Tag: Small Town (page 1 of 3)

Returning to Fargo: The Best Place To Stop For A Snack Off I-94

Disclaimer: Logan spoiler. 

Oh, Logan. North Dakota was supposed to have a starring role. The whole film builds towards this majestic moment where all of the little mutants make a grand pilgrimage to North Dakota.

I’ve gone as North as Grand Forks and I’ve driven across the state from Fargo to Medora. The burnt orange, rolling prairie grass and rugged terrain of Theodore Roosevelt National Park left me awestruck. I’m sure the prairie grass is scratchy and thick with critters, when you drive by and see it gently rolling in the wind, you’ll want to pull your car over and take a nap in it.

North Dakota is actually really beautiful. I could see the characters in Logan reaching the fictional destination of Eden in my mind as prairie grass danced in the wind.

Continue reading

Time Traveling For Chicken Fried Steak & Peach Pie At The Blue Owl

First things first, some big news: We’re moving (again).

This time, we’re making a full circle back to the Twin Cities. Jake recently accepted a new role at work and so we’re wrapping-up our last full week in St. Louis.

Last month, I attended a bloggers dinner at the newly revamped Preston in the Chase Park Plaza hotel. I sat next to a woman who had also moved many times for her husband’s job. We talked about frequent, corporate moves and I tried to put a positive spin on them.

Moving a lot makes you crazy,” she replied.

I had to laugh because it’s true. Like the past moves, this one feels bittersweet.

Continue reading

Baking Pies With Food & Swine + Pork Tenderloin At Goldie’s

You can cry or die or just bake pies all day.” – From “Making Pies” by Patty Griffin

After our friend Amy Hild died in a car crash late February, I baked a pie and wrote this post about baking feelings into pies. Grief can seem like a monster or feel like riding a wave and we’re all dealing with it in our own ways. One thing I learned is that I am not the only one who finds solace in baking. My friend Shannon connected with the post and coordinated a trip to Cristen Clark’s home near Des Moines for a pie baking workshop last week.

Group pies

Cristen Clark writes Food & Swine. She and her family grow crops and raise hogs on their farm. In her free time, Cristen enters baking and cooking contests, frequently taking home blue ribbons. I’ll always remember how she extended a hand of hospitality of friendship soon after we moved to Iowa. There are those people who just get your sense of humor, and she’s definitely one of them. Cristen graciously hosted us at her home for the day and shared her best pie-making tips.

Cristen Jessica aprons

We put on our aprons and Cristen walked us through making pie crust.

Group in kitchen

During this class, we prepared all-butter pie crusts. Pie fillings varied, depending on what fruit each person brought. I combined apples and pears and Cristen helped me add sugar, flour to thicken, lemon zest, lemon juice, and this delightfully fragrant Vietnamese cinnamon she bought from the King Arthur Flour.

baking supplies

One technique we didn’t learn in culinary school baking lab was how to make a lattice pie crust. Cristen mentioned that thicker lattice patterns are “in” and demonstrated how to weave the strips.

Cristen trimming pie

I topped my double-crust pie with horse cutouts.

pie Collage

Cristen treated us to lunch at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City while we waited for our pie dough to chill. Goldie’s claim to fame is winning the Iowa Pork Producer’s “Best Pork Tenderloin” contest in 2009. The Des Loines blog, my favorite resource for unbiased pork tenderloin reviews, lists Goldie’s tenderloin as a top contender near Des Moines.

Inside, the small restaurant looks like a diner and even has a drive-through window. At lunch time, the place was busy and people filled every stool along the counter.

goldies Collage

Mary and I ordered a pork tenderloin basket while the other bloggers ordered pork tenderloin sandwiches. “Would you like ranch? our server asked in true Iowan style. Of course we said “Yes.”

Our pork tenderloin arrived in thin strips and reminded me of the schnitzel fingers I once ordered at Glockenspiel restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The tenderloin was fried well so that the strips were crispy without being greasy and the pork was moist and tender. When I looked around the table, I noticed my dining companions’ sandwiches were accompanied by tangles of thin onion rings. Those generic, pre-frozen rings appear on so many menus that I’ve come to expect them. Thin rings are my favorite and I really regretted not ordering them here. Val let me try one of hers.

pork strips

Cristen also noted that the owner raises cattle on his family farm. The cows are processed at a local locker and the beef is served on Goldie’s menu in the form of burgers and sausage. The Magg Combo sandwich combines a pork tenderloin and burger patty. As a new Iowan, I’m still getting acquainted with pork tenderloin sandwiches, but can claim that this is my favorite fried tenderloin so far.

After lunch, we returned to Cristen’s house and finished preparing our pies to bake at home. The way that one bakes his or her pies is so personal and there’s always something new to learn. Competition pie baking is especially fascinating. It’s a completely different beast than baking pies for home consumption, only. I’m not ready for this world, but will certainly use some of these tips Cristen taught us.

Pie Wisdom From Cristen

  • Use a foil collar to prevent crust edges from burning. To make a collar, cut a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the perimeter of your pie crust and fold it into a thinner strip. Wrap it around your pie crust edges and remove it about ten minutes before the pie’s done baking. I can not believe I’ve never thought of this before. The collar sure beats trying to crunch strips of foil around hot pie edges and hoping they don’t fall off each time you move the pie.

pie crust guard

  • Competition bakers keep their pie chilled. Cristen mentioned that when she makes competition pies, she pops the pie back into the fridge frequently to keep the dough cold for perfect forming.
  • Add an egg to the crust: The pie crust recipe I’ve used at home at in culinary school did not include an egg. We added it to the flour and butter, along with the water. I didn’t notice a huge difference, but it turned out well.
  • On shortening & crusts: Different shortenings produce different kinds of crusts. Last November, Cristen wrote this helpful post explaining how each shortening effects crust. I’ve never worked with lard, but it sounds like the combination of lard + butter is popular among bakers. We also learned it’s possible to make a no-roll “push” pie crust with just oil that’s actually won awards at the state fair, too. I haven’t tried this method yet.
  • You can roll pie crust edges up or down: In culinary school, we always rolled the edges of the pie crust down, which Cristen recommended for apple and pear pie. However, she rolled them up on the berry pies. Now, I know I have two options!
  •  Use a giant dough scraper. I don’t own a giant dough scraper. When I’ve made pie at home, I work as quickly as possible so that the shortening doesn’t melt and sprinkle the dough with a lot of flour when it sticks to the counter. The dough scraper made it easy to lift the rolled-out pie dough from the counter and, as a result, I used less flour.
  • Tapioca thickens berry pies. Cristen says the award-winning bakers she’s encountered thicken berry pies with tapioca pearls. She uses 1/4-1/3 cup per pie.
  • Dab with butter: Just like my culinary school instructor, Cristen places little dabs of butter on top of the pie filling before covering it with the top crust.
  • Look for slow bubbles. We baked our pies for 20-minutes at 400℉ and another 40-minutes at 350℉. Slow bubbles indicate that the juices have thickened into a sauce with an ideal consistency.
  • “Blonde” pies are a thing. Pies without any browning on the crust are called “blonde pies.” Some judges prefer them while some don’t, but I’m with Cristen. I like the appearance and flavor of crust with spots of golden brown color.

And my favorite way to enjoy a slice of apple pie? For breakfast with a cup of coffee and cheddar melted on top of the crust!

group outside goldies

From left to right: Cristen (Food & Swine), Jessica (Belong, Create), Val (Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids), Me, Mary (Natural Plus Nursery), Shannon (The Field Position).

Special thanks Cristen for hosting us and surprising us with lunch at Goldie’s and to Shannon for coordinating the event and providing transportation.  

Webster City, Iowa: Grid Iron Grill & La Perla Jarocha

Disclaimer: On 12.13.14 Deb Brown, Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce invited me to spend the day in Webster City as part of the “Seven Bloggers on a Saturday” tour. Grid Iron Grill provided lunch. All opinions are my 100% my own

It’s bittersweet to write about Webster City again.

Last December, I spent the day touring the city with seven North Iowa bloggers. One of them was Amy Hild who recently died in a car crash late February. Thinking about the Webster City tour makes me feel sad because we miss our friend, but it also makes me happy because the day holds more warm memories than any other day I’ve lived in Iowa.

Beth and I actually returned to Webster City in January to explore at a more leisurely pace. Our bloggers tour had moved at a rapid pace in order to fit in as many businesses and attractions as possible. Between both of our visits, we enjoyed meals at a few restaurants. Here are highlights from our meals at Grid Iron Grill and La Perla Jarocha.

Grid Iron Grill & Sports Lounge
This sports bar served as our big lunch stop on our original Webster City tour. Owner Burk Risetter greeted our table and surprised us by treating us to our meals. Before he opened his own restaurant, Risetter worked in the food service industry. He spoke of taking pride in the fact that his kitchen hand breads most of their appetizers such as their onion rings and fried pickles and cuts their own steaks and salmon fillets.

appetizer Collage

We split several appetizers and most everyone ordered a different entrée. My favorite appetizer was the fried pickle chips.

Fried Pickles WM

I didn’t mind that the chips were softer because I liked their light coating. Of course, they were served with ranch in true Iowan fried appetizer style. I found these pickle chips addicting and kept returning for more during the entire meal. Grid Iron’s ranch passed my ranch test, meaning it did not taste like a pre-made product.

For my entrée, I ordered six wings with bourbon sauce and a side salad.

Wings wm

Chicken wings are one of my top three favorite foods. My parents rarely served meat on the bone and so wings were a treat I’d order wings at restaurants every chance I got. Grid Iron’s wings were larger and plumper than what you’ll find at chains like Buffalo Wild Wings. The cook fried them so that the skin was crispy and the meat was tender. Typically I prefer spicy wing sauce, but chose something milder since I was on a bloggers tour. I’m not sure if the world is ready to see me devour hot wings yet.

This sauce was a little sweet for me, but ideal for those who like honey BBQ. Donna ordered a burger glazed with this same bourbon sauce and raved about it. Her meal also came with crispy sweet potato fries served with an unusual marshmallow sauce. I would certainly order Grid Iron’s wings again with a spicy sauce. In terms of size and cooking technique, these are the best wings I can remember eating for a long time.

La Perla Jarocha
We noticed two specialty food markets along Webster City’s main street. On our second visit, Beth & I popped into a small Asian market that carried mostly South East Asian pantry items and La Perla Jarocha, one of Webster City’s two Mexican grocery stores. Chamber Director Brown mentioned that Webster City is home to a sizable Laotian community and that a Laotian family is in process of opening a egg roll and bubble tea shop soon.

IMG_4441

It’s hard to believe, but even though Mason City and Clear Lake are the biggest communities in North Iowa, we have no multicultural grocery stores. I’d love for someone to prove me wrong, but the closest Asian grocery store appears to be Yaw Asian Grocery Store located 40-minutes away in Albert Lea, MN.

At La Perla Jarocha’s grocery store, I noticed a hot food warmer on the front counter containing what looked like pork carnitas meat and found foil-wrapped tamales in the cooler. The owner shared that her mother prepares them with freshly made masa dough. She gently reminded me to remove the banana leaf before eating, which made me giggle as I thought of people trying to eat the tough leaves.

I brought two tamales home. The masa dough was light and fluffy and the chicken filling tasted delightfully spicy. I’m always thrilled when food makes me sweat.

Tamale

Spicy chicken tamale from La Perla Jarocha

The tamales from La Perla Jarocha reminded of eating my first banana leaf-wrapped tamale in Cholula, Mexico. Our friend Mario biked to his favorite tamale vendor early one the morning so he could share them with us at breakfast. We unwrapped them on a beautiful sidewalk cafe and enjoyed them with espresso and traditional pastries before climbing Mexican’s largest pyramid, The Great Pyramid of Cholula.

Until this moment, I thought I didn’t like tamales because the only ones I had tried were dry and heavy. Now that I know how delicate and spicy they can taste, I try them every chance I get.

IMG_2553

Mario unwraps a tamale in Cholula, Mexico

I later followed up with the owner of La Perla Jarocha who said they recently opened a restaurant across the street where they serve these tamales and more of their family recipes.

Soon after our last trip to Webster City, a Des Moines Register reporter contacted me (along with two other Iowan food bloggers) for an interview . Understandably, Torpy’s word count was limited and she couldn’t fit all of our replies into her feature, but her final question was my favorite to answer. I wrote my reply as I enjoyed one of these tamales: “What do you hope people will take away after reading your blog?”

I hope my readers will feel inspired to try a new food or wander into a new market. I also hope they’ll feel inspired to explore their own backyard and never stop searching for their new favorite dive bar or small town café. My favorite bloggers make me feel something. They make me laugh and cry, awaken wanderlust, or become curious about something new. I hope I do the same for my readers.

Be curious. Wander into new stores and don’t be afraid to ask the owners questions. Celebrate chicken wings with crispy skin and don’t be the fool that passes on someone else’s mother’s homemade tamales.

Thanks again to Grid Iron Grill for treating us to lunch during the December 2015 Webster City Bloggers Tour.

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.

IMG_4836

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.

IMG_4839

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.

IMG_4845

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.

IMG_4840
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.

PicMonkey Collage

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.

IMG_4848

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

IMG_4849

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.

IMG_4852

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.

Older posts

© 2017 Jeni Eats

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Facebook
YouTube
Pinterest
INSTAGRAM