Category: Iowa (page 1 of 10)

A Long Minnesotan Goodbye: The Viking, The Landing & The Lady #FarewellTour2015

My farewell tour to North Iowa was like a Minnesota goodbye. It was long and drawn-out in the best possible way.

Beth and I said many of our farewells together. As we unpack in St. Louis, she packs for North Carolina. Here are some highlights from the final leg(s) of our Farewell Tour:

I visited Amy Hild’s gravesite with several North Bloggers. After we paid our respects, we convened at The Viking Drive-Inn where she used to speak fondly about working many summers ago. It’s a tiny restaurant that serves summer treats like soft serve ice cream, corn dogs, and burgers. If you weren’t specifically looking for The Viking, you might not know it’s there, except for the people milling around outside with ice cream cones. There didn’t appear to be a sign. Customers can sit at several outdoor tables a small or find a stool at the small dine-in counter.

IMG_6585

Small ice cream cones really aren’t that small and large cones are behemoth. The Viking’s chocolate ice cream hit the spot, but I did notice many people enjoying their most popular flavor, black raspberry. I can see why Amy enjoyed working at the Viking so much.

  • River City Sculptures On Parade

I’ve had my eye on Humpty Dumpty since the new River City Sculptures came to town in May.

IMG_6864

His real name is Mr. Eggwards and he’s one of 40 sculptures sprinkled throughout downtown Mason City. River City Sculptures on Parade partners with SculptureOne, a nonprofit that also brings a similar public art program to Sioux Falls, SD, Mankato, MN and Eau Claire, WI. Artists allow the cities to borrow the sculptures for one year. In September, residents can vote for the statue they want the city to keep, while they’re all available for purchase. The entire River City Sculpture walk is 1.6 miles long.

IMG_6866

I crashed Beth & Donna’s sculpture walk long enough to meet Mr. Eggwards. It appears that he has his eye on Beth.

IMG_6877

I’m not sure if you are supposed to ride this bird. Beth and Donna made me do it.

IMG_6870

  • Enjoying a meal with house vinaigrette, red sauce & calamari at Pasta Bella.

Pasta Bella opened in Mason City about one year ago and it’s the only Italian restaurant in town. Fortunately, we really enjoy their food. I am especially fond of their intriguing house vinaigrette, which is thicker than most and red-hued, and like their well-balanced red sauce. It’s not too sweet and not too tangy. Pasta Bella serves generous portions of their fried calamari (rings only) with a lot of lemon. On our last visit, the calamari was fried perfectly and tasted fresh. The 1910 Grille at the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel serves delicious fried calamari (both rings and tentacles), albiet the portion is a little smaller. 

Pasta bella farewell Collage

A basket of warm garlic knots come with each meal and staff pack carefully them in to-go orders. In fact, the last to-go meal we ordered here was packed immaculately so that nothing dribbled or tipped. The pizza here is delicious, too.

Strangely enough, there aren’t that many lakeside restaurants located along Clear Lake, Iowa. I’ll always remember The Landing because it’s where I tried my first Moscow Mule. This cocktail is typically made with ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice and served in a copper mug.

IMG_6897

Moscow Mules aren’t Iowa specific, but they seem to be more popular in North Iowa than any other place we’ve lived. The Landing also offers a concise menu and dishes are served in big metal baskets lined with newspaper. The sweet potato fries are especially delicious and worth the swap.

IMG_6902

If it’s sunny, don’t forget to bring a hat or sunglasses. The sun shines bright onto the patio. Live bands often play on the patio in the evenings and it’s really a relaxing location to watch the sun set.

Lady of the Lake
Our final farewell tour event embarked on a cruise on The Lady of the Lake, a paddle wheeler boat that circles Clear Lake. Many of our friends who have lived in the Mason City-Clear Lake area have ridden the Lady of the Lake many times. People often rent the boat for weddings or work functions while public cruises are offered daily.

IMG_6905

You can only pay for admission and snacks/drinks with cash or checks. Don’t forget to bring your own water bottle on board if it’s a warm evening, otherwise water costs $1.

IMG_6913

This evening was perfect for a cruise. We enjoyed the clear skies and slight breeze.

IMG_6927

IMG_6915

  • Ritz Onion Rings at the Clear Lake Farmers Market. 

The Farewell stop I made before driving to St. Louis was at the Clear Lake Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I heard about the famous Ritz Onion ring food truck and craved a taste. The Ritz was a famous Clear Lake supper club that opened in the 20’s and operated until a fire destroyed it in 1999. Their onion rings were beloved and I’ve heard the version from this food truck taste the same.

IMG_6947

So hot coffee and onion rings might not be the best combination at 9 a.m., but it was totally worth it for a taste of Clear Lake history. One portion of onion rings ($7) is huge. The batter is shiny like lacquer and very crisp and the onion is tender instead of sliding out of the shell. If onion rings is not your thing first thing in the morning, you can also order donuts and breakfast sandwiches from the food truck.

Now that our farewell is over, it’s time to get acquainted with my new home of St. Louis, MO. Thanks you for joining me on this crazy Midwestern journey! More to come after I unpack a few more boxes. 

North Iowa: Notes Upon Leaving

Two years in North Iowa and I only have a few regrets. I never did catch a concert at the Surf Ballroom or complete my Every Bar in Mason City Quest. I didn’t make it to Bill’s BBQ or Band Fest or tour the Stockman House. But, I made lifelong friends and I embarked on many marvelous adventures within two short years. North Iowa and I won’t be strangers.

In between cleaning, sorting & house showings, I’m scrambling to cram in as many North Iowa #FarewellTour2015 activities as possible. My friend Beth (It’s Just Life) is also moving next month and we’re determined to make the most of our week. We’re anticipating to walk around downtown Mason City to see the newest River City Sculptures on Parade, attend June’s North Iowa Social Media Breakfast, dine at Pasta Bella, and enjoy a ride on Clear Lake’s boat Lady of the Lake. I’ll post snapshots of our adventures on my Instagram & Twitter accounts with the hashtag #FarewellTour2015. 

Like the other cities we’ve lived, I’ve found many favorite places and spaces. Here are some of my notes upon leaving about the businesses that have made us feel especially welcome.

CoffeeCat serves the best chai and plays Alabama Shakes, so it’s my happy place. For a community of 27,000 people, we have a handful of great coffee shops. CoffeeCat’s my favorite.

Coffee Cat Two

I’ll never forget how sincerely the owner welcomed me to town when we first moved. I love their real (not made from liquid or sugary powder) chai tea, and the fact that they offer to sweeten it with honey or vanilla. The baked-from-scratch sweets here are also my favorite and taste like real butter. Catherine usually offers fluffy slices of cinnamon struesel coffee cake and, if you find seasonal rhubarb-lemon bars, buy one! At Coffee Cat, I met friends for dirty chai teas (chai + espresso) and waited for my car repairs. The Alabama Shakes and Bon Iver always played at some point during my visits and I felt like I was home.

I found an honest car mechanic at DeWildeIt’s hard to figure out where to take your car in a new community. Asking for referrals is always best. DeWilde isn’t glamorous like the brand name dealerships, but you won’t have to pay for everyone’s fancy snacks and deal with all of that upselling. If you really want to piss me off, storm into the lobby waving my dirty air filter for all to see. I bumbled around until I found DeWilde. I saw this business recommended in a local Facebook business review group and from a friend who grew up in the area. The owner has always given me honest assessments, even telling me when I didn’t need maintenance yet! Who does that?

All About EyesThis optical shop is relatively new. The staff is professional, has quickly accommodated me, and didn’t pressure me to buy things I didn’t want. They even squeezed me in for an emergency appointment this spring. I’ve visited optometrists since I was in elementary school. This place stands out.

I don’t trust most people with my hair, but I do trust Summer at Color Couture

IMG_6663

My latest do from Summer, taken in the car before I could mess it up:)

The staff at Brookview Animal Health Center walked us through our first two years of dog ownership. Our realtor recommended Brookview and I’ve been happy with this veterinarian clinic since our first visit. As first time pet owners, we took Trayse to the vet a lot! The staff at Brookview always treated us kindly and helped educate us about what was normal and what needed treatment. They got us in quickly for appointments and were willing to talk to us over the phone about minor concerns when we weren’t sure if they needed attention.

