Thursday, February 27, 2020

Clogtown: Provision Community Restaurant - Revive. Repurpose. Restore.

During my time in Minneapolis, I've been trying to search out the very cool things that I think could (and SHOULD!) be emulated all over. One such place is the wonderful Provision Community Restaurant, where I finally got to visit last night to dine and learn about all of the great things they're doing as the area's only "Give what you can" restaurant.

In a major effort to combat food insecurity, waste, and isolation, owner Anna Wienke opened Provision last October in a cozy little house at 29th Street and Harriet Avenue (the former Salty Tart bakery space). 90% of the food used is donated (mostly from Co-Op Partners Warehouse) and the restaurant is staffed by volunteers, which cuts down on overhead. There is a set menu (that changes every day based on what is donated), that is served family style at community tables, so you'll never have the same meal - or the same dining mates - keeping it interesting!

There are two dinner seatings, Wednesday-Friday, at both 5 and 7 pm, and one Brunch seating on Saturdays at noon. You enter the little house, check in and fill out a little survey to let them know who you are and what you're about. Then you give a "Pay it forward" donation of any amount (or nothing if you don't have it) by either a card on the Ipad or cash in a little barrel. They don't know who pays what, so there is no shame in not having much money (and a big part of the Provision organization is stressing that ALL are welcome, and all are deserving of having a healthy and delicious meal out on the town!). You then take a seat, read the literature if you like, and wait to be seated in the charming dining room in the back of the house (where all of the furniture, dishes, and decor were also donated).

It was a chilly night and there were only three of us for the 7 pm seating, which is everyone else's loss, because we sat down to a wonderful feast, prepared by Chef Manny Winston (Shear Taste Catering/ formerly at Young Joni). All of Provision's breads and pastries are donated by the excellent Rustica Bakery, so we kicked our meal off with a basket of warm olive bread (which are also donated to the Crisis Nursery on Wednesdays). The meals tend to be vegetarian, mainly because most of the food donated is produce, with meat being donated more once in a blue moon (One regular has a hack for that, and brings her own meat to donate when she wants to eat meat!).

As our party was so small, we got to have nice chats with Wienke and Winston about the whole operation, over our next course of the salad that I'm still thinking about today ... mixed greens with blueberries and avocado with a delish vinaigrette dressing. Yum!

Next up was a creative fruit salad consisting of black "moon" grapes and oranges with lime juice and oregano! I'd never seen grapes like this, and the mix of the ingredients was a perfect mix of sweet and savory. The oranges also showed up in a super refreshing orange/ginger juice that I kept getting refills of as I could not get enough.

The main course was Hempeh (a tempeh made from hemp) fried rice with grilled vegetables, super healthy, savory, and full of protein. This is not something I'd probably ever order from a regular menu, but I loved it and thank Chef Manny for helping to mature my palate. I honestly felt healthier as I was eating it.

Provision is part of the "One World, Everybody Eats" organization of Community Caf├ęs, and they truly want whomever can be at their table to help build community, which ultimately helps everyone. A single older woman joined my friend Tonya and I for dinner, and seemed to be a bit of a regular. She lived in the area and likes to walk over and eat at Provision so she's not eating alone - but also because the food is great, and the price is whatever you want it to be and are able to pay that day (diners can also pay in time by volunteering).

Over a dessert of warm citrus sugar cookies (with the dough made by adults with disabilities through Partnership Resources) and coffee (beans supplied by Wildflyer Cofee - a company that employs homeless youth!), we learned that Provision hosts monthly Sustainer dinners that help keep the lights on and the people fed. They are a set price and prepared by visiting Chefs, the last one being Tyge Nelson of Pajarito STP. Wow! There are also Spring and Fall Gala Fundraisers, with the next one being held in April at the Lumber Exchange Event Center (tickets available here for only $50!). This is an accessible event to help Provision, but also to inspire people to their own philanthropy ... good people attracting more good people to do more good.

"I look at it like every night we have a dinner party, and it's always exciting to see who shows up," the darling and energetic Wienke told us, which is exactly what I love about it. You never know what you're going to be eating or who you're going to be sitting with, and that's exciting! It might not be everyone's cup of tea (see: picky people or snobs), but I think this is exactly the kind of place the world needs a whole lot more of in these times. Sitting down with strangers and breaking bread ... learning from and about one another is actually a small step toward world peace every time.

I really hope that Provision (and many more places like it!) will catch on like wildfire and take over as the model for modern dining. Less waste, more compassion, a world made a little bit smaller by more random people knowing and enjoying each other at a place where ALL are welcome to come as you are and give as you can ... I really love it. And I hope you will too! You can still go to all of your other spots, of course, but please try to put Provision into your regular rotation, because you'll be both wowed and helpful to keeping this special place open. And if you can't make it to Minneapolis, start your own just like it wherever you are - it's working!

Thank you, Provision and Anna Weinke. It's people like you that inspire us all to do and be better. See you soon for Brunch!

Provision Community Restaurant
2940 Harriet Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 208-0461

Monday, February 24, 2020

Clogtown: The 4th Annual Hendrickson Foundation Hockey Festival - Hockey Changes Lives!

I finally got to attend my first Hendrickson Foundation Hockey Festival last weekend, and WOW. Some events have an extra dash of magic dust over them, and this one certainly sparkled with it the entire time. Founded by Larry Hendrickson (the late father of my family of dearest friends), the Hendrickson Foundation was created to support hockey players with disabilities, and to get them back out on the ice. Minnesota Wild Sled (Adult and Youth) Hockey, Special Hockey, Blind Hockey, and the Minnesota Warriors (hockey for disabled veterans) are the hockey programs now supported by the HF, with 54 teams and 1,000 players from 11 states and two countries (so far!) all there to compete in the Festival tournament this weekend. Though Larry is no longer physically with us, his spirit was deeply felt, and I know he was there.

You could tell this event was something special from the moment you walked through the parking lot at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota. Yes, there were a lot of wheelchairs and people that needed assistance with their mobility, but you very quickly forgot about that and focused on the wide smiles on all of the faces. Parents supporting their kids, kids supporting their parents, delighted friends and family cheering on their teams, knowing that each goal scored was so much more than a point ... it was a celebration of bravery, determination, strength, and the pure joy that comes with any goal scored in hockey - only much more so because you knew what it took to get it. I had chills the entire weekend (and not because it was cold, the whole weekend was weirdly in the 40's!).

It takes an absolute village to put on a massive FREE event like this, and an army of volunteers made the whole operation run smoothly and happily. I was kind of a floater volunteer, doing whatever was needed in any moment, so I got to see a lot of the action.

The Blind Hockey was especially cool to watch, as the players use a larger puck that makes noise, making it possible to follow. The goalies are totally blind (!) and positions are given by sight, like the forwards are able to see a little bit, the defense less. Just getting on skates on ice at all when you're blind is great enough (remember Ice Castles!?!), but these teams were scoring! You really wouldn't know that anyone was blind aside from the special puck, but you could sure tell how happy they were when that puck went into the net! More chills.

The merch table was a busy headquarters all weekend (conveniently located next to the bar), with throngs of hockey fans lining up to get the shirts, hats, blankets, etc... that showed off that you had been at this special weekend.

My bestie, Christine Hendrickson Krsnik, was not able to attend this year (so bummed!) because she was home recovering from a ruptured Achilles (!) injury, but her daughters and husband were representing her well, manning and womanning all of that HF merch.

There is so much happening on so many rinks, that it's kind of hard to get to it all, but everyone packed in together for the Celebrity Game on Saturday afternoon. Minnesota hockey legends and pals came out for a friendly game, with a lot of former Wild and Gopher (and Richfield Spartans - home of the Hendys!) giving the crowd a thrill.

