Posts Tagged ‘country’

worth a drive

The New York Times has a new article up entitled “Four Paris Restaurants Worth a Metro Ride”, and when it was published ten days ago about as many people emailed it to me. I hope to pay a visit some of those tables next month, though truthfully I’m still a little peeved at author Mark Bittman for blowing one of my favorite local-ish restaurants, Astier, with a mention in the paper of record. I guess I can kiss my insider badge goodbye. . .

I know some people (ahem, most of you) consider Iowa City a trek in and of itself. With so many fantastic dining options downtown — many of which I’d continue to frequent if they were transplanted to New York City, high praise indeed — it can be tempting, even here, to fall into geographic snobbishness. Kalona, twenty miles southwest of our cosmopolitan little city, is a town of less then 2500. Getting there is a drive through pure country, and yet I’d been wanting to go for a good year. Why? Food, of course.

It’s called Tuscan Moon, and it’s a quiet, unassuming, delicious restaurant housed in the historic Old Kalona Hotel. There’s a gorgeous patio for outdoor dining, but the inside is just as fun: with old hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, chandeliers and high ceilings, it’s a real trip. When we went last weekend, there was a classical guitarist performing and the owner was circulating, asking how everyone’s meal was. It’s that kind of place.

My dinner was a perfectly respectable showcase of the restaurant’s home-cooked Italian roots: a very fine Caesar salad and an enormous plate of farfalle with bolognese sauce (which came, in true home style, with a slice of soft white loaf bread). I think Billy’s selections really hit it out of the park, though, demonstrating what happy heights Tuscan Moon can sail to outside the Italian box. There was the simply presented yellow fin sashimi and then — oh my — jerk-rubbed, grilled pork tenderloin with mango salsa. It was a special that night, but I heard they’re turning it into a regular menu item. I hope so, because it’s what I’d get next time. The smoky, charred flavor of the grill and spices were a brilliant foil to the sweet, juicy mango. It was a totally different level. It was grown up and sophisticated and wow, Kalona! Small but mighty. You done good.


flakily predicting flakes

I once read in a farmer’s almanac that heavily-laden berry bushes foretell a harsh winter.

It was either a farmer’s almanac or an old wives’ tale.

But some fairly folksy saying that — my entire life — I have used as a country crystal ball for forecasting the coming cold and snow. Or lack thereof.

It depends on the berries.

But here is what I would like to know.

When it comes to “heavily laden” . . .

. . . how do you know?

why buy it when you can make it yourself: part applesauce

We’re not exactly swimming in apples here, people, even though we’re supposed to be. We weren’t grabby enough at Wilson’s apple bins, and the two pounds and change of farm fresh Fujis is fading. Fading, friends.

I feel funereal from the fading flock of farm fresh Fujs.

So I made applesauce.

Also, and maybe I should “[rant alert]” you all again, but the girl I babysit just got braces and has consequently started on an applesauce kick, but those plastic cups of Motts applesauce have always freaked me out. A bit. Maybe it’s the texture, which resembles nothing so much as soggy cereal, possibly Wheaties, sort of chunky and lumpy. I used to eat apples every day when I was little (Every. Day.), and a spoonful of store bought applesauce — well, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t taste anything like apples.

So I made my own applesauce.

It’s incredibly easy. Peel and rough chop apples. Throw in a pot with a couple lemon peels and a cinnamon stick. Add water. Cook for thirty minutes then blitz in the food processor.





Does anyone remember the part in “Sleepless in Seattle” when Jonah, seven, says of his recently deceased mother, “I’m starting to forget her.” And Tom Hanks, alias Sam, alias Sleepless in Seattle, says, “She could peel an apple in one long strip. The whole apple.” Anyone remember? No? Then I will just tell you the story of when I was little and my dad made apple tarts or pies, and how he would always save the peels because I liked to eat them. Even if there wasn’t an apple attached. I was an apple fiend, I’m telling you.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you: applesauce should be made from apples, velvety smooth, and served warm. You’re welcome. Won’t you join me on my curmudgeon wagon?

Basic Applesauce

Ratio recipes like this couldn’t be easier. Observe:

  • 1 pound of apples
  • 1 strip of lemon peel
  • 1/4 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup of water

Peel, core, and cut the apples into large chunks, about 8 pieces per apple. Put in a large pot with lemon peel, cinnamon stick, and water. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover for half an hour, until the apples are soft and easily squished with a fork. Remove and discard lemon peel and cinnamon stick. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Makes 1 cup of applesauce

how do you like them apples

I was a little bummed when I realized, several weeks ago, that we missed the fall’s apple picking season. (Yet again!) But our visit to Wilson’s Apple Orchard, located on both sides of the Rapid Creek valley, proved that there’s still fun to be had on the farm, even if it doesn’t involve telescopic, clawed apple-picking baskets like this. The orchard comprises several acres of beautiful land, itself worth a twenty-minute drive. On weekends, there are regular tractor rides through the property — a perk we didn’t take advantage of, since the swell of land by the parking lot offered a lovely view anyway.

Inside the shop, Wilson’s offers (alliteration alert!) pie pumpkins for purchase, whole apples galore, cider, baked goods, recipe books and gift baskets, soaps and lotions, and yes! hay barrels to sit on. We got a little of everything: a pumpkin for gutting, roasting, and whirling into a pie; a half-gallon of cider; a couple pounds of Fujis; and two piping hot turnovers for immediate noshing. Oh, those turnovers . . . let’s just say that when I told the gal I babysit that I was going to Wilson’s, she commanded, “You have to get an apple turnover. You will just not believe how good they are.”

And they truly are delicious. On that (baking) note, I’d hoped to have enough apples to make a spiced applesauce cake, but they lend themselves so well to whole snacking that, well, there just aren’t enough anymore. Sigh. I guess it’s back to the orchard!

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.

honed to perfection

One of the things I love the most about living in Iowa is our proximity to the countryside.

Well, it’s one of the things I think is coolest. In all honesty, I’m not sure I love it, since it means I’m that much farther from Anthropologie, a big art museum, and croissant bakeries.

Not to be insufferably élite.

Anyway, if you live on the East Coast (as I did) and you think you know what I mean by “proximity to the countryside,” I am here to tell you: you are wrong. I thought I understood the countryside when I drove down to horse country weekends for riding lessons (I know, I know…) or to pick apples in the Shenandoah Valley. Or out to my best friend’s house in Oakton, pre-suburban sprawl.

That is rural.

Rural and country are not the same thing.

Whatever the dictionary tells you.

This is the countryside. You drive four miles from our house, and it’s just — hills. Trees. Fields. Sky. It’s quite peculiar, being entirely surrounded by hills and trees and fields and knowing it. Iowa City, the island.

On Thursday, I left this island for Honed to Perfection, a knife sharpening service on Prairie du Chien (prare-ee dew sheen) Road. The fun part (besides coming home with criminally sharp knives the following day!!!) was that — right before mailbox 2926 popped up — the road was closed. So I had to park the car.

And walk through the craggy mud to that red-roofed building in the distance (can you see it?).

Here’s another shot. I would like to add that I was wearing heeled booties. And a skirt.

Just to paint the picture.

I would also like to tell you how the knife drop works. You package the knives in some newsprint, write your name on it, and drop them in a red mailbox. They call you when the knives are ready. You pick them up in the red mailbox. You leave cash or a check in the red mailbox. The end.

TRUST, amiright?

They do a good job, too! I’ve already nicked myself twice on the knives. Eek. Success!

it’s fall somewhere

It was in the high eighties in New York on Saturday, the low seventies when I left it on Sunday, and by the time I got to Williamstown, Massachusetts later that day, into the fifties and sixties. Veritable scarf – boots – trench coat weather. Could I really live in a mountain town where leaves have turned from gold to russet before October? (Better question: Will I get the opportunity to make this choice, oh gods of grad school admission roulette?)

A place where the mountains, yes, look gorgeously aflame — but this for only one month out of the year. There is a coffee shop, albeit a fantastic one: large, inhabited by students, glass display cases filled with sweets and bagels, and creamy, creamy lattes. There is just one Indian restaurant — but what cozy orange walls! I had lunch there on Monday, and went back to the buffet table three times for chicken korma. There is one pizza place (to be fair: perhaps more exist; I mean “one worth mentioning”). But this is what it looks like:

Question. If your pizza place looks like this, do you really need more? Wouldn’t that be gilding the lily? I ask you. Sunday night, I got a frankly delicious take-out pie that I’m still thinking of: pesto sauce, goat cheese and mozzarella, and diced tomatoes. The crust was crisp yet chewy, caramelized in parts. Heavenly.

The profs I met with were really great. I loved MASS MoCA — but then, you already know about that. Driving around the firey mountains was beautiful. I visited Williams for college six (six!?) years ago with my mommers and best friend, and we were, I’m sorry to say, APPALLED at the eerie, cold New England quiet. What a difference college makes, even college in Manhattan. Doesn’t studying in the mountains have some sort of nerdy appeal?