Wednesday, September 29, 2010

North Country

A few posts back, we mentioned a trip to North Dakota. For those curious about the area that haven't been to the Peace Garden State, think of North Dakota like Northwest Ohio, specifically Findlay and Bowling Green. The landscape is defined by a lot of rural, flat farm country.

Flat country + a green environmental movement = Windmills.

Like the few in the Bowling Green's high wind zone North Dakota's landscape is dotted with the energy harvesting turbines. Grand Forks is home to a manufacturing plant for Wind Mills, and we got to see a lot of parts traveling down on the road on "Long Load' tractor trailers.

Findlay and Bowling Green each had an oil boom at the turn of the century which lead to rapid growth. It's a new century, but ND is going through the same growth pains.

Finally, like Findlay, the flat land is prone to flooding.

North Dakota


So really, the only difference between North Dakota and Northwest Ohio is about thirty two feet of snow that dumps on them in October and doesn't melt until May.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I SPY: a Village Three Apples High!

Pop Quiz! What blue skinned alien race living in peace with nature, but hounded by humans is featured in a blockbuster movie next summer? If you said the Na'vi from James Cameron's Avatar you're close - but wrong.

Side note: some critics see Avatar as a thinly veiled retelling of Pocahontas, but Saturday Morning cartoon fans know Cameron really cribbed from Hanna Barbara cartoons*.

The appropriate answer for the pop quiz is the Smurfs - the cutesy, animated azure-skinned,"three apples high" characters made popular by cartoons in the 1980's, recently revived for the silver screen in 2011.

The similarities between Smurfs and Na'vi are deeper than the blue tint. Both live inside plants - Na'vi in tree top cabanas, Smurfs in Mushroom cottages. Where the Na'vi were hunted by a corporate military pursuing Unobtainium, the Smurfs were chased by the gold hunting wizard Gargamel.

Besides the Smurf's decidedly (near) all-male review and homogeneous look the biggest cultural difference from Cameron's Na'vi are the Smurf personalities. Smurfs are defined by one trait, attribute, possession or skill. For instance:

Biking Smurf

or Viking Smurf.

Of course, Gargamel never catches the Smurfs because their village is hidden and appears like Brigadoon, only every so often. So we were surprised to stumble upon it while pedaling down the Cedar Lake Trail last week:

The non-stop rain brought forth a shantytown of Smurfs.

Rows of fungus towers, shacks and bungalows dotted the otherwise empty field.

A Mushroom Metropolis, filled with dainty, dancing, free spirited Smurfs.

So of course, like any fiscally conscientious person stuck in a recession I got to thinking: all my problems are solved! I'll catch a few and turn them into gold. So I rounded up a few, and despite their high pitched squealing dropped them in simmering pot. Turns out the joke was on me.

Newsflash: The cartoon lied. Perhaps I lacked the proper cauldron, or maybe Gargamel had better alchemical insight but merely boiling Smurfs does not turn them into gold - rather, they make a fine gooey, blue paste.

Still, when life gives you lemons - or in this case, paste and mushrooms, well, I was determined to make the best of a bad situation.

Smurf Pizza anyone?

*Parts of this story may have been dramatized...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bakery Review: Isles Bun & Coffee

Cinnamon-infused bliss. That’s the best way to describe Isles Bun & Coffee, a small bakery situated between Hennepin Avenue and Lake of the Isles.

From caramel sticky buns to cinnamon rolls, they’re masters of the quintessential sweet bun. They don’t fool around by adding peculiar seasonings or bacon-flavored chocolate. Isles Bun & Coffee simply takes a classic and holds it to the highest standard.

We decided to try the cinnamon roll. . .

. . . and some French Roast coffee.

So, how was the roll?

A soft, sweet, cinnamon giant. Luscious and moist throughout with right-out-of-the-oven freshness. This gastronomical experience lies in that rare place where reality meets expectation.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so, because when we sat outside we were surrounded by tiny, gourmand birds who desperately wanted a crumb or two.

Isles Bun & Coffee is a bakery worthy of becoming a family tradition.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Art Of Hope

Maintaining hope requires diligent, daily practice. When a person wants to do something well, be it ballet or monster truck driving, they have to practice every day, even if they have a natural talent for it. Natural talent only gets you so far.

When Jonathan lost his job, we made a conscious decision not to fall into the black hole of despair. We planned. We prepared. We decided to temporarily let go of things that might suck us into despondent non-movement (e.g. video games). Then we moved forward toward our future with hope proudly displayed on our sleeves.

But we have to work hard every day to stay hopeful. It’s a full time job to battle the stress of finding a job, the worry that you won’t find one before the money runs out, the sleepless, angst-filled nights and the lazy, immobilizing mornings. So, from the beginning, we decided to set up a routine.

Wake up at 6 a.m. (Steve Inskeep loudly telling us the news on NPR)

Make coffee.

Get to work. Which for us is sitting at our desks, job searching, fielding calls from recruiters and potential employers, writing, reading business books, quizzing each other with interview questions and tweaking our resumes.

For a break we get up, walk around, do chores.

Then we sit down at the desk again and work until 6 or 7 in the evening.

And when we feel overwhelmed we don’t lie down on the floor discouraged and despondent (although sometimes the floor looks mighty nice). Instead we head out the door. We take a walk. We ride our bikes. We explore neighborhoods and historic shopping districts. We remind ourselves there is a world out there and we’re not alone.

Basically, we practice hope with perpetual motion. We don’t stop moving forward.

Or as Dory from Finding Nemo would say, we “just keep swimming.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Let The Wild Rumpus Start!

Nestled in the neighborhood of Linden Hills sits a children’s bookstore, Wild Rumpus.

When we first saw the bookstore we walked up to the display window where we spied the obligatory literary cat sunning itself while two children happily petted it.

But it wasn’t until we walked through the entrance, which was a door within a door, that we realized this was no ordinary bookstore.

We entered through the larger door mainly because we didn’t have the mandatory “DRINK ME” potion to shrink us. As we passed by the cash register, I quickly grabbed Jonathan’s arm and held him back because a rooster appeared from behind the counter, sauntering across the aisle. Suddenly, like kids, we started searching the store for other animals. We found a few more roosters, a chinchilla, more cats, a lazy lizard, a giant spider, some talkative cockatiels and a ferret lounging on his back in a hammock made just for him.

While searching for more bookish beasts, we also took in the atmosphere of the store itself. First we noticed the tremendous crack that fissured its way across the ceiling.

Then we spotted the various nooks and crannies for the kids to hide and play within.

Twinkle lights, too.

And, finally, the books. So many children’s books of all types, genres and age groups lining the shelves.

However, the truly best part of the bookstore, beyond all the twinkle lights, friendly animals and hidden spaces, was the fact that it was filled with children eager to read actual books. It's wonderful to see, especially when the media likes to scream that books are dead.

When we finally left and headed out the door, one of the roosters sat in the window to say good-bye and have a good day and please return soon, which, of course, we will.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reduced Speed Ahead: 65mph

Pop quiz. You're driving down the highway and come to a sign that says you're entering a construction zone and have to reduce your speed... to 65 mph. What speed were you going originally?

If you guessed...

You'd be correct.

We took a road trip this past week up to North Dakota, and were surprised to see a sign calling for us to slow down to 65 - you know, for the safety of the workers. Because the odds of surviving an impact with a few of tons of steel and glass apparently increase at the slow speed of 65 mph.

Don't worry though, the boxy Jeep Cherokee was made for durability, not speed. We barely hit the 72 mph mark on the open road.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I SPY: A Bicycle Built for Beer

The Midtown Greenway is always hustling and bustling with people on foot or more likely wheels. Just about every week we see a new contraption that goes above and beyond the normal Tandem Bicycles.

For instance there's the Eliptigo: a combination of an elliptical machine and bicycle. Great for cross-training.

Speaking of cross-country-training, Inline skating is huge in Minnesota, and rightfully so as the modern rollerblade had its birthplace (or rather reinvention) in Minneapolis. Skate parks are a common feature of the local community parks, just like basketball courts and swingsets. Leave it to the locals to turn it up a notch with what they call Nordic Blading.

There's nothing like cycling along at 15mph and getting passed by someone on Rollerblades, much less with poles. Next up: remember the Urban Assault ride? The wild folks at New Belgium brewing brought along this beauty that day:

A keg trailer, with a fully functional spigot attached to the handlebars, along with a cup holder. Not bad, eh? As if that weren't enough, when Johari and I reaped the rewards of her scone baking competition by using her champion gift card at The Local we were astonished to see the following roar by:

The Pedal Pub, a 16 seat mobile, human powered bar on wheels. The idea originated in Europe, but soon drifted over to the Twin Cities thanks the native's love of bicycling and beer. This "beer bike" is a popular sight around downtown on ball game days, but is usually known for making runs between local bars, putting a new spin on the old fashioned pub crawl.

We're ready to take the Pedal Pub out, we just need a few volunteers to help with the Flintstone-ian footwork. Anyone up to it?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Deep Fried Cheese Curds . . . Anyone?

There are many, many, many fun and entertaining events that a person could write about concerning the state fair--like rock concerts or carnival games or amusement rides or 1,000 lb. prize-winning pumpkins. It actually can be a bit overwhelming. So, for today's post I'm going to focus on one aspect of the fair . . . Deep-Fried Food On A Stick.

I am simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the deep-fry phenomenon. Jonathan and I went to the fair on opening day and while we walked around I felt like I was in a movie called Smeagol's Great Adventure At The State Fair, because these thoughts kept going through my head:

"We need to try the deep-fried cheese curds."

"I'm afraid to try the deep-fried cheese curds."

"Be adventurous and give us the deep-fried cheese curds."

"It has the word 'curd' in its name and it sounds too much like another word."

"We wants it. We needs it. We must have the precious cheese curds."

(sobbing) "I hate you. I hate you."

I didn't end up trying the cheese curds, I was able to walk on past. However, the fair isn't over, so I still might fall into the hot cheesy center of Mount Doom.

Besides the cheese curd, there were many other foods fated for the bubbling hot oil (two curds enter, one curd leaves). Here are some examples:

  • Deep-Fried Bacon Caramelized with Maple Syrup on-a-stick
  • Chicken Fried Bacon served in a boat covered in Gravy
  • Fried Bologna on-a-stick
  • Deep-Fried Pickles
  • Deep-Fried Bacon Cheddar Mashed Potatoes on-a-stick
  • Deep-Fried Norwegian Banana Split
  • Deep-Fried Smores on-a-stick
  • Deep-Fried Shortcake on-a-stick
  • Deep-Fried Candy Bars on-a-stick

And the pickle dog...
A pickle smothered in cream cheese and wrapped in pastrami.

We didn't eat any of the above, mainly because we're not 18 anymore and, therefore, no longer possess iron-clad stomachs.

That doesn't mean we stayed away from all fair food, because there was one thing I couldn't resist. I think it had to do with my inner child and the idea that something so wonderful could exist and you could actually buy it for your very own.

The giant pail of hot-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.


The woman behind the counter said they sell about 1,000,000 cookies a day at the fair. The fair is 12 days. So,that's a lot of yummy, warm, gooey, chocolate, sugar love! Yum.

Now, I may never completely embrace the deep-fry adventure that is fair food, but there's something to be said about just enjoying yourself for a day and partaking in whatever sweet, strange or somewhat gross kind of food you want. With that in mind, maybe I will try a deep-fried cheese curd. Maybe.