Category: event (Page 2 of 4)

First Visit To The Surf Ballroom, Second Time Locking Myself Out Of My House

I locked myself out of my house this morning taking out the trash in my pajamas.

Like every Friday morning, I jolted awake remembering that I needed to take out the trash and recycling. I popped in my contacts and quickly brought my trash bag, cans, and cardboard outside. When I reached for the doorknob to return inside, my stomach sank as I realized it was locked. Jake had gone out-of-town for work the day before and I had made sure to lock every door in the house before bed, including that one I always forget remains locked after I shut it behind me.

I stood outside in my worn and tattered leggings and soda pop sweatshirt scratching my head. It was just before 7 a.m. and not a neighbor was in sight. Since I hadn’t intended to make eye contact with another human being that morning, I neglected to brush my hair or brush my teeth, and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t hard to think through that sleepy NyQuil fog (still recovering from a cold). I saw my neighbor’s dog peeking at me through the window, so I knocked on her door and felt relieved when she answered.

She was kind enough to lend me her phone to call the locksmith. Of course, I had to call the after-hours phone number and suspect I reached some poor sap on his cell phone, mid-slumber. “I’ll be over in 20 minutes,” he said, “but since we don’t open for another hour and a half, I’d have to charge you the emergency unlock fee.”

“I’m not sure I have any other options,” I replied, glancing at my neighbor who I interrupted as she was just getting ready to leave and thinking of my dog who hadn’t gone to the bathroom since the night before. After thanking her for helping me so early n the morning, I slipped out the door and poked around my garage like I meant to be there poking around in my jammies. Eventually, I gave up pretending like I meant to be hanging out in my garage and resigned myself to sitting in front of my door. Literally. We don’t have a front step, so I literally sat in front of my door.

The locksmith arrived just about when he said he would. He really worked at my door knobs, complimenting our no-pick locks. With images of him smashing in our door with a battering ram or resorting to breaking a window, the lock popped and he kindly let me back in. For $75. I texted my husband to share the news and apologize for generating the unexpected cost. “You are a very unique individual,” he replied. Fun times at the Flaas.

Speaking of fun times, I really did have a lot of fun at the North Iowa Green Expo Thursday evening at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. I feel a little sheepish to admit that I’ve lived in Mason City for almost two years and this was my first time visiting the Surf.

Surf Ballroom

The theme of the Green Expo revolved around Earth Day (no pun intended). Most of the vendors featured environmentally friendly products and services.


This photo was horrible to begin with so let’s add some filters;)

I was surprised to find fresh leeks at One Step At A Time Gardens located in Kanawha, a small town located about an hour east of us. Last week, I wanted to prepare a recipe with fresh leeks and gave-up after not finding them at three stores. One Step At A Time offers CSA memberships and sells pasture-raised chickens.


My friend Mary and her family own Natural Plus Nursery. This photo is what happens when the photographer says, “Smile and give a thumb’s up!” We made our thumb’s up and said to each other out the corners of our mouths, “This is going to look totally awkward.” When Sara showed us the photo on her phone, we were like “Ohhh, it doesn’t look too awkward but when I looked at it up close I laughed because it totally was.

Next weekend, Natural Plus is hosting us for a spring preview before their public open house. I’m going to attempt to plant a container herb garden again.

Natural Plus

Thanks for the photo Sara!

Several vendors offered food samples. My favorite butcher Louie’s Custom Meats and the new Clear Lake Supper Club featured Niman Ranch meat products.


The Clear Lake Supper Club is only open for special events. They announce the dinner’s theme and prix fixe menu and then accept reservations. A vendor selling the Big Green Egg grill offered samples of spicy smoked pork (bottom right), ribs, and scotch eggs.

