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A Vegan from the Midwest?

Never ever EVER would I have thought that I would have any reaction to veganism that didn’t involve scoffing and feelings of shock, disgust and disdain. I’m from Minnesota – meat was always the centerpiece of dinner, our rival NFL team wears blocks of cheese on their heads, when I was sick my dad would tell me that I was not drinking enough “moo juice”, and fishing is basically the state sport. Not necessarily a breeding ground for veganism. But then came Forks Over Knives…

Forks Over Knives is a documentary that explores the harm that animal proteins can do to our body. The movie centers around two doctors who are advocating plant-based diets – Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn (both grew up on dairy farms). Dr. Campbell while in the Philippines discovered that the wealthier populations that could afford to eat meat were much more likely to get liver cancer. This lead him to continue to explore the connection between animal proteins and cancer, conducting an extremely comprehensive study of China. Dr. Esselstyn, while looking into breast cancer, found that places in the world that consumed little or no animal-based proteins had incredibly low rates of cancer. Both doctors came to the conclusion that a plant-based diet can not only prevent cancer and other health issues, but can also REVERSE damage already done. This documentary is ridiculously interesting.

I don’t see myself going completely vegan anytime soon, but I think the documentary was very compelling and I have made small adjustments. Instead of Greek yogurt for breakfast I have a grapefruit and whole grain toast with peanut butter. My lunch is almost always some sort of salad that is a random mix of veggies. I’ve switched to almond milk and Ryan and I have seriously amped up the amount of vegetables for dinner. The main concern that we both had as people who like to exercise is can you get enough protein?

Plants have protein too

Plants have plenty of protein – beans, quinoa, spinach, etc. You can find other ways to get it. If you’re interested, here’s one of my favorite recipes that we’ve been having for dinner. I made it up so not really sure what to call it – let’s go with Awesome Bowl. Feel free to omit or add vegetables to suit your tastes.

Ingredients

  • Garlic cloves, minced (we use 2 large ones, but we like lots of garlic)
  • Habanero pepper, finely chopped (we use about 1/8 of the pepper in the dish, Ryan adds more to his because he is nuts) (optional but really gives it a nice flavor)
  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 of an onion, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 package of baby portobello mushrooms, diced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can of organic black beans (less sodium in the organic)
  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (optional – can substitute with water)
  • 2 zucchinis, diced
  • 1 summer squash, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 3 or 4 cups of spinach leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt, pepper, whatever seasonings you like

Directions

  • To start, put the black beans in a small pot on low. Periodically mash them to give them a more creamy consistency.
  • Start quinoa. I use a rice cooker and use the vegetable stock to cook it in. You could also cook it on the stove – see package instructions for this option.
  • In a large pot, heat some olive oil. Add the garlic, shallots and onions. Saute until translucent.
  • Add mushrooms. Let cook 3-5 minutes.
  • Add zucchini and summer squash. Add salt, pepper and whatever seasoning you like (I use Penzey’s Mural of Spices and thyme). Stir and let cook 5 minutes.
  • Add orange bell pepper. Stir and put top on. Let cook 5 minutes.
  • Add some tomatoes and hold some until the end
  • When the quinoa is finished cooking and the zucchini and summer squash are soft, add spinach leaves to the pot and mix in until spinach becomes wilted. Add remainder of tomatoes.
  • Add quinoa to pot and mix.
  • Add black beans to pot and mix.
  • Serve in a bowl with avocado on the top.

Delicious!

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Food and Drink

 

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Should I Take an All-Inclusive Vacation? – 5 Things to Consider

All-inclusive.  Some people swear by all-inclusive and love it for its hassle-free ease.  Others abhor it because it’s not “real travel” and allows people to vacation without really escaping their comfort zone.  What’s really up with all-inclusive vacations and when (if ever) should you take one?  Here are five things to consider in making your decision on all-inclusive vacations.

