Cross-County Skiing and Snowshoeing Spots in North Dakota and Minnesota

Cross-country skiing was on my bucket list last winter, but I got way too busy. So this is going to be the year that I (finally) try my luck on the trails.

I love hiking, and cross-country skiing appeals to me for many of the same reasons. I like the peace and quiet, being in nature and exploring places that few people see. I also prefer to be active in a way that doesn’t particularly feel like exercise. (Counting reps makes me cranky.)

I figure can’t possibly be a worse cross-country skier than a downhill skier. (I permanently benched myself after almost running into a ski lodge in high school. Seriously.) I guess if I’m truly terrible, I can always try snowshoeing. If I can’t make that work, I’m seriously in trouble.

Here are nine places in North Dakota and western Minnesota that I’d love to see in the winter. These are all spots I’ve visited before (although some visits were in warmer seasons). They also boast warming houses and rentals to make things easier for newbies like me. Be sure to give me your tips and recommendations at the bottom of the post!

In Fargo, ND
Edgewood Golf Course
This north Fargo spot is a soothing spot to ski. It’s technically in the city, so the drive time is minimal for most in the Fargo-Moorhead metro. But once you’re on the groomed trails, it feels like you’re far away from it all.

For winter festivities, come out from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays through the end of February, when there are free carriage rides. Then warm up with snacks and hot cocoa in front of the fire at the Edgewood Chalet. Youth and adult ski and snowshoe rentals are available.

Near Bismarck, ND
Cross Ranch State Park
Ten miles of groomed trails are about the only polished thing in this untamed stretch of the Missouri River, 12 miles southeast of Washburn. Soak in the wildness along four marked trails that give you a glimpse of what this stretch of river looked like hundreds of years ago.

There are ski and snowshoe rentals available on site, as well as a warming house for when you need a little break. To really get the most out of the experience, book a cozy log cabin or a cool, Mongolian-style yurt and stay awhile.

Near Valley City, ND
Fort Ransom State Park
Those who think central North Dakota is entirely flat will be surprised to find this hilly, heavily-forested park nestled in the picturesque Sheyenne River Valley 34 miles south of Valley City. Take the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway from Valley City or Lisbon and then check out 6.5 miles of marked and groomed trails. There’s a warming house on site as well.

There are also two yurts available year-round in the park. They both sleep up to six. If those are booked, you can check out this yurt that my friend Jo and I loved in nearby Fort Ransom, just two miles away.

A helpful hint: Your GPS will not like this place, so try to arrive before sundown.

Near Bottineau, ND
Lake Metigoshe State Park
Lake Metigoshe State Park is as pretty as a postcard in the summer, and it’s a stunner in the winter as well. Glide through aspen forests, frozen lakes and the rolling turtle mountains on 8.5 miles of marked and groomed trails.

There’s a warming house on the premises and ski rentals available onsite. If you want to make your wintery mountain getaway complete, cozy up in a cabin or yurt.

Near Grand Forks, ND
Turtle River State Park
This park is tucked away in the woods along the Turtle River valley, just west of Grand Forks. There are 7.5 miles of marked and groomed trails to explore and a warming house for when you need a break.

There are kitchen and banquet facilities for rent if you’re bringing a group. Don’t forget to grab a sled to check out the sledding hill.

The Greenway
More than six miles of trails start at Lincoln Park and continue along the Red River through the heart of the city. If you don’t have skis, you can rent from Scheels Sports Store (701-780-9424) the Ski and Bike Shop (701-772-5567) and the UND Lifetime Sports Center (701-777-3981).

Then when you’re done, just take off your equipment and warm up in the shops, restaurants and galleries of Grand Forks and its sister city of East Grand Forks, Minnesota. This trail is a little outdoor getaway right in the middle of a bustling downtown district.

In Moorhead, MN
MB Johnson Park
Rugged, rural MB Johnson park in Moorhead is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Located on the north side of the city, it offers a ski trail and a snowshoe trail (both 2.3 miles long) that wind through the trees along the banks of the Red River. (All of the photos in this post were taken here.)

There’s a warming house and snowshoe and ski rentals available from 10 from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Rental season ends February 26. Only cash and checks are accepted.

Near Pelican Rapids, MN
Maplewood State Park
Maplewood State Park’s hardwood forests and pretty hills make it a favorite hiking spot, but many people don’t know it also offers a 1 mile 1 mile Cataract Trail and the 4 mile Grass Lake loops to tempt skiers during the winter months. There are even cabins (heated, of course) available Thursdays through Sundays if you want to make a weekend of it.

The warming house is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Ski passes are sold are the park office. No rentals are available, but the website indicates you can rent in Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes.

Near Park Rapids, MN
Itasca State Park
For a bucket list winter experience, don’t miss Itasca State Park. Park near the East or North Entrances and explore 13 miles of groomed ski trails and additional snowshoe trails as well. The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center serves as a 24/7 warming center that also offers restrooms, a gift shop and tourist information and many lodging options are available year-round.

Check out the birds at the bird feeders and see if you can spot any bald eagles overhead. (There have been several sightings.) And don’t miss the Mississippi headwaters. The mighty river flows over snow-covered rocks 2,552 miles before ending in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a powerful sight in any season.

What about you?
What are your favorite spots to cross-country ski or snowshoe?
What should I know before I try to ski?
What are your favorite outdoor winter activities?
Which one of these spots is your favorite?
Were any of them a surprise to you?

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

Fargo Pinball: A Pinball Wizards’ Hideaway

Fargo Pinball is one of the Red River Valley’s best kept secrets. Tucked away in a nondescript office building off of University Drive on the edge of south Fargo’s business district (across the street from the Fargo Cork ‘N Cleaver restaurant, if — like me — you’re Midwestern and using geographical markers is how your brain works), this pinball hideaway flies under the radar.

That’s okay with the enthusiasts who make up Fargo’s members only pinball club. For just $45 a year ($20 to renew), they can play in a comfortable, secure location pretty much any time they want. Fargo Pinball is open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day.

Each member gets a key fob like you’d get at a 24-hour gym and can bring guests if they like. Fargo Pinball has nine of the top ten rated pinball games, favorites like Ghostbusters, AC/DC, Star Wars, Super Mario Bros. and Lord of the Rings as well as classics like Whirlwind and Funhouse. (I remember those two from when I was a kid.)

It’s a non-smoking, no alcohol, family-friendly place (the naughtier machines are set to the edited version) and the entrance is secure. There are even boosters for the kiddos, which my toddler appreciated. There are special events and tournaments too.

Every machine costs the same as it did when the game came out, between a quarter and a dollar a play. If you don’t have quarters on you (and who does, in this day and age?) you can pay using the PayRange app on your smartphone. It’s an easy and elegant solution to the modern “I never carry cash” problem.


Here’s my friend Emily showing me how to pay

PayRange also works for the vending machine. My friend Emily (whose husband Bill Brooks owns Fargo Pinball with his brother, Jim Brooks) used PayRange to buy me a a can of pop, because she said there’s really nothing better  than an ice cold Orange Crush when you’re playing pinball. (She’s not wrong.)

Fun Fact: The pop machine in Fargo Pinball came from Bill’s frat house at UND (Delta Tau Delta, if you’re curious) and it took some serious MacGyvering to get it back in working order. I’m not gonna lie, I kind of hope this post sparks a frat brothers pilgrimage to Fargo Pinball. That’s a weird and wonderful road trip prompt.

If you want to be a member of Fargo Pinball, I’ve got your hook-up! One lucky winner will score a year-long membership and a sweet Fargo Pinball T-shirt. All you have to do is enter to win using this handy dandy widget thingie. (If you can’t see it on your cell phone, there are additional ways to win listed below.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Registration ends at midnight (CST) on Tuesday, January 17. This contest is open to adults 18 and older who can access the Fargo Pinball site in Fargo, North Dakota. Like all members, the winner must pass a background check to ensure that the club is safe for everybody.

As with all Prairie Style File contests, you can enter to win multiple times a day by commenting on the blog post below, liking, commenting and sharing on Facebook and/or Retweeting on Twitter. You can do this through the widget above or on your own. Just make sure you tag me (my social media links are listed below) so I can count your entries.


Andrew W.K. is into pinball, sooooooooo….

How about you?
What’s your favorite pinball game?
Where did you play when you were growing up? (Or now!)
Have you ever been to Fargo Pinball?
Why do you want an annual membership pass?

Fargo Pinball
1133 C Harwood Dr S
Fargo, ND
Bus: Route 14

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

Think Outside The Jewelry Box: 10 Handmade Jewelry Designers To Watch

If you’re stuck in the winter doldrums, try something sparkly. I’ve discovered some incredible jewelry designers in the Upper Midwest and the prairie provinces of Canada during my travels over the last few years. Somewhere along the way, I became a collector.

You can’t beat jewelry as a souvenir. It’s small, portable and you can wear it right out of the store. I like that I can support a local business and a local artist with one purchase and take home an item that resonates with me long after my trip (be it to another country or my favorite neighborhood) is over.

Quality, handmade jewelry is a work of art. These unique pieces are handcrafted from everything from gemstones and precious metals to leather and glittering crystals, so there’s something that works for everyone’s taste and budget. If you don’t find something you love, the designers can create a custom order just for you.

Some of these shops are my favorites. If you’ve ever stopped me and told me you like something I’m wearing, chances are it’s from one of these stores. Some are still aspirational, spots where I’m musing about the perfect custom design or dreamily scrolling through their Instagram feed because everything is just so darn pretty.

Here are some of my favorite shops and designers to help you add a little local color to your jewelry box this season. Don’t forget to tell me about your favorite designers and shops at the comments below!


Aerow Handmade
Lexie Rundquist’s jewelry line includes subtle earrings and dramatic agate necklaces, but the rings featuring jasper, polished amethyst, turquoise, opal and sea glass are especially stunning. These are some of my favorite stones and I love that rich copper color.

Wear one as a statement piece or layer for some serious drama. Find your favorites at Unglued in Fargo or online at aerowhandmade.com.

Michele F Designs
This Minot boutique is one of my favorite spots in North Dakota. Michele’s designs are a glitter bomb of boho goodness, featuring tough chains, sparkling Swarovski crystal, dreamy moonstones, tanzanite and other semiprecious gems.

The chunky, geo agate slice necklaces are funky and music festival friendly, while the layered necklaces are both feminine and a little gritty. That’s pretty much my style in a nutshell.


Liz W. Designs
Liz Walberg’s graceful, hand forged sterling silver, copper, bronze creations are staples at C. Lizzy’s, the downtown Fargo shop that she runs with her daughter.

NDSU fans (and wildlife enthusiasts) will like the dangling earrings and chunky bracelets adorned with tiny bison. I’m fond of the delicate cross necklaces and earrings and Liz’s other simple, layerable necklaces.

Regalia
Manitoba designer Alexandra Tumanov’s rings of delicately twisted gold and silver and gorgeous moonstones, pearls and even diamonds are inspired by the curves of designs found in nature. I bought a stunning tree ring with a single pearl at the Winnipeg Folk Festival this summer and I’m a little obsessed with it.

As an added bonus, her business is environmentally sustainable and uses recycled materials. Shop online at etsy.com/shop/alexandratumanov.


Annika Kaplan Jewelry
I found this gorgeous moonstone ring by Annika Kaplan Jewelry at Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis a few years ago and it’s been on my finger ever since. (The designer was super patient as I tried on a million twisted silver rings to go with it before finally deciding!)

I love her tiny, mis-matched stud earrings, cool, made to order hairpins and pretty, subtly eye-catching jewelry made of sterling silver, brass, 14kt & 18kt gold, and semiprecious gems. I clearly need to buy a few more pieces! Shop at events in the Twin Cities or online at annikakaplanjewelry.com


521 Handmade
This Fargo shop is best known for cute pillows and other home goods, but these super sparkly druzy stud earrings are such a fun find. They’re great on their own and look pretty dramatic when paired with a matching silver or rose gold colored clutch.

You can find yours online at 521handmade.com or at Burlap Rustic Chic Boutique and Unglued in Fargo.

J. Rose Designs
Designer Julia Knutson’s aesthetic is equal parts bohemian and tough — think beaded wrap bracelets, delicate midi knuckle rings and cool stud earrings made from bullets and fiery Swarovski crystal. (How do I not own a pair of these yet?!?!)

I basically live in my lariat tassel necklace by J. Rose Designs and I just ordered a leather tassel too. Julia’s also working on a cool wrap bracelet for me. I can’t wait to see it! You can order your own pieces at jrosedesignsnd.com or shop in person at Parisien Hair Studio and The Green Room in Fargo.


Wuve
Cari Ann Golden is a free spirit and that shines through in the bold jewelry she creates. The Fargo designer makes funky, cutting edge resin and gemstone jewelry for customers who aren’t interested in looking like everybody else.

Her bold pendant necklaces and drop earrings make a statement, but her rough-cut gemstone studs just might be my favorites. Find Wuve at Vintage Point and Unglued in Fargo, Red Brick Boutique in Ottertail, Minnesota and online at wuvehandmade.com.


Larissa Loden
This Minneapolis-based line combines vintage elements, classic shapes and more than a little dark and quirky imagery for an elegantly edgy look. If you’ve ever wanted pretty jewelry that features beetles, handcuffs and tough little daggers, this is the shop for you.

Even casual jewelry fans might recognize Larissa’s popular map lockets and pendants, which are available at stores around the region. The selection is focused on the states and cities around the store (Unglued in Fargo stocks destinations in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, for example) but custom orders (and the full line of non-map jewelry) are available at larissaloden.com.


MBMB Made by Michelle Brusegaard
I seriously should own stock in this company. Minneapolis artist (and former North Dakota resident) Michelle Brusegaard offers all kinds of screen-printed goods that I also love, but her printed leather earrings are my favorite addiction.

Featherweight and seriously durable, they come in a variety of colors and styles. I get compliments every time I wear them. (And I have a lot!) You can find them at Unglued and at michellebrusegaard.bigcartel.com.

What about you?
Which of these designers is your favorite?
What’s on your jewelry wish list for the season?
What’s your go-to piece of jewelry?
Have you ever had a piece of jewelry commissioned?

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

Eating Ourselves Into A Food Coma At Peasant Cookery In Winnipeg

The next time you’re in Winnipeg, check out Peasant Cookery. This little gem of a restaurant offers healthy, seasonal, locally sourced, made from scratch cooking in the heart of the Exchange District.

I went there with my friend Liz this summer and the food was so good, we literally canceled the rest of our evening plans to keep eating. Our first stop of the evening became the stop of the evening. Then we declined our server’s offer to call us a cab, knowing we’d need to move around a little or we’d fall into the most blissful food coma known to man. (Thankfully, the Exchange District is an easy walk from downtown Winnipeg.)

peasant-cookery-pickle-jars

Since I always try to consume as much local beer as is reasonably possible when I travel, I started with a Bottle Rocket ISA from Phillips Brewing Company out of British Columbia. It was great, crisp and sessionable with just enough hoppy bite to keep me interested. Peasant Cookery brings in a different, off the menu craft beer on Thursdays for craft beer night if you want to be try something new every week.

Peasant Cookery also offers a deep and complex cocktail menu that contains drinks that feature everything from cigar infused bourbon, Earl Grey tea to a stellar selection of bitters. (A fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia also created Dayman and Night Man cocktails, which I thought was hilarious.)

We knew we wanted an appetizer, but we couldn’t decide between the highly recommended charcuterie and a dish that’s close to our hearts, poutine. Our server wisely suggested that we get a half serving of both, which was the perfect solution.

peasant-cookery-poutine
Poutine = yum

If you’ve never had poutine, let me tell you, you’re missing out. It doesn’t photograph particularly well, but it tastes amazing. You really can’t go wrong with crisp french fries, brown gravy and cheese curds. At Peasant Cookery, that gravy is made the most addictive substance on earth, bacon. When we asked locals for their favorite poutine in the city, Peasant Cookery’s decadent take on this classic Canadian comfort food consistently came out on top.

The charcuterie lived up to the hype. It features a rotating selection of homemade sausages, terrines and pâtés and a seriously delicious assortment of picked vegetables. (Which I am basically obsessed with.) I love sausage, but I’m usually kind of “meh” about pâté. (I mean, I’ll eat it, but I don’t really order it.)

But I’d order it here. We ate every single bite. If you want to try it yourself, I recommend coming out on Mondays, when charcuterie is half off.

I should have known we were in trouble when we pushed away our appetizer plates and were already full. But the life of a food blogger is full of sacrifices (just kidding) so we pushed on and kept eating for you, dear readers. (Just kidding again. Gluttony is fun sometimes. Especially when you know a long walk is awaiting you.)

peasant-cookery-entree

My chorizo meatballs arrived on top of delicious patatas bravas (fried potatoes), topped with a tomato sauce with paprika and chill, salsa verde and aioli, a great combination. This dish was a love letter to some of my favorite flavors and I definitely recommend it.

By this point, we were completely stuffed. But that didn’t stop Liz from ordering dessert, a delectable trio of flavors including cherry sorbet, a mini cheesecake of goat cheese and adorable shortbread cookies. (She is totally my food enabler.)

We may have clapped. I think a sort of food delirium was setting in at this point. This is definitely not a bad thing.

peasant-cookery-dessert

Our walk back to the hotel (taking the super long way for good measure) probably only burned off the calories in one part of that dessert. We didn’t care.

It’s good to treat yourself when you’re on vacation. Peasant Cookery is an excellent place to start.

Peasant Cookery
283 Bannatyne Avenue
Winnipeg, MB
1-204-989-7700
Bus: Routes 1,2,3 (All free, Downtown Spirit routes), 10-26, 28-35 28-60, 64-68, 99, 137, 160-163, 170, 180-183 and several school routes.
(This is the first time I’ve ever thought that listing all of the bus routes to a destination might be overkill. This is not a bad thing. It’s kind of great, actually. Well done, Winnipeg. You can find every single bus route here. )

What about you?
What’s your favorite dish at Peasant Cookery?
What do you want to try when you’re there?
Which foods or drinks are hard for you to resist?
What other attractions do you recommend in Winnipeg?

peasant-cookery-interior

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

2016 Travel Snapshot

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– T. S. Eliot

I didn’t travel quite as far as I sometimes do in 2016, but I what I lacked in distance I made up for in depth. I did get to Canada and to a U.S. Territory this year, but the majority of my vacation days were spent close to home, looking at my home state of Minnesota and my adopted state of North Dakota with new eyes.

Lots of you tell me that you’d love to travel, but you just don’t have the time or the money to go far. That’s okay. There’s plenty to explore in your own backyard. My 2016 certainly proves that.

boat-on-vieques-islandEsperanza, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

I had an amazing time connecting with some of the best travel writers and photographers in the world at my first ever TBEX conference at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It was kind of odd to attend a travel conference at place I used to work, but re-examining familiar places kind of what I do, so it seemed appropriate.

I danced at First Avenue for the first time in years (and still scored free drinks — my streak continues into another decade), connected with kindred souls at workshops and checked out Red Wing, Minnesota, with a handful of fabulous women.

mississippi-river-at-sunset
The Mississippi River at sunset, from Harriet Island on the Saint Paul side

When I toured Summit Brewing Company with a cadre of fellow writers and photographers in May, it never occured to me that I’d be on the phone with the founder a few months later. But the opportunity to write a North Dakota beer book landed in my lap this fall, so I ran with it. My research trip to Bismarck just happened to be on the same days that Lisa and Tim from thewalkingtourists.com were in town, so of course I had to meet them at a former speakeasy for dinner.

It was fascinating to dive into North Dakota history and to realize that today’s quiet streets and prairies were the party hotspots of yesteryear. (Seriously, the early North Dakotans were wild. The fact that writing about parties in the 1800s was as interesting as covering today’s modern craft breweries was an unexpectedly great surprise.)

the-ladies-at-folkfest-2016
Hats, shades and iced coffee at Winnipeg Folk Fest

Contacts made at TBEX landed me in Winnipeg, Manitoba with my best friend Liz. We were weirdly delighted to receive our first-ever Canadian passport stamps after a dozen or visits, even as the customs agent gently reminded us that being questioned wasn’t exactly something to be excited about.

We hit up our first ever Winnipeg Folk Festival,where we met the talented Jenn Smith Nelson, of travelandhappiness.com. Later we blissed out in the spa, saw polar bears swimming in the zoo, tried a bunch of Canadian beer (of course), wandered around a few of our favorite neighborhoods and ate a completely ridiculous amount of food.

We also grabbed breakfast with Natalie, of Pegcitylovely.com fame, who is just as fun and funny in person as she is online. Writing this paragraph has reminded me that I owe you a ton of stories about Winnipeg (I don’t even want to tell you how many are sitting here in draft form!) so stay tuned!

A gig as a featured writer for AmericInn took me around the upper Midwest during one of the prettiest summers I can remember. These stories put me in rose-scented gardens in St. Cloud and on the Mississippi River with my husband and son, who rocked his very first canoe trip.

painted-canyon-theodore-roosevelt-national-park
Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Just a few days later I was hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park with my friend Naomi. It was her first time in western North Dakota and Montana and it was interesting to see this beautiful, wild place through her eyes. In addition to keeping pace with me on hikes, it turns out she’s also fluent in prairie dog jibberish (Those suckers are chatty!) and can drink and heckle well enough to keep with my extended family, which is not an easy task. You never know what travel will teach you!

Hiking and paddling became unofficial themes of my summer. In Minneapolis, I kayaked the Chain of Lakes with my friend Joe (who you might know from joebaur.com). In White Bear Lake I went on the water with my dad, who enjoyed it even more than I did.

a-hazy-afternoon-on-the-chain-of-lakes
Chain of Lakes paddling

But the hands down, on the water highlight of the year was kayaking the luminescent Bio Bay on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico. It was pitch black except for the stars and the tiny, glowing creatures swirling underneath our paddles. It truly is one of the natural wonders of the world. You should go immediately. (Try Taino Aqua Adventures. They’re fabulous.)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Puerto Rico. We booked it based on price alone, which was a stretch for my Type A personality (I called that story That Time I Let Fate Decide Our Vacation, but an appropriate subtitle would have been “Auuuuuugh!”). It was an incredible trip, full of street food, city beaches, cold beer and playing dominos. It totally exceeded my expectations. (You can read about it here).

balneario-condado-surfers
Surfers at Balneario Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico

So what’s going to happen in 2017? If 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t really have a clue. It sounds like I’ll be on a North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Saskatchewan book tour this summer and I’m always looking for new stops and new places to explore.

I’d like to go abroad again. Nicaragua might happen and Cuba, if my friend Simon is still up for it. My friend Sara (the woman who basically taught me how to travel when we were teenagers) will be flying in from Spain for a few shenanigans and I’ll be off to Colorado for a few days too.

But again, who really knows? All I know is, I want to read more fiction, write more effectively, take longer naps, try new beer, practice speaking Spanish (and maybe take a Norwegian language class!) and visit places I haven’t seen before.

How about you?
What are your New Year’s Resolutions?
What do you hope to cross off your travel bucket list in 2017?
What was your favorite destination or discovery of 2016?
What would you like me to write about this year?

Happy New Year, everybody! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me. It’s a privilege to chat with you and exchange ideas with you. You make doing my job fun, every single day. Have a wonderful last day of 2016 and a great start to 2017.

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

Rhombus Guys Brewing Company: Where Craft Beer, History and Pub Grub Meet

Craft beer fans, history buffs and foodies will find a lot to love at Rhombus Guys Brewing Company in downtown Grand Forks.

For starters, this place is gorgeous. The Rhombus Guys gastropub is easily the prettiest craft brewery in the state of North Dakota.

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-exterior

It was built in 1890 as the Metropolitan Opera House. Operas, vaudeville acts and illusionists like Houdini graced the stage. It was, perhaps, the most impressive performance venue of its kind between Minneapolis and Seattle.

The building fell into disrepair and was damaged even more by the flood of 1997 that took out most of downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, just across the river.

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-original-seat
They saved some of the seats from the original opera house.

After the clean-up, the upstairs floors were transformed into lofts but the ground floor was sat empty until Matt Winjum and Arron Hendrick (who run Rhombus Guys Pizza down the street, as well as locations in Fargo and Mentor, Minnesota) converted it into a craft brewery and restaurant in 2015. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-fish-and-chips

The name recognition helped bring people in the door. But instead of pizza, diners will find pub food classics from around the world at Rhombus Guys Brewing Company.

I ate here with my sister and the women of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau. (Thanks for dinner, ladies!) We tried everything from fish and chips to made from scratch pretzels to tacos al pastor.

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-tacos

There are some very good sandwiches and addictive Scotch Eggs  on the menu too, although the latter weren’t quite as hard boiled as I prefer. (I worked as a short order cook in high school and it ruined runny eggs for me forever.)

But don’t let my preference for hard eggs put you off. The food is good and hearty and you’ll definitely find something you like. (And now I’m going to get lots of comments telling me I’m crazy not to love the eggs that way, I just know it…)

rhombus-guys-sandwich

Head brewer Chad Gunderson’s beer is pretty fabulous too. He’s back in Grand Forks (he’s a UND alum and a former Happy Harry’s bottle shop employee) after brewing at Leech Lake Brewing Company in Walker, Minnesota, Lewis and Clark Brewery in Helena, Montana and Mighty Mo Brewing Company in Great Falls.

Chad’s beer is accessible and true to style. There’s enough variety to appeal to new beer drinkers and beer nerds alike.

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-flight

I was particularly into the cloudy, fabulous wheat ale called Doc’s Remedy and Derailed, a kettle soured blonde ale made with rhubarb and strawberries. I also really liked the Into the Darkness Porter, which is unusual for me. I tend to go for stouts over porters, so that was a nice surprise.

There was also a large selection of IPAs and pale ales on tap when I visited. They went well with everything I was snacking on during the two days I spent curled up with my North Dakota beer book research.

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-taps

Two confessions: 1. I think IPAs actually go well with everything, even though cicerones will totally disagree with me. And 2. Yes, I researched beer while drinking beer. It’s like Method acting, just for beer writers. Or something. 😉

Newbies will like the Illusion Amber (a homage to Mr. Houdini) and the best-selling Iconic blonde. Beer fans in eastern North Dakota and the Fargo-Moorhead metro can find cans of Iconic Blond and Invincible (an American Pale Ale) in liquor stores as well.

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-beer-in-cans

As of 2017, you’ll be able to find Rhombus Guys beer in the Twin Cities and more of western Minnesota too. If a growler is more your thing, you can fill one up at the brewery or at either North Dakota Rhombus Guys Pizza location.

So what about you?
What’s your favorite beer style?
What do you think of Rhombus Guys Brewing Company?
What should I eat or drink the next time I’m there?

rhombus-guys-brewing-company-interior

Rhombus Guys Brewing Company
116 South 3rd Street
Grand Forks, ND
701-757-0598
Bus Routes: 1, 2, 5, 13, Tripper Routes (Monday-Friday)

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

Surviving Lutefisk And Other Hazards Of A Norwegian-American, Midwestern Christmas

This is the time of year when we daydream through the last hours of work, pack up the car and head off to see family and friends for the holidays. No matter where you grew up, going back home can be a bit of a culture shock. (And not just because it’s impossible not to feel 16 in your childhood bedroom.)

Geographically, I still live fairly close to where I grew up, deep in the heart of Minnesota farm country, surrounded (mostly) by the descendants of fairly recent Norwegian immigrants. (My dad’s family has barely been here for 100 years.) But returning home requires me to think, speak and even process the world a little differently.

christmas-cookies-edited

It wasn’t until I gave my friend Jeni tips on how to eat lutefisk (see #4, below) that I realized how odd some of my family’s traditions must seem. So if you’re going to a Norwegian-American holiday party for the first time this year, here’s a silly guide to what you can expect.

If you grew up in this world (or in the Midwest in general), you might recognize a little bit of your family in these words as well. I’d love to hear about your family’s quirks and traditions too! Feel free to chat in the comments section below the post.

Happy holidays, everybody! Safe travels to you!

norwegian-table-prayer

Hazard 1: Help! I’m Stuck in Small Talk Purgatory
It never fails. After exchanging hearty Christmas greetings, I will stand in the entryway and, while removing my coat and boots, have a the following conversation with my father-in-law, my grandpa or another Norwegian-American, Midwestern male.
Midwestern Male: “Cold enough for ya?”
Me: “Oh, it’s not too bad.” (I will say this even if it’s -20 degrees outside. We are descended from Vikings. Weakness is unseemly.)
MM: “Supposed to be colder tomorrrow/next week/in January, favorite weatherman/my bum knee/The Farmers Almanac says.”
Me: “Yeah, I heard that.”(It takes all of three seconds for my usual “yeah” to be replaced by a weirdly melodious, multisyllabic “yaaaaaaaah,” that makes me sound exactly like my grandma. I sometimes don’t notice that I’ve lost my Minnesota accent until it comes flying back.)
MM: “Yep.”
Me: “Yep.”
(A long pause. He is formulating something to say. I smile in encouragement. We both nod our heads a lot.)
MM: “Still snowing?”

Your Survival Strategy:
– This conversational loop will continue indefinitely if not interrupted. It helps if you’ve prepared a few epic weather stories (scraping your windshield, getting stuck, sliding off the road etc.) to hold up your end of the conversation. For a truly Midwestern touch, deliver these stories in an understated, almost deadpan manner. The more dramatic the story, the more blasé your tone should be.
– Once you run out of material, find an out. Seek out a female guest, an adorable child, the Vikings game on TV. No need to end the conversation formally, a simple shrug and a helpless, “Well, better go…” will work.
– Know that, despite the baffling nature of this exchange, it actually means the person cares about you enough to keep their nose out your business.

Hazard 2: Someone Says “Pass the Salad,” But There’s Not A Leafy Green In Sight
Don’t panic. Salad means something different in these parts. The magic of refrigeration came late to parts of the midwest and lots of folks (my father-in-law remembers his dad wiring the house for electricity) still celebrate the holidays by throwing together seemingly random sweet and savory items that 50s and 60s housewives wound recognize.

Your Survival Strategy:
Scan the table for any dish that you don’t immediately recognize as food. Zero on on brightly colored Jell-O and anything topped with whipped cream. These, my understandably baffled non-Midwestern friends, are considered salads in these parts.

Itty bitty Mandarin oranges suspended in cherry Jell-O with (dear God, why?!) shredded carrots? Salad. Chopped up apples and Snickers bars in Cool Whip? Salad. Whipped cream, pudding and cookies? Yep. It still (somehow) counts as a salad and is usually served with dinner, not dessert.

lefse-edited
Hazard 3: What Is This Weird Flatbread?
It’s very likely that someone will pass you a plate with neat little triangles, squares or rolled up pieces of a soft, thin, white flatbread on it at some point. This is lefse, which my sister-in-law’s boyfriend, a Texas native, once aptly described as a “potato tortilla.”

It’s made from finely riced potatoes and made on a griddle. Back in Norway, it’s eaten with savory foods and meats, but here in the states, it’s usually served with butter, white sugar, brown sugar or jam or jelly.

Your Survival Strategy:
Your host will have demonstrated their (often iron clad) lefse serving preference by placing the desired toppings on the table. If they’ve laid out more than one option, then make your choice, but be prepared to defend it against charges of sacrilege from the other diners at the table.

Rosettes-with-Sprinkles
Expert Tip: Eat more rosettes, less lutefisk

Hazard 4: Why Is This Nice Lady Trying To Serve Me Stinky Fish?
Have you always wanted to dine on a piece of smelly, reconstituted fish prepared with a chemical that can dissolve the human body? If lutefisk is on the menu, you’ll finally have your chance.

If you’re hoping I’m kidding right now, no such luck! Lutefisk a perfectly good salt cod that’s been dried, soaked in lye and cooked until it reeks to high heaven. It has the taste and consistency of fish Jell-O.

Norwegian settlers supposedly ate this on the journey to America and served it during their early celebrations, so now lots of people harbor some serious nostagalia for the holiday memories it evokes. (If you actually like lutefisk, you’ll like my friend Jeni’s take on this fishy dish. She gets my portion from now until the end of time.)

I’m with Minnesota foodie Andrew Zimmern, who thinks lutefisk is one of the nastiest foods he’s ever tasted. (His show is called Bizarre Foods. He knows what he’s talking about, people.) Sorry, ancestors.

Your Survival Strategy:
Mind over matter, my non-Norwegian friend. We all know it’s rude not to try a dish that’s offered to you and as a new person at the table, all eyes will be (discreetly) on you. So let me put my years of work as a shot girl to work for you. If I can survive the horror of imbibing Tequila Rose, surrounded by chanting dude bros, you can survive this.

Step #1: Take the smallest portion you can politely get away with.
Step #2: Drown it in butter. (The fish should look like an island in a sea of butter.)
Step #3: Take a deep breath — but not through your nose because dear, sweet baby Jesus, this stuff stinks — and pop the lutefisk in your mouth.
Step #4: Throw your head back like you’re taking a shot. Lutefisk is slimy and will actually slide down your throat. I feel like it’s only right to prepare you for this ahead of time.
Step #5: Smile through your horror. You have passed the test.
Step #6: Consume all the carbs. You will need to get the creepy lye aftertaste out of your mouth. I recommend loading up on krumkake (a waffle cookie, shown below) and rosettes (the delicate, lacy, deep-fried cookies shown above).

See? That’s better already.

krumkake-edited

Hazard 5: Conflict! Expressing Dissent, Disagreement And Other Unpleasantness
As the meal comes to an end, someone asks you how you liked the lutefisk. Or a news report cuts into the Vikings game or another visitor (clearly unaware that politics and religion are taboo topics at a Norwegian-American table) brings up a subject that forces the other guests to (horrors) express a possibly divisive opinion.

Your Survival Strategy:
What the rest of the world calls a civil, reasonable debate seems like a fight to peace-loving, conflict-averse Midwesterners. That’s why we prefer to deflect (or ignore) arguments with serene smiles and cloak our feelings in the most demure expressions possible. Here are a few translations to get you going.

That’s ridiculous/stupid/baffling/confusing/enraging: That’s…different. (Feel free to make like a Midwesterner and really draw out the pause to indicate your disdain/horror. The stronger your feelings, the longer the pause.)
Good grief!/Assorted curse words/That’s truly horrible: Uff da. (Pronounced “of dah.”)
What an idiot: It takes all kinds.
I detest that with every fiber of my being/this repulses me: I don’t care for that.

If all else fails, change the subject to something neutral that isn’t going to get anybody riled up. I recommend the weather. 😉

What about you?
What are your family holiday traditions?
Do you have a traditional food you love? (Or one you can’t stand?)

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

Obsessed With North Dakota? Here’s A Photo Book For You

You know how your legs sometimes feel like Jell-O the day after a really good workout? That’s how my mind feels right now.

I finished my North Dakota beer book this weekend and now my brain is kinda just done. So I’ll be baking Christmas cookies and being a little lazy for a day before I jump into my next project. So forgive me for getting straight to the point in today’s post!

north-dakota-photos-by-obsessed-photographers-group

This month’s giveaway is a copy of Obsessed With North Dakota, a coffee table book from Daron Kruegers and Clint Saunders. These two North Dakota photographers have traveled all over the state, getting gorgeous shots of everything from the badlands to railroad bridges for books like this one.

If you want to win a free copy of Obsessed With North Dakota for yourself, all you have to do is enter below. This contest closes on December 23 and it’s open to anyone in the U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you’re having trouble entering through the widget, just tell us your thoughts below. Every blog comment counts as an entry.

Thanks for playing and have a great holiday season!

obsessed-with-north-dakota-cover

What about you?
Where do you like to take photos in your state?
What’s your pick for the prettiest spot in North Dakota?
Which local photographers do you love?

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

Beer And Art: Just Hangin’ At The Blue Rider

If you’ve been searching for perfect dive bar, a spot where you can sit back, have a quiet conversation and maybe even check out some art or read a book while you’re at it, you can stop searching. I’ve got just the place for you. Let me tell you about The Blue Rider.

I stumbled upon the Blue Rider when it popped up in my research for my book about North Dakota beer. It turns out that this unassuming little building in downtown Minot just might be the oldest wooden building in town that still welcomes customers. It’s well over 100 years old. Minot used to be a pretty wild town, so I’m sure if these walls could talk, they’d recall some shenanigans.

the-blue-rider-exterior

That information got Blue Rider on to my to-call list for the book. But when I called to ask how many craft beers the bar offered, I knew it warranted a visit.

“I don’t know exactly,” she said the manager, surely wondering why this was so important to the eager lady who called her about thirty seconds after she opened the bar. “But to be on the safe side, I’d say, like…75.”

Whoa.

She did clarify that they sometimes have less. The bar’s ordering strategy seems to be to order a few bottles or cans of a huge range of beers. If there was ever a spot to tell a bartender to surprise you, this is it.

There are also several soda options available for those that don’t drink. Despite the deep beer selection, this doesn’t strike me as a place where anyone would bat an eye if you skipped alcohol altogether, a rarity in this part of the world.

maria-at-the-blue-rider

When I stopped in to visit a few weeks later, a group was having a spirited discussion in the corner fueled by (from what I could tell, anyway) caffeine only. I never did ask to look too closely to see what beer they were selling that night. I was too busy talking about local punk shows and Minot’s art scene with bartender/musician Maria Cree, who responded to my “surprise me” request by mentally taking in all the beer at her disposal before deciding on a pint of Bell’s Two Hearted, one of my favorite IPAs on the planet. (The woman’s magic.)

Pretty much everyone who works at the Blue Rider is a musician or connected with Minot State University, so I have a feeling conversations like these happen there a lot. The bar is owned by Minot State professor (and one of my favorite North Dakota artists), Walter Piehl. Its name is actually drawn from an artistic movement, Der Blau Reiter, (which means “The Blue Rider”) that changed Expressionism from 1911-1914 and involved another of my favorite artists, Wassily Kandinsky. (I adore a bar that appeals to my passionate nerd-ery.)

Art from other local artists covers every available inch of wall space, right up to the vivid green ceiling. Having beer here could feel like having a beer in a gallery, but it doesn’t. The super laid-back vibe and comfortably cluttered interior make it feel more like having a beer in your eccentric, art-loving uncle’s house.

You take a seat on a mismatched chair, surrounded by the most random assortment of people: groups of old timers, students, artists and everyone in between. Social groups tend to self-seperate these days, so I’m impressed by a place that can disparate groups of people together.

art-inside-the-blue-rider

It was pretty mellow on the weeknights that I stopped in, but I’d like to go back when it’s buzzing. I have a feeling that even a super busy night would be mellow, welcoming and introvert-approved.

It’s not often that I come across a place that’s a true original, but the Blue Rider definitely qualifies. If you want to read more about it, you can check out this Bismarck Tribune article.

And definitely drop in the next time you’re in the Magic City. It’s certainly worth a stop.

The Blue Rider
118 1st Avenue SE
Minot, ND
701-852-9050

What about you?
What do you love about the Blue Rider?
What’s your favorite dive bar? (And I say dive bar with both respect and affection.)
What would your ultimate bar include?

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved

The #WorstDogEver

Western North Dakota is a beautiful place and I don’t get out that way as often as I’d like. I live vicariously through Sabrina Ramey, Event Communications Coordinator at visitwilliston.com, who updates her social media feeds with gorgeous photos of her travels in and around Williston.

A few weeks ago, I asked her if she’d be willing to share some of her travels with us. She responded with this sweet story about her adventures exploring overlooked and abandoned places with one very special dog. It makes me smile.

Here’s Sabrina.

Alicia

All photos and words between this point and the bold comments at the end are provided by Sabrina Ramey.

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Listening for birds at an abandoned homestead north of Williston, ND

A little over a year ago, I adopted a dog that disliked me on sight. The feeling was mutual.

He was a nervous little guy; still young but old enough that he wasn’t a cute puppy anymore. And he didn’t care to be picked up. He would snap or snarl if you got anywhere near his tail. My guess is he’d been picked up a lot at some point, and probably a few times by his tail. I couldn’t leave him, so he came home with me.

Over the next year, we found we had little in common, except that we both appreciate going to the bathroom indoors and we both yell a lot when we get excited. He gets excited all the time.

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Circling Bethesda Lutheran Church in Williams County, ND

But there is one thing. I love a long drive any day. On those North Dakota dirt county roads, secondary highways, section line trails, it doesn’t matter. And when the road dead ends or becomes more of a rutted track than a road, then I like to get out of the car and walk. I take photos as I go. As it turns out, he loves it too.

Since spring, he has tagged along with me to explore lake beaches littered with driftwood, innumerable hedgerows, quiet country cemeteries and some lovely abandoned homesteads. We’ve sat down on a wooden merry-go-round well past its century mark at an old schoolhouse playground and watched the sun go down together.

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Taking his leash, but not his owner. #WorstDogEver running free at a country schoolhouse in Williams County, ND

He is short, but leggy. Most of the places we visit are thick with long windblown prairie grasses. So he needs to leap through it like a deer over a fence just to see where he is going. Sometimes he is compelled to investigate a field cut to stubble.

He realized quickly that wheat stubble hits him in just the wrong place, and learned to follow the path between rows. It’s fun to watch; it looks like he is navigating a maze, especially when he gets to the end of a row and follows the curve the seeder took in the spring.

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Lurking in the shadows: abandoned barn east of Williston, ND

He doesn’t always come when I call him, and he is always right in the camera frame when I do not call him. At the end of the day, when he is done running and I am done walking, we go home. Sometimes, if he is really tired, he will even let me pick him up and put him the car.

You can see more northwest North Dakota scenery and find sporadic episodes of the #WorstDogEver’s adventures on the @visitwilliston Instagram account.

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Happiest when exploring: close-up of the #WorstDogEver


What about you?
What are your favorite places to explore?
What do you see and do when you’re in western North Dakota?
What’s on your western North Dakota bucket list?
What do you think of when you think of this part of the state?
Do you think of this part of the state?
Who is your favorite travel buddy?

You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device.  Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat as PrairieStylFile.

Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved