Tag: memoir (Page 6 of 9)

Mourning Pie & Hot Wings [Dark Horse Bar and Eatery]

I love my home state of Minnesota. I miss Minnesota. But gosh darn was it nice to step out of the car into 65 degrees and sunny St. Louis. We’ll be back soon, though, and this time there will be snow.

This past week, we made a short trip to the Twin Cities to attend our relative’s funeral. Burrell wasn’t our grandma but she’s been like our grandma for the past seven years. We celebrated her 100th birthday last spring. Even until her later years, Burrell kept her wits about her and remained sharp as a whip. Her hearing never declined either, and she’d often holler her reply from another room if someone was whispering about her. Burrell was a very loving person and, in turn, many people loved her.

She’s my inspiration to pursue balance in life. To strive for a better attitude, seek fresh air and move my body a lot. To keep on enjoying my morning coffee, pats of butter here and there, and a glass of wine in the evenings. At the funeral, her daughter shared a beautiful letter. The part that really stuck with me summarizes the lessons Burrell demonstrated to her loved ones: Be courageous. Be kind. Be hopeful. Be curious.

While we were home, we also celebrated birthdays with Jake’s family at Dark Horse, a new restaurant in the Lowertown area of St. Paul, Minnesota.

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The menu is really eclectic and draws from many flavor profiles, from Thai to Ethiopian cuisines. Our friendly server guided me to one of her favorite whiskeys before we shared several appetizers. While my dining party’s opinions about their dishes ranged, we shared a unanimous enthusiasm for the wings. The menu mentions they’re seasoned with berbere and their special Dark Horse Sauce.

One half of our group requested mild wings while the rest of us devoured the hot. They were really, truly hot; the hottest, most delicious food I’ve eaten since we visited this Thai restaurant on Lake of the Ozarks. My lips burned long after the last wing was gone. Besides the heat and flavor, the wings were large with crisp, rendered skin and tender meat. I haven’t met a better hot wing. They arrived with a light, creamy sauce that everyone wanted more of.

PicMonkey Collage

Top: Dark Horse Wing + sauce. Bottom: Posole with egg and pork + tostada. Pleasantly spicy, very tart.

Laughter over whiskey, mourning over pie. Reverse or juxtapose or repeat. Run it out, talk it out, and sweat it out over heart-achingly spicy food. That’s what I do, at least.

The Key Word Searches That Bring People To My Blog

If you write about it, people will find you.

Blog analytics programs are fun. They tell you how many people visit your website each month and how long they stay. You’ll discover what links people click on the most and the websites that refer the most readers. My favorite feature lists some of the search words and phrases people enter that lead them to your blog. Since I began blogging over four years, I’ve written about everything from learning about bird mites on Animal Planet to trying my first sip of Arak, a traditional Lebanese spirit that tastes like anise. This range of topics results in some interesting key word searches.

A few of the most popular searches seek information about cooking frozen pizzas, making knoephla soup, and 90’s Midwestern cafeteria food. This post shares some of my favorite examples. Some of my posts provide answers to the questions; others, not so much. If anyone knows how to bake a cake filled with rainbows, I’d love know! My own thoughts and answers follow in bold italics.

Never would I have predicted that my cousin Brian Dahlen’s guest post on how to make the perfect frozen pizza would become one of my top posts of all time. People’s questions about cooking frozen pizzas bring the most traffic to my blog. 

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Our favorite delivery pie from Racanelli’s, St. Louis, MO.

“How to warm pizza in slow cooker”

how to oven pizza: Oven” as a verb. I love it!

how do keep frozen pizzas from curling: Good question. We had the worst luck with Jack’s and Tombstone varieties. 

half cook frozen pizza on rack then move to pizza stone

“How to cook frozen pizza in hot water”: Depends on your definition of “cook.” Technically, yes. . . 

“do you add or subtract 65 frozen pizzas 10 is baked each day”: Oh no, is this a math story problem? Story problems made me cry in grade school. 

beth ciles pizza recipe: “Hey Beth, did you ever post a pizza recipe?” Beth: “No.” Wrong Beth C. 

I wasn’t the only one searching for more information about that school cafeteria food known as “Mexican Pizza.” Technically, it’s a hexagon because of the six sides, but I had to look that up, too. For more information on finding today’s version of The Fiestada, visit this post


If you live in North Iowa, buy bags of Tony’s school rectangle and Fiestada pizzas at Martin Brothers. They’re made with whole grain crusts now.

fiestada school pizza

school mexican pizza recipe

mexican pizza from school cafeteria

octagon school pizza

hexagon school pizza

North Dakota introduced me to knoephla soup and now it’s one of my favorites. This German-Russian comfort food is served at nearly every restaurant and cafe in North Dakota. It’s a creamy soup filled with potatoes, chicken, and flour dumplings. Here’s how I make it at home. The best version I tasted is served at the Home Plate Cafe in Fredonia, ND. Josie’s made my favorite version in Fargo, however, they don’t serve it every day. 


how to make good german knoephla

does flour make knoephla soup broth thicker? Thicken with roux

kroll’s knoephla soup recipe: A popular rendition served at a local chain of diners. Not my personal favorite, but a reliable and easy to find bowl. 

bismark airport knoephla soup

how to make knoephla soup without having my dumplings dissolve: Knoephla dumplings are easy to find in the freezer sections of grocery stores around North Dakota. The homemade version I learned to make is like pasta and is too firm to dissolve. 


Arch pod

Behold, the arch pod. My post here.

will i get claustrophobic in the st. louis arch? Yes. 

the arch saint louis how to reach the summit?

Pizza Lunchables were a big deal when I went to grade school. Here’s my adventure revisiting this product. 


lunchables with soda / lunchables that come with can of Coke: They once came with pop? Who knew? 

truth of the 90’s pizza lunchables: Wow, there’s a pizza Lunchable truth? I need to know. 

that’s a lot of stuff down in the basement by the sink all kinds of lunchables

We learned a lot from purchasing a house without blinds. I did research and ultimate decided to install our own blinds purchased from Menards. 


menards blinds / menards faux wood blinds

menards confessions: Intriguing! Is this a romance novel? 

People still land on my blog post listing my six suggestions for improving the Food Network’s programming. Here are a few examples:

how come the foodnetwork tv has so many reruns

why is guy fieri on food network tv schedule so much as he is not a cook

why is there never anyone over 35 in giaidas cooking themed shows

I’m learning there are lots of people curious about what it’s like to celebrate a birthday at Joe’s. They now have my personal account. As a word of warning, they might write something suggestive on your bib. 

Bib watermarked

joe’s crab shack birthday / what does joe’s crab shack do for birthdays

what do you write on joe’s crab shack bib


restaurant mason city ia spaghetti: Northwestern Steakhouse is one of North Iowa’s most famous restaurants. Everyone recommended me order a side of spaghetti. We felt our meal of Greek-style steaks and spaghetti tossed in meat juices & Parmesan cheese was completely worth the hype. 

good cake recipe i’m sorry: Whatever you do, don’t bake this cake that I made as an apology for forgetting my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was disgusting. 

sorry birth cake: Oh my.

bake a cake filled with rainbows: Sorry, I don’t know how to do this. 

johnny & kay’s hyatt house / what was the restaurant after johnny & kays in des moines: Iowa blogger Monica reminisces about this restaurant’s Steak DeBurgo.



do i need a boarding pass air choice one: Yes

how much is it cost for the course on world wide auctioneer in iowa: As of today 11/27/2015, tuition costs $1,395 with a $250 non-refundable deposit 15 business days before attending. Tuition costs $1,495 if not paid 15 days before attending. See the college’s website for exact details about tuition, deposit, two person discount, due dates, etc. Transportation to and from school + hotel reservations & most meals are the student’s responsibility. Read about what I learned from auction college. 

what can you learn about the hierarchy below stairs downton abbey: Read Margaret Powell’s memoir Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” & Downton Abbey

does butter have to be refrigerated if spread on lefse: No. Hard butter will tear lefse. I leave my butter out at room temperature, anyway. 

is apricot jello still being made: Yes, although I had trouble finding it at North Iowa grocery stores. Learn more on JELL-O’s website. You can also try to contact JELL-O via their Facebook page. It looks like they once provided a woman with a list of stores near her that carried Apricot Jell-O.


story telling porn: I’m sorry to bitterly disappoint you with my blog, sir/madam. 

parchment mites and birds: I hope this has nothing to do with parchment paper because there’s some in my pantry. 

geisha past life quiz: Maybe I should take this quiz to confirm what the strange man told me

crackpot beef and chicken adobo recipe: I can help you with a crockpot beef adobo recipe, but am not well versed with the crack pot. 

the pastor changed into a snikey: What is a snikey? It sounds like a mythical creature. 

little brown balls in my egg salad: Throw it out!

Do you have any answers to these questions? Bloggers, I’d love to know the most interesting search words that have brought people to your blog. Feel free to leave a comment. 

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.


Our first selfie.

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


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


Trayse pillow

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


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.


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.


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

Trayse couch hot

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



Pack A Roll Of Toilet Paper: 10 Pieces Of My Best Moving Advice

We’ve moved with Jake’s company to Fargo, North Dakota, Mason City, Iowa and St. Louis, Missouri all within our 20’s, however we’ve got nothing on Beth. Last year, Beth’s husband received a new job opportunity and her house sold about the same time we learned about our move, and so we’ve been saying goodbye to North Iowa together. She’s been like my corporate move mentor since she understands what it’s like to move for her husband’s job and start over again in new communities. While I may be more stressed about this move since we have a dog, she’s moved with pets and kids, often living apart from her husband for long lengths of time. Her number one suggestion for moving is not to stress. I’m still working on this.

Our movers have come and gone and the relocation company postponed our move-in date by a couple of days. Now that all of our belongings are on their way to St. Louis, Trayse and I are enjoying our last weekend in North Iowa and taking this moment to reflect on the past two years. Here’s my best advice for your next move.

