Tag: Cafe

100 Degrees & A St. Louis Smoothie Quest

It’s really hot here.

Like, 100° + and high humidity hot. Walking outside, breathing outside, sitting outside, it all hurts.

Of course my dog still wants to sunbathe.

The heat makes me feel hostile so I try to make jokes about it so that I don’t cry. When it’s 98°, I blast 98 Degrees from my car stereo. It’s really not that funny, but when I’m sitting in a molten hot car, there’s nothing funnier. I think the heat’s making me delirious.

Some days the weather is both hot and breezy. But instead of having a cooling effect, the wind makes you feel like you’re baking in a convection oven. Smoothies were never something that I craved. Now I think about them all of the time. They’re so cool and refreshing and not 100 degrees.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

Things I Like: Springish Edition

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:

Unc'sTaste, 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.

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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.

DSC_0030Homemade 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!

Almond Milk
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.

 

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