Whenever HWSNBN attend social events — company parties, dinner clubs, drinks with friends — people always have the same fascination. The same desire to know, to pick our brains.
“So…tell us about those date nights!”
We chuckle and look at each other. He sips his drink, and I start talking.
The three questions we get asked most:
- How does it work?
- How often do you do it?
- Where do you get the ideas?
So how do the date nights work?
Our date nights stemmed from a conversation HWSNBN and I had in late August 2018. Singer Girl had just left for college, and the nest was empty. My husband of just weeks shy of 25 years looked at me and said: we are in a rut. He said he didn’t want us spending the rest of our days just going out to dinner and binge-watching Netflix shows. I agreed,. But I said I didn’t want this to be a one-sided thing, where I have to plan everything and then feel (whether rightly or wrongly) like the pressure is on me for us to have fun.
So we came up with a plan: we would take turns planning date nights. If it was my turn, I’d have it all planned out, with no input on the planning front from him — which meant he couldn’t veto what we were doing. The same goes for when it is his turn. That veto thing is the most important part of making these date nights work. How many of us come up with an idea for something to do on a Saturday night, but when we ask our significant other, they say “I don’t know, Nah. I’m not feeling it”?
If the other person doesn’t know what you are doing, they can’t kill the idea.
This also means that we get to do things we want to do — even if we know it wouldn’t be the other person’s first choice.
Our first planned date night was my choice, and we went mini-golfing at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis. that night, we also tried our first selfie. We are really bad at those and have pledged (well, one of us did) to do them every date night. We try to send them tt he kids, partly to let them know we still exist, partly to let them know we are doing ok (and partly to brag. Singer Girl has wistfully proclaimed she can’t wait to be 21 so she can hang out with us, as we seem to know where all the cool places are!).
How in the world do you find things to do?
We have done a lot:
Museums and galleries and art festivals
Countless amazing restaurants, bars, and breweries.
Inflatables courses. Pumpkin carving extravaganzas.
And so much more!
It is super easy to find things to do. I have always been a list maker and a collector of information, so I have folders of ideas. I have a paper one, filled with articles I have cut out of papers and magazines. I also have a computer folder with things I have seen online. The internet is amazeballs for this sort of thing: once you start clicking on things, you get suggestions thrown at you left and right. I mean, all you have to do is think about something and you get targeted ads, right? Well, imagine what happens when you start actively looking for things to do.
If I can’t think of something new and timely, I search local calendars. My absolute fave Twin Cities one for kooky ideas is City Pages. I have signed up for their suggestions, as well as tons of others. Here are a few interesting ones:
Sometimes you have to plan far in advance. I planned this Friday’s date about 3 months ago because I needed to buy tickets for something. I know he would’ve said no if I asked him, but afterward, he will say “I am glad we did this.”
How often do we manage to do date night?
Do we do it every weekend? No, but we try to. I have it on the calendar: Donni plans date night, HWSNBN plans date night, alternating weekends, so we know in advance who’s up to bat (yes, we’ve been to baseball games — and football, and soccer!).
Sometimes life gets in the way and conflicts inevitably arise. It is a lot harder to do when the kids are here, and, full disclosure, we are kind of glad when they go back from whence they came so we can get back to our adventures. We are also pretty busy socially in other ways, so sometimes we have to squeeze stuff in. The holidays are tough. His work travel can make it challenging.
But we can feel when it has been too long.
We start to go back to the boring, with not as much to talk about. Let’s face it: marriage is hard! We have been married 26 years this fall, and actually have known each other for 34 years. When you start out with someone, often the moments are somewhat stolen, and you fit the person into your life. They don’t know you, and you don’t know the, so every little factoid is fascinating (“you use toothpaste? I do too!”). Relationships are like fish: if you don’t keep swimming, they die.
HWSNBN sometimes says he feels like the date nights are a competition. I do not. I feel like they are a great way to learn more about ourselves and to do things that make each of us happy. Maybe I feel this way because I have always felt that pressure to make sure we had a good time, and now I feel it is shared equally.
