Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Homemade pizza is back on the menu July 13, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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FOR THE FIRST TIME in seven weeks, I made homemade pizza. But this was not your ordinary pizza. This pizza represented something much more than food to fill the belly on a Saturday evening. The pizza I crafted signifies healing.

I have reached the point in recovery from a broken right shoulder that I no longer feel the need to clamp my arm protectively to my side. I am reaching, pulling, even eating with my right hand. I am free of my arm sling except to sleep and to use in crowded public places.

I figure if moving my arm doesn’t hurt, then I’m OK doing whatever. So far, so good. I’m doing laundry, washing dishes and making pizza, with some assistance from the husband.

This Friday I start physical therapy. I am ready and could have begun 10 days ago had an opening been available. My goal is to lift 21 lbs, 10 oz., the current weight of my 15-month-old granddaughter, ASAP. I miss cuddling Izzy. Realistically, I expect I won’t be holding Isabelle for quite some time without supervision. But I need a goal, right?

My short term goal is to pull a t-shirt over my head, to dress my upper body by myself. I’d also like to use my Canon DSLR camera soon. I am passionate about photography and really miss that creative outlet. Sure I’ve been using my smartphone. But even that is challenging and the results not nearly as good as those of a DSLR.

 

Up until my fall and resulting broken shoulder, I crafted homemade pizza every Friday evening, always served with mugs of icy beer.

 

When I consider how much I’ve improved since May 22, the day I missed a step on a hospital stairway and fell while on my way to donate blood, I am amazed. My post injury exhaustion and need for daily naps have vanished. Sore muscles have replaced pain. My once purple, yellow and green arm is now almost free of bruises. I am healing. I can feel it in the handles of a rolling pin as I work dough across a floured board. And I can taste it in a bite of fresh pizza spread with homemade pizza sauce and sprinkled with Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and slips of fresh basil and oregano clipped from plants potted in my backyard.

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SORT OF RELATED, because I fell on my way to donate blood…please consider donating blood to the Red Cross if you are able. The current shortage of blood is termed critical. I’ve been bombarded with emails requesting that I donate. I need to check with my doctor whether I can resume donating. By giving blood, you may save a life. Blood transfusions saved my mom’s life about a decade ago. I am grateful to those many many donors.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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One grand winery & pizza place in the Minnesota River Valley June 6, 2014

A vineyard at Grandview Valley Winery, rural Belview, Minnesota.

A vineyard at Grandview Valley Winery, rural Belview, Minnesota.

TWO YEARS AGO TOMORROW, in the scenic Minnesota River Valley north of Belview, a winery opened.

Folks have raved to me repeatedly about Grandview Valley Winery, located on land that’s been in a family (Wayne and Kari Rigge and John and Laura Rigge) for four generations.

Now, after visiting this winery, I understand their enthusiasm.

The winery and its vineyard.

The winery and its vineyard.

But it’s not just the great homemade pizza and the wine that appeal to me. It is the geographic surroundings, the pronounced pastoral loveliness of this peaceful place positioned within the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

Entering Belview from the north.

Entering Belview from the north upon returning from the winery. Grandview is nearly six miles north of this small town.

Pause to read the Boiling Spring historic marker.

Pause to read the Boiling Spring historic marker.

Another marker notes the Knutson family farm.

Another marker notes the Knutson family farm.

To get there from nearby Belview, follow Redwood County Road 7 north, winding past farm places, past historical markers for Boiling Spring and the Knutson family farm, where my Aunt Iylene grew up.

Turn onto this gravel road just off Redwood County Road 7.

Turn onto this gravel road just off Redwood County Road 7.

This is good pasture land.

This is good pasture land.

Incredible aged bedrock.

Inpressive aged bedrock.

And then, shortly after the markers, turn east, your vehicle kicking up dust as you pass more farms, cattle grazing in pastures and mammoth bedrock heaped in hills along tree-hugged gravel roads leading to Grandview.

Almost there.

Almost there.

Arriving at Grandview Valley Winery.

Arriving at Grandview Valley Winery.

Nearly six miles from Belview, you reach vineyard and winery.

Dine inside or outside on the patio to the left.

Dine inside or outside on the patio to the left.

Solitude embraces with the type of comfort that comes from being in a locale where you feel cocooned from the world, sheltered from the worries and stresses and rush of everyday life. For me, it was the “I could live here” thought. Or at least escape here for a few hours. This marks the perfect place to sip a glass of valley made wine with delicious homemade pizza.

The nearly full parking lot.

The nearly full parking lot.

Not that Grandview offers quiet dining. Quite the opposite. The gravel parking lot on this late May evening, is already nearly full. Inside the winery, diners pack tables while several groups gather on the patio. It’s almost a surprise to see so many here in this rural location, although I’ve been warned about the busyness and sometimes long wait for pizza.

The bacon cheeseburger and BBQ pulled pork pizza.

The bacon cheeseburger and BBQ pulled pork pizza.

But on this Saturday evening, probably because of area high school graduation parties, my husband, a sister, my older brother and his wife, and I need not wait all that long for our two pizzas—halves of German, BBQ pulled pork, buffalo chicken and bacon cheeseburger. To my surprise, I find the sauerkraut-topped German pizza to be especially tasty and my favorite of the four.

The guys order beer, my brother choosing  Goosetown, a German craft beer from August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. Goosetown is an historic nod to an ethnic New Ulm neighborhood where primarily Catholic, German-Bohemian immigrants began settling in the late 1800s. They kept gaggles of geese. My husband opts for Grain Belt’s Nordeast, another Schell’s made beer, because Goosetown is not on the beer list he’s been handed and he doesn’t hear my brother’s order.

I failed to photograph the wine. But I did photograph the wine list.

I failed to photograph the wine. But I did photograph the wine list.

I choose a semi-sweet white wine made from Frontenac Gris grapes and finished with hints of peach, apricot and green apple. Rockin’ Coyote holds the promise of summer and the wild side of this land where I’m certain more than a few coyotes range.

Our conversation flows with the ease that comes from dining among those you love, those who know your history and your quirks and don’t care.

We laugh. And I am teased mercilessly for my gullibility as my sister-in-law reveals that crawdads will not be served at her daughter’s wedding as she previously told me.

Grandview feels like home to me, my connectedness as solid as the aged bedrock lodged in this land.

FYI: Click here for more information about Grandview Valley Winery.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet finds in Montgomery, Part V: Pizza and Big Honza April 15, 2013

Pizzeria 201 is located at 201 First Street South in downtown Montgomery.

Pizzeria 201, right, is located at 201 First Street South in downtown Montgomery.

SETTLED INTO A FRONT corner booth at Pizzeria 201 in downtown Montgomery, my husband and I watch the comings and goings at Franke’s Bakery as we wait for our Flamin’ Bleu pizza.

Our corner booth.

Our corner booth.

The popular Czech bakery is one busy place on a Saturday afternoon, as is the Pizzeria, 201 First Street South. After a few hours of perusing downtown shops, with an earlier stop at the bakery, we are hungry and ready to try out this recommended eatery.

Although I would have selected a pizza loaded with vegetables, I agree to the Flamin’ Bleu suggested by my not-so-veggie-lovin’ spouse.

“You do know it has celery and onions on it, don’t you?” I ask.

Although tasty, Flamin' Bleu was not quite what Randy expected. He expected chunks of bleu cheese topping the pizza. But then we are bleu cheese fanatics with award-winning bleu cheeses produced in our home community of Faribault.

Although tasty, Flamin’ Bleu was not quite what Randy expected. He envisioned chunks of bleu cheese topping the pizza. But then we are bleu cheese fanatics with award-winning bleu cheeses produced in our home community of Faribault. We have high expectations with bleu cheese.

He does, but orders anyway, drawn in by the Gorgonzola, hot buffalo sauce, buffalo chicken and bleu cheese crumble toppings. Pizzeria offers a wide variety of pizzas from the classic pepperoni to Hog Heaven, German (topped with sauerkraut) and more, plus several dessert selections. The beef and pork toppings come from a Le Sueur County family farm.

Pizzeria 201 also has occasional wine tour and beer tastings.

Pizzeria 201 also has occasional wine tour and beer tastings.

Not hungry for pizza? The restaurant also offers sandwiches, calzones, soups and salads and pasta dishes.

Pizzeria's inviting space.

Pizzeria’s inviting space.

While I snap photos, Randy orders, afterward sharing that the waitress asked whether he wanted our pizza sliced in squares or triangles. Neither of us can ever remember being asked that at a pizza place. Quite thoughtful, really.

Big Honza's Museum of Unnatural History, right behind Pizzeria 201.

Big Honza’s Museum of Unnatural History, right behind Pizzeria 201.

Also, when I inquire whether we can get into Big Honza’s Museum of Unnatural History, right next door, the waitress agrees to open up for us when we finish our pizza.

That's the carving of Big Honza Giganticzech, to the right of Pizzeria 201.

That’s the carving of Big Honza Giganticzech, to the right of Pizzeria 201.

So after eating a portion of our Flamin’ Bleu sliced in triangles and served with beverages poured in pint jars, we exit the Pizzeria and walk around the corner to view Montgomery’s version of Paul Bunyan Land. An over-sized wood carving of Big Honza Giganticzech stands next to the pizzeria.

During our self-guided tour in the unheated museum, we meander past an assortment of Big Honza oddities assembled by area resident John Grimm, owner of Hilltop Hall, Montgomery’s arts and cultural heritage center. You just have to laugh at this humorous collection of weird stuff.

A snippet of what you will see in the museum, including Big Honza's Farm Market, a nod to the local canning company.

A snippet of what you will see in the museum, including Big Honza’s Farm Market, a nod to the local canning company.

Big Honza's chair and more.

Big Honza’s chair and more.

Potty humor.

Potty humor.

On that note, this ends our tour of Montgomery. I’d encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to read my entire series of stories (April 7 to today) from this south-central Minnesota Czech community of some 3,000 known as The Kolacky Capital of the World. Also check out my archives of March 4 – 8 for previous posts from Montgomery.

The whole point of this series has been not just to showcase Montgomery. It is about highlighting small towns—anywhere. All too often we dismiss small towns or overlook them with the misconception they have nothing to offer. That is so far from the truth. Every town has businesses, venues, people and events which define it as some place special.

I challenge you to look in your backyard for those places. If you live in the big city, venture out to a rural area. If you live in a small town or medium-sized city, drive to a nearby small town you’ve never explored.

If you’ve already done this sort of thing, shoot me a comment and share those small-town gems you’ve discovered. I’d love to hear from you.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pizza & beer on a Saturday night in Kilkenny January 26, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:52 PM
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I SUGGESTED WE STOP for directions at the corner gas station.

“How hard can it be to find this place in Kilkenny?” my husband responded.

He was right. Kilkenny, population around 150, in Le Sueur County, runs only a few blocks in all directions. Surely we could find “the bar on top of the hill with the really good pizza,” per our friend LeAnn’s recommendation.

Atop the hill in Kilkenny by the water tower, we found the Liquor Hole.

Atop the hill in Kilkenny by the water tower, we found the Liquor Hole.

Just up the road from Bud’s Service, we found the Liquor Hole.

I expect in warm weather, the front patio is a popular dining and drinking spot at the Hole.

I expect in warm weather, the front patio is a popular dining and drinking spot at the Hole.

We arrived Saturday evening as the last wisps of daylight faded, enough time for me to snap a few outdoor shots before entering the Hole.

Inside we found your typical small town restaurant/bar—pool table in the corner, stools ringing a horseshoe bar, neon beer lights blazing, televisions blaring, opened pull tabs littering the bar top, smokers stepping out to light up a smoke…

A section of the dining area.

A section of the Liquor Hole.

No pool players yet early on a Saturday evening.

No pool players yet early on a Saturday evening.

Be sure to follow the bar's pool rules.

Be sure to follow the bar’s pool rules.

Lots of neon beer signs.

Lots of neon beer signs.

But there were a few surprises, like the homemade wood sign announcing Kilkenny’s inability to afford a town drunk and a fat-bottomed girl print I refused to photograph.

Kilkenny bar humor posted below the Bud Light sign.

Kilkenny bar humor posted below the Bud Light sign.

And when Randy asked for a Schell’s FireBrick beer, the bartender/owner looked at him and said, “Come on, this is Kilkenny.”

Alright then. We both ordered a Nordeast to go with our $11 House pizza topped with sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, onion, mushrooms, green pepper and green olives. And just for the record, the pizza is not entirely homemade. The crust is pre-made. I asked.

The Liquor Hole's House pizza.

The Liquor Hole’s House pizza.

None-the-less, the pizza was thick and tasty, loaded with cheese and was delivered on a cardboard round with several small paper plates, plastic forks and a half-inch thick stack of napkins, most of which we used.

“Cuts down on the dishes,” Randy joked as he observed the disposable tableware.

But we didn’t mind. After all, in the bartender’s words, “This is Kilkenny.”

A last shot of the Liquor Hole before we got into the car and drove 15 miles back east to Faribault.

A last shot of the Liquor Hole before we got into the car and drove 15 miles back east to Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cheers to the Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton, Wisconsin January 18, 2013

I DIDN’T REALLY WANT pizza for lunch. But our daughter insisted that this place—the Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton, Wisconsin—served the best pizza. Or so she’d heard.

Turns out that evaluation was spot-on correct.

I’m no food connoisseur. But when a pizza can match, even surpass, the savory goodness of the thin crust pizzas from Basilleo’s, a 45-year pizza restaurant in my community of Faribault, Minnesota, I’m sold.

The Stone Cellar did not disappoint and, in fact, left my husband, Appleton resident daughter and me raving over the spicy New Orleans pizza topped with andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, red onion, red peppers and Cajun spices.

The beer part of the business is on the right, the restaurant part through the door on the left.

The beer part of the business is on the right, the restaurant part through the door on the left.

We complemented our lunch time pizza with glasses of seasonal pumpkin spice and Stonetoberfest beer brewed on the premises in the Stone Arch Brew House. This is the site of Wisconsin’s oldest continually running brewpub established in 1858 by German immigrant Anton Fischer.

I’m no beer connoisseur either. But I’m always up to trying specialty craft beers. While I wasn’t crazy about the taste of pumpkin in beer, it seemed the perfect choice for an October lunch, early October being the time my husband and I were in Appleton visiting our daughter.

Had I been aware of Stone Arch’s Houdini Honey Wheat beer, made with pure Wisconsin honey, I may have sampled that instead. The beer is named after magician Harry Houdini, who wrongly claimed Appleton as his birthplace. Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary, and, in his early youth, lived for four years with his family in Appleton. (Click here to read my earlier post about the Houdini exhibit at The History Museum at the Castle.)

The exterior of the Between the Locks Mall, where the Stone Cellar Brewpub and Stone Arch are located along with other businesses.

The exterior of the Between the Locks Mall, where the Stone Cellar Brewpub and Stone Arch Brew House are located along with other businesses.

Beer and pizza aside, I love the location of the Stone Cellar Brewpub along the Fox River canal system (which that first brewer, Anton Fischer, helped construct) and the old stone building itself.

Go through the doorway on the left and follow the steps down into the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

Go through the doorway on the left and follow the steps down into the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

To reach the restaurant, you descend into the deep darkness of what is appropriately termed the “Stone Cellar.” I prefer windows and natural light while dining. But this closed-in space with thick stone walls presents the right comfortable feel for a brew pub with a long-standing history in the Fox River region.

A bonus to this whole dining experience comes with the restaurant’s efforts to offer locally-grown, seasonal, gluten-free and (sometimes) organic foods, aiming to offer healthier menu choices. You’ll find much more than pizza here, including the usual salads, burgers and sandwich offerings for lunch and a more extensive dinner menu.

There you go. If you’re ever in Appleton, I’d recommend dining at the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

Walk through these colorful front doors...

Walk through these colorful and detailed front doors…

...into the entry of the Between the Locks Mall.

…into the entry of the Between the Locks Mall.

FYI: To learn more about the Stone Cellar Brewpub, 1004 S. Olde Oneida St., Appleton, Wisconsin, click here. 

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling