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Jess and Darrell’s Summer Vacation: Stillwater, MN

8 June 2014

Here are a few photos from our visit to Stillwater, Minnesota, during our vacation.

No-Neck Tony's, Stillwater, Minnesota

Best name ever.

Lovely lift bridge

Lift bridge!

Nacho Mama's sign, Stillwater, MN

New best name ever.

Sherburne's Jewelers


Jess and Darrell’s Summer Vacation: Hudson, Wisconsin

8 June 2014

The trip to Hudson, Wisconsin, was all about touring and shopping — with much of the latter devoted to Christmas gifts. There aren’t many stories to share about these; rather, these are photos that appealed to my photographic (and photo-sharing) interests.

Sign from Dick's Bar, Hudson, WI

I love old signs, and I love signs of businesses named after folks’ first names. This sign is biwinning.

Sign of Micklesen Drug, Hudson, WI

This is a sweet old sign.

Sign for Bob Smith's Sports Club, Hudson, WI

This is just fun.

Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over St. Croix River

Union Pacific Railroad bridge

Sign for Pudge's Liquors, Hudson, WI

This is a sweet neon sign.

Archway over park entrance, Hudson, WI

A public, neon arch!

Darrell Cooks! … Beef and Cheese Stuffed Pasta Shells

1 March 2014

Consider this a first, folks — my first self-created recipe! I read a recipe for turkey manicotti in The Easy Way Pasta and decided that, while it sounded intriguing, my tastes didn’t necessarily mesh with it.

First, here’s the list of ingredients:

  • 1.25 pounds 93% lean ground beef
  • 1 box (12 ounces) large shell pasta
  • 1 container (15 ounces) low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan and Romano cheese
  • Dried basil to taste (in mine, four ground leaves)
  • Dried oregano to taste (in mine, five ground leaves)
  • Black pepper to taste (in mine, probably half a tablespoon)
  • Salt to taste (in mine, a little more than a dash)
  • 3 cups pasta sauce (in mine, the sauce from Linda Blackledge’s spaghetti and meatballs recipe, found in Taste of the Town)

The meat was frozen, so I had it defrosting while I worked on two other things simultaneously. First, I set up a large kettle of water, brought it to a boil, added my large shell pasta to the water, and cooked it al dente. They got a little softer after they were done being cooked, so that was perfect.

While that was happening, I was mixing the cheeses, basil, oregano, black pepper, and salt. Nothing fancy happened here — just lots of ingredients dumped in a bowl and mixed with a wooden spoon.

Once the meat defrosted (thankfully, just as I had finished cooking the pasta), I browned the meat, drained the juices, and added it to the cheese and spice mixture. Then, the fun began. I stuffed shells with beef, cheese, and spices. I put the stuffed shells in greased (well, sprayed) casserole dishes and then topped them with the pasta sauce.

Pro Tip: Be sure that you cover your shells completely in sauce, else you’ll end up with some bits of drier-than-you’d-like pasta after the baking is done.

Once all the prep work was done, I put them in the oven, pre-heated to 350 degrees, and left them for 20 minutes.

The result?

Beef and cheese stuffed pasta shells


I’m pleased with the final product. You could choose to modify the recipe by adding a cheese topping, by using your own (or a different) sauce, or tinkering with the spices. As this is cooked (and given that I only had enough filling for 42 of the 46 shells), each shell is approximately 85.79 calories of tasty goodness.


Author’s Note: It’s worth noting that I don’t get a penny for mentioning either of the cookbooks above. I just want to cite my sources and ensure you can find the books in question if you so choose. Don’t feel obliged to buy them on my account, though.

Lunch – Tom+Chee, Lansing

14 January 2014

I was in Lansing for work yesterday, so I visited Tom+Chee, the new tomato soup and grilled cheese establishment at the corner of Allegan and Washington.  My girlfriend fiancée (I haven’t gotten used to the changed terminology just yet) had told me the place had opened, and that was all the encouragement I needed to check it out.

Tom+Chee sign and awning, Lansing, MI

The gateway to goodness

The front of the store looks very inviting, especially to a sign nerd. It’s clean and neat without being bland. Upon walking inside, I found that the menu was just as inviting. The board offers a variety of sandwich varieties, or you can design your own sandwich if you’ve got a favorite recipe. For me, the first sandwich simply had to be the Grilled Mac and Cheese, which features macaroni and cheese on white bread. You can add bacon, and I should have, but I was trying to hurry, as the line to order was almost out the door. I ordered just the half sandwich, and paired it with a cup of chunky tomato bisque soup.

