Archive | December, 2013

Fresh Cafe and Market: West Des Moines

31 Dec
by Deanne

Fresh Cafe and Market: West Des Moines, IA

After a few months of scouting out potential restaurants to review in the Des Moines metro area, I begin with a review of this gem tucked away in a professional building.  I first became aware of this place when I saw their booth at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market.  Photo of Wheatgrass A tray of fresh wheatgrass, sitting in the booth, caught my attention. 

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 4.5

What a story there is to be told about local food. According to a bio I found:

Kerri Rush, “the wheatgrass girl” is the owner, farmer and chef at Fresh Wheatgrass Farm in Carlisle, Iowa and Fresh Cafe & Market in West Des Moines, Iowa. She started growing wheatgrass in 1996 when her Mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon, liver and lymph node cancer. After researching “alternative” healthy ways to give her immune system a boost she found it in wheatgrass and juicing. (her mother is now cancer free!) Kerri became hooked on all of the benefits of wheatgrass and her business started growing!

According to the menu the rest of the food is organic, local, gmo and synthetic-free.  They proclaim that they change their menu often because they work with fresh, seasonal products.

FreshChorizoFlavour: 5

This vegan chorizo is loaded with flavor and you can see the presentation is attractive.  The “chorizo meat” is made with quinoa and roasted potatoes, poblano peppers, and corn.  I had a choice of whole wheat or gluten-free tortilla.  I selected the whole wheat.  The topping is cilantro-chile crema and fresh scallions and tomatoes.

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

Photo of Fresh signIt was a surprise to find such yummy food in an odd looking professional building.  At first I was excited because I saw a woman with five little girls come out and get in a van.  I thought maybe they were Girl Scouts working on their locavore badge.  Photo of Locavore BadgeYou know, touring the kitchen to learn about food.  Then I realized they had not been at the cafe, they had been dancing in the room next door.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 4

Three of the walls are each painted a different bright color and the fourth wall is glass which makes for a dramatic and vibrant cafe.  The tables are sturdy wood with substantial chairs.  You order at the counter and the food arrives quickly.

Overall Rating: 13.5+

I’d like to see Fresh Cafe and Market or other favorites like Desert Roots Kitchen, populate the malls, downtowns, and suburban intersections of every city in America.  Making food this good takes a huge amount of effort.  The commitment to quality is the reason we do not often see these types restaurants that offer truly fresh food at a lower this price point.    I leave you with this picture that proves you can get something fresh on an Iowa winter day.Photo of Green Juice

Fresh Cafe & Market on Urbanspoon

Iowa: Three Times a Charm

29 Dec
by Deanne

33_aplacetogrowIowa: A Place to Grow was the state motto when Steve and I moved here the first time.  Young and in love, we felt charmed to arrive in a state that had a goal that matched our desires at the start our life together. 

After Steve graduated from Iowa State University,  it was bye, bye Iowa as we returned to his native state, Idaho.  Yet, for some reason, we had a secret desire to raise our kids in Iowa and eventually had a job offer that brought us back.

A call from a headhunter lured us to the land of stone farmhouses and epic national history, Pennsylvania. It was a fun adventure and gave us time to mature professionally and personally.

After 12 years in the Philadelphia metro area and 6 years in rural Minnesota, we have magically appeared in the state again. I say magically because we didn’t seek out a plan to move here. We got a call from a former colleague and one thing led to another.  Voila, we are back.Photo of t-shirt from RAYGUN

If you haven’t been to Iowa you will be surprised to learn that Iowa is not the great fly over, that many east and west coast dwellers assume.  For one thing the state has a sense of humor.  We got a chuckle when we wandered into RAYGUN, a store in the East Village, that has a goal to make people laugh.  They sell  t-shirts that poke fun at what people think of Iowa.

Most people think of Iowa as being a state of mostly soybeans and corn.  This fact is true but Iowa makes up for the lack of diversity in crops with a diversity of ideas about food and food systems.  Just visit the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market to see a sampling of diversity. 

Since arriving, it has been incredibly easy to align our interests of yoga, food and personal growth with like-minded souls.  Here is a re-cap of just a few connections.

In September we were invited to a Yoga on the Farm event at PepperHarrow Farm. There, in addition to yoga, we toured the farm and ate awesome food.  Check out all the photos by photographer, Drew Maifeld.

YogaontheFarm

During the month of November I attended a conference from an organization called Women Food andPhoto of Sonia Kendrick Agriculture.  There I met a woman who was tired of hearing people brag about how Iowa feeds the world and started an organization called Feed Iowa First.  The founder is a veteran who recognized that even here, in the land of plenty, our current food system is not working and many go hungry.  

In early December, I had a chance to attend Tedx Des Moines Women. This re-cap by a fellow attendee will fill you in on that awesome event.  It wasn’t about food but I did meet people from Dress For Success Des Moines. I hope to us my coaching skills and volunteer as a mentor in 2014.

DFSDSM

The bottom line about Iowa is that somehow we haven’t gotten in right yet.  Iowa is calling us back to grow some more before she lets us sail away into the sunset. 

No Food in the House Soup

21 Dec
by Deanne

Have you ever come home from work and looked in the fridge to discover that there is no food in the house?  When I found myself in this situation, I challenged myself to respond like the chefs on CHOPPED.  Those inventive chefs compete against each other to come up with a meal based on oddball items in a market basket.

Potatoes, celery, onions, frozen green pepper, turnips (already boiled a week ago) and vegetable stock were the collection of ingredients I found in my “market basket.”

A cooking strategy I picked up from Luke and Steve is to start chopping and sweating onions and celery.  This buys me a bit of time time while the creative juices start flowing.  Eventually I put together a pretty decent tasting soup.  It must have been good because this is the only picture I was able to capture.

Photo of empty bowl

No Food in the House Soup

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, diced

3 medium celery stalks, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup green peppers

4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

2-3 turnips, boiled

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth

1/2 cup water

1.  Heat olive oil in a heavy pot.  Add onions, celery, and green peppers and sweat until soft.

2.  Place already cooked turnips and up to  1/2 cup water in a blender,

3.  Add celery, onions, turnips and green peppers and blend until smooth and creamy.

4.  Boil potatoes in another pan.

5.  Heat vegetable broth and mixture from the blender.  Add potatoes when cooked and mash slightly. 

6.  Heat and season soup with black pepper and rosemary.  Serve immediately or save for another meal.

Holiday Hostess Gift Ideas

12 Dec

by Deanne

For the holiday season, I took a job that would challenge me to learn about cooking tools and trends.  On my first day working at the only Williams-Sonoma store in Iowa, I was kept on my toes by questions from many holiday shoppers.   

Several customers asked for hostess gift ideas.  I looked online and selected a few ideas from the under $25 gift category.  Check out my ideas and please, please…..offer any ideas you have found to use as good hostess gifts.

To personalize a gift, when you are not sure what the hostess interests are, you could select this cute monogram cheese board with a little spreader.

Photo of Monogram Cheese Board

 Does your hostess make a habit of entertaining?  A fine dipping oil would make a gift that will come in handy at this party or the next one coming soon.

Photo of Dipping Oils

Imagine the smell of a lovely Meyer lemon candle made with essential oils.  That would be a gift I would enjoy, so perhaps your hostess would like it too.

Photo of Candle

These little salt and pepper shakers are really fun because they stack.  If your hostess likes to camp in the summer this gift would keep on giving beyond the season. 

Photo of Salt and pepper shakers

A mini pie dish is something I own. I have two.  Two of them are just right for making our quiche recipe.  I have also made smaller apple pies, so I don’t end up over eating by having a whole pie sitting around.  It would be extra special if you put a recipe you like in the dish.

Photo of Mini Pie Dish

How about you?  When you go to a party do you take a hostess gift?  I’d love to hear some ideas from you!  Another great source for ideas is of course Pinterest!

Celery Root and Apple Bisque

9 Dec
by Deanne

Photo of Celery Root and Apple SoupPhoto of Plant Powered Diet BookHere is a recipe I found in The Plant-Powered Diet by Sharon Palmer, RD.  This is the book that I mentioned in the  Phytos First post. When I looked in the CSA box, and saw celery root, I remembered this soup Francine made back when she taught me about celeriac for the first time.  Then I saw the apples in the box and decided to try a recipe from the new book I purchased.  According to Ms. Palmer, the phytochemicals in celery root have been linked to brain protection.

Celery Root and Apple Bisque

(makes about 7 cups)

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup, sliced, well rinsed leeks

1 medium potato, peeled and diced

3 medium celery stalks, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 small apple, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth

1 and 1/2 cup water

1/2 cup unsweetened plain plant-based milk  (I used almond milk)

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot.  Add leeks, potato, celery root, celery stalk, apple, thyme, and black pepper and saute for 10 minutes.

Add broth and water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an additional 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Transfer mixture to a blender and puree until smooth.  Add the milk and process until blended and serve immediately.

Volunteering at an Urban Farm

7 Dec
by Deanne

Edging near the top of my bucket list, was an adventure that is completely out of my comfort zone.  I wanted to volunteer at Growing Power, Will Allen’s urban farm in Milwaukee. 

(Photos included in this post are selected from Growing Power’s photobucket.)

 photo 017.jpgYou ask, why did I have such an obscure adventure on my bucket list?  I first heard about Allen’s quest for doing something to improve the access to food in his city when I attended the Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference (SAWG) in 2012.  Since then I have wanted to see a slice of his work first hand.  He sums up what Growing Power is all about with this quote from the organization’s the website:

If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community.  I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Allen took an old run down nursery with a few greenhouses in a neighborhood that didn’t have access to fresh food and started growing things.  More than growing food, he has allowed people who visit, volunteer, purchase food, and work there to experience a food system that has been slowly slipping away from our way of life.

 photo 006.jpg

Last Saturday, we (Steve and Deanne) showed up at 10 AM for their weekly free volunteer tour.  The tour lasts thirty minutes and covers the greenhouse operations, soil making operations, and a visit to other areas outside the greenhouses.  Rather than tell you about the tour, I recommend you visit for yourself.  If you are closer to Chicago, Growing Power now has operations there also.  If can’t visit, check out his book The Good Food Revolution. Photo of Good Food Revolution Book Cover

Volunteering at a farm is out of my comfort zone because electronic gadgets are about the only tools I utilize.  After the tour we asked for our assignments and the tour guide suggested we work in one of the greenhouses and empty pots of soil and gravel.  Wheelbarrows and hand shovels showed up just like magic so we could empty pots from one greenhouse by separating the soil into one of the wheelbarrows and the gravel into buckets.  When we finished that chore, we scrubbed the pots clean so they would be ready to use again. 

