Independent Bookstores (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 19)

New books draw you in with their interesting unmarked covers, with crisp pages to turn – friends just waiting to be discovered.

Used books are like old friends, a little worn around the edges, but full of history and inspiration.

Zenith Bookstore ~ Duluth, MN

Technology creates a variety of different digital options for reading books on a screened device. Thankfully, the paper pages endure and have found a way to co-exist. The independent bookstore, full of friends old and new, will continue to provide an escape for all who walk through its doors.

~ Kat

Supporting the Little Guys

As the crab apple trees and lilacs both came into their full glory, filling the yard with the fragrance of a delayed Spring, I took an additional day of vacation to extend a long weekend, and frantically scrambled to eliminate as much dog and cat hair as possible, while putting together an extra-special spread for the women of my book club.  We are usually pretty low key, but it’s not every day we are honored with the author at the table with us!

Crab Apple Blossoms and Lilacs in Duluth

With a couple of mutual friends in the club, the author of Locally Laid was gracious enough to find time in her busy schedule to join us for the evening to discuss her book.  Lucie Amundsen was fresh off the circuit of events surrounding “One Book Northland,” the annual community-wide book event in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a frequent speaker and instructor on both writing and agriculture-related topics.

Locally Laid, the book

In full disclosure, but honestly not influencing my review of the book (otherwise, I would simply not have put together a blog post at all!), I have come to know Lucie through a variety of intersecting organizations and activities. Before I became acquainted with Lucie personally, though, I became acquainted with her eggs — those of you following my blog for some time may recall this frittata recipe and encouragement to vote for Locally Laid Eggs as part of the Super Bowl commercial promotion contest (link to that post here)!

Lucie herself is kind, smart, and humor-filled — and the book reads as you would expect from someone like that: well-written, funny, and enlightening about what smaller farmers face in trying to break into the big ag industry and over-crowded grocery shelves. While my family has been a fan of “LoLa,” the little chicken that could (along with her “truly worth-every-penny” eggs) from the beginning, I was not aware of the full story behind this start-up until reading the book. Alongside the business story you also receive a healthy dose of classic Northern Minnesota life and understand why we love it here.

Chicken napkin rings to honor Locally Laid.

My book club has gathered every other month or so for the past 5 years, rotating among our dining room tables in the evening after work, enjoying interesting conversation (sometimes which even touches upon the book!), while sharing a light dinner and wine. The book’s theme this time gave me a chance to break out the chicken napkin rings, and do a little fun browsing for “compatible” wines.

Poultry, Agriculture, and "Uncaged" Wines

And a special book club guest provided an excuse for a festive (yet simple-to-prepare) dessert: Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse (link to full recipe provided).  To add a little color, I mixed in some raspberries with the blackberries, and used a four-berry preserve.  The recipe is easily adapted to a variety of fresh fruit preserves and berries.  It can be partially prepared ahead of time and ready to assemble just before serving – a perfect book club option!

Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse

If only I had hosted this book later in the summer, I could have gone to “Farm LoLa” and picked the berries myself to use in the dessert!

Locally Laid is an award-winning book, and is an excellent choice for an engaging book club discussion.  If you are fortunate enough, perhaps you (with or without your book club in tow) can catch Lucie at one of her upcoming speaker events, listed on Locally Laid’s website:

~ Kat

Gardener’s Mecca in Minnesota: An Illustration of the “Why”

Along a lonely stretch of highway, near the small town of Zim, Minnesota, one can find a little piece of heaven for gardeners.

Highway 7 in Northern Minnesota -- the Road to Zim

Byrns Greenhouse is unassuming from the road, but as you pull in the driveway (or park along the shoulder of the highway on the typically busy weekends) and make your way toward the greenhouse buildings, you quickly discover why Byrns has such a following among northeastern Minnesotans.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

After winning a gift certificate at a local gardening class in 1996, I have made the hour-long drive to Byrns almost every May for 20 years.  It is my “go to” source for hanging baskets and annuals, as well as shrubs and perennials.  But, it is also more than that.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

This year, I squeezed in my annual visit while returning home after several days away at a leadership development training session for work. The greenhouse happened to be just a slight detour, and I was craving some decompression time on a glorious summer-like afternoon.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

One of the last discussions my training cohort enjoyed earlier in the day was Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” regarding principles of successful leaders and businesses.  While I had intended to disconnect from work and unwind among the flowers and greenery, I found myself reflecting on Sinek’s TED talk and why I trekked miles away to a greenhouse to buy items available at numerous locations closer to home.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

The fundamental concept of Sinek’s talk is “The Golden Circle”People don’t buy what you do, they buy Why you do it.

I could buy petunias and hanging begonias anywhere, but I want to buy them from Byrns.  Certainly, the reasonable prices are attractive — but so are Wal-Mart’s.  They have a large variety of overflowing hanging baskets — but so do numerous other area garden centers.  In fact, other retailers have wider aisles with smooth concrete that allows large newer carts to glide effortlessly across the floor… while at Byrns the old double-decker metal shopping carts can often have a mind of their own as you wrestle them across the various terrains of the greenhouse outbuildings.

Herb-infused waters at Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Much has stayed the same over 20 years — the colorful, bountiful hanging baskets and reasonably priced 6-packs of flowers are constants …  and so are those crotchety shopping carts.  The complimentary freshly-baked cookies and flavored herbal waters (soooo refreshing on a hot day while browsing!) are recent additions.  Old and new combine effortlessly, reinforcing the charm of the greenhouse.

I helped myself to a cup of mint-infused water and another customer came up to the counter and asked whether there was a cost to the herbal waters or cookies.  The woman behind the counter responded with a smile, saying, “No cost — it’s all part of the Byrns experience!”


The “Byrns experience” … as I heard her say that, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” came to mind.  Byrns Greenhouse operates from the Why not the What, and that is what cultivates the sense of loyalty in customers like me.  The greenhouse has been operating as a family business for over 40 years.  During these last 20 years of their operation, I have watched the fourth generation grow up just as my own boys have grown.  I have watched multiple generations of family work side-by-side, teaching each other, passing knowledge down. Pride and joy both are evident.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

As I mulled over which of the intriguing head planters to purchase, the enthusiasm of one of the owner’s sons about these interesting new items was infectious.  Would I have bought a 2-foot tall ceramic planter head for the garden at Home Depot?  Not likely, despite my interest in them; there are many interesting features one can find for the garden.  Later, his mother, one of the third generation and my contemporary, graciously scavenged for one of the few remaining lemongrass plants as we shared ideas for the irreplaceable taste of fresh herbs in teas and foods. We reminded each other of how the years have flown and our boys had grown from toddlers disappearing in the foliage-filled aisles to young men carrying massive succulent-filled ceramic heads to the back of my car!  I wanted to support the Why of their business.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Shopping at Byrns is a personal experience, where you are treated like an old friend returning for a visit.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

A rooster crowed periodically as I browsed the creative planters.  The whistle of a train could be heard as it approached on the rural railroad tracks parallel to the greenhouse. The senses were fully engaged by the end of my visit, beyond the visual beauty and fragrance of the greenery around me.  A detour to Byrns while driving home from a week away for work was as good as … no, even better than … a stop at a spa.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Why travel afar to pick up the petunias? Because I am buying family, I am buying small business, I am buying local.  I am buying lovingly cultivated plants and creatively crafted planters.  

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Byrns Greenhouse of ZimByrns Greenhouse is not your ordinary greenhouse.  Plan on a couple of hours for your visit, and make sure the back of your vehicle is cleared out and ready to accommodate both the planned and unplanned purchases you are certain to leave with at the end of your experience.

Byrns Greenhouse of Zim

Ciao! ~ Kat

For more information on and driving directions to Byrns Greenhouse:

Have You Been Getting Locally Laid?

LoLa is the little chicken that could.  With only three more daily opportunities to vote for this small business and help LoLa win a Super Bowl ad, I have become even more enamored with this cheeky local farm, Locally Laid Egg Company (where “local chicks are better”). LoLa’s daily Facebook updates, her sassy photo ops, the company’s admirable sustainable philosophy and pasture-raised chickens, what is not to love?  But, arguably none of that matters if her eggs are nothing special.  Well, LoLa, every time I find a recipe where you can shine, you remind me of why I love you so!

* Disclaimer: I have no family or professional relationship with this company — read on and you will see why these eggs are worth writing about . . . not to mention a great frittata recipe to try.

Frittata Ingredients

When a frittata recipe calls for 10 eggs, the quality of the eggs will make or break the success of that dish.  A 10-egg frittata calls for eggs that are works of art.  Let me introduce you to LoLa’s eggs:

A Dozen Shades of LoLa
A Dozen Shades of LoLa

Large, larger and largest — in every subtle shade of brown and cream, with a hand-rubbed glow to them, they could just as easily sit in as the table centerpiece.  This evening they were called into action as the main ingredient of the Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Herb Frittata (recipe courtesy of Williams-Sonoma).  The summer herbs have not been nipped by a hard frost yet, so a few cuttings from the herb pots on our front steps were pulled in, along with a mix of chopped mushrooms and shallots, and a small dose of red pepper flakes, .

Chopped frittata ingredients

Sautéing the chopped ingredients with a little olive oil filled the kitchen with the fragrant bouquet of fresh herbs.

Chopped frittata ingredients in the saute pan

Then it was time to have LoLa strut her stuff.  The eggs cracked cleanly and easily, with no worry of shell shards making their way into the mix.

Thick shells, perfect yolks

I used a relatively deep stainless steel mixing bowl.  Egg after egg dropped their yolk to the bottom, and the perfect yellow orbs remained.

Perfect yellow yolk orbs

After adding the cream and beating the eggs, the fresh goat cheese and mushroom mixture were added.  This recipe was a true frittata, initially pouring the mixture into a skillet with a little heated olive oil, before finishing the dish with a topping of Parmesan cheese under the broiler.

Skillet step of the frittata

The color of the eggs is exceptional — a rich golden hue. No rubbery texture or bland taste.  The eggs make this dish.

Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Herb Frittata ala Lola

Throw in a little salad with some of the season-end tomatoes and onions from our Northern Harvest Farm CSA share, and you have a plate full of local farm love.

Plate of local farm love

The full recipe for the Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Herb Frittata can be found on the Williams-Sonoma blog, Taste.  (Link to recipe, here).

Ciao! ~ Kat

P.S.  If you want to help local chicks make it to the Super Bowl, vote daily the next three days for Locally Laid Egg Company through the “vote for us” link on their website.  And if you miss out on this opportunity, check out their t-shirts instead!  LoLa’s fame is spreading, so keep watching your local Co-op or grocery store for a chance to enjoy LoLa firsthand.