Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Skipping the snacks & then along came the Super Bowl February 6, 2018

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In 2014, I photographed these vintage potato chip bags at a “Food: Who We Are & What We Eat” exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


FOR THE MOST PART, I’ve avoided eating chips for the past year. This snack avoidance began with a weight loss challenge at my husband’s workplace. I, unofficially, joined him in the challenge. I lost 20 pounds and have managed to keep off the weight for almost a year now. Randy lost about the same.


I started out lifting 1.5 pounds, then advanced to 3 pounds followed by five. Today I am lifting eight pounds with a single arm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Our weight loss happened primarily via eating smaller portions, reducing sugar intake and eliminating unhealthy snacks. I’m also lifting weights, an exercise initiated in physical therapy last summer for a broken shoulder. I noticed not only a strengthening of my arm muscles, but the side benefits of a stronger, and flatter, core. Win, win. Now, months after therapy ended, I continue to pump those individual weights.

But back to those chips. Randy ate them nearly daily with the lunch he packed for work. Me, only occasionally. I convinced him to stop eating chips and to pack almonds in his lunch instead. He’s mostly stuck to that chips ban, although once in awhile I must pull chips from the shopping cart and place them back on grocery store shelves.


Retailers really push the chips and other snack foods prior to the Super Bowl. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.


Last weekend we made an exception to our “no chips in the house” rule. I blame the Super Bowl and a weak moment of caving to the munchies hype that accompanies it. I wanted guacamole, which requires tortilla chips. I picked up a bag of multi-grain. Randy wanted Doritos. Who am I to deny him chips when I had just purchased some for myself?




And then I read an article about Minnesota’s snack industry, which includes BOOMCHICKAPOP. The ready-to-eat popcorn is made at Angie’s Artisan Treats in North Mankato. That’s an hour drive to the west of Faribault. I’ve seen the product with the signature hot pink package lettering in area grocery stores but never purchased the popcorn. Until Sunday. Just in time for Super Bowl snacking. I chose the sweet & salty kettle corn. That’s how the business started with husband and wife (Dan and Angie) making kettle corn in their Mankato garage and selling it locally. I appreciate that the ingredients are simple and few: popcorn, sunflower oil, cane sugar and sea salt.

In October, Chicago-based ConAgra Brands paid $250 million (according to Twin Cities Business magazine) for the business. BOOMCHICKAPOP is a Minnesota success story. So, you know, I just had to try that kettle corn…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Rider in the storm or… January 30, 2018

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DAYS AFTER A MAJOR STORM dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault, I spotted a motorcycle in the parking lot of a local liquor store. It wasn’t exactly bike riding weather with the temp at around 30 degrees.


Days after the storm, a fleet of city snow removal equipment lined up in front of my home as sunset broke.


Perhaps this Bold North biker had something to prove. Or maybe not.




I snapped a few photos of the bike with my smartphone, not even noticing the expired tabs and the travel bags until I reviewed the photos later. Hey, I’m not one to stand around outside in cold weather without proper warm attire.



Once inside Fareway Spirits & More, I mentioned the bike to the clerk. Turns out it had been sitting in the parking lot for days, moved there from the unplowed street (which is now plowed). She wondered if the abandoned motorcycle might be stolen, but had not phoned police. I didn’t either.

Monday evening the bike was still parked in the same spot in the cold and snowy Bold North of Faribault. From all forecasts I’ve seen, the weather in Minnesota won’t be suitable for riding anytime soon, including on Sunday. Forecasters are already predicting the coldest Super Bowl on record with lows of minus 10 – 15 degrees and a high above zero. If we’re lucky.

UPDATE, 7:15 pm, Tuesday, January 30: The bike, still parked in the same lot, is a Yamaha Star, Arkansas license, so reports the husband who stopped to check this evening.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Minnesota: When a football team brings a state together January 21, 2018


I photographed this billboard along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 near Lakeville. Kwik Trip is headquartered in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, with many convenience stores in southern Minnesota.


EIGHT DAYS AGO, I couldn’t have identified a single Minnesota Vikings player. But this morning, only hours from the NFC championship game and one week after the Vikes’ stunning win over the New Orleans Saints, I know the names Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum.


The “true Minnesota” reference refers to Old Dutch, started in St. Paul in 1934 and still based in Minnesota, in Roseville. Photographed at Fareway Foods, Faribault.


And I know something else. This state has come together in a way I haven’t seen in a long long time. We needed the Minneapolis Miracle. We needed a reason to celebrate that stretches far beyond simply winning a football game. We needed this win to bring us all together during an incredibly divisive time in our country.


At Fareway Foods in Faribault, the push is on to sell snacks for the play-off game today and then for the Super Bowl.


The level of excitement and enthusiasm and pride in Minnesota right now has created a strong sense of community here. We are Bold North proud. We are hardy Minnesotans united in our desire to see the Vikings, our team, in the Super Bowl that we are hosting in just a few weeks. We. Us. Good, typically stoic folks who are now chanting Skol! Skol! Skol! from small town school gymnasiums to the Mall of America.

You’ll see Vikings pride on interstate billboards and in grocery stores. Everywhere.

On this morning before the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, this feels like our year. To win. Big.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Forty-nine years of serving others at Faribault Lions Club Super Bowl Pancake Breakfast February 2, 2015


Bob Cross mixes pancake batter following his secret recipe.

Bob Cross mixes pancake batter following his secret recipe.

SNUGGED IN THE BACK of the Faribault Eagles Club kitchen, around the corner from griddles and a serving line, Bob Cross mixed pancake batter Sunday morning.

Signs advertise the event and thank sponsors.

Signs advertise the event and thank sponsors.

I expected him to shoo me away, to hesitate at sharing the secret recipe for pancakes prepared at the Faribault Lions Club 49th annual all-you-can-eat Super Bowl Pancake and Sausage Breakfast.

The secret ingredient: cake donut mix.

The secret ingredient: cake donut mix.

But Bob welcomed my questions, allowed me to take photos. And although I didn’t get the precise recipe, I have a pretty good idea now what goes into these tasty pancakes. Eggs. Oil. Water or milk (sorry, I can’t recall which). And, the secret ingredient—cake donut mix, as in a pre-mixed combination of flour, sugar, salt, whey and more used in making cake donuts. The cake donut mix adds a touch of sweetness to the pancakes, Bob says.

Ten years ago this volunteer took over pancake batter prep duties from his father-in-law, Bill Harkins. Bill’s recipe has been tweaked and perfected, and legend has it that only Bob now knows the exact recipe.

An overview of a section of the spacious dining area.

An overview of a section of the spacious dining area.

He’s obviously got it right based on number of diners. When I checked with ticket sellers at 12:15 p.m., an hour before closing, 750 people had already gone through the line in 4.75 hours.

The featured foods, pancakes and sausage.

The featured foods, pancakes and sausage.

That’s a lot of pancakes. And we’re talking near dinner plate-sized pancakes.

The volunteer on the right makes pancakes for the first time at the breakfast.

The volunteer on the left makes pancakes for the first time at the breakfast.

But this breakfast is about more than the food. It’s about continuing a 49-year Faribault Lions Club tradition. It’s about seasoned pancake breakfast volunteers frying pancakes alongside newbies. It’s about high school students serving beverages and clearing tables. As cliché as it sounds, the Lions and crew work like a well-oiled machine.

Serving up pancakes and sausage.

Serving up pancakes and sausage.

This breakfast is about working together and dining together.

One of the beneficiaries: Basic Blessings Backpack Program.

One of the beneficiaries: the Basic Blessings Backpack Program.

It’s about giving back to the community with proceeds helping those in need.

Lions Club member Otto serves sausages.

Lions Club member Otto serves sausages.

It’s about service to others, following the Lions Club motto, “We Serve.”

Friends dine together.

Friends dine together.

As I wandered about taking photos, I saw a lot of people I knew, but also many I didn’t. I felt a sense of community in my city of some 23,000, a connection that comes from living in the same geographical area and from participating in a time-honored tradition.

A snippet of the long list of volunteers.

A snippet of the long list of volunteers.

Forty-nine years. That’s a long time for one organization to continue with a breakfast.

One couple brought their own pure maple syrup to pour onto the Lions Club pancakes.

One couple brought their own pure maple syrup to pour onto the Lions Club pancakes.

This is the first year I’ve attended. I don’t especially like pancakes. But I ate three Sunday morning, proof that the Lion’s Club pancakes are deserving of their long-standing praise.

A visually-impaired volunteer reads a book in Braille while working at the breakfast. The Faribault Lions have funded many projects for the visually-impaired and were collecting used eyeglasses at the breakfast.

A visually-impaired volunteer reads a book in Braille while working at the breakfast. The Faribault Lions have funded many projects for the visually-impaired and were collecting used eyeglasses at the breakfast.

Tradition. Secret recipe. A community coming together. Lions serving.

The ticket sellers' cheat sheet.

The ticket sellers’ cheat sheet.

On Super Bowl Sunday, the Lions Club Pancake and Sausage Breakfast scores as a big win in Faribault. For forty-nine years.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Super Bowl ads: The babe I liked & the one I didn’t February 7, 2012

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First off, how many of you watched the Super Bowl? How many of you were more interested in the commercials than in the big game?

I could care less about the game. But the ads interest me. I didn’t see all of them, but I caught enough to be unimpressed.

I’d give “the best” award to the Doritos ad where an adorable baby rockets to snatch a bag of snacks and then munches on the chips alongside a smiling grandma. The ad was cute, memorable and I got it. I don’t always understand the commercials.

Teleflora gets my “the worst” ad distinction for its pure sex-infused commercial featuring an alluring woman encouraging men to give flowers for Valentine’s Day. “Give and you shall receive,” she purrs. “She” happens to be famous Brazilian model Adriana Lima.

Seriously, Teleflora marketing people, do not insult women by airing ads like this.

Also, and this really, truly, absolutely bugs me. A few years ago we bailed out the auto makers. Yet, they have millions of dollars to spend on Super Bowl advertising. What gives here?

Speaking of car ads, I didn’t like the Hyundai ad with the cheetah attacking a man. It reminds me too much of those animal-pursuing-animal/survival-of-the-fittest television documentaries.

A snippet from the new jcp print ad. Bold, bright and hip, wouldn't you agree?

OK, now lest you think I’m oozing negativity today, let’s turn our attention to retailer jcp, which I know as Penneys. The department store is making big changes, most noticeable to me in the magazine style advertising insert tucked inside my local daily newspaper on Super Bowl Sunday.

Changes were inevitable with former Apple executive Ron Johnson now serving as the new jcp CEO. And might I add, changes were needed to update the image of a retailer that seems more suited to my 79-year-old mother, or me, than to my 20-something daughters. I don’t really ever hear my daughters talk about shopping at Penneys. Typically they gravitate toward the more hip Target.

But it’s obvious, from the print and television ads I’ve seen, that jcp is trying to draw a younger, hipper crowd. Their new ads are crisp, clean, bold, bright and packed with motion.

Even more important, the company is eliminating those continual sales promotion mailings. Finally.

Instead of the previous complicated, ongoing, ever-changing sales system, the company is switching to a “fair and square” approach of everyday lower prices, month-long values and first and third Friday mark-downs. It all still sounds a bit too complicated. But anything has to be better than the previous marketing strategy.

So there you have it—my take on the world of advertising on Super Bowl Sunday.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? Give me your input on the Super Bowl commercials and/or on jcp’s new approach to marketing and sales? I’d like to hear what you think, even if your take differs from mine.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


46 years of serving pancakes for a cause on Super Bowl Sunday February 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:10 AM
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THEY’RE SYNONYMOUS in Faribault—the Super Bowl and pancakes.

For 46 years, the Faribault Lions Club has sponsored a pancake and sausage breakfast on Super Bowl Sunday, raising funds to support projects that adhere to the club motto: “We serve.”

Let me repeat that. Forty-six years. Wow. You have to admire an organization so committed to helping others. The Faribault Lions expect to feed 1,200 – 1,500 and raise $5,000 at their Super Bowl Pancake Breakfast.

Now I’m no fan of pancakes (ranking them right alongside liver) or of football, but I may have to eat pancakes this Sunday simply to support a worthy cause. I’ll skip the football except for the commercials.

The Faribault Lions provide funding for college scholarships, dictionaries for third graders, food for children in need, and assistance for the visual and hearing impaired, among other projects.

While all are worthy causes, the club’s effort on Sunday to collect used prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids and to raise dollars to assist those with visual and hearing impairments resonates with me.

I’ve worn glasses since age four, after undergoing surgery to correct crossed eyes. Without that surgery, I would have gone blind in my “lazy eye.” I value my vision and know that without corrective lenses, I would struggle to see.

Lions Club International’s commitment to helping those with vision issues stretches back to 1925 when Helen Keller presented this challenge during a speech to the Lions:

Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?

And so with that challenge, the Lions became “Knights of the Blind,” collecting and distributing prescription eyeglasses through clinics world-wide. Can you imagine the joy of giving someone the gift of sight?

I just rummaged through a dresser drawer and found four eyeglasses that I can donate to the Faribault Lions Club on Sunday.

The prescription eyeglasses I'm donating.

Faribault Lions have also connected with the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault, supporting numerous projects there, including an apartment to teach independent living skills.

My community is home to the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, perhaps another reason local Lions take such a strong interest in helping those who are hearing impaired.

I am among those with a hearing impairment having lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear last March in an episode defined as “sudden sensory hearing loss.” (Click here to read about that.) Unfortunately, a hearing aid will not help with this type of near-deafness.

But for most who suffer from a hearing impairment, a hearing aid will help. The Lions are committed to collecting used hearing aids for distribution to those in need. Can you imagine the joy of giving the gift of hearing?

It’s impressive, isn’t it, how so many worthy causes have evolved from two powerful words: “We serve.”

FYI: The Faribault Lions Club Super Bowl Pancake Breakfast will be held from 7:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, February 5, at the Eagles Club, 2027 Grant Street Northwest. Cost is $6 for adults and $4 for those 12 and under.

The Lions are also selling Super Bowl snacks—8-ounce packages of nuts for $5 – $6—to raise monies for their Backpack Blessings Program which provides local children in need with food for the weekends.

It should not go without stating here that many local businesses and volunteers (within and outside of the Faribault Lions Club) contribute to the annual Super Bowl breakfast.

Bring your used prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids, your money and your appetite on Sunday to participate in the “We serve” endeavor.

Click here to learn more about the Faribault Lions Club.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Super Bowl entertainment fiasco February 7, 2011

IF YOU WATCHED the Super Bowl, what’s your opinion of the half-time entertainment?

Here’s mine: I did not get it. None of it. Not the words, not the dancing, not the message, not anything performed by the Black Eyed Peas. I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics.

I did not “get” the lead singer’s (sorry, don’t know his name) clear plastic head covering. He didn’t look too comfortable, sweating and all. I did like the group dancers’ glowing costumes. Those were cool.

I’ll admit that I know nothing about the Black Eyed Peas. I struggle, though, to define their “music” as “music.”

But then 70s era music is my music. And let me tell you, THAT was music—Chicago, Bread, the Moody Blues, Elton John, Rod Stewart…

This Black Eyed Peas stuff is not music, in my fifty-something opinion.

So…, the half-time show disappointed me, big-time. Half-time is one of the two reasons I sometimes, and I mean sometimes, watch the Super Bowl. I also, sometimes, watch the game to see the commercials. I could care less about the football.

I didn’t see every ad, but here’s my take on those: Way too many car commercials. Didn’t we just bail out the auto makers a few years ago and now they are spending millions on 30-second spots? That doesn’t sit right with me. I know, I know, there’s more to the story than that, but I’m just giving you my gut taxpayer reaction.

I don’t know why this surprises me, but I also thought too many commercials were too sexist and too violent. Can’t give you specifics because I didn’t take notes, but I recall a club and fire, weapons and long legs and…a guy ordering flowers…

My favorite commercial—monkeys running across the tops of cars with brief cases—made me chuckle. Sorry, I can’t tell you what they were advertising, so I guess that ad probably failed.

Then to top it off, Christina Aguilera messed up on the National Anthem, singing “What so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last gleaming” instead of “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.”

Come on. I admit, I could probably flub The Star Spangled Banner too, but I’m not a professional performer.

At least the Green Bay Packers won the game. I was rooting for them, sort of, when I wasn’t reading the newspaper, clipping coupons and falling asleep on the couch.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling