Sun-Less in Nebraska

My friend Leo told me I was crazy to go to the Eclipse because the traffic was going to be EPIC. As you can see, it was pretty bad.

I drove southwest from St Paul to Sioux City, Iowa. My first rest stop in Iowa was an homage to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of appendicitis three months into the voyage and was buried on a high bluff above the Floyd River. The area is now known as Sergeant Bluff. He was the only member of the expedition to die.

I was on my way to stay with an old friend in Lincoln, Nebraska. Another friend was driving up from Denver. Chris lives out in the country surrounded by cornfields. I met him in Switzerland. He was originally from Beirut and had lived in Iraq and Italy. His father was Lebanese and his mother Italian. I’m still not sure how he ended up in a cornfield in Iowa but he seems to be happy with it. And why not? It is a lovely spot.

Needless to say we ate well.  The first night he made Italian stuffed zucchini. Most stuffed zucchini recipes I have seen treat the vegetable like a boat, cut it in half, dig out the meat and fill the hollow.  Not Chris, he cut off the ends, dug out the inside, and stuffed it with ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs and parmesan so the zucchini still looked like it was whole. Then smothered with a lovely tomato sauce. Of course he had also made hummus and Lebanese green beans sometimes called Lubiyeh or Lubee.  He used French style beans in a sauce with crushed tomatoes, lots of garlic and olive oil. Our appetizer was fresh corn on the cob. Just doesn’t get any better than that.

Sunday was our day to be tourists.  We started out at the Sunken Gardens. The garden was originally built in 1930 as part of a Depression works project. It was then renovated in 2005. It has over 30,000 plants on 1.5 acres and is designed each year on a different theme. The theme for 2017 is Purple Reign. It was a hot day so we didn’t linger but we did see a lot of purple.

Next stop was the Capital building. After a nationwide competition, Beltram Grosvenor Goodhue’s design was selected in 1920. It is said to be the nation’s first vernacular State Capital. It was the third building to be built on the site and was a departure from the more typical capital buildings found around the country. It was completed in 1932 and cost $10 million.

The inside is stunning with several courtyards, marble columns, vaulted ceilings, interesting light fixtures, mosaic floors and colorful murals. We took the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoyed the view. Across the street was the lovely old St Mary’s Catholic Church.

After touring the Capital building, Chris gave us a little tour of the city, showing off nice neighborhoods with big houses and then the downtown area. The Haymarket area was a warehouse district that has been transformed into a trendy place to live and work. It is a place to explore restaurants, bars, shops and the Farmers Market. In 2014 it was listed on the National Register as Lincoln Haymarket Historic District by the National Park Service. Chris kept pushing a great ice cream parlor but parking was scarce.

That night our friend from Denver threw together a salad with leftover corn, black beans, green and red peppers, home grown tomatoes, cilantro and olive oil to go with our pork ribs that had been on the smoker all day.

Monday was eclipse day. We packed up our beer and food and drove south to Firth where we went to a pot luck party. Chris’ friend had a big house on a lake with lots of room for eclipse viewing. There were about 30 people there enjoying a warm but cloudy day.  We missed the corona of the total eclipse but we experienced the atmosphere. Everything got quiet, the wind died completely, the day grew very dark. It was eerie. We ate well, enjoyed the beer and company. At the end of the day we jumped in the golf cart and took a spin around the lake.

On my way home the next day I stopped at the highest point in Iowa. Hawkeye Point, 1670 feet. Who knew?

Iowa Weekend – Art, Nature and Food

 

“Old” Capital Building, Iowa City

Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.

I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.

From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.

That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.

Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.

The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.

Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.

From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.

The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.

Interesting light fixtures at the Charmant in La Crosse

There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast. 

Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.

 

Lindbergh, Lumber, Military and Mosquitoes

Lindbergh house

Lindbergh house

Charles Lindberg, the Aviator, was born in 1902, and lived in Little Falls, Minnesota until he went to college in 1920. The original house was a three-story mansion built by the river just outside of town. It burned to the ground and was replaced with the more modest two-story building we see today. Charles lived there with his mother. His parents were not on the best of terms so his father had a place in town. In 1931 the 110 acres and the house were donated to the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society took over the house and 17 acres. The remaining acres are now the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.

Lindbergh is most famous for being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He did this in 1927. The plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. In 1929, he married the daughter of the US Ambassador to Mexico, Anne Morrow. Their first-born child, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped and killed in 1932.

A museum containing lots of information about Charles’ life and accomplishments is on the property in Little Falls. There are a couple of good films about his transatlantic voyage and tickertape parades. There are also activities for small children.

Weyerhaeuser and Musser Houses

Weyerhaeuser and Musser Houses

Down the road from the Lindbergh house, there is a small county museum, the Charles A Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum. It has a few turn of the century artifacts and a genealogy library and research area.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser was a German immigrant who started a lumber business in Rock Island, Illinois in 1858. From there he moved to St Paul, Minnesota. He ended up in a joint venture with James J Hill, also of St Paul. The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was incorporated in Tacoma, Washington in 1900.

John, Frederick’s oldest son, followed him to become president of the company. In 1935, John’s 8 year old son George, was kidnapped but luckily it ended happy with the child being returned unharmed, and the kidnappers apprehended, unlike the Lindbergh affair. George grew up to be the president of the company. Today Weyerhaeuser is an international public company and per its website is “one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world.”

Exhibit at the County Museum

Exhibit at the County Museum

Charles was another son of Frederick’s who was also in the lumber business. He headed the Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls, Minnesota with his business partner Richard Drew Musser. It quickly became the second largest mill in the Northwest. In 1920 the mill closed and all the timber was gone. In the 1930’s the federal and state governments surveyed the area full of stumps. New regulations were implements restricting cutting and demanding re-planting. Most of the trees in Northern Minnesota are now back but the white pine is rare today.

After the mill closed, Charles moved to St Paul and died in 1930. His mansion in Little Falls is now open to the public. The county museum named in his honor does genealogy research.

Jessica Lange also lived in Little Falls when she was about eight years old. You could drive by her school and house if you are so inclined.

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The Dakota were pushed out of the area by the Ojibwe and then they were pushed out by the Europeans who settled in the area in the early 1800’s. The town is named for a series of rapids that ran on the Mississippi. Today a dam harnesses those rapids.

Mural at A.T. the Black and White

Mural at A.T. the Black and White

There is plenty to see and do in Little Falls. We stayed at the newly built County Inn and Suites and had an excellent meal at the A.T. Black and White, originally built in 1931 and known as the Black and White Hamburger Shop. Today it boasts a Cordon Bleu chef. We had the scallops in citrus beurre with asparagus and risotto and the linguini Alfredo with chicken that was light and flavorful. The evening ended with a brownie sundae with thick chocolate sauce and a touch of caramel.

Camp Ripley Gate

Camp Ripley Gate

About a ten mile drive north of Little Falls is Camp Ripley, a National Guard, 53,000-acre training center. It is named for Fort Ripley, a frontier Army post occupied from 1849-1877 that once sat on the property. The new training site opened in 1931.

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We visited the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley. We had to drive through huge solid gates and show our ID’s at the gatehouse in order to enter. The museum was close to the main entrance so we didn’t see a lot of the camp. The museum was very well done and quite extensive, I recommend it to anybody interested in history. There were also exhibits on the grounds surrounding the museum and smaller buildings that housed jeeps and other military vehicles. Part of it was interactive. I tried on a couple of helmets (they are heavy).

On the way back to Little Falls we decided to make a circle and swing by the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We figured we would just jump out of the car, take a quick walk, take some pictures and be on our way. The Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve a large natural wetland. It is basically a marshland that is home to many species of birds including the sandhill cranes.

Our idea had one small flaw. Mosquitoes. Of course there would be mosquitoes in a marshland and we did know that but we had no idea just how many mosquitoes there would be. Within two minutes we were under full attack and had to run for cover. I was still swatting them in the car when we got back to town.

We consoled ourselves with pizza and beer at Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls. The next day on the way out of town we stopped at Thielen Meats. John Thielen opened the shop after working for his parents at Thielen Meats in Pierz, fourteen miles east of Little Falls. We originally thought we were going to the market featured in the New York Times but they are all related so no disappointments. Amy Thielen, a chef featured on Food Network, is also related.

 

Trip Around Lake Pepin – On the Mighty Mississippi

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Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake and is the largest lake on the Mississippi River. On the west is Minnesota and 1.7 miles across it is Wisconsin. It covers 29,295 acres and is 21 miles long. Its main claim to fame is that in 1922, Ralph Samuelson successfully skied on water. He was from Lake City and after five days of trying, he succeeded in being the first documented water skier. In 1925, again on Lake Pepin, he made the first water ski jump.

I took a drive around Lake Pepin to see what else it had to offer. We drove from the Twin Cities down through Red Wing, famous for its shoes among other things, and crossed the Mississippi to the Wisconsin side.

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A few years ago I was in Frontenac State Park on the Minnesota side looking over to Maiden Rock. This time I was driving through Maiden Rock village. A plaque at Frontenac Park states: “On the east shore of Lake Pepin, opposite this point, juts out a high rock. From this pinnacle, according to accounts of early travelers, a Sioux maiden of Wabasha’s band prevented from marrying the warrior of her choice, leaped to her death that she might avoid union with another and older man.”

Stockholm was our next stop. Population 66. At one time it was a thriving community of about 300. It was founded in 1856 by Swedish immigrant farmers and was connected to the railroad in 1886. Although most residents moved to more urban areas after World War II, the village did not disappear completely. In the 1970’s people were drawn to the area for its natural beauty and it has become a thriving artist community with small artsy shops like the Purple Turtle Artisan Collective and North Oak Amish Furniture and Gifts. There is a pie shop on the corner and a complete gourmet kitchen store. It is home to music and art festivals throughout the summer.

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Down the road, just outside of Pepin, is the Villa Bellezza winery. Wisconsin wine has a ways to go but we tasted a few decent wines and had a look around. The setting is stunning with vineyards all around an Italian Villa. There is a piazza with a fountain and it is a popular place for weddings and receptions. There is a self-guided tour but the main tours are on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am. The tasting room is open everyday.

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Pepin is larger than Stockholm with about 800 people. We stopped at the Harbor View Café across from the marina for lunch. The café has been coming to life every summer since 1980. It is well known throughout the area for its tasty eclectic food. The Menu goes up on the chalkboard over the bar twice daily. We were offered Alaskan Halibut, Hawaiian Swordfish, Massachusetts Striped Bass, Copper River Salmon, along with chicken, pork, risotto and pasta. We shared a chocolate buttercream pie for dessert.

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From there it was a beautiful drive to Nelson and a stop at the Nelson Creamery. The ice cream looked tempting but we were way too full. We did stock up on local cheese and beer. They have a small seating area with a fireplace that must be lovely in winter. As we arrived it started to rain so we spent some time watching a summer downpour.

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We headed out as it eased up and crossed the river to Wabasha, Minnesota and up to Reeds Landing. Reeds Landing was founded in the mid-1800’s as a trading post and became a major logging town. The Reeds Landing Brewery is housed in a building originally built in 1869 as a dry goods store. Today it is a pub and restaurant overlooking Lake Pepin. One of their beers, Cap’n Crunch Amber, is made with Captain Crunch cereal and is pretty good.

We took a quick tour of Lake City on our way back to Red Wing to close the loop. On the way home we passed through New Trier to see St Mary’s Church. The church was built in 1909, in the Beaux Art Classic Style by architect Paul Ries of St Paul. The statue of the Virgin Mary and child was cast in 1862 and sits over the main door. It was entered into the national Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is at the top of a hill and is impressive.

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Salt Cellar, Dining in St Paul

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I discovered a great blog recently. Chef Alan Bergo of the Salt Cellar restaurant in St Paul writes as the Forager Chef. He likes to use indigenous Mid-western ingredients and local purveyors. He cooks with dandelions, knotweed, ramps, spruce. burdock root and nettles. He writes about hunting for mushrooms, cooking methods and recipes. The recipes look fabulous – Spruce Brined Poussin with Apple Mustard Sauce and Beef Tartare with Dead Man’s Fingers and Ramp Vinaigrette are a couple that caught my eye.

View into the kitchen

View into the kitchen

I don’t remember seeing them on the menu at the Salt Cellar. A friend of mine was raving about the meat so I went there for the first time the other night. There is a large glass window into the kitchen from the main dining room so you can watch the chef in action. The meal started with homemade potato chips and pimento cheese with warm fresh rolls that melted in your mouth.

The beef steaks were tender and flavorful. They came with a small cup of wild mushrooms and a cup of their own special béarnaise sauce with a little tomato added. Our sides were the market vegetable medley which were nicely seasoned and the beef fat pommes frites. I think I ordered the roasted potatoes but the pommes frites were sinfully delicious.

