Midwest Nest Magazine

Midwest Nest Magazine

Culture, Entertaining, Home Design, Fargo, Interior Design, DIY

Category: Culture

From Our Tables to Yours [Grain Designs]

Story by Tracy NicholsonShop photography by Dan Francis Photography, Finished table photos by Grain DesignsStore photos by M. Schleif Photography Grain Designs has built their passion on embracing the imperfect….

Story by Tracy Nicholson
Shop photography by Dan Francis Photography, Finished table photos by Grain Designs
Store photos by M. Schleif Photography

Grain Designs has built their passion on embracing the imperfect. Every knot, scrape and nail hole, reflecting scarred wood that tells a unique story. This month, the team used their passion for design to ignite someone else’s; West Fargo’s Landon Solberg. At 11-years-old, Solberg has spent the last year courageously fighting brain cancer alongside his family and parents, Andrea and Travis Solberg. Although he loves sports, he also has a love of design, spending hours in the hospital watching HGTV, and expertly planning renovations for his family’s home. Recently, Landon’s family was nominated to take part in Grain Designs’ initiative, “From Our Tables to Yours”. This was Landon’s chance to gain first-hand experience at building a table with the Grain Designs team, and the team’s chance to give back to the community they love. 

From back left, Grant Koenig, Brayden Horgan, Zach Nelson, Travis & Griffin Solberg and Pat Bresnahan. From front left, Blain Mikkonen, Landon Solberg, Andrea Solberg, Emry Solberg, Cody Freestone.

Give Back & Gather
With work that’s been well-received throughout the community, Grain Designs wanted to find a way to return the favor. What transpired, was their unique table build initiative called, “From Our Tables to Yours”. This idea gave them a chance to give back in a meaningful way, and also remind people of the significance and often lost-art of gathering around the table. They asked the community to nominate deserving people to receive a hand-crafted table, then teamed up with At Your Service Clean & Cuisine to cater in a meal for a deserving family or community member. This will be the fourth project they’ve completed on behalf of community members. Landon Solberg was nominated by family friend and neighbor, Katie Sullivan.

“The community support puts food on our tables, so we want to do the same,” said Blain Mikkonen, founding partner at Grain Designs. “Since we partner with At-Your-Service Clean and Cuisine, it’s a two-part initiative; we actually gift a handmade table to a family in need, whether it’s through stewardship or hardship, and the community is able to nominate them. We’ve done this for three years now; this will be our third table and we’ve also done a large shelving project for a deserving family in South Dakota. Our first table was for a Moorhead resident who has since passed away. At the time, he was really a steward for the community and was facing some hardships.”

“Landon has a passion for design, so this project is a little bit unique in that he wanted to help design the table from start to finish,” said Mikkonen. “I met with him at the store and we designed the table on the computer – then he picked the stain and we talked about the dimensions and how the design process works. He’s also designed a bench to go with the dining table.”

To see their work in progress, we visited the Grain Designs rural workshop located on the site of their new wedding and event venue, The Pines. Between treatments and clinical trials in Cincinnati, Landon Solberg, along with his family, arrived ready and excited to get to work on the table he designed himself.

To walk him through the process, the Grain Designs team set up step-by-step stations, from the initial cutting stages to the table saw planing, then finally choosing between stain samples so he could make his final design selections.

“Landon’s really creative; you can tell he has a true passion for design,” said Mikkonen. “His parents and family were really excited for this project and they told us the story of him designing their house – he’s had a say in a lot of their renovations.”

“We have an unfinished basement, so Landon’s already put his personal touches on that space,” said Landon’s mom, Andrea Solberg. “He’s picked out the carpet, countertops, lighting and really everything. It’s a quaint, small area and he wanted Star Wars, NDSU and a little bit of Broncos. When we were in the hospital, we watched HGTV the whole time.”

“This is just icing on the cake that he gets to work on another piece for their home. When we designed the table together, we talked about functionality and how you seat the most people around a table, leg interference and the available space in the home,” explained Mikkonen.

“To seat more people, he decided on a metal, pedestal base. He chose a white pine wood, which is from the Globe grain elevator in Superior, Wisconsin,” said Mikkonen. “When it was built, it was the largest grain elevator in the world, so the wood has a ton of history. Since the base is welded metal, Landon was able to do some welding with Grant. For the top, he chose an ebony glaze, which is a grey finish and one of our most popular right now – so he’s made really good design choices.”

Sharing a Passion
“It’s hard for us to donate money as we’re trying to build our business, but donating product and time is something we can do,” said Mikkonen. “This is one way that we can give back while sharing our craft and passion with others. The beautiful thing about dining tables is that we feel it’s one of the most important pieces in the home. The dining table is the one place where you can really bring people together; it’s about creating that sense of community and family, especially in times of need. If we can bring them back to the table and talk about what’s important, that’s the premise behind this program.”

“The dining table is the one place where you can really bring people together. It’s about creating that sense of community and family, especially in times of need.”
Blain Mikkonen, Grain Designs

Counting their Blessings
Nearly one year ago, Landon was diagnosed with a grade III, aggressive brain tumor, also known as Anaplastic Astrocytomas. What began as severe headaches, quickly evolved into a much more serious condition that had doctors scrambling for answers. “It’s in his thalamus and down into his brain stem. Your brain stem is the control center of your body, so it can’t be removed and it can’t be operated on because it’s a grade III. It acts fairly aggressive and doesn’t normally respond well to chemo and radiation,” said Andrea Solberg.

One year later, Landon has undergone multiple brain surgeries at Sanford and Mayo and is now part of a clinical trial which has their family traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio, every four weeks. Although radiation has not shrunk the tumor, it remains stable which gives them hope. They may not know what tomorrow brings, but the Solbergs plan to keep fighting, praying and searching for a treatment that will provide a better prognosis.

“He’s a special kid; he’s so kind and he never complains,” said Andrea Solberg. “He missed quite a bit of school last year, so his school had a robot and it was the coolest thing. The West Fargo Technology Center brought it in; it was on wheels with a pole and a big iPad. He could control it, so he parked it in his seat and he’d walk in in the morning and the kids would say, ‘Hi Landon!’, and he’d wave back. I thought it was really cool because when we were in the hospital in Cincinnati, the doctors there had never seen anything like this.”

Landon’s Light
Landon’s Light was an idea that transpired from Casey Glandt of Go Promo while the Solbergs were with Landon in the hospital. Glandt is a family friend and attended school at Valley City with both Travis and Andrea Solberg. “He makes a lot of apparel at his company, so he and his wife made these shirts that say, ‘Landon’s Light’,” said Andrea Solberg. “Landon is a huge Harry Potter fan. So, the backs of the shirts have a Harry Potter quote.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore

“At the time, when we were in the ICU, it was kind of a fog; we barely remember it,” said Andrea Solberg. “But, the one thing we do remember was, all of a sudden, everyone starting changing their profiles on Facebook to Landon’s Light and tagging us in it. We just sat and cried.”

Support the Solbergs
“We’re just really lucky to have all of this support and everyone’s prayers; we never expected it. My sister-in-law does the Landon’s Light Facebook page, there’s a CaringBridge page and a friend of ours started a GoFundMe link to help us,” said Andrea Solberg. “His school (West Fargo’s Freedom Elementary) and all of the teachers have really rallied around him. I know this project is a lot of time and energy on Grain Designs’ part, but it means a lot to Landon; he was so excited about it.”Any donations to the Solberg’s GoFundMe link will help to lessen the burden of their medical bills, lost time at work, and travel expenses like flights, lodging and meals. These are ever-growing expenses that their family endures each month for trips to Cincinnati as part of the clinical trials. 

Know a family in need?
Go to graindesigns.com and click on the “Give Back” link where you can fill out a nomination form for a deserving family or individual. Each giveaway includes a custom-designed table and a full meal catered from At Your Service Clean & Cuisine.

“Whether the deserving recipients are facing hardship or being rewarded for stewardship, our hope is that a custom Grain Designs table and a catered meal will be a beacon of hope and conversation, for years to come,” Grant Koenig, Grain Designs.

For more information, or to nominate a family, contact:
Grain Designs

At Your Service Clean & Cuisine
To Donate to Landon’s Light Medical Fund or follow his journey:

Follow his journey on Facebook: Landons Light

No Comments on From Our Tables to Yours [Grain Designs]

Girl Meets Farm [ Season #2 meets Baby #1 ]

Story by Tracy Nicholson & Molly Yeh Photography courtesy of Molly Yeh With holiday excitement in the air and a bun in the oven (due in March), Molly Yeh debuted…

Story by Tracy Nicholson & Molly Yeh
Photography courtesy of Molly Yeh

With holiday excitement in the air and a bun in the oven (due in March), Molly Yeh debuted the big news last month, during the premiere of her second season of Food Network’s show, Girl Meets Farm. Filmed in the home she shares with her husband Nick Hagen, a fifth-generation farmer in East Grand Forks, this local food blogger has been stirring up the food scene since 2009. Since her number one fans are right here in the Midwest, we reached out to Yeh to help us kick off our holiday baking with a fresh take on an old favorite, brown sugar cookies.

