Tag: North Iowa Bloggers

Not Too Cool For Gas Station Breakfast Pizza + A Pizza Party

“Cause there ain’t no party like the pre-party
And after the party is the after-party
At the gas station pizza party (yea, pass me the chicken wings).”

I have no idea why this, but Lee Brice song comes to mind. We weren’t eating pizza in a parking lot and there were no chicken wings.

Gas station pizza is kind of a thing here, especially gas station breakfast pizza. In early February, actress Mila Kunis made the Des Moines Register when she commented that Casey’s General Store makes her favorite gas station snack, a “delicious breakfast pizza” in a Reddit AMA.

It’s not that we have bad taste in North Iowa, it’s that we have a lot of Casey’s and that their breakfast pizza is actually pretty good. North Iowa is composed of many small towns. We live in the biggest city in North Iowa which clocked in at 27,500 in 2013. Some towns like Plymouth are tiny with 373 residents and many fall somewhere in between like Charles City at 7,500. We drive a lot just like we did in the Twin Cities, but unlike a 30-minute commute between Apple Valley, MN and Minneapolis, there might not be as much between the cities. There’s usually a Casey’s somewhere in-between and there are some small towns in which a Casey’s in one of the only businesses.

During the first year I lived in Mason City, I worked at a small nonprofit in Osage, a town of 6,500.

Osage Fiargrounds

The Osage Iowa fairgrounds, summer of 2014.

It took me 40-minutes to drive to work on good-weather days. The only place to stop for gas, or anything, really, was Manly, Iowa. When my tank ran low or a train blocked Highway 9, I’d pull into Casey’s to fill my tank and grab a slice of breakfast pizza.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Casey’s Pizza is Pizzeria Lola or Broders’, but you might also find their breakfast pizza tastes surprisingly good. It’s the only breakfast pizza that doesn’t gross me out and it’s available at gas stations in rural Iowa. I like the crust and the cheese is the real, chewy kind. After I eat a slice, I keep smelling whiffs of butter. In fact, I think it tastes better than many chain pizza joints.

After Mila mentioned Casey’s breakfast pizza, we began talk about it on Twitter. Gas station Kum & Go jumped into a conversation and offered to let us try their breakfast pizza, too. Before I knew it, my North Iowa blogger friends had coordinated a pizza party.

caseys box

Casey’s, Kum & Go and Godfather’s generously donated pies. Jenny brought Iowan beer, Donna contributed a frozen, gluten-free Udi’s pizza, and I brought a pizza margarita from our new, local Italian restaurant Pasta Bella.

Me and Pizza

Beth always offers to host our tasting parties and really is the hostess with the mostess. She made voting sheets complete with smiley face stickers for voting, pizza signs, and caprese salad.

Beths caprese salad

Val brought her famous Overnight Salad. It’s a layered salad of lettuce, cauliflower, onion, parmesan, mayo, and sugar that sits overnight and you toss before serving.

Val Salad Collage

Honestly, I preferred Val’s salad over the pizzas and returned for seconds. My version of Overnight Salad will never be as good as Val’s because it included bacon she and her husband made on their farm. They cut it into super thick chunks. It was like I was eating succulent pieces of pork belly instead of the bacon strips I usually find. Val said she and her husband chuckle when presented with what people typically refer to as “thick-cut bacon.”

There were so many types of pizza that I lost track of what I tasted. I filled my plate with pieces of cut-up slices and soon gave up keeping track of what they were. Plus, I kept wanting to eat that salad.

Pizza Collage
Everyone had their favorites. I posted about our party on my social media accounts and learned that Godfather’s has a very loyal following. I haven’t eaten it since college.

godfathers combo

In case you were wondering, this is what a Kum & Go breakfast pizza looks like. Why should let Casey’s completely sweep the gas station breakfast pizza game;) I was in a pizza coma when I tasted this pizza, but someone said Kum & Go’s also adds hashbrowns.

kumandgobreakfast

We voted for our favorites and Pasta Bella received the most. I liked that it had a thin crust and delicate tasting toppings that included fresh tomatoes and basil. Our newest blogger Loni said it tasted closest to the pizzas she enjoyed in Italy.

Pasta Bella Pizza

And so a North Iowa Pizza Part: Part II is in order. Obviously we are missing many places like Little Chicago, Pete’s Kitchen, Breadeaux, Azzolina’s, and The Other Place. We’re just taking it a few pizzas at a time.

pizza party group

Photo taken by Donna with a selfie stick. Carrying on our dear friend Amy’s tradition.

Fifteen months ago, four of us North Iowa bloggers met for dinner for the first time. Now, our group’s grown to nearly 30 people. Comparing life in a big metropolitan area like Minneapolis-St. Paul to North Iowa is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, I miss the lakes and ordering eggplant pizza from Broders’ anytime I’d like. But the skies here are big and I hope I’m never too cool for gas station breakfast pizza.

I miss Amy and I love these women. Life with these friendships is good.

Webster City (Part I): Kringla, Mug Cake & Creating Magic Out Of Small Towns

Disclaimer: Deb Brown, the Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce invited me to spend the day in Webster City as part of the “Seven Bloggers on a Saturday” tour. All opinions are my own

There is no road trip too near or too far to thrill me. This weekend, I joined six North Iowa Bloggers on a road trip on hour south to Webster City. Deb Brown Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in coordinating Hampton, Iowa’s first Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour which I participated in this past fall. As a blogger, she is no stranger to participating in bloggers tours, either.

Like Franklin County, I was humbled by the hospitality we received from everyone who hosted us during the tour. Deb coordinated visits with owners of ten unique businesses, lunch at the Grid Iron Grill, tours of the historic Jane Young House, Kendall Young Library, and a drive through the holiday light display at Briggs Woods Campground, all within the span of seven hours.

Strangers entrusted us with their stories. They hoped we would share with our readers and I feel honored to do so. Near the end of our tour, Deb stated something that’s echoed in my mind ever since:

“We create magic out of small towns because we have to.”

I realize no community is perfect, but it’s evident Webster City is home to people creating magic. The individuals we spoke to repeated time and time again that they invest their resources in their hometown because they want to create the type of community in which they want to live. No matter if you live in a large or small community, within or outside of Iowa, I hope you enjoy my three-part series about Webster City. This city girl has a lot to learn from those who create magic in their small towns.

Here’s Part I:  

main street panoramic wm

Webster City, a town of 8,000, has an attractive main street with few vacant storefronts. Living in Mason City, I’m finding myself without a Mexican, Hispanic, or Asian grocery store for the first time in my life. I gleefully shouted out loud when I  noticed a Mexican and Asian grocery store along the main street. When I expressed enthusiasm about finding an Asian grocery, Deb mentioned Webster City has a large Laotian community and added that a Laotian family is preparing to open an egg roll and spring roll shop soon.

We began our tour by gathering at SOS Vintage, a new shop that offers refurbished and vintage items. The only antique stores I’ve visited felt chaotic and dingy, but SOS feels elegant, just as owner Denise Smith stated she wanted it to in a newspaper article published before the store opened in April.

SOS Vintage Exterior

Denise kindly welcomed us to SOS with freshly baked scones and kringla. I was mesmerized by her front counter that was decorated with keys and coins.

Kringla wm

Mayor Doug Getter took the time to personally welcome us to town. He described some of the city’s latest economic development efforts, including an indoor barramundi operation, and recommended Webster City Meat Locker’s which sells some of his favorite bacon.

Of course, we broke kringla, because that’s the cordial thing to do when you meet someone new and there’s kringla.

Kringla Collage

I liked how SOS sells a combination of old and new products. This print caught my eye and I bought it with a gift certificate Denise generously gave to each blogger. Anyone that’s attended a Lutheran college is familiar with the word “vocation”. This screamed vocation and so I bought it because it makes me feel exceedingly happy.

Picture wm
Denise Mendenhall who owns Relax the Bath sells handmade bath products at SOS. I was over the moon when I saw she included soap and kumquat body butter in our goody bags. Jake and I like stocking our bathrooms with locally-made soaps which don’t irritate our skin.

SOS Vintage shares their shop with Timothy and Denise Morgan who craft handcrafted leather goods at Ti-De Creations. They caught me admiring the two purses on the top left shelf and brought them to the counter. Timothy described how he creates the intricate etching by hand. The tubular bag decorated the pink roses is designed for motorcycles. These bags are popular among motorcyclists because they craft them in many colors and sizes larger than the typical motorcycle bags

The Morgans gave us with our choice of key chain. I’m sure no one’s surprised I chose a paw print.

Leather Collage A second local business that features handmade artwork is Produce Station PotteryProduce Station functions as a store, classroom and founder and artist-in-gallery Maureen Saunder’s pottery studio. She founded the studio in 1990 out of the community’s need for a space where people could create and purchase local art.

Intro wm

Maureen reminded me of a mentor I had in the Twin Cities and I felt very much at home.

Pottery Collage One wm

The station’s first artist-in-residence Man Ho “Billy” Cho creates much of the beautiful pottery and raku. Cho originally traveled to Iowa from Hong Kong to attend college. He is currently completing his Masters in Fine Arts degree on a full-ride scholarship at the University of Iowa.

Maureen described how she can identify one of Cho’s pieces because his lids always fit perfectly, which is no small feat in the pottery world. Learn more about Cho at Billy Cho Ceramics.

Pottery on Shelf wm

We followed Maureen on a tour of her studio. I was enthralled with the shelves of paints and dyes.

Pottery Paint

I was also smitten with this painting.

Saw Painting wm

Even though the weather was cloudy, the sun shone just enough to illuminate the stained glass window.

Judith the potter wm

An art garden in the back of the studio features a bonfire pit and, if I remember correctly, a raku kiln.

Deck wm

After our tour, Maureen treated us to our choice of a chocolate or red velvet mug cake served in their beautiful pottery. She described becoming inspired to build a bonfire pit in the pottery garden after attending a bonfire at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis where she enjoyed a similar mug treat.

Mug cake Collage wm

We had to leave for our next stop along the tour soon after we enjoyed our mug cakes. The only downside to the tour was that weren’t able to leisurely browse each store, but Deb wanted to collaborate with as many business owners as possible during our short visit. We all left Webster City wanting to return soon for more in-depth exploration. Sometimes, building curiosity is an underrated accomplishment in itself.

Coming up next: Part II (Small business visits & lunch at Grid Iron Grill), Part II (Jane Young House & Library)

Participating bloggers: Sara of All in an Iowan Mom’s Day, Beth Ann of It’s Just Life, Donna of Donnahup.com, and Amy of Modern Rural Living & Alicia of Fit & Farm

Thanks again to Deb Brown of the Area Chamber, Denise at SOS Vintage, Mayor Getter,Timothy & Denise of Ti-De Creations & Maureen of Produce Station Pottery.

The Ecstasies & Horrors Of Trying Eight Flavors Of Oreos: North Iowa Bloggers Taste Test

I don’t want to eat another Oreo for 10 years.

Seriously. I saw some at a picnic yesterday and passed.

It’s been two months since the North Iowa Bloggers got together to taste weird things, which is way too long. We reconvened this week to test taste weird Oreos and celebrate fall birthdays.

