It’s spring, sort of.
Thunderstorms have replaced snow storms. I think I’m ok with this, though they bring their own kind of devastation. The warmer weather makes my commute to work through rural North Iowa safer and I can’t get enough of the smell of other people grilling.
For the first time, we find ourselves in a home without a basement with a dog who is terrified of thunder, lightning and wind. We learned reacts to thunderstorms by hiding in the bathroom, shaking, and hiccuping.
We’ve also gotten ourselves on the “every other week” track to and from the Twin Cities this month so we can join our family and old friends for holidays and celebrations.
I’m doing my best to keep up with this blog that I love, but find myself needing to take a few more breathers than normal due to fatigue after our weekend travels and adjusting to a staffing transition at work. I also enjoy ghost writing for companies’ blogs on the side.
Despite the chaos of the past month, I’ve gotten to try some new things. Here are some of my recent favorites, both food and nonfood alike:
Taste, Osage, IA
I work across the alley from this bakery and cafe. You can buy Cabin Coffee beverages on one side and freshly baked sweets and meals on the other.
Restaurants in North Iowa are slower to embrace social media so I appreciate how Taste frequently updates their Facebook page highlighting specials. I noticed their efforts to offer a creative lunch menu and stopped by one afternoon to try their shrimp taco special for $6.
I liked the flavorful, garlicky sauce and crunchy, fresh cabbage, bell peppers and greens. The shrimp were plentiful and nicely grilled so that they retained that snappy texture. I look forward to trying more lunch specials and keep eying their giant muffins.
Rookie’s, Clear Lake, IA
We visited Rookie’s (the bar connected to Sevens) located on the main drag just blocks from Clear Lake on our last date night. Rookie’s is also a local establishment that’s really faithful about updating their Facebook page.
The bartenders were friendly, the drinks were surprisingly inexpensive, and the food was better than expected. We sat around the big horseshoe bar and felt comfortable just enjoying our time and lingering.
The sweet potato fries were crispy and coated in a course black pepper seasoning. The dipping sauce was notably good and I think I tasted mustard.
Jake was satisfied with his Cajun chicken sandwich while I ordered the seared lemon-pepper cod entrée ($15) that came with two big fillets, a side salad, and choice of potato. The cod was nicely seasoned and cooked, the homemade vinaigrette was pleasantly balanced and tasted similarly to what I make at home, and the hashbrowns arrived in a heaping plate with a crispy crust.
God bless North Iowa for offering shredded hash browns as a potato choice and ranch with most everything fried.
I’m glad we could experience the laid-back, locals centric version of Rookie’s before the summer crowds hit but that will be fun, too. We were so preoccupied with moving last summer that we didn’t spend much time in Clear Lake.
Homemade Pork Fried Rice
Pork fried rice is part of our standard Chinese take-out order.
Restaurants usually include one carton of steamed white rice per entrée so I like to transform the leftovers into my own fried rice.
Years ago before the United Noodle deli remodel, I used to visit for lunch. I loved that they made their fried rice taste so light and seasoned it with black pepper. Theirs is what I aim to recreate.
At home, I tip the scale in favor of fresh vegetables, meat and scrambled eggs, and use FAR less oil than a restaurant. My biggest pet peeve about Chinese take-out is when it’s an oil slick. Why is this necessary?
I marinated the pork in soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, onion, and sesame oil. Once I added the rice to the work with the cooked vegetables, garlic and proteins, I seasoned everything with more of the marinade ingredients and served it with a big, green salad.
Jim Gaffigan, Obsessed
On Sunday evening, I caught Jim Gaffigan’s new comedy special Obsessed after Game of Thrones.
A Song of Fire & Ice written by George R.R. Martin is far from flowers and sunshine, but I swear HBO aims to depict everything as gross and shocking as possible.
I had to practically peel myself off of the floor after last week’s episode. It was a happy accident that I stumbled upon Obsessed which wiped away Game of Throne’s lingering horror, death, and despair. I laughed out loud through the whole special and appreciated how many bits poked fun at food.
In a perfect world, new Jim Gaffigan specials will always follow each episode of Game of Thrones!
We’ve become fond of almond milk. I think it tastes better than soy and rice milk, and we add it to our coffee and cereal. Plus, I’m lactose intolerant. Coincidently, we first tried it on the same day Beth wrote about including it in her top five fridge essentials. Do you have a favorite milk alternative?
Tropical Rum Beverages
Sipping a homemade cocktail made with pineapple juice and spiced rum doesn’t make me forget about this weather, but it certainly dulls the edge.
Casey’s General Store Pizza By The Slice
I have a fondness for this gas station pizza.
Casey’s General Stores are located all over the Midwest, but I don’t remember seeing one until I went to college in Iowa. Classmates often mentioned how much they liked Casey’s pizza, but I never tried it because I didn’t believe them.
Before you run out to a Casey’s or think I’m nuts, let me clarify what I mean by good. Casey’s pizza is good in the sense that it’s much better than what one would expect from a gas station. I like it better than the skads of frozen pizzas we’re tried (except Heggie’s) and prefer it to most pizza delivery chains. Just check your expectations and don’t go expecting Broders’ or Cossetta’s.
Great new places for us to explore! You always write such great reviews. The hubby watches Games of Thrones but I have not succumbed. I am counting the days till season 2 of Orange is the New Black. Love that one!!!
Thanks Beth. Watching the last season of House of Cards has left a void in my life. I should try Orange is the New Black.
Those fries look yummy!
Casey’s pizza is a North Iowa paradox.
I have lived all over the upper Midwest. One of the measures that I would use in evaluating the town I had just moved to was how good the local pizzeria was. Mason City has been an interesting test of that measure. There really isn’t good local pizza to be had. They simply rely on a GAS STATION to provide their good pizza. It’s unreal.
Now, I should quantify that Casey’s pizza isn’t “good” per se, but against the large chains and the other local options it actually holds it’s own.
I like your pizza litmus test! We really haven’t branched out with pizza, mostly because we order it when we’re very tired so it’s whatever it easiest and delivers. I’ve noticed few independent pizza places in Mason City-a couple in Clear Lake. I heard Pete’s Kitchen has pizza, too. Never been to the CL places I’ve seen like Ge-Jos and Breadeaux’s. In college we liked Pizza Ranch which was more $ but seemed higher quality than PH and Domino’s. We also liked the OP in college but haven’t been there since. I’m sure they don’t deliver to Mason City. There’s a new Italian place moving into the old Lantern which we’re looking forward to trying.
I love hearing about your North Iowa adventures among other things 🙂 I am a native of Algona, just east of you (now living further south). I think there is a lot there you would enjoy on a quick day trip. One place in particular is called The Chocolate Season . . . delicious lunches and desserts. Then there are a multitude of wonderful local boutiques to shop at! I may be a bit biased though!
Thank you Megan! We’ll have to check out Chocolate Season. How could it be anything but good with a name like that?
My directions were all wrong! Algona is west . . . you are east of it 🙂