Sunday, September 30, 2012

midwest cultural tours: bookends

When Jon and I traveled to Wisconsin in late August, we started and ended the trip in Minneapolis, Minnesota, visiting with my brother Dave and his wife Kara. We always have a good time when we stay there, even when we're just hanging out talking. Dave and Kara live in the cool Nakomis neighborhood, near a greenway. When we arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, Kara put together a snack tray and mixed us some Arnie Palmers (in classy places, referred to as an 'Arnold Palmer,' according to Kara), then we headed out to their back deck where we nearly melted in the late August heat. It felt awesome after our cool Anchorage summer.

Sculpture in the Fine Art building (sorry I don't have the artist's name).
Over the next few days, we had no problem filling our time: shopping at some stores in Nakomis and one of my favorites in the Cedar/Riverside area: Midwest Mountaineering. (They have a great selection of wool from Icebreaker.) There are also plenty of excellent places to eat or get a drink in the Twin Cities. After shopping with Kara, we headed to Longfellow Grill where we could sit outside enjoying half-price appetizers and a drink or two. Dave joined us after work just before we finished our appetizers (tempura green beans, buffalo calamari (spicy!) and pulled pork quesadillas). When we eventually returned to the house, we had to decide where to go for dinner. My question: do they have outdoor seating? Yes! Cafe Ena had sidewalk seating, and the scent of blooming flowers filled the air around our table. Three of us had the Coriander-crusted sea scallops, which was very good. Jon was a renegade and had the red snapper. Mmm.

Jon and I decided that the next day we'd go to the Minnesota State Fair. After all, we were missing the rainy Alaska State Fair. Why not melt in Minnesota? We packed a few things in Jon's backpack, Kara handed us a couple bottles of water (good call!) and we drove to the fair's Park and Ride where we caught a bus to the grounds. The Park and Ride was at a Ford assembly plant that had closed late last year. I had no idea there was a Ford plant in the Twin Cities. It was huge (136 acres) and had been in operation since the 1920s. It's hard to see a facility that large and not wonder about all the people who've lost their jobs (For the record, the closure was scheduled before this current recession began.) We climbed into the motor coach and in a few minutes the Ford plant was behind us as we rolled along the tree-lined streets with lawns browned by the summer's drought.

What can I say about the fair? Dairy building, Fine Arts, Agriculture, the Eco building, seed art, a surprise parade! 
Seed art can be a little political.

Seed art can be political and clever.

Seed art for art's sake.

The food: breakfast burrito, yogurt, Zestar! apple, Pronto Pup (like a corn dog, but dipped in the batter right in front of you), meat balls, fried walleye, lemonade. Oh, and the IPA tasting! I found out later that we missed the ethnic food section and as we were getting ready to leave, we walked past places that smelled pretty delicious. (Note to self: we must visit Midwest during the fair again!) We talked with bee keepers, admired Christmas trees, looked at landscape competition entries and flower arrangements. As for the animals, we checked out the chickens and other birds, even saw a few horses, but the cows and hogs were already being loaded up late in the afternoon to be returned to their farms. Apparently, the 90-degree heat was rough on the animals as well as the humans.

A flight of IPA at the craft beer aisle, so refreshing!

The second largest pumpkin (the winner had already split, literally).

A parade? At the fair!?

We were pretty tired by the time we climbed aboard the bus for the ride back to the car, but our day wasn't done yet. There was something else we wanted to see: the first ever Internet Cat Video Festival! So we headed off with Dave and Kara for a light snack then walked with the flow of cat-loving humanity along Hennepin Avenue to the Walker Art Center. I tell you, the culture just does not stop! Thousands showed up for the outdoor fest and it was already getting dark when we arrived. We could barely see the screen from where we sat on a blanket on the grassy slope. The sound didn't always reach us over the murmur of the crowd, but the collective "oohs" and "awwws" brought us all together. Even Dave and Kara, who are admitted dog people, enjoyed the show, if not for the content then for the bragging rights to say they were there.

The next day, Jon and I packed up for the drive to Wisconsin. Before hitting the highways, we made a few stops: liquor store; a bike shop Dave had told us about; a bakery (awesome) and an eco-friendly renovation supply store Jon had learned about at the fair's eco building the day before. With our list of stops, it took us awhile to get on the road, but we were mighty happy to have those bakery sweets for our long drive to Wonewoc. We would see Dave and Kara the next day when they joined several of the siblings and some nieces and nephews for a family barbeque. Jon navigated with the few maps we had and soon we were off the interstate and on the back highways of western Wisconsin.

Oh, yeah, do not forget the cheese!
After just over a week in Wisconsin and another long afternoon of driving, Jon and I made it back to Minneapolis and Dave and Kara's place. A little weary from the drive, I thought I'd nap before dinner, but instead we chatted about our visit, changed into fresh clothes, then off we went to one of my favorite places in the Twin Cities: The Blue Nile -- Ethiopian food. Something we can't get in Anchorage. The restaurant was quiet; we ordered our drinks and entrees for four that we would share, using our injera (bread) to pick up the chicken or lamb or lentils in our hands. The sauces soaked into the large pores of the bread and I had to keep using my washcloth to wipe my hands. I don't know why this feels like comfort food, but it tastes like something I should have been raised on!

In the morning, we took another walk through the neighborhood with Dave and Kara. When we stopped to admire a garden, the homeowner came out and insisted on giving us a tour (and me without my camera!). We followed stepping stones, went through the torii (a torii marks the entrance to a Shinto shrine) and entered a peaceful Japanese-style garden cozied between the house and the detached garage. Mary (the homeowner) encouraged me to sit in a chair in the corner of the garden, telling us the space was designed to be enjoyed from a seated level. I watched a water feature and agreed. (Here's another link with an image of the garden.) We moved along to a bench with a stone table. The table top was mostly smooth, but of an irregular shape and was taller than a coffee table, but lower than a dinner table. She said she'd decided it would be the perfect height and as I sat on the bench and reached in front of me to an imaginary teacup, I had to agree; it was perfect. She then insisted on leading us inside to a daylight basement where we could look out at the view. I again wished I had my camera. She's inspired me to plan my yard carefully. We all think about what the view will be from the street. But it's also important to think about what we see from inside. And, with the daylight basement, it was like sitting almost in the garden. Food for thought for next summer.

After a final errand with Kara, Jon and I again sat on the deck drinking cold beverages one last time. Watching people coming and going to and from the stairs that lead to the greenway just down the hill. It would have been nice to stay around and enjoy more of the late-summer warmth, but we were ready to head home. To check in on wind damage from a storm the previous week; to be home with Kitty who is as charming as any internet cat video; and to get back to all the fall chores on our list.

An afterword:
After we were home for a few days, I went online in search of recipes for injera. I found one that turned out to be fairly simple and didn't require teff flour. We did add a little more liquid to thin the batter and experimented with cooking both sides. It went great with the beef stew seasoned with berbere and the carrots. I look forward to making it for friends. It will be perfect this winter.

Making injera.
Injera with beef stew and carrots. By all means, use your hands!


Dave Austin said...

We're really glad you two had a good visit. Next time you come down I'll make sure to take more time off. Or I'll at least make sure I can make it to happy hour to try all of the appetizers.

corinne said...

I hope we're on the list to try your homemade injera! We love ethiopian food.

Love the seed art! Almost as creative as the potato art at the Alaska state fair. I bet Paul Ryan looks good as a peanut potato!

Next time we go to WI, we'll have to fly thru Minneapolis.

Pierre Ostor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bikegirl said...

Dave - yes, take more time off!

Corinne - yes, we'll have a feast this winter! I don't remember potato art at the AK fair. I'll have to check it out next time but I'm pretty smitten w/the Minnesota fair.