Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Loving home-grown ice cream shops like The Blast September 14, 2022

A sign points to the Blast’s location in downtown Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

The Blast walk-up window is located at the end of the “tunnel” to the left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.”

A steady flow of customers kept this employee busy taking ice cream orders. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

A Red Raspberry Sundae. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

Lots of choices at The Blast. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

A group orders ice cream treats on an August weekday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

Through the order window, I spotted this portrait. Anna drew multiple portraits and hid them around the shop, her co-worker told me. A fun discovery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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 soon as I saw this sign, I knew I would order the Puppy Chow Flurry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

The Puppy Chow Flurry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

This sandwich board sign along Division Street directs customers down the sidewalk toward the river, to The Blast. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

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.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With gratitude to an anonymous friend May 20, 2022

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Love in three languages along the Virtues Trail in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2018)

THE GREETING CARD arrived in a non-descript blue envelope, our names and address printed in reddish marker. No return address, only a flower sticker in the upper left corner. A Saint Paul, MN postmark with a May 13, 2022, date inked the paper next to a floral postage stamp. And, on the back, an artsy heart sticker graced the envelope flap.

I expected to find a card inside wishing Randy and me the best on our 40th wedding anniversary. I was right on that. I appreciated the verse focused on God’s blessings and a prayer for continued blessings in our lives.

From an anonymous friend, an anniversary wish and gift. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But I did not expect the anonymous signature—A friend—or a faith-themed post-it note attached to a $20 bill. That note suggested we treat ourselves, perhaps to Dairy Queen ice cream, and to enjoy our day(s).

The thoughtfulness of this anonymous friend (whom I suspect reads this blog) touched me deeply. There are moments in life when we all need an extra hug, extra words of encouragement, extra kindness. For me, that moment is now. This year, thus far, has proven challenging with the death of my mom in January and recently the news that my husband will be losing his job of 39 years due to a change in business ownership and closure of the automotive machine shop.

A Peanut Buster Parfait from DQ. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

So, when that surprise anniversary card and cash gift arrived, I felt a surge of gratitude for the reminder that others care, that I am blessed by a loving and caring husband of 40 years, that God will, and always has, given us the strength we need to face and work through life’s difficulties.

While walking a recreational trail in Madison, Wisconsin, when my son lived in the Atwood Neighborhood there, I spotted this wonderfully uplifting message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Many times in my life, I’ve been uplifted by others. I’ve tried to do the same. When someone is struggling or celebrating, I acknowledge that. We all need to be heard, understood, loved, cared for, uplifted. Appreciated. Valued. Encouraged.

The Betty, from The S’Cream in Owatonna. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

And today, because of that anonymous friend—who’s apparently read on this blog that Randy and I treat ourselves to Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits twice a year (upon opening and closing of the local franchise)—I feel especially cared for. When I taste the sweetness of ice cream, either from DQ or from our favorite area ice cream shop, The S’Cream in Owatonna, I will taste, too, the sweetness of love sent by an anonymous friend.

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TELL ME: How has someone encouraged you in life? Or how have you encouraged someone? I’d like to hear your stories.

I’d like to thank you, my readers, for your kindness, generosity and encouragement through the years. What a blessing you have been in my life.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The DQ’s open, spring is coming March 15, 2022

DQ Peanut Buster Parfait. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

FOR RANDY AND ME, and likely others in the Faribault area, the opening of “the Little DQ” signals the shift to spring in Minnesota.

Late Sunday afternoon we joined the line of vehicles snaking around the small Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue. Our mission: To order the five-day opening special, a Peanut Buster Parfait for $1.99. Make that two, please. That totaled $4.28, with tax.

The drive-up (walk-up was closed) DQ opened on February 18 after a seasonal closure on October 29, 2021. The closing special was the same as the opening special—those bargain parfaits loaded with peanuts and oozing layers of rich chocolate fudge over soft serve ice cream. Yum.

But the treat is also loaded with calories. As we waited, I noted the calorie count of 710 on a sign. Yikes. It’s a good thing we treat ourselves to DQ only twice a year. In October and then again in March.

I also struggle with the regular price of $4.99 (I wouldn’t pay that price) for a single parfait. I realize DQ is in the business of making money, but that price point exceeds my cost comfort level. I can purchase a 1.5 quart container of ice cream from my local grocery store for around $3. That yields nine servings with a lot fewer calories. Around 200 for two-thirds of a cup versus 710 for that Peanut Buster Parfait.

I know, it’s not the same. Different type of ice cream. Different experience. DQ, for us, is a treat. It also signals the shift in seasons. In October, the move from fall to winter. And in March, the move from winter toward spring. Even as remnants of snow still bank the ground.

TELL ME: What’s your favorite Dairy Queen treat? How often do you go to DQ? Or do you have another favorite ice cream source?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than simply an ice cream treat March 2, 2021

A Peanut Buster Parfait from The Little DQ of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

SPRING UNOFFICIALLY ARRIVED in Faribault this past weekend. You’d never guess that from viewing the snow cover, freshened by two inches of new snow overnight Sunday. But The Little DQ opened on February 27, signaling the shift toward spring. At least for Randy and me.

Every year about this time, the walk-up/drive-up Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue reopens after a three-month seasonal closure. And we find ourselves there picking up bargain Peanut Buster Parfaits. Seldom do we treat ourselves to DQ. But this opening special has become a tradition in recent years.

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

So Monday evening, when I’m certain Randy would rather have settled onto the sofa than leave the cozy warm house after a long day of work, we headed across town to the DQ. Past the fire station and the courthouse, turning onto Fourth Street. The suspension in our 2003 Chevy Impala, closing on 270,000 miles, creaked with each switch in direction. Past the pizza place and our church and the recently-closed Family Video and the abandoned Farmers Seed and Nursery building. Across the train tracks and, shortly thereafter, a left turn onto the frontage road. Past Kwik Trip and then onto the pothole pocked street by the DQ.

I noted the electronic sign welcoming back “your smiling faces.” And I noted, too, the posted temp of 21 degrees.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We arrived at a good time, on a cold evening past the dinner hour, to find only one vehicle ahead of us. A red pick-up truck. I counted out dollar bills and change, $4.28, to cover the $1.99 plus tax parfaits. Once cash was exchanged for treats, I clutched the two plastic encased parfaits and Randy aimed the Chevy back home.

We passed homes still aglow in holiday lights while a country tune played on KCHK 95.5 FM out of New Prague. I’m not a country music fan and Randy listens only occasionally for the weird stories. But something about the gentleness of the song and heart-breaking lyrics appealed to me. I got the music, he got you… He got the sunshine, I got the rain…

As Ronnie Milsap crooned, I took in our surroundings. Colored lights framing a solo second-story window in an aged wood-frame house. And, a block away, an American flag hung vertically as a window covering. Along Division Street, I spotted a snow fort in a front yard, mentally marking that I need to revisit this in daylight.

At a four-way stop, I saw a screen in the maroon vehicle ahead playing some show to entertain the kids. And I wished the family would turn off the device for a moment or ten and take in their surroundings. Neon blue lights outlining a front porch. Slant of light upon snow. Snow mounding along roadways.

In my hands, the Peanut Buster Parfaits transferred cold into my fingers. And shortly thereafter, when I spooned into the ice cream and fudge traced with peanuts while snuggled under a fleece throw in the recliner, I grew colder. And, for the longest time, I couldn’t get warm on this first day of March in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

LaNette’s, more than a coffee shop in small town Montgomery August 18, 2020

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A view outside LaNette’s Coffee Shop, 225 First Street South, Montgomery, Minnesota.

 

FOUR PLASTIC MOLDED CHAIRS in a blue that seems more beachy than rural Minnesota, angle outside LaNette’s Coffee Shop. Two women sit here, sip coffee, engage in conversation on this sunny summer Saturday morning.

 

A close-up of that kitschy cute cone art.

 

The occasional vehicle passes by or stops at the stop sign before crossing or turning onto First Street. LaNette’s anchors a corner on the south end of Montgomery’s main business district and is housed in a small brick building marked by smiling waffle cone art that identifies this as more than just a coffee source.

Besides a variety of coffees and bakery treats like muffins, cinnamon rolls and cookies, Owner LaNette also serves up ice cream in homemade waffle cones. I’ve yet to try any of her treats. Next visit.

 

Pat Preble won first place for “Old Barn” and “Cows in the Field,” both displayed in the front window of the coffee shop.

 

But this time in town, I’d already eaten my sweet for the day—from Franke’s Bakery just up the street. Instead, I popped into La Nette’s for a closer look at the art displayed in her front window as part of the local “Celebrating Farmers and Agriculture” Exhibit coordinated by the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center. I asked LaNette if I could turn a barn painting by Pat Preble to photograph it. She quickly agreed.

 

An example of the art in LaNette’s.

 

I noticed the work of other artists showcased and available for purchase in LaNette’s shop. I love when local businesses support local artists. And writers, as noted by a Hometown Authors section in a wall display.

 

The inviting interior.

 

An antique doorstop keeps the front door open.

 

LaNette’s with mismatched tables and chairs, inviting sitting spaces, art, a few antiques, a pine plank floor and the aforementioned beverages and treats, has a comfortable feel of neighborliness. Of gathering with friends. Of catching up on family and town news. Of enjoying the often slower pace of life found in small town Minnesota. Of contentment.

 

A neon sign in the front windows signals that the coffee shop is open.

 

FYI: LaNette’s Coffee Shop is open from 6 am – 3 pm Monday-Saturday. Please check back for one final post from Montgomery tomorrow.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

Who screams for ice cream? November 19, 2018

I’ve never been to Conny’s Creamy Cone, just noticed it recently while enroute to Como Park. The shop, open from March to October, is on the corner of Dale Street and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. It features 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream and a menu that includes burgers, cheese curds, onion rings and much more. Have you ever been here? Spotting this shop inspired this post.

 

SEASONAL ICE CREAM SHOPS have mostly shuttered here in Minnesota as demand drops with the onset of cold and snow. Or does it? I still eat ice cream from November – March. Straight from a carton in my freezer into a bowl onto a spoon and into my mouth. Yum.

 

The Betty, Cool Mint Flavor Burst ice cream, crème de mint and Oreos flurried together, then topped with whipped cream, and served at The S’Cream in Owatonna, one of my favorite ice cream shops. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

As much as I enjoy ice cream at home, I also enjoy the occasional stop at an ice cream shop once those businesses re-open around April 1, depending. There’s just something about standing outside a walk-up window, scanning the choices and choosing a treat to welcome spring or to cool down on a humid summer day that makes me happy. You know, the kid with an ice cream cone kind of happiness, although I seldom choose a cone. I prefer a shake or something more complex.

 

Lots of dogs waiting in line with their owners at Blast Softserve. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

I also prefer homegrown ice cream shops with creative names for both business and offerings to chain anything. Ditto for restaurants. I want to experience a sense of place by dining at original, hometown eateries.

 

One of my favorite area bakeries, Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I like small town bakeries, too. And craft breweries.

 

Long lines formed to the two serving windows at Blast Softserve, 206 West Rose St., Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

None of this should come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile. I delight in exploring small towns, discovering that which defines the character of a community and makes it memorable. It could be a sign, architecture, a person, an event… Or a sweet little ice cream shop.

 

Serving up a cone at The Whippy Dip in Decorah, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite homegrown ice cream shop?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The sweet treat that marks the unofficial arrival of spring in my Minnesota community March 6, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

TWICE A YEAR, Randy and I treat ourselves to Peanut Buster Parfaits at the local Dairy Queen. In the fall when the smaller of the two DQs in Faribault closes for the winter and then again when it reopens for the season.

 

 

 

 

On the last Sunday of February, we headed to the ice cream chain for our $1.99 parfaits. The bargain price of more than half off the $4.59 list price was irresistible. I simply ignore the 710 calories.

 

 

As we pulled into the DQ parking lot, I suggested we sit outside at the concrete picnic tables, just to say we’d eaten our parfaits outside in Minnesota in February. Randy wasn’t falling for my suggestion. “There’s snow on the tables,” he said. Not everywhere, I observed to myself. But he was right. Consuming something cold while sitting on cold concrete, even if to prove a point, wasn’t the brightest idea.

 

 

The DQ sign showed a temperature of 30 degrees as we carried our treats outside and to the van.

 

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I suggested we head to a park. Not to sit outdoors. But to pretend we could if only the temp was 20 degrees warmer. At a park near our home, we sat in the van and scooped sweet ice cream, salty peanuts and decadent chocolate into our mouths, savoring this first taste of spring in Faribault.

 

NOTE: To those of you in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Iowa, I know today seems nothing like spring.  I wrote this post and put it in draft prior to Monday’s major winter storm. Just pretend it’s spring. Or head to the DQ.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Yes, I eat ice cream in winter & here’s my new favorite in name & taste January 5, 2018

 

AS A WORDSMITH, I appreciate creative marketing. And that defines a new line of ice cream sold at Fareway Foods, a Midwest grocer with a store in my community.

Fareway is unique among grocers. The business is closed on Sundays, following the company philosophy that Sunday should be a day of rest and a time for families to be together.

That business value explains the name Cookie Doughn’t Work on Sundays, a cookie dough flavor in the new Fareway Premium Ice Cream made by Blue Bunny. How clever is that doughn’t?

Other names include You Had Me At Cheesecake, Better Choco-late Than Never, my favorite (in taste, that is) Truffle Shuffle Salty Caramel and more. The salty caramel pairs perfectly with apple crisp.

Winter isn’t exactly prime ice cream season in cold Minnesota. But that doesn’t stop me from grabbing a carton of Fareway’s new, since May, branded ice cream. The names got me initially. Kudos, marketing team. But the taste and price have made me a repeat customer.

TELL ME: Have you come across an especially memorable marketing name for a food product? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 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