Tag: Road Food

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.

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

Earth be still, I tried to make a craft!

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

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

Dog Sleeping wm

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

dog Collage

Left photo taken by Beth Ann Chiles.

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

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

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

“This branch is a little too short.”

“This branch is kind of curvy.”

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

Making the wreath with Beth Collage

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

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

Basket of supplies wm

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

Jeni Wreath Collage

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

Wreaths wm

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

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

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

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

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

WFW Food Collage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I Like: Springish Edition

It’s spring, sort of.

Thunderstorms have replaced snow storms. I think I’m ok with this, though they bring their own kind of devastation. The warmer weather makes my commute to work through rural North Iowa safer and I can’t get enough of the smell of other people grilling.

For the first time, we find ourselves in a home without a basement with a dog who is terrified of thunder, lightning and wind. We learned reacts to thunderstorms by hiding in the bathroom, shaking, and hiccuping.

We’ve also gotten ourselves on the “every other week” track to and from the Twin Cities this month so we can join our family and old friends for holidays and celebrations.

I’m doing my best to keep up with this blog that I love, but find myself needing to take a few more breathers than normal due to fatigue after our weekend travels and adjusting to a staffing transition at work. I also enjoy ghost writing for companies’ blogs on the side.

Despite the chaos of the past month, I’ve gotten to try some new things. Here are some of my recent favorites, both food and nonfood alike:

Unc'sTaste, Osage, IA
I work across the alley from this bakery and cafe. You can buy Cabin Coffee beverages on one side and freshly baked sweets and meals on the other.

Restaurants in North Iowa are slower to embrace social media so I appreciate how Taste frequently updates their Facebook page highlighting specials. I noticed their efforts to offer a creative lunch menu and stopped by one afternoon to try their shrimp taco special for $6.

I liked the flavorful, garlicky sauce and crunchy, fresh cabbage, bell peppers and greens. The shrimp were plentiful and nicely grilled so that they retained that snappy texture. I look forward to trying more lunch specials and keep eying their giant muffins.

Rookie’s, Clear Lake, IA
We visited Rookie’s (the bar connected to Sevens) located on the main drag just blocks from Clear Lake on our last date night. Rookie’s is also a local establishment that’s really faithful about updating their Facebook page.

The bartenders were friendly, the drinks were surprisingly inexpensive, and the food was better than expected. We sat around the big horseshoe bar and felt comfortable just enjoying our time and lingering.

Rookie's Collage.jpg

The sweet potato fries were crispy and coated in a course black pepper seasoning. The dipping sauce was notably good and I think I tasted mustard.

Jake was satisfied with his Cajun chicken sandwich while I ordered the seared lemon-pepper cod entrée ($15) that came with two big fillets, a side salad, and choice of potato. The cod was nicely seasoned and cooked, the homemade vinaigrette was pleasantly balanced and tasted similarly to what I make at home, and the hashbrowns arrived in a heaping plate with a crispy crust.

God bless North Iowa for offering shredded hash browns as a potato choice and ranch with most everything fried.

I’m glad we could experience the laid-back, locals centric version of Rookie’s before the summer crowds hit but that will be fun, too. We were so preoccupied with moving last summer that we didn’t spend much time in Clear Lake.

DSC_0030Homemade Pork Fried Rice
Pork fried rice is part of our standard Chinese take-out order.

Restaurants usually include one carton of steamed white rice per entrée so I like to transform the leftovers into my own fried rice.

Years ago before the United Noodle deli remodel, I used to visit for lunch. I loved that they made their fried rice taste so light and seasoned it with black pepper. Theirs is what I aim to recreate.

At home, I tip the scale in favor of fresh vegetables, meat and scrambled eggs, and use FAR less oil than a restaurant. My biggest pet peeve about Chinese take-out is when it’s an oil slick. Why is this necessary?

I marinated the pork in soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, onion, and sesame oil. Once I added the rice to the work with the cooked vegetables, garlic and proteins, I seasoned everything with more of the marinade ingredients and served it with a big, green salad.

Jim Gaffigan, Obsessed
On Sunday evening, I caught Jim Gaffigan’s new comedy special Obsessed after Game of Thrones.

A Song of Fire & Ice written by George R.R. Martin is far from flowers and sunshine, but I swear HBO aims to depict everything as gross and shocking as possible.

I had to practically peel myself off of the floor after last week’s episode. It was a happy accident that I stumbled upon Obsessed which wiped away Game of Throne’s lingering horror, death, and despair. I laughed out loud through the whole special and appreciated how many bits poked fun at food.

In a perfect world, new Jim Gaffigan specials will always follow each episode of Game of Thrones!

Almond Milk
We’ve become fond of almond milk. I think it tastes better than soy and rice milk, and we add it to our coffee and cereal. Plus, I’m lactose intolerant. Coincidently, we first tried it on the same day Beth wrote about including it in her top five fridge essentials. Do you have a favorite milk alternative?

Tropical Rum Beverages
Sipping a homemade cocktail made with pineapple juice and spiced rum doesn’t make me forget about this weather, but it certainly dulls the edge.

Casey’s General Store Pizza By The Slice
I have a fondness for this gas station pizza.

Casey’s General Stores are located all over the Midwest, but I don’t remember seeing one until I went to college in Iowa. Classmates often mentioned how much they liked Casey’s pizza, but I never tried it because I didn’t believe them.

Before you run out to a Casey’s or think I’m nuts, let me clarify what I mean by good. Casey’s pizza is good in the sense that it’s much better than what one would expect from a gas station. I like it better than the skads of frozen pizzas we’re tried (except Heggie’s) and prefer it to most pizza delivery chains. Just check your expectations and don’t go expecting Broders’ or Cossetta’s.

 

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