Chunky tomato bisque soup and Grilled Mac and Cheese sandwich

The above-referenced pairing

I must say, I was impressed. The soup was piping hot, and had a bit of zip to it. It wasn’t enough to send me diving into a tub of water, but there were definitely some spices in the soup. I then moved on to the sandwich. It was love at first bite. The macaroni was tender without being overcooked. I do wish I had added the bacon, as there were a lot of carbs there for the cheese to try to overcome. The bread was tasty and toasted perfectly.

For sure, I’ll go back. I’ll try to convince myself to try a different sandwich; that will be hard, though, as I really do like macaroni and cheese.

Grilled Cheese cartoon figure drawing

Grilled Cheese Guy wasn’t the only one who was happy.

Dinner: Shrimp (or Tofu) and Grits

12 January 2014

Dinner tonight was a success. I took a nice shrimp and grits recipe and modified it to suit my needs. The hot sauce didn’t make the cut, mostly because I don’t like hot sauce. There weren’t fresh onions handy, so I went with minced; really, they were there only for seasoning, anyway. In lieu of bacon, I added kielbasa, because I didn’t really want to have a ton of leftover bacon (as I’ll eat the heck out of it). On top of that, the kielbasa adds some heft to the dish, and I wanted a filling meal. The shrimp were added along with garlic, the onion, and lemon juice.

My finacée, Jess was nice enough to bake tofu for me to put in her dinner. From there, I added onions, garlic, and green bell peppers (I left those out of mine). That was really simple.

Both batches got a broth; however, I didn’t want it to be runny, so I added a mixture of corn starch and water to thicken it up a bit.

The result?

Grits dishes, one with shrimp and kielbasa, and the other with tofu

I tried to make sure it looked pretty in the bowl, too.

The recipe calls for butter and cheese. I didn’t really feel like the butter was necessary, so I left it out. I would have added the cheese, but with Jess being vegan, that wasn’t going to work for hers, so I just left it out, too. It works well without, it, though. I did add pepper and salt to season.

Jess and Darrell’s Summer Vacation: Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

10 January 2014

Part of our vacation was a little jaunt over to Chippewa Falls, WI, home of the Leinenkugel brewery. While I don’t drink beer, I think the process of making beer is fascinating because of all the chemistry involved in it. There was more to Chippewa Falls than Leinenkugel, though.

Leinenkugel Brewery

Obligatory Leinenkugel shot

It’s a necessity to show a photo of the Leinenkugel brewery, right? I mean, it’s a big feature of Chippewa Falls. Aside from the fact that the brewery tour isn’t entirely friendly to designated drivers, it’s an interesting trek.

Sidebar: Telling someone they can’t get the souvenir tasting glass without alcohol in it is lame. The person who has volunteered to be a designated driver is left to either toss the beer, find someone to drink it, or not get the same glass that everyone else gets. The folks at Leinenkugel should really change that practice.

A nice (at least it looked nice) non-motorized trail lies along Duncan Creek in the area where the brewery is located. Apparently not wanting to miss an important market or an active transportation option for its workers, there’s bicycle parking at Leinenkugel.

Bicycle parking at the Leinenkugel brewery

Bike parking!

With Leinenkugel visited, there was the rest of the town to explore. There are a couple of lovely bridges over Duncan Creek. One is a Marsh rainbow arch concrete bridge on East Spring Street.

Marsh rainbow arch bridge, Chippewa Falls, WI

Marsh rainbow arch bridge

The other is just a block north, and is a nifty steel bridge carrying East Central Street.

Steel bridge over Duncan Creek, Chippewa Falls, WI

Steel bridge

The remainder of our time in Chippewa Falls involved just a bit more photography and sight-seeing. The following are a few of my favorites.

Duncan Creek Wine Bar and Grille

Duncan Creek Wine Bar and Grille

pretty clock

Pretty clock

Falls Bowl, Chippewa Falls, WI

Awesome Falls Bowl sign

Post office, Chippewa Falls, WI

Nifty post office

Safe, post office, Chippewa Falls, WI

Equally nifty safe at nifty post office

I Have Set My Rainbow in the Clouds

7 January 2014

Rainbow in the winter sky

The title of this blog is the first part of Genesis 9:13. While the weather Michigan (and lots of other places) has endured over the last few days is far from apocalyptic, it’s definitely been trying. When I saw the rainbow, I immediately though about that verse of Scripture, and the fact that things will — and are — getting better.