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Culture, Entertaining, and Home Design

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Progressive Architecture Tour

Words by Susan Hozak-Cardinal Photography by Dan Francis Photography Leave it to the art community to create an event pairing food, wine and a tour of three amazing homes, all…

Words by Susan Hozak-Cardinal
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Leave it to the art community to create an event pairing food, wine and a tour of three amazing homes, all in the same night. The 2nd annual Progressive Architecture Tour from Plains Art Museum took place on September 23 and walked guests through three homes of area architects and owners to share their stories and insights about the making of their dream homes.

The Crew
I, along with my husband Jason Cardinal, photographer Dan Francis and contributors Trever Hill and Jesse Masterson, were ecstatic to join a small group of 42 people touring three notable homes. It was a day and evening full of excitement, questions, and the chance to meet and mingle with the homeowners and architects. All proceeds raised from the event went to help support the PlainsArt4All initiative to keep the museum’ general admission free.

If you missed out on the tour, no need to fret. Grab yourself a snack and glass of wine and join me as we tour three homes with three different courses.

Progressive Architecture Tour: House #1
Owners | Sunny Clark and Marc Wilson
Architects | DandE Lab, Malini Srivastava and Mike Christenson
Course #1: Hors d’oeuvres | Luna, Chef Ryan Nitschke

The first home we visited was the Horizon Home in Moorhead. When we arrived, we were greeted by Sandy Thompson. Thompson is the Development Director at the Plains Art Museum, and he and his staff did a wonderful job of organizing the tour for everyone to enjoy. Thompson encouraged the crew to enjoy the hors d’oeuvres prepared by Chef Ryan Nitschke from Luna while touring the home. Towards the end of the hour, we would all gather together to hear from the home owners and architects.

Let the Tour Begin
Off we went. We loved the clean lines of this house. We also loved the simplicity of the home in that everything seemed to have a purpose. No space was wasted space. Yet, it was so bright and inviting too. Every room and layout of the house made more sense after hearing from the owners on their story towards the building of their energy efficient masterpiece.


Marc Wilson, Homeowner
“Like with any budget, we had to think about things that mattered to us and things that didn’t matter to us. We looked through Dwell Magazine for ideas. We knew we wanted a sheltered effect in the backyard. We knew that we didn’t care about big spaces like big bathrooms and that we did want a nice sized kitchen and living area. We also wanted to be environmentally friendly and playful at the same time.”

Owners Sunny Clark and Marc Wilson found the perfect fit with architects Malini Srivastava and Mike Christenson from Design and Energy Laboratory, LLC (DandE Lab). DandE Lab provides affordable, high-performance, energy-efficient architectural design and won the 2014 AIA North Dakota Honor Award for Residential Architecture for the work done on the Horizon House. Energy efficiency, no waste, and leaving the smallest carbon footprint were top priorities of this project.


Mike Christenson, Architect
“When we got together to talk about this project, we all just seemed to click. This was a very enjoyable project to work on and we made a lasting friendship.”

Malini Srivastava, Architect
“What was really interesting about this project was that the conversation was about having a spatial quality but not a big house. So the connotation was about how it would feel, and so the answers weren’t obvious, but we knew we would get there. Marc and Sunny had a list, and together we developed a design concept around it. They were willing to experiment and go on an adventure.”

Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency
One example of moving forward on being energy efficient, yet cost effective, is with the windows. Windows that are high performance are usually very expensive. Through the company, they were able to use rejected high performance windows that were not used in other projects because of size or color.

“My idea of being green comes from multiple things – less material, less energy, being resource conservative,” said Srivastava. “Windows can be weakest part of the equation in trying to get the home air tight. We would continually test before we finish to make sure the house was as air tight as we wanted it to be before moving forward.”

“Travis (VanDoren) was an amazing builder. We can’t even tell when the wind blows,” said Clark. “We look outside and see the trees moving but everything inside is so quiet.”

Clark also explained how they purposely decided not to put an air conditioner in the home. They experimented on how to keep house cool in summertime by opening windows at night, letting fresh air in, and shutting it down during the day. There is radiant heat as well – no ducts, no forced air. This was one of many aspects where Clark and Wilson had to juggle with priorities. Another was with the size of their master bath. They didn’t feel like they needed a large master bath in comparison to having a larger kitchen and living area, where most of their daily family activities happen. They were also able to cut down on costs by doing some of the finishing work themselves, such as making the cabinets and the doors.