1.  What is your purpose in traveling – Culture? Relaxation? Adventure? Exploration? Escape?

The biggest factor in deciding whether or not to take an all-inclusive vacation is deciding on what kind of vacation you really want to take.  Be honest and don’t let other people’s opinions influence you.  If you want to discover new foods and culture, to really explore and get to know a place, then perhaps pass on all-inclusive this time around.

However, if you want nothing more than to escape and relax, then all-inclusive is a very good option.  How many times do people return home and say, “I need a vacation from my vacation”?  (Which really, who ever feels sorry for that person? Boo hoo, you are worn out from your awesome travel to destination x) Anyways, with all-inclusive packages, this will not be the case.  Your “stressful” decisions will likely consist of: do we go to the beach first or go to the swim-up bar first?  Very horrible indeed.

Our Morning View - Not Bad Eh?

Not having a schedule or anywhere to be was very nice.  Because you are on vacation with the goal of relaxing, you don’t feel as though you are missing out on “cultural destination A” or “museum B” when you opt to take a leisurely breakfast followed by a mid-morning nap on the beach.

For example, one day Ryan and I found ourselves at the swim up bar drinking el capitain con dieta at 9AM.  By lunch, we had polished off a bottle to ourselves.  Completely acceptable.  Would we do these things on a backpacking trip in Peru?  Likely not.

Still, you might want to do some adventuring and exploring.  On our trip, we took out kayaks that were available at our beach and took a day excursion to Tulum and Xel-ha.  At Tulum, we toured the Mayan ruins.

© Heather Freitag 2011

For more detail on our Tulum experience, you can check out my earlier post here.  Xel-ha is like an amusement park but built into a natural lagoon and focused on the water.  You can snorkel, float down in tubes, cliff jump, zip line, bike, see the cenotes, etc.  For additional fees you can swim with dolphins or manatees, walk on the bottom of the ocean and snuba.  More on this at a later date.  Point is, you can find a way to work excursions into your all-inclusive vacation.

2. Food

All-inclusive means all of your food and beverages are included, which is nice because there is no need to carry cash.  Our mini-fridge had a constant stash – especially nice to have the water to bring about.  If you are hungry or thirsty, you can go to one of the restaurants at almost any hour of the day.  Don’t like what you ordered?  Order something else.  At the same time, it means that you are likely to take in all of your meals at the resort instead of venturing out to find restaurants or street vendors.

On the negative side, and not unsurprisingly, the food at all-inclusive resorts is usually mediocre.  Yeah, it’s good or maybe okay, but certainly not anything to rave about.  Our resort tried to liven things up with multiple restaurants:  the buffet, an American sports bar, a Japanese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a coffee bar and some snack places.  Still, for the most part, it was just so-so.  The one thing I will say for our resort…breakfast was just what I wanted.  Every morning I had a made-to-order egg white omelet packed with veggies, smoked salmon, fresh baguette, fresh pineapple, a yogurt, fresh grapefruit juice and coffee.  Breakfast was by far the best meal.

Nevertheless, if you consider yourself a foodie and want nothing less than absolutely delicious, authentic local cuisine prepared by the friendly and informative unlikely chef who shares their life story with you while the two of you sit outside at the small, but charming neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, then all-inclusive will leave you sorely disappointed.

3. Becoming a Local

Many people travel with the intent of learning about another culture:  language, customs, food, daily routines, etc. and trying to “become a local”.  It’s a fantastic aspect of travel and honestly if this is truly your goal, you can work it into any type of trip – at least in some respect.  Usually people don’t think of becoming immersed in a new country when they think of all-inclusive.  Rightly so.  But, you can still make efforts.  I spoke as much Spanish as I could with the resort employees and I actually learned a lot and was getting to be decent at basic things.  When we ventured out, Ryan chatted with all of our drivers, who were all very eager to tell us about Mexico.  Still, this is obviously a far cry from the immersion you can experience during other types of travel.  Really, it’s more of a mild exposure than an immersion.

4. Kids

Let me start this by saying I do not have kids, but I hope to have them one day.  That being said, I used to think that there was nothing more annoying than a bratty child acting like a hooligan without any supervision, or worse – with a shoddy “parent” just standing idly by while their kid acts like a hellion.  Then I realized, it’s soooo much worse when you are on vacation and trying to relax.

When I took an all-inclusive trip in college I didn’t see many children.  I went to the Dominican Republic and, with it’s relative instability compared to other tropical destinations, it’s probably not a family favorite.  Or, perhaps the lack of children was because I was in college and chose the cheapest resort imaginable.  Whatever the case, I guess the downside of being able to afford a fairly nice place is that families think it will be nice too.  There were more kids than I would have liked on my last vacation.

This simple fact alone could have been okay had the parents been in control.  They were NOT.  Kids were jumping off of the swim-up bar stools into the pool, splashing the bartender and getting pool water in everyone’s drinks; wrestling and throwing each other in the pool; coughing all over the food at the buffet; a band of 9 year old heathens were running amok in the coffee bar unsupervised at 10:30PM trying to order cappuccinos.  The very astute barista made them evaporated milk with flavoring.  Again, I blame the parents more than I blame the kids; but regardless, they were annoying and I certainly could have done without seeing any of them.

Of course, I’m not the first person to think it would be nice to be on vacation without any little kids screaming or running around like banshees.  Thus the birth of adults-only resorts.  The drawback is that these types of resorts are almost always much more expensive for the luxury of being child-free.  So, if you are thinking of all-inclusive try to gauge the family-friendliness of your resort or at least keep in mind that your moments of relaxation and bliss may be dotted with interruptions from incredibly annoying, miniature holy terrors.

5. Vacation Preparation

Planning a vacation can be a big undertaking.  There are a lot of pieces to travel and so many options!  Personally, I like researching and planning on the front end of a trip and also leaving room to be spontaneous and flexible while I am traveling; but, for many people this is very overwhelming and can be a deterrent.  If this is you, all-inclusive is a fantastic option.  Once you choose your destination, find a resort and pick your travel dates, your decision-making responsibilities are over.  This takes the stress out of planning for many people and leaves them time to just be excited about their upcoming trip.  You could also use a travel agent, but they can be expensive.

Another big part of preparing to travel is saving up money.  If you don’t want to go the hostel route, all-inclusives are pretty great as far as their value.  Most packages are bundled with airfare on many travel websites.  For the Caribbean and Mexico I would recommend using Cheap Caribbean.  I booked my last vacation through them and was very, very happy with it.

Room at Ocean Coral and Turquesa

Obviously, the descriptions above may not apply to every all-inclusive resort, but I think each point is a good thing to think about if you are considering an all-inclusive vacation.  Overall, I would say the biggest difference with all-inclusive vacations is that it really is all about relaxing – an all-inclusive vacation will likely be the least stressful vacation you will ever go on. 

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in Food and Drink, Travel

 

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On rest stops

Ahhh the road trip.  The long and grueling, but generally entertaining way of traveling.  Growing up in Minnesota, I’m no stranger to road trips.  My east coast friends all thought it was insane that my family would wake up early and drive four hours just to fish for the day and drive home, but it was something that was quite normal in our family.  Since I’ve been on the east coast, I’ve taken road trips along the coast to the beach, to visit friends, and on camping trips and bike races with Ryan.  Regardless of distance, location, road trip mates, etc. one thing remains constant – the rest step.

You’re riding along playing angry birds, watching a dvd, playing the license plate game, singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, or whatever it is you do to amuse yourself in the car, when it hits you – you have to pee NOW.  If you are lucky, a convenient rest stop will be within your reach.  Rest stops, for those that don’t know, are made to be a quick stop just off the freeway that provides you with everything you need to continue on the road – bathrooms, food, drinks, COFFEE, crappy postcards and cheap jewelry and scarves.  What many don’t know, or haven’t realized due to their own tired and beleaguering appearance, is that rest stops are hilarious.

If you enjoy people-watching, a rest stop is your best friend.  Rest stops tend to catch people at their strangest.  They are likely tired, hair disheveled, wearing “comfy” clothes, etc.  Think People of Walmart goes on vacation.  Honestly, I’m not trying to say that I road trip in a suit or evening dress.  I wear yoga pants and flip flops and am looking pretty haggard myself.  I can only hope that I don’t look as horrible as most of the people I see at the rest stop.  Plus, there is the brood of unruly spawns that come screeching and spewing out of the family cars.  These little ones are bursting with energy or are tired and cranky.  Either way, they do some pretty funny things.  On my last trip back from Cambridge, NY, I watched a little girl around 2 years old dump a pop all over the table.  In response her older brother started crying.  Obviously.  The mom was pissed.

Or you may witness a canoodling couple.  Nothing says romance like a dingy, fast-food smelling rest stop.

You will also see an interesting set of workers, like the one I saw:  a plump, cheap tattoo-covered lady with greasy, stringy hair who had a few inches of her thong showing, despite the fact that she was STANDING.

Beyond hilarious people watching, the rest stop mainly serves as a way to stretch your legs, pee and get food.  Even these normal activities will be hijacked by weirdness at a rest stop.

Bathrooms with varying levels of cleanliness, sell a very strange variety of items in their “vending machines.”  You might also see some interesting written messages or stickers, such as the decal I saw advertising eco-friendly feminine products.

As far as food goes, you are basically giving up on healthy choices.  If you are lucky, you will come across the occasional froyo stand; otherwise, it’s mediocre sandwiches and fast food.  When forced with fast food, I almost always want a delicious Whopper Jr.  Now for an unofficial rule of the road:  you will pass countless rest stops advertising whichever place is your preference; but, the second you are ready to eat – nowhere in sight!  So you might think, well next stop will have it, and you continue on.  It does not.  Eventually everyone is hungry and you settle for something else.  Inevitably, the next stop will have what you were looking for.  Grrrrr. Maybe someone will make a rest stop app that will detail all of the restaurants at each place.

For any of you that have been on a road trip you know exactly what I’m talking about in this post.  For those that haven’t buy, rent, borrow or steal a car (ok, maybe not steal), grab some friends and hit the open road!  As you peel off the freeway and pull into the rest stops, keep your eyes open for hilarity and make sure you grab that Whopper Jr. when you can!

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in Travel

 

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Exploring the Everyday in Life and Love

I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to travel I am more inclined to think international, to think big, to think unique and different.  Given travel choices, I will always choose the international trip.  I do still enjoy exploring around the U.S., but for some reason not with quite the same zeal.  Still, it’s important to remember that even in your own city, there is always something to do, somewhere new to go, a new restaurant to try, etc.  I’m proud to say that this weekend, I did just that.

On Saturday, Ryan and I went to the Capitals game for his birthday.  Despite the fact that we lost, we had an awesome time – how can you not at a hockey game, yeah?

Afterward, we decided to try out a Cuban/Mexican/El Salvadorean restaurant we’ve passed a few times.  Ryan has Cuban family and is always wanting to find a place to get a real cafe con leche, not a literal translation of coffee with milk on the side.  

As we popped off the metro at Eastern Market, I spotted Hill’s Kitchen, a local kitchen supply store that also offers cooking classes.  I first heard of it when I was looking for a place to pick up some Uncle Brutha’s hot sauce – a locally made, all-natural hot sauce that I wanted to get for Ryan for Christams.  Ryan LOVES hot sauce more than anyone I know and we have gone through literally dozens of bottles of tabasco, tapito, chalula, etc.  With his other gifts, I decided not to get him the sauce, but we decided to stop in and pick some up!  It was right up front and we opted for the hottest sauce –  No. 10 – “A unique blend of four of the most flavorful chilies, (Habanero, Red and Green Jalapeño and Serrano) with garlic, resulting in one amazingly zesty, flavor enhancing combination.”  It does not disappoint and neither does Hill’s Kitchen.  Since we were already there we started looking at knives, aprons, a giant-sized french press, tea infusers, a pretty array of bamboo vessels and utensils and cookie cutters in the shapes of our homestates – Minnesota and Oregon.  We left with just the sauce, but definitely would have been very happy to have spent much, much more.

Hot sauce in hand (well, inside my giant satchel of a purse), we traipsed over to Mi Vecindad.  Upon opening the door you are engulfed in color – something I quite like.  The decor is simple, but nice.  The staff was very attentive (perhaps because we were there a little early for most dinner patrons – around 4:30 or perhaps as a genuine demonstration of their ethos).  The chips were freshly baked with just the right amount of crisp and the salsa was tasty.  In lieu of our traditional margaritas, we opted for a pitcher of mojitos, in order to gauge the Cuban authenticy.  The mojitios were served with a stick of sugar cane – a definite plus – and of course mint leaves; however, it was a little too syrupy.  Still, much better than most mojitos that are out there.  Ryan ordered a dish of saffron rice, shrimp, chorizo and chicken while I went for the Ropa Vieja – “old clothes” – which is one of my favorite dishes from Cubano’s in Maryland.  For dessert, we were hoping to have guava and cream cheese, but to no avail.  Our water did come out with a yummy cake though.  Overall, I still much prefer Cubano’s but Mi Vecindad was very good and I’m sure we will find ourselves wandering back there soon.

Bellies full, we decided that we may as well continuing our day of exploration with a local bar that we had been meaning to saddle up to.  As some of you may know, The Irish Channel in Chinatown is not only where we had our first date, but also became our favorite watering hole in DC.  One of the bartenders there, who has moved out west now :(, always told us that we should go to Trusty’s.  A neighborhood bar actually located near us (right off the Potomac Ave metro stop), Trusty’s was awesome.  Empty, vintage looking oil cans for lampshades and mason jars for glasses, Trusty’s was just our type of place.  The bartenders were exactly what we were expecting with a recommendation from the Channel – friendly, attentive and fast.  Once planted, we didn’t move until a four or five pitchers later.  Sadly, we never thought to venture upstairs which features an old school bus as a bar and an outdoor patio.  Guess we are now forced to go back…   

To round out our fantastic weekend, Ryan and I celebrated his birthday yesterday with massages followed by Alsacian wine and sushi from Asian Spice – don’t underestimate this place.  It is really good.  For dessert, the carrot cake I made for the Valentine’s Day baby – Ryan!

Since it was Valentine’s Day, I’ll take a second to be mushy.  To me, love is very similar to this local exploration.  When you find someone you truly connect with, the everyday is still exciting and fun.  It’s easy to feel in love while in Paris or Greece, or lazily lounging on the beach in Tahiti.  What makes for lasting, real love is when you find that same happiness in the everyday.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Food and Drink, Life

 

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Cheese or Steel: Battle for Gridiron Glory

Despite the fact that I probably watched a whopping three football games all season, and that I have no alliance to either team, I’m still excited about the Superbowl.  I guess that’s the magic of the Superbowl – everyone enjoys it regardless of whether your team is fighting for eternal glory or if you have no clue what a touchdown is or how many points it will earn you.

This year, I have to say I am on the side of the Packers.  Being from Minnesota people automatically assume that I would hope the Packers go down in flaming disgrace; however, I really don’t like the Steelers – they don’t fit my idea of sport victors, that is, what inspirational sports movies teach us.  The good, the moral, the underdogs should win-they deserve to win.  Perhaps the Packers don’t fit this either, but they seem more in line than the Steelers.  Plus, Wisconsin cheese curds are delicious, so…winner.  Deep fried or fresh…just doesn’t matter.  If you’ve never had them, you’re seriously, seriously missing out.

Regardless of the teams, here are the 5 best things about the Superbowl:

5. Beer drinking on a Sunday seems normal to everyone.

4. Of course, the commercials.  Bud Light almost always comes up with something good, but the real winners come from unexpected places…like this one from Sprint.

3. Getting together with friends.  Sure it happens often enough, but another reason to come together with friends is always nice.

2. FOOD! And this year, Sheridan from Barkless Vegetables is cooking up some pulled pork tacos for us meat-leaving folk…super excited!

1. Football season is over and we can look forward to baseball season!!!

 
 

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MinneSNOWta!!!

In honor of the -38 temp in International Falls, MN, I am FINALLY posting this from Christmas.  I forgot to put it up, but it seemed like such a waste to delete it…

I am chillin (literally) in the greatest state; the North Star State; the home of Prince, Bob Dylan, Charles Schulz, Judy Garland and the Spam Museum, among many other fantastic people and places.  Most importantly, it’s where my friends and family live and where I grew up.

Most people’s familiarity with Minnesota doesn’t extend farther than the airport or what is portrayed by Hollywood in movies like the Mighty Ducks trilogy (love of hockey), Grumpy Old Men (love of fishing) and Fargo, which really just went after our delightful accents.

There is so much more to Minnesota though.  In the spirit of the holidays and in order to share some Minnesota love with you all….I give you the 12 Days of Minnesota!

12 Pucks A-Flying: Minnesotans as a rule just LOVE hockey.  Yes, it was a tragedy of epic proportions when the North Stars were reduced to the Dallas Stars and the grieving “L’Etoile du Nord” was left in a state of no pro hockey team torment for seven painful, painful years.  But, now all is right in the world and we have the Minnesota Wild.  In addition, U of M hockey is incredibly popular (my grandpa has held center ice season tickets since before I was born) and even the high school state hockey tournament will sell out.  Furthermore, there are cheerleaders for hockey games.  They do cheers on the boards, in the crowds and on the ice.  I always thought this was the case for all hockey games.  Only when I moved to the east coast did I discover that it was unusual.  As a personal note directed at the “pucks a-flying” title, I have been hit by pucks at 3 different games.

11 Fish A-Flopping: Being the land of  10,000 lakes, Minnesota inspires a lot of water activities: water skiing, wakeboarding, jetskiing, and of course fishing.  As my family graduated from our tiny aluminum boat that you had to careful maneuver on so as not to tip it, to our current Crestliner speedboat, family fishing has pretty much stayed the same.  There’s nothing better than a day on the lake followed by a fish fry.  Our time afloat also inspired my dad to nickname one of my moves – the Crappie flop.  Apparently whenever I got hurt, I would flop around like a spastic fish out of water.  We even fish in the winter – ice fishing!  Most people have a hard time understanding this one.  Yes, it’s so cold here that the lakes freeze enough to withstand pickup trucks and little icehouses.  Then you use an ice auger and drill a hole so you can fish.  Nowadays the houses are heated so it’s actually pretty warm and you always have good food and a cooler of beer!

Ice Fishing!

10 Sliders Sliding: What’s a slider you might ask…it’s a delicious little burger from White Castle.  Many of the people I’ve met out east either have never heard of White Castle, have  only seen the frozen ones at the grocery store, or think that the place was made up for the movie.  Shame, shame.  I’ve put them at number 10 because I used to be able to eat the Sack of 10, which as you might have assumed, is a bag of 10 burgers.  Of course this would not be complete without the crinkley fries and a chocolate milkshake.  For awhile, every Wednesday was Whities Wednesday and I would tag along with my dad who went to White Castle with his friend to get some burgers and chat.

9 Canoes A-Paddlin’: Whether you love or hate canoeing (who would hate it?!), I think that anyone worth spending time with would love a trip up to the Boundary Waters.  The Boundary Waters is a canoe and wilderness area up in northern Minnesota that is shared with Canada.  Most areas do not allow any type of motor on the water.  It is quiet, pristine and wild.  In high school, I snowshoed five miles dragging a sled of gear and then spent the weekend winter camping.  It was of course freezing and I ended up with frostbite on some of my toes; but, it was incredible. 

8 Bikers Biking: Minneapolis is a major biking city.  In fact, Bicycling Magazine ranked it as the best biking city in the country.  The city is very bike friendly and boasts 46 miles of road with bike lanes and 84 miles of off street bike paths.  Even in the winter, you will see lots of people out on their bikes!  Still not convinced?  This article explores why Minneapolis was ranked number one.  In addition, Minneapolis is the home of Artcrank – a super cool company that puts on events featuring local artists and their bike-themed work. 

7 Ya You Betchyas: We all don’t talk like a character out of Fargo or like Bobby’s mom from Bobby’s World, but…it sounds pretty close.  And of course, some people have stronger accents than others.  I didn’t have a particularly strong one to begin with and now after living on the east coast for seven years, I really don’t have too much of a trace of it.  That is until you get to the “a”s.  Bag, flag, rag, tag, drag, you get the idea.  My two most ridiculous words that have actually caused confusion are dragon and talent.  There are also some of us that do throw in a ya, you betchya or a don’t ya know, or just an “o”.  The “oooo!” rises at the end and can be used to express shock, anger, excitedness, surprise, etc.  And yes, we say pop.  Along with our charming accents, we really are Minnesota Nice.  

6 Boats A-Sailing: Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis has plenty of trails to walk around, sailboat racing, sailboat renting, sand beaches and a sailing school.  It’s incredibly cute to watch the little kids on their sailboats.  There are also tons of restaurants and bars nearby for happy hour and rooftop dining.  It’s always full of people and a great place to go.

5 Juicy Lucy’s: The juicy lucy is a culinary masterpiece which features the cheese inside of the perfectly cooked burger patty!  There are a few restaurants here in MN that make them and a couple that claim to have been the first.  Two of the places and their beautiful juicy lucys were featured on Man V. Food and will not disappoint anyone who enjoys a good burger – regardless of which place you go too.  The 5-8 Club has cheese curds – enough said.  However, I will say that I liked the Jucy Lucy (yes, the spelling of Jucy is intentional) at Matt’s Bar better.  But, there are many cheese options at the 5-8 Club and only one at Matt’s.  So many factors to consider….

American cheese, German engineering

4 Gagillion Shoppers: This part is not for everyone, but it’s worth mentioning since it is a very popular tourist destination.  In MN, we have the nation’s largest shopping mall – the Mall of America, or MOA.  This mall is unbelievably huge and actually kind of overwhelming.  Each year around 40 million people visit the mall, making it one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country.  In the center is an amusement park, which was shown on Mighty Ducks.  For those of you who know, Charlie and Fulton get sick riding the Pepsi Ripsaw Rollercoaster.

3 Boots of Beer: You may have seen them on Beerfest, but the real thing is at Gasthof’s.  Gasthof’s is fantastic for both food and drinking large amounts of really good German beers.  Although, as we quickly learned, it’s not always best to try to do both of those things on the same occasion.

Takes a lot of arm work to raise this glass

2 Feet of Snow: For all the bad things about snow, it does make for a very perfect wintery Christmas!  Minnesota never has a shortage of snow and you never know when it will fall.  When I was little we had a huge blizzard right before Halloween.  Luckily, the local mall opened up for us kids to go and trick or treat.

More recently MN made news with one of the biggest snow storms in the state’s history, which caused the roof of the Vikings’ stadium (The Metrodome) to collapse.

and a Spoonbridge and Cherry: One of the most iconic things about Minnesota is the Spoonbridge and Cherry which sits in the sculpture garden of the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis.

© Heather Freitag 2009

The sculpture was done by Claes Oldenburg, the same artist who did the batcolumn in Chicago, which I discussed in an earlier post.

But, despite the ridiculous amount of snow and that the high on Christmas Day is a scorching 15 degrees Farenheit, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2011 in Family, Food and Drink, Holidays, Travel

 

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Should Have Hitched a Ride With Santa

Everyone knows that with the joys of the holidays comes the dreaded downside of holiday travel.  At the very least you will be confronted with people who travel very infrequently leading to amateur hour at the airport, coupled with slight delays and being stuck in a middle seat sandwich with two “husky,” foul-smelling passengers on either side of you.  This I can handle.  I’m not really big on stressing and can usually roll with whatever debacle comes my way.  And trust me, as a smaller person that gets targeted as a seat mate just as intensely as a trophy buck during hunting season, I have sat next to more than my fair share of less than ideal fellow travelers.  My face must say, “yes, I would love to share my seat with all of your excess blubber that will clearly not fit in your designated space.” However, this holiday season, travel annoyances ranked right up there with my college spring break disaster (when I had to rent a car and drive from Charlotte, NC to Syracuse, NY) as some of the worst travel experiences I have ever had.

Ok, so a huge storm hit.  I get that, and I understand that it’s not the airlines fault.  Buuuuttt, I do think that poor management, under-staffing and horribly unhelpful attitudes not only make the situation more unbearable, but also actually add unnecessary delays and obstacles to getting everyone home safely and in a TIMELY manner.

For example, my Sunday flight was canceled on Saturday night.  I immediately started trying to call Delta to get my other options (maybe a llama trek? Or re-route through Costa Rica?).  To my annoyance, I received a recording about high call volume over and over.  Never an answer.  So then, Sunday morning I get the Delta voicemail alerting me to my canceled flight and telling me when they have re-scheduled me for.  Unfortunately, Ryan’s phone was on silent and he didn’t receive his new flight information.  Now, because they would not answer their phone, we had to drive to the airport to stand in line just to see when his flight was.  This is dumb and takes up time in the line that could be used for other passengers.

Next, Ryan and I get split up.  Ugh!  This I will not blame on the airlines.  We booked separately so there was no way for them to know that we were traveling together.  Still…a bummer.

So, Monday comes along and we get to our gates.  My flight is delayed for slightly over 2 hours due to the toilets on the plane being clogged!  Are you kidding me?!  As a result, I was going to miss my connection.  When I went to the counter, they initially told me I would have to wait until Tuesday to get out to DC.  Only when I got an attitude and told the woman that it was unacceptable and I was already missing a day without pay because of their cancellations did she actually really try to find me a seat – which she did.  Why do I have to be an ass in order to get a seat?!?!?!  I understand that these airline employees are not going to turn into superheros and fly us to our destinations themselves; but, shouldn’t they be doing everything they can think of to get as many passengers on planes as possible, thus freeing up space on later flights for other stranded wanderers?  Apparently instead, they are trained to stare at the screen, pretend to furiously type and scan the monitor and then tell you that you will continue to miss work, weddings, school, etc.

While I’m dealing with the toilets, Ryan has landed in Atlanta and is spending way too much money on less than mediocre airport food.  (Why is it that even the restaurants that are tolerable or good anywhere else will still be nasty in the airport?)  I finally land and try to get standby on Ryan’s flight…no go.  Ryan boards and is off to DC, or so I thought.  Turns out, they waited for a little over an hour because the water wasn’t working in the bathrooms on-board and they are required to have some way for passengers to wash their hands.  Despite offers of baby wipes and hand sanitizers from various passengers, the flight had to wait for the arrival of some handi-wipes.  A half-full box was finally produced by the ticketing agent who bitterly announced that the employees would no longer have clean hands because she took them from the break room.  Apparently the airport doesn’t have water either… As one clever man pointed out to the flight attendant, had they taken off, they would be only 30 minutes away from DC and nobody would have even used the bathrooms. 🙂

Finally, we both made it home around 2AM.  The one positive thing is that all of the Deschutes beer and the Shaker’s Vodka that we had so lovingly packed in socks, towels and a giant ziploc (just in case) made it through without one drop being spilled.

Our Unbroken Booty!

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2010 in Family, Holidays, Travel

 

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