Tag: Dog

An Open Letter To Trayse On National Dog Day

Dear Trayse,

When I first met you, I thought you were bizarre, but, after walking you to the park, I knew our hearts were on par.

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Our first selfie.

Jeni, Jake, and Trayse. Together, we are a little family.

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Your are our dog baby. We wish we could claim you as a dependent, but U.S. Law says this can not be.

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You keep watch over our living spaces with pride and protect us from squirrels and bunnies who run away and try to hide.

Trayse out front watch

We notice how you try to help us with household projects and blog posts. Obviously, you can’t actually help us put together furniture or bake cookies since you are a canine, but your efforts are never asinine.

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You keep us accountable for getting lots of exercise and together we absorb vitamin D sunbathing on the sidewalk or curling up in the grass underneath a tree.

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Jeni and Trayse

Life’s changed a lot within the past two years and we’ve moved two times. From Minnesota to Iowa to Missouri, you’ve handled it in stride.

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Moving day in Mason City.

It’s true that you stole Jake’s grilled cheese sandwich that one day and make all of our blankets and pillows smell weird.

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Trayse pillow

But you make us laugh each day with your silly ways and are very much revered.

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We’ll be there to comfort you again, should we ever live in a city that’s eligible to host one of those weeklong, house-shaking at 2 a.m. PGI Firework Conventions that makes you shudder and puke.

Trayse

We’ll protect you from the thunderstorms, keep your feet warm on winter walks, and let you mangle our winter hats, because that’s just what we do.

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Life’s not easier or more convenient now that you’re in our life, but it’s all for the best.

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Life’s much happier with dog, more than we could have ever guessed.

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#Blessed

Christmas in the Twin Cities: Five Memorable Tastes

We just returned to North Iowa after spending a frantic holiday week in the Twin Cities.

Christmas means cycling between our two families’ homes and visiting old friends. By the end of the week, we’re tired and cranky as hell, having raced around the metropolitan area every single day. But we have few regrets because we remember that once we get home, we’ll miss everyone all over again.

My best advice to those who visit the Twin Cities and seek restaurant suggestions is to simply ask a local! Just like any other city, the flashiest or most prominent restaurant don’t necessarily serve the best food or most ideal bang for your buck. Ask your friends for ideas or jump online and ask a stranger via Twitter. Despite rumors of “Minnesota Nice” equating passive aggression, Minnesotans really are nice. I can guarantee that any food-loving local would be willing to share his or her favorite places with you.

Two of our goals were to sneak away on a date night to try a new restaurant and revisit an old favorite. We accomplished all of this and more. Here are five of our favorite tastes from the week:

Taqueria Los Ocampo: Carnitas Tacos & Green Sauce
We crave Mexican-style street tacos fiercely, with the passion of a thousand burning suns. When I lived in Minneapolis, I visited Los Ocampo in Midtown Global Market. Now we often stay with Jake’s parents, we visit Taqueria Los Ocampo on Arcade St. in East St. Paul. This particular location is open until 2 a.m. which makes it perfect for late night taco runs.

First timers might be surprised to find Los Ocampo cooks masa dough to order for dishes like quesadillas and huaraches (flat, oval-shaped masa topped with re-fried beans, meat, etc). There are so many meat and vegetarian toppings, it’s difficult to choose. Our go-to order is tacos. Fortunately, customers can order multiples of the same tacos or one of each filling. So far my favorites include pork carnitas and beef cecina, a salted & partially dried beef.

Los Ocampos

If you order everything on the tacos, they’ll include onion, cilantro, radish slices and lime wedges. Meal combos come with the creamiest refried beans, fluffy rice, and choice of beverage. I always choose horchata, a sweet rice water. If I’m extra hungry, I might add an elote (a corn cob on a stick coated in mayo and covered in chili powder and cheese) and churro to nibble on later. Don’t forget to choose from their little cups of spicy salsas. Jake prefers the smokey red sauce while I prefer the creamy green. We’ve truly never ordered anything we didn’t like.

Birchwood Cafe: Savory Waffle
Breakfast with my old housemates typically occurs at Common Roots or Birchwood Cafe and I never complain. I hadn’t visited Birchwood since its recent remodel. The space is open and inviting. The cafe cultivates community from the way management treats its employees to how it sources foods from local producers. Plus, it’s fun to sit at their big community tables.

The first thing I seek in the morning is coffee. As a slightly lactose-intolerant individual, I jump for joy when cafes like Birchwood automatically offer soy milk at their beverage station. I ordered the Veggie Scramble dotted with roasted root vegetables and served with thick Birdseed toast and celery root puree.

Birchwood Collage

I was stunned by the beautiful presentation of my friend’s Savory Waffle.

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This waffle differed from a traditional sweet waffle because it tasted of fresh herbs and Gruyère cheese. Birchwood tops it with fruit chutney, bacon, a sunny-side up egg, spiced pumpkin seeds, and maple syrup. My friend shared a bite which tasted as good as it looked.

1029 Bar: Wings & Fries
We accidentally found ourselves at karaoke night at the 1029.

A friend asked us to meet him at Grumpy’s. Having lived away from the Twin Cities for too long, we forget to ask which one! We showed up to two different Grumpy’s located at opposite ends of town, so we scrapped our original plan and met at the 1029 Bar in NE Minneapolis. We arrived as the hostess kicked-off karaoke, an event that appears to have a loyal following. Jake tested out his car singing skills and sang the worst rendition of Sam Smith’s “Not the Only One” heard by human ears. I silently laughed until I cried into my french fries.

Those expecting typical bar food will be surprised to find the Smack Shack menu. Sure, you can order a lobster roll at the new Smack Shack restaurant, but it’ll cost more and you won’t get to enjoy it under the glow of Christmas lights as Jake sings karaoke. We tried a couple of dishes and I liked the Smack Wings the best.

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The wings were nicely sized and coated in an addicting sauce that tasted slightly spicy and sweet. It’s unlike any other hot wing sauce I’ve tried. I dipped all of the french fries from my shrimp basket into it the excess sauce. The crisp fries arrived in my favorite cut (similar to McDonald’s for lack of a better comparison) and tasted like what I’m guessing is Old Bay seasoning.

Many of the karaoke participants were very talented, but made everyone feel welcome to participate. Plus, the service was warm and just plain fun.

Spoon and Stable: Dessert
Spoon and Stable is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s month-old restaurant located in the North Loop of downtown Minneapolis. Dinner reservations might be difficult to come by at the moment, but the bar and small lounge accommodate walk-in seating. We arrived at prime dinner time and the wait for lounge seating was an hour and a half. Bar seats are always available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Jake noticed a couple leave the bar. He looked around, did not see anyone moving to claim them, and sat down. A trio of ladies standing around a table threw their arms up in exasperation, so I asked them if they had been waiting for the bar seats. They replied they had and rolled their eyes. I explained that the man who sat down was my husband and assured them that I’d grab him. They remained in a huff despite Jake’s apology. We watched in amusement as they asked half of the bar to move down one seat so their group of three could fit. The word, “Thunderdome” entered my mind and I giggled

Another group of women invited us to join them at a standing table and even offered to share their bar snacks. We were surprised to find we shared some Iowa connections, and, when a server informed them that their lounge table was ready, we couldn’t help but rejoice with them. Like I said, Minnesota nice does actually exist. We encounter it time and time again.

I sipped a minty green cocktail with an egg shaken in it and we nibbled the juicy duck sliders Dara Grumdahl suggested. Soon after, two seats the bar opened and we carefully claimed them without any difficulties.

We were surprised to make it to the bar, so we tried several dishes. This was our Merry Christmas present to each other. I especially enjoyed the bison tartare while Jake gravitated towards the bucatini with clams, bottarga, tarragon & uni cream. My favorite taste was actually Executive Pastry Chef Diane Yang’s  Lemon Curd Mousse with charred pineapple, thyme pound cake, and crunchy vanilla meringue. We found it delightfully tangy, sweet without being too sweet, and refreshing. Basically, it was like magic.

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The tiny tin of tiny cookies served with our bill was another magical touch. It contained shortbread, a macaron, and tangy fruit confection which I’m guessing are also Yang’s handiwork.

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We had hoped to feel like big city kids again, just for an evening, and Spoon and Stable made this happen. Despite the restaurant’s poshness, the staff was kind and not pretentious.

Woody’s Pet Deli (Trayse’s Pick): Raw Lamb Bone
My brother and sister-in-law recently adopted a cat from Woody’s Pet Deli in the Highland Park area of St. Paul and continue to shop there for pet food. Woody’s is unique because it specializes in human-grade pet food free of artificial colors, preservatives, and fillers. I spend a lot of time examining packages at big box pet stores, but felt at ease here knowing that every product was carefully chosen and safe. Mary Anne helped me find the perfect treat for Trayse: A pair of raw lamb bones for $2.

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He floated on cloud nine as he enjoyed his Christmas treat out on the deck. My sister-in-law’s cat also loves his treats from Woody’s.

Pet treat Collage

We savored our week in the Twin Cities, but are also happy to be back in North Iowa. I appreciate all of our parents’ efforts to make Christmas special and treat us to home-cooked meals, but have to admit, it’s fun to be Queen of my own kitchen again:)

What was one of the best things you prepared or ate over the holidays? Do you have any New Years traditions? 

Put A Bird On It: Wreath-Making Class & Fried Mushrooms At West Fork Wharf

Earth be still, I tried to make a craft!

I have all of the patience in the world for putzy baking projects like lefse and pita bread-making, but feel my temper and blood pressure rise when I make crafts. Growing-up, I loved crafts. I spent hours making friendship bracelets and pot holders woven with those stretchy bands. Of course, we 90’s children also loved Shrinky Dinks and those Perler beads we arranged on a plastic grid and melted together with an iron. I’m not sure what changed between now and then, but suspect my fondness of crafts is related to whether or not I can eat the finished product.

