Category Archives: midwest

Baking, part 1

The fantastic ladies who work in my office laid down the gauntlet last week: “bring in cake because it’s your birthday.” One of them follows this blog and knows that I am almost always baking on the weekend, and apparently it’s been noticed that I have not been sharing the goodies with the work peeps. I decided I had to comply with this request, and that it would be fun.

I wanted to make a “Tunnel of FudgeBundt cake, because I figured nothing was both more American and more Minnesotan than that. But my local grocery store did not have cocoa powder in any way, shape or form. (?) I decided to stick with my imported Bundt (Nordicware) cake pans and compromise on the rest. And what they did have was a previously-unnoticed explosion of Betty Crocker goods:

So I made the Betty Crocker Devil’s Food Cake Mix as per the instructions. And I baked it in my mini-Bundt pans:

Given the lack of cocoa powder, I could not make a typical frosting with powdered (icing) sugar, so instead I made a chocolate ganache:

It filled the mim-Bundt centres in a way that was not quite authentic, but tasted good.

And the American-style pancakes were excellent too:

The frosting is being saved for a future blog/baking weekend.

Thank you Betty Crocker, for all of your help, but now I need cocoa powder in a bad way. Because I have both the mini- and the maxi-Bundt pans here in the UK and I need to keep making some Minnesota classics, including Tunnel of Fudge.


Shock contest win

I am almost infamous for entering contests and never winning, but much to my surprise today, my fortunes appear to be turning. I have won a contest over at “Smitten by Britain,” a blog written by an American Anglophile with a history (and child!) from her time here in Blighty. (Note, I know that I need to add a category to my popular “Expat blogs” page with anglophiles in the US and vice versa… will do soon, work permitting, I promise!) Visit Smitten’s blog or follow her on twitter at @smittnbybritain–she has the same affliction as I do, as “on twitter notfrmroundhere” instead of NotFromAroundHere”– in that we are not allowed our full names due to character restrictions and thus have to delete vowels. Regardless, I now have to provide a list of crackers (savory snack biscuits, not anything else) that I want to have shipped over from the states as part of the winning entry for this contest. My obvious choices are anything in the Cheez-it family and Wheat Thins and Triscuits. Better Cheddars would do, as would just about anything in the cracker family. But I will think long and hard before I compile the final list since it’s such a blessing to get food from home. Bisquick, anyone?

Minnesota trip, by the numbers

  • 5: number of total nights in the trip
  • 4: number of nights spent in Minnesota
  • 1: number of nights spend in Wisconsin
  • 3: number of visits to my beloved nonagenarian grandmother
  • 1: number of grilled cheese sandwiches (Velveeta, of course) eaten at the home of my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 3: number of cups of tea drank at the home of my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 4: number of games of Scrabble played with my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 1: number of games of Scrabble won by me when playing with my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 2: number of times I had lunch at the new Burger Jones in Uptown
  • 2: number of times I had bagels for breakfast (Bruegger’s once, Einstein’s once)
  • 0: number of times I had Starbucks coffee in the midwest (Dunn Bros. and Caribou are both firmly non-zero tallies)
  • 3: number of purchases at the Uptown Art Fair
  • 3: number of purchases in the Maple Grove Shoppes
  • 2: number of awesome gifts from family members
  • 2: number of items I had to carry on the plane in a separate shopping bag when all of said new acquisitions did not fit into my luggage
  • 5: number of times I drove over the new 35W Mississippi river bridge
  • 2: number of times I turned on my rental car to find Jack Johnson playing on Cities97
  • 2: number of new songs heard on Cities97 in 6 days of driving around in said rental car (not that familiar music is a bad thing…)
  • 0: number of times I drove directly by one of my old apartments in Minneapolis
  • 4: number of times I was close enough to one of my old apartments in Minneapolis to feel nostalgic
  • 3: number of times I randomly teared up while driving around town
  • 3: number of times I was asked if I had heard from my ex-husband (not in over 2.5 years, for the record)
  • 1: number of times I had a bad dream about said ex after everyone kept asking about him
  • 2: number of good friends from high school that I got to see on this trip
  • 1: number of high school friends that I meant to see but ran out of time
  • 0: number of cousins I got to see on this trip again due to very limited time (maybe next time…)
  • 2: number of times in the last 3 trips to Minneapolis that I’ve ended up spending time out of Minneapolis at another midwestern town with a Big 10 University
  • 0: number of times in the next 3 trips to Minneapolis that I intend to spend time out of Minneapolis at another midwestern town with a Big 10 University (although who knows if I can really control this…)
  • 3: number of gifts for my parents that I forgot back in England
  • 1: number of gifts for my parents that I brought with me to Minnesota but forgot to give them
  • 4: number of possessions of my sister’s that I meant to bring and also forgot in England
  • 2: number of “care packages” that I will have to send from England to deliver items to parents and sister
  • countless: number of times I’m glad that I finally made it back to Minnesota after a year in England and traveling elsewhere

Minneapolis update

I was going to write a post about the bittersweet nature of being home in Minnesota, but then I realized I had written it already–last year at this time, when I experienced the same sorts of ups and downs about being here. Read it here. So that’s the emotional update, that made it much easier than trying to write the words fresh. I guess in some ways that is why I don’t spend much time here anymore, much to the chagrin of my family. It’s just a bit too much.

So that said, what have I actually been doing?

  • Staying with my best friend in her awesome new digs near uptown but in the part where grown-ups actually live.

  • Bought an amazing photo of the old Uptown theater, at the Uptown Art Fair last weekend. Seemed appropriate. And it’s one of those photos that, if you know what it is, it’s awesome, and otherwise it just looks nice.
  • Took what must sound like a totally random brief road trip to Madison with my sister. Had a three hour work meeting and then sis and I went on the town, stayed overnight and came right back. If you’re in Madison, check out Harvest Restaurant, it rocked.
  • Played lots of Scrabble with my nonagenarian grandmother and her caretaker, who happens to be my dad’s older sister. When my sister’s not playing too, I can win occasionally. When the sis is there, I get crushed every time. Grandma does the scorekeeping and you have to keep a close eye on her or she’ll deprive herself of deserved points 🙂
  • Had dinner with another good friend and her little girl, now almost 4. There are still a few very good friends here (as well as a large number of facebook friends!) and I don’t do a perfect job of catching everyone when I’m in town, but I try my best. This particular friend has an edge since she lives six blocks from Grandma, so I’m always lurking about her neighborhood!
  • Drove over the new 35W bridge, tried to view it from the side from the Stone Arch bridge and decided it is so undistinguished and indistinguishable that you cannot even clearly see it in the photographs, it just blends into the scenery. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Bought a few random toiletries at Target

Off to spend my last full day here with the parents and sister, with perhaps one more stop off at Grandma’s. Going to walk around Lake Calhoun in the sunshine, meet my parents’ new dog, and probably eat just a bit too much at newer restaurants in the area. And try to stay busy so as not to dwell on the melancholy or bittersweet feelings, but just enjoy the sunshine.

On my move to Britain

Being at a conference in Glasgow, I’ve run across a number of Americans who have asked me why I moved to Britain. Tonight, after a long day of

  • Wandering into Glasgow’s west side to have lunch with a friend who I know from the south of England but who is home in Glasgow at the moment,
  • Walking everywhere, to the point that my legs ache from the hills and the walking,
  • Engaging in technical discussions that reminded me why I’m in this business,
  • Having dinner with a mixed group of nationalities, served by Indian waiters at Mister Singh’s wearing kilts
  • Standing on the Quayside looking at the Squinty bridge listening to the sound of the night-time water lapping against the banks of the river Clyde

Suddenly I remember and it’s easy to see. And it fits, ironically enough, into lyrics from Sugarland, who I saw last night:

There’s gotta be something more,
Gotta be more than this,
I need a little less hard time,
I need a little more bliss,
I’m gonna take my chances,
Takin’ a chance I might,
Find what i’m lookin for,
Theres gotta be something more

Clearly I thought–still think–that there was more to life for me than a life that never left the midwestern US. My wanderlust brought me here to Europe, and this week, in Glasgow, my wanderlust is being rewarded.

And now I’m “taking the piss”

Serious point what has been bothering me for days has been vented, and I’m sure will land some flaming horrid comments that my thin skin will find disturbing. But I persist with blogging and now attempt humour. Headline on today’s Guardian website:

New British Search Engine ‘Could Rival Google’

The best part about this is how the “could rival Google” bit is in quotes–and they’re careful to cite the source as not being them–as though they realize how silly this must sound. I also love how important it is that it’s a British search engine. This I find strangely endearing, in part because it is exactly like the “Minnesota connection” phenomenon. Local newscasters in the Twin Cities can find–and do–find a local connection for any important story, and no matter how tenuous, they hype it on the local evening news as though it was the most critical aspect of the study. Imagine my shock on moving to Britain and discovering that they do the same thing! Oscars? Sod the full list of winners, how did the British actors and movies fare? In both cases it’s driven by the same general phenomenon–reporting stories to the local group (Brits or Minnesotans) and trying to increase the relevance of the story to those local people. And I think it also sort of implies a slight inferiority complex in the case of MN, I’ll not try to judge if that’s true about Britain 😉 Regardless, I read the story and the site from which the quote came, at least for the forseeable future my money’s on Google.

A real Dutch village

My little jaunt to the Netherlands is almost over, but it is hard for me to hang around here without thinking of how much my maternal Grandmother would have been amused at my being on Dutch soil yet again. So far I have not made it to the ancestral homeland, the town Dordrecht, but it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure! I hear from my hosts on this trip (to Eindhoven) that Dordrecht is lovely and thus definitely worth a visit with my camera. Maybe next time my sister is in town!

I got a little sentimental this evening after wandering around the old town of Eindhoven, recalling the time that my Grandma and I spent bumming around Holland, Michigan, including our visit to the theme park/shopping area known as the “Dutch Village“. My Gram was really enjoying that day; she was proudly 100% Dutch, her parents came over as immigrants to the US (how ironic, says this American expat… only lasted two generations!) and although she was born in the US, she grew up speaking Dutch. Gram charmed everyone in the Dutch village with her fascination for the place and her affection for the homeland she had never visited, and that’s certainly the way I remember her too–she was definitely sentimental about the motherland in some ways, and wanting to pass that to her kids and grandkids. How hard she tried to teach us little phrases, and how happy I am now to have some of her recipes. Her visit for the Dutch village extravaganza was such a really special trip–I lived in Michigan, and she (although around 80 years old at the time) flew from Minnesota for a long weekend to visit me and hang out in America’s own little Dutch enclave: A visit I will never, ever forget.

I get now that my childhood was somewhat unusual in ways: many Americans are quite well-settled in the great melting pot and many generations have been established in the US, while I was reasonably close to the recent arrivals, who all came to MN or thereabouts around the turn of the 20th century. This one was always my “Dutch Grandma” (to contrast with my “Norwegian Grandma” who was similarly first generation American and also speaks her mother tongue). Holland, MI was as close as my Gram ever made it to the Netherlands, so I hope she’s smiling down on me today from the great beyond. I know I’ve enjoyed being here and look forward to another visit, perhaps more leisurely and for soaking up more of the culture, in the future.