The team introductions were hilarious, and the whole game was in good fun. Christine's daughter, Jane, sang the National Anthem for the game and yep, more chills.

American flags had been handed out to everyone and there was a buzz going around about a special surprise (beautifully choreographed by Julie Hendrickson Oss!). There was an opening face-off to the game, and a stick was broken. The announcer called for a new stick, and out came Army Sergeant Acree, striding across the ice to deliver the stick to Wild player Matt Dumba and his sons (one a sled hockey player), after not seeing them for over two years! The place went crazy, and it was a heartwarming moment for everyone in the building. The chills just kept on coming ... !

It was a high scoring Celeb game, but everyone won just be being there. It was super fun to see my old schoolmates back out on the ice, and some that I had never had the chance to see play in person before (like Mr. Assist Larry Olimb!). There were so many Hendricksons running around that Darby's jersey just said "Darby" on the back of his bright Festival jersey. Awesome.

Halftime featured a Celebrity Sled Hockey game, with folks like the Wild's reporter, Audra Martin, Miss Chain of Lakes, and Sergeant Acree strapping themselves on to sleds to race down the ice. This was when you realized how really hard Sled Hockey is, after seeing all the real players make it look so easy. Several gamers could not stay upright, tipping over the moment they took off. Miss Chain of Lakes, however, was the clear champion, flying across the ice with no one even close. There were lots of cheers, but even more laughter, as I think we all got how much skill it takes, and how little these good sports had acquired thus far! Good times.

After the Celebrity Game, everyone headed over to the Banquet Hall on the same campus, where now you understood just how big this event really is. After being spread out among all of the rinks all day, now everyone was in one place, and the venue was shoulder to shoulder as participants lined up for drinks and the donated Jimmy John's grub. This was the party, and everyone was in the mood to do just that.

A really good silent auction kept the donations coming while the party was happening, and then it was time for the speeches and thanks.

HF Executive Director, Danny Hendrickson (son of Larry), thanked the legions that make this exceptional event happen, from sponsors (Yontz Valor! Stickney Hill Dairy! Milk Specialties! Hydrite Chemical! Hendrickson Homes! Jimmy John's! Sota Stick! Etc!) to volunteers. Checks and awards were given out, and everyone was enthusiastically applauded for bringing another fantastic Festival to vibrant, wonderful life.

The party then really got going ... but not too hard, as the championship games still had to happen on Sunday, along with the awarding of the very cool team trophies that kind of look like golden Spartans - Right on. Again, I know there's bragging rights (and sweet trophies) to winning the tournament, but there is no way anyone left this weekend feeling like anything but an absolute victor.

With all of the running around I was doing as a volunteer, I didn't really get a chance to hear the individual stories of the players, of which there are so many, each more touching than the last. There was one girl that took a shine to me, and every time we passed each other, she would yell, "There's my buddy!" and I felt so happy that we had made this connection, and that her happy face got even happier when she would see me. There were so many individual triumphs among the teams, and frankly, it's a huge triumph just to be there at all, whatever your abilities. The feeling that you get from helping someone else find their happiness IS the triumph, and this was happening all weekend.

The 4th Annual Hendrickson Foundation Festival is now in the books, and I can't wait to see and share the video that is being made of the weekend, because it really is one of those things you have to experience to feel how tangible the joy really is. I feel so honored to have been able to be a little tiny part of it all, and encourage any and everyone to get involved yourselves ... because it's true - Hockey really does change lives!

Thank you, Hendrickson Foundation!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Clogtown: Safe Passage By Ai Weiwei At MIA

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) is the first North American museum to present the deeply stirring work called Safe Passage, 2016 by the wonderful artist/activist Ai Weiwei. Thousands of life jackets worn by Syrian refugees on their dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece have been wrapped around the neoclassical columns on the facade of the MIA building.

It is quite something to see, and actually forces the viewer to THINK about the massive issue of immigration, and who we want to be as a society. The work is the centerpiece of the exhibition that will open this Sunday (2/at MIA called When Home Won't Let You Stay: Art and Migration. I can't WAIT. Art with an activism bent is my favorite, and I've been eagerly anticipating this show.

I'm proud of Minnesota, as everywhere I go there are open minds and open arms. "All are welcome here" signs hang on homes and businesses, and throwing 2,400 refugee life jackets smack dab in the middle of the city is a pretty big statement that we care about immigrants here (where we're all immigrants, aside from our many Native American neighbors). A friend of mine (shout out to an activist hero of mine, Ryan Harvey!) volunteered a few years ago on the island of Lesbos, fishing people out of the water as they tried to make their own safe passage. These life jackets were all given to Weiwei (a refugee himself) from the Mayor of Lesbos, so this work was all the more real for me, as I could picture the people who had worn them.

You'll be hearing about the exhibition in coming days after it opens, but in the meantime, if you're in Minneapolis you really need to swing down 24th Street and see this piece of art and activism for yourself (or watch WCCO News tonight, as I was interviewed about the piece by a reporter as I was taking it all in).

Thanks again to Ai Weiwei, who always blows my mind, and to MIA for bringing this work to the United States for the first time. WOW.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Clogtown: Swan River - A Love Story!

Happy Valentine's Day, Lovers! In the interest of not going insane, I always try and seek out cool and interesting stories, places, people ... things that I know will bring me some joy and some beauty and some information. I've been a little obsessed (like my Venice hummingbirds obsessed!) with the Swans of Monticello, Minnesota for the past couple of months, as I tried to go see them in December with no luck. There is a Swan Cam set up to look at the wintering trumpeter swans that come to this little bend in the Mississippi River each winter, where the water is a little warmer (I don't believe it) due to the curve, but also this is where they know they are going to be fed. I thought it would be a perfect story for Valentine's Day, as I had heard that swans mate for life, and that's a nice little love story for the day ... but what I learned was an even better one.

Over thirty years ago, a pair of trumpeter swans were released from Hennepin Parks in a partnership between the DNR, the private sector, and the public in an attempt to restore their population (after they were believed to be nearly extinct in the 1880's). A local woman named Sheila Lawrence lived on the banks of the Mississippi River in Monticello, and began feeding shelled corn to the swans that she saw taking a breather in the open waters by her house. (Photo from their brochure)

Well, word got out and soon the swans numbered in the hundreds, and then the thousands. Sheila spent her entire days hauling corn and feeding the swans, all out of her own pocket (and donations from friends here and there - this is not a government funded operation). She soon became known as the "Swan Lady", the area became known as Swan Park, and now you can see these gorgeous creatures there in the winter from December to March.

It was a bust in December when I went, because it was too warm and the swans were still out in the corn fields, fat and happy. I've been keeping a close eye on the Swan Cam so I knew the crowd was growing, and when I woke up yesterday it was -11 outside! I knew this was good news for swan viewing, so I got my Mom and myself all bundled up, and we hit the road for Monticello.

The Swan Park is on a dead end fully residential street, and as soon as we opened the car doors we could hear the call of the trumpeting swans! Exciting! Mom has to walk a little slow these days, but we were both trying to hustle - from both anticipation and the freezing cold! Steam was rising off of the river from the cold, and you could see ice bergs flowing by. Three GIANT swans FLEW by, and we forgot all about the cold (for a moment). I'd never seen a swan fly, I don't think, and it's nuts. Their long necks stretch out straight and their wing span was huge as they swooped in for a landing along the banks where all of the corn feed was ... and hundreds of their friends were down below.  Wow!

I had heard that the feeding was done every day at 10:30 am, and I saw a guy down by the water tossing corn at the swans. I waved at him, and he came over, probably to see what this crazy girl was doing outside in a sweater (it's a lovebirds sweater, in homage to the swans!). This turned out to be Jim Lawrence, the husband of the late Swan Lady Sheila, who passed away in 2011. As Jim told us everything you could ever hope to know about swans, I realized that THIS was the real love story.

Jim was a dairy farm boy from North Dakota, and talks like one. He told us how the original swans were tagged to keep track of, and old #7, well, she was what you would call a "Boss Cow". She came in and if Sheila wasn't out there at 10:30 on the dot, this swan would come right up to her - at eye level on her 5'2 frame - with basically an arched eyebrow and tapping at her wristwatch, like C'mon, Swan Lady. Every other sentence Jim uttered was about Sheila, and he is now out there every morning at 10:30 carrying on the legacy of his Swan Lady. It was incredibly touching, especially when he said that he knew she was up there feeding all of the feathered and furry creatures in Heaven, looking up as he said it.

When he looked up, I noticed the icicles forming on his eyelashes and beard, and thought I'd better get my Mom back inside the warm car. Jim walked and talked us all the way back, with more swan trivia as we went. I wanted to go back and take more pictures and just watch the graceful beasts a bit more, so Jim walked and talked me back. He wouldn't let me help him feed the swans (it's a liability thing), but I bet I could now step in as in information guide if he ever needs me. The love he has for these swans - and for his late wife, Sheila - literally made his eyes sparkle ... and it wasn't just the icicles.

I had to ask if his neighbors hate him, because these guys play some mean horn ... all day and night. He said that they love it, and the walls and your t.v. and grandkids playing all muffle it out - plus it's only for like three months. I kind of thought there would be way more swans, after reading that last year there were almost four thousand there in January. Jim then explained for me (and for you, below), that all those dark ducks weren't ducks at all (save for a few random mallards) - they were cygnets! Baby swans! They'll be all white and huge by June! Oh, man ... I was just loving it ...

... but I also could no longer feel my face. I really could have sat and listened to the swan stories and watched them try to land in between the ice bergs, but I honestly might have lost my nose for real if I'd stayed out there even just a few more minutes. Invigorating! Jim walked and talked me back to the car again, giving me his business card. Turns out he's a professional wildlife control guy, so you call him if a wild animal needs to get caught and removed. His email name is "Ol Trapper 1". Perfect.

I shook Jim's hand (I think - I couldn't really feel it), said my farewell, and sat on the car's heated seat to try and regain some feeling before I began to drive. I looked at my Mom, and my eyes were glistening, from the cold, yes, but also because I was so touched, and still am as I write this. Here is this man living out his wife's legacy in her absence, missing her terribly, but she is so clearly there with him. He told me that the year Sheila passed away, there was no snow that winter, and thus very few swans, making her absence loom even larger. The next year there was a lot of snow, and a lot of swans. Jim knows that Sheila sent it, no question. He waved again as we pulled away, and we drove off feeling like we had just read a really beautiful love story ... and learned an awful lot about trumpeter swans while we were at it. (It turns out, according to Jim, that they mate for REPRODUCTIVE life, but if something happens to their partner, they will hook up again. Jim calls this Swan Park of his the "Pick Up Bar", because that's really what all of those trumpet peals are for.)

So, this Valentine's Day, let's celebrate love - whether we have it in our own lives in a romantic way or not - because it really is the one thing this world could sure use a whole lot more of right now. This beautiful, freezing cold morning could not have warmed my heart more, and I thank Jim Lawrence for sharing his great stories and for continuing his Swan Lady's dream long after she's been gone. Monticello has swans on its street light banners. The iron work on its overpass bridges feature swans. As we were leaving, another car with a couple inside pulled up to see the swans on an arctic blast of a day ... all because of Sheila and Jim. What a beautiful thing to behold ... ! Cheers to love, and Happy Valentine's Day, wherever you are!

If you would like to see these swans for yourselves, just head to 117 Mississippi Drive in Monticello, MN. No financial support comes from any city or state agencies to help feed the swans, so donations are always most welcome.

Swan City Heritage Foundation
c/o Monticello Chamber
P.O. Box 192
Monticello, MN 55362