Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking for the “best of” places to dine in small towns & two recommendations April 10, 2018

Sapporo Ramen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

MY FIRST AND ONLY ATTEMPT ever to eat with chopsticks happened nearly two years ago at Sapporo Ramen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I tried to position my fingers like my son demonstrated, to clamp the slippery ramen noodles between thin sticks and then maneuver the food to my mouth. I failed.

 

A ramen dish at Sapporo Ramen, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

I was hungry. A spoon would work just fine, thank you.

I’ll admit, I haven’t had all that much exposure to ethnic foods. Choices are limited here in Greater Minnesota, the name tagged to any place outside the Twin Cities metro. Typical restaurant fare around here is standard American. Any ethnic restaurants are primarily Mexican.

 

One of my favorite burgers, the Strawberry Hill Burger, served at Fielder’s Choice in Northfield, Minnesota. The burger features peanut butter, strawberry jam, pepperjack cheese and bacon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I often wish we had more creative choices in dining. But the reality is that folks seem to like the usual burgers and fries, chicken sandwiches, deep-fried fish, the occasional steak—familiar foods to Minnesotans.

 

The Amboy Cottage Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

Because of cost, I don’t dine out all that often. So when I do, I want something different, something I can’t prepare at home, something tasty and fresh and definitely something made from scratch. When I think about really good food that I’ve eaten at Minnesota restaurants, two places pop to mind—The Amboy Cottage Cafe and The Good Life Cafe.

 

My incredible raspberry chicken salad. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

Spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

Homemade blackberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

Five years ago Randy and I ate at the Cottage Cafe in Amboy south of Mankato. We specifically stopped in this small town to dine in the 1928 cottage style former gas station. I’d read about the great homemade food. There I enjoyed the best salad ever—raspberry chicken—while Randy had spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. Both were superb as was our shared slice of blackberry pie. I need to revisit this restaurant.

 

My Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish with salad and bread on the side from The Good Life Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

 

Some 4.5 hours to the north in the tourist community of Park Rapids I found another hometown restaurant that served up one memorable dish. That would be The Good Life Cafe and the Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish. I loved the creamy, savory flavor of the hotdish (casserole to those of you not from Minnesota), so comforting and delicious on a cool and rainy September day.

How about you? What do you look for when dining out? Tell me about a favorite restaurant and/or meal. I’m especially interested in hearing about restaurants in small (Minnesota) towns.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A healthier version of your typical Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, plus chocolate November 17, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:23 AM
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MY FRIEND MANDY is sweet and giving and super smart.

She is also a two-time cancer survivor, an avid gardener and a bit of a health food nut. Her enthusiasm for eating healthy is contagious, although contagious is not really the correct word to correlate with healthy.

Let’s just say she is convincing. And she does not simply talk the talk. This 36-year-old nurse practitioner by profession and parish nurse via volunteerism eats healthy and is leading healthy living workshops, offering food samples and recipes, striving to drive home her message.

She cans and freezes all that produce goodness grown on the rural acreage she shares with her husband, Jeff, east of Faribault.

And then she gives it away. Not everything. But plenty.

Just a few days ago, while attending bible study at Mandy and Jeff’s house, I left with two 16-ounce pouches of frozen pumpkin and another packet of green beans. Only two days earlier she had handed me two sealed pouches of still-warm-from-the-oven pumpkin.

My friend insisted that none of us should buy canned pumpkin and I had to confess that I had two cans in the cupboard. Mandy said she would forgive me this time.

And just to prove that healthy eating can be as tasty as she claims, Mandy served our bible study group two pies. Not until afterward, however, did she reveal that both include tofu. I knew, though, as Mandy had informed me ahead of time and I’ve actually made the chocolate pie several times.

So, if you are looking for a healthier alternative to the typical pies you may be baking for Thanksgiving, here are two recipes that will fool those tofu naysayers. I’m making these. But not until after my brother-in-law and a few other family members have finished off their slices of pie will I reveal the ingredients. Or, perhaps I should remain silent.

Pumpkin and other pies, not the healthy variety that includes tofu, at an event I attended last year.

