Tag: food

Roadtripping 2016 trip #2: culinary excursion


Gunflint Lake, on the MN/ON border, full of yummy fish

Last year I made a roadtrip wishlist. I only made it to one place – the Southeast (although we went to Mackinaw, Michigan, instead of Duluth or Door County – similar latitude). Fortunately, I’ve been able to hit a couple more places so far this year: we went to Tulsa and then on to San Antonio and Galveston, Texas, over spring break, and this weekend I returned from a weeklong trip that included Thunder Bay. My son and I are headed west along Route 6 to California in July, and then we’re taking it east to Nova Scotia in August. Not bad, as far as trips go.

About this last trip, though. I found a great deal for a little lodge in the woods of northern Minnesota, the perfect reward for graduating with my master’s in May. I’m not working this summer – just a few projects, most of which can be done from home – so I decided to take advantage of my free time by heading to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and then over to Winnipeg before coming back.


Kakabeka Falls, Thunder Bay – also full of yummy fish

One of my favorite reasons to head north (other than the cooler temps, especially in summer, and the beautiful scenery) is the food. Specifically along the Great Lakes, just about every local place specializes in fresh whitefish, like perch or walleye. I don’t scrimp when it comes to restaurants on vacation – I head to the cheapest 5-star places I can find.

This trip, we ate delicious walleye sandwiches from the Border Waters, the countless lakes that dot the border between Minnesota and Ontario. We changed it up in Thunder Bay at a Canajun (Cajun done Canadian style) restaurant, that offered yummy walleye po’ boys.

We changed it up, however, when we headed inland to Winnipeg. I love eating ethnic foods, especially ones I can’t get back home, and Winnipeg had plenty to offer. We settled on Ethiopian; we’d eaten it in San Antonio and it wasn’t something we could find locally.

Ethiopian food

Homemade misr wat (red lentils), atakilt wat (potatoes, cabbage, and carrots), and goman wat (collards) on injera (bread)

Hot damn, that was good. We split a veggie combo and a meat combo, and the woman who runs the place gave us lots of extra injera, the traditional flat bread. She also sold me a huge bag of the berbere spice mix so I could make my own stuff at home. Which I did, for dinner tonight, and it was wonderful.

We also hit up the Forks Market, where we ate awesome Indian and Greek and pastries. Lots of pastries. It’s probably best I don’t live in a place like Winnipeg, because I’d have a hard time not eating constantly.

Where’s your favorite foodie destination?

C is for Cinnamon Rolls #atozchallenge

Day C of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: cinnamon rolls.

I love to cook and bake. Unfortunately though I’m not a big eater, so I generally try to give away most of the food I make. Leftover risotto or lasagna can easily find a home; whole carrot cakes and several dozen cookies, not so much.

One thing I don’t have a problem devouring are these cinnamon rolls. My six-year-old son, who’s inherited my love of baking-not-eating, eats three of these in one sitting. He made them for Easter breakfast (I read the directions while he got out the ingredients, measured, and mixed), and since they were so yummy and easy, I want to share the recipe.

Cinnamon Rolls

In your bread machine, combine the following: 1 c milk, 1/4 c softened butter, 1 egg, 3 c flour (I throw in some gluten too because I don’t use bread flour), 1/2 c sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cinnamon, and 2 tsp yeast. Set to dough setting.

After the dough is done, combine 3/4 c brown sugar, 1/4 c flour, 1 tbsp cinnamon, and 1/3 c chopped cold butter until it resembles course crumbs. Divide the dough in half and on a floured surface roll out to a 12″x8″ rectangle. Sprinkle half the brown sugar mixture on each and roll up, starting with a long edge. Cut into 12 pieces and arrange in a greased 13″x9″ cake pan. Cover the pans and allow to rise for 30 minutes in a warm place. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp softened butter, and 3-4 tbsp milk. Pour on top.


Recipe for cream of awesome soup

It snowed today.  Only 3-4 inches, not a lot for northwest Illinois, but more than we’ve gotten at once for the past couple years.

When I was a kid, I remember it snowing all the time.  We’d go out sledding in the field across from our neighborhood. We’d pretend to be Arctic explorers bravely walking across the frozen pond, then running back to shore at full speed when someone thought they heard the ice crack. We’d make snow forts.  One year, on a snow day, my brother and I made a snowman on the roof (my mom was not happy about that).

Now, snow is just snow.  It’s still pretty to watch, but it’s also figuring out what to do with the kid if school is cancelled. It’s navigating slippery roads filled with a mix of overly-cautious and overly-aggressive drivers. It’s shoveling and melted puddles on the floor to avoid.

It’s also the perfect time to curl up with a book, or a notebook to write in, and a big bowl of homemade cream of awesome soup.

What, you’ve never heard of cream of awesome soup?  I’ve made it probably half a dozen times this winter, each time with whatever ingredients I’ve had on hand.  What I like most about it, besides how easy it is to make, is that it can be healthy too; you’re cutting out a lot of the sodium that most canned and commercial soups have. I don’t give any set amounts because so much of what makes cream of awesome soup awesome is that it’s whatever you want it to be. 

Cream of Awesome Soup

  1. Start with a big heavy nonstick pot. Pour in 8-10 c chicken stock (I prefer making my own, but you can also use store made, or just water and bouillon – although use only 1/2 tsp per cup of water, as you can always add more later).
  2. Add some diced veggies.  Carrots, potatoes, celery, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, corn – whatever you have on hand.  Throw in some pepper and herbs too – rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, parsley, sage, a dash of chili powder, etc. I suggest leaving salt out until the very end, because depending on what else you add (especially ham or cheese), it can really increase the saltiness. Simmer on med-low.
  3. Now make a roux to thicken the soup. In a separate pan, sauté a chopped onion or leek in some olive oil or butter over medium heat.  Add diced garlic and grated ginger, if you have any. Once the onion/leek is soft, dump in 1/2-1 c flour.  Stir until the onion/leeks are coated, then pour in 2-3 c milk.  Stir constantly on low heat until it’s really thick, and then add it to your broth and veggies.
  4. At this point, decide how chunky you want your soup. If you like chunks of veggies, leave it how it is. If you want a creamier soup, once the veggies are soft either scoop most of the chunks out and puree them in a blender or food processor, mash them with a potato masher, or – my favorite – use an immersion blender (you can get a decent one at Target for $20). I’ve also thrown in leftover mashed potatoes to make the soup creamier; you could probably use instant ones as well.
  5. Once you have your soup the consistency you want, add some meat.  Diced ham, chicken, turkey, bacon, whatever you want. To make it more filling, add barley, already-cooked rice, or already-cooked egg noodles. Cheese goes well with potato, broccoli, and spinach soups.
  6. Taste it and season accordingly.  More salt? More bouillon? More milk or water?  Then let simmer for a couple hours – the longer it cooks, the more it’ll thicken.

What’s your favorite way to spend a snowy day? Any favorite recipes you like to make on them?

North Dakota

In about two weeks, I’ll be moving back to my hometown on the Iowa/Illinois border.  I’ve been all over the country (and world too, I guess) for the last dozen or so years, and in most of those places I wasn’t there long enough to call them home.  Some of them I miss, and and some of them I don’t.  As I wrap up my time up here in North Dakota, where I’ve lived in a couple towns for the last two years, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll miss and what I won’t.

What I’ll miss about North Dakota:

  • First, it’s damn beautiful up here, once you get into the middle of the state and away from the flatness of the Red River Valley corridor.  I’ve spent the past year taking pictures around the state, and the empty hills of the high prairie are sometimes breathtaking.  My absolute favorite part of the state is along Hwy 1804, driving along the Missouri River towards South Dakota.  There aren’t any towns, just a few scattered farm houses and a lot of cattle.  The jutting buttes make farming difficult, so most of the land is covered with prairie grasses.  I’m sure some of it has never been farmed, in the history of the entire planet.  Kinda makes you think about your own existence, driving along there.
  • There’s very little humidity up here except in late July and August.  Coming from the South, where the heat and humidity sapped your energy from April through October, it’s a welcome change for someone with curly hair.  It’s already into June and it’s still 65-70.  It’s the prefect weather for sitting in the sun with a book and a beer.
  • Being that it’s the Midwest, everyone here is friendly, of course.  But it’s not the fake friendliness of the South.  It’s an honest, “I’ll help you when you need it and leave you to your business the rest of the time” friendliness.  As someone who’s not a people person, I appreciate this.
  • Building off of this, North Dakota has an overwhelming sense of community.  I grew up on the Mississippi, so I’ve experienced floods before.  It makes the news, the people affected sandbag, and everyone else just goes along with their daily lives.  Up here, however, it’s different.  The flood affects the community, so the community pitches in.  The whole community.  They set up Sandbag Central, where volunteers come and fill sandbags.  Thousands of volunteers (from communities of 60-90,000 people).  Churches donate food to them.  It’s a sense that even if your house isn’t affected, your community is, and so you pitch in.  Not everyone feels this way, of course, but a lot do.

What I won’t miss about North Dakota

  • I’m currently in the capital.  It’s roughly 100 miles in any direction to the next town with a stoplight.  Yes, you read that right.  With a stoplight.  Remember that scene in Lilo and Stitch where Stitch runs around trying to leave and Lilo informs him that he’s screwed because they’re on an island?  Yeah, that’s North Dakota for you.  There’s nowhere to go unless you drive through the sea of farms and ranches to the next island, 100 miles away.  And chances are there’s nothing to do on that island either.  Now, I’m not the most exciting person.  I’m fine staying home with a book.  But I get bored.  I want to know that I have options in case I want them.  I’m stuck on an island with no options.
  • Being that we’re all stuck on islands, most of them small (Bismarck has about 60,000 people, I think), we get used to our island’s quirks, and that includes driving.  Holy shit.  I would rather drive in Chicago rush hour traffic than in Bismarck.  The prevailing traffic rule here is this:  Mentally challenged f***tards have the right of way, unless you want to die.  Fourway stops are difficult for many here to understand.  Left turn arrows in conjunction with big red “No turn on red signs” too.  The only reason that there aren’t more fatalities is that everyone goes under the speed limit and anticipates that jackass who runs the stop sign.  Yeah.  Give me Chicago traffic any day.
  • North Dakotans are for the most part farmers and ranchers.  To keep up their strength in the fields, they’ve developed a diet heavy on meat and potatoes.  This is great except most of their restaurants are all about heavy comfort foods.  Or chains.  I’ve overheard people raving about the best restaurant ever:  Golden Corral.  Now, my idea of comfort food is Asian-based rice dishes.  Japanese or Thai, preferably, but Chinese’ll do.  You don’t find a lot of ethnic food here in Bismarck, where even Mexican is still considered exotic (although up here where they call sauce “gravy,” it’s referred to as Mexiwegian).  Fargo is an exception; it has a huge refugee population from Africa and Eastern Europe, so you can at least easily get the ingredients for yummy stuff like shawarmas.  Bismarck and the rest of the state though, not so much.  (Note:  I moved up here from Durham, NC, which objectively has some of the best restaurants and variety in the entire country.  I realize this is an unfair comparison, but still, the food here sucks for the most part.)
  • And then, of course, there’s the weather.  For 25 years I’ve gone out in the morning with wet hair and never been bothered, but this winter my hair would actually freeze, it was so cold.  Yes, freeze, leaving me feeling like Medusa.  Snow lasts from October-ish until April.  It gets cold, with weeks of temps below zero.  We have white-out blizzards.  It feels like winter will never end.  But the worst part?  I’m the only one who seems to notice!!  Maybe it’s because I don’t have a big-ass 4WD truck, but yes, it irks me when there’s 6 inches of snow on the roads and no one plows, no one comes in late to work, school isn’t cancelled – it’s just accepted and you go about your business.  No thank you.

So, obviously, good and bad.  I’ll miss it up here – I love the scenery, love my job – but I won’t miss it too much.  :)

Tator tot thingies and ice skating

As an introduction, the best way to describe me is that my thought train often jumps the tracks.  Sometimes what I come up with is good, sometimes it’s not so good, and sometimes it leaves you wondering, WTF?  Most of the time, maybe, it leaves you wondering WTF.  A friend of mine once told me “You come up with some weird flotsam and jetsam,” hence the name of the blog.  (He also told me, “Of course I’ll read your book, you spazzy chick,” but that’s irrelevant to this blog post.) 

Last night I had a craving for tator tots.  While I had some in the freezer, I didn’t have a clean cookie sheet to heat them up.  And I hate doing dishes.  Plus, Sonic’s sounded really good, seeing as how theirs are always perfectly crispy and overly salted, and mine aren’t because first, I get too impatient and never leave them in long enough (I don’t believe in using timers while cooking), and second, I tend not to use much salt because my blood becomes all buzzy when I have too much sodium.

However, there are no Sonics in my town.  Or Chik-fil-a’s, or Moe’s, or Noodles and Co’s, or any other chain restaurants that are the mark of a culinary nirvana.  Just two or three Applebee’s and the only Cracker Barrel in the state.  My next option was Taco John’s, as their tator tot thingies are pretty good.  But it was cold and dark and late and probably snowing, and I was already in my pajamas, so I decided to wait until today and get them for lunch.

Today is a really nice day, by Frigid Northland standards.  It’s above freezing and the snow is melting (20.1 inches so far this year).  You walk out and want to take your coat off, it feels so wonderful out.  Some people didn’t even wear coats to work today, although I personally think that they’re nutjobs.  When I become acclimated to a place, or have gone native, it’s a sign that I should move to another region of the country.  My only mark of North Carolina is that I say y’all and call everyone sweetie.

While the temporary thaw is nice, it leaves a big mess on the road.  The melting snow forms huge puddles with the salt and sand.  Chunks of once-frozen slush gushes off cars like their water is breaking.  Mother Nature is teasing us, because in two days the high is predicted to be 2, and there will be snow on the ground until April.

I drove the few blocks or however far to Taco John’s, since no one walks in this town, and requested a large order of their tator tot thingies, which according to the girl taking my order are actually called “Potato Olés.”  Poor girl, I think I really confused her by not using the right terminology.  Whatever the spice is that they use – paprika or chili powder or some other red seasoning – they hit the spot.  And seeing as how I ordered a large and am an incredibly slow eater, they’ll continue to hit the spot for the rest of the afternoon. 

While sitting in my car waiting for my order, I noticed all the slush and grime that had splashed up on my window.  And that reminded me of a date – one of two – that I had in high school.

H had asked me to go ice skating with him.  Unfortunately it turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year, barely above zero – balmy by the standards of those up here in the Frigid Northlands – so the ice rink was actually warmer than outdoors.  I remember him driving across the I-74 bridge, except now for the life of me I can’t think of why we would’ve been on that bridge because I lived on the other side of town and the ice rink was at the base of the Centennial Bridge.  Was it still a toll bridge at that point and neither of us had the $.50 to pay to get across?  But that was in the days before everyone had debit cards, and we were only 16 anyways and would only have had cash.

So then I started thinking, we ate at the Pizza Hut by the mall.  But I think we did that afterwards, because why would you eat then go skating?  You’d be too full and wouldn’t want to move.  It was the middle of the afternoon too while we were there, I think.  I remember the restaurant being not very full, and I remember it being dark outside but it’s almost always dark out in my memories, so that’s not really any help.

Anyways, regardless of why we were on that bridge, I remember lots of slush and gunk flying up on the windshield and H having the wipers on, constantly spraying windshield wiper fluid on them so that he could see to drive.

I wonder how he’s doing and if he still ice skates.  And if he’s a fan of Taco John’s tator tot thingies.

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