Meet Molly Yeh!

Years before I became hip to Levain or Birdbath (my two favorite cookie spots in New York), or Carol’s Cookies (my favorite in Chicago), or the salty bittersweet chocolate chip cookie at the town bakery, my older sister invented a cookie that is so jarring in principle, it’ll make you either scoot fast in the opposite direction, or stick around just to see if the world explodes; chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips.

No, it’s not just a sugar cookie, homogeneous throughout and frosted with glee. It’s a chewy, gooey, crackly puck that doesn’t have a name to ride on or a trust fund under its butt. It’s not decorated or fancy. All it has to offer is that it’s a quality cookie.

These will show you that with all of the research put out into the world by Jacques Torres and J. Kenji López-Alt, one can achieve a beyond-terrific cookie, sans the hook of them containing chocolate. Because a great chocolate chip cookie isn’t great because it has chocolate, a great chocolate chip cookie is great because it has a foundation of gold; something we don’t give enough credit to. Is this getting preachy? The point is, I appreciate the spaces filled between the chocolate chips, and just like I prefer my challah without raisins, I often prefer my cookies without any chocolate to disrupt the perfect blend of butter and sugar.

“I appreciate the spaces filled between the chocolate chips, and just like I prefer my challah without raisins, I often prefer my cookies without any chocolate to disrupt the perfect blend of butter and sugar.”
Molly Yeh



Molly Yeh’s
Brown Sugar Cookies

[Makes about 8 large cookies]

3 – c. flour

1 – tsp. kosher salt

1 – tsp. baking powder

¼ – tsp. baking soda

1 – c. unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ – c. sugar

1 – c. packed dark brown sugar

2 – large eggs

1 – tbs. vanilla bean paste or extract

Flaky sea salt, for topping

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each, then add the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out hockey-puck-size mounds of dough (about two ice cream scoops of dough, balled up and flattened slightly) and place them on the baking sheet. It’s okay for them to sit snugly up against each other for this step. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of flaky salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 72. (In a pinch, you can bake these after just 1 hour of refrigerating, but curing the dough for 24 hours will yield the best results.) Feel free to bake these in batches or freeze some to bake at a later date (frozen cookies can be baked right out of the freezer, but they’ll need more time in the oven).

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the cookies three inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until the bottoms are lightly browned, but the centers are still soft. Begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes. Cool on the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove to the rack to cool completely.


Find this recipe in Yeh’s cookbook, Molly on the Range:
Recipes and Stories from An Unlikely Life on a Farm © 2016 by Molly Yeh. Reprinted with permission from Rodale Books.Follow Molly Yeh!

  • Catch episodes from her TV series, Girl Meets Farm on Food Network, Sundays at 11:00 a.m.
  • Watch video exclusives with Molly Yeh and get how-to’s on cake decorating and making your favorite childhood snacks at FoodNetwork.com/GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Follow Yeh on Facebook and Instagram @mynameisyeh.


No Comments on Girl Meets Farm [ Season #2 meets Baby #1 ]

A Very Vintage Christmas

Story by Tracy Nicholson with The White House Co. Photography by The White House Co. When winter’s in the air and tinsel’s on the town, it’s time to spruce up…

Story by Tracy Nicholson with The White House Co.
Photography by The White House Co.

When winter’s in the air and tinsel’s on the town, it’s time to spruce up your tree and everything else around. Ask Santa for a little help and wait till Christmas day…or take your sleigh downtown now, and see what The White House Co. elves have on display. With an eclectic mix of vintage and modern goodies, these holiday collages will inspire hot cocoa and fuzzy footies. Katie Schiltz, Samantha Klinkhammer and Amanda Rydell – they’re the brains behind the design, so if you want to replicate their wintry scenes, they said, “It’s more than fine.” Go ahead, deck the kitchen, family room and hall, and don’t forget…find festive presents for all!

Ho ho ho, Santa baby! An easy way to add red into your Christmas décor without going overboard. Just looking at this jolly little fella can put a smile on anyone’s face. Popular vintage styles like this retro Santa can be found inside The White House Co.

Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. Not every bulb has to be shiny and bright.  Add these little creatures to your décor for a playful setting that everyone is sure to fall in love with.

“At Christmas, all roads lead to home.” – Marjorie Holmes.
Cozy, winter scene paint by numbers is a sure way to add that wintry touch without bringing the snow inside. It’s an easy way to mix your vintage collection in with your modern-day ornaments.

Conversation starters…whimsical décor outside of the norm creates a focal point leaving your guests with something to talk about. Who doesn’t need an eye ornament for their Christmas tree?

Tinsel, shiny lights, bottle brush trees, darling little deer and chubby rosy-cheeked Santas…oh my! These are a few of our favorite things.

Ornaments plus more ornaments…you can never have too many. Every ornament holds a story and memory, creating that family tradition where everyone has their favorites to hang on the tree. Mixing vintage and modern, you can never go wrong. {$2-$12 at The White House Co.}

From butterflies to shiny bulbs, anything can serve as a decoration for the tree. Being creative and thinking outside the box is one of our favorite secrets for designing the perfect tree.

Garland plays the role of a rug and creates the whole theme of the tree. Layers are the key and don’t be afraid to mix and match. After all, Christmas comes but once a year. Go big or go home, we say!

Merry Junking!

xo The White House Girls

For more information, contact:
The White House Co. | Shop + Vintage Rentals

Retail Location:

14 Roberts Street North, Fargo |  Open Thursday – Saturday 10 A.M – 6 P.M.

Warehouse Location:
910 Main Ave, Fargo | Open by Appointment

No Comments on A Very Vintage Christmas

#RedBallProject [ Debut of Fargo-Moorhead’s Largest Public Art Display ]

Story by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography, Dennis Krull – 5foot20 In case you didn’t notice the massive red ball around Fargo-Moorhead this past month, let us show…

Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography, Dennis Krull – 5foot20

In case you didn’t notice the massive red ball around Fargo-Moorhead this past month, let us show you its remarkable journey. The RedBall Project, created by artist Kurt Perschke, has traveled around the world and recently became a community phenomenon at seven must-see locations. To date, RedBall has made its debut in over 30 international cities, and is currently considered “the world’s longest-running street artwork”. To get the 250-pound ball to bounce our way, clay artist and MSUM Professor, Brad Bachmeier spearheaded the campaign, working closely with Andy Maus of Plains Art Museum and a long list of local supporters and sponsors. Follow along as we take to the streets for a recap of Fargo-Moorhead’s most impactful public art display, the RedBall Project.

Paving the Way for Public Art
Arriving in a crate carrying 250-pounds of inflatable canvas, the RedBall Project made its debut at Plains Art Museum on October 4. The artist, Kurt Perschke, had already visited in July and worked with the city to scout out seven different locations. Roughly the height of a semi truck, the RedBall Project traveled to a new location each day, disrupting the daily routine and encouraging the community to interact and take a second glance at beautiful locations we often overlook.

[Bringing the Ball to Fargo]
Location #1:
Plains Art Museum, Downtown Fargo

Location #2:
Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead

“I don’t think we had initially realized how selective Kurt is about choosing communities for this project. He actually turns down roughly nine out of 10 inquiries, so we were extremely lucky to have been able to play host to RedBall.”
Brad Bachmeier, MFA, Professor – School of Art, MSUM

Location #3: Great Northern Bicycle Company, Downtown Fargo

Location #4: Lindenwood-Gooseberry Park Pedestrian Bridge, Fargo

“I think the RedBall Project was fabulously received in Fargo. It was wonderful to see the size of the crowds at each site and how great the attendance was. The best part was seeing the joy it brought to people of all ages, from toddlers to seniors. I think the project produced some really great conversations and awareness around public art that will be really productive for our metro moving forward.”
Brad Bachmeier, MFA, Professor – School of Art, MSUM

Location #5: Fargo Park District offices at the Depot

Location #6: Rourke Art Gallery + Museum, Moorhead

“The out of character snow event we had on the last day of the RedBall Project, in early October, turned out to be the perfect ending to the project; resulting in some fabulous photos in front of our iconic Fargo Theatre.”
Brad Bachmeier, MFA, Professor – School of Art, MSUM

Location #7: Fargo Theater, Downtown Fargo


“To me, the best artworks are those that appear simple but are actually complex. I feel that these works are a metaphor for people; you see someone or hear about someone – but, until you interact with a person, you don’t know them. I have never been a part of a project that was so incredibly simple, yet so impactful. Of the thousands of people that came out to see RedBall, several of them have thanked me for being a part of the team that brought it to Fargo-Moorhead. I think people loved it because it made them feel connected to the world, to each other, and to our built environment in a way that I think only it could do. Seeing it here reaffirmed to me that RedBall is indeed really about people – just as the artist (Kurt Perschke) intended.”