Beth set up this impressive Oreo tasting station complete with a smiley face voting system. She really is the hostess with the mostest. You’ll notice the table is not only decorated with flowers, but photos of Donna & Laura. We make “flat” versions of bloggers who can’t attend our taste testing events because we’re like that.

flat people

Here’s a glimpse of our potluck buffet. I brought bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with basil-lemon goat cheese pictured below on the left.

meal Collage

Potlucks are the best because they feed my dip obsession. We enjoyed Pulled Pork, baked potato dip, bagel dip, caramel apple dip, strawberry-basil balsamic foccacia, savory cheese dip & that Midwestern Snickers salad, something I’ve only seen in Iowa. It was imperative that we create a substantial base in our stomachs in preparation for the Oreos.

We sacrificed one of each cookie to create this artwork. So yes, exactly eight Oreos were harmed in the process.

oreo raibow Frame

Top Row: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Berry, Root Beer Float, Peanut Butter
Bottom Row: Pumpkin Spice, Caramel Apple, Chocolate Birthday Cake, Vanilla Birthday Cake

My three favorite flavors are Pumpkin Spice, Peanut Butter, and Cookie Dough.

Good Oreo Collage

Pumpkin Spice: I was surprised this cookie tasted more like cookie butter than a pumpkin spice latte. “Hey guys, it tastes like Speculoos!” I shouted.

Everyone’s mouth dropped and then there was silence.

My mouth was full of cookie. And since I had no idea how to pronounce “Speculoos,” having only read the word but never hearing it pronounced, everyone thought I said the cookie tasted like a speculum. I promise you it didn’t, unless speculums taste like Speculoos or you really hate pumpkin spice. Not that I would know or anything.

Peanut Butter: Unless you hate peanut butter, this chocolate-peanut butter combo will not offend.

Cookie Dough: This was the last Oreo I tasted. Frankly, there’s nothing that exciting about stuffing a cookie with cookie-dough flavored frosting, but it tasted innocuous enough and didn’t make me cringe, so, up it went up into my top three.

The Oreos that made my face go like this were banished to the bottom five.

Bad Cookie Collage with poopy

My least favorite flavors were Root Beer, Berry, Birthday Cake and Berry.

Root Beer: I took this shocked and appalled selfie (Oreoelfie?) with root beer Oreo residue still clinging to the sides of my mouth. The root beer flavor in the frosting was strong. Like Vicks Vapor Rub strong. I could feel root beer vapors wafting from my tongue into the deep recesses of my brain with each inhele. I wouldn’t say that I wanted to die, but I can’t say I didn’t want the Oreo to die. Root beer cookies just no.

Berry: I hated this icky, fake-fruit flavor. Many of us thought it smacked of pink medicine.

Caramel Apple: Again, I disliked the fake fruit flavor, this time in green apple. It wasn’t medicinal like the berry, but still gross. Are these fruity flavors the precursor to Jolly Rancher Oreos? We couldn’t find the fruit punch flavor in our local stores and none of us cried about it.

Birthday Cake (Vanilla & Chocolate): I spit out my first bite of Vanilla Birthday Cake Oreo before forgoing the chocolate. Until this day, I’d avoided Birthday Cake flavored everything, which makes me biased. I don’t even like real birthday cake.

North Dakota blogger Molly Yeh writes about Funfetti and Birthday Cake flavors in a post about Funfetti Biscotti. She hits the nail on the head when she identifies clear, artificial vanilla extract as tasting like nostalgia. For many, this tastes like the grade school birthday parties and vanilla lip glosses Yeh mentions.

For me, the flavor tastes like the smell of the tweeny body splashes my friends used to douse themselves in after gym class that always made me nauseous. Birthday Cake and Funfetti enthusiasts will like these Oreos.

Visit my fellow North Iowa bloggers to find out which Oreos brought them ecstasy or horror. Our opinions differ widely. Who knows what we will try next!

Group Photo

Don’t ask me why I’m holding a Berry Oreo.

My Fellow Taste Testers
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life
Katy, Learning As I Go
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara
Val, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

(In Absentia)
Donna, Donnahup.com
Laura, All Things Travel 

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