St. Paul

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Fabulous Not Forty Birthday Dinner #2

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What would a birthday trip be without a special birthday dinner?  Granted this one was a lot more low key than the first one.  It was equally as memorable–this time for the food–nor did I get drenched!

First stop: dinner! at a swanky seafood and steak house in St. Paul called Kincaid’s.

We started with Country Fried Calamari, which were (as one would imagine) battered and fried.  What made them unique was the addition of artichoke hearts.  I’m not a big fan of artichoke hearts, but when they’re deep fat fried and served with a garlic aioli, I am aaaaaallllllllllllll over that!

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Of course, we were nearly done before I even thought to take a picture (I’m so embarrassing to take out to eat these days!), so I tried for an artsy shot with my Chateau St. Jean cabernet sauvignon!

When the main course arrived, I grabbed a few quick shots of my surf & turf and April’s shellfish fettuccine.  Of course, I was way more focused on the food than on actually focusing the shot (as you can see)–but trust me, if you would have been smelling dinner, you would have been eager to get to it as well!

Everything was so delicious that stopping with enough room for dessert did not seem like an option.  Besides, who am I to waste delicious steak, shrimp, and au gratin potatoes?

After dinner we took a stroll through downtown St. Paul, headed for our second stop: The Ordway Centre for the Performing Arts, where we had tickets to see Nice Work If You Can Get It. It was a fun show, with lots of great singing-a-long-songs (don’t worry, I refrained from singing–much to everyone’s delight!).

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While a much more low key event than FNFBD#1, Birthday Dinner #2 was a great evening spent enjoying delicious food & wine, lots of laughs, and hanging with one of the coolest people I know–it doesn’t get much happier than that.

Lobstah Overload!

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Just kidding…no such thing!

After an afternoon of wandering around downtown Minneapolis, April & I met up with a friend at the Smack Shack.

We started the feast with a lobster guacamole appetizer.   I will admit it took a couple of bites to wrap my head around eating guacamole and lobster together.  Once I did, it was really good.  And by that, I mean, the lobster was amazing.  The guacamole was okay. Don’t get me wrong, it was good–just a little less flavorful than I like it.  But I didn’t make it, nor do I consider the Midwest a place where spicy foods prevail.  Plus it did allow for the lobster to shine, thus: really good.

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I also ordered another appetizer which the table refrained from enjoying: raw oysters.  Their loss (although they don’t think so).  I let our lovely waitress pick out a selection of both East and West Coast varieties.  Going in, I thought I would prefer the West Coast, as they are from the same ocean as my favorite oysters (from Sydney and the southeast Australian coast).  But no, I preferred (ever-so-slightly, mind you) the East Coast oysters, which have a more crisp, clean, and salty flavor.  The West Coast oysters were a bit more creamy and mild.  Both paired nicely with the local beer from (literally) down the street: Fulton Lonely Blonde.

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All of that was forgotten when the main course arrived.  Well, not the beer–it also paired deliciously with….The Lobster Mac & Cheese.  It was everything amazing in the culinary world.  Creamy, cheesy, buttery, big chunks of lobster.  It melted in your mouth.  I was truly torn between shoveling it in as quickly as possible and drawing out every.single.savory.bite to make it last as long as possible.  I may have even used my finger to scoop out the last bit of cheese from the bottom of the bowl (the waitress assured me everyone did!).

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While I’m always in love with a good meal, this was one of the very few meals I was truly sad to see end.  Lobster, cheese, pasta, beer, oysters, guacamole: how could you go wrong with any of those combinations?  😉

Margarita Monday, Part Cuatro…Again

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I know I shared this margarita before on a certain [ahem, birth-] day a few months ago, but I thought it was fitting to share again, since this delicious margarita was a tasty part of Birthday Trip #2! Salute!
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The Epicurious Texan

I wasn’t actually planning on Margarita Monday to be a regular thing, but I figured what the heck–who doesn’t like margaritas?!?!?  Also, if you’d like a picture of your tasty margarita to appear here for Margarita Mondays, please tweet it to me @epicurioustexan!

In honor of today’s Big Birthday: Not 40, Just Fabulous, I thought it appropriate to honor this Margarita Monday with my cranberry margarita from Chevy’s during my Birthday Trip #2 (because when you’re turning Not 40, Just Fabulous, you get multiple birthday trips!).

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A Small Stream

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Deep in the middle of Itasca State Park is Lake Itasca, the source of a small, unassuming stream that opens up to span over 2,300* miles to the Gulf of Mexico, creating the 4th largest river in the world.

April & I drove through the huge 32,000-acre state park, heading for the closest parking lot to Lake Itasca. I’d like to interject that this is a beautiful time of year to visit the park, the foliage is gorgeous, the weather is nearly perfect for hiking, and there are very few, if any, mosquitos!

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We finally found the parking lot and hiked down a winding trail to the lake, with a dam of rocks that is the start of the the Mississippi river.

After negotiating our way across the rocks, we walked downstream to the next crossing and crossed back.  We ambled along side the stream for a bit, marveling at the size–or rather lack thereof.  It seemed a mere trickle to what I had seen at various points downstream, including its delta in New Orleans.

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After a few more pics–and the obligatory selfie (us-ie?)–we got back in the car and continued heading south, Twin City-bound!

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PS–You can read a plethora of facts about the Mississippi River from the National Park Service, but one of the most interesting facts (in my humble opinion) is that the elevation of the river at Lake Itasca is 1475 feet above sea level and drops nearly half of that elevation before it leaves the state of Minnesota.

*Also there is some discrepancy exactly how long the river is, with some sources, like the US Geological Society, stating it is 2,300 miles and others, like Itasca State Park, stating it is 2,552 miles and still many more than fall in between these two lengths.

An Update on a Couple of Big Things

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I’d just like to add an update: April reminded me that we only visited a large floating loon in this post; the largest floating loon lives in Virginia. I mean, it’s so hard keeping large floating loons straight these days. Much like Grandma having to run down all the grandchildren’s names before she gets to the right kid.

April also reminded me that we visited the world’s largest FREESTANDING hockey stick. This, of course, piqued my curiosity and almost immediately I googled “world’s largest hockey stick.”

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest hockey stick is 205 feet long, weighing in at 62,000 pounds! It was commissioned by the Canadian Federal Government for the 1986 Expo in Vancouver. It now resides at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan, Vancouver Island, Canada. April suggested that the freestanding label is “perhaps how we avoid size fights with the Canadians???”

I think perhaps she’s right 😉

The Epicurious Texan

A few posts ago, I mentioned that April and I had penchant for searching for “World’s Biggest [insert random object here]”–well, this trip was filled with them!  I mean, how else are you going to break up a long road trip?

sidenote: now that I’m thinking about it, Minnesota and Australia seem to have a large number of “World’s Biggest” objects.  And I would also like to express my personal belief that if you’ve never seen the World’s Biggest Prawn in Ballina, NSW Australia, your life really is never going to be completely whole.  Of course, you could disagree with me, but well….you’d be wrong.

Anyway, back to Minnesota and this trip.  April had already marked out several stops to see big things, such as the World’s Biggest Walleye.

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However, this turned out to be a BIG FAT LIE.  It’s not the biggest.  We have actually seen one bigger (ha! that’s what she said!!)…

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The Headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi

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Paul Bunyan and Other Big Things

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A few posts ago, I mentioned that April and I had penchant for searching for “World’s Biggest [insert random object here]”–well, this trip was filled with them!  I mean, how else are you going to break up a long road trip?

sidenote: now that I’m thinking about it, Minnesota and Australia seem to have a large number of “World’s Biggest” objects.  And I would also like to express my personal belief that if you’ve never seen the World’s Biggest Prawn in Ballina, NSW Australia, your life really is never going to be completely whole.  Of course, you could disagree with me, but well….you’d be wrong.

Anyway, back to Minnesota and this trip.  April had already marked out several stops to see big things, such as the World’s Biggest Walleye.

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However, this turned out to be a BIG FAT LIE.  It’s not the biggest.  We have actually seen one bigger (ha! that’s what she said!!).  It was on my first trip to Minnesota years ago.

see?  this one is A LOT bigger!

see? this one is A LOT bigger!

We also stopped to see the World’s Largest Hockey Stick.

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I’m not arguing this point…it’s dangerous to even talk about hockey in Minnesota unless you’ve grown up there (or Canada) and since I grew up in neither place, I respectfully abstain from commenting…except to say that is also the biggest hockey puck I’ve ever seen.

While it took a bit of a detour and it’s hard to see the scale, this is apparently the World’s Largest Loon.  It didn’t appear to be anchored, but of course, it could have just been on a really long line (The World’s Longest, perhaps?).

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I’ve already shown you the large lumberjack–again, not the biggest in the world but pretty darn big–and Smokey the Bear, which was the largest Smokey I’ve seen…does a bigger one exist?  I’m not entirely sure.  But if it does, then that’s one biiiiiiiiiiig bear.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

The highlight of this trip (in terms of World’s Biggest objects) was Paul Bunyan and Babe.  As long as I’ve been visiting Minnesota, I’ve been trying to track this elusive legend and his blue ox [click here for the story!].  We got close on my first trip, but…something didn’t seem quite right.  Perhaps it was the blatant advertising for the bowling alley that shared its parking lot with the Minnesota icons?

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Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine Paul Bunyan and Babe bowling with anything so…small…

This trip was totally different.  As soon as we pulled up, we knew it was the real deal.  Paul Bunyan and Babe.  My quest at last was over–and in the process–a few more World’s Largest objects added to my collection!

I HEART ROADTRIPS! 🙂

Chinese Non-Delivery

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Remember in my earlier posts about it being the start of low season and everything closing up early?  Turns out, that affected the food industry as well.  Since our deck had not one, but two grills, we decided it might be fun to grill something for dinner.  We found a grocery store, strolled around for awhile, but nothing struck our fancy.  So we decided Chinese delivery sounded great, bought some candy and left.

Get back to B&B, find the menu, and notice that they don’t offer delivery service between October and April.  Great! Fantastic!  We peruse through the rest of the menus that would deliver–at least in October–but nothing sounded as good, so we opted to go back into town to pick up dinner.  Besides, I needed coffee supplies anyway–because thankfully while April was reading the menu, I was exploring kitchen supplies and noticed the only coffee on hand was decaf.  DECAF!  DEEEEEECAAAAAAFFFFFFFF.  Who does that?!?!? Plus it also allowed us to pick up blizzards at Dairy Queen–so in the end, it was quite a successful jaunt into town.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Chinese delivery take-out:  it’s 7:40pm when we call.  It’ll take about 30 minutes, can we be there by 8pm?  Uh, what?  Okay [definitely not arguing with getting our food faster].  She gives me the price and the address and just happens to mention not to be late because they close at 8pm.  Okay.  BY 8PM [she just keeps repeating this].  Message received loud and clear.  We arrive at 7:53pm because, well, we definitely wanted our food–not just because we were hungry–rather we weren’t sure if any other food options would still be open other than the 24-hour gas mart.  At this point we were even panicking that DQ might be closed.

Fortunately it was still open.

With food, blizzards, and coffee supplies in our hot little hands, we returned back to the B&B for a quiet night in, playing Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit.  And for those of you in my life who think I’m a LotR’s fanatic, I just want you to know that April kicked my ass!

International Falls

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Things change.  I know, I know–let the eye rolling begin.  However, I am only mentioning this because for my 30th birthday I received the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die.  In the USA chapters, it lists International Falls, MN as one of these places.

I have been dropping hints to April left, right, and center EVERY SINGLE TRIP–or even mention of a trip–to Minnesota I’ve made since I got this book.  For 10 long years has poor April had to endure these not so subtle hints, which is apparently her ceiling for being harassed 😉

International Falls, MN:  one of top 1000 places to see before you die?  Ummmm…I’m going to have to agree to disagree on this one.  DO NOT GET ME WRONG.  It’s a great little town, and yes, we were there during start of low season, but the Falls–which are to be the highlight of International Falls–are actually covered/been diverted or something the nice border patrol agent told us that I can’t remember right now…

It is also known as the coldest place in the United States, but honestly, I have NO DESIRE WHATSOEVER to experience that.

What you don’t want to miss is the giant Smokey Bear in the middle of town.

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Oh c’mon…don’t even act like you aren’t going to stop the car and take a couple of pictures if you were driving through and saw it.  Besides, April and I have a penchant for tracking down the “World’s Largest [fill in blank here]”.  I could probably create an entire blog for that, but instead you’ll just have to settle for a few posts.

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It was a nice change of pace and the scenery was gorgeous.  We stayed in a cute B&B right on water.  It was right outside of town and had a large lumberjack to greet us!

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Because we were the only ones there that night, we were upgraded to the biggest suite.  It was rather peaceful just sitting out on the deck–albeit a bit surreal knowing that I was looking at Canada.  It was also rather remote.  Sure there was a railroad and were a lot of cabins and houses around, but most were vacant and or sparsely filled.  Not that we minded, it allowed us time to wander around the neighborhood.

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It was fun and I’m very glad that we went…even if the entire trip April kept giving me looks of “this is why I’m confused why you were so insistent about coming here.”  Should you go?  Absolutely!  Must you see it before you die? I’m gonna say no.  There were other places on our trip that I thought were more must-sees than International Falls, which is why you should always listen to your local guide darling friend that grew up there, even if a book suggests otherwise!

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PS–I do want to leave you with a bit of advice: if you do go to International Falls, MN and you get a slightly remote B&B by the water and you and your friend are the only ones in the house that has no locks and your friend who lovingly drove the entire trip turns in early because she’s tired, you should NOT start a Criminal Minds marathon.  I’m just saying…creeeeeeeepy!