Andrew J. Maus, Director and CEO, Plains Art Museum


The RedBall Project is brought to Fargo and Moorhead thanks to support from the Fargo Arts & Culture Commission, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Plains Art Museum, Fargo Park District, Insight to Action/Carol Schlossman Consulting, Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau, and other supportive partners.

For more information, contact:
Plains Art Museum
Andrew J. Maus, Director and CEO

Bradley Bachmeier

Program Coordinator and Professor of Art Education, MSUM
Art Therapy Program Co-Coordinator & N.D. Council on the Arts Board of Directors, Vice Chair


Or visit:

No Comments on #RedBallProject [ Debut of Fargo-Moorhead’s Largest Public Art Display ]

Giving & Gathering

Story by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography Recently, Midwest Nest donated an educational evening in the kitchen to the Pray for Gray benefit which took place this fall….

Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Recently, Midwest Nest donated an educational evening in the kitchen to the Pray for Gray benefit which took place this fall. Four guests were promised a behind-the-scenes seat at the table and auctioned off to the highest bidder – board member, Tom Shirek. Shirek had placed a handsome bid with the intent to send his wife, Sally Shirek, a Pray for Gray committee member, on a fabulous girl’s night out. To give the group an unforgettable experience, we called on four of the most talented at-home chefs we knew and two of the most giving hosts, Jim and Vonda Leiner. All graciously gathered and donated their time to display their skills in the Leiner’s beautiful kitchen. You’re invited to see inside their autumn-inspired evening, with four delectable courses – served up in style.

Be our Guest:
Thrilled with her husband’s gift, Sally Shirek wasted no time gathering her three friends,
Shannon Aannerud, Janessa Morrow and Allison Faller, to join in the food shoot fun. This VIP gathering began their foodie adventure in Leiner’s picturesque backyard, then headed inside for a behind-the-scenes tasting of four fall-inspired courses.

The Chefs
You might recognize our featured chefs, they grace our pages many times a year. Each at-home chef offers our readers an in-depth, but down-to-earth education in family favorites, comfort food, cocktails, desserts and specialty dishes they’ve recreated from their worldly travels. Our sincere thanks to hosts and chefs, Jim and Vonda Leiner, food blogger and at-home chef, Shayla Knutson of Sweetly Simple Life, our resident cheesemonger/”Culinary Masterson” (Jesse Masterson), and last but never least, our favorite family of world travelers and cuisine contributors, Laneil Skaff, along with her daughter Julie Stoe and daughter-in-law Christine Skaff.

Savoring the Season
This is the third time we’ve shot at the Leiner home and there’s no question we’d beg them to host again. In fact, the Leiners have become known for their gracious hosting, regularly entertaining on behalf of many different fundraising dinners. This is one couple who we consider experts in creating and capturing the perfect seasonal ambiance. Guests at each dinner enjoy a backyard riverside oasis, inviting ambiance and impressive tablescapes.21
One of the coziest features in the home is their authentic woodfire pizza oven from Italy. Jim Leiner is a long-time cabinet builder for Wood Specialists in Fargo. He installed the woodfire oven, crafted their beautiful cabinetry and created the stone surround. With the oven’s interior temps reaching around 800 degrees, fall is the perfect time to fire it up.

“It is all of the wonderful people we know and have gotten to know, gathering for causes and celebrations that are filled with so many stories and wonderful memories; that is what makes our house a home,” said Vonda Leiner. “Of course, it’s always fun to design and come up with new ideas to create an environment that makes people feel special, warm and cozy.”

Course #1: Jim & Vonda Leiner

Woodfire-Roasted Fennel with Prosciutto Pizza
Brush pizza dough with olive oil.
Top with fontina cheese, roasted fennel slices, prosciutto and red pepper flakes.
After baking, sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds, sea salt and balsamic vinegar glaze.

Woodfire-Roasted Harvest Butternut Squash Pizza
Spread chipotle oil on pizza dough.
Top with caramelized onion, butternut squash, mozzarella cheese, thin apple slices, chopped bacon and a sprinkle of blue cheese.
Garnish with sage and walnuts.

Tips: The Leiners use a basic dough recipe, but you can purchase dough or make your own. If you don’t have access to a woodfire pizza oven, you can also use a pizza stone in the oven at 450-500 degrees.“Jim and I have been blessed by the support of our community, as well as family and friends when dealing with our own health challenges. We love having the opportunity to help and give back when we can, by opening our home for others to enjoy.”
Vonda Leiner, Homeowner & Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor

Course #2: Jesse Masterson
Kale & Brussel Sprout Salad + Fig Balsamic DressingIngredients:2 – Tbs. of olive oil

1 – Bundle of Kale, chopped

2 – C. of Brussel Sprouts, shredded

1 – Apple (sliced or balled – using a melon baller)

1 – Carrot, shredded

2 – Slices of bread

1 – C. walnuts



White cheddar cheese, sliced or shredded

Brie cheese, sliced

Fig Balsamic Dressing:

1/3 – C. of olive oil

1/4 – C. balsamic vinegar

3 – Tbs. of fig preserves

Preheat oven to 425°

1. In a large salad bowl massage kale with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. This helps make the kale not so bitter. Toss Brussel sprouts in with kale.

2. Toss walnuts in one tablespoon of olive oil and add a dash of paprika, cinnamon and cumin. Using a cookie sheet, bake the walnuts in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

3. Prepare the fig balsamic dressing. Whisk ingredients together.

4. Prepare the Brie and white cheddar grilled cheese. Once done, cut the grilled cheese into small cubes. Don’t cut them too small or they’ll fall apart.

5. Top the kale and sprouts with carrots, apple, walnuts, grilled cheese croutons and salad dressing.25, 26, 19
“I was able to find most of the ingredients at the Red River Market in Downtown Fargo. On the weekends from July through October, this is a great place to find fresh and local produce, floral, handmade goods and dishes from locally-owned restaurants. Make sure to check out their upcoming schedule of events at www.redriver.market.com.”
Jesse Masterson, Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor

Course #3: Laneil Skaff, Julie Stoe, Christine Skaff
Pepita Chicken + Oven-Roasted Fall Squash with Brown Sugar Glaze
Chicken in Pumpkin Seed Tomatillo Sauce


Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
½ – Pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved (Cashwise, 4907 Timber Pkwy S, Fargo)

½ – Medium white onion, roughly chopped

3 – Tablespoons avocado or vegetable oil, divided

1 ½ – Pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved

2 – tsp. ground cumin, divided

2 – tsp. Mexican oregano, divided

1/3 – C. green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 – Large garlic clove, peeled and chopped

2 – C. Low sodium chicken broth

1/3 – C. Crema Mexicana or sour cream w/a splash of milk or cream

1 – C. Loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish lime wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

1. Roast tomatillos and onions: In a medium bowl, combine tomatillos and onion and toss with oil to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet and lightly season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes or until tomatillos and onions are dark and crispy on the edges.

2. Season chicken generously with salt, pepper, and one teaspoon each of cumin and oregano; set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add one Tablespoon of oil. Toast the pumpkin seeds in the hot oil, stirring continuously, until they have expanded and begin to pop; 1-2 minutes. Carefully remove one Tablespoon of the toasted pumpkin seeds, lightly season with salt and set aside for garnish.

4. Add garlic and jalapeno to the pan and sauté until aromatic, about one minute. Add remaining teaspoons of cumin and oregano, roasted tomatillos, onion, ½ teaspoon of salt, and chicken broth; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
5. Remove saucepan from heat, add cilantro, then pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Tip: Take the center knob out of the blender and place a paper towel over the hole – otherwise, you will have a hot explosion on your hands!
6. Once pureed smooth, pour back in pan, add cream (or sour cream) and reheat over medium-low heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To pan roast the chicken: With a large heavy skillet, over medium-high heat – add remaining oil. When oil is simmering, place thighs (or your preference) presentation side down in the pan. DO NOT move them around. Cook until evenly browned, about five minutes. Carefully turn thighs over and finish cooking; by either placing cover on and turning heat down to medium-low or finish in oven. Roast until the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, or about eight minutes.