PicMonkey Collage

Other exhibitors featured cloth diapers, earth-day themed artwork, and energy-efficient options for homes and businesses. Although I have a background in studying herbalism, I haven’t entered the Pandora’s box of essential oils. I giggled when I saw a vendor selling kits of essential oils for cats and dogs. My dog leaves the room whenever I light a scented candle, so I’m thinking aromatherapy’s not in the cards for us. Smoked meat’s my aromatherapy. I have to admit, I spent a lot of time wildly chasing hopes of that scotch egg I saw on other people’s plates. I never did get a bite, but enjoyed all of the foods I was able to taste.

It won’t be long before I return to the Surf, because it’s the new location of the Clear Lake Farmers Market. Plus, it’s about time I attend a concert there.

Coming up next: 

  • Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit Boxed Mix: It’s time for another strange and silly boxed mix review! Believe it or not, my review of Duff Goldman’s Purple Rain cake mix has become one of my most viewed blog posts and videos. This one was really fun to create.

Red Lobster

  • Japanese DIY Candy Kits: I first learned about these kits through My Subscription Addiction’s review of Japan Crate. I ordered two kits themed around a pizza parlor and “Happy Sushi House.” Unfortunately, I made the mistake of choosing free shipping instead of Amazon Prime shipping and so these could take two months to arrive. I think they’re arriving by pony express. From Japan.
  • Ham Ball Cooking Lesson with Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids: My friend Val is graciously hosting me at her home to cook ham balls. I want to learn how to make real ham balls with a real Iowan.

Ham Ball video Still 1

  • Also ag-related, Beth and I are going to bottle feed a calf next week. It will be my first time meeting a bovine!

Sights, Tastes & Sounds From North Coast Nosh Curated By The Sioux Chef Sean Sherman

Last Thursday evening, my cousin Alexandra and I attended our first North Coast Nosh. We had been looking forward to attending this event since Heavy Table and The Minnesota Historical Society released tickets in December. The event sold out and the lobby was packed with others like us who were excited to celebrate native food traditions. This particular North Coast Nosh was curated by The Sioux Chef Sean Sherman who’s creating a lot of momentum and interest in native food traditions and producers. He’s in the process of opening a restaurant in Minnesota that focuses on pre-colonial, Native American cuisine and its techniques, both traditional and modern. In this Heavy Table interview, Sherman states:

A culture without food is a lost culture. I think it’s extremely important to bring back some of this knowledge, this food, and to be able to serve it in a modern context that everyone can appreciate.

At seven p.m., the doors to the Nosh opened and we streamed into the Minnesota History Center. Powerful drumming echoed throughout the building.

Vendors were located on all three levels of the history center. Many served samples of food showcasing Native American ingredients or techniques and others displayed artwork.



A view of the Capitol from the third floor.

I have to admit Alex and I lost track of time. We were having so much fun visiting with the purveyors that we missed some of the presentations. However, we arrived in time to hear Chef Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant encourage attendees to advocate for the food they want to eat with their pocketbooks and Chef Sherman touch on how Native American food traditions nourish our bodies and the earth. Sherman coordinated about 20 purveyors. Here are some of the foods we tasted:

Refreshing black bean, sweet potato and wild rice salad from Dream of Wild Health, a Native-owned organic farm in Hugo, MN. They even provided their recipe.

Wild Rice

A sweet potato cake with a creamy cheese topping from Mississippi Market Co-op


Duck confit tacos with salsa diablo, pipian sauce, pickled vegetables, and cotija cheese from Harriet Brasserie located in Minneapolis, MN. At the event, people kept telling us to try these duck tacos. The meat was tender and the flavors were so memorable, I wasn’t surprised to see it appear in last week’s Heavy Table Hot Five. You can still order these from Harriet Brasserie’s regular menu.


We sipped Spirit Lake Native Farms pure maple syrup and enjoyed tiny slices of cake made from wild rice flour. This purveyor was located next to Fabulous Catering who served little cheese-stuffed burgers on wild rice buns and blueberry tarts. My cousin encouraged me to try dipping the burger into the maple syrup which made for a perfect sweet and savory combination. Neither of us never keep enough maple syrup on our homes, because we love adding it to our coffee.



