The Minnesota Edition: On the Road Again (aka the “Strange Synergy of this Trip” Post)

In several not entirely expected ways, my return home mirrored my journey here.

First, there was the Dairy Queen stop, at the beginning of the nearly 10-hour trip home.

photophoto-1This time, I went for a medium-sized, butterscotch-dipped cone, which I happily devoured while staring out at a local highway. Specifically, I was staring at the sign at the start of the bridge, the far side (which the iPhone camera is too low-res to capture). It reads (“announces” might be a better word): The Mississippi River.

“This is so Minnesota,” I thought, “To sit at a Dairy Queen, just off a local highway, and stare at a turn in the Mississippi River.” A moment later. “And damn, this is good soft serve.”

Transferring through the Minneapolis airport (MSP), I had the greater part of an hour to kill, which meant dinner. I ended up at Rock Bottom Brewery (which I photo-3actually don’t like that much) solely because I saw open electrical outlets, and even one guy plugged in and using his laptop, and I wanted to do the exact same thing.

I ended up with the sampler selection (of the beers that I don’t particularly like or dislike) because 24 total oz. of sampler beers was the same price as a large, single, 20 oz. beer — so, I got 4 oz. free. (Plus, I couldn’t remember which Rock Bottom Brewery beer I liked best. Oh yes, I’ve been to one before, in California.)

photo-4And I ended up with the half-order of nachos, plus guacamole extra, because I saw what they looked like on a neighboring table, and that’s exactly what I want.

Multi-colored corn chips (apparently, they exude some sign of authenticity), pickled jalapeno rounds from the can or jar, guacamole scooped out with a melon baller scoop — these nachos are nothing at all like the fare from my beloved taco truck outside the Jackson Height’s subway stop, but when you’re still three hours and change away from even landing at La Gauardia — just do it.

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The Minnesota Edition: This Is How a Sunset Cocktail Soiree Is Done “Up North”

I had the good wait, scratch that.

photoI had the excellent fortune of being at the lake the same weekend that neighbors of ours were hosting one of their much-anticipated sunset cocktail soirees. They happen only once or twice a summer.

I was informed: “Dear, it might be called drinks and hors d’oeuvres, but really, it’s enough for dinner.”

(I’m not sure my grandmother would appreciate this association, but for a few years I attended post-work media functions with exactly that same question on the line: What would they feed us, and would it be enough?)

Anyhow, these parties are really excellent. They begin about 5 o’clock in the evening, and wind down well past sunset. This year, I found myself puffing on a Montecristo white label cigar with an intimate group of about eight, and we sat around the fire, talking and smoking as the last light of day slipped away. It was lovely.

photo-5I didn’t take photos of all the food, but in my mind, the highlights were the baked salmon — Copper River salmon out of Alaska, I was told, along with the requisite (and I’m better for it) background story. Just outside the frame of this photo is a basket of small pumpernickel (or rye) toasts, which you smeared the cream cheese on, added a heavy slice of the salmon, and sprinkled with the capers, if you dared. Delicious.

photo-3And there was a cheese plate; I’m fairly certain that was peanut butter on the cheese plate. I don’t know more about it than that — I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it — although, at some point, I’m sure I had several slices of both the brie and the Monterey pepper jack, and a handful of grapes.

photo-1Then there’s this circular dish. I could figure out the part about the onions, the tomatoes, the bacon … the white base layer completely mystified me. Yogurt? Sour cream? Cream cheese? It doesn’t fit any of flavor profiles of the usual suspects.

The answer: Later, I found out this dish is called a “BLT Dip” — given the Google search results for “BLT Dip,” apparently I’m behind the curve — and the white layer is a blend of sour cream and mayonnaise, maybe a little garlic salt. Which makes perfect sense.

The Minnesota Edition: I’ve Had This Meal Countless Times (aka the “Classic Summer Supper” Post)

photo-5Dinner salad.
Corn on the cob.
Twice-baked potatoes.
Steak on the grill.

This is a meal that I’ve had dozens and dozens of times, probably even hundreds of times, over the years — Quite simply, this is Minnesota in the summer.

The cut of meat may change, but it’s always grilled. Tonight it was choice New York strip steaks from Cub Foods, a regional grocery store chain.

photo-1photo-2The style of potatoes may change — potato salad, baked potatoes, boiled baby potatoes tossed in fresh herbs and butter are other regular options — but the potatoes are always there. Twice-baked potatoes — potatoes baked in the oven, innards scooped and blended with such goodies as bacon bits, sour cream, green onion and shredded cheese, and then finished off in the oven again — are a personal favorite and a Grandma specialty.

photophoto-6Every Minnesotan will tell you there’s nothing better than sweet corn bought off the back of a farmer’s truck, although methods of buttering the corn do vary. This household uses a corn dipper, a tall, cylinder-typed glass beaker that is filled with hot water to a certain line and topped off with butter, which melts and floats on the top — ensuring a perfectly evenly-coated cob of corn every time.

photo-3The salad, too, is always there, although sometimes it can be an afterthought. Not when I make it: chopped romaine lettuce garnished with julienned carrots (from a bag), sliced red bell pepper, a tomato wedge, bacon bits, green onion, sunflower seeds, prepared tableside; add dressing of choice.

The timing of it all — so that dinner begins with the sun still well above the horizon, and isn’t over until the sun sets over the far lake shore — well, that’s intentional every time.

BLD Minnesota Edition: Impromptu Appetizer Party, Target Superstore-Style

If you live in the heart of New York City, and find yourself in the vicinity photo-6of an all-in-one megastore, like the Super Targets that populate the Twin Cities, you will make a pilgrimage there.

And you will marvel at the convenience of being able to buy your milk, freezer waffles, birthday cards, DVDs, toothpaste — as well as a cheap, fashionable handbag from some designer’s collaborative collection — all in the same place. Reverence-worthy indeed.

While I was scouting out travel-sized Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps, the $4.95 DVD rack and more, my aunt basically sourced the entire impromptu appetizer party, which happened a little later at Grandpa’s house, from Super Target’s grocery section (which legitimately could be a stand-alone, fully-stocked grocery store).

On the Menu:

Pita chips and humus.
Shrimps and cocktail sauce, frozen/thawed.

photo-8photo-7

Meatballs and hot dogs in barbecue sauce, warmed on the stove (could have just as easily been in a Crock-Pot).
Bite-sized vegetables and ranch dip, prepackaged.

photo-2photo-1No fancy cheeses (although I do love ’em), no Chinatown-sourced delectables (although I love those, too), no ordering involved (or cooking really, either) — just simple food of the sort that people can gather around and share, along with the latest family news.

Living in New York, you forget how the rest of the country eats. That’s okay, I think, but this is quite alright, too.