The Ever-Changing Process
Although Srivastava jokes about how slow the designing process took in order to get to where everyone wanted to be, Clark and Wilson didn’t think that at all. In fact, they felt like it was Christmas every time they got to meet with Srivastava and Christenson to make decisions on each phase.

“Marc and Sunny were as much of design process as we were. We did drawings as multiple options as a way to figure out where we are going,” said Srivastava.”As architects, we do work that lasts a long time. It’s easy to make mistakes and hard to know when it’s right so we have to take time to use models and drawings as a way of having conversations with the homeowners.”

Progressive Architecture Tour: House #2
Owners | Sarah and Chris Hawley
Architect | Chris Hawley Architects
Course #2: Salad | Mosaic Foods, Chef Eric Watson

The second home on tour was Casa Hawley, home to Chris and Sarah Hawley. When we arrived at the home, Thompson explained to us that he and Chris Hawley worked together on creating this tour for the Plains Art Museum and will be teaming up for future tours. At Casa Hawley, the group enjoyed a salad by Chef Eric Watson from Mosaic Foods, and roamed around once more, taking in the thoughtful architecture, art and home.

Architect and Homeowner
This home was unique to the others on tour because Chris Hawley was both the architects and homeowner. Hawley explained that his wife and family were living in an 880 square-foot house and thought, enough was enough, they needed a bigger space. They thought about building a new home but that changed when Chris Hawley noticed an “ugly house” for sale that was built in 1968.

Chris Hawley, Architect & Homeowner
“That has got to be the ugliest house. Who would be dumb enough to buy it? These were my first thoughts. But during the second weekend of looking at the house, I told my friend, you know what, there is something there. The neighborhood is right, the space if right, and there is something about the quality of the construction.”

Sarah Hawley, Homeowner
“Chris did a sketch within an hour. He has such a vision and I tend to trust him with most things. When he showed me the sketch, I loved it. I love modern and that is definitely our style. As soon as I saw that sketch, I knew that he could pull it off.”

And the adventure begins…

During the Q & A with Chris and Sarah Hawley, we learned about some challenges they faced during the remodel and what steered them towards certain aspects of the home. Chris Hawley said that one thing they went back and forth on was the kitchen. They were deciding if the kitchen would just be opened up partially, but decided to make it big and open, warm and entertaining. “The kitchen island made sense for us and how we live,” explained Chris Hawley. ” If we need formal dining, we use the screen porch for that. We live on the end of this table. We live very informally.”


And then there was a water mishap when it rained during the process of changing the roof. “It became challenging for the family. Yes, it was stressful with the flooding, but we made the most of it. What can you do? I said, let’s play ping pong. I’m a pretty good sport,”laughed Sarah Hawley.


Reflection of Us
Even with the challenges involved, the finished product of Phase One was a success. You can still see some of the original parts of the house with the pink and avocado bathrooms. So far, the house has a very polished and modern look, but the basement, Phase Two, will have a dramatically different look. It will be more industrial with exposed concrete and a family game room. But like the home above, it will be a reflection of Chris and Sarah Hawley and their family.

Chris Hawley, Architect & Homeowner:
” I’m a minimalist and like reusing things. The table is from wood from an old restaurant in Minot and with repurposed spikes from that project as well. This house is a reflection of us. There is art from my brother or friends, each with personal stories that are near and dear to us.”


Progressive Architecture Tour: House #3

Owners | Rondi and Keith McGovern | Fargo
Architect | Chris Hawley Architects/Interior Remodel
Entree | VIP Room, Chef Anthony Bachman
Dessert | Nichole’s Fine Pastry, Pastry Chef Nichole Hensen

The final home on the tour was what Fargoan’s refer to as, The Fargo Laundry Building, home to Rondi and Keith McGovern. When we arrived, we divided into two tour groups. My group went with Keith McGovern and the other group with Rondi McGovern and Chris Hawley. Keith McGovern assured us we were in the group that would get a thorough run down of the place and he was right. There was just so many fascinating and story-filled parts to this home that I am going to have to just share a few with you.

Wait…what? A Laundry Building?

Keith explained to us that after going through three floods, he wanted to move somewhere where he didn’t have to worry about that again. So while he and his realtor were hard at work looking for a house, Keith McGovern suddenly came across an old laundry building for sale. He immediately called up his realtor, Dave Noah, and said, “I can fix anything. Call those guys, I want to buy that building.”

Our tour started in the large garage/shop portion of the building, the same area that Keith McGovern had first looked at as well. “When I walked into this room, I decided that I wanted to buy this building,” Keith McGovern said. We were now in the original room where Leef Cleaners received laundry in 2,000-pound totes. This place use to have washing machines, all sorts of pipes, with lint and soap scum everywhere. This all required a massive cleanup but has now transformed beautifully into a shop, and garage complete with a mudroom and gear room.


Keith McGovern, Homeowner:
“I have to give credit to our governor, Doug Burgum. When he came over and I told him my plan, he said, if you are really going to do this, you need to call this guy, he’s an architect. His name is Chris Hawley.”

Chris Hawley, Architect:
“Keith gave me a call Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. and wanted to see some drawings the next day. After seeing the first sketch, I had until Friday and stayed up all night Thursday and those are the two drawings I came up with, and what is cool about it is that it didn’t change much.”

From Drawing to Reality

“I can’t stand CAD and I let Chris know that,” said Keith McGovern. “Chris is an amazing artist so he drew everything for me. We ended up with these drawings and then the building itself.”

The Basement
The laundry building use to be its own self-contained building in 1923. It had its own water treatment, power plant, and fire system. In the east wall, a train would drop off coal which would then be shoveled into a huge boiler. The McGovern’s transformed this basement area into a gym which they now refer to as “The Pit”.

The Pit
“This is the cross-fit gym where the kids work out, and this is the normal gym or Rondi’s gym,” said Keith McGovern. “Her gym area used to be offices for Leef Cleaners.”

Grand Staircase
The staircase was hard to get approved because there are no legs and Keith wanted to be historically correct. The staircase actually bolts together and they assembled it on-site.

Indoor/Outdoor Patio Magic
Keith McGovern led us into a brick room and surprised the crowd with what would undoubtedly be one of the most unique rooms in the city. He explained that he wanted an indoor patio that was essentially, outdoors. A moment later, concrete blocks started to move and a rustic garage door opened to reveal a heated, indoor, swim spa. This area was originally the site where trucks backed up to doors that were operated by heavy, concrete blocks. To preserve the history of the building, Keith McGovern kept the original doors and replicated the massive, concrete counterweights.

Happily Ever After
During the Q&A portion after dinner, we found out that Keith and Rondi McGovern were once prom king and queen. With such an extensive project, the touring crowd wondered if there were any design battles between the “royal court”, and also what it was about Fargo that made them want to keep their roots firmly planted.

“Rondi’s family brought us here and the wonderful people of Fargo kept us here,” said Keith McGovern. “We were really in sync in how Rondi and I functioned on this project. For the structural and mechanical areas, Chris and I worked together. Certain rooms were Rondi’s so I had no say in those,” he joked. “Rondi did save the day by telling me not to frost the windows in the bar area. That would have made a big difference if we did and you couldn’t see outside. Rondi was with me the whole way, and with Chris’s hard work, we were able to pull this all together.”

The Tour Concludes
Through the Progressive Architecture Tour, organized by the Plains Art Museum, we were able to see three incredible homes in different stages of development and thought-process. What most people can only imagine from the street, this tour group, comprised of architectural admirers and dreamers, got an up-close and personal glimpse inside their doors and greatest design ambitions. Although each home and family revealed a different lifestyle, they all shared one commonality. Amidst an array of challenges, they had a vision and a dream to create a space that felt like their version of home.

With Gratitude
To all of the homeowners and architects, thank you for sharing your story, your personal space and your unique vision. To the chef’s who created each sumptuous course along the way, thank you for sharing your talents.

For more information about the Progressive Architecture Tour, contact:
Plains Art Museum
Sandy Thompson, Director of Development
704 First Avenue North, Fargo, N.D.

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A Twist on Tradition

Words by Shayla Knutson Photography by Zach Davis Photography Thanksgiving is not too far away, and that means it’s time to start menu and table- setting prep. Thanksgiving is about…

Words by Shayla Knutson

Photography by Zach Davis Photography

Thanksgiving is not too far away, and that means it’s time to start menu and table- setting prep. Thanksgiving is about tradition and we all have our go-to recipes, but sometimes a little refresh is in order. With a small twist on tradition, those classic cranberries, stuffing, turkey and green beans will reach a whole new level of tastefulness. For some, it is hard to stray from the typical Thanksgiving menu, but this menu is simply taking a different approach to classic dishes. Perhaps finding a new family favorite dish is simply adding a small twist on traditional dishes.

If you are hosting and/or cooking, there are subtle changes that you can make to traditional family recipes that will keep things new and exciting. Traditions will always be important during holidays, but I think the way to keep everyone from falling asleep, is to spice things up a bit, whether you inject a little whimsy into the menu, or just experiment with new foods and flavor combinations. I especially love it when an experimental recipe transforms into its own tradition. That’s the way it was with my green bean casserole. It’s now demanded at every Thanksgiving.

This menu of sides and dessert provides traditional Thanksgiving fare, but sprinkles in a few variations for good measure. I’m a strong believer in classic dishes, but there’s definitely room for creativity. I guarantee you’ll earn a major applause at the Thanksgiving table.

Table Setting
Floral: Love Always Floral
Half of the success of a dinner party is the presentation. Fall provides great, natural elements you can incorporate into your table design ideas (e.g. wood, greenery, pumpkins). Thanksgiving is also a great excuse to give your table a fun new makeover. A new tablecloth, runner, or throw blanket will give your Thanksgiving table-setting a fresh new look. From there you can add many natural items combined with items around the house to create a beautiful, layered Thanksgiving table.


I love mixing fun colors along with textures. I used a wool throw blanket instead of a table runner to keep it less expensive. I love blending sophisticated plates and glasses with organic wood pieces, greenery, and florals.

Don’t forget to incorporate the reason for the season in your Thanksgiving dinner plans. One tradition in my home that will never change is having each person at the table tell something he or she is thankful for. For this, offer small pieces of paper to everyone and have them write down what they are most thankful for and share after dinner.



I recently just developed an appreciation for a good cranberry sauce and realized that sweet and savory anything together is an incredible combo. This cranberry sauce is unique with the addition of cognac and walnuts.


This stuffing is very classic but with a small twist of using bagels instead of bread.

Green Bean Casserole
I love a good green bean casserole but hate using canned vegetables and processed fried onions. This recipe came about when my husband became gluten-free and could not have those addicting processed fried onion toppings.

I am a lover of a good pumpkin pie…but switching it out is always good.

The mashed potatoes have a hint of something new with the addition of ranch and greek yogurt.


Get the Recipes

Apple Crisp
For Apples:
• 1 C sugar
• 1 T g/f flour
• 1 t salt
• 1 T cinnamon
• 5 C apples
Cut apples into ¼ “ slices. Mix ingredients in large bowl and place in 9X13 pan or 6 ramekins.

For topping:
• 1 C brown sugar
• 1 ½ C g/f flour
• 1 C butter
• 1 C g/f oats
Cream together sugar and butter. Add oats and flour. Crumble on top of apples.
Bake for 50 minutes.

Bagel Stuffing
• 1 C onion
• 2 C celery
• 1 C butter
• 2 ⅔ t salt
• ⅔ t pepper
• 2 ⅔ t poultry seasoning
• 1 t fresh thyme
• 1 t fresh sage
• 6 plain white bagels

A day before, cube bagels to dry out. Chop the onion and celery very fine. In a pan, melt the butter then add celery, onion, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, thyme, and sage. Mix in the dried bagels and stuff turkey.

Fresh Cranberries
• 1 pkg (12oz) fresh cranberries
• ¾ C sugar
• ½ C orange juice
• ¼ C triple-sec (or orange-flavored liqueur)
• ¼ t ground allspice
• ¼ t ground cloves
• ¼ t ginger
• 1 T grated orange peel
• ½ C chopped walnuts, toasted

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, orange juice, liqueur and spices until boiling. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer, stirring frequently until cranberries begin to pop and mixture has thickened slightly approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in orange peel and toasted walnuts

Fresh Green Bean Casserole
• 1 ½ lbs chopped green beans
• ½ C onion chopped + 1 ½ C onion thinly sliced
• 1 12oz Pacific brand cream of mushroom soup
• 1 t salt
• ½ t pepper
• 1 T Worcestershire sauce
• 1 T minced garlic
• ¼ C milk
• ¼ C + 1 T cornstarch
• ½ C oil for frying onions
Steam the chopped green beans for six minutes. Remove and place in a bowl. Add the cream of mushroom soup, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, milk, ½ cup chopped onion, and 1 T cornstarch. Mix in a bowl and pour into a medium-size sauté pan. Turn the heat on to medium-high and let simmer covered for eight minutes.

For the crunchy onion topping: take the 1 ½ cup thinly sliced onions and toss them in ¼ cup of cornstarch. Drizzle several tablespoons of avocado oil into a sauté pan on high heat and pan fry the onion slices. Place on paper towel to get rid of excess oil. Remove lid from green bean mixture and add the crunchy onions. Simmer to thicken for 3 to 4 minutes.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole
• 4 lbs new baby potatoes
• ½ C plain greek yogurt
• ½ C butter
• 2 T dry ranch
• 1 ½ C cheddar cheese
• 10 slices cooked bacon
• 1 t salt
• ½ t pepper
• ¼ C milk
• ¼ C scallions chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and cut potatoes into large chunks.
Place potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until fork tender, approximately 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, return to pot with butter. Mash with a potato masher. Stir in milk, greek yogurt, bacon, dry ranch, salt, pepper and one cup of shredded cheese and mash until desired consistency. Lightly spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place the potato mixture in baking dish. Top with remaining ½ cup cheese and scallions. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted.

To see more of my Sweetly Simple recipes, follow me on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife.

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Live, Laugh, Love – A Night of Wine, Wishes and Pizza

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by AB Images Have you ever been to a live auction and wondered what it would be like to attend one of the elite dinners…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photography by AB Images

Have you ever been to a live auction and wondered what it would be like to attend one of the elite dinners that are often up for bid? This Fall, we were invited to the beautiful, Sheyenne River home of Vonda and Jim Leiner to get a glimpse inside their authentic, Italian, wood-burning pizza party. This event was donated by the Leiners on behalf of Make-A-Wish, North Dakota at the 2017 Wine & Wishes event held this past Spring. Casting the winning bid, Angela and Joe Kolling had a reason for supporting this cause that was close to home. In 2009, their own daughter Morgan was once the recipient of a Wish. Driven to show continued support for other children with life-threatening illnesses, the Kollings gathered friends and family in a celebration of life, love and pizza.


Inviting seven of their closest friends to the dinner, the Kollings know too well the need for Wishes to be granted. Donating a dinner like this one can mean raising anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, all going towards granting children’s Wishes throughout the state.

The Power of a Wish
“It’s been eight years since we went on our Wish trip for Morgan and we have not missed a Make-A-Wish event since,” said Angela Kolling. “Make-A-Wish was wonderful in making sure that her wish happened. We had a setback the week before she was going on her trip and so they were good about making sure plans were changed to accommodate Morgan, and honestly, Make-A-Wish is one of the best organizations out there. It truly gives kids that are going through this, something to smile about and gives their family that little break and reprieve. Whether it’s a trip, a new bedroom or a new swing set; whatever the wish may be, they make sure it happens for that child and make each wish special.

After their daughter’s Wish was granted, the Kollings vowed to keep giving back. The group of friends they invited to the Leiner’s house comes every year to the Make-A-Wish event to show their support. “It’s nice to be able to share the night with them,” said Angela Kolling. “I think Make-A-Wish would agree, there’s no gift that’s too small. But, even just to get the awareness out there of the organization and what they do. You don’t have to give, you can also donate your time or help with the wishes, it’s not just about spending money.”


Donating an Experience

Co-hosting for the night’s dinner was Brad and Jennifer Dahl. Brad Dahl has been on the Make-A-Wish board for the past 12 years and he and his wife were the two that proposed the pizza party idea to Jim and Vonda Leiner. In past years, typically executive chefs had donated dinners, but the Dahl’s knew firsthand that the Leiners could create an experience that people would love to bid on. “This is more of an experience,” said Jennifer Dahl. “The food’s going to fabulous, I know that for a fact. It’s a beautiful home, there’s a set up to have a bonfire as well. This is a treat because we’ve been out here or a lot of pizza parties and there’s usually 10 to 20 people. It’s really fun and you can make your own or they’ll make one for you. Jim and Vonda have ruined pizza for us,” laughed Jennifer Dahl. “Once you eat their pizza, you don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Made-from-Scratch Wishes
To create an authentic, Italian experience for the Kollings and their guests, Jim and Vonda Leiner spent nearly 12 hours preparing and sauteeing every type of pizza ingredient imaginable. Jim Leiner made the pizza crust dough from scratch, planning for 16 pizzas.

To make the most of the experience, guests were invited to either create their own concoction or follow one of the Leiner’s favorite recipes they cleverly displayed on restaurant order pads.

“One of the pizzas that really throws people is our bratwurst and sauerkraut with mustard sauce. Also, the shrimp pizza is a signature that not many people have had,” said Vonda Leiner. “The shrimp pizza has a secret base, it’s something that Jim creates as he’s sautéing for the sausage, onions and garlic. This time he did more of a beurre blanc, so it has more of a lemon taste to it.”

“This peach one is our salad pizza and a favorite of ours, we got it from Muddy Waters, that was a restaurant in Minneapolis. There’s Parmesan, Mozzarella, Blue Cheese, Prosciutto, peaches, pears, toasted walnuts and arugula. Then we just drizzle it with balsamic vinegar,” said Jim Leiner.

For another popular pie, the Leiners use bacon grease as the base, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan cheese and a little Mozzarella. “If you look at different recipes, you can pretty much use any kind of cheese and pepper,” said Vonda Leiner. “It’s called Cacio e Pepe which translates to cheese and pepper in Italian. We’re planning a trip to Italy next year for our 30th wedding anniversary, so Jim’s actually learning how to speak Italian. Right now he’s about 40 percent fluent, he can read and write in Italian. I only know a few words, but he’s able to listen to it all day while he’s working, so he’s actually pretty good.”

Woodfire Whimsy
The Leiners wanted an authentic, woodfire pizza oven that could only be found in Italy. Jim Leiner, a long-time cabinet builder for Wood Specialists in Fargo, N.D., Installed the pizza oven, beautiful cabinetry and stone surround. The couple typically reserved pizza parties for the winter, and for good reason. Their authentic pizza oven gets up to around 800 degrees, sufficiently heating up the house.

“We roll the dough out, then place on cornmeal so it doesn’t stick,” explained Vonda Leiner. “The only other secret is not to add too much sauce to the very edge. Each pizza takes about three minutes in the brick oven.”


Tour the Leiner’s Home

Before guests arrived, Vonda Leiner gave us a tour of their stunning home. For new guests to the Leiner’s home, the experience starts at the street with a picturesque walk through a dreamy landscape framed with cafe lights, finally leading to their front porch, where Frank Sinatra is crooning through the speakers near the entrance.

Inside, it’s easy to feel as if one’s been transported to another, more exotic location; maybe a gorgeous Italian villa, a beautiful resort in the mountains or your favorite restaurant in Napa Valley. Vonda Leiner’s flair for design and detail is in every nook and cranny of their gorgeous home. She doesn’t follow the standard rules of design, and it’s utter perfection. In fact, she doesn’t follow trends, and her style cannot be defined in one word. Some would say it’s an eclectic mix of French country, vintage, industrial, contemporary, Italian and everything in-between. To combine all of these styles seamlessly, with family heirlooms, flea market finds and handmade items is a skill all on its own. Each room is a reflection of the Leiner’s 32 years together. One walk through the home and guests feel as if they’ve gotten a glimpse of their personality, their life, and their loves.

“Her home is beautiful,” said Make-A-Wish mom, Angela Kolling. “It’s nice to be able to come into someone else’s home and experience a different style of dinner. We’ve had dinners through Make-A- Wish where they come to your home as well. So, this had a nice appeal, to be able to go into a different house and be with our friends and family, those that are close to us.”

Seasonal Decor with a Spin
The Leiner’s table is set for Fall perfection. “We just hung the branch over the table last winter for Christmas and then we had antique icicles and snowflakes that hung off of it,” said Vonda Leiner. “After Christmas, we decided to keep it, we liked the architectural look and we didn’t want two more light fixtures in here because of the large kitchen pendants.”

“So, this was an old farm table, but in 2010, I almost started our whole house on fire with a mix of candles, wood, pine cones and fresh greenery,” laughed Vonda Leiner. “It had huge burn marks down the center and I couldn’t find a table to replace it so, we just tried to think of another way.”As a solution, Jim Leiner had a stainless steel top fabricated to fit the lower legs, lending the space a mix of farmhouse, industrial appeal.

An efficient self-taught designer, Vonda Leiner doesn’t decorate for one specific holiday, she decorates for the longer haul, focusing on the seasons. Her Fall decor for the dinner is a seasonal style which will easily last through Thanksgiving. “I’m not a big orange fan, but the white pumpkins are a must,” said Vonda Leiner. If you’re wondering about Christmas, she doesn’t like taking the decor down in four weeks, so Vonda Leiner opts for Winter-inspired decor to last through the next season.

DIY Masterpiece
After sheet-rock, Jim and Vonda Leiner are known to take over the project and physically do all of the home’s finishes themselves. Putting to good use Jim Leiner’s 30-plus years as a cabinet-maker at Wood Specialists, they were able to build their cabinets themselves and have him do all of the custom rock work, tile and almost every finish.

The Leiner’s master suite is an ode to love and family. Vintage photos of their great-grandparents represent both sides of their family, along with pieces from their past.


Organic Outdoors
Just off of the master suite, Jim Leiner built a swoon-worthy three-season porch with sliding doors to accommodate the seasons. A slightly more contemporary look at first glance, a second glance reveals an eclectic mix of vintage and flea market finds with a stunning view of the patio and woods beyond their home.

Outside on the patio, Jim Leiner cut 400-pound tree trunks to brace their table top. The table top alone is an impressive 1,200 to 1,300 pounds. The white handrail on the deck was found at an antique store and was originally from a hotel in Minneapolis.

“We’ve been here for 12 years. We wanted to keep the backyard rustic and we wanted it to feel like when you come out here, that you’re in Itasca or someplace like that,” said Vonda Leiner. “We’re just going to put down a little grass and those yellow, weed flowers that you see on the side of the road. We just want it to look really natural.”


Supporting a Wish

To understand the purpose behind events like the one Jim and Vonda Leiner generously donated, just ask Brad Dahl, a longstanding board member, and wish-granting volunteer. “The best part of being involved with Make-A-Wish is putting smiles on kid’s faces. We’ve got close to 50 kids that get Wishes granted in North Dakota. We have to raise money, the kids get a wish and we don’t want to have to deny it. It would be nice if this number would decrease, that means the kids aren’t getting sick with life-threatening illnesses. If someone wants to get involved with helping, any ideas are listened to by our executive director, Billi Jo Zielinski. When we had this idea, we went to her and she said, “Absolutely.” We didn’t know how it was going to turn out if anyone would even bid on it, but we ended up having a couple of different people that bid on it. Every little bit counts.”


“It’s great that people do things like this, it’s a great setting and something that’s really attractive to bid on at the event,” said Joe Kolling. “It’s something different and a lot of fun for a night out. To come to an event like the Make-A-Wish fundraiser, you don’t need to spend $2,000, you can go and spend $25 and still make a huge impact. It’s a fun night to go whether you win something nice or just donate a small amount. It makes an impact and it’s worth going no matter how much you can offer. Going to an event like this is a big eye-opener for someone who hasn’t been through it. The lasting impact that Make-A-Wish has on these families, I can’t describe it. To go to the event at least helps give some kind of perspective on what they do.”

“Joe and Angela’s daughter, Morgan, received her wish to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in April of 2009,” said Make-A-Wish North Dakota President and CEO, Billi Jo Zielinski. “After the trip, Morgan began coloring pictures and selling them to raise money for Make-A-Wish. From notecards to live auction prints, she has posthumously raised over $30,000 for other wish kids in North Dakota.”

“We could not grant the wishes to almost 50 children each year without the generosity of people like the Leiners, Dahls and Kollings,” said Make-A-Wish North Dakota President and CEO Billi Jo Zielinski. “Donated experiences like this go beyond just a moment at an event. They transform lives, one wish at a time. One of the Kolling family’s favorite mottos is “live, laugh, love” and you can bid on Morgan’s art piece with this motto, hear other wish children stories and enjoy wine from Happy Harry’s at next year’s Wine & Wishes event on Friday, April 6, 2018 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fargo.”

To donate time or help support a Wish, contact:

Billi Jo Zielinski
President and CEO
Make-A-Wish® North Dakota
4143 26th Avenue South, Suite 104, Fargo N.D.

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Culinary Masterson

With Fall entertaining in full-swing, I thought this was the perfect time to introduce one of my own party essentials, the gourmet charcuterie tray. I’m not a professional chef or…

With Fall entertaining in full-swing, I thought this was the perfect time to introduce one of my own party essentials, the gourmet charcuterie tray. I’m not a professional chef or an expert in wine and cheese, but when it comes to hosting, I love to make the presentation pop. With a little creativity, I’ll show you how a gourmet tray can serve as a gorgeous and edible centerpiece that will impress even the most discriminating of guests.

Stock Up

Creating the perfect palate pleaser is easier than you think. Typical cheese trays have a variety of meats, fruit, preserves, honey and olives to fill in the gaps and help create a mix of flavors and interest. I bend the rules a bit and throw in sweeter elements like dark chocolate almonds and a spicy dark chocolate dip which works well with the lighter cheeses and fruit. I love that you can get creative and there’s really no limit as to what you can do. Just make sure it’s appealing to the eye and tastebuds with an array of colors, textures and tastes.

Where to Shop

If you want to find unique items and super-fresh produce, head to Prairie Roots Co-op in Downtown Fargo. While in the vicinity, visit Pinch & Pour, where they encourage guests to taste test until you find the perfect olive oil and balsamic concoctions. For the cheeses, I used a mix of local favorites from Pinch & Pour, Prairie Roots Co-op, Luna and even Costco. If you’re not sure how to choose the cheese, the experts at Luna are happy to help anyone navigate their impressive cheese selection.

Wine & Dine

After choosing four varieties of cheese, we asked The Spirit Shop’s Ronni Heggen to coordinate the perfect wine pairings to complement our selection. When hosting, never assume your guests are master sommeliers. Positioning the wines directly behind each cheese lets guests enjoy the experience without the guessing game.

10 Tasty Tips

1. If you’re new to cheese trays, keep it simple. Select at least one soft cheese like brie, one hard or semi-hard cheese like cheddar and another bolder variation such as blue cheese. In this tray, I included a coordinating cracker or bread for each cheese. Example, water crackers and artisan crisps pair well with the Brie. Use a french baguette with Blue cheese or olive oil, and any other unique cracker for the Cheddar and Montamore.

2. For a more festive and fresh approach, make sure to include spreads and produce that are currently in-season.

3. If you don’t have a specific cheese tray or cutting board, take a look in your pantry and get creative. Any large serving ware or clean, flat item can work. If you’re doing trays for larger parties, consider splitting the food up by category breads and crackers, cheeses, produce, dips and spreads and even a bite size dessert tray.

4. To achieve the fullest flavor, make sure to take your cheese out of the refrigerator at least a half hour before you serve it. Cheese should always be served at room temperature.

5. To begin your tray design, start with placing the cheese, spacing them out so you have room to add in the complimenting produce, nuts and spreads. Placing largest to smallest is an easy way to create an appealing tray.

6. Make sure you thoroughly drain olives and capers before placing them on the tray. This will help eliminate runny messes. If you need to use watery fruit like watermelon, you can also use small ramekins to keep the foods separated.

7. If your tray includes meat varieties, create sections of each separate meat near the cheese. Then get creative and fold, flower or roll the meat for added visual appeal.

8. Get creative with your garnish. A finished tray is not complete without a little greenery. I like to use fresh herbs like Rosemary and Thyme, ferns, flowers or pine branches depending on the season. If you opt for herbs, throw a sprig in your olive oil for an extra punch of flavor.

9. Try making your own candied nuts. You can find multiple recipes online, but most just call for roasting the nuts in the oven at 350 degrees first, then quickly stirring them into a saucepan with melted sugar. Once coated, lay them out on parchment paper and sprinkle with salt. Just remember to work quickly as you’ll only have seconds before the sugar starts to crystallize.

10. As any good host knows, keeping food and drink flowing is a tough task to keep up with while entertaining guests. Simplify the process by pre-cutting extra fruit, cheese, and meat, then placing them into presentable ramekins or small bowls in your refrigerator so that you can easily restock, even in mid conversation. This will help keep wrappers and plastic produce containers out of sight and you won’t have to stop mid-party to slice and dice.

The Price to Party

As an appetizer, our tray with four cheese selections would typically accommodate about six to eight people. For this size, expect to spend around $100 to $150, with plenty of leftovers to create another. If that’s out of your budget, just scale it down using fewer cheese and cracker options with less produce. The price of the cheeses vary, but the ones we selected ran about $10 to $15 dollars per block.

Love Your Leftovers

To get a longer life out of your leftovers, make sure to store your cheese according to its type. Soft cheeses like Brie should be kept in an airtight container. Semi-hard cheeses like Cheddar and Blue cheese can be wrapped in plastic wrap. Hard or aged cheeses should be wrapped in parchment paper or cheese cloth. If you need a quick storage solution for hard or semi-hard cheeses, you can also purchase special parchment bags at most grocery stores.

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