Tag: Tradition

Jake’s Birthday Tradition & A Visit To Mason City Brewing

Jake and I don’t have many traditions.

Since we got married, we’ve lived two-three hours away from our families who both reside in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area. Sometimes they visit us, but mostly we visit them. Holidays are weird for us. We spend them all in the Twin Cities and our folks go to great lengths to decorate their homes and treat us to holiday meals. Therefore, I don’t bake many Christmas cookies or put up Christmas lights. It’s kind of OK and it’s kind of bittersweet.

Our one and only Christmas tree adorned our old Bloomington condo. We picked it out ourselves at a tree farm and Jake tried to trim the trunk with a cheap, serrated kitchen knife. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Injury, blood, and a tree that dried out quickly and dropped pine needles everywhere. It sure did smell good, though.

I’m grateful we can still share our parents’ traditions, but have also realized that just because we don’t have kids doesn’t mean we can’t create our own traditions. After Christmas, I’m going to prepare a post-Christmas dinner for two in our Mason City home and am intrigued by a friend’s idea of hosting a Febgiving in February.

Jake’s birthday does involve a tradition. Ever since we started dating, my birthday gift to him is a home-cooked meal of his choice. He requested Pad Thai, lasagna, and chicken enchiladas for his last three birthdays. This year he went easy on me and chose gyros. For birthday dessert, Jake always chooses the Fruit Crisp from the Cafe Brenda Cookbook. This crisp is different from any other. The crumble is prepared from roasted and ground oats which makes it taste more like the most delicious oatmeal cookie in the world and it’s minimally sweetened with thickened apple juice. You’ll have to check out the book find the full recipe.

Apple Crisp 2014 wm

The gyro meat was not as au natural.  I was surprised to find it at Fareway for about $6.99 per pound.

I like Fareway’s meat counter. The majority of their meat is not prepackaged and its quality and price is better than the typical grocery store’s. You place your order the old-fashioned way; from men in paper hats and white jackets who take your order and wrap everything in butcher paper.

When I visit Fareway’s meat counter, I can’t help but to gaze at the dizzying array of retro meat products, many of which I recognize from my school cafeterias. If you are seeking a taste of nostalgia sold by the pound, you’ll find chicken crispitos, pizza burger patties, and what my grade school referred to as “Mr. Ribs.” The butchers treat all of their meat with the same dignity. They carefully measure and wrap everything from Mr. Ribs to bone-in ribeyes in tidy little packages.

Once home, I was faced with this quandary: “What is the best way to cook thawed gyro loaf slices that have the texture of paste?” I’m not sure if there’s a great answer to this question. When I delicately placed the gyro slices in my Foreman grill, they sizzled and shrank at an alarming pace. I had to empty the drip tray twice and feared the worst. Fortunately, the gyro meat tasted like typical gyro meat. With homemade pita, fresh vegetables, and Wanderlust Kitchen’s Authentic Greek Tzatziki sauce, Jake’s birthday gyros were a success.

Gyro Collage

I may return to Fareway for a retro meat product tasting extravaganza.

The Every Bar In Mason City Crawl: Mason City Brewing
Our birthday weekend in Mason City wouldn’t have been complete without an Every Bar In Mason City Quest stop. We’re embarrassed to admit that this was our first visit to Mason City Brewing. We kept asking ourselves why we hadn’t visited earlier, as I’m sure many of you are.

The brewery’s space downtown is beautiful. Staff were hospitable and happy to answer questions. Thoughtful touches like live music, board games, decks of cards, a big bowl of pretzels, and a nifty hot/cold water dispenser with cups encourage customers to linger for a while.

We shared this beer sampler of the brewery’s current offerings.

Mason City Brewing wm

The sampler tray numbered each sample which corresponded to a handwritten list a bartender kindly provided. Jake gravitates towards bitter beers while I prefer lighter ones. Both of our beer tastes intersected at the sweeter Barleywine and Brown Porter which had a coffee note. We look forward to returning to the brewery soon.

Brewery Collage Pretzels mw

The bar quest will take a detour this week. I’ll join the North Iowa Bloggers at Carson Tree Farm in Hampton where we’ll learn how to make holiday wreaths. I’m the least crafty person I know, so I’ll consider the class a success if my wreath doesn’t end up looking like a big, green blob. I don’t often buy things I can’t eat, so I welcome these types of opportunities that challenge me try new experiences. Following the class, we’ll dine at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, a reader-suggested restaurant. I’m driving so it’s a mocktail for me.

This Saturday, I’ll join six North Iowa Bloggers on a road trip. Deb of the Webster City Chamber of Commerce invited us to spend the day in Webster City where we’ll meet the mayor, visit local shops and restaurants, and tour the historic Jane Young House (among other activities).

As always, I enjoy hearing about your favorite restaurants and bars. What are your favorite holiday traditions? I’m curious; married folks, when did you first start your own holiday traditions? 

Things We Ate At The Minnesota State Fair 2014

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is like a statewide family reunion.

On this Labor Day Weekend Saturday, Jake and I attended the Minnesota State Fair with his brother and my dad. The afternoon was hot and sunny and the density of people was literally shoulder-to-shoulder. You couldn’t find somewhere to sit even if you wanted to. Earlier in the day, the lines to popular food vendors were intimidating, but the fair opened up a bit as the evening approached. The cool evening air helped, too.

We laughed at ourselves as we grumbled about the crowds and the heat and the lines. They’re still all a part of the fair experience that we love and we’d always return, nevertheless.

The Minnesota State Fair vendors’ competitive spirit of food ingenuity builds momentum and makes this fair especially unique. I prepare for our visit each year by studying Heavy Table and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s opening-day reviews of the new fair foods. Part of the tradition is trying the much-talked-about new foods for yourself and comparing your notes with others. Two people will love and hate the same food with equal passion and that’s what makes it fun.

On this year’s visit, sharing foods between four people was much nicer than sharing it between two, though we still had limited stomach space. Here’s what we ate this year:

The Blue Barn
The Blue Barn is a stunning new fair restaurant from the restauranteurs that own the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. We arrived hungry and stopped here first.

Blue Barn

The line was long but moved quickly. We were impressed by how the barn was open for business from both sides.

Blue Barn Collage

From Left to Right: Chicken in a Waffle, Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz, Meatloaf on a Stick

Chicken in a Waffle: I was most curious about this food because of all of the positive feedback.

This food annoyed me. First, the item was $9.75. $9.75! Nothing was technically wrong with the item; the sausage gravy was flavorful and the chicken pieces were crispy and pleasantly spicy. But I had expected the chicken to taste freshly battered or breaded and have more of a buffalo kick. Instead, it reminded me of a frozen popcorn chicken product.

Jake and forgotten to order the Chicken in a Waffle without the malted milk ball in the bottom of the cone. He ended up eating this last bite and described it as “interesting,” in true Minnesotan fashion.

Placing a malted milk ball in the cone reminds me of something a panicked Chopped competitor would do. I have this mental picture of a chef saying, “Oh crap, I have fried chicken, an ice cream cone, sausage, and malted milk balls. I forgot to use the candy and have a minute left on the clock. I know, I’ll drop the milk ball inside the ice cream cone!”

The two brothers really enjoyed this food and gave it high marks, while it was too spicy for my dad who has no heat tolerance. Jake thought the popcorn chicken was noticeably higher in quality and flavor than generic popcorn chicken, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I say this time and time again only because I mean it: To each his or her own ☺

I think I might be alone on this one and that’s ok.

