Tag: iowa (Page 3 of 8)

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

PicMonkey Collage

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.


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


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.


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.

Kindness & A Grain Co-op

I grew up learning nothing about farming.

The closest I got to farm animals was the exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo and our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair. My dad recounts visiting a family member’s farm growing up, but the rest of the farmers in our family have lost since passed.

As I start a new job in a field I never expected to find myself, I’m reflecting on all of the new experiences I’ve had while living in Iowa. Many of my new experiences are very old experiences for friends. Just a year ago, they were aghast that I’d never stepped foot on a non-hobby farm before. I couldn’t tell the difference between a tractor or combine and had no idea that people took pride in owning red or green ones. Last week, I made people laugh when I admitted that I’ve never seen a cow in real life.

One thing I’ve noticed about Iowans is that every time I mention something I’ve never experienced in my city upbringing, someone always extends an invitation to their home or farm. I’m not naive to the evil and sadness in this world, but I continually encounter good people who makes me never run out of hope. Generosity can sign big checks for nonprofits and go viral when caught on video and shared in social media. But generosity can also take the form of quiet acts of kindness whose effects shouldn’t be discounted. I’m always humbled by the kindness of others, especially when I lave myself in strangers’ care while visiting places away from home.

During last fall’s harvest, the team from Five Star Co-Op in Burchinal, Iowa invited Sara and I to visit. Jake and I have often stared in awe at co-ops and grain dryers since our move to Fargo, North Dakota and speculated about their functions. I’ll never forget the quiet winter evening we visited the Crow Bar in Sabin, MN. We parked along the main street and stared in wonder at a towering grain elevator illuminated only by the stars.

To us city kids, these buildings seemed as mysterious and ominous as skyscrapers might to those who grew up in a smaller agricultural community.


Now that I know more about these buildings, they feel friendlier.


Vertical Collage


This is the view from the cashier’s window.


Trucks full of grain go through a weighing process to determine how much grain they carry. A probe “pokes the load” and collects a few kernels that deposited into a bucket. Then, a machine determines the grains’ moisture content and an employee examines it for quality. The farmer is then offered payment for his or her load depending on these factors. This past harvest was tough for many North Iowan farmers because precipitation made the grain moister than what’s ideal. Grain that’s too wet can be dried in the co-ops grain dryers for an additional fee.


When the grain is dried, it goes into trucks that take it to a processing facility to be made into feed or ethanol.


Our co-op guide explained how corn dust is highly flammable, so it’s important to sweep down the areas where corn is loaded and unloaded.


The control panels inside a corn dryer are massive.


The controls looked like something from a space ship or Cold War movie.

More buttons

One of my favorite things I learned is that each strand of silk corresponds to a kernel of corn.


As my friend Donna always says to farmers discussing agricultural concepts to us, “Explain it to me like I’m five.” She’s a city girl like me who grew up in South Florida and moved to a smaller agricultural community for her husband’s work. It’s fascinating to learn the differences between the norms my new friends and I carry, having grown up in a big city or smaller community.

There’s a lot that I don’t understand about farming and only a tiny amount of what I do. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this year to connect with local farmers, both large and small, organic and conventional. All have treated me a great amount of hospitality and kindness that I’ll never forget.

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest Takes A Detour: The Other Place, Clear Lake

Most Iowans probably know what I’m talking about when I say “The O.P.”

We have a popular local pizza chain called The Other Place. Yes, that’s actually the name. There are eight total restaurants, two of which are located in Kansas. The original “Other Place” has been located in Cedar Falls since 1970. When I think of The O.P. I think of happy things: Thick, bubbly layers of chewy melted cheese, pizza, spicy nacho cheese, popcorn and 7 and 7’s.

The second oldest O.P. is located across the street from Wartburg College where I graduated from college. On weekends, we ate cheap $5 pizzas from Dominos, but when mom and dad came to town, we asked them to take us to The Other Place. My family liked the pizza here so much that they usually wanted to dine here anyway. There were a few occasions when especially kind professors treated our whole class to pizza at the O.P at the end of the semester.

College kids partied at Joe’s, so the O.P. was usually a quiet place we spent many weekend evenings playing cards over drinks and eating nachos with spicy cheese sauce. It was here at the Waverly O.P. that a friend first introduced me to 7 and 7’s, explaining they were composed of ” seven hard liquors mixed with 7-Up.” My drink was so strong that I believed her and never drank one again until our recent visit to Willow Run. Jake finally informed me that a 7 and 7 actually contains Seagram’s and 7-Up. I order them now and laugh. We were nerds drinking cocktails before it was possible to access the internet on cell phones.

Last weekend I took Jake to the Clear Lake O.P. The exterior’s nondescript, but the inside opens into a spacious sports bar with plenty of big screen TV’s. You may be wondering what’s so special about the O.P’s pizza. I think the draw’s in their cheese and crust. The thick crust tastes homemade and has a special, almost fermented flavor. It has a crisp bottom crust and, at first glance, appears heavy, but eats lighter than expected.


And the cheese is glorious. Each pizza is coated in a thick layer of high quality cheese that’s golden brown. It strings when it’s hot and chews nicely when it cools. Most importantly, it’s not that cheap crap you find at other pizza chains. Cheap pizza chain cheese just sits there like a toupee and disintegrates when you bite into it. Boo cheap cheese. My only critique about this pizza is that the mushrooms tasted canned. I’ll eat them, but fresh are my favorite.

As if we didn’t have enough cheese, we ordered a cheese crisp. Jake has fond childhood memories dipping cheese crisps into salsa at Chi-Chi’s he’s been searching for the next closest thing ever since. Chi-Chi’s went out of business in the United States in 2004 after a hepatitis outbreak originated at a location in Pennsylvania that killed four people and infected 660. Oddly enough, there are still operating Chi-Chi’s in Belgium, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. You can also purchase shelf stable foods by this brand in American grocery stores.


For all intensive purposes, a cheese crisp is a crispy flour tortilla topped with melted cheese. Jake confirmed the O.P.’s cheese crisp is indeed the closest thing he’s found to Chi-Chi’s (so far). He noted that the O.P’s differs because it has a butter flavor and is topped with more cheese than what he remembers at Chi-Chi’s.

After his first O.P. experience, Jake commented that he could see why I had such warm memories here. Everywhere we looked, we saw people eating cheese! Gooey cheese hung into threads from pieces of pizza and cheese bread. The O.P. is really a wonderland of good melted cheese. And about that cocktail. . . I ordered a 7 and 7 for posterity’s sake. I think I called it a 7 in 7, but they knew what I meant. Also, the side salads here ($4.25) may cost more than the cocktails, but they do serve “good” ranch.

For more frequent updates on our cheesy adventures, connect with me on Instagram and Twitter

A Sustainable Living & Food-Themed Road Trip To Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Travel feeds my soul. When travel opportunities pop-up, I accept them whenever possible. There is no trip too near or far to thrill me.

Once, my husband was lamenting about how he wished he had more interesting stories to tell. I encouraged him to explore with me, for most of my interesting experiences have occurred away from home. JeniEats is my labor of love. So far, it hasn’t become financially profitable, but it’s given me opportunities to travel and connect with incredible people.

On Bloggers Tours
Some of these travel opportunities are presented as bloggers tours. They might include perks such as free lodging or food. Other times, they’re simply an opportunity to network and participants pay for everything. We attend with the expectation that we’ll share our experiences through our blogs and social media channels. Accepting free things create ethical dilemmas for writers who intend to present unbiased reviews. The commitment I make to my readers is that I will disclose what I receive for free or at a discount and share my honest opinions. I take pride in keeping an iron grip over my blog’s content and social media channels, so if I take the time to share something I like, you can bet that I’m really, truly smitten.

My largest reader base is almost equally split between Minnesotan, Iowans, and North Dakotans. As I write posts featuring specific cities, I attempt to frame them in them in such a way that people outside of that particular state will find something interesting. Thanks for joining me on this wild ride around the Midwest.

Road Trip To Cedar Rapids
Iowa has a vibrant network of bloggers. We come from all corners of the state and enjoy getting together. Earlier this month, Kelli of The Sustainable Couple coordinated a sustainable living-themed day in Cedar Rapids, Iowa complete with a tour of the Prairiewoods Fransiscan Spirituality Center & NewBo City Market.

On a snowy Sunday morning, Amy (Modern Rural Living) and I drove to Prairiewoods, our first Cedar Rapids stop where we met five other food and lifestyle bloggers. Sustainable living is a significant topic for many of my peers. As examples, Michelle is building a passive house, Amy just ordered solar panels, and Kelli raises and advocates for backyard chickens. I have a lot to learn from these women.

The Franciscan Sisters created this retreat center for people of all faiths and backgrounds to gather, with emphases on ecology, spirituality and holistic health. The focus of our tour was to learn about the facility’s eco-friendly features.

Retreat Center Beams

Prairiewoods sits on 30 acres of prairie and 40 acres of woodlands. Our tour guide Emy led us on a grand tromp through the snow.

Guests can stay in little straw-bale construction hermitages or this guest house. If you examine the windows to the right, you’ll find they’re placed in front of big brick walls. This trombe wall collects sun rays so it can hep heat the home with less reliance on a furnace.


Believe it or not, I’ve never seen a solar panel up close and personal. Prairiewoods has series of solar panels that are both connected to and separate from the electric grid. In Cedar Rapids, the electric company gives owners of solar panels credit if they produce more energy than they use. Emy demonstrated how they have to brush off the panels when it snows.


The wind howled and the snow swirled outside, but the inside of this hoop house was comfortably warm. We created so much heat inside the house that the snow kept thumping off the tarp. We found some green plants beneath the cloth tarp. My day had begun at 5 a.m. and I considered curling up on one of the hay bales.

Hoop House Collage

Emy also showed us the root cellar, garden plots, and beehive. We did not eat here, but I can only imagine the beautiful meals they prepare for guests. I found some recipes from past and present Prairiewood Chefs in their December 2014 newsletter. Spaghetti squash in blush sauce looks right up our alley.

After our tour, we drove to NewBo City Market located in the New Bohemia district of Cedar Rapids. 


NewBo reminds me of Midtown Global Market in that it’s an indoor space that hosts a myriad of small, local businesses mostly related to food. This market focuses on sustainability by working with a waste management business that offers a composting facility. In fact, all NewBo merchants must use compostable packaging. This same waste management company makes recycling convenient for Lynn County residents by accepting old electronics, light bulbs, and batteries at no extra charge.

The first thing that struck us upon entering the building was the smell. The aroma stopped my in my tracks. I paused in the lobby and took deep breaths of what smelled like 1,000 of my favorite foods.

Nobo panomaramic

We wandered the market and enjoyed lunch together. Before the event, Kelly connected with vendors, many of whom offered us discounts or provided samples. These are the foods I enjoyed and took home:

Corn Fusion Flavored Popcorn
The colorful popcorn samples at Corn Fusion were impossible to miss. One of the owners offered us a complimentary bag of Chicago Mix and encouraged us to sample away.


I bought two small bags of popcorn to take home. My favorite flavor was the tart dill pickle variety. Dill pickle potato chips are my favorite and this seemed like a natural combination. The brightly colored kernels above mimic soda flavors. One green kernel of the Mountain Dew flavor did me just fine. Jake liked the Chicago Mix so much that he squirreled it away never to be seen again.

That One Cupcake Place generously offered us our choice of one free cupcake. Most of us took more home for our families. I chose the lemon cupcake and also bought a peanut butter variety.

Cupcake pano

Everyone that knows me knows that I typically hate cupcakes. My two biggest qualms about cupcakes are that they’re often dry and topped with too much [crappy] frosting. I’m glad I gave these a shot. The cake was moist and the frosting didn’t taste icky. Usually I remove all of the frosting, but with these cupcakes, I ate much of it. Our favorite was definitely the peanut butter cupcake.

As someone who often chooses salty over sweet, I liked how the peanut butter frosting had a salty note. Two more factors that contributed to me actually liking these cupcakes is that the vendor does not add any preservatives and uses real butter. If you visit NewBo Market for cupcakes, visit early in the day for the best selection. The vendor ran over to our table during lunch to let us know the pickings were becoming slim. He didn’t want us to miss the opportunity to try them.

The most unusual flavor I spotted was Bubble Gum. Michelle bought one and when I followed-up to find out how it tasted, she replied it wasn’t her thing, but her daughter loved it.

A handful of vendors offered our group coupons in hopes that we’d choose them for lunch. I visited Caribbean Kitchen. Their menu of Jamaican and Soul Food caught my eye, especially since I can’t find either cuisines in North Iowa.


I asked the man who took my order what his personal favorite dish was. He mentioned the mango-pork, so I ordered the roti with a side of fried plantains and Rasta lemonade (flavored with pineapple and coconut). With their blogger discount, I received a couple of dollars off my tally.


I liked the sweet and savory flavor combination of what tasted like jerk, mango, and pineapple. The tangy goat cheese saved the dish from being too sweet. I tasted the slightest heat tingle and kicked myself for forgetting to order it with their hottest sauce, to which a sign near the counter referred. The sweet fried plantains were hot from the fryer. I liked the caramelized edges the best.

Other items that caught my eye included jerk ribs and a daily special of lobster chowder with hominy fritters. There’s a lot to try here. The problem is that there’s a lot to try in the whole market! I eyed my other friends’ meals of burgers and cheesy fries from Saucy Foccacia, falafel and a pastry called a mamool from Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill, and pizzas baked in a wood-fire oven from Maggie’s Farm Pizza.

One treat that I’ve been enjoying every day this week for breakfast is sage and apricot bread from Betty & Bobo’s Better Breads

betty and bobo's

We have no bread bakeries in Mason City and I’m still perfecting my own bread baking abilities. Therefore, I’m thankful for people like Betty & Bobo who have more advanced skills. They bake the type of bread I prefer, which has crusty exteriors and a slightly sour fermented flavor. Betty & Bobo’s also grinds their own wheat and rye berries into flour.

In addition to loaves of bread, they also sell frozen pizza dough, pretzel buns, and granola. This apricot sage loaf is everything I love. The plump apricot pieces really pop. I bought two loaves of bread that I found on the clearance rack for about $5.

Concluding Thoughts: I love exploring Iowa. One day is far from enough time to explore Cedar Rapids, but at least NewBo City Market makes it possible to sample a variety of local flavors in one space. Jake and I have a long ways to go regarding sustainable living, but I learned a lot about features we could integrate into our next home. Right now, we live in a townhouse development which ties our hands on most of our aesthetic features.

Have you ever been to Cedar Rapids? Where else should I explore the next time I return?

Other Participating Bloggers: In The Kitchen With Jenny, Life in IowaModern Rural Living, Simplify, Live LoveThe Sustainable Couple, Veggies By Candlelight

Webster City Part III: Four Women Who Inspire Me With Their Small Businesses

Disclaimer: Deb Brown, Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce invited the North Iowa bloggers to spend a day in Webster City as part of the “Six Bloggers on a Saturday” tour in December 2014. All opinions are my own. Part I & Part II

Ever since the bloggers tour in December, I’ve wanted to return to Webster City. We all have. But Saturday worked well for Beth and I, so we returned for a morning visit. Back in December, Deb coordinated visits to 10+ small businesses within the span of seven hours. We connected with more people and places than I can fit into three blog posts, so I’ll continue to share a little at a time. This post is dedicated to four small business owners who inspire me with their creativity.

R Company

R Company Sara Photo
Tina Fey stated, “It took my three hours today to prepare for my role as human woman” while she hosted the 2015 Golden Globe Awards. I lifted my glass and replied, “I hear you, lady.” Sometimes I joke about writing a fashion blog. It would be terrible because all of my outfits would feature me rotating between my two favorite Raygun graphic tees and that one purple sweater I found for $5.

Sarah Hisler Kopriva owns and operates R Company, an “upscale resale” clothing shop. When we visited in December, she explained her desire to help all of her customers look and feel their best, regardless of age or socioeconomic status. Kopriva has a quick wit that kept me laughing. I appreciate how she aims to give customers her honest opinions when they seek her styling advice. If a certain piece doesn’t look or fit quite right, she’s not afraid provide frank feedback.

Together, Kopriva and Tina Poland, who owns the attached Phairytales Salon, help many young people choose affordable prom and winter dance dresses and prepare for the special occasions. Kopriva and Poland understand the reality that dances like prom can create stress for budget-conscious families or young people whose parents or guardians can’t be as present as they’d like to be.


I have no hard feelings against fashion. In fact, I totally want to look like Taylor Swift, but can hardly match my pants to my shirt. If you see me wearing an outfit that fits well and does not include a Raygun t-shirt, it was probably the work of a female family member.

Before she passed away, my mom used to keep me on track by helping me coordinate matching outfits and forcing me to go shoe shopping. Kopriva and Poland remind me of the women in my life who took the time to help me shop for my wedding dress and pick out winter boots. I’d be a regular at R Company if I lived closer to Webster City.

If you visit R Company, use the owl-themed bathroom! The other decorations may change with the seasons, but the owls remain.

r company bathroom Collage

Relax the Bath
Denise Mendenhall crafts unique bath and body products from her studio in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She was kind enough to include examples of products in our bloggers tour goody bag, including her popular body butter.


Bath & Body Works used to all I knew about scented body products. I’ve since become fond of handcrafted lotions and soaps and enjoy our locally-made options in North Iowa. These products feel gentler on our skin and we find the bar soaps last a long time.

On Saturday, Medenhall explained how she looks to the European market for trends. She described their stricter labeling standards and tries to follow suit by adding batch numbers and expiration dates to her products. While many of us are lucky enough to own one KitchenAid mixer, Mendenhall is the proud owner of at least five which she uses to whip-up body butters.

Relax the Bath

Mendenhall mentioned she’s one of only five artisans in Iowa that are members of the Hand Crafted Soap Makers Guild. She dedicates a separate space in her house to soap making and utilizes food grade oils in her products like sustainable palm oil and cupuacu butter. She works long days to meet demand and because she loves her art.

Besides body butter, some of the other products we admired were little bath bombs and colorful bars of soap that incorporated various swirls of colors and shapes. You can find Mendenhall’s products on her Facebook page or SOS Vintage in Webster City.

inTANDEM workspace
Before we visited inTANDEM, I’d never heard of  workspace sharing. Darcy Swon created this space out of a community need for an affordable place for small businesses and start-ups to meet.


People can rent a whole office by the month or a workspace the day with access to inTANDEM’s wireless internet, coffee machine, furniture and bathrooms. Small fees apply for reserving conference rooms and utilizing the printer and copiers. Members are given their own keys so they can access the office at their convenience. Workspace sharing is also a helpful option for people who serve the greater North Iowa/Ames area and have to split their time in different cities.

What struck me most about this space was its contemporary vibe and bright colors. Swon researched colors that stimulate creativity and chose to paint bright orange and Nickelodeon green accent walls. We spent two hours chatting in the big conference room and kicked around blog ideas. As someone who thrives on bright colors, I did feel mentally energized.


In Mason City, we don’t have a workspace sharing business like inTandem but we do have a lot of space. My friend Sara Broers recently wrote about reframing Mason City’s dead mall space as possibilities. We’re left with a big, dead mall on Federal Ave, an empty K-Mart on 4th, and a mostly empty Southbridge Mall. I like Broers’ encouragement to think outside the box instead of complaining.

I’m encouraged to see Sensory World open in the Southbridge Mall. It’s an indoor play place dedicated to families who have children with special needs. What if we continued to repurpose these empty spaces and consider them for purposes beyond only retail space? I think of indoor markets Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, MN and NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and shared workspaces like inTANDEM.

What small businesses or start-ups are inspiring you right now? Do you have a favorite source for local bath and body products? 

wcbeth and jeni

Beth and I sent our greetings from the little sculpture park on our return visit.

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