Minnesota fall bounty

Fall is one of those seasons in Minnesota that if you blink you might miss it. But if you do catch it, it is a beautiful time of year. A time of bright reds, oranges, and yellows. Friends around the fire. Sweaters and boots. Pumpkins, cider, and apple picking.

Fall foliage MN

So before the snow invaded the fall bliss we headed out to a few orchards and pumpkin patches near the Twin Cities and ended up with a delicious meal from our local bounty.

The first stop was Country Sun Farms in Stillwater, MN. This fun location was a little dead on a weekday, but it offers so much – pumpkins, fall décor, corn maze, hayrides, silly string tag (think laser tag with silly string), and lots of animals to pet. Here we nabbed some goat saliva, pumpkins for Halloween, and a beautiful acorn squash. After riding the mini carousel and lots of hand sanitizer we headed to our next stop.

Aamodt’s Apple Farm is a beautiful orchard, shop, and tasting room. Unfortunately, we were there when the tasting room wasn’t open, but it will make a perfect date day next spring. Even without the tasting room the farm is a charming experience and full of great products to enjoy. We tried a new apple, Pazazz, which to me tasted like a mix between a Pink Lady and a McIntosh – loved them! And everyone in the house loved them too because my five apples only lasted two days. Honeycrisp apple salsa

While we were browsing the local products we also walked away with apple oatmeal cookies and some amazing Honeycrisp Apple Salsa. In fact, this salsa is what gave me the inspiration to rework one of my favorite recipes for a delicious fall meal.

Stuffed Acorn Squash
6 servings

3 acorn squash ( ¾ – 1 pound each)
1 small red onion, chopped
½ medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed
1 cup Honeyscrisp Apple Salsa
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (I used Red Barn 3 year aged cheddar)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut the acorn squash in half horizontally. Scoop out the seeds and place the squash cut side down on the cookie sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, toss the onion, bell pepper, garlic, beans, and salsa in a large bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

When the squash is tender remove from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. On your cookie sheet carefully flip the squash over so you have a edible bowl to fill. Fill eat squash half with some of the filling mixture. Top each with cheese as desired.

Return to the oven and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted – 8 to 10 minutes.

Stuffed acorn squashEnjoy!

P.S. I will tell you all about the Red Barn cheese in a future blog post . . . some of the best cheese I have EVER had!

The power of a mouse

When we found out we were going to be parents one of the first things I told Nick was that I don’t want to stop traveling. I love to travel and experience new places so for my own sanity and happiness I knew I wanted to keep traveling, but more importantly I wanted our child to be a global citizen. I wanted them to understand and accept different cultures and even embrace the good (and tasty) things from around the world.

Maybe that is why the traditional family vacation spots never came up. Not that I had discounted them as a possibility, but they certainly weren’t at the top of my list. That is why when we took a recent trip to Disney World I was amazed I hadn’t given the idea more credence and I was glad we made the trip.

Disney Hollywood Studios 2014

Sad that next year the hat will be no more. Glad we got one last picture with it!

Watching Olivia and all the other kids run around smiling and excited (except during the afternoon crash) I realized that Disney is a great place to take a child if you want them to be curious, creative, and engaged. This is an environment they feel comfortable being curious in because they understand the characters and places. We have taken Olivia on several trips without anything this child focused on the agenda – Mexico, San Diego, St Louis – and she has done well, but this was something completely different for all of us. She knows who Mickey Mouse is, she was excited to see the castle, and she even got introduced to a few new characters.Meeting Pluto at Disney World

In fact, she met more than just new characters. We met people from around the globe because Mickey transcends barriers. During our few days there we heard languages and accents from all over the map and even chatted with people from Brazil, Norway, Ireland, and Guatemala, all without entering Epcot’s World Showcase. We had an amazing waitress from Vietnam give us a tablecloth to cover Olivia as she napped through lunch at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant and watched a candy maker from Germany create amazing chocolate covered caramel apples only twenty minutes later. True she wasn’t getting a lesson in other cultures, but maybe she was learning another important lesson – that we aren’t as different as an accent or name may make us seem. Disney world kindness

Mickey caramel chocolate applesThat sense of familiarity is another thing that made this trip to Disney so special. My husband and I were there ten years ago on a trip during college and long before us my parents and in-laws had been. Many rides and attractions had changed, but many had stayed the same and as we waited in line or wandered past a site the memories that came back and were shared with Olivia were something special. It is comforting to know that family and friends have experienced what we are experiencing and that maybe one day Olivia will bring her own kids here to see Mickey Mouse and remember when she stood with us in this exact spot watching fireworks above the castle.

We all want our children to believe that if they truly want something and they work hard enough for it they will succeed. Walt Disney is one of the greatest examples of that and his belief in the power of imagination and a mouse has brought joy to so many other people. Disney reminds all of us that growing up doesn’t mean shedding the creativity and magic of childhood. We should carry these gifts with us and exercise them daily so it isn’t magic for just a few short years, but magic for a whole life.Chip and Dale meet Olivia

What travel is always about for us is introducing all of us to new experiences, places, and people and we accomplished that in a very special way thanks to the power of a mouse.

Producer Storytime: Butter Me Up!

If there was a Peanut Butter Anonymous group I would be in the running for their most prominent member. In fact, my biggest fear when my daughter started eating solids wasn’t choking or getting spit up on. No, it was that she was going to have a severe peanut allergy and I would never be able to have my creamy crunchy delight again.

Butter me up with a spoon

Thankfully she isn’t allergic to it so my morning ritual can continue. This love for peanut butter (and nut butters in general) is probably what gets me giddy when I see a new brand or variety. I moved on from the sugary junk of my early years to the real nut butters a long time ago . . . those college years when to our parents’ chagrin everything old is put into question. What still gets my tummy growling is finding small batch spreads, interesting flavors (not loaded with unexplainable ingredients), and new ways to enjoy it.

That is why when I saw the Butter Me Up! tent at the Des Moines farmer’s market on a recent trip I had to sample and purchase some of the good stuff. After coming home and having Olivia beg for it by the spoonful – she literally walked around the house eating just a spoon of it (definitely no nut allergy!) – I decided I had to know more about who lovingly made this for my family to enjoy.

That question led me to Butter Me Up! owner Tracey Norman – a mother, nurse, and now nut butter expert. a spoonful of peanut butter
Like many of us Tracey wants to make sure her family gets the best food that she can provide so after searching for fresh ground nut butters in her corner of Iowa and coming up empty handed she decided she could do it better. So in June 2013 she launched Butter Me Up! at a farmer’s market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with two flavors – Honey Roasted Peanut Butter and Almond Butter. We peanut butter lovers are wide spread and obviously loyal because Tracey has grown her company to produce eight flavors available at local farmer’s markets, food co-ops, grocery stores and will hopefully soon be expanding outside of Iowa for all of us to enjoy. Even with all of this growth the nut butters are made with love and care for a product we can all feel comfortable giving to even our smallest family members.

Butter Me Up cappuccinoAfter picking Tracey’s brain for some ideas for using her nut butters on things outside my breakfast toast I have a list of items to make after I stock up again – burgers with peanut butter, fondue, Asian sauces, and Tracey’s personal indulgence dark chocolate peanut butter melted over a banana. After getting to know a little more about Butter Me Up! and Tracey I am inspired by more than the culinary possibilities. She has grown a business she loves while being present in the lives of her young daughters and reminded me that self-investment pays off for everyone connected to you.

Although Tracey’s search for a local provider of healthy nut spreads came up empty handed she was inspired by all of the things she did find being made in her local community. I am glad I had my eyes open for small local producers when I stumbled on Butter Me Up! and I can’t wait to stock up on some more cappuccino peanut butter, dark chocolate peanut butter, cashew butter . . . oh heck, I should probably just buy one of each!

Tracey’s local restaurant recommendation: Dos Rios Cantina and Tequila Lounge . . . give the guacamole made table side a try!