It’s ok! Play with your food

The end of summer is near–Alec returned to college in Chicago this week.

For those of you not from the midwest, a drive through Wisconsin creates the opportunity for comedic experiences. Such as the Mousehouse Cheesehouse that has a giant rat/cheese wheel on it. Interesting enough, this is not the ONLY giant rat/cheese “sculpture” found on the I94 route.

Beer, Cheese, Gifts and Fudge were advertised. None were purchased. This is Wisconsin. They’re serious about cheese. They also sell beer everywhere. I am unclear how fudge got involved except that after beer and cheese obviously one needs fudge to cleanse the palate. We stopped to snap a pic with the rat.

It got me thinking about how much fun we have in our house with food–trying new recipes or restaurants. So this post is a rather haphazard look at some of the experiments from the last few weeks (and hopefully distracts from my lack of actual recipe posts lately 😉).

What happens when you freeze watermelon cubes as mojito “ice”? Delicious drink for the lake

What happens when you puree an entire cucumber for a martini? Great flavor and color, not so great texture 😉

Challenge day: Can you make a breakfast baked good with a half eaten container of yogurt and a random amount of blueberries and no eggs because you haven’t done the grocery shopping at the lake yet? Oh-yes-you-can lemon-blueberry muffins. Could you repeat it because you wrote any of it down or measured? Oh no.

Favorite new food toy: the Jaguar of zoodlers (“leased” from my sister). Alec and I also laughed while doing this, it’s like the old Play-Dough toys.

I need another drink after all of that creativity! But a perfect reminder to stop and smell the roses (jasmine). It goes fast.

Actual recipes forthcoming now that Alec isn’t here to distract me.

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Travelogue: New Orleans

A long weekend in Nola is just about perfect.

You can fit in a sampling of everything and yet have had enough fun to be ready to return to reality.

I could definitely see a recurring trip just to explore new restaurants, it’s a great town for eating and any worries I had about finding vegan/healthy choices were quickly set aside. I mixed in trying local seafood too. If I lived near the ocean, I would definitely be pescatarian. 😉

Day 1

After arriving early afternoon, we did our usual walking tour to get the lay of the land near our hotel. A quick route on Canal and down into the French Quarter, where we grabbed a late lunch at a hole-in-the-wall spot, Green Goddess. The roasted tomato Bloody Mary was fantastic (Crystal hot sauce being another secret ingredient) and Matt started his run on bourbon tastings.

The staff was incredibly friendly and gave us tips to check out some relatively new restaurants (and yes, that’s drink #2 if you’re keeping track):

We had dinner reservations at Pêche, which is part of the restaurant group of chef Donald Link. It’s a hip place with a Creole and Southern seafood oriented menu. I broke my vegan diet to try Louisiana oysters, which were very plump and mild, not briny like East Coast types. (Drink #3 was a gintilly shakedown with gin, ginger, cucumber, lemon and cava. Adult Kool-aid, yum).

We stopped by the hotel bar afterwards. Completely packed for live jazz, and great people watching for the revelers just heading out (it’s Mardi Gras season after all). I am fascinated by what people do on holiday.

Day 2

I had the day to myself and stopped by Merchant for a breakfast of almond crepes. They do a cool self-contained version of a french press coffee to go that I had never seen, plus vegan options.

We headed off to City Park’s Sculpture Garden, which is free and has more than 300 large sculptures and miles of walking paths. The old oaks with Spanish moss were ethereal. It was nice to walk outside without wearing 12 layers!!

After lunch, a swim at the hotel pool (a flow pool, cool!) and massage before dinner at Paladar 511. The tuna crudo with avocado and pistachios was fantastic. It’s crab season and the squid ink pasta was also a highlight.

Day 3

Lots of walking today to burn through some calories after a late breakfast at Willa Jean. Avocado toast and a glass of lunch punch, with a yummy lavender syrup. I also saw my first King Cake, and learned about this 300-year-old tradition. In Nola, the “king/queen” for the evening who finds the baby figurine is responsible for buying next year’s cake (which BTW can only be eaten during Mardi Gras season.) You can find elaborate fillings and decorations using the colors representing the 3 kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus (purple, gold, green).

Walking down the Riverfront path watching the barges come in to St. Stephen’s church, and a palm reading (the irony).

A late lunch at Killer Poboys of banh mi style sautéed shrimp sandwich. They had vegan options here too and I fully converted to the vinegary Nola-based hot sauce brand, Crystal.

We had a work dinner event that night, which included a crawfish boil and gator bites. Growing up, we used to catch crayfish on the North Shore of Lake Superior, where we’d skewer roast them over a fire with butter. So I was up for trying the crawfish, but wasn’t keen on the texture…and couldn’t bring myself to try gator. 😉

N’awlins really is another world of cultures and traditions from our northern end of the Mississippi. But like Minnesota, the people are very nice. The main difference this time of year is just a mere 100 degrees and 36 inches of snow. 😉

Already have the next long weekend planned:

    Nighttime ghost tour
    Creole Cooking class
    Preservation Hall
    Frenchmen Street
    Market Street
    Garden tour

Travelogue: Omaha. Eating veg in beef country.

Yup, the glamour of a hockey mom, weekend trips to Omaha.

The magic of low expectations is that it’s really easy to exceed them. Honestly, 12 hours in the car through cornfields sounded wretched. Wind power accounts for 8% of energy used in Iowa, who knew?

But it was actually pretty fantastic. Which says a lot about how much food has changed. There are so many more options than just 20 years ago and it’s even possible to get a fresh salad at the gas station.

We discovered that Omaha is quite a charming downtown with old stone buildings and a solid art and food community. Very walkable.

We found a cute cafe for breakfast (Culprit Cafe) with awesome donuts and beignets. The orange chai white chocolate was a surprising combo. And steel cut oats with fruit set the day up right.

But the real wow’s of the trip we’re finding an awesome ramen shop (Jinya Ramen Bar. I did add a seasoned egg to my creamy vegan noodles, extra spicy)

And 2 new chains–Freshii juice bar and Even hotels, which offers exercise equipment in every room. I was skeptical but actually appreciated being able to sneak in 30 minutes of strength training in private.

And it was a lovely sunny fall day of almost 70 degrees. Not bad for a $200 weekend. Maybe Av will be a UN-O Maverick. I like the mascot, no BS 😉

Travelogue: Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Isla Mujeres is a small island just off the coast of Cancun in Mexico. While it’s a sunspot destination for folks like us from the northern US, it’s generally not built up in large resorts like most of Mexican beach towns. In fact, most people get around via golf carts and cash only is the norm. There’s only one grocery store.

We were fortunate to find a wonderful condo on VRBO on the southernmost point of the island that had views of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea for sunrise/sunset. I spent most of my days lounging with water views of some sort!

For a small island, the food scene is decent too. There are 150+ restaurants of all kinds but mostly tacos, seafood and bars. I did not stay vegan (fish, eggs and some dairy. It was almost impossible with limited veg options 😔). Some highlights:

  • Nachos at The Joint, just across the street from us. We could hear the live music from our place. Along with giant mojitos with fresh mint!

  • Breakfast at Green Verde with chilaquiles and huevos rancheros with scratch red chili sauce, yum!

  • Dinner with the fancy boating types at Marbella. Stone crab, hamachi sashimi, red snapper, hog fish fillets and lime pie. I couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was. An insight to how wealth runs the world and the relativity of that wealth in the world. We’ll never take clean drinking water for granted again.

  • Ceviche at Maria’s Kan Kin at a little hotel on the beach. I loved the octopus in it!

  • Fish tacos with fiery salsa at Jax. Really fresh fish, perfect avocados and too many margaritas (2). Yup, still a lightweight. Alec discovered he likes a Miami Vice, a mix of piña colada and strawberry daiquiri. Basically a booze smoothie. (The drinking age is 18 here).

  • 6 different Beers at Isla Brewing, the only brewery on the Island. The IPAs were solid and the hibiscus was unique.

  • Finally a shout out to Rosa Sirena’s, a new spot with a fun rooftop palapa bar. Somehow the Ambrosia cake got eaten before I got a pic, baked by owner Debbie-who’s super friendly and finding her way in a second career after retiring from trial law (“much less stress”). The boys were happy with large portions of chicken and pork chops. We’re on vacation after all!

Speaking of which…I think this might possibly be our last family winter vacation together. 12 days of sunshine and beach and pool and eating and fun with friends…it went by fast. All 18 years of it.

Food Travelogue: Chicago 


As we waited for our donuts and cold press at Do-Rite Donuts in Chicago, a fellow customer asked where we were from. Our response prompted a compliment: “Minneapolis has the best Farmer’s Market I have ever been to.” 

I had never thought of my hometown as more “foodie” and more of a farm-to-table destination than my one-time adoptive home (during college), and arguably the only city worthy of a pitstop in what coastdwellers call the Midwest: “flyover land”. The Windy City, home of Da Bears and Michael Jordan. 

But a long weekend eating out showed us that Chicago’s food traditions—old and new—are gluttonous and actually quite different than Minnesota’s health-oriented cuisine. Thankfully, we got lots of steps in touring colleges and walking along the river and lake while eating our way through the city.

Highlights

  • Craft beers, cheese curds and potato chip nachos with Merkts cheesespread while watching the Cubs fall apart to the Dodgers. 😔
  • Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich’s Italian food emporium, Eataly. What could be more awesome than food shopping with a glass of wine?! We had salted caramel-chocolate and chocolate chip gelato, pistachio cannoli and sun-dried tomato-olive foccacia. I could spend weeks sampling from the pasta, salami, cheese, coffee—real Italian cappuccinos—pizza, fish, salads, sandwiches…ohhhh so many fantastic packaged items to tryout at home too.

