A couple of years ago, I wrote about how one of my favorite things to do when I travel is visiting grocery stores. Obviously, the past ten months haven't involved much travel (thanks, COVID) but I have been able to assuage my grocery store wanderlust with regular trips to United Noodles.
Because I write my annual best foods post as the year unfolds, this one started on a pretty typical note, with an ice cream date, an event at Como Zoo, and a pastry I ate on vacation. Then COVID happened, and along came takeout, contact-free pastry pickups, and patio meals with face masks and hand sanitizer. 2020 was a difficult and uncertain year, and I was incredibly fortunate that it also included some really good food.
After a summer and fall spent sipping cocktails on Twin Cities restaurant patios, the weather has gotten colder, COVID-19 cases are surging, and restaurants and bars are closed to in-person service. As I did last spring, I've been turning to cocktail kits and the grocery store to create some happy hour escapism at home—here are some of my latest finds.
The Twin Cities restaurant community has given me so much over the past several years, professionally and personally. At this unprecedentedly difficult time, I want to use my small platform to support this creative, generous, and hardworking group of people as much as I can.
There are certain recipes that I am fairly confident in at first glance: they contain a favorite ingredient (portobello mushrooms, asparagus, chocolate) or riff on a classic flavor combination (olive oil, rosemary, and garlic). But my favorite new recipes are the unexpected wild cards.
Lately, I've turned towards entertainment that transports me to somewhere (anywhere) away from the current stressful reality. During the Depression, people found respite in frothy Technicolor musicals; my escape is Netflix reality shows and Agatha Christie. If you're of a similar escapist mindset (and share my penchant for mysteries and melancholy folk rock) here's a list of what I've been watching, listening to, and reading.
Mike and I planned to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary with a trip to Ireland—but COVID intervened and travel plans are on hold until next year. We still wanted to do something special, so we booked a room at Celeste of St. Paul, a boutique hotel housed in a former convent and music and arts conservatory.
In late June, I started dining outdoors at restaurants again (on my personal time—I'm still mostly unemployed as a food and travel journalist). This was a decision I made based on my own health risk factors and the health risk factors for those I come into close contact with, as well as my personal values.
Several years ago, I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a memoir about her family's yearlong effort to eat only locally produced food. Although my suburban town house existence precludes me from raising chickens or growing a massive vegetable garden, I was inspired to buy a chest freezer for our garage.
Last summer, I got an e-mail from a reader named Jess about a place called Grandpa's Ice Cream in Fridley, a northern suburb of Minneapolis. She recommended that I check it out, so I added Grandpa's to my list of restaurants to try—and I finally got around to it a few weeks ago.
As I wrote about in this post, I started a home-based bakery called Tangled Up In Food Bakes at the end of May. I had absolutely no idea where it would lead—maybe it would become an important part of my life, maybe no one would order anything and I'd have enough muffin liners for the next eight years.
Last March, I was not in a very good place. Due to the stress of the pandemic and the loss of my freelance writing work, I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness. Part of how I coped was making a list of small, tangible things to look forward to when the world started to open back up, including three food-related things I wanted to do.
Piles of tomatoes, heaps of zucchini, a plethora of green beans—if the quantity of summer produce you're getting from your CSA or garden has you feeling overwhelmed, why not save some of it for later? Preserving produce is a great way for you to save some money, avoid extra trips to the grocery store, and enjoy local produce when there's snow on the ground.
Over the years, Mike and I have made more trips to Stillwater, Minnesota than any other destination. It's the sort of place where you can spend a satisfying few hours or an entire weekend. The hilly terrain, views of the St. Croix River, historic downtown, and Victorian-era homes make it feel a world away from our life in the suburbs—but it's less than a 45 minute drive away.
For years, we've headed to one of the Minneapolis lakes if we want to spend the evening by the water. However, that involves a 30 minute drive from our home in the suburbs, so we recently investigated a closer option: Elk River, a small city that's northwest of Minneapolis and is situated at the confluence of the Elk and Mississippi Rivers.