One side benefit that we didn’t expect: all those people who ask us about date nights. I have people (often life-long Minnesotans who are younger than us) asking for suggestions. I think it’s so cool that we inspired folks to get off the couch and try new things.
Yes, it’s my turn this weekend. We will hit the road around 3pm and drive to an unknown destination (that’s another fun part: keeping it a secret as long as you can!). We have to be back by 930 the next morning, as we are booked solid: the Chilly Open for him in the morning, our Gourmet club Sat night, the Klondike Dog Derby Saturday and Sunday, and cramming as many movies in before we take the couch for the Oscars Sunday night.
And the couch will be okay then because we know that our next adventure is just a few days away! Happy dating to you all!
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…
We came, we saw, we ate.
I gained 3 pounds.
It was totally worth it.
Every year we look forward to the Minnesota State Fair. The Great Minnesota Get Together, as it is affectionately known, ranks consistently in the top state fairs of the country. Attendance is second only to the Texas State Fair — which runs twice as long in a state with almost five times as many people. The rides, the music, the animals, the exhibits: they all rock. Where else can you see piglets born, see no fewer than five Donald Trump versions in the scarecrow competition, haggle with smiling toothless carnies, listen to the Beach Boys and En Vogue on the same afternoon, watch dogs being spayed, or buy a hot tub?
And did I mention the food?
We kind of go there to eat.
It has become big business for the fair, and every year, months in advance, the fair starts touting the new food options. This year there were no less than 44 new foods. We did NOT try them all. But we would’ve if we could’ve!
I did my research, consulting various different news sources for their recommendations (big thank you’s to Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune and Stephanie March of MSPMag for always being the first reviews I read!) . Quite honestly, I weigh all the recommendations against one another, take in my personal preferences, and then compile my top 10 must try options (full disclosure: I won’t eat seafood of any kind, and I hate sweet beers and any kind of ciders, so those things will ever be on my list).
Then I get my handy dandy Minnesota State Fair app (if you do not have this, you need it. You can place stars on the interactive map of food/entertainment/merchandise you want to see. As you wander the fair, you see what is close to you. Game changer. Also: buy your tickets in advance at Cub — and pick up the Blue Ribbon coupon book and any ride ticket sheets. The fair can be pricey. These things help!)
So after my research, my list looked like this:
We go every year with another family, the Meldahls. Their kids are besties with ours, and their dog Monte was married to our late great Penny. They like the food as much as we do. Mike shares my love of all things spicy, Erika is a scoville scale wimp like HWSNBN (but both are up for almost anything). This year only two of their kids, Joey and Lucy, were able to come. We had no kids for the first time since we moved to Minnesota 21 years ago, It was tough. We missed tem — and having a few extra mouths with which to share the grub!
That’s how we do this: we buy one of something, and everyone gets a bite, It helps lessen the caloric load — somewhat. By the edn of the night all restraints is thrwn t othe wind, and we all start furtively darting glances around, as our personal cravings start whispering to our inner food addicts. We may end the night going rogue, but we always start off united, with a plan.
I start the day on the bus (we don’t drive. Take a shuttle. You’ll thank me), discussing my plan. Then I ask what they really want to eat, and add it to the app map. Since they revamped the west end, we always start at the Blue Barn — geographically it is the first place you reach getting off the bus. It also never disappoints.
First up: bacon and Cheese Stuffed Tots, and the Swedish Meatball Smorgas (with beers). Both were amazing, for different reasons. I have never met a potato I didn’t like. I still remember discovering the glory of potato skins at my friend’s dorm back at UC Davis in 1986. Sometimes I think she feared I hung out with her just to be close to their starchy goodness. These are like that, but fried. And the tangy smoky goodness of the bacon fat infused sour cream? Gurrl. The Smorgas were also great. Think Swedish meatballs with white gravy, sweet lingonberry sauce and tart pickle bits. I chose not to eat the bread, quite honestly. I was told it was like a Hawaiian bread. We were split on which we liked better. I went the more pedestrian route, but others moaned over the Smorgas. I recommend both!
Also eaten in the West End:
On the left you have the All-Day Breakfast Waffle from Nordic Waffles. On the right are the always good chicken tenders from Lulu’s Public House (not new, but a must have for some in the party). I only tasted the corner of the waffle, as I don’t do eggs. But it was sweet and savory at the same time, with the perfect soft and crunchy ratio. Those who ate the whole thing said it was exactly right. This is one of those things I can totally see someone trying at home. Great on-the-go meal with eggs, bacon and cheddar in a waffle sandwich! By the way: look for the goat on the roof. No idea its significance, but any goat wearing headphones is ok in my book!
The path then takes us by two oldies but goodies, on opposite sides of the spectrum: Preferred Pickle and Cream Puffs.
Hard to mess with a big ass dill pickle on a stick. I mean, it can be done, but this is a family show. And the cream puffs? Well, not my thing, but they are a fave of my better half.
We also picked up deep fried cajun pickle slices. They were amazing, but don’t go because you like spice. We had to add hot sauce to the mix to get the kick we needed.
None of these items are new, but you don’t have to be new to be a favorite. We hit up Preferred Pickle again late at night for another round of fried pickles. But since it was during the time of night when we devolved and scattered according to our own base needs, I have no photo.
We headed towards the area of the fair where there are no new foods usually on my list: the animal barns. But along the way we couldn’t resist a stop at our favorite fry place: Fresh French Fries. We shared a small cup, with sides of both ketchup and malt vinegar (my favorite). This place is the bomb dot com. There are lots of places to get french c=fries (in fact 46 fair vendors sell them), but this place will always have a warm spot in my tummy. In fact, we ate there twice. Later in the night we got the giant bucket with a handle, and we ate them down like Charles Dickens street urchins. Mind you, this was after about 6 hours of conspicuous consumption. I think we ate so furtively fast in half-assed-shame (who am I kidding? At this point we were all full moons. Nothing half about it). Or maybe we thought that if we scarfed fast enough it would count as an aerobic activity?
(this pic is from our baby helping)
A couple more side steps along the way to the next new foods: A corn dog (NEVER a Pronto pup). an ooey gooey caramel roll with a side of frosting madness, and poutine.
We split up at this point, some heading to the Miracle of Birth Center, others heading to get some Ghost Pepper concoction. I am a sucker for the animal babies, so I was torn. But my heat- loving cohorts saved me a bite.
We did not allow our spouses to try. They would have suffered. These were awesome. I only had one — and it was enough. Not for the weak of palate. One slightly injured party requested a trip to the all you can drink milk booth — a place we stop every year. This time we had three glasses before moving on, both chocolate and regular.
We made it up to the next new food on my list.
These are the General’s Tso’s Chicken Tacos at Midtown Global Market’s Taco Cat. I’ll be honest: this one wasn’t rated unanimously by all the critics, and I get it. It was yummy Chinese food in a flour tortilla. I could’ve done without the tortilla. Put it in a crisp lettuce wrap and it would’ve been better!
This. This apple. Oh my.
Go to Minnesota Apples in the Ag building. Buy this. Eat it. Swoon over the combo of sweet and tart. Start stalking your local produce aisle. This one will be BIG.
Ok: back to the unhealthy.
Sausage Sister and Me in the Food Building never disappoints. I mean NEVER. If they have a new food, we are there. We will also pick up an old favorite. The new? The Up North Puff Pastry, seen here on the left. It is a flaky concoction of pastry dough (which I would eat solo — the stretch factor is to die for) stuffed with porketta, cheese curds, dill pickle pieces and just the right amount of coarse mustard. This would be an AWESOME cold weather thing. On the right is the classic fave: the Twisted Sister on a Stick. Every year baby!
This was the only beverage on my list to try: a strawberry-basil lemonade. Granted, I wanted to add vodka, but it was a good mix of flavors. Too tart for some in the group, but I thought it was as good palate cleanser!
Onward to Thanksgiving:
This is a terrible picture of the Turducken Sausage at Giggles Campfire Grill. It tastes like a turkey had carnal relations with a bratwurst. That is a good thing, by the way. Impressive pop on the skin! Leaner than you expect from a sausage, but that’s ok. I was still glowing with greasy goodness from Sausage Sister and Me!
Detour for some old faves:
Mini Donuts. Big Fat Bacon. Foot Long Hotdog. All traditional. All must be consumed at some point.
One old, one new, from a perennial new food place: Tejas Grill. On the left you have the Beergarita, which I love. On the right, the elote, which I now covet. And which I vowed to try to replicate this weekend on the Island (blog to come). The elote is grilled corn on the cob slathered in a mixture of chile powder-spiced mayo, lime juice, cotija cheese and cilantro. Your brain tells your stomach it’s a vegetable. Your heart tells you it’s actually crack. And you will eat it until it is gone, then look like an addict, gnawing the ends of the cob and sucking on your fingers. Danger, Will Robinson.
Lots of “healthy” items on the list this year. Sort of. This one was consistently at the top of every foodies list this year. It’s the grilled peaches from the produce exchange (even if you don’t buy this, just buy one of their baby-head sized peaches. Glorious). Drizzled with honey and topped with goat cheese and mint, I turned into Gollum and called it my precious. But not everyone shared my enthusiasm, especially those who don’t like got cheese. That’s ok. HWSNBN and I decided we can totally try this at home. And we will.
We next had a very sad moment. On the top of the I wanna try it list for Mike was the Bananas Foster French Toast at the Hamline Church Dining Hall. Alas, it was only served at breakfast, and we are not morning people. I am sure it was delicious…
Mike helped me search for the next food item, which was a wild card. In the meantime, others hit Juanita’s Fajitas:
So. The one item on the list that I was most uncertain about was the Rainbow Cloud Roll from Rainbow Ice Cream, located upstairs in the Grand Stand. I’d never even been up there before, which added to the dubiousness of this dish. First they take cotton candy, and roll it out. Then you add three scoops of Superman Ice cream, and a sprinkling of Fruity Pebbles, then roll it up like a unicorn’s burrito. Then it’s rolled in more Fruity Pebbles. I was sure I would hate it I was sure it would be a sugar bomb. It was THE BOMB.
They gave me a spork, at which I scoffed. I picked that bad boy up in my hands and bit down. Holy mother of Tooth Decay. I am not sure how, but I managed to polish that sucker off with really only the help of one other person (thanks Lucy!). The others tried it, warily, and liked it, but not enough to go all in like we did. Seriously worth the weirdness.
It was now the time of night to hit the midway for rides and games of chance (I came home with an aqua dinosaur, thank you very much. We all wanted a llama though. I was gonna name mine Dolly. Think about it).
We soon hit that time I told you about: we were at capacity, but we were feral now, and baser instincts took over. There were more fries and pickles. More beer (I really didn’t count that stuff, btw. We did try the watermelon frose — frozen rose– at one point which was ok — if you liked watermelon and rose. Which I do not). A few bottles of water.
Erika craved chocolate. I wanted savory. We also needed cheese curds (no picture — but we got the jalapeno ones. It has taken me 20 years but I can finally enjoy one) to go for one who could not make the fair (hi Paige!). Erika and I found what we needed at French Meadow Bakery:
She had the chocolate mini sconuts (scones and donut holes married together) and I had the gluten-free risotto poppers with cheese and black beans. They were out of sauces for both, but we didn’t care. They were the perfect end of the fair bites.
We staggered to the buses, checking our fitbits and praying that all the steps mitigated the calories a tad. We were done, and frankly (I know, hard to believe) just feeling full. As we neared the gate, a gentleman was walking by with a bucket of the world-famous Sweet Martha’s Cookies. I don’t crave them — they are way too sweet for me. We had chatted about them on the bus ride in, and mentioned that all we needed was one bit of them to satisfy the need.
The food Gods were listening.
As we walked by the cookie man, Mike jokingly offered to take the bucket from him. We all chuckled, and we walked past him. The man called out: “Hey, want one?”
So Mike and I stepped out of the fair with one shared cookie. One last melty chocolate bite. We agreed: too sweet. But we all agreed we’d do it again — next year!