Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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


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


Post Super Bowl thoughts from southern Minnesota February 5, 2018

I started my Super Bowl Sunday (after attending worship services) by dining at the Faribault Lions Club Super Sunday Pancake & Sausage Feed with my husband, Randy, and his brother. Neil was on his way home to Missouri after visiting family in Minnesota for the weekend. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


FOR ME TO STAY UP past 11 p.m. rates as rare. But I did last night. Until nearly 12:30 a.m. Monday. I wanted to watch The Tonight Show from Minneapolis, ending way too much time for me in front of the TV on Super Bowl Sunday. But, you know, when the championship game plays out in your home state, you get caught up in the excitement—even if you don’t much care about sports, which I don’t. I finally have it down that a touchdown earns a team six points.


Not a ref from the Super Bowl…image used here for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


During past Super Bowls, I’ve focused primarily on the commercials and the half-time show. I still did this year. But, for the first time ever, I watched most of the game. Except for the 33 minutes and 35 seconds I missed when my Wisconsin daughter called during the third and fourth quarters. Family trumps football any day, even on Super Bowl Sunday.


Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug chilled in the snow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


It was an exciting game. I found myself rooting for the underdog Philadelphia Eagles, even if they kept the Vikings from the biggest game in football and even though I can’t stand those creepy dog masks worn by some Eagles fans. I did, though, feel, for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has a strong Minnesota connection via his mom, born and raised here. Up until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of Brady. That just shows how much of a football fan I am not.

As for that half-time show…I’m not raving like most are about Justin Timberlake’s performance. But then I’m not a Timberlake, nor a Prince (gasp), fan. Unfamiliar with the songs performed, I couldn’t understand the lyrics. And when Minneapolis lit up in purple during half-time, I didn’t even notice the Prince symbol displayed.


Two weeks ago a major storm dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault and other parts of Minnesota. Snow also fell on Super Bowl weekend. But it is the cold, below zero temps and minus double digit windchills that marked the weather. I was delighted with the weather, which played perfectly off Minnesota’s Super Bowl tag as the “Bold North.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.


I saw many, but not all, of the commercials. My favorites focused on the theme of bringing our country together in an especially divisive year. Strength. Unity. Togetherness. Diversity. I especially liked T-Mobile’s “Little Ones” spot featuring babies of multiple ethnicities paired with empowering words. Most, but not all, of these social cause ads worked for me. In the didn’t like/work would be the Dodge Ram Truck ad using the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I didn’t appreciate his inspiring words used for a commercial purpose.

TurboTax nailed the humor, at least for me, with ads themed on convincing viewers they have nothing to fear in doing their taxes. A monster creeping from under a bed, a ghost in an attic—both were memory relatable. I just hope no little kids got scared.

The Mucinex spot that zoned in on post Super Bowl Monday as a sick day also tickled my funnybone and, in a round-about way, connected to that daughter who called me during the game. Thirty years ago she also used boogers to illicit laughter. “How do you make a Kleenex dance?” she asked kids and parents during a family skate time at a (now closed) Faribault rollerskating rink. “You put a little boogie in it,” she delivered in her sweet preschool voice.


A wonderful blend of textures is presented in Wild Rice Hotdish, another popular Minnesota dish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


A year from now I likely will have forgotten who played in Super Bowl LII. I will have forgotten the record low game time kick-off temp of one degree above zero. (An effort is underway to collect cold weather gear for Minnesota homeless from Super Bowl attendees returning to warm weather destinations via “Pass Your Parkas.”)  I will have forgotten the Mucinex and other commercials. I will have forgotten who performed at half-time. I will have forgotten how Jimmy Fallon gushed about Minneapolis and the Tater Tot Hotdish (not casserole) served to him by a Champlin family. But that memory of my sweet preschooler—now a grown woman—telling that joke about boogers, that I still, and will always, remember.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I finally learn to cook with Minnesota wild rice January 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:32 AM
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TO CONFESS THAT I am a native Minnesotan who’s never cooked with wild rice may equate a sin. I’m not sure. If anything, such a confession is akin to a Norwegian admitting he/she has never tasted lutefisk.

Minnesota blogger Sue Ready, when she learned that I’d never cooked with wild rice, remedied that. She gifted me with a pound of 100 percent wild rice from Quality Rice Products, Inc., Garrison. How kind was that? I’ve never met Sue, who blogs at Ever Ready. But she encompasses what I’ve come to expect in the bloggers I follow—a deep-rooted goodness.

If you check out Sue’s blog (click here), you will soon discover an abundance of recipes woven into her posts. She clearly enjoys time in the kitchen. I do not.

But I was up to the challenge Sue presented in that bag of wild rice. I chose one of her recipes, Artichoke Turkey Casserole, which includes 1 ½ cups of wild rice, for my debut attempt at cooking with northern Minnesota’s beloved grain.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

The first problem: How do I even make wild rice?