This week, I joined some North Iowa Blogger friends at Carlson Tree Farm in Hampton, Iowa and tried to get crafty with holiday wreaths. I noticed Sophie the dog the moment I walked into the wreath lodge and became distracted. Dogs always take precedence over crafts;)

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I spent a lot of time with Sophie who’s expecting puppies in a couple of months. Sophie got lots of pets while we waited for a wreath station and when I became impatient with my wreath-making skills. Very few things in life make me happier than a dog.

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Left photo taken by Beth Ann Chiles.

Beth is one of my first North Iowan friends and frequent partner-in-crime, so it’s fitting we were paired as wreath-making partners (you can read about her experience here). Tree farm owner Michelle provided a wreath tutorial. She showed us how to arrange three types of evergreen into neat, little bundles. Each bundle fits into a space around the wire wreath “mold” where a quick push on the foot pedal clamps the branches together. Finally, the long branch ends get a little snip-snip so the next bundle can fit around the circle.

Putting together these bouquets is a perfectionist’s nightmare. Many thoughts like these filled my mind as I sorted through the evergreen piles:

“Ooo, this branch is a little too wide.”

“This branch is a little too short.”

“This branch is kind of curvy.”

We struggled through our first wreath, but, as you can see, laughed a lot through our trials and errors. Our instructor took one gander at our asymmetrical wreath and commented on its whimsical appearance. This made us giggle because we hypothesized that whimsical was a code word for wild, floofy, or lopsided, which our wreath most certainly was.

Making the wreath with Beth Collage

My wreath had a tail. The Carlson family did not seem too concerned and promised they could disguise it with decorations. I doubted them, but they were right. Our second wreath turned out much better. We had gotten the hang of the process by then. Our instructor explained how her family turns the branches we toss aside into the most beautiful wreathes.

We each paid $35 for our wreaths which included our choice of decorations from ribbons to bells. Beth, their resident bow expert turned my favorite ribbon into a stunning bow which balanced out my wreath’s tail.

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Decorating and coordinating colors are not my strengths, so I added a few pine cones and a bird. When in doubt, put a bird on it. Now, if only I could figure out how to hang the wreath on my front door!

Jeni Wreath Collage

If you knew each of us, you could easily match us with our wreaths. They’re almost like holiday Rorschach tests.

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Beth and I had arrived at class hungry and missing our afternoon naps (I’m an old soul). We were thrilled to find the Carlson’s stocked their workshop with hot cider & homemade cookies. Even so, we had all worked up an appetite for dinner at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, Iowa, a restaurant several people have recommended.

West Fork Wharf is located along the town’s main street. Bob and Kim Jensen opened the supper club in June 2013. The inside of the restaurant feels both classy and comfortable. I found it fascinating to learn Bob’s hosted the local fishing show Fishing In The Midwest for over 20 years and that he constructed the tables and bar from the community high school’s old gym floor.

Several friends suggested we order the fried mushrooms. West Fork’s are unlike any I’ve tried before. The batter was thin and crispy and the mushrooms almost melted in my mouth. They’re served with ranch and the group favorite, a sauce resembling a combination of barbecue sauce, honey mustard & french dressing.

The cheese curds (or cheese balls, as they’re often called in North Iowa) had a delightfully chewy texture. Of course, they were served with ranch too. I mean, we are in Iowa, right? Both appetizers were fried well so that neither were greasy.

West Fork Wharf serves good ranch. I explain my definition of good vs. bad ranch in this post

WFW Food Collage

I ordered the fish sandwich for my entrée. The Chef toasted the sandwich bun and battered the fish in a thin coating, similar to the fried mushrooms. It tasted very fresh and I liked its moist, flaky texture. Most sandwiches come with the restaurant’s version of french fries called “propellers,” battered potatoes shaped like propellers. My dining companions’ green salads looked fresh. Next time I’d pay a few extra dollars for the fish platter my friend Amy ordered which comes with a salad and side.

The evening steak special appeared to be a popular choice. I saw many people enjoying large steaks drizzled with homemade cheese sauce and what looked like sautéed mushrooms. You can certainly find healthier options on the menu, but I was in the mood for splurging.

West Fork Wharf is a gem. The restaurant’s emphasis seems to be on scratch-made food prepared with thought and priced reasonably. The city of Sheffield is located about 30-minutes from our Mason City home and I’d like to return with Jake. If you find yourself in Franklin County, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend stopping here for dinner.

Adult craft projects may test my patience, but I enjoy new experiences like this wreath class. Next month, we’re taking a group painting class from Creative Spirits of Ames, Iowa where an artist will walk us through one painting, step-by-step. There might not be a big friendly dog like Sophie to calm my nerves, but at least there will be wine.

*Thank you to the Carlson family for showering us with warm hospitality. 

Reader Question: Do you prefer crafting, cooking, or both? I’m curious if any of my non-crafty readers have taken a group painting & sipping class and how their painting turned-out. Does wine help or hurt? 

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