Tofu Pumpkin Pie

1 can (16 ounces) 100% pumpkin puree
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 package (12 or 12 ½ ounces) soft tofu, processed in blender until smooth
9-inch unbaked, whole wheat pie shell (or you can use a regular unbaked crust in a deep dish pie pan, but this is not quite as healthy)

Preparation: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream together pumpkin and sugar. Add salt, spices and tofu; mix thoroughly until smooth. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 40 – 50 minutes. Chill and serve. Makes 8 servings.

Source: The Anti-Cancer Cookbook via Mandy

You could choose to make this calorie and fat-laden (but super delicous) chocolate cheesecake or try the healthier chocoloate pie recipe below. Cheesecake is my favorite dessert and I will never give it up, FYI.

Chocolate Cream Pie

10 -12 oz. soft silken tofu
10 oz. dark chocolate chips
1 – 2 teaspoons vanilla
9-inch graham cracker crust

Blend the soft silken tofu in a blender until smooth. Add vanilla. Blend again. Melt chocolate. Add chocolate to tofu in blender and blend until thoroughly mixed. Pour into pie crust. Refrigerate 1 – 2 hours. May top with sliced strawberries and chopped walnuts if desired.

Source: from Mandy and her source, unknown by me

I HAVE MADE the chocolate pie several times to rave reviews from guests and the husband and teenage son, who likely would not have tried this had they heard the word “tofu.” This pie is super simple to make and delicious.

Make certain you purchase soft silken tofu, not firm, if you make these recipes. I have not made the pumpkin pie, but can vouch that it tastes just like regular pumpkin pie and was especially delicious with pumpkin from Mandy’s garden.

Note that I shopped at two different grocery stores here in Faribault during the last several days for soft silken tofu without success. The one Faribault grocery store where I’ve purchased tofu in the past was out of the soft variety. The other store never carries it, nor do two other grocery stores in town. My point: Plan ahead.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One final visit to Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden. November 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:18 AM
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Shops, eateries and more line the streets of Stockholm, a quaint village along Lake Pepin. This photo was taken in early October. To the left you'll see blue bikes, available for visitors to use at no cost.

TO WHOM THIS MAY CONCERN in Stockholm (Wisconsin. Not Sweden):

If only I had known about the bribe.

I would have accepted your offer, the one I found listed under “Stockholm News & Media” on your website:

Are you a writer, blogger, reviewer, photographer with a web site? Let us bribe you (how about a fresh cup of expresso from Stockholm General, a piece of pie from the Stockholm Pie Company, lunch at Bogus Creek Café, a beer at Gelly’s, a ticket to an event at the Widespot?) in exchange for your coverage!

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And, yes.

While I’ve never drank an expresso, I’m certainly open to trying one. I like pie. A lot. I do lunch. Yes, I’ll toast your town with an icy mug of beer. And, yes, I always enjoy being entertained.

I was too full from lunch across the river in Wabasha to try the Stockholm Pie Company's pie, made completely from scratch. Not that I wasn't tempted to try a slice of caramel apple crunch or key lime or peanut butter fudge. I even stepped inside this tiny shop to smell the baking pies. Next time I'll save room for dessert.

However, dear people of Stockholm (Wisconsin. Not Sweden.) and dear readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots, my writing has not been influenced, not one teeny bit, by offers of free anything. My three previous, glowing posts from Stockholm were written from the heart. Simply put, I fell head-over-heels for this quaint Lake Pepin-side village of 89 without any undue influence.

Today I’ll take you on one last visit to this destination town just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota. Enjoy. And if you’ve been to Stockholm, Wisconsin, not Sweden, I’d like to hear what you most appreciate/relish/savor about this riverside get-away.

And if you own a business or live in Stockholm, submit a comment and tell readers why you love your village and why they should visit.

P.S. I’ll be back for the pie and the lunch and the…

One of the many shops lining the streets of Stockholm.

One of my favorite finds, a lizzard crafted from old silverware and more and lounging outside a shop. No, I didn't purchase this critter, but I certainly admired the creativity.

I notice details, especially signs, windows and doors, including this door on the Stockholm Museum.

The Stockholm Museum, home to the Stockholm Institute which preserves and celebrates the history of the Stockholm area, is housed in a former post office.

On the museum exterior, I discovered this handcrafted tribute to WW II vets.

The lovely Abode gallery, where my artist friend Arlene Rolf of Faribault has artwork displayed.

Another business door and signage that caught my eye. It's all about the details, my friends, all about the details.

A residence, I assume, since the steps were marked with a "private" sign. So inviting and lovely, just like all of Stockholm.

To read my previous posts from Stockholm, click on each story link below:

Russell, the Bookseller of Stockholm

A bit of Sweden in Wisconsin

A garage sale in Stockholm, Wisconsin

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bottled apple pie and Amish butter in Tomah November 2, 2011

UP UNTIL SUNDAY, Tomah, Wisconsin, meant little to me except as the half-way point between my home 2 ½ hours away in southeastern Minnesota and my daughter Miranda’s home 2 ½ hours away in eastern Wisconsin.

Located near the intersection of Interstates 90 and 94, this town of around 10,000 has been the ideal place to stop and stretch before jumping onto two-lane, wood-edged Wisconsin State Highway 21 which runs through umpteen mostly tiny towns all the way to Oshkosh. Not that I have an issue with small towns and woods and such. But if you want to make time and avoid deer, this highway is not the one to take.

Sorry, I got sidetracked there for a minute thinking of the long stretches of woods without a home in sight, miles and miles without cell phone service, cranberry bogs hugging the roadway, dead muskrats and dead deer.

Oh, and one other tidbit you should know about Highway 21. Amish travel this narrow and busy state highway. In their buggies. Day or night. And especially on Sundays.

But back to Tomah, which, by the way, also happens to have a fabulous cheese shop, Humbird Cheese, conveniently positioned right off I-94 at its intersection with Highway 21.

Humbird Cheese, a popular tourist stop at Tomah, Wisconsin.

On Sunday, I wasn’t looking for a cheese shop, but rather a place where my husband and I could meet our daughter and her friend Gerardo for lunch and a car swap. That’s how we ended up at Burnstad’s European Restaurant, Village and Pub. I found information about this shopping and eating complex online and determined it would be the ideal place to connect. If one or the other of us had to wait, we’d have something to do.

Burnstad’s, as it turns out, offers plenty of time-killing shopping options. I was most happy to see Amish products sold here as I am fascinated by the Amish. Not that I bought anything Amish, like a log of Amish butter or cheese or chocolate candy or egg noodles or preserves.

Amish Country Roll Butter from ALCAM Creamery Co. and sold at Burnstad's.

But…I could have…if my husband hadn’t dropped money on a bottle of semi-sweet cranberry wine from Three Lakes Winery; Travis Hasse’s Original Apple Pie Liqueur produced by Drink Pie Company in Temperance, Michigan, but originating from the Missouri Tavern near Madison (and which we may serve to our Thanksgiving dinner guests if there’s any left by then); and blueberry craisins, which I thought were dried blueberries (they’re not; they’re dried cranberries with grape and blueberry juice concentrate). Lesson learned here—read ingredient lists and know the definition of “craisin.”

Wisconsin cranberry wine displayed in, of all things, a high-heeled shoe. Huh?

"People are looking at you," my husband said when I asked him to hold this bottle of Apple Pie Liqueur so I could photograph it. I replied: "I don't care. I'll never see them again."

All that aside, Burnstad’s rates as one impressive place. Impresssive to me primarily because of the atmosphere—including a cobblestone pathway meandering past the restaurant and pub and gift shops—and cleanliness. Honestly, in the European market/grocery store, the spotless, shiny floor reflected like a lake surface on a calm and sunny summer afternoon. I’ve never seen such a clean floor in a grocery store, or maybe anywhere.

I didn't photograph the floor of the grocery store, because shoppers really would have stared at me. But I did photograph this sign, which so impressed me with its support of Wisconsin farmers.

Then there’s the pie. Oh, the pie. Typically my family doesn’t order dessert in a restaurant. But the pie in the rotating display case proved too tempting, especially when I inquired and learned that the pies are made fresh daily. So Miranda and Gerardo each selected a piece—Door County cherry and rhubarb/raspberry—which the four of us promptly devoured. We were celebrating Gerardo’s October 29 birthday and Miranda’s soon-to-be birthday. If you like pie, Burnstad’s pie is the pie to try. I wonder if it’s made by the Amish?

Speaking of which, right outside the gift shop entrance you’ll see an Amish buggy. I wanted Miranda and Gerardo to pose for a photo. My daughter was having none of that. Since I’m the one semi-possessed by all things Amish, she insisted I climb into the buggy for a photo op. I refused to wedge myself inside the close confines of that buggy. So instead, I stood next to it and smiled a tourist smile like any good Minnesotan would.

I put on my tourist face for this Amish buggy photo. Just down Highway 21 you'll see authentic Amish buggies.

Packers fans will find Packers fans for sale in Burnstad's gift shop, in the Packers section.

A particularly amusing sign I spotted in the gift shop and suitable for either a Minnesotan or a Wisconsinite.

SORRY FOR FAILING to photograph exterior and interior shots of Burnstad’s. I was just too excited about seeing my daughter for the first time in three months that I didn’t get carried away with photo-taking like I typically do.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Serving up history and pie in Faribault April 12, 2011


I EXPECT YOU have no clue what you are viewing above. Perhaps you think this is a piece of art in a gallery exhibit.

You would be wrong. Way wrong.

Rather, this shows a portion of a Civil War battle flag that I’ve switched up with some photo editing tools to emphasize the stars and letters and numbers in the upper left corner.

Lighting conditions weren’t ideal for photographing this flag Saturday afternoon in the Guild House at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault.

Honestly, I hadn’t even expected to photograph this flag sewn by a group of women in Fairmont and carried by Company C, 6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. The last time I asked to photograph the flag at the Rice County Museum of History, my request was denied by director Susan Garwood.

She didn’t know me from Adam, or Eve, although I gave her my business card and explained that I was a writer and blogger. That didn’t matter.

Thankfully, Garwood changed her mind and I got the go-ahead-and-shoot-but-without-flash OK.

Garwood has reason to be cautious. This battle flag is rare, among about a half dozen in Minnesota. Recent restoration cost nearly $7,300.

Here's how the flag really looks. Faded. The company which carried this flag was comprised of men primarily from Bridgewater Township in Rice County, Minnesota. On the back side of the flag 34 stars are sewn representing the number of states in 1862. You are seeing reflections here on the glass encasing the flag.

 

Just another, upside down, view of the flag and the reflections of visitors viewing it.

I don’t know the value of the restored flag. But it is valuable enough that a Faribault police officer was guarding the flag Saturday afternoon during “Recognition of the Fall of Fort Sumter–The Beginning of the Civil War” sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society and the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable.

Likewise a collector of Civil War era artifacts was standing guard over his tables full of treasures. He had, among Civil War uniform buttons and other items, an original Lincoln photo engraving (used on the $50 bill) and signature. I didn’t ask the values. Sometimes it’s better not to know these things.

 

A slightly out of focus photo that I took of an original Lincoln photo engraving for a $50 bill on display Saturday.

The last time I photographed parts of his collection at a 2009 Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting, he made me promise not to reveal his name. I agreed. I didn’t want to go missing and have my family looking for me under a stadium. That’s an exaggeration, but this collector was serious. My lips are sealed.

I did ask him, though, why he didn’t bring his slave bills, which were advertised as being at the event and one of the key reasons I attended. He simply said he didn’t know he was supposed to bring them. He gave the same answer 1 1/2 years ago at the Roundtable meeting. I had gone to the session then specifically to see the slave documents.

But on Saturday I perused a few other artifacts I hadn’t seen before like…

these old bullets

 

and two Civil War era muzzleloaders which I was allowed to pick up and which were heavy at 18 and 21 pounds.

I also saw…

these costumed reenactors pull up in a pick-up truck

and this unidentified reenactor, left, posing for photos with Sharon and Richard G. Krom of Rochester. Richard is the great grandson of a Civil War soldier and has written a book, The 1st MN Second to None.

Finally, I sat down with friends and family to enjoy…

a piece of delicious homemade pie made by Rice County Historical Society President Jason Reher. He baked 16 pies for the event. (Jason could be a professional baker; his pie is that good.)

Fortunately for me, Jason had baked my favorite pie and apparently a favorite of many as everyone sitting at my table chose blueberry pie over apple, pumpkin or pecan. Most of us wondered if the blueberries were wild, yet never bothered to walk over and ask the pie-maker.

Jason wondered why I was photographing his pie. I just handed him a business card and figured he’d figure it out.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling