Posts Tagged ‘amana’

the frozen ground we walk on

On Tuesday, to celebrate Boyfriend’s last exam and first afternoon free in many weeks, we drove across the plains to Amana. (Amana, the little German colony of Inspirationists, you remember that, right?) I had half-way hoped to see the Tannenbaum Forest, an old barn filled with Christmas trees decorated by local businesses, which was up in last year’s “Prelude to Christmas” Festival during the first weekend of December last year, but alas: closed! The entire village was oddly, eerily empty. Who would have thought that a rural village in eastern Iowa would be bereft of tourists and visitors on a 15 degree midweek afternoon? Shocking, I tell you.

The landscape around us was a frozen, muffled gray, like the colorless sky had draped a blanket over the corn fields, but the village of Amana was decorated quite beautifully. Bowed-up ribbons and fir branches wrapped around every fence, and wreathes in the windows. Gray sky, gray ground, but the holiday spirit had definitely set up camp here. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”

We contained our merrymaking to the Amana Gerneral Store, which still had some incredible gingerbread houses up on display from the Prelude to Christmas competition. Lighthouse gingerbread houses. Seashore shack gingerbread houses. Covered bridge gingerbread houses. How do they make these??

And I suppose now is good a time as any to tell you that the Amana General Store, like a lot of kitshy beach town shops, has an entire room dedicated to Christmas. Oh yes, year round. It was very exciting — it felt right, yknow? — to visit that room in December. BUT you would think, wouldn’t you, that the Christmas Shop in the Amana General Store would have some Iowa-themed, Iowa-made, or otherwise Iowa-related ornaments, would you not? I’m not asking for Hawkeyes to hang, I know that wouldn’t jibe with their country-kitsch angle, but not even a cornstalk-whittled ball? This gets my goat every time we visit. But the little creches and snow-topped village scenes, they’re alright. After wading through eleven other months, they’ve finally found their way home.

Much like myself. Back in DC for the next couple weeks. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! Blogging will continue throughout the (slightly warmer) winter holidays.


can i take you home?

Spotted: Sunday afternoon in Amana, a collarless kitty hanging out on a wooden bridge. This is a dangerous thing to spot.

For when you spot a lonesome kitty, friends, there’s only one thing to do.

Scratchy scratch scratch!

Ooh, that feels good . . .

I guess you’re okay.


Why’d it stop?

Come back!

Herro? Maybe?

Fine, go away.

See if I care.

We-ellllllllll . . .

Thaz pretty good!

Okay, I will come home with you!*

(Sadly, no.)

someone buys a plane ticket

It happened! A friend and not a parent bought a plane ticket to come see us in Iowa! And not just any visitor, but one from New York! That’s a big city, eh? Billy’s buddy Branden has been instructed to sing our Midwestern praises upon his return to the Big Apple and we, naturally, are sitting pretty with thoughts of the dozens of friends who will surely follow in his plane steps. “How will we fit them all in the house?!” Such are the thoughts that have pitched a tent in my mind. “We should probably get a blow up mattress now. Before the flood.”

Branden arrived just in time for the Saturday football game against Michigan, and we wasted no time shuffling him to the Vine downtown. Unfortunately, it was an away game, so tales of our block’s madcap six AM tailgates remain largely unwitnessed. But I think this sports bar gave a nice snapshot of Hawkeye mania.

We arrived a couple hours before kick off for lunch, wanting to snag prime seats before the place filled up. And fill up it did! We ate. OH HOW WE ATE. Two plates of nachos (bean nachos, mind you); a round of cheese fries; what I am now calling four “flights” of buffalo and/or barbecue wings in an effort to make it sound less abominably gluttonous; and many pitchers of beer. I am slightly consoled by the fact that we did not order burgers, as originally planned — especially since we grilled brats and potatoes back at the house several hours later.

Anyway, the Vine was a fantastic game-watching hang. Lots of fans and TV’s, both on very high volume. It’s not quite in-the-flesh tailgating on Melrose, but a close second! Later that night, we showed Branden some of the unmissable Iowa City nightlife. It began with a [plastic] boot of beer and ended with Mexican fast food. I’ll let you fill in the rest.

The following day, a beautiful day, we took Branden to the charming town of Amana (which you of course remember from last year) for kitschy antique and Christmas stores, a fruit winery, and a brewery tour. I can’t get over how perfect the weather was. A sunny seventy: I think it may be our last nice day. We reveled.

That night: bacon-wrapped dates, grilled zucchini and aioli, baked tomato goat cheese, and patatas bravas at Devotay. Then key lime pie. And yesterday, we had some fresh croissants, a round of burgers at Short’s Burger, and for dinner Bobby Flay’s incredible, more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts BBQ Chicken Quesadilla with Grilled Tomato Salsa & Buttermilk Dressing. I’ll tell you all about that quesadilla one day, and how it’s totally worth the hour plus prep, but for now I think I’ll roll to the store and pick up a bag of celery for dinner.

I think (hope!) Branden had a hoot of a time here in Iowa, BUT KNOW FOR SURE that he’s coming away with experiential knowledge of how we survive twenty below winters. Visitors, ahoy! Your guest room awaits.

a birthday round-up

Because I am a third grader and still get tremendously excited about birthdays — all birthdays, probably because my inner child considers them 10% aging, 90% a marvelous excuse to bake lavish cakes and eat them with friends (truly the best activity of all) — and because my boyfriend knows that on March 27, he’s likely to face a seven AM, bouncing-on-the-bed wake-up call, we suspended all academic/professional responsibilities yesterday for some new adventures.

To wit:

— Opening a box of seriously lovely gifts at five minutes past seven and again once the postman had passed at noon, which both threaten to ruin me for future birthdays, and at which I can only keep babbling, Thanks! and Wow!

— Pure-butter, hefty chocolate truffles made on the adorable, open-kitchen premises to cap off a big, big, BIG German lunch at Amana’s Ronneburg Restaurant — which we picked with a purely “well, when in Rome” mentality, but between the skillet-fried German potatoes, unlimited sauerkraut, schnitzel and accompaniments, proved delicious in its own right Even if the schnitzel wasn’t quite the airy, fried puff of an animal we’re used to.

— Dinner at a fantastic new-to-us and slightly new-to-IC restaurant downtown with the best fries (crisp, salty, matchstick) I’ve come across in a while, perfectly tangy ceviche and luscious flatbreads which, now that I’ve got your attention, will be reviewed in full tomorrow.

— My super-delicious birthday cake, a pear, chocolate, and brown butter concoction from the Smitten Kitchen that I made last summer and have been looking for an excuse to reprise ever since. I used a couple of too-ripe anjous and Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chunks, and it was fabulous. (Importantly, the two remaining slices seem to have gotten even more imbued with that sweet pear fragrance after an overnight sit.) Thanks to all the benevolent locusts who came over last night and trimmed down the cake so happily!

habe ein fröliche weinachten

This weekend, Jill and I traveled back in time to Amana, that erstwhile cluster of seven colonies on the outskirts of Iowa City founded in the mid-nineteenth century by German religious purists. For those keeping track, this is the same Amana Billy and I visited in October for caramel apples and… well, I forget what else. Saturday was the peak of their Prelude to Christmas festival and bundled together a whole cluster of holiday-themed activities.

We stayed about three hours and left all rolly-polly from sweets consumption — both visual and tummy-al. I was craving nothing but lettuce after decorating sugar cookies in the basement of the Ox Yoke Inn, splitting an entire bag of kettle corn, drinking both cocoa and cider, and voting for the best gingerbread houses at the general store. And there were some  pretty spectacular offerings, like a farmhouse with frosting chickens, a American Indian teepee village with ice-fishing, Noah’s arc, and a treehouse with pretzel railings.

However, this appears to be where the Amanans’ locovore leanings get spent, because we couldn’t find a single locally made ornament all day. Or one that even said “Amana.” Someone has got to get their tourist chops up to snuff. The local church’s holiday bazaar was likewise disappointingly sparse, with not enough homemade kitsch for either of our liking.

But on the bright side, there was this too: the Tannenbaum Forest inside an unheated, restored nineteenth century wood-beamed barn. (A discovery! “Tannenbaum” means “fir tree” in German. The fir tree forest!) Each tree is sponsored and decorated by a local business: the woolen mill’s tree was covered in knit orbs, the Amana brewing company had dressed theirs in miniature beer vats, and so on, to at least fifty twinkling trees. We, of course, kept taking refuge under the heat lamps – but somehow the dark, sparse cold made the whole forest thing feel more authentic.

On our way out, we even glimpsed a special visitor who, okay, may have mixed up his dates and forgotten his hoofed entourage, but was welcome nonetheless.

So inspired were we by this bout of Christmas cheer that, the very next day, I went out and bought a faux tree, which Billy set up (by himself) that very night. Happily, it came with lights built-in, so between that, the snowflake lights on our dining room wall, tinsel around the front door, and gigantic red bow over the basement, we’re set for the season. Santa can come back anytime. We’ve even arranged a white Christmas for him.

willkommen! to the amana colonies

Today is a rainy and droopy sixty degrees, but yesterday was full of sunshine and early fall crisp. Perfect for the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, said Billy, only the Prospect Park neighborhood is, hmm, a bit farther now than it was six months ago. What’s a fish-out-of-the-East-River to do?

a) Watch “Sex and the City” reruns on TBS; drink every time the gang gobbles up Magnolia Cupcakes or Manolo Blahniks

b) Don flannel, skinnies, and colored Ray Bans; channel the Obnoxious Williamsburg Hipster within

c) Cry wee wee wee all the way home to Manhattan

chocolate haus

Come on. Trick question, the answer is obviously none of the above. I miss Manhattan to be sure (thin crust pizza, boutique bakeries, french flea market style, new exhibitions on Monet and Kandinsky) but there will be no surrender here. Instead, B and I drove out to the Amana Colonies for the afternoon.

fall flowers

A BIT OF AMANA HISTORY, you say? The German religious group that would eventually found Amana was the Community of True Inspiration. Members of the Community, called Inspirationists, cultivated a humble, pious relationship with horse buggy signGod based on simple worship and the belief that He would communicate with believers through a divinely inspired and informed prophet, or instrument (Werkzeug). The Inspirationists were kicked out of Germany in the 1840s, and eventually made their way to parking signIowa in search of cheap farmland. In 1855, a 1200-strong congregation led by Werkzeug Christian Metz declared their new village Amana, or “remain true,” and recommenced their communal way of life. This communal tradition was overturned nearly 100 years later with the 1932 Great Change, marking the first time Amana community members worked for wages and owned their own homes and farmland. The Amana Church is still a vibrant part of community life, we are told, and traces of their German heritage — as well as attempts to maintain it — abound. See: Germanesque shop names, menu offerings, etc.

Thus, our first stop yesterday, the Chocolate Haus, where we sampled peanut butter chocolate nibs, gawked at chocolatiers slicing blocks of fudge, and (I, at least) drooled over the freshly dipped carmel apples. We meant to stop by before leaving, but forgot, and I’m still moping about the apple that got away.

carmel apples

In the weirdly composite general store/Christmas shop we stopped in next, most remnants of authenticity flew out the window. There were locally made jams, vats of saltwater taffy and licorice sticks — good, all appropriately Little House on the Prairie. But an entire room of dissolving bath salts and another of bedecked Christmas trees? That’s just silly.

wine barrel

We sampled more fudge at yet another chocolate and coffee house and then crossed the street to the Wine, Cheese and Jelly Haus. When B and I first visited Amana about a month ago, we bought two bottles of fruit wine from Ackermann Wineries. They are still sitting in the cupboard, because honestly how many occasions really call for, really necessitate peach wine? There must be more in Amana than we’ve found in Iowa City. We judiciously did not stock up on any more.


To cap off our door-to-door moseying, there was even an outdoor band banging out instrumentals with tubas and, well, other band instruments. They were called die Treffen something. Shockingly my efforts to Google “die Treffen Amana Iowa band” have yielded zero information, but they provided a wonderful musical backdrop. They compensated for the un-authentic “orange vanilla blossom” bubble bath mix.

garden outside

So it’s goodbye, Amana after a few hours, but not for long. For starters, I’m counting on my caramel apple fix within the month. And beyond that, there’s Oktoberfest in two weeks. Who needs to miss New York, when a community town in eastern Iowa has rendered a place as far off and exotic as Munich obsolete? Alles gut! Tchuss until next time!