Tag: North Iowa

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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  • 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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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  • 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.

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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. 

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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They enjoyed an alfalfa snack.

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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.

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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

North Iowa Bloggers Taste Test Lay’s “Do Us A Flavor” Chips

Strange chip flavors brought the North Iowa bloggers together this week.

We haven’t gathered for a while and probably have the cappuccino-flavored chips to thank. Tasting them made a great excuse for us to get together, so I guess the cappuccino chips have that going for them.

Beth of It’s Just Life hosted the party in her home and spoiled us with sangria, homemade hummus, fresh fruit, and pretty salads. We enjoyed one of those rare, windless North Iowa evenings out on the deck.

I contributed Amanda Paa’s Summer Squash Peach Kisses (pictured on the bottom left) from her new Smitten With Squash cookbook. They are a perfect summer appetizer to bring to a gathering, especially if there are guests attending who can’t eat gluten.

Shopping for the ingredients proved to be interesting. I originally planned to bring a wine cooler to pair with the chips along with the Peach Kisses. At the store, I loaded my basket with fresh vegetables and a Malibu cranberry rum cooler. The man behind me in the checkout line curiously eyed the contents of my grocery basket and commented, “Malibu and vegetables! That’s interesting.” All I could do was nod.

I forgot to bring the Malibu coolers to the party which was just as well. If you enjoy drinking sunscreen, this is the drink for you. 

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Val Plagge brought a crock pot of sweet and savory ham balls, a food I’d never tried before (top middle). When I asked her where she found ground ham, she was like, “Well, we do raise hogs on our farm so. . . ”

Beth set out an elaborate potato chip taste testing station complete with smiley face voting stickers. Here’s what I thought of the four new flavors listed in the order of which we collaboratively ranked them:

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Wasabi Ginger: Lay’s accurately captures the flavors of wasabi, pickled ginger, and an onion note without tasting too artificial. Those who did not like pickled ginger (or ginger in general) did not like this flavor, though everyone seemed to like the wasabi flavor. I enjoy eating both the wasabi and pickled ginger garnishes when I order sushi so it was a win-win. I would buy my own bag.

Beth feels as happy as I do about the Wasabi Ginger chips.

Beth likes the Wasabi Ginger chips as much as I do.

Bacon Mac & Cheese: These chips tasted mostly of bacon and a little of cheese. The bacon flavor tasted artificial and reminded me of the Bacos and TGI Friday’s Cheddar Bacon Potato Skin Chips I ate as a kid. The “mac & cheese” description is probably overstated. Still, there’s nothing terribly objectionable about the chips unless you don’t like the flavor of Bacos. . .or bacon.

Cappuccino: We were most intrigued by these cappuccino chips. When I first spotted them in the store, I was aghast. Did Chad Scott submit the flavor as a joke and then Lay’s took him seriously? Turns out Chad just really likes coffee

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This is how Donna and I feel about cappuccino chips.

The chips taste like cheap vanilla coffee creamer mixed with misery and Ron Burgundy’s tears. And possibly death.

All of these flavors swished around in my mouth and I struggled to swallow them. I learned that “cappuccino” doesn’t refer to my favorite type of cappuccino crafted with espresso and lots of foam. Rather, it means the cheap, cloyingly sweet gas station cappuccino that squirts from the scary machines that keep on squirting long after you’ve stopped pushing the cappuccino button. That kind.

Some of my companions said that the chips tasted less terrible than they anticipated, while others liked the cinnamon note. One admitted the chips grew on her as she kept eating them and described them as “dessert chips.”

I just wanted all of these chips to burn. And while the chips were in my mouth, I wanted the whole world to burn.

I spotted a small bag of cappuccino chips at a Casey’s General Store in case you want to taste them for yourself but not commit to a full-sized bag.

Mango Salsa:
As if it couldn’t get worse than cappuccino-flavored potato chips, you’ve got Mango Salsa chips. I initially predicted I would prefer this flavor because I like sweet and spicy mango salsa. Do not be deceived.

Hampton blogger Katy most accurately compared the chip to something straight out of Bath & Body Works. We all agreed and the only thing I could taste was tutti frutti mango reminiscent of a pre-teen body splash or Scentsy wax melt. This was the only flavor I did not go back to for a second taste.

And that’s a wrap! The North Iowa bloggers tried all four varieties of these chips so you don’t have to. See Donna & Beth’s posts for more thoughts on the chip tasting.

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Sara Broers was fishing in Colorado, but here in spirit.

Have you tried any of these new flavors? What did you think?

Meet my fellow taste testers:
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life
Donna, Donnahup.com
Katy, Learning As I Go
Laura, All Things Travel
Sara (in absentia), All in an Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara
Val, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

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