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Prairie Home Summer

The last two summers have been full of weddings and travel — California, Georgia, Texas, even Hawaii. All the trips made for some great vacations and reunions with friends.

But this, this is the summer of staying close to home. No far-off weddings, no big fancy vacations. Just a lot of camping, gardening and exploring the awesomeness that is summer in Minnesota. So I’ve declared it to be the Prairie Home Summer. Hey Garrison Keillor, if you’re reading this … thanks. I like your show a lot.

To start it off, we had an epic five-year reunion with my college graduating class at St. Olaf. The two-day extravaganza included karaoke at Froggy’s, just like the old days, as well as dinner in the Caf, a reunion with my fellow a cappella group founders from Agnes, a brilliant lecture from a beloved prof, and a slideshow of embarrassing photos that someone pulled from Facebook (a reminder of exactly what we haven’t taken down since we posted them 8 or 9 years ago…)

June looked like a road trip to Rice Lake, Wisconsin for a colleague’s wedding, with a fun cheese shop stop on the way back …

… another road trip to the same part of Wisconsin for a cabin weekend on Spooner Lake with college buddies …

… and a four-day camping and canoeing expedition in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA), one of the most remote and beautiful wilderness parks left in the country.

No biggie. Just one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in the entire world.

Up next!

1. The obvious … as many farmers market trips and lake walks as possible.
2. At least one pizza farm visit (Stockholm or Northfield … choices this year, yo!)
3. Canning, jamming and pie-ing from the garden.
4. A visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Walnut Grove, MN, where you can see the place where they made their sod house on the banks of Plum Creek (ever since I read about it a few weeks ago, I’ve been certifiably obsessed).
5. Significant landscaping and garden improvements (underway).
6. Reading in the hammock and the rocking chair, and not just a few times. A lot.
7. My first trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, for a friend’s wedding.
8. Mini-golf at the Walker Sculpture Garden.
9. At least two golf outings and two waterskiing days.
10. Biking around the Chain of Lakes — Harriet, Calhoun and Isles (I’ve only biked two at a time, not all three at once).
11. Check out a few more local Mpls breweries and new restaurants.
12. Lots and lots of DQ Blizzards (have I mentioned there’s a DQ three blocks from my house?)
13. The Minnesota State Fair! There are 46 new foods this year … yes, really.
14. Camping in Detroit Lakes, MN (for a friend’s wedding … yes, really.)
15. My first trip to the Wisconsin Dells (for another friend’s birthday).
16. A family reunion out at Lake Minnetonka, including waterskiing, speedboating, dock-sitting, fishing and a dinner cruise from Al & Alma’s.
17. My first-ever concert at the famed First Avenue concert club in Mpls.

My parents are coming for a nice long visit this month, so they’ll be helping me check a few items off this list 🙂 And I’m taking about half of July off from work, which will be love-ly.

What’s on your summer to-do list? And who’s coming to MN to help me with mine?

2012: all the things!

All those things I mentioned in the last post? Haven’t done them yet. Whoops! BUT I have been spending lots of great time traveling (for work, for fun, and of course, for weddings). More to come about house updates soon, though, since that’s one of my resolutions this year.

I spent New Year’s weekend hanging out in my childhood neighborhood, and I was feeling nostalgic so here are a few of my favorite away-from-the-house moments from the last twelve months. 

Minneapolis ~ Dec. 30, 2011 ~ Kelin & Mike

Des Moines ~ June 9, 2012 ~ Caitlin & Alex

Minneapolis ~ July 14, 2012 ~ Sarah & Steve

Davis, CA ~ July 28, 2012 ~ Bethany & Adam

New Braunfels, TX ~ Aug. 25, 2012 ~ Kelli & Kyle

Honolulu ~ Sept. 9, 2012 ~ Christina & Andrew

Northfield, MN ~ Sept. 15, 2012 ~ Lauren & Jamison

Wimberly, TX ~ Dec. 29, 2012 ~ Courtney & Cullen

two recipes for the price of one

Had a house-full of people around this weekend, with our former exchange student Lisa visiting from Germany with her boyfriend Jochen 🙂 So much fun showing them around town, picnicking at the Pizza Farm in Wisconsin, and waterskiing at the lake.

After they left on Saturday, mom and Sarah and I spent a relaxing day here helping Sarah transition from her summer in Panama to her new job/life coming up in Oregon. One of the highlights was a new recipe we found in Real Simple. We made a substitution of Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains (a blend of orzo, couscous, quinoa and others) in place of the quinoa below, but you could also use farro if that’s what you have handy. You’ll notice the recipe calls for pesto, so I’m also including my personal pesto how-to guide for delicious homemade pesto. Enjoy!

Quinoa with Sweet Potatoes, Kale and Pesto
2 cups quinoa (or other grain), rinsed
1/2 cup olive oil
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
1 medium red onion, sliced
2 bunches kale, thick stems removed and leaves cut into bite-size pieces
fresh pesto (about 1/2 cup or 3/4 cup)
toasted walnuts, optional
  1. Cook the quinoa/grains according to the package instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potatoes, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper and cook, covered, tossing occasionally, until the potatoes begin to brown and soften, 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add the onion to the pot and cook, tossing occasionally, until the sweet potatoes and onion are tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add as much kale to the pot as will fit and cook, tossing frequently and adding more kale when there is room, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Serve the vegetables over the quinoa/grains, topped with 1-2 T pesto and some toasted walnuts.
Lauren’s Pesto
I adjust the recipe according to how much basil I have on-hand. Here’s an estimation of ingredients for about 2 cups of basil leaves, but you should experiment and add ingredients one-by-one as you go so as to customize the taste. Add to Cuisinart in the following order:

Basil leaves, washed and dried (about 2 cups)
Pine nuts, about 2-3 T.
Juice from half a lemon
1 T. olive oil
Parmesan cheese, about 3-4 T.
Add more olive oil if pesto is too clumpy or not spreadable. Add more cheese to offset too much lemon. Some people like to toast the pine nuts first; I find it unnecessary.

Pesto will keep in the fridge about one week, or in the freezer about 3-4 months.

brunch for twelve and a costco christmas tree

It might be almost Christmas, but I’m still catching up from Thanksgiving-time. The highlight of which was discovering that my house can accommodate exactly twelve people, maximum, for a sit-down meal.

If momma hadn’t invited half the family for Thanksgiving brunch, I never would have tried it. Seemed like a crazy idea to me. But it worked! We moved the big dining room table toward the stairs, and set up the folding table near the window. I had to move the side table out of the window nook to make room, but it came in handy as a beverage station behind the couch.

Just two days later, the main floor went through another transformation. I wasn’t sure I was going to go all-out decorating for Christmas this year, since I’m sort of in and out a lot these days. But, we found a great deal on Christmas trees at Costco (8 foot pine for $30!!) so I relented and pulled out the ornaments and lights (and just a few nutcrackers).

When I left Minnesota the other day, there wasn’t any snow on the ground. So it didn’t make it so hard to come to California for the holiday. I sure hope there’s a few inches when I get back, even if it means I have to shovel!

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever you may be.


family bridal shower

While we’re on the subject of weddings… in July my mom, aunt and cousin and I threw a bridal shower for my cousin Maria. Aside from the housewarming party last summer it’s the most people I think I’ve ever had in my house at once! And it was a great motivator for me to get the living room painted and the couch delivered by the middle of July — I never could have hosted this many people with the old set-up.

We made it a kitchen-themed shower, and everyone brought recipes on cards that we had printed to match the invitations.

I wanted to decorate the house with fresh flowers, so I made an early morning trip to the Flower Market Annex at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. It’s my favorite place to get flowers — wholesale prices and you can pick them out yourself from a big cooler in the back. Maria’s wedding colors were yellow and gray, so I got a selection of yellow flowers and white hydrangeas.

We organized a salad buffet for lunch (my mom, aunt and cousin each brought one) along with a bunch of summery appetizers and drinks. For dessert, I made a pavlova with fresh raspberries.

And of course, Maria opened presents 🙂

We even managed to get a photo of the entire group.

Maria and Johnny got married in August and it was beautiful. I’m so excited to have them in the neighborhood 🙂


For anyone who thinks I’m exaggerating when I say that my family* invades my house when they come to visit, here are some examples:

True, it was back-to-school weekend for the young’ns. But still. That’s some chaos for a girl who usually lives alone.
But yesterday they all left … back to school, back to California … and I’m home alone in the house for the first time in almost three weeks. (Which only lasts until Thursday when I pick up some beloved friends who will be staying with me for another friend’s wedding this weekend.) It was great having them around, though, and I’m going to miss coming home to my mom’s cooking when I’m working late nights this week 🙂
And they helped me with some great projects, so I’ll have more posts for ya’ll soon. Fun updates afoot around the little farmhouse…
For now, I’m just sitting here laughing at these photos and comparing them to my now very clean, very still, very empty living room. The very picture of the tradeoff between cleanliness and community.

*Hi fam. Love ya.

"home office"

there’s this:

but for some reason, we always end up like this:

like mother, like daughter?

full house

It was just after Thanksgiving last year when I first thought about buying a house. I had been visiting my cousins in Thailand, and they were contemplating buying a house for their return to Minneapolis before the tax credit expired (which they ended up doing… and lucky me, it’s only a few blocks from mine!) Another cousin had purchased a house in the neighborhood earlier in November, and I started wondering if it was something I should consider doing as well.

Financial benefits of homeownership aside (and they do exist, as expensive as home maintenance is)… what I really dreamed of was my entire family gathering for holidays here in Minnesota. In early December of last year, my brother found out he’d been accepted Early Decision at the same college that my sister, mom and I attended. Twenty-eight years after my parents left Minnesota for their new life in Texas, we realized that all three kids would soon be in Minnesota the majority of the year. And even an English major can do the math: flying three kids to Cali is more expensive than flying two parents to Minnesota – especially if the parents have a free place to stay.

Life has a funny way of working out, doesn’t it? I ended up finding a great house (obviously) and my parents came home to Minne for their first Thanksgiving here since 1982. All of this is a long way of saying that, when I arrived home after work on the day before Thanksgiving, I was so excited to see this scene in my living room:

That morning, I’d thrown together a crock pot dinner of carnitas (recipe courtesy of the lovely Megan E., a California friend and blogger). It was de-licious and perfect for a snowy evening.

And we even moved the TV from the basement to the upstairs living room so we could all sit around and watch a movie together. (Sadly, there’s not enough room on the couch down there for all of us.) It worked out perfectly.

Even if a bit messy. I think at one point, I counted five laptops, two iPads, six cell phones, three iPods and two cameras on the main level of my house — not to mention the countless magazines, water glasses and winter jackets that go along with five people. Next time they come to visit, my family just might have their own little baskets where they can throw everything 😉 But, despite the chaotic moments, it was awesome to spend Thanksgiving* week with my entire family for the first time since 2006. Blessings abound.

*No, I did not host Thanksgiving. I’m not that crazy (nor is my kitchen that well outfitted). We went to my aunt’s, as usual. I think my hosting days are a few years away yet. And I’m totally cool with that.

who’s that on my porch?

I got home from work on Friday afternoon to this sight:
Don’t worry, it’s just my dad. He and mom are in town this weekend, and they arrived while I was still at work.
Mom already had the candles lit and the windows open. It’s Indian Summer weather here – 80 degrees and sunny in the middle of October. I think this time last year we already had snow flurries. But not this year – this weekend looks to be absolutely perfect.
It’s so nice to have people there to welcome you home 🙂 I hope I never take that for granted.