Tag: Sheffield

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? 

Turning Into Pumpkins At Enchanted Acres & Katy’s Homemade Applesauce Recipe

The North Iowa bloggers embarked on their first fall adventure where some of us turned into pumpkins.

Jeni pumpkin

This weekend, Shannon Latham invited us to spend the morning at Enchanted Acres in Sheffield, Iowa about thirty-minutes south of my home in Mason City. The acres feature a patch of at least 30 varieties of pumpkins of which Shannon and her family planted by hand. Throughout the fall, visitors can pick their own pumpkins for decorating and eating, attend a pumpkin craft workshop, meet farm animals, and play on the big tractor tire playground. You can find a schedule of events on their Facebook page.

We tried our hand at decorating pumpkins. Amy created the glitter pumpkin while I attempted duct-tape polka dots.

Pumpkin Shannon Collage

Shannon Latham shows-off Enchanted Acres’ new signage which explains each pumpkin variety.

Enchanted Acres features many activities for kids. Of course we all had to try them all out.

As a {former} city girl, I became most excited about meeting the farm animals. Growing-up, we occasionally saw farm animals at the Minnesota Zoo and State Fair, but have never gotten too close. I tried posing with Nibbles, Sharon’s pygmy goat.

Nibbles Collage

He’s very friendly, but had other plans. He grabbed a mouthful of corn husks and ran away. I also got to hold my first chick and my first bunny.

Chicks Collage

Enchanted Acres just got chicks from Hoover’s Hatchery located nearby in Rudd, IA.

It was pretty much the best thing ever and definitely a personal bucketlist moment. Possibly not as giddiness-inducing for the bloggers who grew up on farms.

Blog Collage Collage

Showing-off our crafty pumpkin handiwork, making pumpkin pie in a bag and meeting the animals.

Shannon also sent us home with goodie bags filled with treats guests can purchase at Enchanted Acres such as homemade strawberry jam, beer bread mix and salsa dip seasoning. Jake and I hit the chunky strawberry jam immediately.


In the spirit of the changing seasons and blogging collaboration, I invited Katy to share one of her favorite fall recipes. She blogs at Learning As I Go: Learning About Life Being A Wife, Step-Mom & An Adult and offered to share her recipe for homemade applesauce:

Katy and Jeni

Katy’s Homemade Applesauce
It’s Iowa, and, although summer hasn’t officially ended according to the calendar, it’s fall in my home. School has started, the first football games of the year for my step-sons are next week. . . it’s fall!! When I think of fall, I can’t help think of pumpkins, apples, goodies baking in the oven, cinnamon, and crisp smells. This past weekend, I was given a large bag of fresh home-grown apples. While I knew that I wanted to freeze some for apple baked goods (pies, crisps, etc) this winter, I also knew I wanted applesauce.

I’m actually snacking on it while I type this post and it’s delicious. It tastes like the best homemade apple pie filling. I hope you get a chance to enjoy some fall food and baked goods this year!

Katy's Applesauce watermarked

5-7 apples
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon


  1. Peel, core, and slice apples, cutting out any bad spots. I like to leave a little skin at the tops and bottoms for texture and flavor.
  2. Place the apples in my two qt sauce pan (I didn’t have the need to chop them and you’ll see why later).
  3. In the pan, add butter (yes, butter, no margarine!) and about ¼ cup granulated sugar and two tablespoons of cinnamon. The amount of cinnamon that you use is obviously up to your liking.
  4. Turn burner to medium heat, cover the pan with a lid, and let everything start getting happy.
  5. Simmer until the apples become soft then break them up. I like my applesauce chunkier, so cooking them whole was perfect and it saved me a lot of time not having to chop them.
  6. Simmer about two minutes longer. If you like smoother apple sauce, just continue to cook and mash as they cook.
  7. Remove applesauce from the burner and package it in Tupperware containers. Freeze for later or refrigerate. I enjoyed a small bowl right away.

Katy’s Apple Freezing Method:
Chopped any peeled and cored apples you want to freeze into a sink full of water. Add about one tablespoon of salt and a good splash of cider vinegar. Let them have a nice bath in that mixture (this was my Grandma’s secret to freezing apples so they don’t get brown). After they soak for about five minutes, place them in a strainer and rinse with plain water. Bag them up and put them in the freezer.

*Special thank you’s to Shannon for graciously hosting us at the farm and to Donna Hup for helping me take photos. If you see me in a photo, Donna took it:) 

My Fellow North Iowa Pumpkins:
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth (in absentia), It’s Just Life: Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
Donna, Donnahup.com
Katy, Learning As I Go: Learning About Being A Wife, Step-mom & An Adult
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara
Val, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

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