A sparkling maple candy (feel free to leave a comment if you know who provided these).


Buffalo meat Tanka BarsI first learned about Tanka bars while studying herbal medicine in Minneapolis because many of the herbalists ate them. If someone was hungry, someone usually had a Tanka Bar in their pocket. My favorite flavor is Spicy Pepper that’s flecked with sweet, dried cranberries. Unlike typical beef jerky, these bars are meatier and more tender. The company’s Tanka Fund supports the return of buffalo to Great Plains Native American communities.

Tanka Bars

Hot Cedar Maple Tea from Dinner on the Farm/WonderGather. I’ve never tasted tea like this. It reminded me of the essence of a Christmas tree.


Smoked fish spread from Red Lake Fishery. We had a lot of fun talking to Robert Blake whose passion and enthusiasm for the fishery’s products stuck with us. The fish are sustainably wild-caught by tribal fisherman and filleted by hand. Red Lake Fishery ships fish to both restaurants and homes.

Red Lake Fishery Collage

We tasted many other foods and made new friends with our table mates. I wish I had taken a better photo of Sherman’s incredible bean soup with maple braised turkey. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the best bean soup I’ve ever eaten.

As someone who is not very knowledgable about Native American food traditions, I’m thankful for this opportunity to learn, taste, and connect. Sherman’s business The Sioux Chef also offers catering and pop-up dining opportunities.

I Went To One Of Those Painting Parties

Painting parties. You know what I’m talking about.

You’ve seen them all over your Facebook feed. Groups of ladies possibly sloshed on wine, gleefully posing in that standard school picture formation (two rows, one standing, one kneeling), holding their version of the same painting.

These parties are all the rage around here. They’re blowing up my Facebook newsfeed and I’ve heard rumors that in bigger cities, they’re so popular that they have waiting lists. When a North Iowa Blogger offered us an opportunity to join a painting party, I knew I had to experience it.

Crafts and painting projects typically aren’t my thing. I’m impatient when it comes to making things that aren’t food and I like to create things I can eat. However, I do like to spend time with my friends and try new experiences. Pus, I had a jolly time at the wreath-making class even though I couldn’t eat my wreath. It’s still hanging on my front door and makes me happy every time I see it.

This particular painting party occurred at Country Heritage Bed & Breakfast in Hampton, Iowa. The company Creative Spirits of Ames, Iowa facilitated the class. Beforehand, our blogger group browsed through their gallery of paintings and voted on recreating a farmhouse on the prairie.

We arrived at the bed and breakfast and found it transformed into an art studio. After we chose a spot with an easel, we paid our $35 admission and the Creative Spirits staff outfitted us with an apron and a paper plate pallet dotted with squirts of paint.


I felt a little apprehensive while I waited for the artist to begin. I remember sending out a tweet that said, “Help, I’m at one of those painting parties and I don’t know how to paint and I don’t have any wine.”

With my limited art skills, I wondered if I could actually create a painting that resembled a real object. Would I spend $35 and end up with a blob? Barn or blob, barn or blob, I wondered. And about that wine. . . seriously, where was it!? It could either help or hurt my painting abilities. Bottles of Iowan fruit wine were available by the bottle, so we shared.

Time to begin. Our artist guided us through two versions of the barn painting one small step at a time. For example, her first instruction was to draw the horizon line with a medium brush dipped in green paint mixed with a little bit of black. Then, she walked us through painting the outline of the barn.

For a moment I got behind. I considered tossing in the towel and painting a giant smiley face. The thought of revealing a smiley face at the end of class cracked me up, but then I remembered I paid $35 and did my best to catch up.

By the time we began painting the prairie, I had sipped half a glass of blackberry wine and felt slightly footloose and fancy free. “Have a flappy wrist” the artist suggested as she demonstrated how to draw big green X’s.

