Niagara Cave and Harmony – July 30

Statue in honor of pigs whose untimely deaths brought about the discovery of Niagara Cave.

Approximately 2.5 hours southeast of the Twin Cities lies a very deep cavern that was discovered (this is true) as a result of the Roaring ’20s when rich Amish swells would go there to toss money and pigs down the sink hole. (Pigs were a big sign of wealth back then!). Then when times got hard during the depression, they came back and excavated the hole to find their money and to see if there was anything left of the pig meat, and they found these super cool caves. But after the electric light took off, the Amish got muscled out of the cave business when the fat cats at GE took the caves wickless (as in candle wicks), and so they had to move up the road and start selling baked goods and old-timey home decore.

A chapel for people who wish to keep their marriage on the "down low." (insert sympathy chuckle)

Now that you know the history, here’s a bit about the experience. So, this is also true. People get married inside this cave! Which I find very disrespectful since it’s also a dinosaur grave-yard. Also, there is a really big waterfall in this place, and you’re not supposed to touch the walls – lest you ruin the experience for everyone (Even though there are scientist footprints up one of the walls where some scientific swell decided to go exploring and knock loose prehistoric dirt right in plain sight. Pff. Typical scientist.) – but the walls are very narrow, so I accidentally touched the walls a lot of times. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to “accidentally” touch any fossils.

All that's left of a dinosaur.

Additionally, we were warned that it was going to be really cold in the caves, and we should bring sweatshirts, which frightened some of our group to purchase Niagara Cave hoodies, only to find that it was everyone’s favorite temperature (room temperature) down there, and covering up wasn’t really necessary. Scammed!

Then we drove into Harmony where we got some really great lunch and pie at The Village Square of Harmony. I had a cup of the soup of the day, which was something really cheesie, as I recall. AND which came with the best bread sticks I can, at the moment of writing this, remember eating  at any other time in my entire life. They had this amazing soft but firm thing going on on the outside and fluffy but moist thing going on the inside. And normally I don’t like the idea of buttery breadsticks but in this case I was passionately for it. Wow. So so good.

 Also, they had a zillion flavors of pie. I got the sour cream and raisin pie which was exactly like raisin cookie dough on a pie crust (but without an overdose of raisins) – in a really good way. It was insanely dense, though, so I didn’t finish it, since I needed to save room for tastes of everyone else’s pie. All of which were good.

Then we looked at some Amish-made, old-timey home decore and various antiques at a store called Hometown Variety  and some other touristy boutiques I can’t see close-up enough on Google Maps to get the names of. We also drove around Amish country and stopped in at some shops. I bought some food made by an Amish family, which – the rumors are true – was delicious. Rhubarb jam, granola, and a really incredibly good doughnut. I hope you don’t mind that I’m not putting up pictures of any of these purchases, as photographing them is considered offensive.

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Pizza Luce (July 29) vs. Punch Pizza (August 20)

I’d heard loads of hype about Pizza Luce and Punch Pizza, particularly the latter. So I was excited to give them both a try. Here’s my review of each:

Pizza Luce is formal by pizza standards. The wait staff are super attentive and friendly. The menu is easy to navigate, which I only mention because I appreciated the vegetarian section. Anyway, we went with the baked potato pizza. Delicious! The crust on these things are my idea of perfection: thin (but substantial) in the middle with a veritable bread stick of an exterior crust.

Also, potatoes and pizza should happen more frequently. So many healthy carbohydrates in one place. No tomato sauce, in this case, which I initially was sad when I realized. But once I took a bite I realized it was so much better this way (that really probably would have been weird, in retrospect). And the leftovers were still in a perfect state the next day. Luce pizzas are durable!

Punch Pizza is informal. You order at the register, the pizza isn’t done quite at McDonald’s speed, but… definitely at Apollo Burger speed… (Err, I don’t know what the corollary in Minnesota. But, you know, a slightly up-scale burger chain.), and then you pick up your order at the counter. Everyone told me that these pizzas were like the kind they make in Italy. Thin crust, thin application of cheese, delicious toppings. All of this true was true, but with a few clarifications. The toppings did come in many delicious varieties, and they make it very easy for you to order custom combinations: I was very  happy with my choice of egg plant, mushroom, and onion.