To serve:  Spoon ¼-inch of sauce into warmed shallow serving dish. Arrange pieces of roasted chicken on top of the sauce. Drizzle sauce over chicken until well coated and garnish with pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and extra sauce on the side.

I learned how to make this at a cooking school; it’s easy to make, but it has really interesting, warm flavors that mix a bit of Mexican with a bit of fall. The tomatillos grow in a husk and have a denser texture with a little bite to it. The pepitas (green pumpkin seeds) give the dish a hint of fall without screaming pumpkin. It’s great served with plain rice, jasmine rice or a simple risotto. I prefer to use chicken thighs because they’re so moist and flavorful. You can even double the chicken and still only make one recipe of sauce. The sauce can be made up to two days ahead of time. If you have leftover sauce, try it on cheese quesadillas, steak, fajitas or fish tacos.”  Laneil Skaff, Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor


Brown Sugar Glazed Fall Squash


Variety of fall squash – Laneil used acorn and buttercup


Salt and pepper

2- Tbs. Honey

1 – Tbs. Butter

2 – Tbs. Brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees


1. Wash squash and slice in half – top to bottom. Dig out middle seeds, then slice  ¼ to ½-inch slices. Place on foil-covered sheet pan.

2. Melt butter, using a pastry brush, brush each piece generously with butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Place in oven and bake for five minutes.
4. While squash is baking, make glaze. In a saucepan over medium heat, place honey, butter and brown sugar in pan and cook until brown sugar is melted.

5. Take squash out of oven and brush with glaze. Return to oven and bake for five to seven more minutes or until tender and glaze has caramelized.
(Time will vary depending on thickness of squash.)

Dessert Course: Shayla Knutson of Sweetly Simple Life
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée
4 – C. Heavy cream
8 – Egg yolks
1 – C. Sugar
1 – C. Pumpkin
1 – tsp. Vanilla
1 – tsp. Cinnamon
½ – tsp. Ginger
¼ – tsp. Cloves
¼ – tsp. Nutmeg (freshly ground)
6 – Mini pumpkins or six, 4-ounce ramekins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees
1. In a small saucepan, heat whipping cream and spices over medium heat, just until bubbly. Remove from heat; set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, pumpkin and salt. Beat with a whisk or mixer just until combined. Slowly whisk the hot whipping cream into the egg mixture.
3. Use a small serrated knife to cut off the top half-inch of the baby pumpkins. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Place the pumpkins in a roasting pan.
4. Divide custard mixture evenly among the pumpkins or ramekins. Place roasting pan on oven rack. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the pumpkins or ramekins. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until center appears nearly set when gently shaken.
5. Carefully remove pan from oven. Remove pumpkins or ramekins from water; cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill for at least two hours or up to 24 hours. Before serving, let custards stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
6. Pour a thin, even layer of sugar over the refrigerated custards, ignite the torch, and use slow, sweeping motions. The sugar will melt slowly at first and then caramelize.

“This is a normal creme brulee, but I added pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices for a seasonal touch. Expect your creme brulee to be less firm than usual. You can use regular ramekins, but I thought the presentation would be more festive to serve it in carved-out, mini pumpkins. I would suggest preparing this recipe a day ahead of time. Also, cook time will vary with pumpkins versus ramekins; due to the moisture, plan for a longer bake time with pumpkins.”
Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life & Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor
Follow on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife

“Thank you to all the local chef’s involved for the wonderful meal, and especially Jim and Vonda for hosting the beautiful evening and delicious food. Thank you to Midwest Nest for the donation of the food shoot package for the Pray for Gray Gala and all of the generosities in this community. My friends and I had a great time and will forever cherish the memories together!” Sally Shirek


About Pray for Gray
Pray for Gray was founded by Julie Fletcher and is currently the only North Dakota 501(c)3 nonprofit brain tumor organization. The organization’s goal is to educate and raise awareness of brain tumors, to help meet the needs of other brain tumor patients and their families. Through their annual events, they strive to raise funds for new research and patient survival. Pray for Gray proceeds go to help area brain tumor survivors and their families, as well as brain tumor research programs.For more information regarding Pray for Gray, contact:
Pray for Gray Foundation
PO Box 446
Fargo, ND 58107



No Comments on Giving & Gathering

The Pines by Grain Designs [ Welcome to Wedding #1 ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by M. Schleif Photography Grain Designs cordially invites you to the first wedding at The Pines, the area’s newest wedding and event venue. A lot…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photography by M. Schleif Photography

Grain Designs cordially invites you to the first wedding at The Pines, the area’s newest wedding and event venue. A lot has changed since our last issue which outlined the venue’s build and the gorgeous remodel on the property’s poolside home. While last month hammers were swinging, this month, wedding bells are ringing. To celebrate the venue’s opening, the bride and groom, Grain Designs’ own Pat Bresnahan and his wife Nicolette, welcomed our readers to see inside their special day. No need to RSVP, we’ll give you a glimpse of the designer details that made their farmhouse chic wedding day unforgettable.

By nearly all accounts, The Pines first wedding on September 15th was a resounding success. Although the 9,000 square-foot building was not 100 percent complete, the Grain Designs team made sure the bride and groom’s big day was perfection. To get the venue ready, the team worked endless hours with Taylor Belk of Epic Homes, Differding Electric and Zulauf Construction to ensure that the wedding party and 320 guests could celebrate in style.

“It took an army of help and support from friends and family for weeks leading up to the wedding until the ceremony started,” said Blain Mikkonen of Grain Designs. “The entire Grain Designs team and all of our families, including Nicolette’s family, really stepped up and put in extra hours to make the first event at The Pines a great success.” To put the finishing touches on the reception site, Grain Designs handcrafted the new signage, 40 tables, a ceremony pergola and two sliding barn doors suspended between the grain bins. Cafe lights were strung, 600 plus chairs were set in place and the farmyard grounds got a newly landscaped facade.

Field of (their) Dreams

On the property’s 17 acres, there are several designated areas for outdoor wedding ceremonies, but Nicolette and Pat had their hearts set on the field just beyond the grain bins. With a creative twist, the grain bins became the grand entrance and the space between the bins would become both the entrance and a communal space, leading guests to the ceremony site and Grain Designs pergola. For added ambiance, a family friend, Carol Thibeault, used her DIY know-how to suspend a chandelier between the grain bins and custom made Grain Designs barn doors.

“On Friday afternoon, right as we were adding the final décor to the venue, The White House Co. girls showed up in what might as well have been the ‘Magic School Bus’. They quite literally turned our ceremony spot into a magazine-worthy spread by adding a beautiful, vintage seating area, rug and coffee table. Not only was this area functional, but it was so fun seeing guests take pictures in our outdoor living room,” said Nicolette Bresnahan.

Designed to Dine

To complete the venue’s dining decor, Thibeault and a few members of the wedding party came earlier in the week to assist with the final details. “Carol can take anything and either make it useful, pretty or both,” said Nicolette Bresnahan. “She helped me organize the theme and vision for our wedding while keeping our budget in mind. I knew I wanted lots of fresh greenery and she came up with the idea of using Russian Olive Branch—a common tree with full green leaves that are easily found in the area. She hand-picked all of the Russian Olive Branch for centerpieces the day before the wedding, which made the dark stain of the custom Grain Designs’ tables stand out even more.”

“For our floral, Kimberly from Prairie Petals hit the nail on the head. I only explained to her the vision I had for our big day, with no specifics of certain flowers. From the colors to the arrangement, it was perfection. One thing about Kimberly’s work is that it will, without a doubt be completely unique.”


“Although The Pines was not fully complete at the time that we got married, it was still absolutely beautiful,” said Nicolette Bresnahan. “White, board and batten walls and beautifully handcrafted Grain Design tables are just a few things that made it a stand-out space. The tall ceilings and open room are exposed with just the right amount of light.”

Farmhouse Fare

Within the venue, which can accommodate 400 plus for a seated dinner, The Pines offer a prep kitchen for the caterers, provided by Chef’s Table Catering with a full bar set-up. For the venue’s first wedding, the bride and groom chose a more relaxed, buffet-style dinner. “The Swedish meatballs and grilled chicken buffet was fantastic – we got a lot of great feedback from our guests,” said Pat Bresnahan. Those with a sweeter tooth could head to the antique door table for a candy bar of sugary confections.


Bresnahan Wedding Breakdown:

Venue – The Pines

Catering – Chef’s Table Catering

Floral – Prairie Petals, Carol Thibeault

Staged lounges – The White House Co.