1. Eat as many local specialties as possible.

food tradition Collage

Each community has unique food traditions. Find one, try as many versions as possible, and learn how to make it at home. I’ve only lived in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, but am intrigued by the different food traditions I learned about in each state (or even parts of each state_. In Minnesota, we grew up on wild rice and chicken soup while my North Dakotan friends crave knoephla. Ranch dressing runs rampant in North Iowa, as do Greek-style steaks and cheese balls. We’re excited to learn about St. Louis food traditions.

2. Don’t save experiences for later. Once, when I lived in North Dakota, I did something really stupid. I saved a road trip or later, convincing myself that I’d be back. I had read Del’s Journey‘s intriguing blog post describing why he considers Fort Sisseton State Park in South Dakota one of his top ten favorite state parks in the nation. The post inspired me to drive solo to Sica Hollow State Park (which is known for being beautifully spooky) and Fort Sisseton.

I experienced a mishap along the way when I locked myself out of my car ordering a cheeseburger from a drive-in. After the AAA guy unlocked my car, hours had passed and I lost my nerve. I drove straight to Sisseton, instead of stopping in Sica Hollow. When I arrived in Sisseton and noticed the state park was another 30 miles away, I decided to turn around and go home, telling myself that it was no big deal since I’d be back. Two weeks later, we found out we were getting transferred to Iowa and “later” has become much later.  If there’s a place you want to visit, just go visit it, even if it’s in your own backyard. If you move often for work, there might not be a later or next time.

3. Ask for referrals for the important things. Growing up in the Twin Cities, I was all set up with my car mechanic, medical professionals, insurance agent, etc. If something happened and we didn’t know where to turn, we simply asked mom and dad. Now, we don’t have that luxury. The most efficient and reliable way to find new health care professionals and services is to ask a local. People love to share their favorite things and asking for referrals from people who are simply fellow consumers with no vested interest in that company has rarely led me astray.

4. Don’t save your paper shredding for later. Most especially, if you own a small shredder like us. I had saved a year’s worth of documents to be shredded. Two grocery bags of paper took three days and three full garbage bags. Sure, credit card offers and all that life insurance crap your insurance agent sends is obnoxious, but it’s far less obnoxious than amassing a year’s worth that you realize to destroy three days before the movers arrive. A little shredding each day saves you a lot of shredding at crunch time.

5. Clean out your damn condiments! Isn’t it unreal how many condiments one can stockpile in their fridge? Condiments are unlike any other type of food and seem to multiply like gremlins. Similar to that paper that needs to be shredded, go through your fridge once in a while and clean out your old condiments.

6. If you are thinking of purchasing a home that needs updates, gather quotes and then double them. We learned a lot of life lessons all at once when we purchased our first home in Mason City. Always be prepared to spend more money on house updates and repairs than you predict.

7. Acquire a dependable air mattress.

Trayse air bed

When you move with a company, you never know when your belongings are going to arrive at your new home. If your belongings fill less than an entire truck, you may have to wait for the truck to make another stop. An air mattress allows you to sleep in your empty old house or your empty new house without a problem. My friend Beth generously gave me hers and we’ve used it countless times.

8. Set aside items you’ll want to access easily and pack them in your vehicle. After two moves not doing this, I totally made an effort to do this before the movers arrived. I packed a suitcase full of clothing to last one week, a backpack of toiletries including two rolls of toilet paper, and set aside my files of important documents, remote controls, dog stuff, and bedding. If there’s perishable food you want to pack, bring a cooler and keep at least a plate, spoon, fork, and cup handy for meals. Moving companies usually won’t pack cleaning supplies, anyway. I’d also recommend you pack your car with basic cleaning supplies, a small vacuum, and broom so you can touch up your old house and clean your new home enough to feel comfortable until the movers arrive.

9. Ask for help and perform cost/benefit analysis.
When things feel overwhelming, ask for help. This move felt especially stressful because we didn’t have any time to prepare for it! Jake was out-of-town a lot and I was in the midst of the summer auction college session. There were some tasks that I powered through, such as shredding bags of documents, but decided to budget for assistance touching up the house before our realtor officially listed it online. I asked Beth for help when my car was in the shop and our realtor helped me fill out the complicated relocation paperwork.

10. “Find the weird people who do strange things.”
My good friend Chelsea gave me this advice when I was a new Mason City resident lamenting about how I hadn’t clicked with many friends yet.

mug cat

Totally not weird.

Obviously I don’t mean that my North Iowan blogger friends as “weird,” and even if I did, I mean it in the best possible way;)

Don’t give up finding those friends with whom you can be imperfectly yourself. They’re out there. I promise! As my first local blogger friend Sara always recommends, consider taking online relationships offline. I’ve met many good friends of all ages on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram through our common interests of exploring the local dining scene, traveling, blogging, and writing. In my experience, online friendships always translate into real life friendships. Reach out to others with common interests and connect with local online communities. They often coordinate get togethers.

Whether you live in a small town or large metropolitan area, much of life is what you make of it. There are always kind people in this world and new experiences to pursue. Life will always throw variables at us that we can’t control, but I proceed with the belief that I continue to write new chapters of my story with each choice and day that passes. I’m grateful for everyone who helped me find magic in North Iowa. 


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


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’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.


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. 


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.
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