A sign of strong leadership is when things get done when the leader isn’t around.  The leader attracts people with their strong sense of possibility or vision and then discovers the passion in the people that show up.  Finally the leader, with the help of a team, sets up systems and gets mostly out of the way so the people can shine.  We didn’t see Mr. Allen, but his team had a sense of purpose in their work.

We wished we could have eaten at Growing Power’s MLK Cafe which is in another location.  I see from the website that DeShawn Parker is the chef.  His inspirational life story is told in the book.   It would be my guess that having a cafe in a neighborhood that needs access to food with a chef who grew up in the Growing Power community is an example of the organization’s simple goal playing out: to grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community. 

Have any non-farmers like me ever volunteered at a farm?  If so, it would be great to hear about your experience. 

Wolf Peach: Milwaukee, WI

5 Dec
by Deanne

Wolf Peach: Milwaukee, WI

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Steve and I went to Milwaukee. Our goal was to volunteer at Will Allen’s urban farm called Growing Power.  

Before our journey, I researched a variety of good options for locally sourced food.  The restaurant that captured my attention was Wolf Peach.  The unusual name that tells a story.  According to their website, the scientific name for tomato translates, literally:  Wolf Peach. 

Photos of Wolf Peach, Milwaukee
This photo of Wolf Peach is courtesy of TripAdvisor

A quote from the executive chef explains the concept further:

I love the idea of turning peasant food into something that people love. Nothing overworked. Nothing crazy. Just really good food.” – Chef Dan Jacobs

Peasant food is something Steve has been talking about for awhile now, so I figured this was our chance to see how one restaurant interprets the concept.

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 4

Local ingredients are the whole premise of the restaurant. It appears, by reading articles in the press, that they preserve tomatoes for use in dishes served this time of year.  Many dishes have tomatoes incorporated into them in some form.  According to the article I read, the restaurant has a farm in Sheboygan County, where they grow their own produce.   If you are looking for meat that is raised on local farms, they mention Yuppie Hill Farms and Hometown Sausage Kitchen.

Flavour: 5

The two of us shared a total of three small plates and one dessert.  For a starter, we had a chickpea bruschetta, with preserved lemon, garlic, and chile.  It was very good and my first time to taste preserved lemons.  The flavor drew out my curiosity without overpowering my senses.  

The next item was pan seared shishito peppers with romesco.  When I got home I looked up romesco and discovered it is a sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, roasted pepper, and nuts.  I think it also contained smoked paprika.  When ordering I asked about shishito peppers.  The wait person explained that they are mostly mild but that eating them would be a bit like playing Russian Roulette, because every once in a while a person gets a very hot pepper.  We avoided the lurking loaded cylinder because all  the peppers on our shared plate were pleasantly mild. 

The final small plate was wood-roasted broccoli, apricot with calabrian chile and almonds.  This dish took the flavor scale over the top.  We soured to new heights of broccoli love.  Who knew broccoli could taste so good?

For dessert we had an excellent, but maybe just a tad too sweet rice pudding.

Photos of Wolf Peach, Milwaukee

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

The decor was a pleasant surprise.  It is rustic with rough woods elements and community high top tables.  That goes with the peasant food theme. But just when I thought I had the decor figured out, I turned to see a crystal chandelier hanging above our table.  It is whimsical and makes me think the peasants stole a chandelier from a nearby manor house.

This photo of Wolf Peach is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 5

When I arrived Friday night without a reservation, I was prepared to be turned away because the place was buzzing.  The host was very helpful.  He invited me to go downstairs and decide if we would want to sit at the bar but order the full dinner menu.  When I checked it out and suggested Steve park the car, I wondered if the downstairs host might have other opinions about the two of us showing up.  She was equally friendly and suggested we sit at a community table.  We joined a table with seven diners as our wait person arrived.  She was helpful by explaining their service concept of “Como Viene” which means “as it comes.” The food and conversation flowed which made for a fun evening.

Overall Rating: 14+

There are a lot of farm-to-table or locally sourced options in Milwaukee.  I am sad that I didn’t get to try more, based on our time frame.  However, I am supremely happy with our whimsically romantic evening of good food and lovely laid back service at Wolf Peach.  The affordable pricing for ample small-plate portions that can be shared by two or more diners. If you are dining with people who choose different types of diets, there is plenty to choose from for all: vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters.

Wolf Peach on Urbanspoon