Trayse
Trayse’s previous vet was unable to clip his nails without administering sedatives. The Brookview staff provides free nail clipping hours for current clients and had no problems clipping his nails. They make it a simple process and always reward him with a treat.

I love everything Camille of Soyphisticated Candles crafts in her shop in Mason City. Camille makes her candles from renewable soy wax with no pesticide or herbicide residue and pours them into jars made from recycled glass. The scents she creates are unique and subtle. While some candle companies make scents so overpowering they make me nauseous, these don’t.

soyphisticated

I also like her wax warmer melts and soaps. I’ve been cleaning my face each day with the Happy Face bar of soap that incorporates charcoal, tea tree and green clay. My friends swear by her grapefruit exfoliating soap bar.

Everything from Louie’s Custom Meats & More just tastes better. 

IMG_4607

I first learned about Louie’s from Sara Broers. It only took one visit to get hooked. Louie and his crew go out of their way to assist customers and answer questions how to cook each type of meat. They’ll make sure you get the specific cut and amount of meat you want, even if it’s not in the meat case.

Purchase local beef from the awesome women cattle farmers of Sugar Creek Farm & SkyView Farms

Beef Collage

Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm, Osage and Laura of Skyview Farms, Nora Springs are women who raise their cows with love and produce excellent beef. You can find Kelli at the Clear Lake Farmers market and occasional drop-offs in Mason City. This year she’s also raising chickens that customers can reserve. Laura sells her beef directly to consumers.

If Jake had his way, we’d dine at Las Palmas every weekend. 

las palmas shrimp enchiladas

Jake and I take turns choosing date night spots. Our typical rotation went something like this: Jeni picks a new place, Jake chooses Las Palmas, Jeni picks a new place, Jake chooses Las Palmas, etc. On our second visit, the bartender greeted us like old friends and even remembered our last drink order. We’ve been loyal ever since. Warm chips and salsa are complimentary and the kitchen even packs them in our to-go orders. We like that the salsa has a little bit more kick than the other places we’ve tried. Jake’s favorite dish is the giant burrito filled with steak and drizzled with cheese sauce while I go for anything with shrimp.

The closest we’ve found to Mexican-style street tacos are from Mr. Taco. His brick and mortar restaurant is located along Northwood’s main street and his food truck  rotates around Mason City. Las Palma’s Mini Tacos are anything but mini and remind us of a street style taco/fajita hybrid.

The Barrel Drive-In serves my favorite chicken in Mason City-Clear Lake. While I’ve found fried chicken at other places in town to be soggy or cooked to hell and back, The Barrel’s broasted chicken has always been crispy and tender in all of the right places. Plus, it’s affordable and the staff neatly packs to-go orders if you call ahead. Dinners come with a small iceberg lettuce salad with their homemade French dressing and your choice of broasted potato wedges or french fries.

Barrel CHicken

I’m a ranch snob and Papa’s American Cafe makes my favorite version. 

Ranch dressing papa's

The popcorn from the Kum & Go on 4th Street SW & Pierce is my favorite road trip snack. 

kum and go popcorn

Market 124 is my go-to shop for gifts. They sell a lot of Iowan-made items and have a paint-your-own-pottery studio. 

market 124 pottery Collage

Photo Credit: DonnaHup.com

There’s no shame in the Casey’s Pizza game.

casey's pizza box

We found Cheers at the Willow Run Lounge. Plus, they served us our cheapest, strongest drinks. 

77 Willow Run

The names Mediacom & Beelzebub are interchangeable in our household. This is the only internet provider we used in North Iowa, but I would recommend looking into other options. We have never experienced so many outages with any other internet company in Minneapolis or Fargo. Mediacom does not feel the need to alert customers when there are widespread issues they are trying to repair. You just have to call and ask them why it’s not working or working very slowly and will probably not receive a straight answer. It’s easier to deal with their customer service on Twitter. Our internet connection ran slowly even though we paid for a premium speed. If the internet goes down for a whole day, expect to be reimbursed $5-6 for your troubles.

Eat a snickerdoodle or sweet & salty chocolate chip cookie from Kara’s Cookies. 

