Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Butterfinger Bars

It's drive season in Minnesota. It's the perfect time of the year for getting out in the car and going anywhere you want. 

You can cover ten miles or a hundred. It all has local flair. 

Lakes sparkle. Small towns welcome with tidy streets, green lawns and kids biking to the parks. The metro is alive with noonday downtown crowds and museums and galleries to wander.

It's easy to manufacture an excuse for getting on the road. You need only two words.  It's summer is the only explanation necessary.

Summer is made for the drive to the lake (or lakes in our case, keeping track of over 10,000 of them). 

Those from outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul beltline (and proportionately that's most of the state) drive into the Twin Cities. They come for a dose of urban culture, baseball games (Twins and Saints) and shopping.

City dwellers head to the country to cool off at resorts or check if corn will be knee high by Fourth of July. We pass each other going in our opposite on the freeways. 

We ramble down lazy rural lanes luxuriating in a stretch of pavement entirely our own. Henry Ford would be proud of us and rightly pleased his magnificent conveyance has brought so much pleasure.

Travel by car is all the more enjoyable because of eat stops along the way. Everyone seems to have a favorite eating place. It becomes a tradition to stop there. No trip would be the same without these stops.

Tobie's is a good midway point if headed to Duluth. For as long as I recall this travel magnet along I-35 has been known for its cinnamon and caramel rolls.

Those pointed up I-94 to the central and western lakes find reason to peel off at Clearwater. That's the Nelson Brothers exit ramp. Nelson Brothers is a travel plaza where you can fuel the car, select a souvenir, treat yourself to an ice cream cone or have a full sit down dinner. 

Some will say the best of all the choices is the Nelson Brothers bakery with the good breads and other delectables. Some folks never make a trip down to the Cities without stopping at the bakery. 

Purchase for the road or let the nibbling begin. At Nelson Brothers taking a car trip means you never get there hungry.

My husband used to travel for work. He remembers the ten cent coffee at Freda's Bord at Willmar. No doubt there were excellent desserts or homemade cookies to go along with the coffee. He doesn't mention these.

The restaurant had Swedish-American favorites like meatballs and mashed potatoes. But Al remembers the dime coffee. Small town eateries with their friendly servers and the coffee pots that gave constant refills aren't soon forgotten.

Every small town, at least in the old days, which I now reckon to be anything twenty five years back or more, used to have a main street bakery.

If you went through a town and saw a main street bakery you could pretty much expect something fresh, chewy and remarkably tasty in the glass display case. 

Maybe there even was a chair or two and a table for consuming your donut with sprinkles or slice of apple fritter bread on the spot.

My hometown had little eating places that had the bakery element in with the restaurant. Businessmen had noon lunch at these restaurants and the farmers who came into town. 

A blue haze hovered over the counter stools. You could cut the thick smoky air with a knife.

Thank goodness for no-smoking legislation which has since ensured, which gives diners an opportunity to both eat and breathe.

Betty Lessard of Betty Pie's at Two Harbors was a pioneer in the no-smoking concept. Her little North Shore pie shop restricted smoking well before it became  state statute. 

Don't, for goodness sake, miss Betty's Pies if you're on the way to the North Shore. The pies and Two Harbors are a double destination in their own right. But if you have  time plan for multiple stops and a longer drive.

For the extra time allotted on Highway 61 you get gorgeous waterfalls, Split Rock Lighthouse, shopping, restaurants, a boggling variety of sports, recreation and excursion opportunities and stunning lake views. 

This includes don't miss places like Duluth, Grand Marais, Boundary Waters and the international border with Canada.

Betty's Pies and Lyle's Restaurant at Winthrop would wind up with hand prints in the cement if there ever was a Minnesota pie walk of fame.

The newspaper writers who went out to sample came back extolling the pies and often the charm and friendliness of these restaurants not ordinarily discovered on one's own.

The personalities of the cooks and excellence of their product were gotten across very well. This impressed me as a younger gal. I admired the travel pieces for their injection of local color. The coverage made every small town a destination spot if you looked at it just right.

If you're anywhere in the vicinity of Wabasha on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River, or Nelson and Alma on the Wisconsin side, my personal recommendation is Nelson Cheese and Creamery. 

The landmark shop sells cheeses, ice cream, soup, sandwiches and condiments. It has a good wine selection. You can sit on the outdoor patio, look up at the bluffs and wonder if your river drive can't end right here. You've arrived at the perfect spot.

Years ago we went through Osseo, Wisconsin regularly. It was on our way to Al's parents. The signboards along I-94 for Norske Nook looked interesting. 

We were young, we were making time and we didn't stop. Eventually we did, following a story read in the newspaper about the incredible pies.

Thanks to today's web sites you can visit these restaurants online as well as seek them out by car. In fact if you check out Norske Nook now you can order its special pie of the month. 

The pie of the month for June is rhubarb. How tempting can you get. Rhubarb is the accolade of pies for many of us.

A favorite recipe in my dessert file comes from Norske Nook. It's not, however, a pie recipe. 

Our newspaper some time ago ran a recipe for Butterfinger Bars from Norske Nook. I have no idea when the recipe appeared in print. My note says it was first made November 12, 1993. 

Twenty years down the line I'd say the butterfinger bar recipe passes the road test for longevity. Here's the recipe.

Butterfinger Bars
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
2/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups oatmeal

Mix syrup, butter and brown sugar in large bowl. Add vanilla extract and oatmeal. Mix together. Mixture will be firm.

Press into buttered 9 x 13 inch baking pan. (A spoon dipped in cold water from time to time helps spread the mixture to the corners.) Bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes. Don't overbake. Cool slightly. Spread Peanut Butter Topping onto bars. 

Peanut Butter Topping
1 6-ounce package chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter

Place chocolate chips and peanut butter together in saucepan over very low heat. Stir until melted.

Ro Giencke - June 19, 2012

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