Barn door, table and pergola design – Grain Designs
Men’s attire – Halberstadt’s
Dress – Your Day by nicole

Hair and makeup – Anonby Salon

Photographer – M. Schleif Photography


What’s next for The Pines? 

As this issue hits the stands, The Pines will already be back to work, completing the remaining interior finishes, in preparation for wedding number two on October 28. By this date, all of the exterior paneling and concrete slabs will be completed and ready for a whole new guest list. The interior’s finishes will also be completed with classic detailing, as well as exposed beams and white reclaimed wood paneling.

As they head into winter, Grain Designs will be preparing for an upcoming photoshoot, Eco Chic’s Vintage Christmas at The Pines event, and an array of corporate and Christmas parties. Interested in hosting your own event or wedding at The Pines? Make sure to call soon. They are still booking events for this fall, and although there are still a few wedding dates available for 2019, they’re booking up fast. Follow their progress and adventures as they continue to renovate the farmhouse bridal suites and plan for their official, grand opening celebration!

For more information, contact: 

The Pines




No Comments on The Pines by Grain Designs [ Welcome to Wedding #1 ]

Downtown Wine Cooperative [ Rooftop Rendezvous ]

Words by Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life Photography by M. Schleif Photography On a brisk night in August, we invited Midwest Nest to gather on the rooftops to experience our…

Words by Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

On a brisk night in August, we invited Midwest Nest to gather on the rooftops to experience our 38th Downtown Wine Cooperative event with local sommelier, Jean Taylor. To double the fun, we joined rooftop patios with our neighbors, Terry and Darla Johnson to pack in over 40 wine enthusiasts, ready to learn. To give our guests a night of wining and dining, my husband Cam and I prepared small plates and hors-d’oeuvres using recipes from my Sweetly Simple Life food blog. This perfect evening would mark 1,400 attendees and an impressive 7,000 glasses of wine served in unique locations all over Downtown Fargo.

Downtown Wine Cooperative
The event began in 2014 as a one-time gathering to further our wine education, but quickly progressed to a monthly event. Although the first event was at our home, our focus shifted to help others experience new downtown places and meet new people. We keep it very casual and proudly proclaim that there is no dress code and we don’t try and make it fancy. We believe wine should be approachable and doesn’t need to be stuffy.

Our local sommelier and educational host, Jean Taylor, has been in professional wine service for over 10 years, working in fine dining at esteemed, local hot spots like Maxwell’s and Mezzaluna. When she’s not teaching us the fundamentals of wine, she works for a boutique wine distributor called Small Lot, based in the Twin Cities.

People & Places
To experience more downtown locations, we’ve held the wine cooperative at a number of downtown condos, businesses and homes in the area. We’ve also ventured out to interesting locations we felt everyone should experience like, Troll Bar at the Sons of Norway, Elevate in the Loretta building, Sanctuary, Abovo, Woodrow Wilson apartments (one before renovation and one after), APT Creative Incubator Space, a 102 Broadway rooftop and many more!

Life & Wine
Cam and I will soon be making the move to Bismarck, but we plan to keep our downtown condo and return often. We hope the wine cooperative will continue with Jean and we’ll be making the trek home to attend whenever possible. To sum up our experience, I’ll leave you with a note from my husband, Cam Knutson;”The biggest thing that I’ve learned from this is that wine is a life-long journey. There’s no point that you’re going to reach a peak and say, I’ve mastered everything there is to know about wine. You’re going to keep learning throughout your entire journey in life – to just be intentional as you’re talking about wine whether you’re at an event, traveling or out for date night. When you have a chance to be thoughtful about what you’re drinking and where it’s from – read up on it, learn more and keep continuing on this journey to learn and enjoy wine.”


5 [Sweetly Simple] Tips
For Hosting A Great Party 

  1. Give yourself plenty of time.                                                                                                                Start prepping a day or two in advance. I prep everything I’m cooking ahead of time and set out all the serving dishes I’m going to use. Being prepared takes a lot of the stress out of hosting an event and will let you enjoy yourself more when the day arrives.
  2. Simplify the menu.
    Don’t try to make something new. Stick with things you enjoy making and know taste good.
  3. Set the right mood.                                                                                                                    To set the mood, turn down the lights, play some music and pick up some inexpensive flowers from the grocery store, Costco or your local farmers market.
  4. When someone offers help, accept it!
    Have them help with something as simple as putting dishes in the dishwasher or setting the table.
  5. Relax and enjoy yourself!                                                                                                                      Nothing makes guests more uncomfortable than a nervous or anxious host. It’s your party, so allow yourself time to have fun and enjoy the company.

Onion Relish and Sausage Crostini 
* 1 package Kiolbassa Smoked Sausage (find this at Costco or Sam’s Club)
* ¼ C. oil
* salt and pepper
* 1 med/lg yellow onion (finely chopped)
* ½ C. balsamic vinegar
* 3 Tbs. honey
* 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
* Pinch red pepper flakes
* 1 ½ C. ricotta

* 2 baguettes

For the Sausage: 

Slice the sausage at a 45° angle into ½” to 1” thick pieces. Place the sausage on a grill, in a grill basket on medium to high heat. Keep a close eye on these as they cook very fast.

For the Onion Relish: 
Heat ¼ cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, thyme, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and tender, 13 to 15 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and honey.
For the Baguette: 

Preheat the oven to 400℉. Slice the baguette diagonally into ¼ inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Assemble the Crostini: 

Top the toasted bread with a dollop of the ricotta, a piece of sausage and a spoonful of the onion relish.

Apple Manchego Salad
* 5 to 6 apples (Fuji, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith)
* 7 oz Manchego cheese
* ⅓ C chives (chopped)
* ¼ C fresh lemon juice
* 1 T olive oil

* Pinch of salt

Slice the apples into matchsticks. Toss the apples with lemon juice. Slice the cheese into matchsticks and add to the apples. Toss apples and cheese with chives, olive oil, and salt. Note: Do not make more than two hours ahead.


Whipped Feta and Tomato Crostini
* 6 oz. feta
* 3 oz. cream cheese (softened)
* ⅔ C. olive oil (divided)
* ½ of a lemon (juiced)
* 1 small onion (minced)
* 1 Tbs. minced garlic
* 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
* 2 pounds cherry tomatoes (halved)
* 3 Tbs. julienned basil leaves
* 2 baguettes
* ¼ C. toasted pine nuts

* Salt and pepper

For the Whipped Feta: 

Place the feta, cream cheese, ⅓ cup olive oil, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and beat with hand mixer until smooth.

For the Tomatoes: 

Combine minced onion, garlic, vinegar, ⅓ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Before serving, add the julienned basil.

For the Baguette: 

Preheat the oven to 400℉. Slice the baguette diagonally into ¼ inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are golden brown.

To assemble the Crostini: 
Spread each slice of bread with whipped feta mixture. Place the tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with extra basil and toasted pine nuts.
Candied Pecans
* 4 C. pecan halves
* 1 large egg white
* 1 Tbs. water
* 1 C. sugar
* 2 tsp. cinnamon
* ½ tsp. salt

* 1 dash of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the egg white and water until completely combined. In a large mixing bowl add the pecans, egg white and water mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Pour the cinnamon sugar mixture over the pecans and stir until all of the pecans are fully coated. Place the pecans onto the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 300°F for 45 minutes, stirring the pecans every 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely on the baking sheet.

Smoked Pork Belly Sliders 
* 24-32 King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

* 1 Cucumber

For the Marinade: 
* 2-4 pound pork belly
* ¼ C. hoisin sauce
* 2 Tbs. soy sauce
* 2 Tbs. honey
* 2 Tbs. minced ginger
* 2 Tbs. minced garlic
* 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
* 2 Tbs. sesame oil

* ½ tsp. pepper

Whisk together the garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil and pepper. Add the pork belly, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

For the Pickled Carrots and Daikon: 
* 1 C. julienned carrots
* 1 C. julienned daikon radish
* ½ C. sugar
* ½ C. rice wine vinegar

* ½ C. water

Combine the carrot and daikon radish in a bowl. In a small pot, whisk together the sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a simmer until sugar dissolves; let cool for 10 minutes. Pour the sugar mixture into the bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

For the Spicy Onion Mayonnaise: 
* ¼ C. mayonnaise
* 3 green onions thinly sliced
* 2 tsp. minced garlic
* 1 tsp. sriracha
* ½ tsp. smoked paprika

* Dash of salt and pepper

Combine the mayonnaise, green onions, sriracha, smoked paprika, salt/pepper and garlic in a small bowl.

Smoked Pork Belly:

Traeger Smoker Option: When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on smoke with the lid open until fire is established (4-5 minutes). Set temperature to 275 degrees F and preheat, lid closed, for 10-15 minutes. Place pork belly directly on the grill grate and cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F. Remove from grill and let rest 10-15 minutes. (https://www.traegergrills.com/recipes/pork/smoked-pork-belly)

Stovetop Option: Thinly slice the pork belly. Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add the pork belly and cook until crisp and browned, about 4-5 minutes.

Serve pork belly on toasted Kings Hawaiian rolls with pickled daikon and carrots, thinly sliced cucumber and spicy onion mayonnaise.


To see more of Shayla Knutson’s Sweetly Simple recipes;
Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife

No Comments on Downtown Wine Cooperative [ Rooftop Rendezvous ]

Everyone’s Cordially Invited to [ Monte & Jerry’s Garden Party ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by M. Schleif Photography When a petite garden soiree becomes a full-blown fundraising affair, you can bet that Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser have something…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

When a petite garden soiree becomes a full-blown fundraising affair, you can bet that Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser have something to do with it. This dynamic duo has become well-known for their annual get-togethers during the holidays, and now more recently, their end-of-summer, garden gatherings. Take a walk down the block and see inside their quaint garden party turned inclusive block party. When this couple decides to entertain, the theme is always, ‘The more the merrier’.

Gaining a Garden
Last summer, we heard that Jones and Erbstoesser had recently transitioned from a downtown condo to a new home in West Fargo. Their new, larger home meant gaining a backyard so Jones could once again pursue his love of gardening…and of course, garden parties. It wasn’t long before their July 29th plans for a quaint garden party escalated. Their small gathering had become a full-blown, inclusive block party with a bevy of supportive sponsors and the Front Fenders entertaining the crowds. To give the event a meaningful purpose, the couple reached out to United Way and set plans in place for a silent auction and proceeds to benefit their cause.

Greetings from the Garden
Midway through Monte and Jerry’s block party, we headed to the backyard to see their relaxing retreat including a pool, hot tub and garden gazebo. Following a charming stone pathway, we took a tour through the wildflowers, ponds, bird baths and whimsical sitting areas. While Erbstoesser steers clear of the garden work and focuses on pool maintenance, Jones is always at work gathering rocks, placing stepping stones, bird baths and an array of floral he aptly names after Hollywood characters – a nod to his early years in theater.

In just one summer, Jones has transformed a vacant field into a beautiful, backyard retreat.

“The Maple trees are Fire Red Maples, so I’ve named them Scarlett and Neely O’Hara – Scarlett’s from Gone with the Wind and Neely is a character from a really bad movie that nobody knows about called Valley of the Dolls,” laughed Jones. Next, we meet a Korean Willow he refers to as Winifred and another as Wilimena. “The Wisteria on the lattice is Whinny. I’m still trying to think of a really great sister act to name the Poplars.”

“The garden parties have always been fun. At the first one we went to, back at their historic home, it was just the most eclectic group of people – we saw pink hair, clergyman, elderly folks bringing hotdish, a neighbor playing piano in the backyard and everything you can imagine,” laughed Dianne Swenson. “They are wonderful guys; we love them and when we’re invited, we definitely try to be there.”

“I think the inclusive side of the party is great – they love everybody and that’s what it’s about,” said Lois Koppang.

[In]clusive Invites
“The reason it all started years ago, is that we have all of these people that we really like, but they don’t know each other. So, we thought if we really like these people…let’s get them all together to meet the other people that we really like,” explained Jones. “I don’t know exactly what it is we do, but the feedback that we get from people about these parties validates everything that we do. This is just what brings us joy.”

“We extended our invite to everyone in Brooks Harbor and also over to the Eagle Run neighborhood. One of the first to arrive was a couple with their young son; they had just bought a house in Brooks Harbor a few months ago and they didn’t know anybody. I told them to come on in and we’ll introduce you – you’ll know everybody by the time you leave,” said Jones.

There Goes the Neighborhood…
When Jones and Erbstoesser move into a new neighborhood, you’ll definitely know when they arrive. “Either you’re going to like us or you’re going to hate us,” Erbstoesser laughed. “This is who we are; we like to entertain, so we entertain. Once the neighbors found out about this garden party, they were completely on board with everything, even the live band. They were all asking what they could do to help.”

“We haven’t even been here a year yet, and the whole street is wonderful,” said Jones. “Every Friday and Saturday night we have our garage doors open, we walk the street – people have bonfires in their driveway – it almost reminds me of being at the lake, minus the water.”

Gathering Support
Gathering supporters, the two soon found out that many local businesses were willing to donate auction items, food, time and talent to their party. Happy Harry’s donated 10 cases of wine and 30 cases of beer while Proof Artisan Distillers coined a specialty drink for the occasion. An array of donated auction items included NDSU football tickets, theater tickets, plaques and everything in between.Giving Back in a Big Way
When the day was done, Jones and Erbstoesser had officially raised $4,661 with the help of their sponsors and the community! On August 20th, Jones and Erbstoesser presented one giant, garden party check to United Way of Cass-Clay’s Kristi Huber and Travis Christopher.

“Bottom line is, it’s not about us, it’s about what we can help bring to the community – this time the community gave back far more than we did.”
Monte Jones

Garden Party Sponsors:
Delta by Marriot, United Way, Happy Harry’s Bottle Shop, Firestone, Bob 95, Front Fenders, The Teehive, Proof Artisan Distillers, Johnson Brothers, Republic National, Bank of the West, Culinex

No Comments on Everyone’s Cordially Invited to [ Monte & Jerry’s Garden Party ]

Yay for Yeh! [Girl Meets Farm: Interview with Molly Yeh ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson, Molly Yeh Photography by Chantell & Brett Quernemoen When in doubt, add sprinkles! In the East Grand Forks kitchen of Molly Yeh, this mantra is a…

Words by Tracy Nicholson, Molly Yeh
Photography by Chantell & Brett Quernemoen

When in doubt, add sprinkles! In the East Grand Forks kitchen of Molly Yeh, this mantra is a recipe for success. A transplant from the Chicago suburbs, Yeh married into the farm life, learned to embrace the country, and eventually started a food blog to chronicle her kitchen endeavors. Her blog, my name is yeh, became the perfect avenue to fuse her Jewish and Chinese heritage with Midwest comfort food and family favorites. A few impressive awards, thousands of followers and a best-selling cookbook later, Yeh’s kitchen creativity had officially caught the eye of Food Network. Nearly one month ago, Yeh debuted her TV series, Girl Meets Farm, giving viewers a glimpse inside her sweet and sprinkled passion for food, family and the farm.


Meet Molly Yeh
Influencing her eclectic cooking style, Yeh grew up in the Chicago suburbs with a Chinese father and Jewish mother, followed by a post-high school life in New York City studying percussion at Juilliard. After getting married and starting her food blog, Yeh relocated with her husband to a sugar beet farm in East Grand Forks, N.D., where she currently resides.

Yeh is the author of the International Association of Culinary Professionals award-winning cookbook, “Molly on the Range.” She is the creator of the critically-acclaimed and highly popular food and lifestyle brand “my name is yeh”, which has been recognized by the likes of the New York Times, Food & Wine, New York Magazine, Saveur (“Blog of the Year”) and Yahoo (“Food Blog of the Year”). She was also in the ranks of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for 2017.

Girl Meets Farm
In the seven-episode series, Girl Meets Farm, Yeh gives Food Network viewers a glimpse inside her life and kitchen on their East Grand Forks farm. While her nostalgic, farmhouse kitchen creates a worldly fusion of cuisine and sweets, many would say it’s her charm that has stolen the show. Infusing elements of five-star, fine dining with Midwest comfort foods and artfully crafted desserts, Yeh is now one of the most sought-after food bloggers and cookbook authors today.

Molly’s Menu
If you missed the premiere episode, Yeh made an eclectic buffet for her sister-in-law Anna’s baby shower. On the menu were Fish Tacos with Crunchy Cabbage Slaw and Cilantro Dressing, Pigs in a Blanket with Harissa Ketchup and Honey Mustard, as well as Molly’s signature Meatball Sliders with a Twist.

As with all of Yeh’s kitchen endeavors, the experience is not complete without a sweet ending. Baked Donuts with Rhubarb, Blood Orange and Blueberry Glaze took center stage on the shower’s dessert table. Upcoming episodes feature Yeh’s family visits, girl’s brunch, farm supper, a special anniversary celebration and recipes like her Garlic and Onion Challah, Dark Chocolate Scone Loaf with Marzipan and Scallion Pancakes with Maple Carrot Slaw.

“Molly is full of life and her unlikely journey from the big city to a food-centered life on a Midwest farm is fascinating,” said Courtney White, Executive Vice President, Programming, Food Network and HGTV. “Her passion for food, her family and farm life are front and center in all of her recipes, which are truly written from the heart.”


Midwest Nest Meets Molly Yeh!
Whether you reside in Grand Forks, Bismarck or Fargo, everyone seems to know everyone, right? It seems nearly impossible that Yeh has managed to quietly create her foodie empire, right in our own backyard. If you haven’t followed her wildly popular food blog, viewed her new show, or ventured to one of her local cookbook signings, now’s your chance to get to know this locally-based talent on a more personal level. Midwest Nest sat down with Yeh to get the lowdown on life on the farm and her new Food Network show, Girl Meets Farm.

Q&A with Molly Yeh!

From growing up near Chicago to settling down on a farm in East Grand Forks, how has this changed or inspired you?

Yeh: It has opened my eyes to hotdish and cookie salad! I thought that adjusting to East Grand Forks wouldn’t be very drastic since I grew up in the Midwest, but the upper Midwest is so different from the suburbs of Chicago and it has been so fun and delicious to learn about this whole new world.

What do you think has been the biggest factor in the creation of your lifestyle brand and becoming an award-winning cookbook author and blogger?

Yeh: Hard work. I am definitely inspired by how hard my farmer husband and other farmers in the area work. At first, I was shocked at the million-hour days and weekend work days that farmers put in during the season, but then I just thought, well, I guess I’ll just spend that time decorating cakes and blogging about it!

When did you find out that you were being considered for a Food Network show?

Yeh: When my book Molly on the Range came out. A few folks from the network set up a meeting when I was in New York for the launch and it was great! Their offices are right above my favorite hummus place.

Did you film at your farm and what/how long was the shoot process?

Yeh: Yes, we shot the pilot in December and that took a week, and the rest of the season was shot over two-and-a-half weeks in April.

From what readers and followers know of you now, is there anything that you will be doing differently on the show?

Yeh: I’ll be showing them more of the farm and of Grand Forks than I do on the blog. They’ll see my trusty old Buick boat cruising around town.

How will you fuse your background, culture and family into the show?

Yeh: Pretty much all of the recipes draw inspiration from my Chinese and Jewish heritage, my upbringing and my new surroundings. There will be a whole episode about Chinese food with my dad, an episode with my mom’s brisket and a show centered around hotdish.

What do you want Food Network viewers to take away from Girl Meets Farm?

Yeh: How fun, colorful and meaningful food can be. Cooking for others has always been my favorite way to show people that I love them and it’s also been my window into learning about my heritage and other cultures, so if I can show others how to do the same, then I’ll be satisfied.

Who in your life do you consider to be your greatest inspiration or mentor?

Yeh: My mom is my biggest inspiration in the kitchen. She’s an amazing cook and baker, and I keep a binder of recipes that she made for me. I love having them near, it’s like we’re hanging out in the kitchen together.

For your youngest fans who want to bake and blog, what kind of advice can you offer for pursuing their passion?

Yeh: Share your unique perspective and story and always push yourself to learn and improve. And when in doubt, add sprinkles!

What has life been like since the show debuted on June 24th?

Yeh: Really fun because each episode brings another opportunity to connect with my Instagram friends and see what recipes they’ve been making from the show.

What does your family, community and husband think of your TV debut and success?

Yeh: I think they’re happy as long as they get to be my first call taste testers!

When you first moved to East Grand Forks, what did you feel was the funniest or most surprising characteristic of the region?

Yeh: That people leave their cars running in the parking lot of the grocery store in the winter.

Where/how did you first meet your husband and will he be an active part of the show?

Yeh: In college through mutual friends and yes, he has the best lines of the show! I was at Juilliard then, focusing on contemporary music.

What are your favorite things to bake/cook?

Yeh: Cakes. I love baking cakes for anyone, for any occasion. I also love making hummus and hotdish for people. I really like using tahini and wish good tahini was more widely available in the states – same with marzipan, machlab, naturally colored sprinkles and rosewater.

What is the most challenging recipe you have ever tried and why?

Yeh: Halva, a Middle Eastern candy that’s like the inside of a Butterfinger but made with ground sesame seeds. I failed my first few times and it was maddening because the ingredients are not cheap. In retrospect, I think it was because my candy thermometer was broken.

What are some of your favorite restaurants or stores in the F-M or Grand Forks areas?

Yeh: Toasted Frog, Rhombus Guys, Darcy’s, Unglued, Bernbaum’s, India Palace, Kittsona, Zandbroz, Blue Moose and the Prairie Roots Food Co-op.


Chocolate Sheet Cake with Pistachio Butter Frosting

Molly Yeh from my name Is yeh

Makes one 9″ x 13″ sheet cake



1 3/4 c. (350g) sugar

1 3/4 c. (223g) all-purpose flour

1 C. (85g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 large eggs

1 c. (240g) buttermilk

1 tbs. vanilla extract

1/2 c. (100g) flavorless oil

3/4 c. (178g) boiling water


1 c. (128g) roasted pistachios (preferably unsalted)

1 c. (225g) unsalted butter, softened

3 c. (360g) powdered sugar

1/8 tsp. kosher salt (omit if pistachios are salted)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

zest of 1/2 a lemon

2 tbs. heavy cream

Make the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease and line the bottom of a 9×13 pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Whisk in the boiling water.


Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking for doneness at 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan.


Make the Frosting: 

First, make the pistachio butter. In a food processor, blend the pistachios, scraping the sides occasionally, until very creamy and spreadable, about 5-10 minutes.

With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and pistachio butter until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix to combine and then mix in the salt, vanilla, almond extract, lemon zest and then heavy cream.


Spread all over the cake, decorate as desired and enjoy!


Everything Bagel Galettelettes with Tomatoes & Scallion Cream Cheese
Molly Yeh from my name Is yeh

Makes 8 mini galettes



1 1/2 pounds tomatoes

14-15 oz. pie dough (homemade or store-bought)

1 beaten egg for egg wash



8 oz. cream cheese, room temp

3 chopped scallions

1 egg yolk

1 tbs. flour




Everything Bagel Topping:

1/2 tsp. dried minced garlic

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

3/4 tsp. poppy seeds

1 tsp. sesame seeds

1/2 tsp. dried minced onion


Preheat the oven to 400º.

– Slice the tomatoes then lay them out on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt so that some moisture drains out of them.

– Divide the pie dough into 8 balls. Roll out each ball into a circle that’s 6 to 7 inches in diameter.

– Mix together cream cheese, scallions, egg yolk, flour and pepper until smooth and well-combined.

– Mix together the everything bagel topping ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Brush the edge of the rolled-out dough with egg wash, spread with filling and top with tomatoes. Fold over the edges and pleat. Brush the outside edges with the egg wash and sprinkle with the everything bagel topping.


Bake galettes for 20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Enjoy!


Follow Molly Yeh!

  • Catch episodes from her TV series, Girl Meets Farm on Food Network, Sundays at 11:00 a.m.
  • Watch video exclusives with Molly Yeh and get how-to’s on cake decorating and making your favorite childhood snacks at FoodNetwork.com/GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Follow Yeh on Facebook and Instagram @mynameisyeh.


No Comments on Yay for Yeh! [Girl Meets Farm: Interview with Molly Yeh ]

Down Home [ A Space to Embrace]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Event Photography by Darren Gibbins Photography, Transformation photos by Chris Welsand We recently crossed paths with a non-profit by the name of Down Home and couldn’t…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Event Photography by Darren Gibbins Photography, Transformation photos by Chris Welsand

We recently crossed paths with a non-profit by the name of Down Home and couldn’t wait to meet with the founders, Jenessa and Jacob Fillipi to find out more. Follow them on social media and you’ll see why; there’s a steady stream of videos and photos showing them transforming vacant apartments and homes into warm, loving environments – all in a two-three hour time span. The difference is that they are not designers, home flippers or remodelers; and they’re certainly not getting paid for it. The Fillipis are simply a caring family working hard to help transition the homeless into homes. Going beyond the basic necessities, their fully decorated spaces have become the catalyst for a better life. Creating a new space to embrace would mean giving the gift of hope and a fresh start to those with limited resources. Last month, we were invited to join them at their first “Hoedown for Homes” fundraiser at The Yard, a gorgeous down-home setting on the Red River in South Moorhead.

Down Home: Their Story
Before we kick up our boots at The Yard, we need to introduce you to the people behind the cause, Jenessa and Jacob Fillipi. Their 16-year marriage has been blessed with many things, including four children, rewarding careers and a growing need to give back. As an elementary school counselor, Jenessa Fillipi had noticed a gap in the lives and transitions of the underprivileged and homeless, and she knew something had to be done. She would go on to combine her experience as a counselor and a love for interior decorating with her husband’s handyman skills. Sharing these gifts would mean providing a sought-after service to our community members in need.

