Farm fresh: Can you dig it? Yes, you can!

Fresh berries in Herzogenaurach, Germany

It’s a cliché that one of the best parts of summer is the fresh produce, but it also happens to be true. We had planned to visit a nearby village to get some post-dinner ice cream, but decided to kill some time and amble down a different road.

Dairy cows in Herzogenaurach, Germany

We should have known we were headed for something special when we passed this scene, just a few feet from the car.

As we passed through a small string of tiny villages, we got the sense that we might be in for a treat. And there it was: Rising out of the corn and wheat fields, a clearing with picnic tables, play tractors, hay bales, a small store and acres of produce. The Neidermann farm of pick-your-own produce!

The store was our first stop and it was sensory overload in the most wonderful way. Literally bursting with fresh produce and baked goods, the smell of fresh strawberries permeated the air. Customers were lined up with buckets and containers full of their just-picked choices. We bought some ice cream and sorbet and scouted the area.

strawberry sorbet in Germany

Sorbet made with fresh-picked strawberries? Yes please!

 

Bread and jams at German farm store

Fresh bread and home-made goodness. So hard to choose….

Around back were signs directing you to all the fruits and vegetables that were ready to be picked. The evening we were there the strawberries, lettuces, garlic, mini-cucumbers, radishes, and rhubarb were ready. They even had a chicken coop so you could gather your own fresh eggs!

Pick your own produce in Herzogenaurach Germany

Grab a wheelbarrow and head out to the field!

I expect a mid-summer dance-off between these vegetable divas.

I expect a mid-summer dance-off between these vegetable divas.

Next to the farm store was a park-like area filled with families enjoying picnics and playing games. There was a petting zoo, a fort of stacked hay bales to climb on, a corn crib to play in and open space for soccer and general running around.

playing at the farm stand in Germany

King of the hay-bale castle.

As expected we needed a large box to bring home everything we bought. But in this case, our eyes were not bigger than our stomachs. When it comes to fresh berries and cherries, gluttony is the only option.

Produce from farm store in Herzogenaurach Germany

Our take-home box included berries, cherries, honey, walnut bread, tomatoes and fresh milk.

 

 

 

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Stumbling into Toon Town

One of the best parts of living in new place is the Stumble. It’s when you happen upon something so unexpected, so foreign and so memorable, you couldn’t have planned it, even if you tried. Last Saturday, we did an epic Stumble, right into the middle of Toon Walk.

Just chillin' with our Homies.

Just chillin’ with our Homies.

Part dream-state, part furry convention, part kids’ fest, the Toon Walk features more than 200 mascots, dozens of costumed fans, a few marching bands and hundreds of kids in various states of glee and/or terror. We arrived as they were lining up for the grand march through the streets of Old Town, but hunger got the best of us, so we decided to seek out some Nuremberg Bratwurst and then circle back.

I'm not sure what they were discussing, but it's clear that the walrus was nervous about it.

I’m not sure what they were discussing, but it’s clear that the walrus was nervous about it.

When we caught up with the gaggle of toons, they were hosting a dance party on a stage in the middle of the street. We camped out near the stage, allowing us an up-close view as the mascots (led by neon-vested handlers) made their way right past us—and handing out swag as they went by. While the biggies like Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, The Chipmunks, Super Mario and Homer Simpson were represented, this was clearly a very inclusive Toon Walk. We also saw a lion wearing a t-shirt for the local pharmacy, a lighthouse (?) and a fire hydrant.

This is the musical group Four Lucky Charms. They must be somewhat of a big deal, since the people with big cameras were following them around. But not too big of a deal, since the crowd didn't seem to really notice.

According to a quick Google search, this is the musical group Four Lucky Charms. They must be somewhat of a big deal, since the people with big cameras were following them around. But not too big of a deal, since the crowd didn’t seem to really notice.

I think this is the I Love Germany mascot? I was hoping he/she would hand out beer or pretzels to the crowd, but sadly, no.

I think this is the I Love Germany mascot? I was hoping he/she would hand out beer or pretzels to the crowd, but sadly, no.

A sample of the free stuff handed out by the mascots. Playmobil figures, cookies area maps and beef jerky!

A sample of the free stuff handed out by the mascots. Playmobil figures, chocolates, cookies, area maps and beef jerky. Score!

Weird, wonderful and wacky. Just another day in Germany.

Our first Furth Fest: Michaelis Kirchweih

Entrance to the Michaeliskirchweih

The entrance to the Kirchweih–where delights for all the senses await you.

Only a 15 minute drive from Herzogenaurach, we decided to check out the fest in Furth. This long-established festival takes place right in the heart of the city and takes over several blocks for more than a week. During that time, the streets are full of food tents and beer gardens, carnival rides, vendors selling everything from leather belts to kitchen tools and an ever-evolving cast of characters worthy of hours of people watching. In short, this was heaven for a State Fair-loving girl like myself.

Beer gardens in Furth during the Kirchweih

Dozens of beer gardens pouring local brews line the streets and invite you in for a mug (or two.)

One of the most curious parts of the festival? The carnival rides. Much more than mere bumper cars and mini-coasters, they were also a time capsule of recent Americana. Each one was decorated with airbrushed pictures of celebrities, movies and TV shows from the 80s and 90s. A carousel featured scenes from Kindergarten Cop. Seriously. Another one included a 10-foot-tall Jennie Garth. And then there was my personal favorite:

Home Improvement-themed carnival ride in Germany

Old TV shows–and their stars–never die. They live on in Germany. Because nothing says excitement and frivolity like remembering episodes of Home Improvement. Also, is he giving her bunny ears?

It was also an opportunity to reinforce stereotypes. Because there, in all his glory, was David Hasselhoff, larger than life and greeting all from the street. I guess he really *is* big in Germany.

David Hasselhoff

Don’t hassle the Hoff, indeed.

The following weekend, we headed back to the festival to watch the parade. Apparently it’s kind of a big deal and is shown on television with (they say) hundreds of thousands of people tuning in. Not knowing what to expect, we arrived very early. We didn’t really know the route, but had a general guess. So we staked out a spot that seemed to have good viewing and waited. And waited.

We stood there for quite some time, second-guessing ourselves for choosing a spot that seemed far closer to the end of the route than the beginning. But finally our instincts were rewarded with the perfect place to view the giant balloon release.

Balloon release

Furth’s official colors of green and white take to the sky to kick off the parade.

So here’s the most important thing I learned about (hopefully all) German parades. While in the U.S. it is common for the parade walkers to throw candy to the children watching, we got other better things. Our outstretched hands were filled with  balloons, sausages, beer and soup! It was like Costco on a Saturday morning out there!

Parade soup

The soup, handed out by one of the parade walkers. It was chickeny with little crunchy croutons floating in it. Delicious.

The parade itself is a celebration of agriculture and the harvest and all the area farms and breweries. Dozens of clubs in traditional attire represented families/clans/towns in Bavaria. Each one had slightly different–but equally beautiful–variations of dress.

Furth parade marchers

Marchers proudly showing their traditional dress.

Furth parade participants

Some even marched with a mobile maypole.

The “Floats” consisted of wagons pulled by horses. The wagons were either 1) full of wooden kegs of beer or 2) full of people showing aspects of traditional farm life or 3) full of seasonal vegetables and fruits, artfully arranged.

Traditional aspects of farm life in the Furth parade

Demonstrating the ways of yore.

The entire parade was just so wholesome. It really made me feel like I had stepped back in time a bit. Well, that and David Hasselhoff. That helped too.

Olde Time bike

And really, what parade is complete without an old-timey-bike guy?

 

You gotta roll with it

Sometimes the best memories come from those times when you decide to give up making plans and just let the day happen.

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Ready to hit the trail.

With the husband out of town and the bigger kid not around, E and I had Memorial Day to ourselves. The weather was scheduled to be rain-free for most of the day, so I decided that a bike ride was in order. Our hand-me-down bike trailer was already hooked up and ready to roll, so I consulted the Trail map and decided a simple out-and-back bike ride on the Cedar Lake Trail would be a good morning activity.

The bike trails of the Twin Cities are legendary for their ease, proximity and extensiveness across the metro area. The Cedar Lake Trail has the added draw of the lovely Depot Coffee House, where bikers and neighborhood folks gather before, during or after their ride.

Cedar Lake bike trail

Paved and shady. A great bike trail for hauling kids!

So on my ancient, broke-ass Schwinn and hauling 50 pounds behind me, we set off. I didn’t realize how much that extra weight and limited gears would slow me down, but we weren’t trying for time. And the more deliberate place forced me to slow down and really have a chance to observe where I was.

As we entered the trail near the NordicWare factory, a pair of geese and their goslings greeted us. It looked like they had set up a nest somewhere next to the factory. (Maybe they get free bundt cake?)

Geese outside the NordicWare factory

Our escorts for a portion of our bike ride.

One of the parts of urban trail bike riding that I like best is the chance to see a familiar place in a whole new way. We biked over Minnehaha creek, next to St. Louis Park’s beehive monuments (which I’ve always wondered about when I pass them on the highway) and through wooded areas I never knew existed. The trail was full of other bikers, runners and Rollerbladers, but never felt crowded.

Returning from our half-way point, I noticed that all the bikers were smiling at me. “Isn’t it nice that bike riding puts everyone in a good mood,” I thought. Nope, they were bemused by E in the trailer. The fresh air and gentle movement had put him to sleep and he was curled around the harness and slumped over, snoring.

He woke up as we entered Wolfe Park. We pulled in to the playground—they have equipment for both big kids and pint-size versions for toddlers. He played for a bit, but then heard music….We had stumbled upon the Memorial Day concert. E and I sat on the grassy steps and listened to the St. Louis Park community band play a variety of patriotic songs and a medley of Lerner and Lowe. E loved it and sat still, just watching the band and listening for about 20 minutes.

Memorial Day concert

Giant baby eats community band! Film at 11.

Note to self: More community concerts. I’m sure if I had tried to plan it as a specific outing it wouldn’t have been nearly so special. But because it was pure happenstance that brought us there, we could enjoy it for as long as E’s attention allowed and then move on to the next thing with no pressure.

All in all, a great way to kick-off summer.

St. Louis Park community band

The coolest chicks are always drummers.

All photos by egkralick

Super scoops: The Neighborhood Ice Cream Shoppe

sample of ice cream flavors at Edina ice cream parlor

Choices for both the old-school and the adventurous.

“Eat it like you stole it, dude!”

That’s what the Husband told a kid sitting on a bench outside the ice cream parlor as we made our way inside. The kid was already covered from nose to chin in blue drips (the Superman flavor, would be my guess). They came inside later and his mom told us that clearly we had given their family a new catch-phrase, since she had now heard it about 20 times in the last 10 minutes.

Spreading joy, that’s what we do. 😉

Always on the lookout for easy, jump-on-the-bike-and-go outings, we ventured away from the Dairy Queen just a few blocks from our house and headed to a quiet corner of Edina, Minnesota to grab a cone at The Neighborhood Ice Cream Shoppe. Any place that spells “shop” with two p’s and an e is suspect, but when ice cream is involved, I’m willing to overlook it.

While the Twin Cities is full of amazing ice cream places (and Izzy’s will always be my go-to for when I want the exceptional) sometimes you just need the basics, with prices to match.

Sandwiched between a Pappagallo store (?) and a dry cleaner, this ice cream shop has a surprisingly large selection of Cedar Crest ice cream, a few frozen yogurts and sorbets and sherbets. They also have pint-size tables and chairs, benches outside and a fast-moving line—perfect for the neighborhood families who stop in after dinner or on their way home from sports practices. Oddly and yet kid of awesomely, you can also get Heggie’s pizza here, so really, a cheaper date night could not be had anywhere else.

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You’d be hard-pressed to spend more than $3 for a cone, as the single scoop is quite generous. I got a single kiddie cone for $2 and it was plenty. I LOVE places that allow adults to order the kid size. It’s also located on a road that has a dedicated bike lane, so you can off-set the calories with your travel. Perfect combination, in my book.

ice cream cone

The secret to toddler-ice-cream-cone success? The sample spoon!

 

The in-town small town

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Photo from thebirdtown.com

Last weekend I ran a race in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Considered a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, I had never really spent any time there (I grew up in another first-ring suburb. Hey Roseville!) so it was at the invitation of a co-worker that a few of us signed up for the Birdtown 8K.

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Friends and finishers of the Birdtown 8K

It turned into quite the eye-opener for me. Not only did the mayor run the race–in a kilt, which he promised to do if a certain number of runners signed up–but everywhere you turned you heard the excited greetings of friends and neighbors bumping into each other. It seems like everyone knew everyone else and there was a real feeling of community support that, unlike other, bigger suburbs, wasn’t united solely by kids’ sports.

The race was fun, the day was beautiful, (And the co-worker-hosted after-party? Stellar. Apparently the carrot I’m willing to run for is the promise of pastries and a Bloody Mary bar.) and I got to explore a bit of Robbinsdale. The race toured around two lakes and their parks as well as main street.

That’s the kicker. Robbinsdale has a wonderful, small-town feel main street. Something my hometown sorely lacked. Because the town was established in its own right before the post-WWII sprawl and housing boom, it maintains the character of the past. And the community has clearly embraced it. Anchored by some very popular, very progressive restaurants like Travail and Pig Ate My Pizza, it seems that Robbinsdale could be the new sleeper destination for hipsters ready to put down roots and have families.