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    Des Moines
  1. Yeah, fatten that sucker up. Once the vegetables run out in February he may be supper.
  2. Last year the city switched to an automated trash pick-up system. Everybody got one fairly big can that holds maybe seven or eight bags of trash. The truck has an arm that swings down, picks up the standardized can, dumps it into the top of the vehicle. The idea is that the workers won't have to get out of the truck or pick up anything heavy so they won't ever get hurt on the job. Until this week the city had these chaser trucks that would come through an hour or two after the automated truck. These guys picked up everything on the curb that wouldn't fit into the standard can. But they were just transitional (until people could figure out how to cram 20 bags of garbage into one can, I guess) and they were phased out this week. We apparently have the option of calling the city and buying a second can, which I will do. I hope that makes sense. Didn't mean to get off topic.
  3. Tuesday Woke up to find that our neighborhood raccoon had found his way into the garbage and decided to gnaw on the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving. Our garbage pick-up is Monday but for some reason the city decided this would be the week to change their policy on the number of bags they would pick up from the curb. So after I heard the garbage truck come, I went out front to find five garbage bags remaining on the curb. Figure that out: the second biggest garbage week of the year (behind Christmas) and this was the week people would be left hold the (extra) bag, literally. The carcass lay in the backyard like some strange excavation and around it were strewn little pieces of bread, a small bag of corn, an ice cream carton, and other odds and ends. At least the remaining leftovers didn't go to waste. One of the fascinating things about this project is that I expected it to greatly reduce the waste we produced each week. I should have started a compost pile because instead I noticed our garbage actually increase. The other interesting thing is that even in the heart of a city of 300,000 people, we have a significant wildlife population. We had lots of visitors to our backyard garden this year: raccoons, possum, deer, rabbits, and lots of squirrels. And was it just a coincidence that we had our first bats in our house in the five years since we moved here? After I cleaned up the mess, I came inside and ate a breakfast of leftover homemade potato chips, still crisp and fresh 12 hours after I fried them up. Of course the kids wondered why they couldn't have chips for breakfast and I had to pull some of my parents' wisdom out of the recesses of my gray matter and tell them: "Because I said so." Today was going to be the day that I cooked something that I could really brag about in my food blog. I was thinking about a French Farmhouse Roast Pork that I like to do. But I had a meeting with a client at 11 a.m., had to go to a local bookstore to autograph more children's books later in the day, and had my wife around the house most of the day, working on a pro bono case involving immigrant families and a local used car dealership. So I also had to run some of the errands that she would do on the way to and from work. I had lunch with my client at a local restaurant. Tuscan Tomato Soup and a pasta with chipolte red sauce and what was advertised as rotisserie chicken. The meat was so finally hacked up that I could barely find it and the sauce didn't have the zip I was hoping for. But the soup was good and I have to admit that after all the cooking I've done in recent days, it was nice to have someone else do the work for a change. Alas, we decided at the last minute to pick up some hamburgers and fries from a little bar and grill near Drake University. The owner is a friend of mine, he buys his meat from a small butcher whose supply comes from local farmers, and his stuff is darn good. And the kids will eat it too. Plus, there was the added bonus of being able to drink a couple of beers while I waited for him to cook up the food. Good news! A fairly large publisher has inquired about a, what would I call it, a companion book dealing with local food. It would be kind of like the idiot books that outline how to eat local. It would delve into CSAs, farmers markets, gardening, canning and freezing, heirloom vegetables, etc. It's not the book I've been working on, but it would provide a nice cash advance and would allow me to still write the narrative for a smaller publisher. So now I am busy putting together an outline and writing three sample chapters. (If all of you post messages saying how eager you are to buy the book, maybe it will give me some leverage. hint. hint.) It's snowing here tonight as I write this and the stuff is actually sticking. The streets are slick and the weather goon on TV says to expect 2 to 4 inches, which means we'll probably get either a dusting or a foot. Anyway, I don't expect any more surprise Brussels Sprouts or Spinach this year. So now we're on our own. See you tomorrow.
  4. Very cool web site Moto Chef. Unique concept. You and Bourdain would get along swimmingly.
  5. We fry them. I give them a soak in water first to get the starch out.
  6. Your kids get a toy with their meal. The waitress apologizes that your food took so long because "our microwave is on the fritz."
  7. Actually, cheese has been one of the challenges. There are a few cheese makers in the state -- mostly goat cheese -- and man (and kids) can't live by goat cheese alone. There's a couple of small cooperatives in northeast Iowa where we can buy cheese in bulk.
  8. Monday Breakfast at the Wagner house is pretty simple. Zoey has to be out the door by 7:55 for pre-kindergarten and we are all slugs in the a.m. CeCe drinks coffee (that's our beverage exemption) and Zoey and Kiernan usually have some fresh toasted bread or some eggs and hand cut bacon. We get the most amazing fresh meats from tiny locker plants all over the state. My best find is a beef stick that's shaped like a slim jim but contains no trim: it's all meat. We buy those from a small cooperative of livestock farmers who have them made at a locker in northeast Iowa. They are sold at our indoor farmers market, a new place on the local food scene where I get our milk, ice cream, chicken, beef and pork, honey and other assorted foods. It's a nice addition but I worry about the mix of retailers there. There are a few too many "country cute" gift shops -- you know, bunnies in dresses and stuff like that -- and I worry that people won't visit every week without a healthy mix of food products. I eat those beef sticks during the day. I work at home and spend a lot of time at the computer, pimping for magazine assignments or writing stories on the presidential elections. (We get several calls a day from campaigns seeking our support. I made the mistake of joking to a Howard Dean aide that I might be able to squeeze him in for dinner some night -- you meet all the candidates before the caucuses, sometimes two or three times -- and they took that to mean that I was a supporter. I'm holding out, but they call often inviting me to rallies, debates, and receptions. Anyway, because of my work routine, I graze all day rather than eating a set breakfast and lunch. At about three I pick up my daughter from school and then come home and start cooking dinner. But during the day, I ate a beef stick, some leftover stuffing, and several carrots. People in the local food movement often talk about defining moments when they taste something so unbelievably good that they know they are making a correct lifestyle choice for themselves. For me, it was a carrot. Gary Guthrie, who farms near Nevada, returned from Peace Corp work in South America about a decade ago and, after running a peace institute here, returned to the family farm. He converted the operation to an organic vegetable operation and he's best known for his carrots. He plants several varieties; the ones I'm eat right now are Bolero, a coreless carrot that is extra sweet because he pulled it from the ground after the first frost. I bought ten pounds (enough to fill a plastic grocery store bag) and have been parceling them out. They will stay good for about six to eight weeks so I will have them until Christmas. The thing about coreless carrots are they don't have the tastless white center that commercially-grown carrots have. Commerical growers pick their carrots with big machines that dig into the ground and they have to grow a variety that is hearty enough so that it won't crack. Hence, the variety. Guthrie hires high school and college kids to help him pick his carrots. They are worth the price. ($1.79 a pound). Tonight, I used the last of the ham to make sandwiches. I put them on some Thanksgiving rolls, added a little cheese, wrapped them in foil and let them bake in the oven at 300 degrees for about 25 minutes. I also made potato chips using the Cranberry Red potatoes we bought from the Droste family in Waverly. Those were sprinkled with a little sea salt (not an Iowa product). We also had a little bit of Anderson-Erickson Cottage Cheese. This is the large curd variety and it's one of those products that people pack up in coolers and take home with them when visiting central Iowa from other parts of the U.S. Until earlier this year, it was the last cottage cheese in the country still being packed by hand. It's still good, but I miss the nostalgia of knowing the cottage cheese I was eating was hand-packed. For dessert, we all ate ice cream from the organic dairy northwest of town. The folks who own it decided that their 140 cow herd wasn't going to support them. They had three options: get bigger, get out, or figure out a way to add value to their product. They opted for the third and now offer organic milk around central Iowa. Their story is similar to that of lots of farmers in the area, and I guess I would have to say that it makes me feel good to know that I am helping preserve a way of live. I apologize. I am a romantic. See you tomorrow.
  9. There's a Barilla plant just north of Des Moines in Ames. But we've also made pasta this year. the kids prefer the Barillas.
  10. Sunday: On Sunday, my parents drove into town from Sibley, about 200 miles northwest of Des Moines, for a belated birthday celebration for my now five-year-old daughter, Zoey. My parents suggested leftovers for lunch and so I threw together a casserole with of bed of mashed potatoes zipped up with sour cream, some diced turkey and ham, topped with a quasi-tettrazzini sauce. For the sauce, I diced some onions and simmered them in butter then added a ½ cup of flour, some ground mustard and poultry seasoning, just a hint of cayenne, and some salt and pepper. I stirred it up to make a kind of roux (a very lumpy roux). But it worked itself out once I added two cups of whole milk, and a little bit of chedder cheese, plus some salt and pepper. It baked in the oven for about a half-hour at 400 degrees. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t the prettiest thing the look at – it didn’t sit up like I wished it might – but it had a nice flavor and the kids liked it. We used some of our fresh Spinach with goat cheese and some toasted bread crumbs to zip up the salad. Warm bread was served on the side. Cooking for the kids has been one of the biggest challenges during the last seven months. They are good eaters but I think kids get used to the blander taste of processed food and so it’s easy to shock their little taste buds. They like bread hot out of the oven but won’t eat a nice home-baked sandwich loaf, preferring mediocre mass produced. Both of them (we also have a boy who is two-and-a-half) love fresh vegetables and spent the summer eating loads of vine-ripened tomatoes for breakfast, as a snack, and on the side during dinner. Zoey loves broccoli, particularly with a cheese sauce and they both are fans of carrots, lettuce salads, green beans and peas. Their favorite dish is spaghetti. I canned several quarts of tomato sauce this summer and make a pasta sauce by first blonding some diced garlic and onion, then browning some Italian sausage links and ground beef in the pan. Then I dump in the tomato sauce and let it simmer for several hours. Midway through the simmer I’ll add some fresh herbs. Earlier this year I made several dozen meatballs and froze them. I thought the kids liked ‘em (my wife and I do) but one day as I drove Zoey and a neighbor to school, I heard her tell her friend that she wasn’t “crazy about Dad’s meatballs.”) Last night, we grazed from the refrigerator and the kids ate some leftover pasta with cheese. We’re all fighting colds here right now so and the busy holiday week exacerbated our conditions so nobody is real hungry. More about Monday later.
  11. Pac Choi, a regular item in our CSA box each week. What do you do with it besides chop it up for stir fry?
  12. There are a handful of maple syrup operations in northeast and eastern Iowa. Except for Green's Sugar Bush, it's mostly hobby farms. Greens is available in a few locations in eastern Iowa and produces probably our best maple syrup. I spent a terrific day there a few years back when the sap was starting to run.
  13. I like the way Bobby Rivers always ..... pauses for EMPHASIS. That show also drives me nuts and it drives my wife nuts because I bitch about it while watching.
  14. A ricer is a gadget that looks kind of like a oversized garlic press. You stick your cooked potatoes in it and press them through the sieve-like bottom and you get lump-free potatoes. A great gadget, although it's a bit of a pain.
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