California Christmas Goodies from Ohio: The List (Part 2)....and a Giveaway!

A look inside Celebrate Local's Easton Mall shop in Columbus; they have
recently opened up a second location in the Cincinnati area at Liberty Center
The first half of my California Christmas Goodies from Ohio blogposts (link to the original post here) mainly featured food products from fairly diverse corners of the Buckeye State.  This second half of the series varies the product selection just a bit, reveals this year's gift to the family, and yes, we'll go into detail about our first official giveaway!

California Christmas Goodies from Ohio: The List (Part 1)

Celebrate Local, located in the Easton Town Center, is one
of my favorite places for all things local
By now, you've seen a tons of articles and blog posts covering the gamut of great gift ideas for the now past Christmas holiday.  I admit I've read my share of them myself since I've moved to the Buckeye State, often just simply to familiarize myself with what's out there.

Another big reason lies in what turned out to be an ideal family setup with my spouse: as all her family gathers at Thanksgiving at her parents' place in Ohio, we always spend that holiday here. Meanwhile, Christmas Eve has traditionally been the realm where all my siblings and numerous relatives gather at my parents' place in California, so December has meant travel time over to the West Coast for us two.

That yearly trip, coupled with the fact that no one else in my immediate family lives outside of California, I've started a tradition of bringing back a little bit of Ohio back for my relatives in some form as a little gift from the Midwest.  This has, in turn, created its own unique challenges for me in that I had to find gifts that met these unique criteria:
  1. Ohio-based products that weren't easily obtained in California
  2. Ohio-based products that weren't necessarily "Ohio-centric" (things like "Columbus 'Til I Die" t-shirts really wouldn't have any real meaning for my family members)
  3. Ohio-based products that would be mostly if not universally appreciated by all (that leaves out things like craft spirits and beer, for example)
With that in mind, I thought a summary of what I as a Buckeye State Santa Claus have toted to California would be both informative and a nice little plug for these Ohio-based makers:

Vinyl COHvers: A Very Worthi(ngton) Christmas

A view of Worthington's High Street during Old Worthington Market Day 2015,
the town's largest one-day festival featuring arts and crafts & food vendors
On last year's inaugural Holiday Edition of Vinyl COHvers, we found our selves in the Northeast corner of the Columbus metro in the suburb of Westerville.  In that post, we featured three songs from the Westerville High School Choruses and Orchestra, from a recording that had reached its golden anniversary (the album contained music from a Christmas music festival from December 19, 1966.)

This year's Holiday Edition of Vinyl COHvers moves only a few miles west along the I-270 beltway to another "W" suburb in Worthington.

Kahiki Kookaburra: Fukuryu Ramen

For those unfamiliar (or even semi-familiar) with the Columbus ramen restaurant Fukuryu Ramen, the restaurant's name translates to "lucky dragon".

If you look closer at how this restaurant's origins, you might think the name translated to "lucky kookaburra". Most people dropping by for a bowl of ramen these days probably don't realize that Fukuryu originated in the "Land Down Under" in Melbourne, Australia (one of the lands that are home to the previously mentioned kookaburra bird.)  Maybe even fewer realize that it wouldn't even have been a dining option here if it weren't for an individual with strong ties to a fondly-remembered Columbus dining institution.

'Ques and Brews: Viva Antiques! (Tallmadge, OH)/Madcap Brewing (Kent, OH)

With our journey into the Kent area for the first time, we figured we had to throw in a little bit of our favorite pastimes in antique- and craft beer-seeking into our journey. With plenty of fuel for the journey provided by the fun and kitschy joint that is Mike's Place (the subject of my last blogpost), we first dropped by into nearby Tallmadge for a visit to Viva Vintage!

Recently relocated from Cuyahoga Falls, the listed address for Viva Vintage is slightly deceiving (while it may be post office correct, it's almost better if you plug in neighboring Wire Wizards into your GPS system if you drop by for a visit.) 

The vintage silver Christmas tree outside was a good sign for this place's potential, and really it didn't disappoint for the size.  In a way, the size and decor reminded me of some of the vintage shops lining High Street to either side of North Broadway: just a little of everything organized in a relatively neat manner.

X-Wings and Random Things: Mike's Place (Kent, OH)

First off, the weather in Ohio has rated as supremely comfortable right now for the last couple weeks. While mid-fifties temperatures may not threaten any high-temperature records for Columbus (the highest high temp for the month is a ridiculous 76 degrees back on December 3, 1982), they are more than enough reason for my spouse and I to venture out on a whim to undiscovered parts of the state.

It really didn't take all that long to figure out where to go either. With all things Star Wars creeping into our minds with the impending release of the sequel, a suggestion by my spouse to head up towards the Akron/Canton area rang a bell in my head about some kitschy diner up with a mock X-Wing guarding its front. After quickly searching for a picture of it on my mobile phone to show her, the decision had been made: lunch date at Mike's Place in Kent, Ohio.

Black Friday Libations Tour: Columbus Edition (Pt. 2)

An older bottle of Scarlet Solstice from Brothers Drake Meadery, which
has been plying its trade in Columbus for nearly a decade.
One of the more unique aspects of our family tours lies in the fact that one of our party members who sports a severe gluten allergy (in fact, we tried to make a quick trip over to Merion Village's Bake Me Happy, but alas they were closed for the entire Thanksgiving Day weekend.)  That very fact makes our touring that much more interesting, as that puts destinations focusing on ciders, meads and spirits on our radar for possible visits. This was definitely the case when it came to Central Ohio's original meadery in the Short North's Brothers Drake.

Black Friday Libations Tour: Columbus Edition (Pt. 1)

Starting in 2015, various members of my family decided to break with the shopping tradition on Black Friday and instead embark on a brewery and spirits tour. With the Detroit and Cleveland (on last year's tour) covered, it seemed only natural to turn our attentions south toward Columbus this year.

In a way, however, this particular tour was 25 years in the making. That’s when my one of my now many brothers-in-law landed a theater assignment in Columbus in the early 1990s. During that stint, he happened to wander into a shiny brand new downtown area brewpub named Barley’s Ale House (easy stumbling distance from his Victorian Village rental) and was almost immediately hooked. From there, he gained a growing appreciation of the still fledgling local beer scene, one which was still dominated by Budweiser but dotted with a blast from the past (Hoster) as well as a few small upstarts like Barley’s and Columbus Brewing.

Also born at this time was his love for homebrewing; in fact, he bought his first homebrewing kit from Barley’s head brewer himself, Angelo Signorino. It is a passion that continues strongly to this day, with a particular interest in the classic German styles of beer and brewing. He eventually moved with his family to parts farther west, but he never lost his love for where it all started.

vinyl cOHvers: Thanksgiving Triple Treat

The holidays can sometimes make you want to shout
Thanksgiving week can be considered something of an F-week: family, friends, (Black) Friday, and of course, food.  In some cases, it will be a bit too much, and stretchy pants will be appreciated by many after chowing down on the usual holiday eatings.

With that in mind, I figured I'd break a bit from the food posts and get back to a post on another favorite hobby of mine in vinyl record collecting. Ever since my spouse bought me a turntable for a present a few years back, it's been a slow but steady Katy-bar-the-door in collecting records for the both of us.

My previous focus had been on specific local albums and the history behind them (including my last post in April on The Dulcimer Alliance and Lima, Ohio's Great Black Swamp Dulcimer Festival.) With so many more records in hand since then, I'm going with a sampler platter approach for future posts, where you can have a gander of three albums with some local Ohio roots, including some of the liner notes (often the best things about older records) and some general impressions. I also jazzed up the linked videos containing the selected songs as well with visuals and historical factoids.

Polaris Fast Casual: What´s for Döner/Little Lebanon Cafe

Give me a pair of blue jeans and T-shirt (such as this retro music/Ohio
Alison Rose model) any day versus fashionable apparel
For me, fashion (to cop a David Bowie lyric) is like a new dance which I don't know the name.  I mean, if I have to, I can pull out the sharp dressed man motif, but I'd much rather slum around in T-shirts and jeans (or shorts in warmer weather.)

Perhaps that's one reason why I don't venture up into the Polaris Fashion Place Mall too much, except maybe to grab some gift cards for some much-more-fashionable-than-me relatives and friends of mine. A mall food court wouldn't normally give me the urge to drop by either (though I did see that that concept can be done quite well during a stint in Malaysia), but a fairly recent arrival to the Polaris scene in the German street food oriented What´s for Döner was enough to drop by and ask "Wie gehts?"

The Power of Poké: Hai Poké

Are you a jack-of-all-trades or a specialist? You can make it work both ways
in the restaurant world (still from the movie "Five Deadly Venoms" as 

published in the book "Sex & Zen and a Bullet in the Head")
Recently, I was reminded about one of my favorite films from my younger days in the 1970's-era martial arts cult classic movie "Five Deadly Venoms" (highly recommended, especially if you're a martial arts movie fan that appreciates a more sophisticated plot line than typical.).

I won't go too deep into the movie's details, but the movie's base plot involves a dying martial arts master's final student, who was taught to be a jack-of-all-trades (familiar with all, master of none) in regard to his master's various styles. This student is tasked by his master to seek out the masters' prior students, each of whom were taught individually to be experts in one of their master's particular martial arts styles, determine if any had turned to evil and, with the assistance of the good Venoms, vanquish them.

In the restaurant world, either the jack-of-all-trades or singular expert focus can work if done correctly. An eatery that does a bunch of different food items well (we'll example Northstar Cafe here) can be equally as successful as one that does a particular thing expertly (the delicious momos of one of Columbus' most welcome newcomers in Momo Ghar.) Hai Poké, which was essentially this metro's introduction to a centuries-old Hawaiian dish, is another successful (and delicious) example that leans on the latter approach.

The Chocolate Cherry Connection: Pattycake Bakery

It's easy to go over old ground with places that predate my existence here in Columbus such as Pattycake Bakery.  Still, a brief history for those who aren't familiar or have forgotten how this quaint Clintonville bakery came into being might be helpful.

Established in 2003, this vegan bakery undertook the unique transformation to worker-owned co-op a decade later, adopting conscientious credos such as utilizing recyclable and biodegradable packaging, sourcing locally whenever possible, and using human power to deliver many of their goods via their bicycle-powered cart. While not an exact match, the bakery does remind me of one of my favorite places back in California in The Cheese Board Collective, another workers co-op which has spent more than 40 years selling cheese and, later, coffee, baked goods, and the pizza of the day (all veggie, with just enough made to sell out before the day's over) to hungry patrons in Berkeley.

I could say Pattycake has great pastries (and they do; more on that later), but it holds a little special place in my heart in that it helped ease the transition here to the Buckeye State. Ironically enough, it was another California transplant in Peet's Coffee (which had a brief and somewhat strange run here in Ohio, as I detailed in this blogpost) that set this up long before I had a notion that I would ever move to Ohio, much less heard of Pattycake itself.  

Motor City Touring: The Detroit Zoo

Our trip into Detroit to visit friends not only involved good food but also time spent with their precocious young daughters. With that in mind, we decided that a trip to the zoo would be a perfect destination for this short weekend visit.

Having been to a couple fine zoos relatively recently in the Columbus Zoo and the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington DC, we were tempering our expectations a bit. However, the Detroit Zoo, established in 1928 and currently run by the Detroit Zoological Society. was the very first zoo in the nation to display animals in cage-less exhibits, and ended up packing quite a punch in terms of the animals and exhibits in what seemed to an easily navigable layout.

Motor City Eating: Parker's Hilltop Brewery/Bigalora

The Village of Clarkston, MI, where beauty is in the eye of the Beer-holder
A quick little weekend jaunt up to the Detroit area found my spouse and in the company of long-time friends. Even as short as this visit really was (not much more than 24 hours), we as a group got to feast quite nicely, not only on home-prepared Indian delights courtesy of our hosts, but also a couple of culinary jaunts on the town to a popular area brewpub as well as Italian eats from a James Beard nominee chef.

South x Southwest (Pt. 2): Creme Clouds and Gringas

A metal die-cut plaque details the family roots of Columbus' Merion Village
As mentioned in my previous post, my coffee at Das KaffeeHaus was meant to put some caffeine into the system to get me fully awake for the day. It also had a secondary purpose of slowing me down so I could digest the rich Beehive Bite sweet treat that I had acquired from My Old World Bakery, an old-school neighborhood shop located in Southwest Columbus. By the time I departed the space, I was ready for some more exploring the city's south and west sides.

South x Southwest (Pt. 1): Bee Hives and Blitzes

The Big Room at local favorite/independent radio station CD102.5 in the
Brewery District, which provided a nice stopover point in my latest crawl
As it turned out, my cinnamon-quest food crawl turned out to be a wonderful experience for me, both in the treats I found and in the places in finding new places to explore. As I figured out shortly afterward, I enjoyed the experience so much that I wanted to repeat the quest to another part of the metro. On this latest journey, south and west were the watchwords, with a general goal of trying out the best that each of my destinations had to offer.

Firkin Awesome for 25 Years: Barley's Brewing Ale House

For both my spouse and I, the venerable Barley's Brewing Company, the oldest brewpub in the Columbus area, acted as a gateway into craft beer.  For me, this brewpub, which opened its doors in October of 1992, was my first real introduction to Columbus-area craft beer, when a growler of their Scottish Ale (an unusual beer in that they take pale malt and actually scorch it in the mash tun before brewing the beer to achieve the caramel notes) went up with us to take to my wife's family for Thanksgiving Day libations.

As for my spouse, her brother, who made the brewpub a regular destination when it opened its doors, introduced her to its craft beer charms. That very same Scottish Ale was also her first Barley's brew back in 1994, followed by a brew she thought she would never enjoy in the future in the Alexander's Russian Imperial Stout (this notion was proven to be quite wrong, as we shall detail later.)

Life on a Cinnamon Whirl (Pt. 2) - When the 'Ssants Come Rolling In

Yes, nice layers of cinnamon lie underneath the icing in these
beauties from Italian Village's popular Fox in the Snow Cafe
My cinnamon/new places in the metro quest mentioned in my last blog-related post brought me to a coffee cafe I hadn't visited since my early days here (Olde Towne East's Upper Cup Cafe), the granddaddy of bakeries in the metro (Resch's), and the only full-service Kosher bakery in the area (Matt's Bakery.)  But I was only halfway done on this day, as my travels took me into the tony community of Bexley and to another city bakery institution whose original location I had never visited prior to this day.

I Could Be Happy The Rest of my Life on a Cinnamon Whirl (Pt. 1)

The Moravian Sugar Cake from Laughlin's Bakery, topped with
cinnamon, one of my most favorite spices ever
When it comes to sweet treats, those that have cinnamon are hard to beat in my book. In fact, one of the first sweet treats I enjoyed here during one of my first visits to Columbus was the rather substantial (and tasty) rendition put out by the North Market's Omega Artisan Bakery. A recent "Best of Columbus" article by Columbus Monthly provided me some inspiration to try something that I hadn't done in awhile in the form of a food crawl. Add in a desire to seek out parts of the metro I hadn't necessarily wandered much into, and you got yourself one sweet journey indeed.

Lovin' The Oven: Forno Kitchen & Bar

If Corso Ventures isn't one the hottest restaurant development groups in the Columbus area right now, it certainly ranks in the top tier. Their Short North area ventures such as The Short North Pint House (their first) and Standard Hall (their latest to open) are popular destinations to grab brews and food. Down the road, their Food Hall concept, featuring a full bar and four kitchens meant for rotating culinary experiences, is one that we and other area diners are anticipating.

The funny thing is that despite all the good things we have heard about the previously two mentioned eateries, we find ourselves still working through the menu at their second Short North eatery in Forno, and really there's nothing wrong with that.

Going for the Whole Grains: Return to Yellow Springs (Pt. 2)

A few of the memorial cobblestones you can find at The Women's Park
located in the southern reaches of the village of Yellow Springs
After ingesting our daily allotment of fiber with a little bit of a sweet treat (courtesy of the 22nd Annual Wool Gathering at Young's Jersey Dairy, the subject of my last blogpost) we ventured further down US 68 into the downtown area to grab our whole grain allotment for the day, in the form of some finely distilled spirits and brewed beers at two Yellow Springs institutions, conveniently located at the same light industrial complex just north of downtown.

Plenty of Fiber and a Little Dessert: Return to Yellow Springs (Pt. 1)

Yellow Springs is one of the intriguing places in Ohio for me, in that there's a little slice of what I regularly encountered in places like Berkeley and San Francisco in this village of around 3,500 people. In fact, this hamlet holds the distinction (in southwest Ohio, anyway) of being at the forefront of various social causes such as the anti-war and anti-discrimination movements, as well as sporting large arts-oriented and LGBT communities.

Street performers from the 2015 summer edition of the Yellow Springs'
bi-annually held Street Fair, a rite of passage for many area residents
As I discovered, these leanings don't stop folks from all walks of life from coming in and enjoying the charms of this small Southwest Ohio hamlet, especially during their bi-annual Street Fairs, if one were simply to judge from the myriad of T-shirts I saw worn the day of my visit. Of course, there is much more to Yellow Springs than these fairs, as we uncovered on a recent return visit to get our share of fiber, whole grains, and a little dessert to boot.

Cincy Trip Pt. 3: From Sleepy Bees to Screaming Trees

Our Sunday focus in Cincinnati was to grab some screen time in front of the TV for a little football action. But of course, we needed some fuel in the system after a good night's sleep, so we headed to the Blue Ash branch of the popular local breakfast and lunch purveyor Sleepy Bee Cafe.

Started in December 2013 in the Cincinnati suburb of Oakley by John Hutton and Sandra Gross, the eatery's popularity prompted a second location a ten or so miles up Interstate 71 in Blue Ash (a third location in the heart of Downtown Cincinnati is nearing completion.)

If you hadn't guessed from the restaurant's name, the Sleepy Bee has an apiary theme, borne out of the owners' love of bees.  Honeycomb tile clusters and vaguely-beehive-shaped wire lamp covers dot the ceiling, while a flowery glass sculpture hangs over the bar area (unlike their Oakley location, the Blue Ash eatery has a liquor license.)

From The Healthy Land to the Banks of the O-Hi-O

Cholera - most people in the USA today may recognize it these days in the title of a novel turned into movie by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. However it wasn't too long ago when this malady was an issue here in this country. The quaint Cincinnati suburb of Mt. Healthy (roughly 6,000 residents these days) earned its name due to cholera, or rather, the ability of town residents to largely avoid the ravages of the intestinal infection (typically caused by poor sanitation) unlike the residents of Cincy proper. Because of this rather handy little happenstance, the town renamed itself from Mt. Pleasant to Mt. Healthy when it incorporated as a city in 1893.

Mt. Healthy may also not be the first place one thinks of for craft brews and mathematical equations, but indeed one can find it here in one place in the form of Fibonacci Brewing, which was the second stop on our recent venture down to the Cincinnati area.

Repurposed With A Purpose: Municipal Brew Works (Hamilton, OH)

Mural dedicated to Hamilton-based writer and illustrator Robert McCloskey
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, breweries that re-purpose older historic spaces are among our favorites to visit. Earlier this summer, we trekked up to Ohio's far northwest along highway US 127 to visit the remade 19th century Methodist Church turned brewery and restaurant in Father John's Brewing Company and were truly captivated by its unique atmosphere.

On a recent weekend, my spouse and I, along with a couple of relatives, got to head a little farther south along that same road into Hamilton, the county seat of Butler County, to visit another uniquely renewed urban space that now houses Municipal Brew Works, the first brewery operations in the city in nearly 80 years.

Final Sweep Across The Plains: Three For The Road

Similar to Columbus and its North Market, Cedar Rapids, IA sports
its own upscale public market in the form of the Newbo City Market
Not unlike any of our previous excursions to far away places, we end up covering a lot of ground in a short time. Perhaps it's making up for lost time, and perhaps it's just the way we roll, but nevertheless we encounter a lot of places and destinations that are definitely worth your consideration should you be in the area. We close out our grand Great American Eclipse vacation journey with a blog post about three eateries that fit that definition to a tee.

Feeling Minnesota: I-94 Hot Dish with a Side of Big Ole

Minnesota has its share of towering structures to attract state visitors like
the Jolly Green Giant, which we encountered back in 2013.
A regional specialty, the Minnesota Hot Dish is typically a casserole consisting of a starch, a protein (typically meat), and vegetables (canned or frozen) all brought together with canned cream soup. Our trip up to this point into Minnesota was something of a tourism hot dish as well, with a little protein (Spam from Austin's Spam Museum), a little starch (ice cream from Izzy's), and some "soup" in the brews from Surly Brewing.

Okay, I admit that's a bit of a stretch, to say the least. Most would agree though that for spending one whole day in the state, that is a pretty full platter in and of itself. But my friend, we got in much more on this brief 24 hours or so in the state, because, well, that's how we roll, you betcha'.

Going on a Quick Bender: Surly Brewing (Minneapolis, MN)

The Christmas season the last few years has typically brought some delicious
brews from the Upper Midwest to our joy (and enjoyment)
It's always nice to have some well-placed friends: every Christmas season, we looked forward to a visit from a long-time friend of my wife who lived out in Minnesota for the holidays. Aside from the very good company, we looked forward to her presents of some highly sought after regional brews with cult-like followings in Wisconsin's New Glarus and Minnesota's Surly Brewing.

On our recent vacation travels, we tried but couldn't make Wisconsin work with our timeline; however, we calculated a quick jaunt through Minnesota would be more than doable. With that determined, we figured a visit to Surly Brewing was a definite must-do.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Yr. 4): Have We Got A (Mini-)Scoop For You

Some fun mural art found on the walls of Marshall Liquors, St. Paul, MN
The tasting spoon is a somewhat underrated part of any ice cream shop, but it does have its limits. The dream scenario would be to sample every freaking concoction on any one visit, but obviously that's just generally not possible, if only for common courtesy's sake.

That's where the St. Paul-based Izzy's Ice Cream, located in the Merriam Park area of town, has something in their freezer cases that does that tiny little tasting spoon one better, in the form of the so-called Izzy Scoop. And we were lucky enough to drop by during our recent eclipse travels to experience it in person.

As ice cream shops go, Izzy's is a relatively new but seasoned arrival onto the Twin Cities' scene, opening up in its Marshall Street digs in July of 2000.  Despite some national exposure and fame (a nomination by Reader's Digest in 2005 as best ice cream in the land and a showing on a Chef Bobby Flay show), Izzy's has played the expansion phase nice and easy, only opening a Minneapolis branch in 2013.

The inside of the store was a little bit plain-spoken compared to many other ice cream places I've visited, but it was more than functional, with large freezer cases toward the back hold pre-packaged pints as well as other confections like sandwiches and their "Izzy Pop", essentially an ice cream lollipop sporting a small scoop of ice cream coated in a chocolate shell on a stick.

Izzy's ice cream flavors, posted on a LCD TV display, leaned mainly to the more familiar flavors with a some excursions into the more eclectic (such as the Umeshu Chocolate, which contained Japanese Plum Wine, and the Blue Mountain Spice, which was a Chai Tea confection with hints of cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg.) Unbeknownst to us at the time, Izzy's sports a unique "Flavor Up!" system, which keeps you up to date both on the latest flavor being scooped as well as an e-mail option to let you know when your favorite is being served.

Here is where Izzy adds an extra-dimension to the tasting spoon with their so-called "Izzy Scoop". Of course, those tiny spoons are at the ready, and we went ahead and sampled our fair share of what looked good.  As we discovered, any single or double scoop you order comes with an "Izzy" mini-scoop right on top (a waffle cone wedge is also offered as an option, and who are we to refuse that?) For me, it was kind of a neat little "what the heck" way of trying a flavor that I hadn't sampled via the traditional tasting spoon, and it makes your scoops just look that much more visually appealing.

All our flavors, from the previously mentioned Blue Mountain Spice to the Salted Caramel (with a little more salty punch than others I've tried, a welcome thing) to the delicious Flavor Contest winners (a past winner Lemon Sponge Cake and this year's winner, the Little Italy (a raspberry Marscapone with chunks of chocolate and raspberries) were all highly enjoyable, made even better with a dose of perfect weather for sitting outside at the sidewalk tables.

Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe
2034 Marshall Ave. (Google Maps)
Saint Paul, MN 55104
(651) 603-1458
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Feeling Minnesota: Spam, Spam, Spam, Coffee and Spam

The SPAM Museum, located in Spamtown USA aka Austin, MN
On our last jaunt through "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" aka Minnesota, we had planned a stop at a museum featuring a product that was massively prevalent in my household.  My family was the type that would pick up caseloads of Hormel's Spam luncheon meat for everything from Spamsilog (essentially fried Spam and eggs with a side of garlic rice), Spam Fried Rice, and other bits of easy-to-prepare items my Dad could think of for a family of six kids.

After this childhood experience, coupled with a growing understanding of the history of Spam plus my move out to the Midwest, meant the discovery that an actual museum dedicated to this rather unique food product meant a road trip was in order.  Sad to say, our first attempt to visit resulted in failure, as we arrived but 20 minutes before closing time.

This time, we made sure to arrive in plenty of time to bask in the sheer kitsch and glory that is Spam, which recently reached its 80th anniversary.

Plains Spoken Brews: Fargo Brewing (Fargo, ND)/Thunderhead Brewing (Kearney, NE)

A multi-colored bison is a quick-and-easy photo op if you're
skedaddling through Fargo in relatively short order
Our recent vacation allowed us to knock another state off our "visited" list via a quick jaunt through North Dakota via Fargo. With a crammed day of travel (one of these days, we'll learn to slow boat it a little bit, but until then...) ahead of us, we could only spend a couple hours in town for some quick sightseeing and a quick lunch meet up with a friend.  Thankfully, the largest city in the state makes it pretty easy for some concentrated tourist-type activities, simply by dropping by the local Visitors Center.

An "I" on the Old School: A Platter of Midwest Dining

The center of this country is well known for gut-filling eats, and on our road trip, we decided we'd go with the flow with occasional breaks to at least look for healthier eats. This toothsome threesome covered in the post definitely has an "I" (as in three states we traveled through that start with "I") toward the hearty.

Flap-Jacks: I think every small town in the Midwest has a place like Flap Jacks. Located northwest of Indianapolis in downtown Brownsburg, this diner-styled-food mini-chain (four locations throughout the Indy area)  has all the trappings of small town America, with plenty of good old red, white, and blue, an appreciation to local law enforcement and the military, and support of sports teams both local and regional. This eatery is a definite hangout for the locals.

Little Road Trip on the Prairie: Saying Hello to The Ingalls Family

The normally sleepy streets of De Smet, South Dakota
If you're traveling out in the Plains area of the United States, one small town may appear much like the next one you encounter. This would seem to apply to the tiny hamlet of De Smet, a town towards the east-central portion of South Dakota which tallied just over 1,000 people at the end of 2016.

But if one happens to park the car and walk around the downtown area, one may notice there's something a little more special about this tiny dot on the landscape.

With enough searching around, one will figure out that the town was the home to the Ingalls Family, who became a familiar name to millions of children's book readers and TV viewers.

Brews and 'Ques: Rhubarb in the Midwest Pickin' Out Brews

The "World's Largest Rhubarb" lies in Aledo, IL, the self-proclaimed
"Rhubarb Capital of the World" and annual Aledo Rhubarb Festival
I had started a new series of "'Brews and 'Ques" blogposts (link to the original post here) that highlighted some of the favorite antique store and craft beer/brewery pairings that we've encountered during our travels. Well, it didn't seem right to not test out that combo during our recent vacation road trip, and as it turned out, this one included something of a famous one, especially if you're a History Channel fan.

Beer along the National Road: Black Acre (Indianapolis, IN) and Hairless Hare (Vandalia, OH)

The Unofficial Official Map of Breweries Visited: 614ortyniner Edition
Now mind you, we have done our share of brewery hopping (we stand at about 150 breweries visited between the two of us heading into August), but our most recent road trip/vacation was really focused on the Great Eclipse of America.

So the multiple number of breweries we actually ended up visiting in seven different states was something of a happy (and tasty) accident. We thought we'd start looking at our beery contingent with the two breweries that provided the bookend experiences for our big road trip, which both happen to lie next to US Route 40, more famously known as The National Road.

The Great American Eclipse 2017 (Cornhusker Style)

The eclipse in Nebraska (as seen through a special-filter telescope)
Normally I keep the highlight of any of our road trips closer to the end of my series of posts about it, but in this case I thought it was best to go first with it. After all, it's not every day that one gets to experience a total eclipse of the sun.

But that is the experience that my spouse and I, along with millions of others were able to immerse themselves in this last Monday. I'm sure everyone has their interesting tales related to their viewing, but our venue was as unique as any of them.

Brews and 'Ques: Our Favorite Buckeye State Combos (Vol. 1)

This staircase found at Van Wert's Years Ago Antique Mall pretty
is a primer why shopping for the old-school is always so cool

I generally try to stay away from lists on my blog posts, but there's really no good reason for this, because lists can be quite useful for picking up potential destinations and things to do on our travels. Also, it's not like I haven't used the list format before, as noted by Ale Trail Series of posts that I've undertaken twice now.

Combining antique hunting and brewery hopping has turned into one of our favorite past times over the last several years, and I've had a couple people ask me about what antique shops we've liked, or have suggested a couple shops to check out.  With that in mind, I thought I'd toss out a select list of favorite antique stores that we've visited in our travels as well as some suggested destinations to slake that thirst afterward.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Yr. 4) - Toasted Marshmallows and Other Miscellany

The Mitchell's of ice creams (both San Francisco and Cleveland renditions) are
no longer my only case of California-Ohio deja vu after a visit to Cincinnati
Some time ago, I wrote a bit about Mitchell's Ice Cream. However, depending on the part of the country you were from, it could refer to the longtime ice cream maker in San Francisco which married tropical flavors like jackfruit, ube and mango (its most popular flavor, even now) to its dense, old-school, high-butterfat content ice creams to consistently long lines into its cozy Bernal Heights shop. Or it could refer to the Cleveland-area confectionery which spins hand-crafted, locally focused artisanal ice creams that have time and again earned it "Best Of" honors in Northeast Ohio as well as one of the top ice cream purveyors within the Buckeye State.

Social media has been a source of confusion between the two Mitchell's, with people using one shop's media handles to tout their latest ice cream experiences when it belongs to the other (and I won't even mention another Mitchell's Ice Cream in Chicago that I've seen bandied about.)

On a recent jaunt into Cincinnati, I found another Buckeye State ice cream purveyor that reminds me greatly of one of my favorites in the Bay Area, so much so that it's put both of them for visits in the future for more exploration.

Time to Splurge: 101 Beer Kitchen Beer Dinner feat. Jackie O's Brewery

The Rainbow Trout dish courtesy of Graze Restaurant in Madison, WI,
at their November 2013 beer dinner featuring Tyranena Brewing.
Our first experiences with the beer dinner actually happened outside of the Buckeye State: my spouse enjoyed her very first one back in the late 2000s in Grand Rapids with the popular brewpub HopCat and New Holland Brewing. And as a couple, we took the lovely evening backdrop of the Capital Building in Madison, WI, while indulging in the sublime preparations of Graze Restaurant matched up with the brews of Tyranena Beer.

However, it wasn't until recently that we were able to experience this format here, with the incredibly fun Columbus Craft Beer Week "Weird Science" dinner, which mixed food from CBC Restaurant, beer from Actual Brewing, and a dose of science from COSI.

Our second encounter came this week with, a nice celebratory splurge to celebrate a months' worth of special days for us both.  And in this case, we were particularly excited as this dinner paired one of our favorite brunch spots in Gahanna's 101 Beer Kitchen (originally opened up in Dublin in 2012 and now also sporting a Westerville location) as well as one of our favorite Ohio breweries in Jackie O's.

Dough Yay Me! Clintonville's Dough Mama Cafe and Bakery

Granted, as one of the Columbus' main thoroughfares, High Street has plenty of room for all manner of businesses. But for the baked goods and pastry-styled treats fan, this roadway has become the home of more than its share of drool-worthy options in recent years. Starting up in Worthington and ending in the Brewery District, one could theoretically embark on a non-big-chain, brick-and-mortar crawl from north to south that could include:
If one wanted to be even more of a glutton, places like Laughlin's Bakery and the treasure trove in the North Market (Destination Donuts, Brezel Pretzel, Omega Artisan, and Pistacia Vera) all lie within stone's throw of High. Combined together, these places could easily carbo-load the runners for the Columbus Marathon this coming October and have plenty left over for the race volunteers.

Of course, it would be a cardinal sin if you forget the pie. If you're seeking out the pie and only the pie, the long-standing Just Pies near Graceland Mall fits the bill perfectly. If you want just a little more variety, two very similar places are right up your alley: Worthington's Sassafras Bakery, a favorite destination of ours since I've moved over here, and Clintonville's Dough Mama, which holds down the subject matter of this latest blogpost.