The Best of Bayport, MN – Food

Bayport, MN is a small town on the banks of the St. Croix River with big charm. Little did you know, it used to be named Stillwater South, and was considered a part of Stillwater until 1922. Many people were confused by the names, and so the towns separated and it was dubbed Bayport instead.

Many Minnesotans consider Stillwater a summer vacation destination with all of it’s shops, restaurants and scenic views. It’s also quickly becoming a winter getaway with their cozy B&B’s, the completion of the ice castles, and with Hockey Day Minnesota putting up a rink next to the river this year. Unless you are in the know, Stillwater’s neighbor, Bayport, sometimes gets overlooked. It’s a hidden gem and is worth a visit every time you are in the East metro. It may be less touristy because it doesn’t boast many specialty shops, but the views are just as beautiful, and the food can rival anything you will find in the North Loop or on Eat Street in Minneapolis. Next time you are in the area, pop over to Bayport for one of the best meals you can find in the metro!

 

The best European inspired Restaurant:

L’Etoile Du Nord

This is a Belgian restaurant opened by a true Belgian. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It has a focus on high quality ingredients, and serves some of the best waffles in the Twin Cities. The waffles are TRUE Belgian style (I promise…. we visited Belgium two summers ago and the waffles there are vastly different than American Belgian waffles) unlike all of the other waffle joints in the Twin Cities. Try their take on Eggs Benedict. You won’t regret it. http://letoiledunordcafe.com/

The Best Cafe:

Not Justa Cafe

This cafe has been in Bayport for many years and is considered a staple. They have done so well that they even have locations in Somerset and New Richmond, WI. In the not so distant past, they even opened Not Justa Bar if you are looking for a vibe that’s a little bit less family style. http://www.notjustacafeandbar.com/

 

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The Best BBQ Joint:

Bayport BBQ

This is not a “swimming in sauce” kind of joint, and I like it. Bayport BBQ does some of the best dry rubbed BBQ in the state. They cook everything to perfection, and their seasonings are the kind that could win a competition. They’ve even been featured on TV! Check them out if you are wanting a true southern experience right here in Minnesota. Make sure you check out their records and CDs if you are a blues fan as well. Good BBQ is necessary for that southern experience, but great music is too! http://www.bayportbbq.com/

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The Best Bakery:

Bread Art

This bakery always leaves me wanting more. ALWAYS. I’ve seen a lot of the bakeries and donut shops pop up over the last few years and make a killing solely because it’s trendy, not necessarily because they are really good (the right vibe, the right location, and voila, money maker). Bread Art has been in the business longer, and they remain a staple because they are great at what they do. What initially drew me in was a simple sugar cookie. They carry them at the locally owned grocery store in my town and I splurged by buying a bundle of them once. Well, let me tell you, that one time splurge turned into a weekly necessity. No cookie I’ve eaten since then has rivaled them. You can taste the quality ingredients in their baked goods and honestly, there is nothing better than a chewy, heavy cookie to curb a sweet tooth. Don’t just read my post and believe it, go taste anything in their bakery to see what I mean. http://breadart.biz/

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Renting a Car in Iceland

Iceland, the land of fire and ice. It’s raw, stunning, dangerous, comforting, inspiring… and that’s just to name a few reasons why it’s becoming a popular tourist destination.

It can feel intimidating planning a trip to a wild country with developing tourism, but I’m here to help! Many people get overwhelmed in the planning process, and so it’s my goal to give as many practical pieces of advice that I can give. Traveling to Europe does NOT have to be overwhelming!

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I did a lot of online research about renting a car in Iceland. Truthfully, some of what I read stressed me out. People talked about high costs, dangerous roads, excessive insurances, and companies charging you extra fees after you leave the country. It left me feeling scared about what I thought would be a simple task; picking out a car and paying for it.
The truth of the matter is this; it’s all bologna! People are quick to leave online reviews when they have had a bad experience with a company, but the vast majority of people who have a good experience don’t go out of our way to help each company shine. So fear not, choosing a car can be easy!

CHOOSING THE CAR:

Think about what you are really going to be using the car for. You DON’T need a big vehicle unless you are going into the highlands. We did a fair amount of driving, using Reykjavik as our home base, and then ventured out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Golden Circle, and the southern coast of Iceland for several days. With that being said, a car was a great choice.

The information online about driving in Iceland can be contradicting, so I’m here to tell you that small vehicles CAN drive on the vast majority of roads (excluding F roads). Keep your costs low by renting a small 4 door. They get amazing gas mileage, and even if you get blown around in the winds a little easier than a heavy car (and man oh man do they have winds), you will be just fine! One of the funny things that I noticed about vehicles in Iceland is that they are either huge or tiny. Nobody drives a midsize, so don’t spend the extra money on it!

AUTOMATIC OR MANUAL?:

We are from America and so we are used to driving automatic vehicles. Since that’s what we are most comfortable with, that’s what we chose to drive in Iceland. You can save yourself some money by picking a manual instead, but If you aren’t very confident in your skills, Iceland isn’t the place to brush up. If you go anywhere outside of Reykjavik, you will drive on steep inclines and come up to one lane bridges where you may need to downshift to slow quickly. Choose what you are most comfortable with.

 

WHEN TO BOOK:

Some rental car companies will give you a discount if you rent at least 2 weeks in advance. Whether or not the company you go with offers this, I recommend booking around that time frame. There are A LOT of companies to choose from, but each is priced very differently. To ensure you are getting the car you want for the price you want, book online, and book in advance. Even though they have so many car companies, the closer you get to your travel dates, the more booked up they become.

THE FINE DETAILS:

If you are planning on putting the miles on – or kilometers, since that’s how they measure distances – make sure the company you choose offers unlimited mileage. A lot of them do, but make sure it’s actually listed somewhere on their website so you know for sure. If you miss that, and end up having to pay for additional mileage, you might end up as one of the disgruntled reviewers that I was talking about earlier!

Go with a company that offers various insurances. Some of the ones you will need are gravel protection, sand and ash protection, Collision Damage waiver, and the insurance that allows you to lower the deductible if you are in an accident. In addition to those insurances, you will have the option to purchase theft insurance. All of them are necessary except for theft. I say that because Iceland is extremely safe. You of course still want to lock your doors when you aren’t in the vehicle, but it’s not common for people to break in. All of the different companies will offer you the chance to book each insurance separately, but a few will let you do an insurance bundle that makes everything cheaper for you. Theft will probably be included in the bundle, but purchasing them all together will save you some money, and so you are just lucky to have the coverage.

If you do research like I did, you will come across some third party rental sites. Although their prices were low, their terminology was so different from every other company that I decided to avoid those in the fear that you would have some additional costs once you actually arrived to Iceland. Most of the third party sites are showing you car rental companies that don’t actually have an office at the airport. They will sometimes charge you for pick up and drop off of the car from the airport. Don’t pay for it. There are A TON (you will see what I mean when you arrive) of companies that have their offices right next to the airport so you don’t have to pay a fee to pick up your car there.

There are a handful of car rental companies that give you a lower price for renting an older car. If you are fine with an older car, feel free to risk it. I knew that the possibility of a breakdown in a new country was something we wanted to avoid, and so when comparing costs, we still chose a company that offered new cars.

 

WHO TO BOOK WITH:

I did a lot of research about car rental companies, and we decided to go with Route1 Car Rental. They had everything we were looking for including new vehicles, great reviews, unlimited mileage, insurance bundles, great prices, and free pick up/drop off at the airport! They will send an agent to get you in the arrivals area of the airport, and it’s just a short walk to the parking lot where they keep their cars. They will go over the contract with you in the lobby of the hotel next to the airport and run your credit card right there. All you have to do upon returning the car is leave the keys with the front desk staff at the hotel! So simple.

Here is a list of a few other companies that we considered going with:

Go Iceland Car Rental

Thrifty Car Rental

Arctic Car Rental

 

Here is a list of a few companies we found unsatisfactory:

Budget Rental – Did not give you the option to book insurances upfront and therefore the additional cost of insurances would be unknown until arrival.

Hertz – VERY expensive compared to other companies

Sixt – No free unlimited mileage

 

Of course it’s up to you to do your own research and decide which company is best for you! Best of luck and enjoy your trip to Iceland!!!!

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Love your Small Businesses. Shop Local.

Imagine with me. You’re feeling fabulous in your brand new outfit as you walk into the first day of school. Then it happens… You look up, and standing across the atrium is your best friend in THE EXACT SAME OUTFIT. The heat creeps up your face as you freeze and think, “I’m not original at all!” You duck your head in embarassment and try to dodge away. Right at that moment your other friends point and call out, “look, they’re matching!” They gather you together as you both pretend like you think it’s funny, pose for a photo, and secretly vow to yourself that you will never wear that outfit again!

I grew up in rural Minnesota. It was a great experience, but when it came to shopping, my only options were chain stores. I still burn with embarrassment when I think back on the moments when I was dressed in the same outfit as my friends. We all shopped at the same few stores in town. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate small business as an alternative to chain. One of the things I love about small business is that it returns a sense of individualism to the shopper. Each store only has so many products, therefore they are sifting through their inventory quicker, and only so many people have each item. The products in each shop are also hand picked with passion. Most small business owners opened their shop because of a love for what they are selling.

I decided to write this blog post because J. Arthur’s Coffee of Roseville, MN recently announced that they might be closing their doors. They opened in 2008 as a private coffee shop meant to serve adults with disabilities through the company ACR Homes. In 2011 they opened their doors to the public and put an emphasis on artisan coffee with high quality products. They quickly became “the spot” for professionals who work remotely, and students from nearby Universities who want a great place to study.

It was announced to the public they would be closing in June of 2016. A few days later they let us know that they would try and last through the summer instead. I feel an immense responsibility to help save this coffee shop, as well as the other potential small businesses on the verge of closing. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Starbucks, but I can’t imagine losing this staple in the community. By supporting them, you aren’t just keeping one business afloat, but businesses from all over the Twin Cities. They source their beans from local roasters Dogwood, UP, and Roastery 7, and their tea from Tea Source. I encourage you, if you’ve been meaning to stop by J. Arthur’s, do it now to show them that you want them to stick around!
Nobody wants these beloved local businesses to close, but we see it happen everyday! So, what’s the deal?

We live in a culture based on convenience. Since it’s built into the culture around us, you don’t notice it until, well, you notice it. Now that I have “seen the light”, I’ve been challenging myself to live differently. In relation to shopping, this culture of convenience means that the businesses with the best locations and bargains win. That unfortunately means that unless we change our mindset, the chain retailers will win every time. A local business owner doesn’t have the funds to purchase the most convenient location. They don’t have the budget for buyers who can research the best products to put in the stores. They certainly can’t afford giant marketing campaigns, and they can’t and won’t start producing their products in mass quantity to keep the cost per item down.

What the locally owned shops have is far greater; quality, passion, ambiance, friendliness, and individualism.

Just this morning we went out for breakfast at an amazing local restaurant (shout out to L’Etoile Du Nord). The waitress took the time to ask us if we lived in town and went on ask and memorize each of our names. After we paid the bill, she said that she looked forward to seeing us the next time we came in, and she actually meant it. There was no rushing us out the door to fill another seat. There was no strange “pay at the table with an electronic device” option. We had great food and genuine human interaction. We loved it.

So what I want to ask is this: Do we want convenience to dictate our lives? Especially so, when it comes to supporting the local businesses in our towns?

I say no! So here’s my challenge: Choose a local store over a chain store for at least one purchase per month and see what happens. We not only have a responsibility to keep them going, but the more we shop at the locally owned stores, the more we will all realize what they actually have to offer us.

Start thinking about the places in your town where you can shop local and enjoy!

 

 

 

5 Twin Cities Dates to go on this Summer

So you found that special someone did ya? I bet you want to take them out on some great dates too! Not to worry, I’ve done all of the creative thinking for you. All you have to do is follow the instructions below and enjoy your date. Oh, and by the way, I will expect an invite to the wedding since I am helping you out after all ;).

1. Longfellow Neighborhood Date:

Start the evening around 5pm with a stroll by Minnehaha falls, and then take a swing into Sea Salt Eatery for some great food. When you are finished eating their scrumptious sea food, drive a few miles to the Riverview Theater to catch a movie. I’m a lover of all things vintage, and this is my favorite theater in the metro because walking in is like taking a step back in time. When we took my mom there for the first time, she said that it reminded her of the theaters she grew up going to. Another reason I like it is because it’s easy on the wallet. Instead of showing the most current films, it plays the most popular movies that just exited the regular theaters. So go ahead, get your special someone some popcorn AND a soda… You can afford it ;)! Finish out the evening across the street at the charming Riverview Cafe to grab a late coffee, tea, or wine at their wine bar. You might even be able to catch some live music before or after the movie! Check Riverview’s schedule to see who is playing when you are planning to go.

2. Downtown Minneapolis Date:

I can’t get enough of the beautiful weather in the summer, so take a walk across the Stone Arch Bridge. If you have the time, consider setting up a tour of the Mill City Museum as well. When you are ready to go inside, head over to The Dakota Jazz club for an amazing dinner and to listen to some tunes. You will need to reserve your table and tickets in advance. Do this by clicking here. This will be a fun & classy evening that anyone would enjoy.

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3. Uptown Minneapolis Date:

This is a great date to have on a Saturday afternoon. Head over to Surdyk’s in North East sometime before lunch. Take a look around their their deli and cheese shop to pick out the perfect picnic spread (including at least 1 or 2 of their amazing cheeses). I recently went here with a friend and accidentally spent over $20 on cheese alone. It’s all just soooo good. Take your food to go and drive over to lake Calhoun. Rent a canoe, enjoy a paddle around the lakes, and eat your lunch together on one of the more secluded lakes for a bit of romance.

4. Stillwater, MN Date:

Take the half hour drive east to Historic Stillwater. Wander down historic Main Street together and look in all of the shops. At your scheduled departure time, head south on main street to where the riverboats are docked. Have a great dinner and enjoy the sights as you boat down the river. Surprisingly, you can get both the boat ride and dinner for only $30 a person! Book your tickets here.

 

5. Edina, MN Date:

Centennial Lakes in Edina may be man made, but it has a certain charm to it. Walk hand-in hand around the lakes, play some mini golf, and then head up the stairs to Pinstripes for dinner. To extend your evening, schedule a game of indoor bocce or bowling at Pinstripes, or relax by either one of their 2 outdoor fire pits.

 

Why You Won’t go on Vacation & Why You Probably Should

You could be in Amsterdam in eight hours. In Cape Town in sixteen. You could be scaling the Andes Mountains in Patagonia right now –while  wearing your favorite Patagonia coat. So why are you still sitting on your couch? Why haven’t you left your home state in twenty years? And why aren’t you living the crazy life you’ve always dreamed of? It’s a proven fact that people are happier when they have a vacation planned. It’s often said that a vacation gives you something to look forward to. This alone should be enough to convince you to start saving for a trip. However, it’s not always that easy, is it? If you are anything like me, practicality often gets in the way of adventure. Three of the biggest reasons people don’t take vacations is because of money, time, and flat out fear.

Addressing the “I don’t have enough money” mindset:

Have you ever put new tires before a Las Vegas getaway with friends? Or maybe a new lawn mower got in the way of that perfect getaway to Chicago. Whatever it is that stops you from saving for a vacation, it doesn’t have to take away from the exciting adventure that could await. Sometimes all it takes is a simple shift in mindset to make the unthinkable happen.

When Dan and I were first married we made very little money. I worked part-time while finishing school as Dan started his first year teaching. Our apartment was a one bedroom located in the bad part of Minneapolis. Despite that, we decided that traveling would be a priority for us. But how did we do it? We traded some things for others. So, I want to propose a question. What are the things in your life that you don’t actually need?  Consider dropping your cable to put that money aside for a trip. Do you need the newspaper when many are available to read online? Transportation is necessary, but does it have to be a 2016 model? Just start thinking about it. I could bet that most people reading this article could at least save $10 a month in a vacation fund. It’s a start!

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Addressing the “I’m too busy” mindset:

Have you ever been so busy that the thought of adding one more thing to your schedule makes you feel like you’ll break? I have, and at this point a vacation isn’t just a want, it’s a need. You can only run on low batteries for so long before they run out. If the thought of laying on the white sand beaches of Aruba is cathartic, imagine how healing it would be to actually be there. Between the two of us, Dan and I work over 130 hours a week. Add a social life to that, errands, cleaning house… etc… we aren’t left with much extra time. Our particular schedule may look different than yours, but I know that we aren’t the only ones who have only a precious few hours to spend leisurely. That’s why you need to recharge your batteries. Our lives are so busy, that if we don’t slow down from time to time, we really could break. If you have enough PTO, use some. If your parents said they would watch your kids, don’t feel guilty, take advantage of the opportunity. If you think you’ve got too much going on at work, take care of the things that need attention right away, and leave the rest for later.

 

 

Addressing the “I’m too scared” mindset:

When you are at the end of your life looking back at all you’ve done, won’t you want to reflect on all of the seized opportunities, and revel in the fact that you took control of life? In the short life I’ve already lived, I’ve learned that some of the scariest experiences in life are the best experiences. When we were in the Cayman Islands a few years back, Dan made me hold a stingray while on a snorkeling adventure. I was terrified while I watched others pick them up, but I was also jealous of the life experience they were having. He saw the wistful look in my eye and encouraged me to hold one even though I was scared. I’m thankful for the push he gave me. That will forever be one of my favorite experiences in life. What are the things you have wanted to do, but you let fear stand in the way?

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Can you see the man swimming after the stingray :D!?

 

 

If you are still struggling to justify a vacation, I will give you a few more reasons to just bite the bullet and plan the trip:

  1. It’s a chance to invest in yourself.
  2. It gives you the break you need to recharge your batteries for life.
  3. If you’re married or dating, it’s a chance to invest in your relationship.
  4. It helps you expand your interests.
  5. It opens your world view.
  6. It’s a chance to invest in your family.
  7. It’s a chance to build new relationships.
  8. It can be a spiritual experience.
  9. Because accumulating experiences is better than collecting stuff
  10. It’s a chance to give back (missions or volunteer trips)

 

 

 

  • PS, I want to give a quick shout out to my husband Dan for doing an amazing edit on this post!

 

 

The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco

The song lyrics “I left my heart in San Francisco” played on repeat in my mind as our plane lifted off the tarmac to head for home. It has been playing in my mind pretty much ever since. Minnesota has been home for my entire life, but San Francisco takes a close second. If a city could describe my personality, San Francisco does it well. It has a sunny disposition, lots of quirkiness, good fashion, a love for good food, lots of energy, with a little bit of brokenness mixed in (let’s just be honest… none of us are sunshine and rainbows all of the time). I identify so strongly with it, it’s no wonder that it feels like home!
I had been asking my husband to go back from the moment we left our first trip, and he made that dream come true last month (side note… I married a really good man, and I’m so thankful he makes such amazing gestures of love for me…. All my single ladies, wait for a fella like that). Anyway, having just returned home from our second trip, I decided to finally write a blog about my favorite city. I could go on and on, but I’ll keep it simple by just naming a few places you HAVE to go while in San Francisco!

 

The Top 10 Things to do in San Francisco

 

10. The Western Addition Neighborhood:

This neighborhood is located in central San Francisco, and has easy use of public transportation. This is where we always stay when we are in San Francisco. On this last trip we found a hidden gem called the Chateau Tivoli Bed & Breakfast. I HIGHLY recommend staying here. Although they are off the beaten track from where all of the other tourists stay, they are close to public transportation, in a safe neighborhood, and two blocks from Alamo Square park and “the painted ladies” AKA the Full House houses. If you like soaking in vintage claw foot tubs, sleeping in beds that look like they belong in a palace, eating AMAZING breakfast (they do smoked salmon and capers), and chatting with amazingly friendly staff, stay here.

 

 

Neighborhood highlights:

9. The Wharf

Yes, it’s touristy, but part of the reason why we all love San Francisco is because it sits on that beautiful bay! This is a bustling area on the bay filled with street performers, tourists, sea food stands, shops, trolley cars, restaurants, museums, and seaside beauty.


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Neighborhood highlights:

  • The municipal pier for great views of the Golden Gate
  • Pier 39 for the heart of the action. Jam packed with restaurants, museums, and fun! You can book city tours and adventures here.
  • Boudin, for their famous sourdough bread
  • Ghirardelle Chocolate Factory
  • The Ferry Building for food and boutique shopping. Also take a ferry to the sleepy little towns of Sausalito or Tiburon from here.

8. North Beach neighborhood

This neighborhood borders Chinatown and the Financial district. You can sit and enjoy a cup of espresso while pretending you are in Europe here. Sidewalk cafes line the street in this neighborhood with Italian food, drink, and people.


Neighborhood highlights:

  • Columbus Tower/Sentinel Building – 900 Kearny St. – Visit this historic building if you love architecture.
  • Caffe Greco – have a traditional Italian espresso on the outdoor patio while watching the people walk by
  • Washington Square park – Pack a lunch and enjoy this green space that faces the beautiful St. Peter & Paul church
  • Grant Ave. – Wander in and out of the shops on Grant Ave. which is the oldest street in San Francisco. There is a great shop with vintage maps and prints where you can get a unique keepsake from your trip to North Beach. We took home a reprint of a poster drawn by a local North Beach artist. He drew the poster for the neighborhood in the 1990’s and makes prints just for that shop.

7. Chinatown

This Chinatown is the BEST in our country. I love that it’s a place for tourists to hang out, but that Chinese people actually live in the neighborhood and do life there. Walk down some of the side streets to see their laundry hanging out their windows, and visit their grocery stores to see the unique items that they eat. You can’t go wrong with pretty much any of their restaurants for some authentic Chinese food.

6. The Haight

Step back in time to a neighborhood that’s stuck in the 1960’s free love era. This neighborhood is a great mix of everything. See old hippies, several vagrants, but also some of the most well kept homes in San Francisco, and upscale shops all mixed together in this eclectic neighborhood.

Neighborhood highlights:

  • Amoeba Music – If you like to spin the vinyl, check out this huge record shop.
  • Parada 22 –  Serves the best Puerto Rican food you will ever eat. Their most popular dish is a simple meal that is eaten in Latin America everyday, but they cook it the way that everyone else wishes they could. Think about pork so soft that it melts in your mouth, a hot red bean salad with the perfect mix of seasonings, fried plantains, and fresh greens. Please, do yourself a favor and go here. I have dined at many wonderful places in my lifetime, and this is still my favorite restaurant. They prove my theory that something doesn’t have to be complex to be good.

5. Hayes Valley

This is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in San Francisco right now. It’s still small, but is lined with independently owned restaurants, and pop ups. The vibe is small town charm meets the city.

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Neighborhood highlights:

  • Patricia’s Green park
  • Blue Bottle Coffee – This small coffee shop is moving worldwide. Their flagship shop is in a small alleyway filled with plants and murals. Try their iced coffee with roasted chicory for something new.

4. Japanese Tea Garden

If you love tea, architecture, and Japanese plants, pay the small fee to get into this section of the Golden Gate Park. They have an open air tea room where you can have traditional tea and sandwiches.

3. The Mission

This neighborhood still has some dangerous spots, and so you want to be careful about where and when you go, but it also has some of the most vibrant murals, people, and food in the entire city. During our first trip, we completely missed the Mission, and after our second visit we realized that this area is where we should have actually been spending all of our time.


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Neighborhood highlights:

  • Mission Dolores Park – This park sits on a hill and has some of the most spectacular views of San Francisco
  • The murals – Take a walk down 24th St. between Potrero Ave. and Mission St. to see some of the most vibrant and lively murals in the city. It’s not so cut and dry that all of the murals will be on this exact street, so be willing to veer off course a little bit, or walk through some of the alleys!
  • Dynamo Donuts – This shop has made from scratch donuts and an amazing outdoor patio in the back
  • La Palma – This Mexican restaurant will provide you with some of the best Mexican food in the city. Take it to go and sit in Mission Dolores Park

2. Muir Woods

The Muir Woods are about a 30 minute drive on 101 N over the Golden Gate bridge. If you are interested in getting outside in the beautiful nature surrounding San Francisco, this is a quick drive. There are miles of trails in this young redwood forest. Pack a lunch, put on some hiking shoes, and enjoy the tranquility here.

1.Marin Headlands

On your way back from the Muir Woods, take the last exit before you cross back over the Golden Gate for some of the best views of the bridge and bay area. There is a road that climbs the side of the cliffs next to the ocean where you can park at several stops to take pictures of the bridge and San Francisco. This is my favorite place to stop in the entire bay area. You will not regret stopping to enjoy the view.

 

Where YOU can find the BEST pizza in the Twin Cities

My love affair with pizza started in college. You move into your first apartment, don’t know how to cook, and suddenly you meet Jack. You love him instantly but wonder if there is something out there better. What are you thinking? Of course there is, because unfortunately Jack is cheap, and was found in the frozen pizza section. That’s all you could afford and that’s all you had time for at that point.

Luckily I have upgraded my tastes as I have upgraded my budget (although you will still see my freezer stocked with Jack’s Pizza at all times), and I’m on a never ending journey to find the best pizzas around.

The Twin Cities has an amazing food scene where you can find almost anything. I’m so thankful that gourmet pizza is included on that list. For me, ambiance is just as important as taste , and so listed below  are the restaurants I have thoroughly enjoyed in the metro that serve up a great atmosphere and a great pizza. The list is not in any particular order and I highly recommend you hit each place. Comment below if you think I could add to this list! We could add a part 2 to this blog if you give me more inspiration! Like I said, I am always on the hunt for the best pizza, so if it really wows me I will blog some more.

1. Roma

460 Stillwater Rd

Willernie, MN 55090

First of all, I love that this place is off the beaten track a little bit. It feels a little mom and pop-ish but classy at the same time. That is what makes it so charming in my opinion. The ambiance is made up of warm lighting, Italian decor, a beautiful bar, and a cute little deli off the dining room. They are perfect for a quiet date that shows you want to have a meaningful time without being pretentious. Our good friends introduced us to this place a couple of years back and I find myself thinking of Roma often.

They are a family run Italian place, but they also do wood-fired personal pizzas. The crust is thin and bubbles beautifully. You can get something standard if you would like, but go out on a limb and you won’t regret it. My favorite pizza there has blue cheese, prosciutto, figs, and fresh greens on top. The combination of the sweet fig and the savory prosciutto is what brings me back for more. One can rarely go wrong mixing meat (especially salty cured meat) and fruit together in the same dish. As far as price goes, you can spend a little there with pizza prices from $10-$18, or a bit more for an Italian dish.

2. Burch 

1933 Colfax Ave. S 

Minneapolis, MN 55403

  

Everyone is raving about Burch right now, and I’m raving right along with them. Their chef Isaac Becker won the James Beard Best Chef: Midwest award, and highly deserves it. Apart from Burch, he also owns 112  Eatery and Bar Lagrassa, both of which have served me some great eats. 112 was created to give the chefs of Minneapolis a place to go, so obviously the menu is fabulous and the atmosphere is understated. Their owner and head chef claims to hate concept restaurants but now owns 3. Thank goodness for that, because each serves some of the best food in our state.

When you walk into Burch it instantly feels high class. You have to valet your car because it’s Uptown and they have no parking, but that just adds to the experience. Burch reminds me of a restaurant you would find in NYC. Everything is chic and elegant but simple. Although the waiters look as if they would be cold and indifferent (because of how cool and hipster they are – it is Uptown after all) they wait your table with kindness and a vast knowledge of the menu. I can tell they really care about the food they serve.

The staples at Burch are steak, dumplings, and woodfired pizza. All of which I’ve had, and all of which were made with quality ingedients and creativity. You can obviously spend a pretty penny on their steaks, but their pizzas are reasonably priced at $12-$25 each. So don’t shy away thinking you can’t afford it. The object of my desire there is called the Coppa Cotta pizza. It has hazelnuts, smoked pork shoulder, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella balls. I mean seriously, who thinks to put hazelnuts on pizza?! They are fantastic and compliment the smokey pork shoulder well. I have yet to try their Tonno Diavolo with raw ahi tuna but in my opinion, that’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Raw fish + pizza = obsession. Your tastebuds will be amazed at the combination of flavors piled high on their soft fluffy crusts.

3. The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen

 2515 Nicollet Ave. S

Minneapolis, MN 55404

    

Opened in the spring of 2014 on Eat street (aka Nicollet Ave.), they focus on home grown flavor and well sourced products. A catchphrase they have adopted is farm-to-table. They serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, baked goods, and coffee. They even hold wedding receptions in their restaurant! They were partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and so you know the locals wanted this in the community. It did so well that they raised over $12,000 to be exact. I think it’s great to see the citizens rally around some people that have a great idea for a restaurant.

Upon opening, they did not disappoint. I am writing about them having only visited the restaurant once. That means I am very impressed. I have a lot more to try on their menu, but during my visit I ordered a lavender lemonade and the Chicken Coop pizza. I know this article is about pizza, but lavender lemonade is my new official favorite drink. They make it so the lavender doesn’t overpower, and really comes out as more of an aftertaste. Okay, now back to the pizza – The Chicken Coop features prosciutto, spinach, ricotta (REALLY good ricotta I might add), pecorino bechamel sauce, and two sunny side up eggs. I didn’t ever think of eggs on pizza, and after I had  this, I wondered why more people aren’t doing it! It’s great! The yoke and the bechamel sauce combine so well that it makes you feel like you are eating at grandma’s house. Their crusts are similar to Burch’s in the fact that they are fluffy, but there is a denseness to these that make them feel more like home. Their prices come in on the low end at $12-$16. Grab dessert at the end of your pizza dinner too, they are a cakery after all.

4. Broders’ Cucina Italiana

2308 W 50th St.

Minneapolis, MN 55410   

    

Take one step in the door and you’ll feel like you have crossed the Atlantic and landed in Italy. This restaurant has charm galore. When you first walk in, you can peruse the shelves filled with specialty Italian cooking items. Around the corner from the shop is their quaint dining room and deli. All food is ordered at the deli and you can get meats, cheese, pasta, salads, desserts, side dishes, and pizza to stay or to go. Of course, everything is fresh and hand made.

Since this article is specifically about good pizza, I will tell you why Broders’ Cucina is at the top of my list. It’s all about the meat. My favorite there is a good ole’ pepperoni and sausage. Their pizza is thin crust, with a light amount of sauce  (I hate too much sauce), piled with cheese, and topped with the best meat I have ever had on a pizza in my life. Their sausage is made in-house with high quality herbs and spices. Even though you can take your pizza to go, try and find a spot in their quaint dining room with the mural painted ceiling. Sit and enjoy your little Italy and savor their authentic flavor. The products on their shelves and the food from their kitchen is imported from Italy. You don’t get much more authentic than that.

Get their pizza by the slice for just a few dollars or order a medium or large to share. Prices for full pizzas range from $10-$20 and are shareable.

Disappearing Winter: A Minneapolis day trip to take before spring officially arrives

If any of you readers are like me, you find yourself holed up inside from October to March (and let’s be honest about it, sometimes April). The snow, the ice, the wind; it should all just truly disappear. I have spent many a year curled up inside my house sipping coffee, snuggling in blankets, reading books, and watching my favorite movies all in an effort to avoid the terrible world that is winter. I make minimal trips to the store, and try to get from my car to the safety of home as quick as possible. Yes, I admit it, I am a closet hermit throughout the winter. To continue in my theme of honesty, it gets really boring just sitting around even though my Instagram makes it look otherwise. 

 We had a friend from El Salvador visit this last week and I realized I can’t have her sit indoors with me and just wait out this dreaded cold. We’ve got to show her something! Our friend is from a HOT climate and has never been in weather colder than 60 degrees. What can Minnesota offer someone from paradise? In my effort to help her enjoy her time, I found myself inspired. Minnesota can offer a lot. The leafless trees are not barren but tall and haunting. The snow is not blinding, but glistening, The ice is mesmerizing rather than thick and cumbersome. The wind, well I still hate the wind, but you get the idea. Luckily, this time of year offers the best of two worlds. You can still experience some of the beauty that winter has to offer, but it’s starting to feel like spring. Take advantage of this amazing time of year before it’s gone!

This weekend was an opportunity to embrace the cold & just have fun!

On Saturday we pulled on our boots and went trekking outdoors. Where did we end up, you ask?

Minnehaha Falls

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The Minnehaha Falls from above

It was one of my favorite days of this entire winter! The Minnehaha Falls are a great spot to visit in the summer, but it’s much more mesmerizing in the winter! The falls are surrounded by gates and fences that say closed, or no trespassing. They even state that it is illegal to walk down to the falls in the winter, so this activity is not for those afraid of criminal activity ;). For me, being a goody goody in most of my life, I welcomed the mischief! A lot of Twin Cities natives know about this spot, but growing up in northern Minnesota I can say that not everyone knows this is there! It wasn’t until I moved to the Twin Cities for college that I found this gem. It is well worth the adventure.

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Acting touristy at the falls with Stacy & Wendy

We had planned to do the falls in a half hour, but once we got there we realized there is much more exploring to be done. If you are taking a trip to the Twin Cities and want to visit Minnehaha Falls, I would plan for an hour and a half. The falls are located in the sprawling Minnehaha Park which is filled with walking trails and trees, and borders the beautiful Mississippi River. We Minnesotans are hearty, and so many people were out walking their dogs and jogging in the cold. Once you get to the falls, there are many things you can do. Be a rule follower and just appreciate from the bridge and walking paths above the falls, or break the rules and jump the fence. (*Disclaimer- I made the personal decision to visit the falls close up, as a lot of visitors do, but I am not telling people to engage in criminal behavior, or put themselves in harms way by walking out on thin ice.)

Once you are down at the level of the falls, you can climb around on the frozen stream and walk right up to the spot where the falls have frozen in place. If you are lucky and get there on a day when it’s relatively quiet, you can hear the open water flowing beneath you and down behind the frozen part of the falls.

DSC_0157Pause for a photo op and then get ready to get messy. Oh, did I mention that you shouldn’t wear anything you aren’t willing to let get dirty? If you are facing the falls, there is an opening on the right side that is said to have never frozen shut. Climb up the hill directly below that spot, or jump over the fence by the staircase and walk across the hill to get there (this is the messy part…. we went on a day when the ice was melting and got muddy)! The opening takes you into a magical wonderland behind the falls. If Narnia were a real place, I think it would be located here. Depending on the time of year and time of day you meander behind the falls, you can see the ice illuminated in brilliant blues and greens. It is a spectacular sight to behold, and if you saw nothing but that, the trip would be well worth it.

The falls are beautiful, but no day trip to Minneapolis is complete without completely stuffing your face full of the amazing cuisine this city has to offer. So here is a step by step of how to plan your day.

A day trip for that inbetween time; When It’s not fully winter and not fully spring

1. Spend your morning at Minnehaha Park and Falls taking in the brilliance.

2. Grab some lunch! When you are ready, take a 15 minute drive further into Minneapolis and visit one of my FAVORITE restaurants that is sure to help you warm up! What restaurant am I talking about?  None other than The Quang (located on Nicollet Ave. AKA, Eat Street). Order a steaming bowl of Pho (pronounced FUH) which is a Vietnamese soup filled with yummy yummy goodness. This soup is all about the broth, and in my attempts to satisfy the craving at home, I can say that The Quang’s broth cannot be replicated! In that broth sits herbs, rice noodles, beef strips and/or meatballs (you can order other meats but this is my preference), and add fresh bean sprouts, basil, and hot peppers. To add even more flavor, squirt some hoisin and siracha sauce in. You will not regret eating this tasty dish, and if you are like me, you will start craving it from the second you step out the restaurant door.







3. Did you save room for dessert? Bundle up and take a block and a half walk down to Glam Doll Donuts! Step back in time in this retro themed bakery. Order a donut or two, or ten ;), in any flavor and I promise you will enjoy. They have the amazing ability to make their donuts light and airy yet dense. I don’t know how one can accomplish that goal! I also enjoyed a warm Chai tea when I was there, but I must warn you, if you aren’t ready for a very authentic Indian Chai taste you might be surprised. What did I taste in that chai to make it so different from others? Cardamom, and a lot of it! If you are up for something a little bit different than the norm, then you will thoroughly enjoy your chai.



4. By this time it might be 2:00pm and you far away travelers are thinking of heading home, but don’t! Take a quick jaunt over to Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington. During this time of year they teach their visitors how to tap trees, collect the sap, and boil it to make syrup! My husband and I spend time with his family in the sugar maples in Grand Rapids every year and it’s such a fun activity. It makes you feel like you are stepping back in time and are living off the lands like the natives did! It takes a lot of time and sap to make syrup (I’m talking hours and gallons) so you may not be able to sample your own batch at the nature center, but they always have some for you to try. 





Introduction

Since I decided to start this blog on a whim today, I thought an introduction would be necessary.

My name is Brianna, and I’m a Minnesotan.

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I enjoy eating good food, being around great people, loving God, spending time with my family, and seeking out adventure in life. I have been married to my husband Dan for almost 4 years. He’s a stud of a man, that one. He is a sports fan and enjoys playing hockey and golf, is a teacher, musician, and all around good person. I will leave it at that because he is a much more private person than I, and will be mortified to read he is in my first blog post! Don’t worry honey, this is just one of the many perks (or quirks…. depending on how you look at it) that comes with being married to me!

“Why would you start a blog about Minnesota?”

Many of you are probably asking this exact question. Or possibly it’s “what qualifies you to do so?”, or even, “do you think you are such a great writer that we will all want to read what you have to say?”. I wish I were that cool, but frankly, no. This idea stemmed from my growing love of good food and good entertainment.

My husband and I were driving home one night after a fun night out with friends and I looked at him and said, “wouldn’t it be amazing to be a food critic, or a blogger? What if you could write about what you loved and people actually cared? Maybe you could even get PAID someday to do the things that you love doing?” Then I stared off into space and imagined what that world could look like. I do not think that I will get paid for doing this, but I do know that I will find great pleasure in writing about the things I love, and inviting you to explore those things with me.

“So what will this blog be about? And how often will it be posted?”

So glad you asked….

If any of you have read the amazing book, Strengths Finder, by Tom Rath; I am an INCLUDER by nature. I can’t help but pull all of you into the things I love. By being Minnesotan, and appealing to Minnesotan readers, I think you will also love what I love. So if I had to give you a list, here it is:

What to do

Where to eat

Businesses worth mentioning

Where to shop

The great outdoors

The people I love

Causes worth caring about

How to do life in Minnesota

To answer my second question. I am a wife, music director at a church, recruiter and internship coordinator for a group home (shout out to ACR Homes, woo!), and I help coordinate a local level Miss America pageant. This blog will be purely for the fun of it, so I would expect to see a post once a month!

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Stay tuned for my first OFFICIAL blog about getting outdoors in the dead of winter! It will be a fun one!