  • The valhrona chocolate and pistachio-lemon donuts from Do-Rite were fantastic. Birthday cake with sprinkles and a good ol’ fashioned rounded out breakfast.

  • A classic, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, was a nice surprise (expectations were low). The spaghetti and meatballs were well portioned for 2 teenage boys, as was a 12 oz steak, but the corn brûlée stole the show.

  • A quaint diner serving breakfast all day, chorizo skillet topped with 3 eggs and a side of 3 pancakes. (= “My stomach hurts”.) 

  • The boys horked down chili cheese dogs from Portillo’s as an afternoon “snack”. Fast food wieners…hmmm…yes, this is Chicago.

I’m glad to be home. A good warmup for Thanksgiving, I guess. 😉

Fair Food 


The Minnesota State Fair–aka the Great Minnesota Get Together–is the largest (and of course best, IMO) fair in the country. Nearly 2 million people attend its 12 days–that’s almost half the population of MN! We love our fair, which is equally about our ag heritage as it is about “fun”–in the form of unique and overindulgent foods, art and creative activities and entertainment like Stevie Nicks, Garrison Keillor and John Mellancamp. To give you an idea of the scale, some of the food vendors do nothing else because they make an entire year’s income in 12 days!

I’m not the average fairgoer (best summer job ever–working in PR at the fair! I met fantastic people, from pig farmers to Tim McGraw)…here are some highlights from this year’s trip:

Fair basics

These are the “have to” get every year:

  • Pronto pup (no, this is NOT a corn dog. It’s made with regular flour batter, making it lighter). Mustard only!
  • Chocolate malts from the Dairy Barn or Kiwanis booth
  • Roasted corn on the cob
  • Fresh french fries (watch them peel potatoes!)
  • Mini donuts (preferably before a ride on the world’s oldest tunnel of love, Ye Old Mill)
  • Cheese curds (must be shared)
  • Sweet Martha’s bucket of cookies, accompanied by the all-the-milk-you-can-drink stand
  • Fried pickles with ranch (trust me)


Must see activities:

  • Creative Activities winners. From home cook food entries to gorgeous quilts and woodworking, it’s inspiring. Maybe I will enter my snickerdoodles next year
  • Fine Arts show, which gets better every year! I always find 2-3 artists to check out
  • Animal barns, we happened to arrive as the 6-horse hitch was getting prepped. Wow, draft horses are amazing! Biggest boar weighing in over 1,000 lbs, I always find the llamas interesting too, along with handlers–interesting people to talk to in the barns passionate about their animals 
  • DNR, the fish pond is stocked with rare to find species like the paddlefish
  • Crop art. It’s somewhere between kitschy and incredible for its meticulous detail. A Prince tribute section caught my eye.
  • Scarecrow contest (make America grate!) and display of vintage seed bags so cool! Grab a craft beer, hard cider or view wine winners in the Ag building.

And because no trip to the Fair should ever not include something new:

Nitro cold press and blueberry corn creme eclair, yum!! Can’t wait til next year! The official end of summer…

Food Travelogue: Seattle/Tacoma

Pike’s Place Market

Alec and I recently visited Seattle and Tacoma for a tour of a few colleges. I have always loved the area, in fact it’s where Matt & I honeymooned. The culture and people feel a lot like Minnesota–friendly, outdoorsy and full of an appreciation for art and sense of place.

We had less than 48 hours so we didn’t do much other than visiting the campuses in Tacoma and downtown Seattle. I was quite surprised by how different the two cities are–again, it felt like Minneapolis vs St. Paul. Tacoma is definitely a “big” town that feels small. Lots of local stores, independently owned, beautiful art throughout the city (a glass museum that I wished we’d had time to visit). Of course, gorgeous views of Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound. Alec was annoyed by the number of times I said “Look another rainbow!” It does rain A LOT, but at least it’s not snow 😉

The area is known for its coffee and beer, and actually a growing winemaking and craft distilling (whiskey primarily) community. I hope I get to go back soon for more grownup sampling. We stuck to coffee and what goes great with coffee? Breakfast foods! Some food highlights:

  • Breakfast biscuits with spicy remoulade at Biscuit Bitch (who could resist a name like that!)
  • Chocolate sandcastle donut, a chocolate cinnamon sugar combo. I’d go back to try salted caramel.
  • Bacon cheddar waffle at Red Elm Cafe in Tacoma. The 2 sisters who recently opened this charming spot were so friendly I wanted to hang out all day.

I’m very grateful Alec gives me excuses to travel and eat! 😊