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Chocolate Mousse with Shortbread

We finished the meal with a chocolate mousse and a Boston cream pie. Our waiter insisted we try the spruce ice cream that was offered as part of the daily ice cream selection. It was unexpectedly delicious. Very fresh and light.

Manu

Manu

Our waiter’s name was Manu and he had a strong French accent. Usually when I ask people where they are from, they will tell me the country or the continent and I have to ask several times to find out where exactly they are from. He told me he came from Toulouse, France right away and was happy to chat. His mother’s family was from Catalan across the border in Spain and his grandmother had called him Manu, short for Manuel and it stuck.

My dining partner and I had been speculating about how he got here. My friend was sure he followed a woman. I thought he might have come for school. Of course it was a woman. He said he followed a woman here and then fell in love with Minnesota and could not leave. The restaurant was empty on a Friday night and I asked him if it was always like that. The explanation was that the restaurant has no outdoor space and in the summer Minnesotans like to be dining outside if in town but many were probably at their summer cabins. We consoled each other for not having a summer cabin.

 

 

Indian Boarding School to Green University

Last weekend I drove up to Morris, Minnesota, population 5,000, which is about a three hour drive north of the Twin Cities.

On the way we stopped in Glenwood for a DQ ice cream and spent a few moments enjoying the view of Lake Minnewaska. It was a beautiful day and the lake was inviting. That night we dined at the Bella Cucina in downtown Morris.

It has an extensive menu and very good food. We enjoyed artichoke dip with grilled ciabatta as an appetizer and then dug into such things as lasagna, Tuscan rigatoni with goat cheese, lobster mac and cheese, penne Corsica with shrimp and artichokes, and chicken scallopini. All were delicious although probably too much because we were all stuffed.

We couldn’t find a bed for the night in Morris due to some track meet so we had to drive another half hour to Benson. Benson is a town of about 3,000 people, how hard could it be to find our hotel? We got lost, drove all the way through town, turned around, got out the phones and finally found our hotel. By this time we were ready for a nightcap. We headed to the bar attached to the hotel. It was packed, not a free seat in the place, and the DJ was a maniac with loud, loud music. It was time for bed instead. DonsCafe-300x300[1]

The next morning we headed back to Morris and Don’s Café for breakfast. Don’s has been around since the 1940s and serves good homemade slow cooked food. The bread is made on site every morning. On the wall above us was a plaque presented by the local CBS affiliate to Don’s for having the best grilled cheese sandwiches in Minnesota. We decided it must be the bread.

Morris’ main claim to fame is the University of Minnesota – Morris which was founded in 1960 as a public liberal arts institution. About 1,900 students enroll each year. The campus is on 130 acres and is part of the state university system. In the Liberal Arts College category, Morris ranks in the top 20 along with three other Minnesota colleges, Carlton, Augsburg and Macalester as LGBTQ friendly campuses. Morris has a long standing commitment to fostering diversity, intercultural competence and environmental stewardship. The campus is a national leader in green initiatives and on its way to becoming carbon neutral.

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Lamb Stew

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My brother gave me an electric crockpot and my son was begging for some lamb so this turned out to be a great marriage. If you don’t have a crockpot, simmering on the stove would probably work just as well.

Once I got into the recipe I discovered I didn’t have any coriander so I threw in some cinnamon instead. Of course, I must have just gone brain dead because obviously coriander is cilantro and I always have cilantro. In spite of it all, it turned out to be a tasty dish.

Lamb Stew

1 lb lamb shoulder chops, trimmed and cut into smallish chunks

Mix together and toss with the meat:

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp coriander (cilantro)

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (I would put a little more)

¼ tsp salt (don’t really need it if you are using the full strength chicken broth)

Several turn of the pepper mill

 

1 large onion, chopped (I used a red one)

 

28-oz diced tomatoes

¾ cup chicken broth (I used half a cube in boiling water)

4 cloves minced garlic

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1 can cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Mash about ¾ cup of the beans

 

6 oz fresh spinach, chopped

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Put the spiced up meat into the crockpot, top with chopped onion.

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Heat tomatoes, chicken broth and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

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Pour the tomato mixture over the meat.

Cover and cook 3 hours on high or 5 hours on low, until meat is tender.

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Mix in the mashed chickpeas, whole chickpeas, and spinach

Cook an additional 5-10 minutes until headed and spinach has wilted.

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Serve over rice.

Leftover note. We had this the next day as a sauce for gnocchi and it was really pretty good.