Tag: Breakfast

Our Favorite Finnish Oven Pancake Recipe

No one in my family is Finnish but we grew up eating Finnish Oven Pancakes nearly every week.

My mom got this recipe from my Godmother, with whom she exchanged many other recipes that became family staples.

“I know why my mom made Finnish Oven Pancakes so often,” I thought as I prepared one for the second time this week. They’re easy to make, only require a few ingredients, and taste like a humble feast.

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The Brunch That Was Worth An Hour: Screen Door, Portland

There might not be a screen door at the Screen Door and you’ll probably have to wait an hour for brunch, but that’s OK and I’ll tell you why. But first, notes on the journey:

In August, right after we left St. Louis and before we had a moment to catch our breath in Minnesota, we traveled to Northern California. This was the first time traveling together outside of the Midwest since we got engaged. We planned an epic road trip zigzagging from San Fransisco through Napa Valley to Tahoe, west to the Avenue of the Giants, and up to Portland.

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A Bakery That Smells Like Butter In Belmond, Iowa

Last weekend, Jake and I postponed our little getaway to the Twin Cities. So, obviously, my second choice of destination was Belmond, Iowa, a small town of about 2,300 located 40 minutes southwest of Mason City.

On one of our first warm and sunny days in North Iowa, Beth asked if anyone was interested in joining her on a mini road trip. Her travel plans had been dashed by bad Tennessee weather, so her second choice was also Belmond, too. Why Belmond? The owners of Sugarpie Bakery & Cafe recently reached out to our North Iowa blogging group inviting us to visit.

I posted this photo on Facebook when we arrived in town.

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One friend who grew up near Belmond asked me, “What in the world are you seeing in Belmond? Are you visiting Cattleman’s?”

Belmond has survived two tornadoes in recent history. In 1966, a tornado destroyed most of the downtown area, injuring 100 people, and killing six. And in June 2013, an F3 tornado hit the town destroying several local businesses including Cattleman’s restaurant which the Abel family purchased over 30 years ago. Cattleman’s actually reopened at the city’s golf club just this past November. We only had time for one meal on this trip, but so many people recommended Cattleman’s, we’ll have to return for dinner.

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We arrived late Saturday morning so we could explore out some of the antique and gift shops our friends suggested. The main street was very quiet and most of the stores were closed. We watched as a fellow shopper tugged at the flower shop door. At first, she appeared surprised to find it closed, but remembered there was a big robotics competition at the school. We had to smile as we imagined the business owners cheering on their sons and daughters at this competition.

The day was so beautiful. We enjoyed strolling the awning-covered sidewalk and found an open thrift shop and pharmacy with a real soda fountain.

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This Jazzercise storefront brought back happy memories. Jessica and I are children of the 90’s who grew-up with moms who religiously attended Jazzercise classes, while Beth was one of those moms. She recalled her Jazzercise outfit complete with leg warmers. We also passed by a Belmond historical museum. The sign said it was open by appointment and even listed four individuals’ phone numbers to call. We saw visitors inside as we left for Mason City.

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Beth found a Teapot Tuesday treasure at the thrift shop and I bought an epic mug that I’ll share in the next Mugshot Monday. “What can I collect?” wondered Jessica. We also found Girl Scout cookies for sale by the register and lots of doll heads. The clown heads were my favorite.

Doll Head Belmont Collage

We met Val and her kids for lunch at Sugarpie. What struck me upon opening the door was that the cafe smelled like butter. I don’t trust bakeries that don’t smell like butter.

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At Sugarpie, customers can order breakfast or lunch. My friends gravitated towards hot pork and beef sandwiches, while the kids and I chose breakfast.I chose a Denver omelet ($7) filled with cheddar, ham, onions and peppers with a cup of coffee. I like how Sugarpie serves their coffee from an eclectic collection of mugs.

The previous week, I dined at Perkins with some blogger friends and still had omelets on my mind. When I was in high school and college, Perkins was the watering hole for flirting over chicken tender melts and ham and cheese omelets. I hadn’t visited a Perkins for years and was surprised to find out that about half of their omelets contained celery!

For whatever reason, this just cracked me up and I have been laughing about it ever since. This is what Jake refers to as a “Jeni Joke.” This Sugarpie omelet did NOT contain celery. In fact, none of them did, because most omelets don’t. My meal was simple and satisfying.

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I got a kick out of this salt and pepper holder.

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I have to admit, I eyed Jessica’s pulled pork sandwich. The pork was cut into thick chunks. When Val’s kids left the table to play with more toys, some of the adults nibbled in the leftover french toast sticks. These were no pre-frozen school cafeteria product, but long strips of real french toast.

I chose a flaky bacon and cheese turnover from the bakery case to share with Jake.

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While we enjoyed our meal and chatted over coffee, the cafe’s tables and lunch counter remained busy with customers. Val’s kids had a lot of fun playing with toys and coloring on a chalkboard with the other kids in the children’s area. Val’s son was very dedicated to his craft of baking dominos into different flavors of crackers in the toy cash register. The dominos with yellow dots were cheese, the chocolate dots were chocolate, the green were pepper, and some of them were simply cracker flavored crackers. We nibbled on dominos as we chatted over lunch.

This cafe has only been open since September 2014 and owners report they’ve been so busy, they forgot about their six-month anniversary until after it had passed. I love big and little cities, alike, but there are some charms that occur in small towns that make them sparkle. Like Jazzercize awnings, stores closed on a Saturday so proprietors can cheer on their children at the school’s robotics competition, and real soda fountains in pharmacies. Every town needs a scratch bakery and coffee cafe that smells like butter.

Christmas in the Twin Cities: Five Memorable Tastes

We just returned to North Iowa after spending a frantic holiday week in the Twin Cities.

Christmas means cycling between our two families’ homes and visiting old friends. By the end of the week, we’re tired and cranky as hell, having raced around the metropolitan area every single day. But we have few regrets because we remember that once we get home, we’ll miss everyone all over again.

My best advice to those who visit the Twin Cities and seek restaurant suggestions is to simply ask a local! Just like any other city, the flashiest or most prominent restaurant don’t necessarily serve the best food or most ideal bang for your buck. Ask your friends for ideas or jump online and ask a stranger via Twitter. Despite rumors of “Minnesota Nice” equating passive aggression, Minnesotans really are nice. I can guarantee that any food-loving local would be willing to share his or her favorite places with you.

Two of our goals were to sneak away on a date night to try a new restaurant and revisit an old favorite. We accomplished all of this and more. Here are five of our favorite tastes from the week:

Taqueria Los Ocampo: Carnitas Tacos & Green Sauce
We crave Mexican-style street tacos fiercely, with the passion of a thousand burning suns. When I lived in Minneapolis, I visited Los Ocampo in Midtown Global Market. Now we often stay with Jake’s parents, we visit Taqueria Los Ocampo on Arcade St. in East St. Paul. This particular location is open until 2 a.m. which makes it perfect for late night taco runs.

First timers might be surprised to find Los Ocampo cooks masa dough to order for dishes like quesadillas and huaraches (flat, oval-shaped masa topped with re-fried beans, meat, etc). There are so many meat and vegetarian toppings, it’s difficult to choose. Our go-to order is tacos. Fortunately, customers can order multiples of the same tacos or one of each filling. So far my favorites include pork carnitas and beef cecina, a salted & partially dried beef.

Los Ocampos

If you order everything on the tacos, they’ll include onion, cilantro, radish slices and lime wedges. Meal combos come with the creamiest refried beans, fluffy rice, and choice of beverage. I always choose horchata, a sweet rice water. If I’m extra hungry, I might add an elote (a corn cob on a stick coated in mayo and covered in chili powder and cheese) and churro to nibble on later. Don’t forget to choose from their little cups of spicy salsas. Jake prefers the smokey red sauce while I prefer the creamy green. We’ve truly never ordered anything we didn’t like.

Birchwood Cafe: Savory Waffle
Breakfast with my old housemates typically occurs at Common Roots or Birchwood Cafe and I never complain. I hadn’t visited Birchwood since its recent remodel. The space is open and inviting. The cafe cultivates community from the way management treats its employees to how it sources foods from local producers. Plus, it’s fun to sit at their big community tables.

The first thing I seek in the morning is coffee. As a slightly lactose-intolerant individual, I jump for joy when cafes like Birchwood automatically offer soy milk at their beverage station. I ordered the Veggie Scramble dotted with roasted root vegetables and served with thick Birdseed toast and celery root puree.

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I was stunned by the beautiful presentation of my friend’s Savory Waffle.

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This waffle differed from a traditional sweet waffle because it tasted of fresh herbs and Gruyère cheese. Birchwood tops it with fruit chutney, bacon, a sunny-side up egg, spiced pumpkin seeds, and maple syrup. My friend shared a bite which tasted as good as it looked.

1029 Bar: Wings & Fries
We accidentally found ourselves at karaoke night at the 1029.

A friend asked us to meet him at Grumpy’s. Having lived away from the Twin Cities for too long, we forget to ask which one! We showed up to two different Grumpy’s located at opposite ends of town, so we scrapped our original plan and met at the 1029 Bar in NE Minneapolis. We arrived as the hostess kicked-off karaoke, an event that appears to have a loyal following. Jake tested out his car singing skills and sang the worst rendition of Sam Smith’s “Not the Only One” heard by human ears. I silently laughed until I cried into my french fries.

Those expecting typical bar food will be surprised to find the Smack Shack menu. Sure, you can order a lobster roll at the new Smack Shack restaurant, but it’ll cost more and you won’t get to enjoy it under the glow of Christmas lights as Jake sings karaoke. We tried a couple of dishes and I liked the Smack Wings the best.

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The wings were nicely sized and coated in an addicting sauce that tasted slightly spicy and sweet. It’s unlike any other hot wing sauce I’ve tried. I dipped all of the french fries from my shrimp basket into it the excess sauce. The crisp fries arrived in my favorite cut (similar to McDonald’s for lack of a better comparison) and tasted like what I’m guessing is Old Bay seasoning.

Many of the karaoke participants were very talented, but made everyone feel welcome to participate. Plus, the service was warm and just plain fun.

Spoon and Stable: Dessert
Spoon and Stable is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s month-old restaurant located in the North Loop of downtown Minneapolis. Dinner reservations might be difficult to come by at the moment, but the bar and small lounge accommodate walk-in seating. We arrived at prime dinner time and the wait for lounge seating was an hour and a half. Bar seats are always available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Jake noticed a couple leave the bar. He looked around, did not see anyone moving to claim them, and sat down. A trio of ladies standing around a table threw their arms up in exasperation, so I asked them if they had been waiting for the bar seats. They replied they had and rolled their eyes. I explained that the man who sat down was my husband and assured them that I’d grab him. They remained in a huff despite Jake’s apology. We watched in amusement as they asked half of the bar to move down one seat so their group of three could fit. The word, “Thunderdome” entered my mind and I giggled

Another group of women invited us to join them at a standing table and even offered to share their bar snacks. We were surprised to find we shared some Iowa connections, and, when a server informed them that their lounge table was ready, we couldn’t help but rejoice with them. Like I said, Minnesota nice does actually exist. We encounter it time and time again.

I sipped a minty green cocktail with an egg shaken in it and we nibbled the juicy duck sliders Dara Grumdahl suggested. Soon after, two seats the bar opened and we carefully claimed them without any difficulties.

We were surprised to make it to the bar, so we tried several dishes. This was our Merry Christmas present to each other. I especially enjoyed the bison tartare while Jake gravitated towards the bucatini with clams, bottarga, tarragon & uni cream. My favorite taste was actually Executive Pastry Chef Diane Yang’s  Lemon Curd Mousse with charred pineapple, thyme pound cake, and crunchy vanilla meringue. We found it delightfully tangy, sweet without being too sweet, and refreshing. Basically, it was like magic.

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The tiny tin of tiny cookies served with our bill was another magical touch. It contained shortbread, a macaron, and tangy fruit confection which I’m guessing are also Yang’s handiwork.

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We had hoped to feel like big city kids again, just for an evening, and Spoon and Stable made this happen. Despite the restaurant’s poshness, the staff was kind and not pretentious.

Woody’s Pet Deli (Trayse’s Pick): Raw Lamb Bone
My brother and sister-in-law recently adopted a cat from Woody’s Pet Deli in the Highland Park area of St. Paul and continue to shop there for pet food. Woody’s is unique because it specializes in human-grade pet food free of artificial colors, preservatives, and fillers. I spend a lot of time examining packages at big box pet stores, but felt at ease here knowing that every product was carefully chosen and safe. Mary Anne helped me find the perfect treat for Trayse: A pair of raw lamb bones for $2.

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He floated on cloud nine as he enjoyed his Christmas treat out on the deck. My sister-in-law’s cat also loves his treats from Woody’s.

Pet treat Collage

We savored our week in the Twin Cities, but are also happy to be back in North Iowa. I appreciate all of our parents’ efforts to make Christmas special and treat us to home-cooked meals, but have to admit, it’s fun to be Queen of my own kitchen again:)

What was one of the best things you prepared or ate over the holidays? Do you have any New Years traditions? 

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