“Jake and I started seeing a similar gap in both of our professions – the gap being that families and children were transitioning from place to place. When they actually do settle in, they don’t have enough money to purchase mattresses, pillows, bedding…really all of the things that so many of us take for granted,” said Jenessa Fillipi.

Prompted to find a solution, last September – Jenessa, Jake and their children quickly began brainstorming and realized a divine vision as Down Home came to life. Their name would come courtesy of a song by the band, Alabama, ‘Down home, where they know you by name and treat you like family.’ “This lyric rings true to our mission of empowerment and dedication to building a stronger community,” said Jenessa Fillipi. “It was evident there was a need, and now there’s a solution.”

The Down Home Mission
“Our mission is to provide furnishings and décor for families transitioning from homelessness into permanent housing,” said Jenessa Fillipi. “Our deeper purpose is to turn an empty space into a place to embrace, breath and feel safe. With this help, we want to empower families to dream big, succeed and be involved in the community; this is one step we can do to help break the cycle of homelessness. We aspire to empower lives one home at a time.”

“Our mission is to provide furnishings and décor for families transitioning from homelessness into permanent housing. Our deeper purpose is to turn an empty space into a place to embrace, breath and feel safe.”
Jenessa Fillipi, Founder – Down Home

Hoedown for Homes Event
At Down Home’s September 13th fundraising event at The Yard, located in rural Moorhead on the Red River, attendees kicked up their boots enjoying the likes of emcee Daron Selvig.  Guests enjoyed an array of down-home delicacies, a video presentation created by Tyson Kuznia of Creative Social Marketing, yard games by the Fargo Invaders, cocktails, craft beer served by Crooked Pint catering, live and silent auctions, and of course a little country music – courtesy of Nathan Kaiser of Harmon Entertainment.

Cliff Enns donated his venue, The Yard, while Troy and Brook Skjerseth donated their tent, tables and chairs which transpired into a gorgeous space for an unforgettable Hoedown.

“The Hoedown is really to launch us into the next stage of Down Home,” said volunteer and board member, Jill Waslaski. “Jenessa and Jake have a wonderful vision. It’s very organized and specific; they need a full-time person running Down Home and they have plans for a mentorship program already in place. They’ve got God on their side and what they’ve been able to do in the last year is amazing.”

These days, monetary donations are just as important as furnishings and decor. As their outreach and programs expand, their team is also expanding. The demands are high and hiring full time employees are inevitable to coordinate their programs and move-ins. Coordinating the Hoedown event at The Yard was one step forward to further spread the message of their work and reach their fundraising goals.


The First Gift
Down Home was officially established in November of 2017 and started with just Jenessa and Jacob Fillipi, Jenessa’s mom, Charlene Kuznia, and her brother, Tyson Kuznia. The team would get the honor of serving their first family just before the new year, purchasing most of the needed items with their own funds and gathering furnishings from their personal homes to help transition the family from a shelter into a home. “It was December 23rd, and I think it was the best Christmas present we could have given ourselves,” said Kuznia. “The recipient and her son were in tears which put all of us in tears; they were so humbled and so appreciative. At that point, we realized this was something we needed to keep moving on.”

Their first project began as a smaller side project they initially thought would be confined to their family. With an outpouring of support from those around them, their small family project didn’t take long to grow wings. Since then, they have acquired countless volunteers and donations throughout the community, allowing them to serve 11 other families. By the end of this year, they’re on track to serve upwards of 20 families and expand their offerings.

Gathering Good
Today, Down Home has a team of seven board members and 17 committee members and active volunteers. With each project, they garner more interest with new volunteers coming from churches, shelters, friends, family, corporations like Microsoft and organizations like the Fargo Invaders, all looking to give back to the community.

“I would have never imagined back in October of last year how the community would come together. I look at the fabulous furniture, decor, donations, the amazing volunteers that we currently have, and it’s very evident that this is more than just Jake and myself, this is a community coming together to serve those that need that additional help,” said Jenessa Fillipi. “Really, the sky’s the limit; there are so many miracles that we’ve seen along the way that I know we would have missed, had we not taken that step forward in trusting this Down Home process that the Lord really has us on.”

Stocking the Shelves
From their very first install to their 11th, a lot has changed for Down Home. They no longer work out of their own garages and basements; they’ve found an official home base in North Fargo, just off of 19th Avenue. This is where their team gathers, donations are collected and inventory is stocked, organized and ready for giving. High-quality furniture donations have been plentiful, but as their non-profit grows, so will their demand.

“Something that you don’t need anymore might mean absolutely everything to another family,” said volunteer marketing and development director, Chris Welsand. In the last one we did, everything they owned could fit inside one apartment closet. They came in with literally the clothes on their back and maybe a couple of bags.”

The Down Home Process
To find Down Home’s recipients, the team is connected with a number of homeless shelter agencies across the community. “If they see a family that they feel is ready to get back to the community, they will refer them to us and we connect and meet with the family. We get to know them and ask them about their likes and dislikes,” explained Kuznia.

The day of the move-in and reveal, coordination of items take place in the warehouse, and a U-Haul is rented for the day. The Down Home team has learned to streamline their process by placing items into labeled boxes for each room so volunteers can easily grab a box and get to work. Loading of items takes about 30 minutes and within two hours, the team can completely transform an empty space into a comfortable home to embrace.

The Transformation
“The homes we’re furnishing are homes that are just barely affordable for someone coming out of the shelter. When we first see the space, it can be frustrating,” explained volunteer and board member, Jill Waslaski. “For one recipient, she was bringing a newborn baby home to this space and it made us all upset to see how much needed to be done to the building; but it was the middle of winter and it’s what they could afford. By the time the team was done, we were shocked at how well it came together.”

“It had turned into this amazing and cozy place and each of the kids had their own space to sleep, designed just for them,” added Kuznia. “It was an amazing transformation.””Down Home is intentional in the decor and furnishings that go into each empty space,” said Jenessa Fillipi. “We put elements in every home that promote family time, self-worth and speak to our mission of empowerment. We incorporate inspirational quotes, a cross, soft pillows, blankets, games, books and devotionals into each home. It’s so important to surround each client we serve with positive messages and purposeful pieces.”

After the Move-In & Reveal

Part of the Down Home process is to follow up with the families they’ve served through their Pay it Forward plan. This gives them a chance to donate additional items or gather valuable feedback on how to improve their services and furniture selections, making sure each family has what they need to thrive.

This month, Down Home plans to begin phase two; their Empower Up program. “It’s an opportunity for us to reach a larger group of people and it would benefit not only those who have experienced homelessness, but also those who are at risk for homelessness, but still currently live in a home,” said Jenessa Fillipi.

To be part of the Empower Up program, recipients will still need a referral, but they will have the opportunity to participate in four weeks of empowerment training which is provided by Upstream growth consultants. After completing training at Down Home’s office, the team will work with the recipient in finding out what additional pieces they need for their home. The program is currently full, but a waiting list has been started for the spring session. Find out how you can sponsor a recipient by going to the Empower Up link on their site.

“Thanks so much for everything! My home is super comfortable (for myself and newborn). I catch myself reading the quotes on the wall. It really works and helps me out.”

Denisa O., Down Home recipient


Ready to Donate?
Monetary donations are a high priority right now as Down Home’s demands are continually growing, as is the demand for more storage space. The team encourages sponsorship opportunities for businesses, families and church groups to provide volunteers and to be a part of the move-in process, regardless of ability or skill level. If you’d rather donate furnishings, before you make your haul, check out their current list of needs. Right now, the team is searching for the following high-quality items:

New mattresses (queen and twin), queen and twin headboards, metal bunk beds, small TV stands, end tables, matching lamps, inspirational quotes and decor.

A Humble Home
“What we provide for the families isn’t possible without the entire community coming together and donating their furniture, time, their inspirational quotes, picture frames and everything else,” said Jenessa Fillipi. “Jake and I feel very humbled that the Lord really placed Down Home on our hearts and yet, it’s the entire community that he’s calling to be a part of it in different ways.”

For more information, contact:
Down Home
Jenessa & Jacob Fillipi
2102 12th Street North, Fargo

Chris Welsand / Marketing & Development

Search their Site: down-home.org
Find them on Facebook: downhome.org
View their video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aV268aQOFJnOYUOjV925OYYCGLolEMfb/view?usp=drive_web

No Comments on Down Home [ A Space to Embrace]

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search