 They departed from the Italian stuff, though, in that  (good) Italian pizzarias’ crusts aren’t charred on the outside and verging on soggy on the inside. I do love a good thin crust pizza, but these were serious flaws in my mind. Flaws that I would still be willing to eat on a regular basis, but still. Also, as you might imagine from my crust description, while the leftovers were definitely worth eating, they had depreciated quite a bit from the previous day’s production.

In conclusion, I’d say they’re both definitely worth eating. Punch Pizza is speedier and more convenient. And if you’re a sucker for char broiled pizza, you’ll love it. Pizza Luce, though, would be my pick if you’ve got an hour to sit down for some delicious food. Oh, and if you’re ever in the mood to eat at home, Punch Pizza has carry-out, and Pizza Luce delivers (Another critical win!).

The Wienery – July 26

I took the missionaries out to eat at the Wienery, and it was delicious!   The place is like a broom cupboard and has no air conditioning and very little seating, but the service was great. Super attentive, and super accommodating. Which was especially nice when it turned out they only take cash, and I had no cash. This was right after my debit card expired, and the new one was mailed to my mom’s house (which I still had as my permanent address), and I was living on my credit card which I don’t know the PIN to because I’ve never needed to, so I couldn’t use an ATM. Sigh. I was finally able to pay them back a week later (after somebody reimbursed me for something  in cash), and they didn’t make me do dishes or leave collateral or anything in the meantime!

Also, as far as food goes, they  have really great cheese fries, regular fries, and a zillion different kinds of hot dogs most of you have never even dreamed of (I, on the other hand, do almost nothing but dream of new hot dog varieties. I found their selection adequate.). Best veggie dog I’ve ever had.

Pierced Ears! – July 23

I never got my ears pierced. The reason is because it always seemed like a crime to me to jab shards of metal through your flesh to attract a mate. “Have we not evolved at all?!” I’d ask myself, “To what ends will we stoop to fulfill our cavemannish obsession with mating?” I also believed that I was naturally pretty and didn’t need such ornamentation (I will accept your reassuring comments below.).

Isn't that a nice ear? Pierced!

Also, I always felt it would be a pity to punch a hole in my ear because I think they are particularly nice looking. My mom always tells me that when I was born, women in the hospital would comment on how beautiful my ears were. My mom also assured me that this was not because they couldn’t find anything else about my appearance to compliment. I have chosen to believe her, and my ears have always been one of my favorite features.

But then I realized  I’ve already given into the man and bowed to social pressures with my appearance. In my natural state – and if no one were looking – I certainly wouldn’t dress the way I do for the public. I have put a lot of thought into it, and if I were entirely cut off from civilization, I would chop my hair short, wear brightly colored spandex shorts, fanny packs, band t-shirts, and tennis shoes – none matching – every day. This is true. BUT, barring an apocalyptic virus to which I alone am immune, it is unlikely I will ever be entirely sure I’ll never be seen by another human again. Also in the case of a similar virus that struck everyone else in the world blind. SO,  never fear, you’ll never have to see me in the really comfortable outfit I just described.

It was something like this, except I was old enough to remember it.

Anyway, I think earrings are pretty, and they just draw extra attention to my already very nice ears, so I decided to get my ears pierced. I brought Ranell along because she always sports such nice earrings, and we went to Claire’s at the Mall of America. I nearly hyperventilated, and while I have a habit of documenting all medical procedures, even traumatic (tooth knocked in) and invasive ones (knee surgery), but this one was way too scary so there are no photos. But, anyway, I got my ears pierced, and I discovered that there are some great up-do hairstyles that showcase earrings very well.

After the ear piercing, we lost my car in the Mall of America parking lot. Luckily, the mall employs bike cops to help people out of just such a fix.

Julia Learns to Swim! – July and August

Mid-July, I started taking Saturday morning swimming classes at Foss Swim School in Woodbury. We went swimming all the time growing up, but I somehow never learned to do anything but dog paddle and frog swim (which I am told grownups call the “breaststroke,” but I still can’t say that name without giggling).

But, I recently came up with a goal to be a triathlete, and this required me to learn to swim like the pros. I looked into several rec centers in the area, but then I remembered that my roommate runs a swim school! Anyway, I’ve been taking swimming classes for about 6 weeks now, and I am proud to say that I no longer have to stop to cough up water halfway across the pool (on account of you can’t hold your nose and do any grownup strokes at the same time)!