Hot off the press! My new book Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities is arriving in bookstores and online. Yay! It took a lot of really fun dining in Minneapolis and St. Paul to research that book and its finally here.
The Twin Cities boast one of the country’s most vibrant culinary scenes. Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities offers a tasty tour, from downtown fine dining destinations to dive bars, food trucks and the beloved Minnesota State Fair.
Order it online or in Twin Cities book stores and gift shops. And, to stay in touch with the ever-changing Twin Cities restaurant scene, follow uniqueeatstwincities on Instagram.
Snowy or not, one of the best places to go in in Minnesota for some Christmas cheer is the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. I just finished reading Michael Booth’s clever and insightful book about the Scandinavians,Almost Nearly Perfect People, so I was particularly motivated for an encounter with a place that offers a chance to rub elbows with so many fair-haired folks in intricately patterned sweaters.
This time of year, the Institute’s gorgeous Turnblad Mansion is festooned with trees, trolls, yule goats, and young women dressed as Lucia, flaming candles in their hair and all.
Six of the mansion’s 33 rooms are decorated each according to the Christmas customs of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and this year Minneapolis’s Museum of Russian Art, too. All these countries seem to have a fascination with mischief making trolls or elves, called variously tomte, nisse, jelasvieran, and joulupukki. (According to Booth, 54 percent of Icelanders believe in elves.) Whatever you call them, they’re great fun.
Another draw at ASI any time of year is its terrific restaurant Fika with some of the best meatballs you’ll ever have, and no lutefisk in sight. Gone are the days of tasteless white Scandinavian food. Chefs such as Sweden’s Magnus Nilsson have changed all that. Check him out at his restaurant Faviken in Sweden on Netflix’s “Mind of a Chef.”
Finally, the ASI gift shop will make you want to be a Scandinavian even if you’re not.
Chef Gavin Kaysen has a reputation, not only for his cuisine and his award-winning new restaurant Spoon and Stable in his hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s also known for his collection of spoons—and how he obtains them. His collection was the inspiration for the the name of the new restaurant (along with the fact that it’s located in a former horse stable built in 1904), which was a 2015 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant.
He scours second-hand shops for spoons, others he has received as gifts from friends and from other restaurants because of his spoon-loving reputation. Others he has, well, pocketed. Sterling to to wrought iron, for Kaysen, it’s not just a collection of spoons, it’s “a collection of memories.”
The lure of spoons began for Kaysen when he was a 21-year-old pastry chef in Lausanne, Switzerland, learning to make the perfect quenelle of ice cream. On his days off, he used beef fat to practice making the elegant oval scoops. When he finally mastered the technique he kept the spoon he was using as a memento.
Kaysen continued that habit of spoon pilfering. For him, they offer a tangible memory of an experience whether is was a great meal, outstanding service or a beautiful dining space.
Fiction Meets Reality in Maude Hart Lovelace’s “Deep Valley”
It’s hard to believe that a series of novels can still be popular with a heroine who neither Tweets nor Snapchats, a girl who lacks magical powers, a vampire boyfriend, or a fabulous assortment of weaponry. Yet, the beloved Betsy-Tacy series by Mankato, Minnesota, author Maud Hart Lovelace have been in continuous publication since the 1940s and inspire an almost fanatical devotion, even among readers who are used to consuming racier fare such as “Gossip Girl” or “The Vampire Diaries.”
If you need proof, you need only show up in Mankato on a Friday or Saturday afternoon in summer. You’ll find Betsy-Tacy fans who’ve come from around the world to visit the trim little Victorian houses on Center Street, “Betsy’s House” and “Tacy’s House,” where Hart Lovelace and her real best friend, Frances Kenney, grew up right across the street from each other. Little girls and their grandmothers, mother and daughters, and adult “gals on getaways” line up for a tour of the real-life houses that are the setting of the beloved book series. The houses have been lovingly restored and designated as national literary landmarks.
A Calming Oasis
A step into Betsy-Tacy world is a step back into a slower, more peaceful era.The first of the series’ 10 books, Betsy-Tacy, begins in 1897, when Betsy is about to turn five, and the series continues through Betsy’s Wedding during World War I, all based on Hart Lovelace’s own girlhood. The lack of technology, fighting and fast-paced action may be the secret for the books’ enduring appeal. Linda Lee, an adult Betsy-Tacy fan visiting from Claremont, California, says of the books, “I re-read them even now. They’re about family, friendship and fun in doing simple things. Reading them brings a sense of calm to my frenzied life.”
The houses are open on weekends year-round but Betsy-Tacy fans show up en masse each June for the Deep Valley Homecoming—this year from June 26-30— like a children’s book Coachella. (Deep Valley is the name Hart Lovelace gave her hometown in the books.) Activities include Betsy & Tacy home and neighborhood tours, narrated horse-drawn trolley rides, a Victorian Tea, Deep Valley Book Festival*, fashion show, living history actors, speakers and re-enactments, a vintage car show and more.
Inspiration for Modern Girls
Enthusiastic docents regularly lead tours of the houses and point out how the homes and the neighborhood compare to the books’ illustrations by Lois Lenski. From the old-fashioned kitchen, to the lace curtains and fine china, to the books and Maude Hart Lovelace memorabilia, tours furnish a cultural snapshot of the era, a chance to experience what it was like to live in a Midwestern town when the first automobile arrived and homes got their first telephones.
But beyond a nostalgic connection to a fictional world or a look at old houses with creaky floors and Victorian furniture, a visit to the Betsy-Tacy houses offers a look at the lives and friendships children, the aspirations of women at the turn of the last century, and celebrates girls who are, while old-fashioned, strikingly independent and adventurous.
While old telephones may be the highest tech you’ll experience on the tour, Betsy and Tacy aren’t totally off the grid. You’ll find constant discussion about them on Twitter and Pinterest.
*I’ll be at the Deep Valley Book Festival this year, signing copies of Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways.
If you go:
Mankato is about an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities via I-169. The houses are open this summer on Friday and Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children (under 5 free).
I love it when events and my reading coincide. WonderWomen, an art exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Nash Gallery in Minneapolis runs from now until February 14. Though they didn’t plan it that way, the exhibit came on the heels of the release of Harvard historian Jill Lapore’s new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which details the weird life of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator and also the inventor of the lie detector test.
Wonder Woman—part superhero, part kinky-booted pinup girl—flew into American culture in 1941 and has been part of our pop culture ever since. Along with the biography of Wonder Woman and her creator, Lepore’s book is analysis of women’s history and feminism. The WonderWomen exhibit examines that topic from the pop-art perspective. It features works by women artists inspired or influenced by comics, animation or popular culture, and related screenings of work by women filmmakers presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul. Read my article about the show in the Minnesota Women’s Press.
One of my favorite works in the show, “Wonder Woman Katy” dominates the room at the Nash Gallery. She wears a red cape and she’s seven feet tall. Don’t mess with her. That’s the image Minneapolis artist Barbara Porwit wants to convey in her Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project, a series of larger-than-life paintings of real women battling the disease, of which “Wonder Woman Katy” is a part. Porwit’s works celebrate the heroic nature of women affected by breast cancer
Frenchy Lunning, a professor of liberal arts at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and an internationally known expert in manga, anime (Japanese comics and animation) and popular culture, is co-curator of the exhibit. She says, ”The takeaway for viewers is to become aware of the magnitude of feminine culture and how feminist art, with all of its potentially subversively qualities, is entering mainstream culture.”
Even if you can’t make it to the WonderWomen exhibit, you’ll want to read The Secret History of Wonder Woman. A New York Times review of the book called Wonder Woman’s creator “….a huckster, a polyamorist (one and sometimes two other women lived with him and his wife), a serial liar and a bondage super-enthusiast. As Wonder Woman would say, “Suffering Sappho!” How can we resist?
Since the beginning, Minnesota’s lakes and rivers have been the engine of the region’s development and the focus of recreation, not to mention the source of a whole lot of fish. The Twin Cities, for example, have their roots on the Mississippi River, which has transported timber and grain from the Midwest to markets in the east and powered the four mills of the Pillsbury family, among others, since the early 1800s. That made the riverfront in Minneapolis primarily an industrial area. Interesting, but not particularly scenic.
All of that is changing as the city rediscovers and redevelops its waterfront. The mills and warehouses have been converted to trendy apartments and condominiums now and that section of the riverfront is part of an expanding Mill Ruins Park. It’s the sight of the Mill City Farmers Market in summer, where you can eat and buy great organic produce under the watchful gaze of some of the world’s great playwrights who look down from the Guthrie Theater next door.
Though the new version of the riverfront is more vibrant, it’s the unusual history here that makes it so intriguing. You can revisit the city’s early days in several ways. First, pick up a copy of Mary Relindes Ellis’s novel Bohemian Flats, which is named after the area slightly downriver from the mills which was home to the city’s poorest immigrants, mainly from Germany and eastern Europe (or Bohemia) who are the subject of the story. Set after World War I, the book traces the progress of a German immigrant family who settled in the ramshackle village that grew up along a low point along the river, many of whom worked in the flour mills.
Next, start a riverfront tour at the Mill City Museum, which offers an in-depth look at the flour industry and the early days of Minneapolis. It’s built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill. Wander the across the Stone Arch bridge for a terrific view of the river and St. Anthony Falls, which powered the mills and check out the paths and ruins along the water. Grab some grub at the Farmer’s Market and watch the river roll by as you eat.
Book lovers will want to wander down Washington Avenue to explore the Minnesota Center for Book Arts at Open Book. You can view the artistic assembly of the pages, covers, and spines, then peruse the shop at MCBA, which is a reader’s delight of books, gifts, handmade paper, and journals.
Rent one of the green bikes from one of the Nice Ride Minnesota stations near the museum and head downriver for a scenic tour. Make a stop at Izzy’s gourmet ice cream to fuel your trip. You’ll arrive at Bohemian Flats, which is no longer a wild collection of shacks, but rather a lovely park inhabited mainly by University of Minnesota students throwing frisbees. It’s a great pastoral place to enjoy the view of the river, the university campus and, in particular, the futuristic Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum. It makes quite a contrast to the image of the old Bohemian Flats on the cover of Ellis’s novel.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.