Tag: family (page 1 of 5)

Mourning Pie & Hot Wings [Dark Horse Bar and Eatery]

I love my home state of Minnesota. I miss Minnesota. But gosh darn was it nice to step out of the car into 65 degrees and sunny St. Louis. We’ll be back soon, though, and this time there will be snow.

This past week, we made a short trip to the Twin Cities to attend our relative’s funeral. Burrell wasn’t our grandma but she’s been like our grandma for the past seven years. We celebrated her 100th birthday last spring. Even until her later years, Burrell kept her wits about her and remained sharp as a whip. Her hearing never declined either, and she’d often holler her reply from another room if someone was whispering about her. Burrell was a very loving person and, in turn, many people loved her.

She’s my inspiration to pursue balance in life. To strive for a better attitude, seek fresh air and move my body a lot. To keep on enjoying my morning coffee, pats of butter here and there, and a glass of wine in the evenings. At the funeral, her daughter shared a beautiful letter. The part that really stuck with me summarizes the lessons Burrell demonstrated to her loved ones: Be courageous. Be kind. Be hopeful. Be curious.

While we were home, we also celebrated birthdays with Jake’s family at Dark Horse, a new restaurant in the Lowertown area of St. Paul, Minnesota.

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The menu is really eclectic and draws from many flavor profiles, from Thai to Ethiopian cuisines. Our friendly server guided me to one of her favorite whiskeys before we shared several appetizers. While my dining party’s opinions about their dishes ranged, we shared a unanimous enthusiasm for the wings. The menu mentions they’re seasoned with berbere and their special Dark Horse Sauce.

One half of our group requested mild wings while the rest of us devoured the hot. They were really, truly hot; the hottest, most delicious food I’ve eaten since we visited this Thai restaurant on Lake of the Ozarks. My lips burned long after the last wing was gone. Besides the heat and flavor, the wings were large with crisp, rendered skin and tender meat. I haven’t met a better hot wing. They arrived with a light, creamy sauce that everyone wanted more of.

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Top: Dark Horse Wing + sauce. Bottom: Posole with egg and pork + tostada. Pleasantly spicy, very tart.

Laughter over whiskey, mourning over pie. Reverse or juxtapose or repeat. Run it out, talk it out, and sweat it out over heart-achingly spicy food. That’s what I do, at least.

An Open Letter To Trayse On National Dog Day

Dear Trayse,

When I first met you, I thought you were bizarre, but, after walking you to the park, I knew our hearts were on par.

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Our first selfie.

Jeni, Jake, and Trayse. Together, we are a little family.

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Your are our dog baby. We wish we could claim you as a dependent, but U.S. Law says this can not be.

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You keep watch over our living spaces with pride and protect us from squirrels and bunnies who run away and try to hide.

Trayse out front watch

We notice how you try to help us with household projects and blog posts. Obviously, you can’t actually help us put together furniture or bake cookies since you are a canine, but your efforts are never asinine.

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You keep us accountable for getting lots of exercise and together we absorb vitamin D sunbathing on the sidewalk or curling up in the grass underneath a tree.

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Jeni and Trayse

Life’s changed a lot within the past two years and we’ve moved two times. From Minnesota to Iowa to Missouri, you’ve handled it in stride.

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Moving day in Mason City.

It’s true that you stole Jake’s grilled cheese sandwich that one day and make all of our blankets and pillows smell weird.

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Trayse pillow

But you make us laugh each day with your silly ways and are very much revered.

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We’ll be there to comfort you again, should we ever live in a city that’s eligible to host one of those weeklong, house-shaking at 2 a.m. PGI Firework Conventions that makes you shudder and puke.

Trayse

We’ll protect you from the thunderstorms, keep your feet warm on winter walks, and let you mangle our winter hats, because that’s just what we do.

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Life’s not easier or more convenient now that you’re in our life, but it’s all for the best.

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Life’s much happier with dog, more than we could have ever guessed.

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#Blessed

The I’m Sorry Cake + More STL Eats

Test a new recipe on guests at your own risk. Especially when it’s a “Sorry I Forgot Your Birthday” Cake.

Four of my in-laws drove to St. Louis from Minnesota for their first visit this weekend and we welcomed them with this cake. It sure looks pretty. What better way to ask for someone’s forgiveness than presenting them with a fresh strawberry cake lovingly frosted with cream cheese frosting?

The recipe’s technique of cutting butter into the dry ingredients, gradually adding eggs, and stirring in the wet ingredients seemed unusual, but the website’s photos looked pretty so I proceeded anyway. After all, how bad could fresh strawberry puree, flour, sugar, and butter taste? Pretty bad. Pretty, pretty, pretty bad. 

We sang “Happy Birthday” and the belated birthday girl blew out the candles. After passing slices of cake around the room, I noticed pensive facial expressions and quickly took a bite from Jake’s plate.

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It was terrible. “This cake tastes really bad and I’m not going to have any,” I announced as my family tried to politely choke down their slices. We’ve always spoke candidly with each other, which is something I really appreciate. Once I broke the ice, feedback rolled in:

“It tastes like unleavened communion bread with frosting.”

“It’s like big mound of paste.”

“I can’t do it Jeni, I’m sorry.”

“Honey, I ate it all!” stated my father-i-law, a man who exemplifies the stereotype of Norwegian stoicism. I thanked him and asked if he’d like another slice, to which he replied “no.”

In the end, it was the thought behind the “I’m Sorry” cake that mattered and our apology was accepted. “I’m going to bake you all a birthday cake,” I promised. Much better food followed and we enjoyed the rest of the weekend exploring St. Louis together. Here are some more things we learned:

Happy hour at Katie’s Pizzeria rocks. We learned that we had actually visited Katie’s Pizzeria instead of Katie’s Pizza & Pasta. No worries, though. Our pizzas, prosciutto spring rolls and toasted ravioli were delicious and we’re excited to visit Katie’s Pizza & Pasta next. During happy hour, glasses of wine were $4 and all of the pizzas are available in a personal size for about $8.

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These were no tiny pizzas and no one could finish an entire one. The pesto served with the fried ravioli and on top of Jake’s pesto-shrimp pizza really struck my fancy. I’m still craving it.

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I chose a spicy pizza topped with copa, fresh ricotta, pepperocini, and red pepper flakes.

It’s hard to go wrong at Bogart’s SmokehouseEveryone tried a different menu item, from ribs to a turkey sandwich and no one had any complaints. I chose the chicken wing special with sides of sweet and spicy Fire & Ice Pickles and potato salad dotted with hard-boiled egg. I liked that one could sandwiches in small or large sizes and that each comes with two sides.

Plus, everyone who worked here on Saturday was so darn nice. The line was relatively long at lunch, but the staff made sure that when customers who wanted to dine-in entered the building, there was seating available.

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The drinks at Ballpark Village are expensive. Parking is not, however.

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Thank you for putting two cherries in my $8 amaretto sour.

The candy maker at The Fudgery in Ball Park Village sings songs like, “You can try everything for free.” We especially enjoyed a taste of the freshly-made rocky road fudge cooling on the marble table. Turns out that The Fudgery in Ball Park Village is one of 29 stores across the United States. One of the company’s features is their singing candy makers who have to audition American Idol-style for their positions. According to The Fudgery’s website, one of their past employees includes SisQo who totally lives in Maple Grove, MN with his family now!

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Finally, Tani Sushi offers a nice take-out service and the penguin and puffin coves at the St. Louis Zoo are still the most magical place on earth. If you visit Kali the polar bear, know that he gets upset when people put their hands on the glass. I watched a woman argue with the zoo employee when she asked her to and her family to stop. “But it looks like he’s having fun!” she insisted. He’s not. “But it seems like he’s playing with us.” He’s not. Trust, the zoo keepers.

Maybe next time there will be Provel.

Jake’s Birthday Tradition & A Visit To Mason City Brewing

Jake and I don’t have many traditions.

Since we got married, we’ve lived two-three hours away from our families who both reside in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area. Sometimes they visit us, but mostly we visit them. Holidays are weird for us. We spend them all in the Twin Cities and our folks go to great lengths to decorate their homes and treat us to holiday meals. Therefore, I don’t bake many Christmas cookies or put up Christmas lights. It’s kind of OK and it’s kind of bittersweet.

Our one and only Christmas tree adorned our old Bloomington condo. We picked it out ourselves at a tree farm and Jake tried to trim the trunk with a cheap, serrated kitchen knife. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Injury, blood, and a tree that dried out quickly and dropped pine needles everywhere. It sure did smell good, though.

I’m grateful we can still share our parents’ traditions, but have also realized that just because we don’t have kids doesn’t mean we can’t create our own traditions. After Christmas, I’m going to prepare a post-Christmas dinner for two in our Mason City home and am intrigued by a friend’s idea of hosting a Febgiving in February.

Jake’s birthday does involve a tradition. Ever since we started dating, my birthday gift to him is a home-cooked meal of his choice. He requested Pad Thai, lasagna, and chicken enchiladas for his last three birthdays. This year he went easy on me and chose gyros. For birthday dessert, Jake always chooses the Fruit Crisp from the Cafe Brenda Cookbook. This crisp is different from any other. The crumble is prepared from roasted and ground oats which makes it taste more like the most delicious oatmeal cookie in the world and it’s minimally sweetened with thickened apple juice. You’ll have to check out the book find the full recipe.

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The gyro meat was not as au natural.  I was surprised to find it at Fareway for about $6.99 per pound.

I like Fareway’s meat counter. The majority of their meat is not prepackaged and its quality and price is better than the typical grocery store’s. You place your order the old-fashioned way; from men in paper hats and white jackets who take your order and wrap everything in butcher paper.

When I visit Fareway’s meat counter, I can’t help but to gaze at the dizzying array of retro meat products, many of which I recognize from my school cafeterias. If you are seeking a taste of nostalgia sold by the pound, you’ll find chicken crispitos, pizza burger patties, and what my grade school referred to as “Mr. Ribs.” The butchers treat all of their meat with the same dignity. They carefully measure and wrap everything from Mr. Ribs to bone-in ribeyes in tidy little packages.

Once home, I was faced with this quandary: “What is the best way to cook thawed gyro loaf slices that have the texture of paste?” I’m not sure if there’s a great answer to this question. When I delicately placed the gyro slices in my Foreman grill, they sizzled and shrank at an alarming pace. I had to empty the drip tray twice and feared the worst. Fortunately, the gyro meat tasted like typical gyro meat. With homemade pita, fresh vegetables, and Wanderlust Kitchen’s Authentic Greek Tzatziki sauce, Jake’s birthday gyros were a success.

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I may return to Fareway for a retro meat product tasting extravaganza.

The Every Bar In Mason City Crawl: Mason City Brewing
Our birthday weekend in Mason City wouldn’t have been complete without an Every Bar In Mason City Quest stop. We’re embarrassed to admit that this was our first visit to Mason City Brewing. We kept asking ourselves why we hadn’t visited earlier, as I’m sure many of you are.

The brewery’s space downtown is beautiful. Staff were hospitable and happy to answer questions. Thoughtful touches like live music, board games, decks of cards, a big bowl of pretzels, and a nifty hot/cold water dispenser with cups encourage customers to linger for a while.

We shared this beer sampler of the brewery’s current offerings.

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The sampler tray numbered each sample which corresponded to a handwritten list a bartender kindly provided. Jake gravitates towards bitter beers while I prefer lighter ones. Both of our beer tastes intersected at the sweeter Barleywine and Brown Porter which had a coffee note. We look forward to returning to the brewery soon.

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The bar quest will take a detour this week. I’ll join the North Iowa Bloggers at Carson Tree Farm in Hampton where we’ll learn how to make holiday wreaths. I’m the least crafty person I know, so I’ll consider the class a success if my wreath doesn’t end up looking like a big, green blob. I don’t often buy things I can’t eat, so I welcome these types of opportunities that challenge me try new experiences. Following the class, we’ll dine at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, a reader-suggested restaurant. I’m driving so it’s a mocktail for me.

This Saturday, I’ll join six North Iowa Bloggers on a road trip. Deb of the Webster City Chamber of Commerce invited us to spend the day in Webster City where we’ll meet the mayor, visit local shops and restaurants, and tour the historic Jane Young House (among other activities).

As always, I enjoy hearing about your favorite restaurants and bars. What are your favorite holiday traditions? I’m curious; married folks, when did you first start your own holiday traditions? 

When You Celebrate A Birthday At Joe’s Crab Shack

Photography Disclaimer: If you have a low tolerance for lousy phone food photography, avert your eyes after the section about Joseph’s Grill. This post is chock-full of bad phone photos. Pinky-orange crab, yellow-tinted whites, neon cocktails + a blurry, self-gratuitous selfie all bathed in the jarring lighting at Joe’s Crab Shack. I wanted to keep Martha Steward on her toes. Frankly, perfection bores me. If you feel the same way about food blogs, then this post is for you. 

How does one describe my mother-in-law?

Well, for one thing, she really likes themes. Like, really, really likes themes. Theme parties have become such a normal part of Jake’s existence, that he hardly bats an eye at her newest schemes. He smiles as he recollects a childhood of flower parties, color parties, first or last initial parties, and happy pumpkin parties.

On the other hand, my family didn’t give much thought to themes. They took it as far as asking me what I wanted on my birthday cake and possibly finding matching invitations, but no further. It’s no wonder that themes kind of frighten me.

We returned to the Twin Cities last weekend to celebrate Jake’s dad’s big 60th birthday and the theme was “Joe” since his hame is Joe. When I first caught wind of the themed weekend my mother-in-law hatched, I experienced a wave of anxiety. We were supposed to eat at three Twin Cities restaurants with the word “Joe” in their name, all on one day.

The restaurants chosen were Joseph’s Grill, Joe Senser’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack. Until this day, I had never visited any of these places.

We convened at Joseph’s Grill Saturday morning. Dreading two more Joe’s stops later that day, I kept it simple with poached eggs and a virgin Bloody Mary. Jake ordered the Greek Florentine Omelet filled with lamb, feta, tomato, onions, spinach and topped with tzatziki sauce. I’m sure it’s no surprise his entrée was more exciting than mine and, so I kept stealing bites of his lamb. If you go to Joseph’s, try something with lamb.

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All in all, everyone was satisfied with their first Joe meals. Our server was friendly and served with finesse, portions were large and we were full.

My mother-in-law broached lunch at Joe Senser’s on the drive home and nobody bit. “What about if we just stop there for appetizers before dinner,” she asked? We groaned and arrived at the group consensus to strike on less “Joe restaurant” from the itinerary.

And then there was Joe’s Crab Shack. My first thought was that Joe’s Crab Shack looks like a space ship. Or at least, something can could be seen from space.

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The interior of the restaurant is as festive as the exterior. Bright lights, tropical stuff mounted on the walls and even an in-store gift shop.

Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t waste time with napkins. Each table receives a big roll of paper towels. I was in the restroom when our server introduced himself and reacted with confusion when I noticed the roll. “Who the hell is Andrew and why is his name written on a paper towel?” I asked, before it dawned on me.

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Andrew did a great job taking care of our table. Joe’s is located near Northwestern College & Bethel. Many of the restaurants in this part of Roseville employ students from these colleges.

Because we were celebrating a special occasion, one of Jake’s brothers treated us to a variety of appetizers. My favorite items were the crispy hush puppies which arrived in a metal bucket along with ranch dressing. It can’t be hip to enjoy ranch as much as I do.

And then there were the drinks. A few people ordered the Category 5 Hurricane, a cocktail with a disclaimer. The menu states that each customer may only order two which is a good rule because the drink’s not only goblet sized, but strong. Plus, there’s no telling what might happen if a drunken brawl erupted at Joe’s. There are just too many mason jars and pointy marlin fish on the walls for anyone to be safe.

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On the other hand, my margarita was weak. I know this to be true because I am the epitome of a lightweight and if I can’t feel a cocktail it’s weaksauce.

Those of us who ordered crab experienced a moment of surprise when servers approached our table to tie paper bibs around our necks. Mine said Hottest Legs Around. I could not complain because at least it wasn’t decorated with an STD joke. The rest of the bibs said things too ridiculous to mention here (nod to Marilyn Hagerty with my use of the word ridiculous).

“Help,” scream my eyes.

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Of course Jake and I ordered crab at Joe’s Crab Shack. We split a Classic Steampot for two.

I was delighted that our steampot contained two, separate, perfectly symmetrical mesh bags because it meant we wouldn’t have to fight over halfies. Each contained two queen crab leg clusters, a handful of shrimp, one ear of corn, halved red potatoes, and a sausage.

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Customers can choose from six different flavor options for steamed seafood, but we kept it simple with Old Bay. If you want drawn butter with your crab, you have to request it. Joe’s serves it in small plastic cups that cool quickly into solid masses. I did not let this slow me down.

Jake ate slowly and avoided the “filler” items, hoping I’d leave him some crab. He waited in vain as I ate every single thing in my bag.

Crab Remains photo

The crab legs weren’t particular meaty, but tasted fresh enough, unlike crab legs I’ve ordered at similar (and nicer) establishments that reeked of ammonia. I assumed the sausage would be a bland filler, but found it to have a pleasant snap and flavorful spicing.

And then my father-in-law turned into a bird.

Chain restaurant birthday rituals are their own strange bird. They always seem to involve things like balloons, marching in single file lines, clapping, and singing and this was no exception. Joe’s took the restaurant birthday thing one step further by dressing Joe up as a bird with a styrofoam beak and wings and encouraging him to flap around the dining room. I don’t know if my memory of this incidient is hazy from too many sips of Jake’s Hurricane or a possible retreat into my happy place, but I have this picture so it must have happened.

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My father-in-law was a great sport.

Joe wasn’t the only birthday boy in the shack. Shortly after, staff led another birthday charge. While they didn’t give the next birthday boy the royal bird treatment, they showered him with a procession of singing and clapping. A birthday celebration at Joe’s Crab Shack is perfect for those who want everyone to know it’s their birthday or tolerate mild form of public humiliation. Everyone else will want to die.

At the end of the evening, Joe declared that this was his favorite birthday of all time. 

The zany restaurant crawl was not made in vain and we could feel confident our dirty-joke bibs were worn with honor. The weekend served its purpose to celebrate Joe and launch him into his 61st year surrounded by family. Someone else’s birthday is never really about us, anyway.

Is Joe’s Crab Shack for everyone? Probably not. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a darn good time.

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