THE AMTRAK EXPERIENCE: TASTE OF WINONA’S SOUTHERN COMFORT

AMTRAK’s Andre Ledgister really did an awesome job planning the Red Wing and Winona getaway…that even novice travelers like me and my hubby Glenn found the trip really that comfortable, enjoyable and definitely memorable. Winona was a brief hour drive away from Red Wing so the wait for the 7:30 dinner schedule at Betty Jo Byoloski’s Restaurant was not that long; we all just wanted a taste of Winona’s famous southern comfort right away. The wonderful Patt Mutter, Executive Director of Winona’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (CVB) made everybody felt welcome…there was no need for Hawaiian leis at all, Patt’s smiles and “big heart” were enough to tell us…”Welcome to Winona…welcome to the Island!” Burgers and fries, cheese steak and fish sandwiches were served and the rest of the nite were filled with mugs of beer and loads of fun chats and laughter. It was a perfect welcome to Winona and later we were brought to our B & Bs (Alexander Mansion and Carriage House).

THE ALEXANDER MANSION

This is not your ordinary Bed & Breakfast…to me, this is simply the best Bed & Breakfast, period. Owners Lynn and Frederic Ihrke really pulled out all stops in converting this 1886 Victorian Mansion to a really lavish “fit for a king and a diva” enchanting home, with wonderful attention to details. Spacious rooms indeed, but that’s not all there is to it…imagine these amenities…Watkin’s makeup remover (I haven’t seen that even in 5-star hotels!), a shot of Bailey’s with almond rocha chocolates, a small book of erotic poems atop one of the pillows, fine European linens, robes and yes turn-down service too…it was always worth looking forward to at the end of the day. And then waking up to a 5-course breakfast served in formal elegant dining room, I repeat, 5 yummy morning treats, starting with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and yes, we had to say no to the 5th offering (fruit smoothie).  Visit their website: www.alexandermansionbb.com.

And it was time to explore Winona…and the long day started with food and ended with food again, but of course…now that is called “a great experience”.

*Breakfast was at Blue Heron (where muffins were absolutely splendid) and while waiting for food to be served I browsed on cookbooks at the Book shelf that shared space with the Blue Heron restaurant (now that is indeed a cool combination for a small business).

*Made a stop at Winona Visitor’s Center.

*Tour of the Cathedral Crafts Stained Glass Studio was really interesting, and the craftsmen showed us the many different aspects of the glass works. Definitely a man’s job!

*Chef Douglas Dahlgren impressed us with his supreme gourmet lunch offerings at the Signatures

Belgian Endive and Apple Salad with Honey Vinaigrette, Grilled Lamb Chops, Creamy Saffron Polenta, Grilled Local Ramps, Broccolini, Tzatziki and Cabernet Reduction and for dessert, Double Blueberry Cobbler (Homemade blueberry sorbet and moist Blueberry Cobbler).

 Thanks Chef Douglas…and I have to add he is tall and good looking too!

*At the Watkins Museum/Store with all the historical exhibits, I was introduced to double-strength vanilla extract which is both bake proof and freeze proof…meaning vanilla won’t be lost in the baking process or in the freezer. And we did enjoy the over 350 Watkins products on display at the store, including the array of spices.

*City tour of Downtown Winona and also a tour of the Polish Museum where I did my interview for the Celebr-EAT-y Circle with the perfect host Patt Mutter (and yes, Patt is of asian descent and you can really tell she enjoys her job…more power Patt!).

*Interesting tour of the MN Marine Art Museum, complete with wine/cheese reception. And we were the first to view some Monet, Renoir and other world art masterpieces at the Gallery, really pretty expensive marine art collection of Mary Burrichter and Bob Kierlin.

*Met with the City Mayor at the Winona County Historical Museum, tour and dinner and wine (courtesy of Garvin Heights Vineyards) and yes, some local entertainers gave us some well-applauded performances.

Patt Mutter would really love you to come visit, explore, and enjoy Winona attractions and festivals soon (don’t forget AMTRAK will take you there!).

Visit websites for more information: www.visitwinona.com and www.amtrak.com

Watkins’ Simply Sweet Cinnamon Strawberry Shortcakes

2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon orange peel

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix together flour, sugar, baking power, baking soda, cinnamon, orange peel, salt and butter. Stir in vanilla, cream and walnuts. Drop on baking sheet using a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, if desired. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until brown. Cool shortcakes and cover with strawberries and whipped cream. Makes about 12 biscuits.

Watkins’ Caramel Apple/Pear Dip

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1/4 to 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon caramel extract (optional)

Apples or pears, cored and sliced

Blend first four ingredients using electric mixer. Use as a dip for the fruit slices. Makes 1 cup.

EXPLORE RED WING, MINNESOTA VIA AMTRAK

Yes indeed, there is something for everyone in Red Wing, Minnesota. Thanks Kathy Silverthorn, Executive Director of Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau.  Red Wing truly deserves the honors of making it to top 25 in the Top Historic Destinations in the World by the National Geographic Traveler Magazine and also for making it in list of “1000 Places to See in the US and Canada before you die”.  Enjoy Red Wing for a perfect weekend getaway or much deserved R & R…from boating to hiking to fishing and skiing…and count me in as “American bald-eagles return to bluffs” watcher next Spring.

SWEET TREATS FOR SWEET DREAMS

We were met at the Red Wing Depot at 9 p.m. by St. James Hotel representative. And the depot is just behind the hotel, so we all opted to hike up St. James Hotel lobby for check-in registrations.   Pleasant night and to get that much needed “sweet dreams”, St. James Hotel made sure there’s a tempting sweet treat in the hotel room…and I yielded…fresh fruit tarts and chocolates, yummm!

GOOD DAY RED WING

(8:30 a.m. Breakfast at the Veranda Restaurant at the St. James Hotel)

Glenn and I both enjoyed the “corned beef-from scratch” with a stack of pancakes for breakfast.  Kathy Silverthorn of CVB joined the media participants for the much needed breakfast to endure a hectic “Explore: Red Wing” schedule. Minnesota writers Tricia Cornell and Lisa joined us for breakfast. It was time for a good morning start with Dorothy Westphal of Roaming Red Wing & Beyond as our official tour guide, and she really was fun and informative!

(10:00 a.m. Walk to the depot to the Red Wing Art Gallery)

Executive Director Dan Guida of Red Wing Arts Association briefed us on the incredible artworks at the Depot. The mosaic pieces in one part of the gallery earned lots of admiration from visitors and the wine label contest entries in another are topnotch. The diverse 2009 Gallery/Exhibition Schedule is just impressive…from photography to drawing the Human Figure (I think I’m coming back to Red wing for this!) to fiber art. Website: www.redwingartassociation.org

(11:00 a.m. Take a historic ride past the boat houses and Bay Point Park)

Lots to explore in one day….so we did some driving around, and tour-guide Dorothy showed us the 4 B & Bs (the Moonlight Inn has Jacuzzi in every room, please take note), Central Park Bandshell opening late this year for outdoor concerts, the only Catholic Church St. Joseph, Soren’s Bluff and of course the Red Wing Shoe Store (and locals still talking about the unforgettable huge Red Wing boot display during the 100th anniversary). And yes, the sight of boathouses at Baypoint Park was just out of this world. Colvill Park, the largest park, is very special to Dorothy and she and family would enjoy eagle watching in this park. At summertime, there are aquatic parks here with playgrounds that are handicapped-accessible.

(12:00 p.m. Stop for lunch at the Smokey Row Caf

é)It was past lunchtime, and yet the cafe was still packed with locals, enjoying paninis and wraps, among other lunch specials. Jenny Lind Bakery products (pastries, muffins and specialty breads like the Cardamom bread) displayed inside the cafe are simply irresistible. Just a quicky lunch and then we walked through various shops inside the Pottery Place Mall and I discovered some new kitchen gadgets from Peter Valtakis of Pete’s Kitchen Corner (and Pete obliged to show some gadgets for the Celebr-EAT-y Circle, and I could only wish I have an hour to explore his kitchen gadgets).

(1:00 p.m. Tour Hobgoblin Music, the home to Stoney End Harps)

This is really a reformed barn, but once inside Hobgoblin Music, one can’t help but get mesmerized by the Stoney end harps on display. And one beginner lady (so she claimed) produced good music from that floor harp, and what a treat when she did all adjustments to create different musical notes just like playing a piano. Gary Stone, owner and lover of woodworking, showed us the concert area at the 3rd floor (for musical concert series, harp workshops and even available for weddings and birthdays) and the production area at the ground level. And really, really, these Stoney End instruments, specially the light weight harps, available in lap or floor models and prices range from $ 250 to over $ 2,000, are well crafted, reasonable and I must say owning a harp is one good investment. Guess how long it takes to make a harp. The answer is 3 weeks and the strings are made of stiff nylon. Website: www.stoneyend.com.

Can you tell I’m uncomfortable with this musical instrument?

(2:00 p.m. Wine tasting at Falconer Vineyards Winery)

Yes, we all agree this stop was a must. Earlier at the Depot (Red Wing Art Gallery), I couldn’t keep my eyes off the winning wine label bearing John Faulkner face with his long beard and the idea of meeting this bearded winery icon just excited me more. The scenic vineyard (lots of wedding events in this vineyard too, complete with water pond) and the wine tasting that ensued was worth it. I love a Riesling but after tasting Potter John’s Special Edition, I just had to buy 2 bottles…it was that crisp, fruity, semi-sweet and yes, smooth. Glenn and I consumed it for my birthday, and it brought us back again to Red Wing’s fun moments. When asked if business slackens as a result of poor economy, John grinned and replied, “wine industry is recession-proof, there is nothing to worry!” Website: www.FalconerVineyards.com

 

 

 

(4:00 p.m. A tour of Sheldon Theatre) 

 



The restored 1904 Sheldon theatre opened its doors to the public in 1988 and its elegance from brass chandeliers to marble columns to stained glass makes just about any theatre performance (contemporary dance, solo to group vocalists, comedy to serious plays) an enjoyable entertainment to Red Wing locals and visitors. At the time of our tour, cast of Evita were rehearsing on centerstage. Website: www.sheldontheatre.org

(4:30 p.m. A tour of St. James Hotel)

There is definitely lots of history revealed from our tour of St. James Hotel, established in 1875, with representative Nicole Miller. From the casual Veranda restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner to the Patio and Porch enjoying an appetizer and the picturesque Mississippi river to Jimmy’s in the 5th floor for a truly classic pub fare, this is the best place to stay when in Red wing. Website: www.st-james-hotel.com

THANK YOU, REDWING…THANK YOU, AMTRAK

And always, AMTRAK will get me to Red Wing, and for me it is not just about the destination, it is also about the journey…and AMTRAK does everything, anything to ensure the trip isn’t a long one but an enjoyable trip instead. Experience the AMTRAK travel soon, Website: www.amtrak.com.

HAVE YOU AMTRAK-ED YET?

I knew it was going to be a long day but I was all excited with my very first AMTRAK ride.

Tracy Robinson, Amtrak Representative walked with us (Andre Ledgister of Images USA for Amtrak, freelance writer Marylu Laffey, me and Glenn Turner) to Empire Builder. And when we got cleared for boarding, Tracy bid us a safe journey, “Oh I can’t wait to hear your stories!”. At 2:15 p.m. “ALL ABOARD” was announced…I smiled and winked at Glenn, “Honey, this is going to be a fun-filled memorable journey!”. Writer-photographer Gary Knowles later joined us at Madison, Wisconsin train stop.

There’s a chef aboard Amtrak…

There is always a chef on board Amtrak, and I was so eager to do a unique one-on-one chat with charming Chef Scott Edwards for the Celebr-EAT-y Circle. Glenn had to adjust himself with the camera positioning first (on a moving train…that is tough I must say). What’s for dinner? Chef Scott’s choices for entrees…grilled flat iron steaks, grilled Mahimahi with Mushroom morel sauce, or baked Lamb shank. I was really expecting a “fastfood” treat for his reply, so I could only say “Wow”. And the dessert to dive in? Delicate and Divine Key Lime Crumb Cake (and great with a freshly-squeezed from an orange). He gave me a hint on how cake is made, so I came up with my own, and making this always brings me back fun memories aboard Amtrak. Really, Amtrak is a great way to FLY.

JUST LIKE AMTRAK’S KEY LIME CRUMB CAKE

Cake Layer:

zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

4 large eggs

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix

1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix

1 1/4 cups water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Crumb Layer:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Pam-spray a 13×9-inch pan; set aside.

Combine all cake layer ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat using electric mixer at medium speed until well-combined and smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pan.

In a small bowl, mix flour, sugar and baking powder with a fork. Cut butter until crumbly, using a pastry blender. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan. Cut into squares and serve with fresh orange wedges.

Not really bored, but I just had to take snapshots….