Cabin Fever? Head to Kalahari

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful…”

Midwesterners live that line. In fact, the joke is that there are two seasons in the Midwest: winter and construction. We get cabin fever after being stuck indoors for so long. The snow piles up to the window ledges and the temperatures plummet to points so low that it is just not safe for young children to play outside. There are only so many board games and books that a parent can put up with before they just need to get away from their kids.

Enter Kalahari.

Kalahari Resorts are ginormous (that’s a word, right?!) indoor water parks. They are located in Sandusky, Ohio and Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Smack dab in the heart of the frozen tundra that is the Midwest. Most parents try to book a trip mid-February when the winter weather is at its coldest. If they can afford it, they make a weekend trip once a month.

Picture a 12,000 square foot wave pool, river rides, zip lines, faux surfing, waterslides, lawn chairs, snack cabanas and waterfalls all keeping your family entertained and blissfully happy. It may be snowing outside, but it is downright balmy at Kalahari. If you can talk the grandparents into joining you, grab some couple time at the adult-only, full-service spa. Nothing beats a day at the wave pool like a couple’s massage. Well, nothing except kids too worn out from swimming and playing all day to fight or argue or back talk or complain. Aaah! Silence, that’s worth the price of admission.

Mall of America | We've Got It All

The Midwest has it all. Four equally-enjoyable seasons. Tons of inland lakes and the Great Lakes for every water sport imaginable. We’ve also got Mall of America. Don’t be jealous. Here are 10 reasons why you should come and visit the pride of Bloomington, Minnesota:

1.    There are 4.3 miles of store fronts in the mall. Now, that’s some mall walking!

2.    If you spent just 10 measly minutes inside each store, it would still take you over 86 hours to hit them all. I don’t know about you, but my feet sure would be sore.

3.    And, to answer your next question, there are 520 stores.

4.    The mall has a Sea Life aquarium with over 1.2 million gallons of water. Heck, if you are SCUBA certified you can even jump on into their shark tanks for a swim. Or not.

5.    Nickelodean Universe is the 7 acre amusement park INSIDE the mall. They have rides for the little ones, but there are quite a few heart-stoppers as well.

6.    The LEGO store at mall Of America must be seen to be believed. Let’s just say it is more LEGOs than you or your LEGO-loving child can ever imagine being in one place.

7.    The fact that there are 14 movie theatres here is a feat. The really cool part is the D-Motion seats. Yup. You guessed it. They MOVE! How cool is that?

8.    Mall of America is also one of the few places in the country that your little girl can enjoy a sit-down lunch at the American Girl store.

9.    Its 4.2 million square feet of Shopper’s Paradise.

10.  Over 40 million other people agree with me. Annually!

Cedar Point | Rocking Midwest Summers Since 1870

My friend from high school, Erica, just posted to Facebook that she and her daughter have their tickets for opening day at Cedar Point. I am sooo jealous. You see, for a MidWesterner, there is no other place to start or, for that matter, to end your summer, than Cedar Point. Erica and I went at least once a year throughout high school. Every Physics II class within a 250 mile radius went as an excuse for a field trip. Yes, I took Physics II *just* for that field trip. What? I got an “A”. In fact, I seem to recall out entire senior class heading to Sandusky the morning after prom. We were a huge caravan of cars and minivans filled with sleeping teenagers and one unlucky, wide-awake driver.

Cedar Point is the epitome of amusement park. The best roller coasters. The best water park. The best location, right on Lake Erie. The best everything. Usually anytime you say the “best”, you are referring to something in California or New York, not the Midwest. We never get anything good, except Cedar Point.

In fact, it has officially held the title of “Best Amusement Park in the World” for 14 consecutive years. Fourteen! It’s not just a recent thing, though. People have been having fun down on this spit of land since 1870.

Check it out for yourself. They are usually open Memorial Day through Labor Day and weekends in September and October. It can get crowded so try to go before school gets out of you get impatient. Either way, Cedar Point is worth the wait.  

3 Delicious Midwest Foods

If you've grown up in the Midwest, you may not realize that the rest of the United States doesn't love the same foods you've been eating since you were a child. From desserts to appetizers, there are numerous foods that Midwesterners love that you won't find in every state. Here are a few:

TOASTED RAVIOLI

If you've never had toasted ravioli, you're definitely missing out. Ravioli is stuffed with beef, breaded lightly, and then fried or baked (usually fried – most folks in the Midwest like fried stuff). Then these delicious little rectangles are served with a warm container of marinara sauce, although some people swear they taste best with ranch. Ranch is good on anything if you live in the Midwest.

THIN CRUST PIZZA

There's a reason people as far as New York order pizza online from Imo's, and that's because it's delicious. Fresh ingredients, provel cheese, and a super thin crust – that's the St. Louis way. I used to have a coworker who lived in New York (but came to St. Louis for meetings), and every single time he was in town, he would eat nothing but Imo's at his desk.

GOOEY BUTTER CAKE

What's dinner without dessert? Try a delicious piece of gooey butter cake next time you're in the Midwest. Some bakeries are offering new twists on this classic dessert, like gooey butter cookies, chocolate gooey butter cake, and gooey butter cupcakes. Yum.

Have you tried any of the foods mentioned above? Which one is your favorite?

Travelling to the Mid West

Travelling is always fun, especially if you are going to an area you have never been before.  Depending on the type of traveller you are, you may do some research before you go but you may just wait and see the signs as you go down the road to help you decide where you want to stop.  If you are going to the Mid West United States, here are a few attractions you may want to stop and see. 

Wineries – There are a lot of wineries in this area.  You likely could spend a few days just going around and getting drunk by doing tastings.  For this reason, it is a good idea to see if you can find wine tours where they take care of the transportation for you.  You will find all sorts of types when you visit the wineries and may find a few new favourites to take home with you.

Zoos – Depending on where you are coming from, there may be a zoo at home.  But you may want to check out the Zoo in Toledo, Ohio which features animals from the North to the South Pole. 

Festivals – There tend to be festivals all over whether it is the summer or the winter.  It is a good idea to check out the websites of the places you will be to find out what types of festivals will be going on. On the flip side, these sites can tell you what attractions may be closed due to these festivals. 

 

Omaha's Best Ethnic Restaurants

Tacos, Thai and Persia

Omaha, Nebraska is known as a steak-and-potatoes town, but anyone who says that hasn’t really eaten in this city. The city is full of small ethnic enclaves with plenty of authentic culinary options, holes-in-the-wall joints that serve delicious food and enough ethnic food places that fit into mainstream hang-outs that you’re sure not to miss them. Change your perception of Omaha eating—read, it’s good beyond steak—and check out some of my favorite ethnic restaurants in Omaha:

Tacqueria Tijuana. I hadn’t been to South Omaha’s Tacqueria Tijuana before this week, but I’ll certainly be back. South Omaha, 24th Street to be exact, is an experience in itself, structured somewhere in between a Mexican border town and the wild west. Tacqueria Tijuana is a bright place with yellow walls and black-and-white photographs of Mexican soldiers. They have no paper menu, and only a board at the front of the restaurant. I had tacos—certainly the best I’ve had in the city—with crispy pork, guacamole and cilantro with the addition of salted jalapenos and red and green salsas.

Thai Spice. Thai Spice has been one of my favorite Thai restaurants for years. It’s not fancy by any means---it’s tucked in between a supermarket and a dollar store—but the food is well-executed and the menu is extensive. I always get the northern dinner, a barbecued chicken dish served with jasmine rice, a papaya salad with peanuts and a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce. I have yet to find anything exactly like it at any other Thai restaurant in the country. The tom kha, or chicken coconut soup, is sweeter than I’ve had it elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious and a necessary starter to any meal here.

Ahmad’s. Ahmad’s, a Persian restaurant, is one of the oldest establishments in the Old Market, and anyone who frequents the place knows one of the reason to go is to talk to the friendly owner, Ahmad. Ahmad’s is best enjoyed in the summertime when people watching on the patio is the best in the city, but the bright-blue-walled indoor dining room is a worthwhile experience, as well. Although a pricey option (as most Old Market dining is), the food is also delicious, combining rice, tomato, banana and lemon-spiced chicken kebab. The fessun jun is a delicious dish of chicken cooked in a walnut pomegranate sauce—try it for something completely different.

What are your favorite ethnic restaurants in Omaha?

 

Urban-Centered Midwestern Food

Steak, cheese curds and beer--why leave?

I grew up in Omaha—the land of the big steak—and went to school in Wisconsin—the land of brats, cheese and beer, so I like to think of myself as an expert on traditional Midwestern cuisine. Most Midwestern-originated food is synonymous with American food—things like Thanksgiving dinner turkeys and hot dogs—but some food in various urban centers of the Midwest is unique to those locales. Let’s take a look at a few epicenters of Midwestern foods:

Omaha. My hometown is known for Italian steakhouses and fried carp. A slowly dying legacy, great Italian steakhouses with mock-Venetian facades, fried parsley and monstrous, bloody steaks with gut-bombing sides are still popular with the over-60 crowd throughout the city. Warren Buffett frequents one called Gorat’s, which still operates out of its 1944 original location. Also, Omaha boasts to having created the Reuben sandwich--still unproven, but definitely is home to nasty ConAgra foods. 

Kansas City. Perhaps I’m biased, but Kansas City barbeque beats Texas or Kentucky or any other type of American barbeque production in my book. KC barbeque sauce—a mix of molasses and tomato--is perhaps the most well-known of any kind. Kansas City barbeque meats are also different, including smoked pulled pork and beef brisket, that was accessible because of Kansas City’s location on the railroad. Still, the Kansas City metro area has more than 100 barbeque restaurants.

Chicago. As we all know, everything fatty, delicious and heart attack-inducing was invented in Chicago. Chicago deep-dish pizza is a thick-and crispy-crusted pizza topped with meat, cheese and finally, tomato sauce. It takes longer to bake than a normal pizza, but is also about thirty times more filling. A Chicago-style hot dog is a wiener on a poppy-seed bun topped with peppers, pickle relish, mustard, chopped onion and sliced tomato. Also well-known in the city is an Italian beef, roast beef served on a bun and often topped with cheese.

Milwaukee. Wisconsin-originated foods probably are the often associated with the idea of Midwestern food. Of course, most of Milwaukee’s iconic food is German in origin and includes such favorites as bratwurst, sauerkraut and beer, or the holy grail of a icy-cold Wisconsin Friday night. Milwaukee is, of course, the Brew City, so you know Milwaukeeans know their brews. They also know my favorite Wisconsin staple, deep-fried cheese curds served with marinara sauce, and frozen custards. Why does anyone live anywhere else?

What are your favorite Midwestern specialties?

Wisconsin Cheese Curds | Yes, They Really Squeak

 

The cheese curd. Maybe you have heard of it. Maybe not. If you live in Wisconsin, a cheese curd is likely the first morsel of adult food to pass your lips. These moist, slightly salty tidbits are synonymous with the Dairy State. Not to be confused with a Cheesehead, which is the traditional nickname for a Green Bay Packers football fan, a cheese curd is something you eat. And, it squeaks. Yes, you read that correctly, cheese curds squeak when bitten. The curd rubs against your teeth and makes a funny, yet ironically encouraging squeak that spurs you on to eat more and more and…  

So, what is a cheese curd, you ask? Well, I am no cheesemaker but apparently the little curds are a step away from being cheese. Under normal circumstances, they would be gathered together, pressed into a block and aged into a lovely block of cheddar. Somewhere along the way, as happens in many kitchens, someone nibbled the ingredients and said, “Yum!”   

Actually, a more accurate history is that a nomadic tribe in the middle east realized that a chemical reactions occurred in milk when you combined the hot desert temperatures with the enzyme rennin, found in their saddlebags. Someone had the idea to taste one of the resulting curds and the rest is history. And, you thought those crazy Packer fans invented the stuff. Ha! They did, however, perfect cheese curds, raising them to almost art form. You can purchase fresh, flavored cheese curds almost anywhere in Wisconsin and squeak to your heart’s content, just don’t show up in a Vikings t-shirt. That’s a no-no. They may even kick you out of the state.  

 

Wired Coffee is a St. Louis Bucket List Must!

If you are in the St. Louis area and you are searching for a great place for coffee and atmosphere, I must recommend Wired Coffee. We finally got around to going to Wired, which was on my last year’s bucket list (I make a new list of 100 things every birthday), over the weekend, and I was not disappointed. Unfortunately some school decided to take a field trip there for the day, so it was more crowded than I would have liked, but overall I was pretty impressed.

Though it was very busy, the two women working we able to keep orders filled in a pretty reasonable time frame. I ordered a frothy vanilla frozen latte, which was absolutely delicious. Most people know that this is more like a dessert than a coffee, and boy, did it not disappoint! It was creamy, sweet, and delicious. I am glad I ordered a large.

My husband ordered a lemonade, but they were out; that didn’t deter the barista, however, because she offered to make him one out of lemon flavoring and Italian soda. It was delicious, too, though we had to make sure to stir it up in order to circulate all of that delicious flavor. We were almost glad that there was no lemonade!

Perhaps the happiest of our trio was my daughter, who tried gelato for the first time. Yes, the store has gelato! She had dark chocolate—of course, every kid loves chocolate; it’s not my cup of tea, so I didn’t try it, though we plan on all ordering something from the gelato menu next time around—and was so happy that she smiled the entire time she ate it. She actually asked for more, when one cup of ice cream is usually enough to satisfy her sweet tooth.

We were able to get all of these things for under ten bucks, which was great—and the place itself was comfortable and open, with bright colors, TVs in a separate room so they don’t bother you if you want to tune them out, well-worn couches, and quirky artwork. Overall our experience at Wired Coffee was a wonderful one and I can’t wait to go back and try something new. The store also features plenty of savory food items, from sandwiches to breakfast wraps, and desserts if you are hungry; I, of course, want to try another cold and frothy treat!

Pasties, Periogis And Paczkis – Say What?

In Michigan, there is a rich ethnic heritage dating back to the fur trappers of the 1700’s. From Detroit to the Sault Ste. Marie, those earlier French settlers left their mark. As good as a croissant may be, it was the later immigrants from Cornwall and Poland that left us some of the tastiest treats.  

A pasty, not to be confused with the infamous pastie, is pastry dough filled with diced meat, potatoes, onions and turnips. The yummy package was then baked and, according to tradition, carried down into the copper mines and eaten for lunch by the hard-working crew.

Perogies are made across Eastern Europe; each region has their own slight variations and twists. The Polish version, readily available across the state, is pastry dough filled with potato, potato cheese, sauerkraut or a dry farmer’s cheese. They are par-boiled then fried to a crisp, golden brown and served with sour cream. The ones found in your grocer’s freezer section do not do them any justice.

New Orleans may have Mardi Gras but Detroiters have Paczki Day. Traditionally only eaten on Fat Tuesday, paczkis are deep fried, jelly-filled donuts on steroids. Seriously, they are huge. Every year the news reporters try to analyze the fat content and it is rumored to be close to an entire day’s worth of calories.  You would never know it from the lines of people around the bakeries in Hamtramck. In fact, people start lining up by 3 and 4 in the morning to get their hands on a dozen or so.  

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