Kara's Cookie

Attend North Iowa’s Social Media Breakfast. Currently, this event meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month from 8:30-10 a.m. at First Citizens Bank in Mason City. I use social media every day and learn a lot from each meeting. It’s a great way to meet friends and connect with other businesses for possible collaborations. Contact the founder Sara for more information.

UPDATE 9/8/15:

  • A huge thanks to Brett Schoneman for helping us navigate and frustrating and complicated corporate relocation house sale.
  • Thank you to John at Manly Services for being one of the only contractors in North Iowa courteous enough to call us back about repairs we had to make on our home before the company would buy it back. If you can’t take more businesses, have the consideration to call people back. I have a huge list of contractors I would never recommend to anyone.
  • Lori Quade helped us clean our home and prepare it for showings. We’d recommend her in a heartbeat. Send me an email if you’d like to connect with her.

Northwestern Steakhouse

Jake and I finally made it to our city’s most famous restaurant, Northwestern Steakhouse.

When I mentioned Northwestern Steakhouse on Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s podcast Off The Menu while speaking to our community’s Greek culinary influence, I realized how ridiculous it was that we hadn’t dined there yet. This restaurant’s served the community since 1920, opening soon after the first Greek immigrants settled in Mason City. The current owners Bill and Ann Papouchis took over the business from Tony’s father in 1965. Northwestern’s housed in a unique building across from baseball fields that blends in with its residential neighbors on the north side of town. You might miss the restaurant if you weren’t looking for it or the people waiting outside for tables didn’t give it away.

Upon moving to Mason City, we’ve heard legendary tales about Northwestern’s Greek-style steaks and spaghetti. Northwestern steaks are distinguished by their tenderness and the magic sauce that forms when the Greek seasoning mixes with the steak juices, olive oil, and butter. My friend Debbie published a copycat recipe that went viral last year.

Northwestern has a reservation system similar to Broders’ Pasta Bar which means that, basically, you can’t make one. Diners can arrive before 5 p.m. and hope to secured a table or call at 5 p.m. to put their name on the seating list. If your party is composed of at least six people, it’s possible to make a reservation. During our first winter in North Iowa, we naively arrived at Northwestern Steakhouse with out-of-town friends on a Saturday evening at seven p.m. We figured that on a sub-zero, snowy evening after prime dinner hour, we’d waltz right in and were totally wrong. The place was packed for the evening. You might be able to show up closer to five p.m. on a rainy day or weeknight (or a rainy weeknight!).

On this Saturday evening, we were determined to secure a 5 p.m seating so we arrived an hour early. Ann warmly greeted us at the door and gave a card with a number that corresponded to our table. People continued to arrive, so we wouldn’t have wanted to show up much later. The good news is that you can wait in the lounge upstairs until your table is ready. We passed the hour by playing cards and enjoying a beverage from the bar. Northwestern provides a deck of cards on each lounge table and servers take beverage orders.

IMG_6342

IMG_6341

At 5 p.m. our server guided us to our table. The menu’s concise and so it didn’t take long to choose our meals. Obviously steak is the restaurant’s namesake, but diners can also find items like roasted chicken and fish. We chose ribeyes, our favorite cuts with the Greek spaghetti as a side. Meals also come with tossed salads and bread plate.

IMG_6344

The tossed salad was composed of crisp iceberg lettuce and garnished with tomato, pickle, hardboiled egg and an olive. I was satisfied with my upgrade to gorgonzola dressing which contained small chunks of blue cheese. Jake’s Greek salad was dressed in a very light oil and vinegar-like dressing.

IMG_6343

And then there were the steaks. Our ribeyes were as big as our plates and shimmered with the flavorful butter/steak juice mixture.

IMG_6345

The steaks were tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare and the fat melted in my mouth. Each time I’ve ordered a steak, the kitchen always cooks it north of medium rare, but this was truly the best cooked steak I’ve ever eaten. Jake ranked it in his top two favorites, alongside Ruth Chris’s (which are cooked differently). When I first studied Debbie’s copycat recipe, I was puzzled by her addition of chicken bouillon but now I understand she was trying to replicate the intensely salty, savory bite of the sauce.

IMG_6348
When people mention Northwest Steakhouse, they mention the spaghetti side as often as the steak. This spaghetti isn’t coated in a tomato sauce, but steak juice and parmesan cheese. I wish I had followed the advice of a reader who had suggested we also drizzle the steak juice from our plates onto the spaghetti.

IMG_6346

As we approach our move from North Iowa, I will treasure the evening we got to dine at Northwestern. Considering the quality of our meals and size of the steaks, prices are affordable for a steakhouse. Our ribeyes cost around $20 and came with the bread plate, tossed salads, and spaghetti side. My ribeye provided enough food for two leftover meals.

Northwestern is certainly a beloved institution and conversation topic that sparks intense debate among North Iowans about who serves the best steak. There are the die-hard Northwestern Steakhouse fans and those who prefer other local steaks. We’ve tried a couple of our friends’ suggestions, and, while they tasted delicious, Northwestern is our favorite. We left the steakhouse feeling somewhat hyped up on the excited from finally dining at the restaurant, and from how much fun we had that evening. We felt the steaks were totally worth the wait. Sure, you might have to plan ahead to dine here, but sometimes it’s nice to slow down; to play some cards, drink a beer, and make an evening out of a nice meal.

Cows Are Cool: Bottle-Feeding A Calf At SkyView Farms

I never stepped foot on a farm until moved to Iowa. Growing up, we only saw farm animals at the State Fair or the exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo. This is my first time hanging out with farmers and I’ve now met a goat, chicken, and pig. When Laura extended an invitation to visit her farm and bottle feed a calf named Lena, I enthusiastically accepted the opportunity.

“I’m going to visit a cow farm and bottle-feed a calf!” I exclaimed to my coworkers. “Have you ever been around cows?” They smiled and replied they have many times! In fact, they also grew up in families that raised cows. It’s interesting to be the odd woman out in terms of having grown up around cows.

Laura, a third generation cattle farmer and her husband Aaron operate SkyView Farms. Their cows live in a type of open air barn in the winter and roam their pasture in the spring, summer, and fall. They eat a combination of grass from the pasture in addition to alfalfa and corn silage. Laura said their family has never administered their cattle antibiotics or growth hormones. Learn more about how Laura raises her cows here.

Laura

Laura’s husband Aaron took us on tractor rides. Basically, tractors pull things. I knew what a tractor was but had no idea what it actually did until I moved to Iowa. When we reached the end of the pasture, Aaron asked me if I’d like to drive.

I considered his offer. When would I have the opportunity to drive a tractor again? I said yes and we quickly switched seats. He adjusted the gears, flipped a switch, and told me to push a lever that increased the tractor’s speed. I tried my best to drive in a straight line. “You know that I don’t know how to stop this thing,” I reminded Aaron as we approached the group. He easily stopped the tractor just when I thought we were going to run over everyone.

View from tractor

Gals tractor

From left to right: Donna Hup (Donnahup.com), Beth Ann (ItsJustLife.me) & myself.

Then it was time to meet the cows. One of the first questions I asked Laura is why they would need to bottle-feed a calf. Don’t cows nurse their young? Laura explained that every once in a while, something will happen where a mom will not want to nurse her young. In Lena the calf’s particular case, her mother ignored her after birth and would not bond with her so Laura had to start the bottle-feeding process.

When Lena was younger, Laura fed her multiple times a day. Now, she feeds her twice a day and has begun to introduce solid food. Laura has become like Lena’s surrogate mom. Laura showed us the different types of bottles they use. Some calves prefer different sizes and Lena likes the small bottles.

Laura bottle

Laura mixed the formula with water that was exactly 100℉.

Laura bottle pour

Lena knew it was meal time and greeted us with loud moo’s. We each fed her a bottle and she drank each one within minutes. Afterwards, she kept searching for more milk. Laura patted Lena’s little belly assuring us she was actually quite full. Lena sucked on Laura’s pants and our fingers.

lena jeni Collage

As Laura walked around the barn, Lena followed her around headbutting at her knees.Laura described how calves headbutt their mother’s udders when they want to nurse. Whenever Laura would skip around the barn, Lena would prance after her.

Lena butting Laura

Mother cows lick their calves’ backs, so Laura tries to replicate some of these processes such as rubbing Lena’s back. I asked Laura how she learned how to care for cows and bottle-feed calves and she replied that her dad first taught her how to bottle-feed a calf when she was five.

Laura petting lena

We met more of her herd. On this day, the cows were in the barns, but would return to the pasture that weekend.

cows looking

They enjoyed an alfalfa snack.

cows alfalfa

Cows are intriguing. I’ve heard from many that they are curious creatures and found this is true. They watched at us quizzically with their big, warm eyes. If I stood near the fence, they’d slowly congregate in front of me and stare with curiosity. If I extended my hand towards them, they’d back up. If I turned my head or took a step backwards, they’d move forward again. Every once in a while, a brave cow would step forward and gently lick my hand while the rest observed. These cows had black tongues with a rough texture.

Laura assured us her cows were gentle. Occasionally she would climb the fence and wander amidst the herd without hesitation. They just moved around her.

Beth licked cow
The cows are happily grazing as you read. You can see a short clip of me bottle feeding Lena and Lena prancing around the barn after Laura in this short, minute-long video.

Cows on pasture

Natural Plus Nursery Tour + Gardening Tips For People Who Treat Plants Like Tamagotchis

My mother and her mother grew beautiful roses. They loved to garden and my childhood home was surrounded by snapdragons and peonies. A magnolia tree grew beneath my bedroom window and I looked forward to spring when it would bloom. Back then, I had to stand on a little rock in the garden to sniff its blossoms.

I did not inherit my family’s green thumbs. When we lived in Fargo, I was determined to have a bountiful container garden on our apartment patio. In typical Jeni-style, I became extremely excited about my vision of a glorious container garden and moved forward with zeal.

To begin, I bought big garden pots, lots of dirt, and heirloom seeds which I started too early. The herbs sort of grew, but the vegetables didn’t. It became apparent that I just wasn’t going to grow beets and carrots in pots on my patio. When we went out-of-town for a weekend in July, everything died. The situation reminded me of that time I got tired of taking care of my Tomogatchi and threw it under my bed. This time, I felt way worse because the plants were real, living things. I call it the great container garden disaster of 2012. It was a lot of work to haul all that dirt back down the elevator. Now, we live in a condo development. The beets will have to wait, but I think I could bring out those containers again for an herb garden.

My friend and blogger Mary owns Natural Plus Nursery in Clear Lake, Iowa with her family. She and her husband recently bought it from her in-laws who started the business in 1978. The A-Frame house below is made from recycled barn wood. She invited us over for a tour and garden-themed snacks prepared by Beth.

DSC_0498

For this post, I thought it would be fun to ask Mary for advice she’d give to hesitant gardeners like me. I wanted to know what’s her quintessential garden tool and what plants are easiest to grow.

DSC_0502

Mary responded that her motto is:

 “Just plant it!”

She adds that gardening isn’t rocket science. If it grows, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s ok. You can always try again.

DSC_0512

For plants that are easiest to grow, Mary recommends basil and any perennial (as long as they have enough sun). She explained how starter plants can be easier to begin with, since they are already established and you don’t have to begin them from seed.

DSC_0506

She simplified gardening to plants needing two main things: Water and sun. “Don’t forget to make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the pot,” she added.

DSC_0510

For new gardeners like me who are completely starting from scratch, she recommends obtaining gardening gloves. For planting a vegetable garden, she considers her tiller an essential tool, adding that they are sometimes available to rent.

More plants are arriving in time for their Open House during May 1st-9th. Learn more about Natural Plus by visiting their website or Facebook page. Mary gave the North Iowa Bloggers a $100 gift certificate to give away to one of our readers. The Rafflecopter entry form is located at the bottom of this post. Enter by selecting one option or multiple. It’s really up to you!

What advice would you give to a new gardener?

DSC_0505

puppy chow

Dirt N Worms

Never too old to eat dirt and worms dessert.

IMG_5522

Yes, this is a mini margarita.

Natural Plus Group Photo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

« Older posts

© 2019 Jeni Eats

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Twitter
Visit Us
YouTube
Pinterest
INSTAGRAM