Barn ex marks

Already there.

Barn almost done

In the end, my little prairie farmhouse did, in fact, look like a little prairie farmhouse. Totally not a blob. Donna and I took a sister photo with our finished paintings. Someone once thought we were sisters so now we roll with it.

Donna and Jeni Painting Party

Concluding Thoughts:
From start to finish, we painted for about two hours.

I produced artwork that resembles an actual “thing” and hope this encourages even the most hesitant of painters. The artist walked through the two versions of the painting slowly enough that everyone in our group really did create pieces that looked close enough to the example. Of course, our paintings varied and some added their own flair such as wind turbines and tractors. My barn looked like a barn, so there was no way I was attempting a wind turbine without step-by-step instructions.

The $35 price seems fair. The Creative Spirits team sets up all of the easels and makes sure that everyone has what they need like refills of paint or fresh cups of water to rinse off paint brushes. Country Heritage provided a relaxing location, beverages, and snacks. Because of liquor license laws, the B&B could only sell wine by the bottle rather than glass, but each bottle was about $12 making it an affordable share. If you attend a class at one of their locations, you can BYOB. They’ll also travel offsite if a big enough group RSVP’s.

Participating in this class taught me that I’m in the company of perfectionists which made me feel less neurotic. Because I struggled with wanting to make each feature perfect, I can’t say this experience was relaxing, but it sure was fun. Obviously, a glass of wine helped with that whole perfectionism thing.

Have you ever taken one of these group painting & wine parties? What was it like and what did you paint? 

Dining At A Table Set For 2,000. Create: The Community Meal

It’s hard to describe dining at a half-mile long table set for 2,000.


My place at table 123 wasn’t just part of a meal, but a massive art piece that finally came to fruition after two years in the making.

Artist and host Seitu Jones was inspired to partner with Public Art St. Paul and plan CREATE: The Community Meal after watching people pass by his residence and studio located in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota carrying grocery bags of processed foods from the convenience store. He embarked on a food assessment of the community with the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and Afro-Eco to learn what factors drive people to choose unhealthier foods. The study identified cost, a lack of access, and lost sense of knowing how to cook whole foods to be these driving factors.

Volunteers played a pivotal role in cultivating community. They set up and tore down. They greeted us at every entrance gate and helped us find our tables. And at least one volunteer sat at each table to facilitate the moving pieces of the meal’s artistry.

Even the table settings had a very intentional layout.

recycling Collage

The whole event was designed to have zero waste and these Zero Waste Labs dotted each block. The place mats were handcrafted by Jones’ neighbor Mary Hark from neighborhood plants like burdock and rhubarb.

Empty seats were offered to those who were not able to reserve a ticket online and anyone else that wanted to join.

When it was time to eat, our hosts processed to the tables with platters of honey-ginger chicken they served in unison with gracefully choreographed movements.

meal procession watermark

We dove into the tender chicken with our fingers and enjoyed it with rice and beans, cornbread, salad greens and Salad Girl vinaigrette, and spicy collard greens with carrots and green beans all sourced within 40 miles (except for the rice). Of course, everything was served family style.

Meal Serving Collage

It’s impossible to be an island to one’s self while eating from platters meant to be shared. At some point, even the shyest person would have to ask for more of something, as every component was worthy of seconds. Chef James Baker of Elite Catering & the SunnySide Cafe prepared the type of meal that I will try to replicate over and over.

During my first year after college, I interned at Redeemer Center for Life located in the Harrison Neighborhood of Near North Minneapolis across the street from SunnySide. Elite catered some work events and I was filled with excitement when I first read that Baker would lead the menu.

Plate Watermarked

Throughout the meal, our gracious host facilitated discussions about our favorite childhood meals, favorite desserts and asked us to brainstorm one way we could overcome an obstacle in our community to healthy and sustainable food.

Growing up in Apple Valley, Minnesota, we didn’t eat too adventurously. Therefore, my favorite meals were the special occasions where we would order Chinese take-out. I’ve always had a taste for spicy foods and preferred savory over sweet, so as an adopted Korean, I was interested to learn that one’s food preferences can be influenced in utero. In my case, this explains a lot.

All of our food stories are so unique and worth exploring.

When the final bell sounded we read a closing written by Soyini Guyton that ended with the final words, “We wish to never forget the healing power of food, community, and love. We go in peace.” 

Those who walked by and wanted to dine was offered food and a seat at the table, yet some leftovers remained. These were offered to anyone who wanted to take them home and finally delivered to a shelter.

The rhythm of spoken word drew us down Victoria towards University and continued to weave personal stories of food and identity.

spoken word

Participating in Jones’ community meal was a humbling experience. There’s something humbling about being cared for by strangers.

I left overjoyed at connecting with old friends and making some new. Is there a better way to bring people together than over a meal? Good things happen when you break bread with strangers.

Things We Ate At The Minnesota State Fair 2014

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is like a statewide family reunion.

On this Labor Day Weekend Saturday, Jake and I attended the Minnesota State Fair with his brother and my dad. The afternoon was hot and sunny and the density of people was literally shoulder-to-shoulder. You couldn’t find somewhere to sit even if you wanted to. Earlier in the day, the lines to popular food vendors were intimidating, but the fair opened up a bit as the evening approached. The cool evening air helped, too.

We laughed at ourselves as we grumbled about the crowds and the heat and the lines. They’re still all a part of the fair experience that we love and we’d always return, nevertheless.

The Minnesota State Fair vendors’ competitive spirit of food ingenuity builds momentum and makes this fair especially unique. I prepare for our visit each year by studying Heavy Table and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s opening-day reviews of the new fair foods. Part of the tradition is trying the much-talked-about new foods for yourself and comparing your notes with others. Two people will love and hate the same food with equal passion and that’s what makes it fun.

On this year’s visit, sharing foods between four people was much nicer than sharing it between two, though we still had limited stomach space. Here’s what we ate this year:

The Blue Barn
The Blue Barn is a stunning new fair restaurant from the restauranteurs that own the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. We arrived hungry and stopped here first.

Blue Barn

The line was long but moved quickly. We were impressed by how the barn was open for business from both sides.

Blue Barn Collage

From Left to Right: Chicken in a Waffle, Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz, Meatloaf on a Stick

Chicken in a Waffle: I was most curious about this food because of all of the positive feedback.

This food annoyed me. First, the item was $9.75. $9.75! Nothing was technically wrong with the item; the sausage gravy was flavorful and the chicken pieces were crispy and pleasantly spicy. But I had expected the chicken to taste freshly battered or breaded and have more of a buffalo kick. Instead, it reminded me of a frozen popcorn chicken product.

Jake and forgotten to order the Chicken in a Waffle without the malted milk ball in the bottom of the cone. He ended up eating this last bite and described it as “interesting,” in true Minnesotan fashion.

Placing a malted milk ball in the cone reminds me of something a panicked Chopped competitor would do. I have this mental picture of a chef saying, “Oh crap, I have fried chicken, an ice cream cone, sausage, and malted milk balls. I forgot to use the candy and have a minute left on the clock. I know, I’ll drop the milk ball inside the ice cream cone!”

The two brothers really enjoyed this food and gave it high marks, while it was too spicy for my dad who has no heat tolerance. Jake thought the popcorn chicken was noticeably higher in quality and flavor than generic popcorn chicken, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I say this time and time again only because I mean it: To each his or her own ☺

I think I might be alone on this one and that’s ok.

Blue Cheese and Corn Fritz: A Heavy Table staff member gave these fritters a dismal rating, writing that he ordered them “to the garbage heap.” In contrast, this was my favorite fair food. I’m not sure if Blue Barn changed their recipe or execution since opening day, but I found them delightfully crispy, corny puffballs. They had a gentle corn flavor with a very mild blue cheese presence, which might disappoint those who wish for a stronger blue cheese flavor. Together, the fritters and accompanying chimichurri sauce tasted refreshing and herby, hitting all of my favorite sweet and savory notes.

Meatloaf on a Stick: The meatloaf’s price made me cringe at $8.25, but we all enjoyed it. The portion really wasn’t large enough to justify the price, but we found the meatloaf flavorful and moist and liked the sweet and spicy sauce. I always glaze my homemade meatloaf with a similar sweet and spicy sauce, so it was right up my alley.

Corn Roast
The corn roast. Oh, the corn roast. We never miss the corn roast.


Jake takes his State Fair corn seriously.

This massive ear of sweet corn tasted perfectly toasty and dripped with real butter. Jake is the master of seasoning it with the perfect amount of salt and pepper.

Mini-Donut Beer by Lift Bridge Brewing Company & Indeed’s Sweet Yamma Jamma Ale
Jake and his brother enjoy trying different craft beers and made a point to try these two special varieties at the Ballpark Cafe. Lift Bridge introduced this fair only Mini-Donut beer last summer and brought it back. This was our first taste.

Donut Beer

Lift Bridge Mini-Donut Beer

Jake wasn’t a huge fan of the beer because of its sweetness and his preference for bitter IPA’s. Considering that Lift Bridge was attempting to mimic a mini donut, he felt they executed it well. I like smooth, light beers and thought it tasted pleasant, but neither of us liked the sugar coating around the glass’ rim.

I should preface these thoughts by explaining that when the brothers had first returned from the Ballpark with the beers, one of them handed it to me saying, “Try this!” I took a big sip without asking what kind of beer it was and was not prepared for a mouth full of sugar.

We all enjoyed the Slamma Jamma ale brewed with sweet potatoes. The ale didn’t taste distinguishably of sweet potatoes, but we liked its smooth and subtle pumpkin spice flavor. Mmmm. . . fall.

Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Food Building
Like the roasted corn, Mouth Trap cheese curds are one of our annual fair traditions.

We’ve tried both cheese curd vendors and prefer the Mouth Trap. The stand is run so efficiently, it’s like a machine and the curds STILL cost $5 a boat. No matter how long the line is, you’ll collect your cheese curds within minutes. I wanted to salute them.

Cheese Curds 2014

The thin, crispy batter rocks and the cheese basically squeaks even after spending time in the fryer.

Other Things We Ate (Not Pictured):

Gyro from Demetri’s Greek FoodJake always visits Demitri’s for a respectable and well-constructed gyro. The meat is sliced nicely, the yogurt sauce tastes fresh, and we appreciate the slivers of fresh tomato and onions.

Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick: Once upon a time in grade school, I ordered cheese on a stick at Valley Fair and it was a crushing disappointment I’ve never forgotten. I thought the batter-covered American cheese was just gross. On the flip side, Jake and his brother fondly remember Valley Fair’s cheese on a stick.

Jake’s brother passed around Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick and I was surprised to find I couldn’t stop eating it. It was still made with white American cheese, but the batter was super crunchy, and, for whatever reason, the salty, gooey American cheesiness just worked (for me, at least).

Pronto Pup
One of my fair food traditions is grabbing a Pronto Pup or corn dog from the vendor closest to the fair’s exit. I love how an employee at this stand carefully brushes your choice of ketchup or mustard on the Pronto Pup. It just feels more special than pumping your own.

pronto pup

I wore this hat all the way home.

This year, we tried a few new foods and returned for many of our favorites. Each year’s food trends may come and go and we may continue to live in different parts of the Midwest, but we’ll always look forward to visiting the Great Minnesota Get-Together with our families.

What were your favorite and least favorite fair foods this year? What do you always get at any summer fair?

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