserts and more fill several tables at the annual Kletscher family reunion held each July at the city park in my hometown of Vesta, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHAT FOODS AND FOOD TRADITIONS do you consider unique to the place you live?

 

Assorted bars. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Ask any Minnesotan and it’s surely not grape salad. Rather, the typical Minnesotan might respond with hot dish, walleye, chicken wild rice soup… Or bars. And we’re not talking the local watering hole here. We’re talking a sweet treat pressed or poured into a 9 x 13-inch cake pan. My favorite are peanut butter oatmeal bars.

 

Chicken Wild Rice Hot Dish with salad and bread served at an eatery in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Whatever your answer, food in many ways defines us. And food is the subject of a research project underway by a young Minnesota woman working on her Master of Fine Arts nonfiction writing degree from the University of New Hampshire. Lindsey phoned last week to ask about my food history, one rooted in my rural upbringing. We talked for an hour. I don’t envy Lindsey’s eventual task of condensing months of research into a succinct paper. But I do look forward to some day reading her findings.

 

My mother-in-law, who passed away in October 1993, often made Seven Layer Jell-O Salad. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect she will include Jell-O, once the queen of Minnesota salads. Make that red Jell-O laced with sliced bananas. It is a signature food of many an extended family gathering from my childhood. Many Baby Boomers from rural Minnesota could probably say the same.

 

A friend gifted me with a copy of the book my mom used to craft birthday cakes.

 

But there’s one story likely unique to me and my five siblings. We grew up on a crop and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota. With little money, our parents could not afford to give us gifts on our birthdays. The thing is, we didn’t know to expect presents. We were that poor. But Mom found another way to make our birthdays special. Days before our birthday, she would pull out her Animal Cut-Up Cake booklet and allow us to thumb through the pages and choose an animal-shaped birthday cake. Simple two-page spreads showed, for example, how to create a lion from a 9-inch square cake. Mom would follow the instructions in the publication by General Foods Corporation and create the chosen animal cake.

 

The clown cake my mom made for me in one of the few photos I have of myself from my childhood.

 

I cherish those birthday memories. I’m convinced that, had I gotten childhood birthday gifts, I would have forgotten those long ago. But my mom’s homemade birthday cakes, no. Whether a turtle, terrier or teddy bear, those cakes equated love.

 

I can’t take credit for this cake. But my daughters crafted this PEEF cake for their brother the year he turned eight. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When I became a mother, I followed the tradition of creating homemade birthday cakes—like Garfield the cat, a horse, a snowman—for my three kids. But they, unlike me and my siblings, also received birthday gifts.

 

Me with my mom. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

Today I celebrate my birthday. I don’t expect a cake, because who will bake one for me? I’m the mom. Rather I’ll remember and honor my mom, who is on hospice in a care center 2 ½ hours away. I doubt she remembers today is my birthday. I’m simply thankful if she recognizes me. But maybe, if I prompted her, she would recall all those special birthday cakes she baked for me and my siblings. The tradition was a gift of love from the mom I love. And miss.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling