Put a Stick In It

We’ve taken the summer off at Hotdish & Catfish, but I wouldn’t dream of missing the chance to write about one of my absolute favorite events of year: the Minnesota State Fair (what else?!). Though back-to-school time doesn’t mean much to me anymore, I can’t help but feel a bit sad when the end of August rolls around. Luckily we have this annual food-on-a-stick event to look forward to every year! I’d like to give a shout-out to my dad, Richard, who’s always game for heading to the Great Minnesota Get-Together on his day of birth.

Per usual, planning our food trail began back in June when the State Fair website wizards unveiled the list of new foods. Then, as the big day approached, I followed along with Star Tribune food aficionado Rick Nelson’s tweets, and kept an eye on Mpls/St. Paul Magazine and Heavy Table ‘best of’ lists, too. This year, I’ve also asked my good friend (and fellow blogger) Ellen V. Roth to add her two cents. Thankfully, Ellen is just as dedicated to State Fair foods as I, so we’re a match made in heaven.

Ellen’s Fair Food for Thought:

Chicken in a Waffle at Blue Barn: After abstaining from most meat products over the past year, something called to me from the new Blue Barn, and that something just happened to be a double meaty cone from heaven. Blue Barn’s fair food trophy consists of savory pieces of all-white chicken, fried to your arteries’ content, piled high in a semi-sweet waffle cone and topped with spicy, salty sausage gravy. Amen! What on earth more could you ask for? A chocolate-filled tip of the cone? Done. (9 out of 10)

photo 1-2Bison Dog (with Chicago Fixings) at Chicago Dogs: Now I love me a dog with all the fixings, and Chicago Dogs does it right. I opted to try the Bison Dog on a spur of the moment hunger pang on my way out of the fair, and I’m glad that I did. The bison dog itself is snappy and full of flavor. Top it with the traditional Chicago fixings and you have a blue ribbon winner of a wiener. My only problem with hot dogs is that I’m never satisfied with eating just one. (8 out of 10)

Ellen would like to note that she is headed to the State Fair for round two today, and is planning to add the following items to her snacking list: Mini Donuts (Tom Thumb), Chickpea Roti (Harry Singh’s), and Walleye Cakes (Giggles). Best of luck to you, Ellen!

_______

And now on to the Goelz/Nickerson annual State Fair Food Ranking:

Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz from Blue Barn: We started off the evening with this item (and the Chicken in a Waffle – I agree with Ellen, it was great). The fritzes, on the other hand, were only OK. We couldn’t taste any blue cheese, so I’d really describe it more as simple corn fritter that came with an herby chimichurri sauce (that was quite pleasant!). (3 without sauce; 5 with)

photo 3-2Deep-Fried Buckeyes from Spaghetti Eddie’s: Ooh boy. This was a great new addition to the State Fair menu. It is essentially deep-fried chocolate and peanut butter, with a side of strawberry jelly and a bit of powdered sugar on top. Delicious, sweet and sharable. I want every PB&J prepared this way, from here on out. (8 out of 10)

Mini-Donut Beer from Ball Park Café: Imagine your favorite margarita. Replace the salt with cinnamon sugar, add a malty, maple-flavored Lift Bridge beer, and you have a classic. Tom was in love. (9 out of 10)

photo 5Deep-Fried Lobster on a Stick from LuLu’s Public House: Sadly, this was a major loser. I love lobster, but realized how much I don’t like it when it’s deep-fried and covered in heavy-duty breading. It was simply too chewy. (2 out of 10)

Hot Toasted Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich from West End Creamery (tasted by Lauren): The hot toasted waffle ice cream sandwich tasted pretty much as expected – like two warm waffles with vanilla ice cream in the middle. Nothing spectacular, but still tasty. I do have a suggestion for West End Creamery: offer maple syrup ice cream instead of vanilla. Now that might be perfect. (5 out of 10)

Pretzel Curds from O’Gara’s at the Fair: Tasty, beer-battered pretzels filled with Wisconsin cheese (of course!). These were great – bite-sized, not even remotely greasy, and came with a wonderful dipping sauce. An all-around salty and flavorful snack. (9 out of 10)

photo 4SnoRibbons from Blue Moon Dine-In Theater: This was described as “flaky shaved ice…it’s like eating snow and tasting ice cream at the same time.” Flowery language, to be sure. But I think we caught this item on an off day – it sounds like many of the flavors are to die for, but our options were either green tea or grapefruit. I went for the fruit and can honestly say it was only mediocre. (5 out of 10)

S’Mores Beer from Gigggles Campire Grill: A nice, chocolaty porter (with some marshmallows thrown in), but it didn’t hold a candle to the mini donut beer. Sorry, Giggles! (6 out of 10)

Well, it was another great year. I hope everyone venturing to the fairgrounds this Labor Day weekend has a similarly snack-filled, delightful time!

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An Open Letter To Future Minnesotans

This week, Lauren and I are excited to feature a new guest writer on Hotdish & Catfish: Jay Higgins. Recently, Jay penned a letter to some friends who are looking for a fresh place to call home. We chose to include this on the blog because Jay’s passion for Minnesota embodies so much of what Lauren and I love about living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Enjoy!

MinnesotaLandscapeArboretumRainbow“When I heard you were moving, I couldn’t resist making my case for Minnesota. According to your list it sounds like you have some pretty high profile cities and I will be honest. Minneapolis has many great qualities but … I’ll also be forthright with my biases. I was born and raised here. I’ve lived two other places in my life: Whitefish, Montana and Sydney, Australia. I may have a rosy lens when it comes to my current home, but studying abroad actually solidified my love for Minnesota.

Lake-HarrietWhen I first arrived in Australia, I was with a friend from St. Olaf (also a fellow Minnesotan). We were situated in the international student village and surrounded by other students (though mostly Americans). Right away stereotypes kicked in, but I didn’t realize just how we were stereotyped. It was determined early on that because of the place we called home, we were deemed honest, hard working, tough, kind and fair. Once this became clear, I was flooded with two very different emotions.

First, I was extremely proud that, regardless of how these assumptions were made, people from Minnesota were viewed in such a positive light. I was also a little overwhelmed with the prospect of upholding these values. What if I didn’t live up to the hype?

minnesota-fall-color-tours-1.jpgSo, why did I tell you that story? Personally, I think it symbolizes why people want to live here. I am well aware Minnesota is cold and does not have the same amenities as New York or California. It sounds to me like you are looking for a community. And what better place to live than a state where people embody and value traits that strengthen community? I chose Minnesota because of the people here. Not just my friends. I honestly believe that Minnesotans value the things that are, in my mind, most important in life.

BLIZZARD_2011-2Family, friends and children are at the center of our value structure. Is it cold? Absolutely (some of us enjoy that but I understand it’s not for everyone). Are there good people in other places? Sure. But do I believe Minnesota is full of people I want to be associated with? You betcha. (Sorry, had to do it). More seriously, is it a place where I want to raise my daughter and where I feel like she will be instilled with values that will make her a better person than me? Unequivocally yes.

Minnesota is different, but when it comes to the important things it really shines. I hope you find your landing spot and selfishly hope this argument helps you see Minnesota as that place.

Your Friend,

Jay”

Image sources: Photo1 | Photo2 | Photo3 | Photo4
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RE-Post: Magical Organic Mystery Tour

Food co-op, baby goat, kid, local food

Photo by Brett Lysne

The bus sat white and gleaming in the Cash Wise Foods parking lot. I quickly found a spot, as the lot was nearly empty at 7:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

Water bottle? Yup. Camera? Yup. Notebook? Yes, indeed. I gathered my stuff and sleepily walked over to my ride for the day. I didn’t know what to expect, but that was the point. I’d been invited to attend the Local Food Mystery Tour hosted by the Prairie Roots Food Co-op (PRFC) and Moorhead Community Ed.

Sunshine and the possibility of baby farm animals was all I needed – count me in! I took my seat and we slowly rolled into the Minnesota countryside.

Noreen Thomas, the organizer of the tour and a member of PRFC’s board, took to the microphone and let us know where our farm tour would take us.

Our first stop would be Native Harvest, where we would learn about maple syrup tapping. The second stop would be Karmakee Farm to visit some goats and last, we’d visit Bergeson Nursery to learn about planting trees of the north.

After Noreen’s announcement, I couldn’t help but feel the giddiness of a third-grader on a field trip.

*Visit one of my favorite local publications, The High Plains Reader, to read the rest of my foodie adventure. 

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An Ode to Teachers

Here I sit. Sipping my coffee, a black Lab nestled in close, slowly starting my day. Being the natural planner that I am, my mind starts to put the hours in order. “Coffee now, eat a little something, read a little, get a workout in, shower and then head to mentoring.” I can feel the last item on my mental to-do list in my stomach.

When I first was hired to be a mentor/tutor at a local elementary school, I was excited and immediately romanticized the position. I had visions of my reading books to a small group of first and second grade girls. (Insert record scratch.)

Instead, my reality is this: eight fourth and fifth grade boys who literally NEVER stop moving. Or talking, or yelling, or texting, or running, or punching, or flirting. Nothing could’ve prepared me for their force of energy.

On top of all that, our tutoring program is specifically for new Americans. Most of my boys moved to US in the past two years under the status of refugee. This background adds many layers to an already challenging session.

Some of the older boys are having trouble adapting to the American school system – let’s just say they make frequent trips to the principal’s office. If the boys have secrets to tell or if they’re plotting anarchy, they simply speak in their native tongue. They also love getting away with saying naughty words in different languages in front of me. It’s only with the help of a few sweet, tattletale girls that I figure out what these words are.

And then there are the anger issues. Like all little boys, they like to push and play fight, but sometimes things get real very quickly. Insults are hurled at each other that I don’t understand, sweatshirts come off and punches are thrown. Yes, this has happened. Three times now. And I’ve physically had to hold two tiny, very angry boys apart.

Once the adrenaline has subsided in all of us, we try to talk it out, separate everyone and move on.

I can’t help but think there’s something more behind all the bad behaviors these boys are exhibiting. I’ve seen the sweet personalities that make brief appearances. I’ve seen the child-like excitement that crosses their face when we play a new game or learn a new word. Where is that boy all the time?

I can’t even begin to imagine what their lives have been like, what home is like or who they are outside of school. But some people can. There are school social workers and ELL teachers who are paid to help these kids succeed.

All I can do is try to connect with them during the manic three hours that we share Monday through Thursday. This task is tiring and overwhelming. How can I connect with these kids when I need to constantly reprimand them? Soon I’ll become another authority figure with too many rules.

And this thought brings me to something that crosses my mind every time I see my kids: Wow, I have the utmost respect for teachers. For the teachers who have kids like mine in their classes and do everything they can to understand the little person who is acting out. For the teachers who are compassionate and excited to show the world to their kids. For the teachers who have patience and empathy and see potential rather than “difficult” students.

I admire all the teachers of my past and present. You are doing invaluable work in this world that too many times goes without thanks.

So thank you. You are truly an inspiration.

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A Year Like This One

As you may have heard, we’ve had sub-arctic temperatures around Hotdish & Catfish-land these last few days. Waking up to -25 degrees sure does make one think about summertime. So, in an effort to cure my winter blues, I’ve been scouring the web for things to look forward to in the coming year. Thankfully, it hasn’t been a hard task; 2014 is shaping up to be a great year! Here’s to hoping this list will help you look forward to warmer times, too.

Art:

f_4591130_1Two things are on my radar: The Walker Art Center’s Claes Oldenburg exhibit, which has actually been around since the fall and  *gasp* it closes this Sunday! I’m already prepping for a busy weekend, but mark my words, I’m getting there! The second is a Minneapolis Institute of Arts exhibit opening on February 23rd: Matisse, featuring over 50 paintings and sculptures, and 30 prints. The perfect way to brighten a cold day!

Movies:

Some of my favorite books are becoming movies: The GiverGone GirlThe Fault in Our StarsMockingjay (Part 1) from the Hunger Games series. If any of these sound unfamiliar to you, get to your local bookstore ASAP!

Music:

Justin Timberlake is coming to town, and I AM GOING TO BE THERE SCREAMING LIKE A FANGIRL. Tickets are purchased, t-shirt ideas are being brainstormed. It’s going to be great.

Books:

12396528The year started off great with Kate DeCamillo, author of some truly incredible children’s and young adult books (and St. Paul resident!), being named Ambassador of Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Check her books out – you’ll love them. In other news, one of the coolest stories I read in 2011 was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It has some of the spookiest illustrations (photographs, really) since the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. And as everyone knows, those books are seriously creepy. Anyway, Miss Peregrine’s follow-up, Hollow City, comes out next week.

Theater:

Just last week, Tom, a friend of ours, and I ventured to the Brave New Workshop for their annual holiday sketch comedy show. Though this may seem counterintuitive to my thoughts of warm weather, I can’t wait to go back next December and see what that hilarious group of people thinks up! It was like watching a ‘best of’ Saturday Night Live performance – we couldn’t stop laughing!

Television:

One of my favorite shows is back (on February 14th no less): House of Cards. It took me a bit to get used to this intensely dark Netflix show, but by episode eight I was hooked and binge-watching like a pro. So, you know where you’ll find me on Valentine’s Day (sorry, Tom!).

74703_10151700760917710_1519563359_nGardening:

Last summer, I went on the Tangletown Gardens tour with my mom and her friend. It was incredibly inspiring to see how landscape designers work their magic on intimate backyards around the Twin Cities. The tour takes place every July. Last summer, temps dropped into the 50s and it drizzled all day. Now, in retrospect, that sounds like a heat wave. Can’t wait to see what’s in store this year!

New Breweries:

Just last month, the Twin Cities became home to a brand new kind of brewery: Sociable Cider Werks, which focuses entirely on cider! Sold. I’m already impressed with our sheer number of tasty craft brewers. Here’s just one more reason to head out on the town.

Sports: 

And by sports, I really just mean the Olympics. For two weeks straight, I am looking forward to watching ice skaters, skiers, bobsledders, and every single person in a red, white, and blue uniform. USA! USA! USA!

Being a Spectator:

1381175_795862453505_553865678_nThis may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but I’m not an intense athlete. In fact, my summers are typically spent coming home from work and taking our dog Arnie for a walk. Emphasis on the word walk. That said, my partner in crime (Tom) has recently ventured into the world of half- (and maybe in the future full-) marathons. I never thought it’d be so much fun to cheer a runner on, but it is! I love it.

Happy 2014, everyone!

image sources: photo1 | photo2 photo3
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The Tribe Has Spoken

photo 2We are hitting the time of year when it becomes imperative to bundle up and stay indoors. Soon snow flurries will give way to full-blown arctic weather, and we’ll buckle down for the coming months. Minneapolis is a great place for many reasons, one of which is its mole-like skyway system. Constant protection from the elements! Another is our incredible theater scene. I’ve written in the past about seeing shows at Mixed Blood Theater, the Cowles Center, and the Orpheum. This week, I ventured to the Guthrie Theater for the first time (I know! The first time!) to see a fantastic show: Tribes. I’m happy to report that the Guthrie is one of the most breathtaking buildings in the city, and the play was absolutely wonderful.

The show was written just a few years ago by a woman named Nina Raine, and was originally performed in London theaters. Tribes made its American debut in 2012, and has quickly won national awards. It’s a story about a family with three children, including a son, Billy, who was born deaf. Members of this incredibly loud family pride themselves on their linguistic abilities (all are writers or performers), and therefore never taught Billy sign language. They felt it was their responsibility to integrate him into the ‘hearing’ world, and did so by teaching him to read lips and speak. Years later, Billy meets a young woman named Sylvia who was born to deaf parents and is slowly going deaf herself, and an entirely new world is opened to him. Suddenly he is part of a deaf community that feels like the family he always wanted: understanding and willing to listen.

photo 1Billy begins to feel that his family used him as a mascot and forced him to speak, rather than trying to relate to him and learn sign language themselves. Tribes is a beautiful story, and reveals many complex issues that families deal with: belief systems, love, societies, and the role language plays in our lives.

This summary all sounds very serious – and it was. But there was also an incredible sense of comedy throughout the play. The role of family dynamics was ever-present, and often laugh-out-loud yelling matches ensued. Tribes is also an unbelievably tender show; though not a love story per se, it showed how family and community act as a person’s “tribe.”

I really enjoyed this play. So, I have no problem taking this opportunity to plug it: Tribes is at the Guthrie until November 10th. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and I have no doubt you’ll love it, too.

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Winter Isn’t Here Yet!

Have you noticed that mornings have started looking a little more gray lately? Or that the air has a slight chill as it blows over your skin? And then there are the beautiful (but anxiety producing) yellow and red leaves that are slowly starting to peek out. As of September 22nd, fall has arrived.

But I’ve realized, as this new season rolls in, I haven’t been enjoying it as much as I should. While I usually love a cozy, gray morning and pulling out my oversized sweaters, it’s different this year. I open my eyes to a dull sky and I miss the summer sun and choir of birds waking me up at 6 am. And yes, I’ve lived in MN my entire life, minus the two years I spent south of the Mason-Dixon, but I’m not ready for winter!

Just another day in paradiseI think the combination of Alabama’s lovely warmth and my first winter in Fargo scarred me. Not only did we have record amounts of snow, but winter lasted until nearly May. Oh and then there’s the wind. When you live in the middle of the prairie, there’s nothing to stop the movement of air. Most of the time it feels like the entire city is driving around with its windows down … on the highway. Add the frigidness of winter to that wind – you have chills just thinking about it, don’t  you?

BUT I refuse to let my premature winter blues get me down. So, I’m making a list (one of my favorite forms of writing) of all the things I’m looking forward to enjoying before snow hits the ground again.

1.     Heartland Table

Some of you may know I’m a fan of food shows. I mostly stick to watching Chopped, but I recently saw an episode of Pioneer Woman and I was hooked. Watching someone prepare a meal makes me feel like I did when I was little and watched artists on Sesame Street. Something about it just pulls me in and makes me want to try it myself. One of my most successful attempts was this creamy tomato basil soup. So when I found out that a MN woman was starting a cooking show, I was thrilled! I will most definitely be watching Amy Thielen on Heartland Table and trying out her recipes this fall.

2.     Leaves!

If you’re a fellow Midwesterner or you live in a state with seasons, you’ve said or heard this phrase: “Let’s go look at the leaves!” In fact, I just asked my co-worker what her weekend plans were. “Oh ya know, we might go to Maplewood State Park and look at the leaves.” To some of you these plans may sound odd, but I responded with (in my recently rediscovered MN accent), “Oh sure! That sounds so great!” and made a mental note to drag Jamison out there too. If only he found a fall hike as exciting as Grand Theft Auto V. In addition to looking at leaves, I’m hoping to finally use the tent we got for our wedding … over a year ago.

3.     Kegs & Canvas

Another outdoor activity that will be more in line with Jamison’s interests is the upcoming Kegs & Canvas event in downtown Fargo this October. Basically you get to explore cute shops, enjoy beer samples and watch local artists create beautiful things! If it’s anything like the Corks & Canvas event I attended this summer, we’ll walk away with a strong buzz and lots of new (seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time) purchases.

4.     Good books and Nerdy Things

One of my favorite fall (and winter, and spring, and summer) activities is cozying up with a good book. Like I mentioned previously, my fascination with food has been growing, so I’m excited to delve into M. F. K. Fisher’s “The Gastronomical Me.” Fall also makes me wish I were still a student. That being said, I plan to check out an awesome Moby-Dick-inspired art exhibit at the Plains Art Museum … but only after I read “Ahab’s Wife,” by Sena Jeter Naslund. This novel also inspired the collection and Naslund is coming to give a lecture in October. Should be a nerd-tastic blast!

 5.     Apple Orchard Shenanigans

The animals - Maria, Jamison and AliAnd no celebration of fall is complete without a visit to your local apple orchard. I mean, Instagram is begging for photos of apple picking, hay rides and farm-animal cutouts right now. I am most looking forward to making Jamison take embarrassing couple photos and eating any and all apple creations.

The time is now, people! Let’s put away our winter grumblings and seize the fall. The season is short and must be taken advantage of.

 

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The Great Minnesota Sweat-Together

The time has come to ignore all common sense and eat more fried food than imaginable. The Minnesota State Fair is in full swing, and as always, my family headed there to celebrate my dad’s birthday and to eat, eat, eat. The fair usually signifies the end of summer, but this week’s outrageous heat wave makes the winter months feel far off. I outlined our food trail with the temperature in mind, trying to balance between warm and cool treats (not surprisingly, it’s harder than you’d think!).

Planning the night’s meal actually began months ago when the State Fair announced their new foods and vendors for the year. Their web page was promptly bookmarked. Next up came last week’s Star Tribune article, listing the 10 best foods at the fair. Again, bookmarked. Then, last but definitely not least it was time to cross-reference between the Fair’s list and the Star Tribune’s follow-up story on new foods. Thanks to the many helpful resources out there, I felt truly prepared for the evening ahead.

So, once again, I would like to unveil the State Fair Food menu, courtesy of the Goelz/Nickerson clan. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

olive*Deep-fried green olives from Fried Fruit, outside the Grandstand: I happen to love olives in any form, so this was an incredible way to start the night. The tasty green treats were filled with cream cheese, deep fried, and served with a side of ranch. Salty, tasty, delicious. (9 out of 10)

*Turkey-to-Go, near the DNR fish pond: I didn’t actually have one of these sandwiches this year, but my family ate a few. As I’ve mentioned, this sandwich is our State Fair staple, so they are always given the highest of ratings. (10 out of 10)

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.27.44 AM*Northwoods BBQ Taco from San Felipe Tacos, inside the food building: A delectable new item. The savory pulled pork paired with coleslaw and a maple syrup dressing, wrapped in a corn tortilla was a great combination of flavors. (8 out of 10)

*Three Little Pigs from Manny’s Tortas, inside the food building: Tom and I weren’t impressed. Aside from the avocado heaped onto this sandwich, it was pretty bland. The pork (served three different ways) was chewy and lacked flavor. (5 out of 10)

*Cider Freeze from the Horticulture Building: The perfect ice-cold treat. Imagine a cup of hot cider. Now freeze it and put it in a plastic sleeve. Voilà: the cider freeze. (9 out of 10)

onionrings*Craft beer onion rings from Ball Park Café, outside the food building: Huge onions, dipped in Indeed Beer, served with spicy Excelsior Bitterschlappe Brown Ale mustard. Great taste and not too greasy. We almost felt like the basket was too much. Imagine that – onion ring overload! (9 out of 10)

*Mediterranean Lemonade from Holy Land Deli in the International BazaarNormally I don’t include drink suggestions on my list, but this was an incredibly refreshing treat. Tart lemonade mixed with basil, served as a slushy. Perfect for a hot day. (9 out of 10)

*Minneapple Pie: This has become an essential item for Tom. Their new addition to the menu is a Minnepumpkin Pie. We were tempted, but stuck with the original. As Tom said, the deep fried apple pocket with a side of cinnamon ice cream is perfect every time. (11 out of 10. Yes, 11)

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.29.23 AM*Double Bacon Corndog from Campbell’s Flavored Corn Dogs, near the Education Building: This was another new addition to the fair, and I wish we’d tried it earlier in the day. Unfortunately, by 9pm the corndog tasted overcooked and rubbery, and the bacon was nearly burnt. Not our favorite. (5 out of 10)

*Affagato from Minnesota Farmer’s Union: So simple, I don’t know why I haven’t made these before – we were served a cup of ice cream with a shot of espresso on top. The perfect jolt of energy after walking around for several hours. (8 out of 10)

Just when we were starting to feel extra crispy and ready to head home, we happened upon the free concert at the Leinenkugal Bandshell. You wouldn’t believe my surprise (and extreme excitement) when I realized it was one of my favorite groups from days of yore: Hanson! The super cute boy band that we all loved in middle school (Tom included) was just getting started, so of course we had to wait around for MMMBop (see video below). It was AMAZING.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.31.01 AM
Otherwise, due to the heat, we kept our path around the fairgrounds simpler than normal and actually avoided most buildings. Sorry horses, cows, and pigs, we missed you this time. We quickly breezed through the Art and Horticulture Buildings, stopping only briefly to check out the paintings, drawings, sculptures, and crop art. Lucky for Tom and I (and Lauren, too!) we’ll be back on Saturday for the Macklemore concert. Of course that means more menu planning – we passed on cheese curds and Sweet Martha’s cookies this time, but will definitely grab some later in the week. Two trips to the State Fair – it’s definitely a special year!

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Farming by Association

ParksAndRec

Unlike Ron Swanson, I happen to enjoy leafy greens.

There have been days this summer when I’ve eaten like a rabbit, snacking on lettuce and white radishes like it’s my job. Why, you might ask? It’s all thanks to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA for short), a membership-based model for obtaining fresh produce each week. CSAs are a farming system that have been available for nearly 25 years, but they continue to gain popularity with the focus on supporting community businesses and eating local.

CSAs not only refer to the food itself, but also to the relationship between farmers and consumers, and the network that is developed at the onset of a growing season. In late winter or early spring, farmers offer CSA ‘shares’ to the public. Payment typically comes once at the start of the season and weekly pick-ups spots are determined. There are tons of different options, as far as CSAs are concerned: full shares, half shares, organically grown produce, flowers-only, all-meat or all-cheese, and on and on. Minneapolis’ local paper City Pages provided a helpful list of ways to find the right CSA for you.

istock_000010591747smallcsaOur CSA is through the amazing Bridgewater Produce Farm in Northfield, MN – a family-run operation from the town in which we went to college (Um Ya Ya!). This is the first year Tom and I took part in a CSA, and so far it’s given us great opportunities to try new recipes. One of the many benefits to getting a grocery bag full of produce each Wednesday, is the weekly email that comes along with it – the farm includes recipe ideas and little details about the different fruits and veggies. I had no idea that grilled and seasoned radishes tasted so good! Also, nothing beats fresh asparagus sprinkled with a little parmesan. I can’t wait for sweet corn, and am already looking forward to the squash and pumpkins that will be delivered this fall.

The popularly of CSAs has also changed the way I eat in a group setting. This past weekend, I attended former guest blogger Maggie Matson’s bachelorette party in rural Wisconsin. Thanks to all of our CSAs, we ate like champs – eggs bakes with fresh arugula and basil, leafy greens, grilled kale. A few bags of potato chips could be found around the cabin, but each meal included a side dish featuring fresh produce.

Of course CSAs aren’t the only way to go. Local grocery stores and co-ops often have an incredible selection of produce, and farmers markets are a great way to grab-and-go. But after lunching for days on beautiful red strawberries, I’m hooked.  Three cheers for vegetables!

image sources: photo1 | photo2
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The Right to Write

high plains readerCleaned the kitchen, washed some towels, hung the bird feeder, did some weeding – and now there’s just one more item on my to-do list: “write.” There it is in plain black ink: I have to write today. More specifically, I really need to write a post for you. It has been FAR too long since my last entry, and I apologize for that. I could make a range of excuses (just moved, new job, writing for a local publication, homesick for Minneapolis), but I won’t. The real reason I haven’t been writing is simple: I haven’t been making time for it. So what does my personality type do in a situation like this? Put it on a to-do list.

And actually, I have something exciting to share. On a recent plane ride, as I sat between the window and my new friend Paul, ideas of writing started filling my head. I politely cut Paul’s “When I was in the Air Force” conversation short, picked up my weapon of choice (a pen) and semi-clean sheet of paper and wrote this:

“I am currently high over the US on a plane bound for DC. I don’t have access to my computer, so this note paper will have to do. I’m bursting with excitement and ideas at the moment. Which is probably due to numerous things: 1. I had a lot of caffeine and a cold slice of pizza for breakfast 2. I just skimmed through an issue of Fast Company and was utterly inspired by all the social innovation out there and 3. I recently decided to start a journaling and creative writing class with my friend Dani.

The best part of this soon-to-be writing class? We’re offering it at the local YWCA women’s shelter in Fargo. And if there’s anything that gets me going, it’s the philanthropic process. Add writing to that and BAM! Instant excitement in Lauren’s world.

So far, Dani and I have brainstormed a few ideas of class topics (creating characters, composing poetry, developing short stories, writing fairy tales with your kids, etc.), but some of the ideas I’m most looking forward to trying out are the ones that involve collaboration. I know “teamwork” is a common trait among my generation, but I fully believe in working together. Why not tap into resources and create connections to do even more good?

Speaking of, I can’t wait to collaborate with local musician and writer Diane Miller. She is incredibly talented and graciously agreed to be a guest at our class. We’re hoping she’ll walk us through the elements of songwriting and help us create amazing jams like this one of hers. She has a brilliant mind and a heart for helping – I’m thrilled that our paths have crossed in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

My in-flight daydreaming also led to the eventual creation of a nonprofit that empowers girls through writing. I haven’t done a lot of research on what’s already out there, but as far as I know, there isn’t an existing nonprofit doing this work. But hey, if there is, let’s join forces and get even more good stuff done (there’s that teamwork again)!

The more I think about this concept, the more I’m getting excited. From my own experience, I know that writing can be such a therapeutic process, especially is times of trial. Not only that, but to call someone a “writer” is an empowering experience. I’ve kept journals for as long as I can remember, written papers for class, articles for publications, and I never thought to call myself a writer. But once someone else defines you in that way, believing it slowly becomes easier. I want to be that person in young girls lives. I want to help them recognize their emotions and put them on paper. I want them to feel like their stories are worth writing down. I want them to feel like writers. Everyone wants this recognition, don’t they? People want to be heard, they want their life story to mean something, to affect others.

Every big idea has to start somewhere, so this upcoming writing class will be a great experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m slightly terrified. What if no shows up? What if I can’t actually teach writing? What if no one feels inspired? But that’s the best part of giving back and putting yourself out there. Not only am I hoping the ladies in our class will gain something from the writing process, but I have a feeling that my future students will also help me realize my own writing aspirations.”

So if you’re reading and you have ideas, feedback or (constructive) criticism – let me know! I’d love to hear from you and make this next adventure even better.

Posted in DIY, Minnesota, Musings, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments