Summer Recipes Pin

Top 10 Recipes Of Summer

Certain things are guaranteed to happen during an Iowa summer. It will be hot. The humidity will make the heat seem trivial. Sweet corn loves the humidity. Potlucks, cook-outs and picnics revolve around fresh foods like sweet corn. As far as I’m concerned, the more picnics, the more successful the summer.

Whether you are fixing dinner for your family or need a dish to contribute to a potluck, having reliable and delicious recipes at your fingertips will make even a last-minute invitation more enjoyable. In this post, I have gathered 10 of my tried, tested and (most importantly) tasty recommendations for summer appetizers, salads, sides, sandwiches, desserts and drinks. Click on the title below each picture to go directly to the recipe.

recipe #1

Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Avocado and Basil CheeseAvocado Stuffed Tomatoes: these pretty little vitamin-packed tomato cups are filled with a mixture of avocado, goat cheese, spinach-basil pesto and lemon juice. Easy to make and hard to resist!

recipe #2

Corn and Black Bean Salsa

Corn and Black Bean Salsa: the perfect mix of corn, black beans, onions, peppers, and tomatoes make this salsa the perfect appetizer for your next picnic or party.

recipe #3

Tangy ColeslawSidekick Coleslaw: simple, fresh, crunchy, tangy and healthy(ish) … this coleslaw is the perfect sidekick to all your grilled (and non-grilled) dinners!

recipe #4

3-Bean Salad

3-Bean Salad: this colorful, delicious, and simple bean salad recipe is loaded with vegetables and perfectly balanced with a light, tangy dressing.

recipe #5

4-Bean Casserole with Bacon

Baked 4-Bean Casserole: this baked bean casserole goes pro with a variety of beans and a molasses and vinegar sauce. This recipe is a crowd pleaser for your next picnic or potluck.

recipe #6

Cheesy Jalapeno Corn

Cheesy Jalapeño Corn: sweet corn, spicy jalapeños and creamy cheese create a side dish that pairs perfectly with your favorite BBQ or grilled meats. Get the recipe here!

recipe #7

Cajun Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Cajun Pork Sandwiches: take an inexpensive cut of pork, add a little heat, top it with coleslaw and pile it on cornbread … or a bun, it’s your choice!

recipe #8

Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream

Amazing Apple Pie: the classic combination of warm apples and cinnamon are layered between two flaky crusts and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for pie perfection! Get the recipe, tips and personal suggestions here.

REcipe #9

Lemon Pound Cake

Lemon Pound Cake: tart and sweet … the perfect combination! This lemon pound cake is delicious by the slice or crumbled and layered with almond yogurt, fresh strawberries and toasted almonds.

recipe #10

Summer Fruit Sangria

Summer Sangria: refreshing and fruit-forward, this sangria recipe is perfect for any summer gathering or just a relaxing moment in a hammock.

Now go, enjoy your picnic, watch the fireflies and soak in summer wherever you live!

Top 10 Summer Recipes

Verde Goddess Dip with Sweet Potato Chips

Mexican Green Goddess Dressing

How do you like your avocado?

Guacamole? In a salad? On a sandwich? Breakfast toast?

Did you issue a huge sigh of relief when you first found out that avocados were actually good for you?

Does it hurt you physically to throw away an avocado because it ripened too fast or turned brown in the refrigerator after cutting it?

I’m with you, on all counts. This recipe will make you very happy!

Green Goddess Dressing with Avocado

healthier & greener

Ever heard of Green Goddess Dressing? It originated in California in the 1920’s by Chef Roemer at The Palace Hotel in San Fransisco to honor an actor named George Arliss, the star of the play The Green Goddess (American Food Roots). The original recipe used fresh herbs like parsley and chives to flavor and, give color to, the dressing and included anchovies for the salty/briney component. The hotel’s recipe was later modified to include more green herbs like tarragon and chervil, and fresh spinach.

If you search for a green goddess dressing recipe on Pinterest, you will find healthier adaptations have found their way into the mix … literally. Sodium, sugar and cholesterol free avocados, with their high levels of vitamin C, Omega-3’s, and fiber … and don’t forget their gorgeous green color … are a most welcome addition. The probiotic wonder food, greek yogurt, has replaced (or at least minimized) the less healthy mayonnaise and sour cream bases of the original versions. Anchovies still play a vital role in the dressing. Do not be afraid. Do not cringe. Do not pass GO without adding at least one. Please trust me on this.

Vegetable Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

I was first introduced to this dressing/dip when my husband and I attended a food and wine pairing dinner. The dressing was poured into the bottom of the bowl first. The beautiful, fresh vegetables were placed on top of it and a flax-seed crisp served as a “crouton”. Why hide such a beautiful dressing? It is a thick dressing and putting it on top of the vegetables not only hides their colors, but weighs them down. Serving it like this, your fork gathers the vegetables and, as it hits the bottom of the bowl, just enough of the dressing will coat the veggies. When that bite hits your tongue, the dressing is what you taste first! Brilliant.

avocado road trip

When I think of avocado, I think of guacamole. When I think of guacamole, I can’t seem to think about anything else. So when I decided to make this dressing for the first time, it quickly took a road trip from California to Mexico and jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and garlic made it into the food processor. The result was awesome! (No applause necessary.)

If you need one more reason to try this recipe, here it is. Unlike guacamole or fresh-cut avocado, this dressing will not turn brown in the refrigerator for days. BONUS!


So what do you do with almost 2 cups of homemade dressing?

1) under a bed of Romaine, black beans, corn, onion, & grilled chicken = salad nirvana.

Salad with Verde Goddess Dressing


2) Spread it on your breakfast sandwich, lunch wrap or bagel.


3) Use it as a dip for vegetables (hello sweet potato fries) or chips.

Verde Goddess Dressing with Sweet Potatoes


4) Drizzle it on tacos.

Shrimp Tacos with Verde Goddess Dressing


5) Spread it on hot sweet corn on the cob?

Haven’t tried it … YET! If you beat me to it, let me know. I know you can’t stop thinking about it now.

Print Recipe
Verde Goddess Dressing
This simple, greek yogurt based recipe is a Mexican version of the traditional "green goddess dressing". Avocado is still front and center but cilantro and lime replace the traditional basil/tarragon profile and a small amount of jalapeño adds a little heat. Serve as a dressing on salads, a dip for vegetables/chips (sweet potato fries/chips as pictured), and/or a condiment for tacos!
Verde Goddess Dip with Sweet Potato Chips
Prep Time 20 minutes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Verde Goddess Dip with Sweet Potato Chips
  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse/puree until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.

Mexican Green Goddess Dressing

Country Life Center Gift Shop

Foodventurous: Wallace Country Life Center

If you grew up on a farm in the midwest, chances are one of the publications prominently displayed in your home was Wallaces’ Farmer. If you are a history buff, the name “Wallace” triggers thoughts of Vice Presidents and Secretaries of Agriculture. Go to college in the late 70’s or early 80’s? Remember punch cards for data analysis?

None of the above? Let me try again …

Do you like fresh fruits and vegetables? Do you like farm-to-table dinners? Educational luncheons? Cooking classes? Gardening? Letting your kids run through a restored prairie while you admire beautiful sculptures?

Country Life Center Pond


country living

If your head nodded to even one of these statements/questions, I have a foodventure for you. Let me introduce you to The Wallace Country Life Center! The Wallace family has been credited as “America’s First Family of Agriculture” due to the considerable contributions of at least four generations of Henry Wallace’s to the advancement of agriculture and food science. Some of the credentials of the family members include: creator and editors of Wallaces’ Farmer, Iowa State College professor, cofounder of the American Farm Bureau Association, Secretary of Agriculture, founder of what is now Dupont Pioneer, conservationist, architect of agricultural statistical methods, and Vice President of the United States.

Pretty impressive family tree, huh? And it started on a small farm outside the small southwest Iowa town of Orient. This is now The Country Life Center and location of my recent foodventure. This place entered my foodie radar about a year and a half ago when a good friend was going to be visiting family in southwest Iowa and we wanted to meet somewhere for lunch. Since we both have strong interests in gardening, antiques, and food, this little spot in the middle of the country seemed like a perfect choice. So much so that I’ve visited the farm three times!


Country Life Center Barn and Gardens


The Gathering Table, found inside a beautiful replica barn, is open for lunch and dinner on Fridays for walk-ins or reservations. The menu changes each week in order to best feature the vegetables and fruits that are available from the on-site gardens. It is a simple menu with sophisticated flavors. My husband can attest that, when ordering in a restaurant, I narrow my choices down to three and then make a last-minute decision when the waiter arrives and everyone else has ordered. This menu generally has three main dish choices and I still can’t narrow things down until it’s time to choose!

On my recent visit, I was lucky enough to be dining with a friend who was willing to share so we could both try as much from the menu as possible. On this particular day, we shared/sampled/devoured:

Radish Turnip Bread Appetizer Plate

fresh radishes and turnips with homemade bread

Asparagus with Parmesan

asparagus with Parmesan cheese

BBQ Chicken Flatbread

BBQ chicken flatbread

Asian Beef Lettuce Wrap

Asian beef lettuce wraps

Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

caramel apple bread pudding

Ice Cream with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

vanilla ice cream with strawberry-rhubarb sauce

My only regret during this meal was that I didn’t take my eyes, or my camera, off the food long enough to take a picture of the bright and beautiful dining room inside the barn. It has indoor and outdoor seating and a stunning view of the prairie and pond. The barn also has a meeting room and can be reserved for special events and parties.

Follow them on Facebook to see the weekly menu. Occasionally they may have a special event on a Friday and are not open to the public so call ahead before you make a special trip.

Country Life Center Hoop Barn

community supported agriculture

CSA’s are a wonderful way to enjoy locally produced, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Each week the Prairie Harvest CSA at the Country Life Center delivers boxes of produce from the farm to Greenfield, Des Moines and Johnston for pick up by subscribers. Tips, recipes and special event invitations are provided to subscribers via a weekly newsletter.

I think the word foodventurous perfectly describes the person who joins a CSA. As with any farming enterprise, there is risk involved in gardening. Weather, insects and animals, and mechanical failures all factor in to the success of what is planted. One deer or ground squirrel finds its way into the hoop barn or vegetable patch and in a matter of hours, the lettuce or radishes intended for the next day’s boxes are gone. Extreme temperature changes, hail, or insects can completely change the course of a garden, orchard or field. Learning to adapt and plan for a successful CSA (i.e. happy subscribers) requires a terrific knowledge base. The happy subscriber must also accept, and even appreciate, the fact that there is no guarantee of what specific items will be in their box. The guarantee is that it will be fresh, sustainable and nutritious. Learning about new foods, trying new recipes and sharing the responsibility and risk are part of the foodventure!

Wallace Centers CSA produce

Do I belong to a CSA? No. Why? Because I have my own garden and I am lucky enough to belong to a farming family who provide me with all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. If that weren’t the case, I would be a happy subscriber.

At the end of my tour of the gardens, hoop barns and orchard, I was gifted some produce. Turnips, rainbow chard, and green garlic … three things I had never cooked. For the purpose of this blog I wanted to show how gorgeous and fresh these vegetables are, how someone with no experience cooking them might start, and what I learned about each one.

Green garlic is similar in appearance and use to green onions (a.k.a. scallions) but with … you guessed it … garlic taste. It can be eaten raw, sautéed, or even pickled.

Rainbow chard is a powerhouse of nutritional value. Considered a super-food, like spinach, it is a vegetable that needs to be on more tables, including mine. It can be eaten raw in a salad but is often sautéed.

Turnips are a root vegetable with a wide range of preparation options. The white “root” part can be eaten raw or roasted like a radish and the greens can be sautéed or added to soups and stews.

Here are my experiments and results:

Pork Polenta and Chard

roast pork with sautéed tomatoes/onions/chard/green garlic over polenta

For this meal, I sautéed tomatoes and onions in olive oil and then sautéed the chard with the green garlic. The colorful chard stems were chopped and pickled with some rhubarb and green garlic. Leftover roast pork was placed with the tomatoes and chard on a bed of polenta and topped with a bit of the pickled chard/rhubarb. This meal met with a variety of reviews from my family members: one loved it, one voted that I move on to the next experiment but was willing to try the greens again, and one voted “needs improvement”. What we did decide was that the combination of the tomatoes and chard was a great pairing and should be explored further.


Bowl of Ham Beans and Greens Soup

ham, beans and greens soup

As the tomatoes seemed to be a successful pairing with the greens, so is a salty meat like bacon or ham. After paging through turnip green recipes on Pinterest, I decided to make a soup using a smoked pork chop, white cannellini beans, some of the green garlic and the turnip greens. Delicious! I wish I had taken the tip from my mom’s Ham and Bean Soup recipe and added an apple to the broth as it simmered. My next experiment will be a turnip green sauté with Canadian bacon, onion and apples.

I also tried a recipe for roasted turnips with a Dijon mustard sauce. The flavors were good but the overall result was less than ideal (therefore, no picture). Eating them raw with a slight dusting of a flavored salt is, to this point, my favorite way to eat the turnip.

and there’s more!

As if the food and the setting aren’t enough, this farm offers so much more. The original farmhouse has been restored and serves as a gift shop, produce market and office space. The gift shop is an eclectic mix of items made by the hands of Iowans and people with historical and familial ties to Iowa. Gardening and cooking classes, tours and other educational opportunities and special events fill their calendar.

Given the family’s involvement with academics and politics, it is not surprising to know that the Wallace Centers have a presence in the urban settings of Iowa too …

city living

In downtown Des Moines, you can find the Wallace House, a Victorian home owned by the Wallace’s from 1892-1940. After being converted to an apartment building and later vacated, it was purchased by The Wallace Foundation in 1988 and restored, guided by photographs from the family.

This beautiful home is actively sustaining the tradition of the Wallace family with farm to table dinners, educational leadership luncheons, historical teas, and special programs. I visited the house twice last year. The second visit was to enjoy a wonderful three-course, farm fresh meal with live music. Guests are seated at a variety of tables throughout the first floor of the home. My husband and I shared a table with a couple we did not know but quickly found easy conversation and common interests.

My next foodventure with the Wallace Centers will be to tour the Mickle Center Shared Use Community Kitchen. This is a large kitchen space near the Wallace House that was renovated to meet the needs of food entrepreneurs: chefs, caterers, bakers, and instructors. This space has already had a big influence of several start-ups making appearances at one of my favorite places, the Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market.

Rootz Chicken Des Moines

This past weekend I found Rootz Chicken, serving Afro-Caribbean cuisine, on their first public appearance because the Wallace Centers shared their information on Facebook as one of the Mickle Center clients. Don’t you just want to know the story behind this chicken? I do!


As the website says:

“Inspired by the Wallace family legacy, The Wallace Centers of Iowa provides a variety of programs and services to build awareness of local food, sustainable agriculture, and civility.”

I am always happy when I find fellow foodventurers … I don’t think there’s a better word to describe the Wallace’s and those who preserve their mission.

Disclaimer: In exchange for this post, my lunch at the Country Life Center was compensated
and I received the produce mentioned previously. All of the other visits to the farm in
Orient and the house in Des Moines were on my own. My affection for this organization
established long before this particular visit.

Country Life Center Orient Iowa

Mediterranean Chicken on an Iowa Farm Table

Chicken served on an Iowa farm table is pretty common: fried, grilled, casserole, soup, salad, etc. Mediterranean? That doesn’t seem common at all. It isn’t. But I’ll return to that after a little background information.

Over the past few months, I have been helping my mom downsize her home. She has lived in that house for 25 years and had hosted family dinners, sleepovers for 9 grandchildren, visiting relatives from out-of-town, bridge clubs, a grandson’s entire baseball team in town for a tournament (two years in a row), countless Spite & Malice card games … you get the idea.

At the center of all this activity is the kitchen table. For most people a “kitchen table” is a small(er) table for everyday use and the “dining table” is the big table used primarily for gatherings of more than, say, 6 people. Not so for my mom, or most farm wives for that matter. Her kitchen table is as big as her dining table. It never has less than one extra leaf in it and, most often, two. The third leaf is readily available for last-minute expansion.

table service

This table serves. It serves 12 people as easily as it serves 2. It serves as her desk, sewing station, list-keeper, devotion venue, and quick-cup-of-coffee-for-a-visit spot. If I think about the number of dishes that were washed after being used on this table, my head spins. But then I think about the number of prayers that have been said around this table, and my mind finds peace.

When she decided to move into a smaller place, I knew right away she’d want to keep this table. I get that. I can honestly say I shed a few tears when I replaced my first table. It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t expensive. It wasn’t the table per se. It was the memories that were built, the relationships formed and the time that was spent around that table.

table tribute

Before she moved, I thought we needed to pay tribute to that table in that house. My mom and I asked my sisters-in-law to come to dinner. The four of us have a shared life. We’ve been together for over 30 years and very seldom do the four of us take time to sit down together. So I set Mom’s table with her wedding china, Candlewick glasses, anniversary wine glasses, tablecloth and napkins and made a meal to honor the laughter, tears, prayers and stories we’ve shared.

Mediterranean Chicken with Asparagus

table time

For this meal, I wanted to make something out of the ordinary … something to show them, in my own way, how special they are to me. So what did I do? I used them as guinea pigs. I tried a new recipe.

Luckily, it worked out. Amazingly, it was fabulous!

This one-pan, stove-top chicken dish is too good not to share. Sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and capers provide the sweet and savory Mediterranean flavors in less than 30 minutes.

Print Recipe
One Pan Mediterranean Chicken
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15-20 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15-20 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
  1. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Allow chicken to rest 20 minutes.
  2. Pour flour into a one-gallon resealable plastic bag. Add chicken pieces, seal and shake until chicken is coated in the flour.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken (do not crowd the pan) and brown until golden brown (about 4 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium. Turn the chicken over and brown the other side (3-4 minutes).
  4. Remove the chicken to a plate.
  5. Add artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, lemon juice, garlic and crushed red pepper to the pan and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes, and stir in to combine.
  6. Push the vegetables to the sides of the skillet, and return the chicken to the pan. Cover the pan and cook the chicken and the vegetables on low-medium heat for about 5-10 more minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked through and no longer pink in the center.
  7. Spoon the "sauce" from the skillet over the chicken.
  8. Sprinkle chicken and vegetables with fresh lemon zest, Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Recipe Notes

Artichoke Tip: Frozen or jarred artichoke hearts can be used for this recipe. If using frozen, make sure to thaw completely. In either case, drain well before adding to the hot pan.

Chicken Tip: For best results, use chicken breasts that are about 1.5" thick. This can be achieved by pounding the chicken (placed between two pieces of plastic wrap) with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin to desired thickness. Extra thick breast pieces can be split in half lengthwise by running a sharp knife through the center, parallel to the cutting board.

Leftovers: If there are any leftovers, cube up the chicken and add it, the vegetable mixture, some chopped Kalamata olives and feta cheese to cooked pasta for a cold salad. This combination will also make a great Mediterranean pizza topping or panini-style sandwich!

For this special meal, I served the chicken with roasted asparagus, Onion Pie (you heard me), a fruit salad, and stuffed cucumber “cups”. For dessert, we had an  “Almond Joy” parfait, one of my mom’s favorite combinations.

Change is never easy. It is much easier, though, when you share it, and a good meal, with those you love most … around a table.

Mediterranean Chicken with Artichokes and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Picnic at Minneopa State Park

Foodventurous: Mankato

If I invited you to share a picnic with me and gave you the opportunity to choose one of the following settings, which would you choose?

  1. Wine & Live Music
  2. Waterfalls & Pie
  3. Military Tanks & Beef Jerky

Did you think I was going to make it easy for you to choose?

What if I told you all of these options are available in one midwest city and that my husband, Marty, and I enjoyed all three picnics … and so much more … in one weekend?

Welcome to Mankato, Minnesota!

Mankato, MN

Mankato is located 90 minutes southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota and has a population of about 42,000 … big enough to have the advantages of a larger city but small enough to foster the hospitality of a small town. The key to having a true Mankato experience is to talk to the people.

Erin and Tammey. Jane and Kent. Jim, David and Jenny. Angie. Karla.

In 48 hours, these people … and many more but I apologize for the limits of my ability to retain names … transformed our trip from a bunch of awesome stops to a place we want to visit again. Here’s the scoop …

Mom & Pops Ice Cream Mankato

You must understand. My husband is my camera-holding, make-a-u-turn, lets-stop-here, patient-beyond-reasonable, designated driver on these foodventures. I know how to get a trip off to a great start for him … ice cream! Add to that the warmth and conversation of Erin and Tammey, owners of Mom & Pop’s Ice Cream, and a beautifully restored 1856 building (complete with artifacts found in the renovation), and we were truly impressed. For the purpose of quality research we felt obligated to try several different flavors: (left to right) This $&@! Just Got Serious, Chocolate-Cherry Bomb, Exhausted Parent, and Carrot-Mango Italian Ice. Ice cream AND a sense of humor … go get some soon! Watch for that carrot-mango combination in upcoming PLF recipes.

His weakness is ice cream … mine is wine.

wine & live music picnic

Chankaska Creek Winery

There were several wineries in the Mankato area and, someday, I hope to visit each and every one. For this trip, we were lucky enough to experience Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery and meet Jane and Kent Schwickert. The Dakota Indian word “Chankaska” means “forest enclosed” … perfect word for this private, gorgeous setting just north of Mankato and outside the town of Kasota.

Chankaska Creek Winery Property

Jane and Kent clearly understand what it takes to make people feel comfortable and relaxed. The ambition, hard work and commitment that it takes to create wine, hospitality and a retreat like this is remarkable. Did I mention food and live music?

Chankaska Creek Winery Food


Chankaska Creek Winery Music

After completing a wine tasting, I found my personal favorite: the Creekside Red. Two things I can guarantee:

  1. I will be toasting Jane and Kent as I enjoy the bottle I brought home, and
  2. We will return for an outdoor picnic on their amazing property in warmer weather!

Cheers Chankaska Creek!

Returning to Mankato to call it a day, we checked in to the Motel 6.

You heard me … Motel 6. You know … “We’ll leave the light on for you!”

Motel 6 Mankato

Let me convince you to think about Motel 6 in a new way:

  1. New.
  2. Saving money for things like food and wine.
  3. No more carpet.
  4. Simple, bright and clean.
  5. Friendly.

Perfect for our trip. We were out and about so much, we didn’t need breakfast (but the coffee sure helped) or a pool. We just needed a quiet, convenient, clean, comfortable place. If you want more amenities, there are lots of other options around Mankato.

Waterfalls & Pie picnic

I said before that wine was my weakness. I didn’t say it was my ONLY weakness.

Rapidan Dam Store Pie
Banana Cream & Rhubarb-Sour Cream

About 15 miles southwest of Mankato is a beautiful spot. It’s called the Rapidan Dam on the Blue Earth river. Mother Nature is working overtime in this area and so are Jim, David and Jenny. What’s not working overtime? Cell and internet reception.

Rapidan Dam Store Mankato Minnesota

Go back in time to the Rapidan Dam Store … where the water, conversation and jokes center around the dam. Play the Wurlitzer jukebox … no coins needed … it’s part of the ambiance. Dance in the isle if you like. Watch the milk shakes blend in the coolest, mint green, Hamilton Beach antique malt machine. Listen to the tables of friends and family laughing and talking without a cell phone in sight. Ask Jim, David and Jenny about their history and the area. Be prepared to be amazed and entertained. Sign the guest book and read the quotes from those who came before you. Eat pie.

Paraphrased telephone (attached to the wall with a cord) conversation heard:

Jenny: Yes, we have the rhubarb-sour cream pie today … no, we don’t sell whole pies … seven pieces is a whole pie … all right, I’ll hold seven pieces of the rhubarb-sour cream pie for you … see you then. (She hangs up the phone and walks to kitchen.) Sorry David … just sold one of your favorites again.

If you are looking for a fishing/camping spot, pie, a break from your cell phone or laptop, or the epitome of “Minnesota Nice”, Rapidan Dam is your destination. Still not convinced? Maybe you should ask the people at Food and Wine Magazine.

So we have the pie … where are the waterfalls?

Minneopa State Park

Minneopa State Park

Waterfalls in Minnesota? Absolutely! Minneopa State Park is not only a perfect spot for a picnic but also the much-needed hike and fresh air following the overindulgence of pie. A lingering winter here in the midwest has provided plenty of water for the thundering of the falls. Despite the snow on the ground and the lack of green grass often associated with picnics, the beauty of a park like this is evident all year. After a stop at the visitor’s center and a chat with Angie, we knew what our options were for hiking and setting up our picnic photos. According to the website, “GPS units, kids’ activity bags, birding kits, fishing rods and tackle, volleyball, soccer ball and horseshoes” are available on loan from the park office.

You have to bring your own pie though.

Minneopa State Park Picnic

We’ve covered ice cream, wine, pie … what other Mankato cuisines shouldn’t be missed?

Oh that’s right … Lebanese food.


Welcome to Olive’s!

Olive's Mankato

Shawarma … hummus … tabbouleh … baba ghanoush …

Even if … especially if … you’ve never tried Lebanese food, let the Massad family expand your horizons. Owners John (also head chef) and Najwa Massad, along with their daughters, Meray and Karla, will make sure you enjoy every bite! Trust me … I’ve been trying for years to get my husband to share my love of hummus (hum-us). After a few minutes talking to Karla and learning about the restaurant, the family, and her menu recommendations, he was willing to try it again. Karla pronounces it “hoo-mus”.  On her next visit to our table, he tells her that he doesn’t like “hum-us” but he does like “hoo-mus”.

Funny guy.

Olive's Mankato Mezze
Mediterranean Mezze – Tabouleh, Hummus, Baba Ghanoush, Marinated Olives with Feta Cheese and Pocket Bread

Seriously though … the food was amazing!

Olive's Mankato Kabobs
Beef & Chicken Kabobs with Mediterranean Couscous

Olive's Dessert Mankato

It’s not just the food that’s amazing here. There’s a strong family feeling throughout the restaurant. Our waitress, Annie (hope I used the correct spelling), was incredibly attentive and patiently answered our many questions even though it was clearly a busy night. There were two gals eating at the bar that seemed to know everyone … Karla pointed out that they were former restaurant staff who came back for visits. Karla’s eyes sparkled as she talked about them and called them “a couple of her kids”.


Unfortunately, we missed what has become a cornerstone event for the restaurant … the gathering of the Massad family at the corner table. The family has two other restaurants as well as a flourishing catering business and this was one of those nights when they were needed elsewhere. Pictures of Meray’s son donning a chef’s hat are on display as are many other pictures of the family. A small statue of a family of 4, seated at the dinner table, is on display at the entrance to the restaurant. The Lord’s Prayer is engraved on it. It was a gift from a customer.

Faith. Family. Food.

Oh yeah … we’ll be back.

military tanks & beef jerky picnic

If you type “Mankato” in the search bar of Pinterest, you will get a plethora of fun things to do in the area. Now type in “kasota, mn” and watch the tanks appear!

Drive A Tank Kasota Minnesota

Drive A Tank is located on the western edge of the town of Kasota. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you with a greater appreciation for the conditions and danger our military personnel experience. The experience isn’t cheap but neither are the memories.

Drive A Tank Kasota Minnesota

I booked this as a gift to my husband for an early Father’s Day and Anniversary present. We spent about 4 hours at the site, rode in a transport vehicle and a Humvee, Marty drove the tank and I rode along with a view from the top.

Drive A Tank Kasota Minnesota

And if you’re really lucky, someone in your group will book a bigger package and you’ll get to watch them drive a tank over a car. Literally!

Drive A Tank Kasota Minnesota

Just to really cap off the experience, there’s an indoor shooting range for firing machine guns.

Where’s the beef jerky, you ask?

In Marty’s pocket. I actually had it for a picture and for once in my life was so distracted I didn’t even think about food. They even had picnic tables out by the course. Best thing about beef jerky …. it’ll keep for the next picnic.

much much more

If you still need more reasons to visit Mankato … click on pictures to learn more!

art & History

City Art Mankato
City Art Walking Sculpture Tour
Reconciliation Park Mankato
Reconciliation Park








brewery tours

Mankato Brewery

Mankato Brewery

sibley park

Sibley Park Mankato










breakfast options

Pub 500 Bloody Mary
Pub 500 Blood Mary
Tandem Bagels Mankato
Tandem Bagels








Start planning your weekend trip or vacation now. Remember, I define a picnic as “simple food, good company and a comfortable place”. You are in good hands in Mankato, Minnesota!

Full Disclosure: Thank you to Visit Mankato and the incredibly hospitable businesses of the greater Mankato area for sponsoring a good portion of our stay. The opinions and recommendations of this post are my own. The kindness and generosity of this city are genuine and greatly appreciated.

Visit Mankato Minnesota

Bundt Coffee Cake

Grandma Opal’s Coffee Cake

If I close my eyes and try to remember my Grandma Opal, I picture a 4′ 10″, gentle, but yet strong lady with the most beautiful white-grey hair, kind eyes and an easy laugh. But if I want to remember our time together, all I have to do is make her signature coffee cake and the smell of cinnamon, pecans and sweet vanilla will bring her right back to me.

The dishes and tablecloth in this picture were passed on to me by my grandma.

I think the thing that is truly remarkable about my grandma was the courage that was required of her in the first 30 years of her life.  She and her brothers and sisters were orphaned when she was eight years old. In 1918, her father died of influenza and pneumonia. Less than two months later, her mother died from pneumonia following a hernia surgery. She and her five brothers and sisters were taken in by family and neighbors and, being the oldest, she cried herself to sleep many nights, worried about the care her siblings were receiving.

Grandma loved school … well, she loved learning. She remembered being bullied by the big kids (nothing new under the sun, as they say), often walking two miles to the nearest country school, and changing schools seven times in eight years. Despite all that, she had a gift for spelling and being a good student, she hoped she could continue beyond the typical 8th grade education and go to high school.

In those days, and given the circumstances of being cared for by relatives, there just wasn’t money to pay for her continued education. At 14, she went to work. Three dollars a week was her wage for housekeeping, laundry and caring for new mothers and babies. By the time she married my grandfather, she was earning eight dollars a week. She was 22 years old.

From what we would consider a meager wage, Grandma was able to save money to buy her own furniture. She ordered a new cookstove for $49 and a heater for $65 from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Starting their life together in the heart of the depression taught them great lessons on being self-sufficient, frugal, and grateful.

After losing their first baby at childbirth, she developed some form of kidney poisoning and nearly died. A new drug saved her life and she was later able to deliver two healthy baby boys.

The first 28 years of her life sound full of sadness. Then, I see a picture like this, my favorite of her, and I know that she also experienced much happiness.

She lived for 101 years. This is what she wrote to describe her life:

As I look back through the years, I know my life wasn’t easy at times,
but can see God’s hand was guiding me through the years.
I had a good husband and my two boys for which I am grateful.

Faith … gratitude … and a whole lot of class.

I loved spending time with her. Whether is was sharing a frozen pizza between my high school activities, baking cookies together at Christmas, canning and freezing garden produce side-by-side, or just playing a long game of UNO! together, we created simple memories. We had a lot in common but she envied my 5’8″ height and was quick to say so each time I could reach the upper shelves of her kitchen cabinets for her. I can only hope the grey hair that I keep camouflaged will someday be as beautiful as hers. To be remembered as a good-natured, fun-loving, faith-filled woman like her, would be a huge compliment. To be remembered by the smell of something warm and comforting fresh from the oven … well, that would be icing (or glaze) on the cake.

The hand-written version of this recipe, signed with a wish and, as always, given with love.
Print Recipe
Grandma Opal's Coffee Cake
The smell of this coffee cake baking is enough to make a non-coffee drinker crave a cup to accompany their first bites! A few simple steps and even more simple ingredients are all it takes to make my grandmother's cinnamon-struesel specialty.
Bundt Coffee Cake
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Bundt Coffee Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat the inside of a bundt pan well with butter or cooking spray. Sprinkle liberally with flour, turning the pan on it side and rotating to distribute flour evenly. The entire inside of the pan should be well coated.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake and pudding mix. Add oil and water, mixing on a low speed just until combined. Increase mixer speed a little and add eggs, one at a time, allowing 2 minutes of mixing between each addition.
  4. Struesel mixture: combine sugar, cinnamon and pecans in a small bowl; set aside.
  5. Pour half of the batter into the bottom of the bundt pan. Sprinkle the struessel mixture over batter. Pour remaining batter into pan.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until cake is brown and set in the middle. Cake is done when a toothpick, inserted in the center, comes out clean.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes. Use a very thin knife to gently release the outside edges of the cake from the pan. Place a serving dish over the top of the pan and invert quickly so the cake will drop onto the dish.
  8. Allow to cool completely.
  9. A powdered sugar frosting or glaze may be drizzled oner the cake, if desired.

Coffee Cake