I found instructions tucked inside the bag, but then faced my first obstacle. How do you rinse and drain wild rice without the kernels filtering through the colander? Do not use a colander apparently.

Next, after cooking the rice for the specified 45 minutes, the grain still crunched beneath my teeth. So I added another seven minutes to the simmer time and called it good, not really knowing whether I’d cooked the rice long enough or too long.

I just want to note here that the nutty aroma of the wild rice intrigues me. It smells of earth, although not precisely of earth. Perhaps rather the scent combines earth, water, fire, sky, even the history and traditions of the Ojibwe, early harvesters of this manoomin, the “good berry.”

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Because I’d cooked the rice earlier in the day, I resumed making the hotdish with the dicing of vegetables—carrots, onion and red pepper—and the boiling of noodles. I already had the two cups of chicken (substituted for the turkey) which my husband grilled the previous evening.

About 45 minutes later, I had the dish pulled together with the assistance of the husband who sliced artichokes, stirred together cream of chicken soup and milk, and measured cheese while I chopped and sauteed the veggies and tended the noodles. Typically I can multi-task in the kitchen, but preparing this hotdish took way more time than I anticipated and I was getting hungry. And, as everyone in my family knows, I get crabby when I can’t eat at my usual time.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

When I eventually pulled the hotdish from the oven, I couldn’t wait to dig my fork into this truly Minnesotan dish. I suppose an explanation is due here to those of you unfamiliar with Minnesota’s version of casseroles, known in our state as hotdish. Most hotdishes include a cream soup and noodles, this one no exception.

I wondered, though, about that combination of noodles and wild rice. But it works. The crunchy texture of the rice kernels pairs well with the creamy consistency of the noodle mixture.

Even though this hotdish includes a teaspoon of dried thyme and a tablespoon of parsley flakes, I found the flavor a bit too bland for my taste.

Yet, with a sprinkling of salt and fresh ground pepper added,  it’s a tasty and filling comfort food for a cold Minnesota winter evening.

Now that I’ve assured myself I can cook with wild rice—a food which always intimidated me—I’m ready to try preparing wild rice soup. After all, a cup of raw rice equals five cups of cooked rice, meaning I have plenty of manoomin for additional dishes.

Thanks, Sue, for expanding my cooking skills via your gift of Minnesota wild rice.

HAVE YOU COOKED with wild rice and, if so, what’s your favorite dish to prepare?

FYI: To try Sue’s Artichoke Turkey Casserole, an adaptation of a Better Homes and Gardens Comfort Foods recipe, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hotdish on a Saturday November 19, 2011

RATHER THAN DWELL on a single topic today, I’m going to serve hotdish. You know, this and that all mixed together to create this Minnesota-based post.

  • First off, if you follow my writing regularly, you know that I hang laundry outside. But even I’m beginning to wonder about my obsession. When I hung freshly-laundered towels outside Thursday morning, the outdoor air temperature stood at a bone-chilling 17 degrees. Yes, the towels froze nearly instantly. My fingers did not; I worked at a rapid pace. And, yes, the towels were dry when I pulled them from the line at 4 p.m.
  • Our proposed 2012 property tax statement arrived on Wednesday. I nearly fell over. The taxable market value of our property plunged $30,000 to $50,200. If this keeps up, the value will be lower than the price we paid for our house in 1984. The interest rate on our loan then was 10.75 percent. No typo, folks. Nearly 11 percent. (The loan was refinanced to 8.5 percent and paid off early long ago.)

Even though our proposed 2012 property value dropped $30K, our taxes will apparently increase by 12.6 percent or $72. Now tell me that makes sense? There’s a story here; I simply need to figure it all out.

  • If you dye your hair with an over-the-counter product and don’t use the same color or brand you’ve always used, beware. If your hair shows tinges of orange during the dying process, you should panic. This happened to me once.

Wednesday night, with a new color and a new product, the dye appeared white on my head. I do not need white hair to replace my gray hair. But this time I did not panic, trusting that the color would magically transform to the promised “tiki hut.” It did. Whew. I will not need to fire my hairdresser.

  • Back to the money thing. Every time I go to the grocery store, I walk out shaking my head. I cannot believe that I just paid $80 for groceries that fill only two bags.
  • After 10 months of placing cardboard over my living room windows because I didn’t have window treatments for my new windows, I am happy to announce that I have purchased grommet-top panels, the same ones I was eying, oh, about 10 months ago. It is a good thing I waited so long. I got them on sale.

The panels are bold and colorful and unlike anything anyone would expect to find in my home. This is proof that even I can occasionally emerge from my conservative shell. I expect the panels to be in place by Thanksgiving. (Yes, I will post about them here and show you photos.)

  • My 17-year-old made his acting debut Thursday evening as Dr. Thanatos in the Faribault High School production of Teenage Night of Living Horror. When I heard the name of the play, I laughed. Those teens won’t have to act, I thought. Wrong.

Consider dressing like a Zombie if you attend the FHS play. Here's one of the 25 Zombies from the production.

If you live anywhere near the Faribault area, you have two more opportunities to attend this horror genre production. (Don’t bring young children.) Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday. Word has it that if you arrive tonight looking like a Zombie, your ticket price will be discounted $1. No official confirmation on that…

FEEL FREE to comment on any of the above. Let your voice be heard.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Throw that ear of corn and other family reunion memories August 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:17 AM
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“I WANT TO COME to your family reunion,” my friend Mike told me recently after I filled him in on all the fun my extended family has at our annual reunion.

That reunion happened this past weekend in Vesta, a town of about 300 in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. This is the place where my great grandparents, Rudolph and Matilda Kletscher, settled and where their son, Henry, my paternal grandfather, raised his family.

Every year on the last weekend in July, we gather here—at the city park if the weather is nice, in the community hall if it’s too hot or rainy—to reconnect. Only once in recent years have I missed the reunion, for a wedding. Otherwise I keep my calendar clear for that date because, honestly, I love seeing my aunts and uncles and cousins and their families and my mom and siblings and their families.

Carli had a little fun with her name tag.

My Dad, who died in 2003, grew up with nine brothers and sisters, so you can imagine the size of our reunion, even when everyone doesn’t show up. We’ve finally resorted to wearing name tags the past two years just so we can identify everyone and who belongs to whom. And, yes, even the occasional boyfriend or girlfriend or other friend of a relative attends. We are welcoming that way.

Recently we infused new energy into a reunion that, for the younger generation, had become a bit boring. Seems they found simply sitting around, visiting and eating not all that exciting. I totally get that because even I want to do more than sit for hours.

Two years ago we added a Saturday evening campfire complete with homemade wine tasting, smores, snacks (Kletscher reunions always include lots of food), singing and old-fashioned games like gunny sack and 3-legged races. My cousin Vicki and her husband, Dave, also created a texting competition popular with the teens and young adults.

Family members toss ears of corn during the old-fashioned game competition Saturday night.

This year we didn’t have a campfire, but we still met at the park until the heat, humidity and mosquitoes chased us out around10 p.m. But we got in those old-fashioned games, with an ear corn toss added this year. Vicki and Dave also planned a few other games, including a treasure hunt. I teamed up with two cousins and an aunt and her elementary-age grandchildren. Smart move. When we adults determined that the clue “pop, popcorn and hot dogs” meant a concession stand, we pointed across the softball diamond and told the granddaughters to run. They did. We cheered them on.

More games continued following Sunday’s potluck. And let me tell you, the Kletschers know how to cook. Hotdishes crammed nearly every inch of one banquet table with salads and desserts jammed onto another.

Contestants in the Minute-to-Win-It competitions gathered around a table right after the potluck. To the left you'll see some of the food that family members brought. Many dishes had already been removed from the table.

We’d barely finished our meal when my sister Lanae set up the first of several Minute-to-Win-It games she pulled together. I stepped up to photograph the action. Last year I was in the thick of it, planning activities and leading a family trivia competition. This year I wanted to observe the fun.

And the kids had a blast. I could see it in their smiles and hear it in their laughter and in the pounding of their feet racing to the prize table.

Contestants had a minute to stack 36 plastic cups.

In another minute event, competitors maneuvered pasta onto spaghetti.

All ages participated in a rock-paper-scissors tournament coordinated by my cousin Jeff. I lost in the first round.

The younger kids could select a duck from the duck pond and win a prize.

Family members lined up to get temporary tattoos and their faces painted. I was among the first to get a tattoo. My cousin Greg, who didn't know about the tattoo parlor, saw my butterfly tattoo from across the community hall and said, "I didn't know Audrey had a tattoo." Well, now you know, Greg.

While planning games takes time and effort, it’s almost a necessity if we are to keep the young people interested in our reunion and connected as a family. By competing against each other or working together as a competitive team, they are getting to know one another. They are building memories.

Even my 17-year-old, who in years past grumbled about attending the family reunion, now looks forward to it. He protested when we told him we had to leave late Sunday afternoon for the 2 ½-hour drive back to Faribault.

Already the family in charge of next year’s reunion has selected a Mexican theme and is talking piñatas and tacos. We laughed at the idea since we’re a bunch of Germans. But we’ll go along with the theme, as long as we can bring our sauerkraut hotdishes.

CLICK HERE TO READ about the 2010 Kletscher family reunion in the blog post, “Making memories at a Minnesota family reunion with red Jell-O and, um, underwear.”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling