Really, How Are You Doing?

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Fine.

Actually, not fine.* I write this on the second day of non-stop rain (flash flood warning!). Morning headlines informed us that the administration will finalize the rollback of clean water protections. Gun violence continues, including a murder-suicide a block from my home. Having chosen to leave my professional career to pursue a dream of actually completing a novel, I stand one disaster away from taking a deep dive into my modest retirement savings.  My ankle still hurts eleven weeks after a ligament-tearing incident. My normally dependable ability to sleep soundly has devolved into lying awake at 3 in the morning.

So how are you doing today? Are the problems in our society getting to you? How’s your personal life? How’s your health? Your work? You’re finances? Your mental  health?

During the long course of yet another sleepless night, this phrase came into my mind: To triumph over darkness, give light. Not get light. Give light.

After choosing an early retirement to pursue writing, I took a part-time job at my local Target in women’s apparel. It gets me out amongst people, provides a little extra cash, and ticks about 5 miles on the FitBit each time I work. Yesterday an older woman, let’s call her Bernice, came in shopping for some new clothes. She and a helper from her nursing home were trying to find a suitable pair of black pants.

“I haven’t been shopping for a year!” Bernice said. Her manner was anxious but open, her conversation a little confused but enthusiastic.

After helping her to explore various options in black pants, we found a pair that suited her needs–black, with stretchy fabric, durable, washable, and classy looking.

She pointed to my required-by-Target red shirt. “I sure would like to get a new red top. It’s my favorite color.”

The attendant looked worried. “Remember, Bernice, you have only $40.00 to spend. And you also want to get those cough drops.”

Earlier in the day a red top on the clearance rack caught my eye. “If you can wait a moment, I have an idea. No promises, but we might have just the thing.”

There it was. In her size. A loose-fitting red top with lace trim on the sleeves.

“What do you think of this?”

“It’s so beautiful!”

The attendant pulled out her calculator.  The pants, top, and cough drops came to just over $39.00.

Bernice looked up and held out her arms to me. I leaned down for a hug.

“I love you,” she said.

As of that moment, I was doing fine. Thanks, Bernice.

FYI, I am not depressed or despairing. Just speaking truth about life.

 

 

 

 

Historical Inquiry/Historical Iniquity

While reading “The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became U.S. Property” by historian Martin Case (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018), I began thinking about the homesteads of my maternal great-grandparents, the Blixes and the Johnsons. On both sides, they settled on rocky, inhospitable tracts in Nora Township, south of Bagley, Minnesota.

The western edge of Nora Township lay only a few miles from the White Earth Reservation eastern boundary. On the Blix side, Albert and Anna arrived in 1901. Did they have interactions with residents of White Earth? Having themselves come from far-northern Norway, and being of probable Sami extraction, did they feel a kinship with the indigenous people of the area?

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Undated post card sent to Arthur Blix by his future wife, Nora Township neighbor Mathilda Johnson.

Much of the White Earth land was sold to timber companies, land development companies, and individuals who had the money to invest. The injustice of the treaty system rankles and questions remain. My ancestors lived on land transformed from hunting and fishing grounds, formerly inhabited by people for whom land as “private property” was unthinkable. The future of the Ojibway people of White would be challenging.

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From Clearwater County Atlas, 1912, showing 160 acres solely owned by by Anna Blix.

Not that life was easy for the homesteaders. After the Blix family settled in Nora Township, husband and father Albert was committed to the Minnesota Hospital for the Insane in St. Peter, where he died in 1915. Meanwhile, Anna Blix raised sons Arthur, James, and Erven (spelling varies), managed a farm, and served as postmistress and secretary to the school board.

My mother remembers Anna, her grandmother, as small and stern. She raised her sons strictly, punishing Arthur for chasing a rabbit on Sunday. She was a Christian of the stoic variety, interesting, since organized religion came late to northern Norway, where they followed their own spiritual traditions well after the rest of Europe succumbed to the missionaries.

Great-uncle Erven died early in World War I, a radio operator who went down with the ship. My grandfather Arthur died at the Crookston tuberculosis sanatorium at age 49. Great-uncle James never married, remained in the small homestead house built by his parents, and was found lying dead on the kitchen floor in his mid-sixties.

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Undated photo of Albert Martin Blix, who died at the Minnesota Hospital for the Insane in 1915.

Political institutions, religious hierarchies, financial institutions, and corporate entities tend to obscure their real goals behind a mask of caring for the needs of those they supposedly serve. As “The Relentless Business of Treaties” make clear, there is nothing new under the sun, nor in the penumbra of disguised motives.

Hill Valley Cafe, 3301 Central Avenue NE

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The modestly signed exterior.

Last week’s Eating and Writing up Central guest was my two year old granddaughter. This week’s companion will soon celebrate her 92nd birthday. My paternal aunt Lydia, who has a great sense of humor, works out with a trainer 3X/week, and went sky-diving on her last birthday, joins me for lunch at Hill Valley Cafe.

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Note counter constructed of doors.

Friends have recommended Hill Valley as a worthwhile breakfast/lunch spot. Our experience is mixed, due in part to there being a solo person doing the cooking and serving. There is only one other customer, the service is less than great, but hey, we are in no particular rush. Lydia opts for the B.F.C., a sandwich with turkey, ham, bacon, cheddar, lemon mayo, tomato, and greens, easily justified, as she worked out this morning. I choose the Veg Burrito, which comes filled with potato, eggs, veg sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and cheese.

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The B.F.C. I get that B=bacon, and C=cheddar, but what’s with the F?

The coffee is topnotch; the food is pretty food; the place is charming. Lydia’s sandwich is sizable. Half returns home with her for a future nosh.

I ask the server, a youngish guy, about the history of the building, which occupies a corner right across from the Columbia Golf Course. He reports that as far as he knows, it was once a law office, prior to that a private residence, and at one time a candy store. As it appears quite old, it likely has had many other incarnations. Online research reveals that it was built in 1924. On a real estate site it is described as a multiple family dwelling of 3046 square feet, with no mention of a business. Have we stumbled into the ultimate zoning mystery?

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The door leads to Z-Amore, a vintage shop that will be the subject of a future posting.

The decor is a mish-mosh journey through time, which I love. Lydia appreciates the old cookstove which serves a counter for beverages. As noted above, an interior door leads one step down to a mid-century modern vintage shop. We take a browse through, not buying but appreciating the quality, variety, and whimsicality of the merchandise.

Friends, this marks the end of our lunching adventures. It is today, and at this moment, I have arrived back at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, where I sit in a tubular chrome chair sipping from a bottomless cup of brew, having devoured a piece of zucchini-pineapple bread.

Happy place.

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Diamonds Coffee Shoppe noir. Note bare foot in upper right. It is that kind of place.

Next week we will begin anew, slowly working our way back up Central NE, visiting non-restaurant businesses: Mecca Linen, Anelace Coffee, Divinas Boutique, Fair State Brewing, and Valeria’s Carniceria (that will be a real thrill for a yours truly, a diehard carnophobe!), and many, many more.

See ya soon.

 

 

 

Chimborazo, 2851 Central Avenue NE

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Flowers and candle on table.

This week I am accompanied by a charming guest, who is an adventurous eater, and sharply opinionated on any number of topics. I am anxious to see how she will react to the food served at Chimbaroza, an Ecuadorian/Andean restaurant popular with diners both in and out of the NE Minneapolis area.

First, four words of caution–beware the back parking lot. This is actually my third Chimbaroza visit. Each time I’ve parked in the lot, and each time I have struggled to get out. Easy in, tough out. Maybe it’s just me, but next time I will repeat this mantra–Park on the Street. My guest and I arrive right at 5:00, their evening opening time. Being a hot late afternoon, we decide to opt for indoor dining over the pleasant back patio area. Not surprisingly, we have our choice of tables. Over the next hour it will fill with happy diners of all descriptions.

My chum approves of sharing an order of Chupe de Pescado, described as “halibut sauted with pepper, onion, tomato, and a splash of white wine. Served with rice and patacones.” A peek at the appetizer section confirms that patacones are plantain patties. While awaiting our food we snoop around the two-room dining area and take photos.

The space is pleasant and comfortably lit. Wall art features photos of Andean people and scenes. Just as other diners begin arriving in droves, our food arrives. The kind server brings an extra plate for sharing.

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Perfection on a plate.

As you can see, the plate looks appealing. My companion first tastes the plantain patty. “Yum!” Then she tries the rice. “Yum!” Finally the fish. “Yum!” Forget Michelin Stars. Chimborazo has received the coveted 3-Yum Seal of Approval from my almost-2-year-old granddaughter!!! A sidenote–last week she and I were at the State Fair with other family members, including her mommy and daddy. Just outside the horse barn she looked at the Golden Gophers tee shirt I was wearing and spontaneously said, “I don’t like that.” “You don’t like my shirt?” “No.” It’s a good thing that in addition to being opinionated, she is beautiful, sweet, and brilliant, says her totally unbiased grandma.

The halibut dish really was fabulous. When you dine there, please order it and report back.

This is the 16th Eating and Writing Up Central blog posting. What an adventure it has been! Meeting unique people and eating mostly great food, while spending time in places that I would likely never have visited otherwise. Next week I shall document my final restaurant visit, this to Hill Valley Cafe on 33rd and Central. From there we will rewind and start again with a coffee at Diamonds. The plan is to chart a course back up Central, documenting interesting non-restaurant businesses along the way.

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Yum!

Thanks for reading. Go forth and have your own adventure!

Al Amir, 2552 Central Avenue NE

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Al-Amir means “the prince”.

Al-Amir joins the pantheon of my Central Avenue favorites, based on food, friendliness, and sparkly table coverings. I order at the counter from a young man for whom English is a distant concept. Yet we communicate just fine. That is until later when I ask to buy a bag of pita to take home.

“Pizza? No pizza.” He gestures at the menu posted above our heads.

“No pizza. Pita!” I attempt clear articulation.

At this point a woman emerges from the back. “You need help?”

“Yes, thank you. I would like a bag of pita to take home.”

“Ah, you want bread.”

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5 of these pillowy beauties for $3.00! Review from my granddaughter, age 2: “More.”

The woman, whose name is Faduah (I think), speaks of the popularity of their Iraqi bread. She asks me if this is my first visit. When I confirmed that it is, she fries me a sambusa to take home. No charge.

“Tell your friends! All the food is wonderful!”

Dear Blog Friends, consider yourselves told.

I am the solo in-house diner, choosing a table which gives view of the door and of the counter. As noted above, the tables (there are 5) are covered with sparkly plastic, covered again by plexiglass. Any child, including yours truly, will find themselves entranced.

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I don’t like to compare because you might have a totally different experience, but in my opinion, Al-Amir trounces Holy Land. The falafel sandwich is delicious, served with hot crisp fries, on soft chewy bread. Something in the sandwich is just-right spicy and the texture of the falafel is spot on. Plus, there are pickles inside! Woot-woot!

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Yum.

The end of my planned route up Central Avenue is in sight. Next week, we will visit Chimborazo, and the following week will feature Hill Valley Cafe. There are those who are encouraging me to continue. My thought is to backtrack and check into non-restaurant businesses. This would include for example, a couple of bakeries, the Fair State brewery, maybe even the psychic. Or perhaps a visit to the psychic should come first to properly chart my course forward!

Be cool, friends. And share ideas, please!

 

Holy Land Deli, 2513 Central Avenue NE

unknown1.jpegAfter a two-week vacation hiatus, the blog is back. A Huge Thank You to the three people who said they missed the postings (one of whom was my only-begotten son). Ha! I don’t do this for the glory, my friends. It just makes me happy.

I fell in love with falafel on the streets of Jerusalem, where it is the ubiquitous street food, often served with French fries and pickles stuffed into the pita. However, falafel is a food eaten across the Middle East, enjoyed by folks of all traditions and ethnicities. And small wonder. It is delicious, nutritious and inexpensive. Win, win, win!

img_3419.jpgHoly Land is an institution in NE Minneapolis, as an eat-in or take-out deli, grocery store, and bakery. It is owned by a  Jordanian gentleman, and has expanded to an additional location in the Mid-Town Market on Lake Street. The Central Avenue location grocery is my go-to destination for freshly baked pita bread, and all manner of Middle Eastern ingredients. It’s an overall good-energy kind of place.

Today I am lunching with long-time friend Judy. She orders the falefel salad, I order the falafel sandwich. The falafel balls are crunchy and tasty, as they should be, and the bread is fresh.

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Judy’s salad. She had already eaten half, so we covered that part with the pita. I had already demolished my sandwich, so no pic was possible.

Judy and I have some catching up to do, so this report is lacking in atmospherics and overheard conversations (alas, my fav!). I can share that the clientele is diverse. During our meal a woman, perhaps Mama Fatima herself, stops by our table with a gratis dessert for us to share–two marshmallows stuffed with fruit jam and a piece of honey cake. How nice was that! And they are yummy.

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Our free dessert!

As I finish editing this is, it is Sunday afternoon at 4:45, and I am craving more Holy Land falafel. Should I drive over there for a take-out dinner, or should I be a good girl and eat the left over pasta primavera in my fridge?

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The wall art is pleasant and appropriate.

Next week’s blog will explore the deli at the Eastside Co-op. Until then, consider this quote from novelist Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well if one has not dined well.”

Sabor Latino, 2505 Central Avenue NE

My meager Spanish is clearly not up to the task of ordering at Sabor Latino. The menu is in Spanish, the kind server speaks little English. So I end up eating an anatomically intact fish with MANY bones. This presents a gastronomic challenge on several levels!

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As you can see by the photo, the mystery fish, which my daughter subsequently suggested may have been caught in Lake Harriet, is accompanied by fried plantain, beans, and rice. With the addition of a spicy green sauce, it all tastes pretty good. “Sabor”means flavor or taste, from the same root as “savor” and I’ll give a thumbs up the the flavors. However, my fish-related queasiness casts a bit of a pall over the dining experience.

By noon the place is hopping with diners, most of whom seem to know each other. Many happy greetings are exchanged, all in Spanish, so my ability to communicate and listen in is foiled. The space is long and narrow, with the kitchen area on one side, where there is also a counter for take out orders. Beer is available.

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The view from my booth. Door on left is the restroom.

The biggest excitement comes courtesy of two little girls, ages around 4 and 6, who lock themselves in the restroom. Their dad, realizing their dilemma, stands at the door, attempting, or so I imagine (again the language barrier) to coach them on how to deal with lock. After maybe 5 minutes, during which the father’s mounting frustration is apparent, the door opens and the girls emerge, smiling as if nothing adverse had occurred. Dad commences to address them in a tone suggestive of a gentle lecture on the dangers of locking oneself in a restroom without the requisite skills to complete the unlocking procedure.

Directly above the restroom door is a large television tuned to Telemundo coverage of the world soccer tournament. No game was in progress, but I am treated to many scenes of celebrating fans, mariachi bands, and dancers, which are interspersed with the ubiquitous trio of commentators common to all sports broadcasts.

After lunch I head next door to Holy Land Deli, the site of our next dining adventure, to pick up some of their marvelous fresh pita from which I will construct pita pizza for a family dinner this evening.

Will I return to Sabor Latino? Probably not. Would I discourage you from dining there? Definitely not. Just bring your favorite interpreter and contemplate the wonders of living in a community with such marvelous diversity!