Blue Cheese and Corn Fritz: A Heavy Table staff member gave these fritters a dismal rating, writing that he ordered them “to the garbage heap.” In contrast, this was my favorite fair food. I’m not sure if Blue Barn changed their recipe or execution since opening day, but I found them delightfully crispy, corny puffballs. They had a gentle corn flavor with a very mild blue cheese presence, which might disappoint those who wish for a stronger blue cheese flavor. Together, the fritters and accompanying chimichurri sauce tasted refreshing and herby, hitting all of my favorite sweet and savory notes.

Meatloaf on a Stick: The meatloaf’s price made me cringe at $8.25, but we all enjoyed it. The portion really wasn’t large enough to justify the price, but we found the meatloaf flavorful and moist and liked the sweet and spicy sauce. I always glaze my homemade meatloaf with a similar sweet and spicy sauce, so it was right up my alley.

Corn Roast
The corn roast. Oh, the corn roast. We never miss the corn roast.

Corn

Jake takes his State Fair corn seriously.

This massive ear of sweet corn tasted perfectly toasty and dripped with real butter. Jake is the master of seasoning it with the perfect amount of salt and pepper.

Mini-Donut Beer by Lift Bridge Brewing Company & Indeed’s Sweet Yamma Jamma Ale
Jake and his brother enjoy trying different craft beers and made a point to try these two special varieties at the Ballpark Cafe. Lift Bridge introduced this fair only Mini-Donut beer last summer and brought it back. This was our first taste.

Donut Beer

Lift Bridge Mini-Donut Beer

Jake wasn’t a huge fan of the beer because of its sweetness and his preference for bitter IPA’s. Considering that Lift Bridge was attempting to mimic a mini donut, he felt they executed it well. I like smooth, light beers and thought it tasted pleasant, but neither of us liked the sugar coating around the glass’ rim.

I should preface these thoughts by explaining that when the brothers had first returned from the Ballpark with the beers, one of them handed it to me saying, “Try this!” I took a big sip without asking what kind of beer it was and was not prepared for a mouth full of sugar.

We all enjoyed the Slamma Jamma ale brewed with sweet potatoes. The ale didn’t taste distinguishably of sweet potatoes, but we liked its smooth and subtle pumpkin spice flavor. Mmmm. . . fall.

Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Food Building
Like the roasted corn, Mouth Trap cheese curds are one of our annual fair traditions.

We’ve tried both cheese curd vendors and prefer the Mouth Trap. The stand is run so efficiently, it’s like a machine and the curds STILL cost $5 a boat. No matter how long the line is, you’ll collect your cheese curds within minutes. I wanted to salute them.

Cheese Curds 2014

The thin, crispy batter rocks and the cheese basically squeaks even after spending time in the fryer.

Other Things We Ate (Not Pictured):

Gyro from Demetri’s Greek FoodJake always visits Demitri’s for a respectable and well-constructed gyro. The meat is sliced nicely, the yogurt sauce tastes fresh, and we appreciate the slivers of fresh tomato and onions.

Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick: Once upon a time in grade school, I ordered cheese on a stick at Valley Fair and it was a crushing disappointment I’ve never forgotten. I thought the batter-covered American cheese was just gross. On the flip side, Jake and his brother fondly remember Valley Fair’s cheese on a stick.

Jake’s brother passed around Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick and I was surprised to find I couldn’t stop eating it. It was still made with white American cheese, but the batter was super crunchy, and, for whatever reason, the salty, gooey American cheesiness just worked (for me, at least).

Pronto Pup
One of my fair food traditions is grabbing a Pronto Pup or corn dog from the vendor closest to the fair’s exit. I love how an employee at this stand carefully brushes your choice of ketchup or mustard on the Pronto Pup. It just feels more special than pumping your own.

pronto pup

I wore this hat all the way home.

This year, we tried a few new foods and returned for many of our favorites. Each year’s food trends may come and go and we may continue to live in different parts of the Midwest, but we’ll always look forward to visiting the Great Minnesota Get-Together with our families.

What were your favorite and least favorite fair foods this year? What do you always get at any summer fair?

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