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Everything posted by jwagnerdsm

  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.
  15. I will see if I can download some stills. They did a nice job on the piece although it was a little vapid. I baked the pumpkin so that I could scoop out a little bit of the flesh with each ladle of soup. I really worried about the whole thing busting apart and, in fact, told the camera guy that things were a little iffy when I moved the pumpkin from a pizza pan to a serving tray. But it held together. And the soup won major praise. Thanks again for the great recipe.
  16. We had 14 people at our house for Thanksgiving again this year: my wife's two sisters, her brother and his wife and college-aged son, her parents, one sister's significant other, and the four of us. They arrived the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and stayed until Saturday. There's really no nice way to put this so I'll just say it: none of them, except my mother-in-law, can cook anything more complicated than grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's Soup. Again this year they all asked what they could bring, but since I wanted to do an all Iowa dinner, I simply asked them to bring snack food and their favorite booze. My mother-in-law brought a honey-glazed ham from a local gourmet shop (an Iowa product). The day they began to arrive I drove out to a health food store in suburban Des Moines and picked up a 19 pound turkey, fresh killed the day before. I order him in July at the Downtown Farmers Market and got a call last Sunday to pick him up on Tuesday. He cost me $33. On a whim I also picked up a loaf of homemade bread and a peach pie that the farmer's mother had made. When I got home on Tuesday there was a phone message from a local television station asking if they could spend the day with me in the kitchen and then tape us eating dinner. They had heard about our local food project and had tried to do something this summer, but the story fell through. They decided that our story would be a nice alternative to the typical Thanksgiving stories about people eating at work and homeless people eating in the shelters. Also on Tuesday I went downstairs to our deep freeze to pull out a bag of spring peas that I had frozen last May, a bag of green beans, and a bag of corn that I had blanched with a little cream and sugar before freezing. I had picked up 40 pounds of potatoes a week earlier and had plenty of onions, celery, garlic and carrots on hand from a delivery two weeks ago. I also had 40 pounds of whole wheat flour and 20 pounds of corn meal from a local farmer. His story is on my web page under the Iowa Grown heading. Then, late last week I scored two nice sized bags of spinach and two pounds of Brussels Sprouts. So I decided that instead of a lettuce salad we'd do a Spinach salad. (Some hyrodoponic bibb lettuce is grown here year round but our market is open on Fridays and Saturdays and I wanted to be sure it was fresh on Thanksgiving so I passed on it.) I decided to use sklinsey's method of preparing a turkey two ways, a good decision in retrospect since Thursday was the most hectic Thanksgiving I have ever experienced. (I froze under the television lights and just kind of muddled along for a critical half hour period Thursday afternoon. And one of CeCe's sisters announced late Thursday morning that she was baking a pumpkin pie and then parked herself in the middle of the kitchen making the crust and the pumkin filling. I was furious but couldn't express my outrage.) The turkey two way (sounds kind of kinky when I write it) requires you to debone the bird, marinade the dark meat in port and red wine, a bouquet garni and some aromatic vegetables while brining the breasts. Then you take the carcass and make a white stock, simmering it for several hours. I followed Fat Guy's suggestion and simmered it overnight. I was skeptical at first but when I woke up at 4 a.m. to check the stock, it was emitting a delicious turkey smell and my eight o'clock it had reduced down some and created a nice clear, clean tasting stock. Dinner was scheduled for 3 p.m. but because the television crew was coming my wife decided to decorate the house for Christmas and rearrange some furniture. And people kept crowding into the kitchen. I opened my first beer at 10:30 a.m. and wondered how the hell I was ever going to get everything ready? Because the vegetables came from local gardens I spent more time than usual scrubbing the potatoes and sweet potatoes. I usually plan on one potato per person for mashed potatoes but psyched myself into increasing the formula to one and one-half potatoes. I covered the Yukon gold in cold water at about noon and brought them to a boil and then let my brother-in-law run them through the ricer. You'd have thought it was 1958 and I just showed him the first computer. He was amazed by that ricer. At the same time I steamed the sweet potatoes and then simmered a sauce of Iowa Maple syrup, salt, and bourbon. I put those in a casserole and deposited the dish in a roaster set at 375. My sage stuffing with fresh sage and croutons I made from home baked whole wheat garlic focaccia (delicious but a pain in the ass) went into a crock pot that sat on the floor near the roaster. I was making a creamed soup (thanks Jackal for the recipe) that I would heat in a pumpkin in the oven when the television crew arrived. We spent a half hour getting acquinted, doing a brief interview, and running a mike cord up my back. In the living room, my in-laws were getting soused. My two children were tearing around the house. My five year old girl was performing a ballet in the living room and wondering aloud why the television camera man was ignoring her. And worst of all, my two year old was unplugging the crock pot and the roaster. AND I DIDN"T FIND OUT THAT THIS HAPPENED FOR ANOTHER 45 MINUTES. My father-in-law later said, "I saw him do it but I thought you wanted him to." "Why," I asked, "would I 1.) want a 2-year-old to play with electrical cords and 2.) unplug dinner?" "Well, I don't cook," he told me. So now it's 1:45 and I still haven't put the turkey breasts in the oven. My mother-in -law, a teetotaler of sorts, is into her third glass of wine, my b-i-l has polished off half a bottle of Glenlivet. I made an executive decision and decided not to make the corn souffle, instead serving cut corn with butter. I scooped the dressing into tall ceramic urns and wedged them around the turkey, rolls, and green bean casserole in the oven. And I had another beer. And I got one for the camera guy as well. "Lee," I said to him. "We're not eating at three." Dinner was finally served at about 4:30 p.m. My mother in law got up from the table just as the soup was being served and wobbled into the bathroom and then into the downstairs guest room where she passed out, allegedly from the flu. But everybody else ate like condemned men and sang the praises of our meal. We fixed plates for the television crew and sent back stuff for the guys in the newsroom (especially since I had enough mashed potatoes to save Ireland from famine.) It was a good Thanksgiving meal. The turkey was the best I've ever done. The potatoes were damn good, too. And the gravy was as good as I've ever made. But I was most thankful on Saturday morning when I lay in bed and heard the front door quietly shut: my in-laws left the house at 6 a.m. for the long ride home.
  17. GG Mora tagged me to blog this week. I hadn't intended on starting until Monday but one wave of guests (my wife's family) left this morning and our second wave will be arriving in a few hours so I thought I might introduce myself and give you a little idea what's going on here. I live in Des Moines, Iowa, in a quiet neighborhood about ten minutes from downtown. I came here in 1991 to work at State Editor at The Des Moines Register. I grew up in the newspaper business, started writing when I was in junior high and have been involved in a variety of publishing pursuits since then. I was at the Register until 1997 when I became editor of The Iowan Magazine, a statewide publication akin to Arizona Highways, Vermont Life, Ohio, Wisconsin Trails, etc. I eventually became general manager of the company and, after a failed attempt to buy the business, moved to a small publishing company here that produces a weekly business journal, an alternative newspaper, and some custom publishing publications. I left that job in April to pursue freelance writing and to work on books, the first which was released in July and is now 990,387 on Amazon's list of best sellers. (Boy, I partied when I cracked the top million.) Food has always been an important part of my life. My mother is a fine cook and it wasn't until several years after I left home that I realized how broke we were when I was a child and how deftly my mother managed to feed my family on a shoestring. Small town Iowa food is all about comfort: hot beef sandwiches are on the menu at every cafe in the state. The restaurants open early so that farmers can fill their stomachs before heading into the fields. Some of the food is very good, but I didn't sample Chinese or even very good Italian until I was eight or nine years old. When I was 19, a friend told me: "You won't always find a good meal in a small town unless you learn how to cook." He also told me, "If you want to impress women, learn to make two or three dishes very well and they will think you are a master cook." My first challenge was risotto and today I think I make as fine a risotto as anyone. My favorite is a summertime risotto with a soffrito of tomatoes and honey that is finished with a handful of fresh chopped mint just before I put it on the table. I've been married for six years and have two children: Zoey is five and Kiernan is two and a half. My wife, CeCe, is a lawyer. (Zoey was telling people that I was a homemaker until my book came out this summer.) My wife's skills make it possible for me to stay home to write. I also do 90 percent of the cooking, but CeCe is a wonderful cook. She makes the best Baklava around and loves to share the recipes that her Lebanese grandmother and aunts used to make for Sunday dinner. This year, we are eating only food grown in Iowa. We started in April and will continue through the winter. Our food came from farmers markets, a CSA, and from a garden in our backyard. I would say that 90 to 95 percent of the food we eat is grown within 100 miles of our house. And I can pick up a can or a freezer bag of anything we have in storage and tell you something about the person who raised the food. We have a beverage exemption (my wife's only request when I came up with this idea) so that she could continue to have her coffee in the morning. I am a Diet Pepsi freak so I was happy to comply. We try to find restaurants that feature Iowa grown food, but don't have a hard and fast rule about that. The kids still get their peanut butter and bananas and other things that little bodies need that might not be available. We aren't playing "Survivor". This was a good summer for vegetables and a warm fall means that we were still finding fresh vegetables as late as November. (Last week, a farmer friend called me and said that he had two pounds of Brussels Sprouts and some Spinach, which I quickly snagged.) During the summer, I froze about 40 pounds of sweet corn, 20 pounds of spinach, 15 pounds of brocolli, five pounds of cauliflower, 30 pounds of peas, and 50 pounds of string beans. I also canned tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, raspberry and plum jams, cherries in their own juices, apple pie filling, and six kinds of pickles. We buy our meat from farmers in the area. I bake bread with whole wheat and use corn meal for muffins, etc. The fresh ground corn meal also makes the most spectacular polenta you've ever eaten. I think I've become a lot better cook in the last year because of the ingredients that I am using. It's easy to take for granted the pre-peeled baby carrots, the salad mixes, etc. that we used to buy at the grocery store. Even canned goods seem like a luxury now. But it's nice to have total control over how foods are prepared. My wife and I have both lost about 20 pounds in the last year. We still eat like pigs, but we don't have foods that are laden with all kinds of fat. This weekend we'll be eating leftover turkey, ham, stuffing, etc. But next week I'll be cooking for my family. I'll check in again later to tell you what we are eating. Thanks for bearing with me this week. I'm looking forward to this.
  18. Edited to disqualify myself for not understanding the rules of Haiku
  19. A few years ago we were at the Home Depot buying supplies to enclose the back patio. We walked by those little dorm fridges and I gave my wife a "can I" look and she agreed. We put it out on the back patio so that we wouldn't have to walk eight steps for beer. And now that our kids are of waddling stage, it's easy for them to access when I yell, "#*$*@, get Daddy his #($*@ beer." Kids are so cute when they are kind of scared of you. Anyway, we are preparing to buy a second dorm fridge for a new rec room in the basement AND we are also moving are regular fridge into the garage for additional storage. So I have enjoyed your post. My mother has a fridge that she uses for beer, pop and an enormous supply of cheese. So add cheese to your list.
  20. Boy, that is rustic. And I thought Iowa was rural. Sounds lovely. I hope you tell us about some of the cheeses that you will have on your table this holiday. And what do you do with the raw milk? Do you drink it or use it in some kind of recipe? And is there some kind of special preparation involved before you drink it? Thanks for the interesting post.
  21. Excellent report, well worth the wait. How many people ate all that food?
  22. Des Moines. Home, today, of hundreds of reporters who are covering the presidential debates which start in about 45 minutes. Me? I will be scrubbing cat piss off the basement floor.
  23. It's snowing in Iowa and I am dying for a report on the fiesta in the Triangle. My mouth was watering over the menu. I fear that Al Dente and Varmint may be finishing off the hooch and have lapsed into a coma.
  24. I just can't fathom a great product from a huge company like Excel or, especially, Cargill. But if you say it's so, I believe you. I believe that one reason we see such high prices right now is because of all the concentration in the meat industry. This is particularly a problem in the pork industry, but is becoming more alarming in the beef industry as well. Saveur has an excellent piece this month on a butcher shop with some notes on the slow death of the independent butcher. Fat Guy and some others have said before that if you don't have your own butcher -- someone who knows you and knows his product -- you won't ever experience protein nirvana (that's me paraphrasing. Apologies to FG is I put too many words in his mouth). Anyway, I'd encourage everyone to try some of the independents out there. They offer wonderful products and their economic health is important to everyone who values good, wholesome food.
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