Entries Tagged as 'Articles'

Summertime is Pork Chop Time

Forget dog days, here come the pig days of summer – a time when your fancies turn to thoughts of thick, succulent Iowa chops sizzling and spattering over hardwood coals, surrounded by best-on-the-planet sweet corn, roasted fingerling potatoes and a frosty mug of the finest local brew.

At least, if you’re not thinking that way you might want to reconsider.  We are approaching the heart of the season here in Iowa, a time when there are more delicious things to eat rolling off farms around eastern Iowa than any other time of the year.  Besides sweet corn and the first potatoes, you’ll find soon hearty greens, cucumbers, zucchini, some berries, and the initial hopeful appearances of the tomatoes (more on them next time).  So this is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a meal that is all local.

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In Defense of Iowa’s Food

Yes, meatloaf, casseroles, and other comfort meals can be found in church basements across all of Iowa’s 99 counties, but this is a state that knows its food and wine.


When I read Stephen Bloom’s screed against our mutually-adopted home state I was, like many Iowans (including his boss at the University of Iowa), insulted. I could not figure out which aspect bothered me more. My world revolves around food, and Bloom seems to have gleaned his information about what we eat in Iowa from a high school production of The Music Man.

Comfort food reigns supreme. Meatloaf and pork chops are king. Casseroles (canned tuna or Tatertots) and Jell-O molds (cottage cheese with canned pears or pineapple) are what to bring to wedding receptions and funerals. Everyone loves Red Waldorf cake. Deer (killed with a rifle is good, with bow-and-arrow better) and handpicked morels are delicacies families cherish.

I do not mean to claim that these dishes cannot be found in Lutheran church basements in all 99 counties, even if he is wrong about cottage cheese being in Jell-O molds (the cottage cheese is served on the canned pears, or more often on cling peaches), and even if, as a restaurant professional for 32 years, I’ve never heard of “Red Waldorf cake” nor has my fifth-generation Iowan wife. We think he must mean red velvet cake, which is common, though not nearly as common as the magnificent pies that are baked here. All this food can indeed be “comforting,” but as in so many other parts of his diatribe, Bloom chooses a couple small examples of something he’s seen here and concludes that it must be so for everyone across state.

Read the rest in The Atlantic

Lambapalooza: Roasting a local lamb over an all-found-objects homemade spit.


There is nothing more flavorful and succulent than a spit-roasted lamb


About 2 months ago Kim and I set out to accomplish a long-held goal: to build a roasting spit in our backyard and spend no money doing it.  The inauguration of our successful endeavor occurred Memorial Day weekend.  Here’s how we did it.

Building the spit:

A spit is little more than a stone-lined hole in the ground.  Some dig straight down (as for a Luau or a New England Clambake, some are dug into the hillside.  We chose the latter because our backyard is a long gentle slope.  If yours isn’t, you may have some extra digging to do and/or you may need to bring in some fill dirt.  In any case, what’s desired here is a strong earthen support for the bricks that make up the back of the spit.  This back wall helps direct the heat, making the roasting process more even and efficient. [Read more →]

Chasing Chiles profiled in New York Times

THERE was a frost expected here two weeks ago, but Gary Paul Nabhan, a conservation biologist and inveterate seed-saver, was out in his hardscrabble garden anyway, planting his favorite food, hot chilies.

Chiltepin, chile de árbol the one that scrambles up trees, Tabasco, serrano, pasilla, Chimayó. These are only a few of the pungent peppers that Mr. Nabhan and two other chili lovers — Kurt Michael Friese, a chef from Iowa City, and Kraig Kraft, an agro-ecologist studying the origin of hot peppers — collected on a journey that began two years ago, in northern Mexico, and took them across the hot spots of this country.

Read the article at  Hot on the Trail of Chili Peppers – In the Garden – NYTimes.com.

Envisioning a New Public Hearth for Public Health

“Sustainability doesn’t mean a thing if we can’t get people to cookElissa Altman
“The more I work on these issues having to do with our whole food system, the more I realize that our problem is a cooking problem.” Michael Pollan


There’s plenty of food, we just need to get into everyone’s hands and then make sure those hands know what to do with it
The impressive growth of community farmers’ markets in the US over the last fifteen years presents us with a great opportunity.  While food deserts and other inequities remain a serious problem, access to fresh, local food is on the increase.  However, for this trend to gain real traction and have a permanent impact on food access and health in underserved communities, we need systems in place that teach and encourage people to cook, to see the healthful and economical advantages of home cooking, and to share that knowledge with others in the community.


Many organizations do parts of what is necessary, in piecemeal fashion, at a handful of markets each.  Now what is needed is a networked clearinghouse of ideas and best practices, recipes, demonstrations, and clear and concise methods for getting people excited about preparing and sharing fresh, wholesome, local food. We can do this while respecting local traditions and cultures, without condescension, using economically, culturally and ethnically appropriate ingredients and methods.

My vision for farmers’ markets is that they aren’t just places to buy food you can believe in, but community centers that support change in the food systems with resources and education.  They are already gathering places for people with some common values, and they are, more and more, playing a role in food assistance.  With some key, specific interventions, they could become places that seed deep structural and cultural change.

I envision a “Public Hearth” for public health. It was once common for communities to have a large oven in the center of town where everyone brought their dough to be baked, and everyone shared in the bounty.  A modern-day version would not be so much an actual oven per se, but would bring people together to learn, to share, and to cook.  Imagine a young mother finding not just a farmers’ market within reach of her home, not just fresh, local whole foods, but knowledgeable local people she knows and trusts and resources to help her make the most of the ingredients available.  Farmers’ market cooking demonstrations with trained chefs and local home cooks, once solely the province of high-end markets, now right within reach of the people who need it most. [Read more →]

Spain’s Wine Regions: A Rueda Primer (plus a recipe: Raisin Sauce for Ham)

One of the aspects of Spanish wine that can make it somewhat puzzling for the casual observer is the layer upon layer of regions and subregions that officially are recognized as Denominaciones de Origenor Denominations of Origen. Unlike California, but not unlike France, the student of Spanish wine is expected to know the wine type by the regions. They are not usually identified by the grape the way they are here in the states.

Not too challenging until you realize there are 55 official DOs in Spain, and many of these are divided further into specific subregions. Add to this that Spain has more land planted to vine (about 2.65 million acres) than any other country in the world, and you begin to see a daunting task.

I’ve discussed some of the better known regions in this space before, so I thought we’d wander a little further afield.

Read the whole article (and get the recipe) @ Iowa City Press Citizen.

Chasing Chiles: Xnipec — A Touch of the Dog’s Nose

Excerpted from Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots on the Pepper Trail, By Kurt Michael Friese, Kraig Kraft, and Gary Paul Nabhan. Visit our blog here.

One of the most delightful food discoveries for us in Mérida was xnipek pronounced SHNEE-peck. The name comes from the Mayan language and means “dog’s nose.” Unappetizing as that might sound at first, rest assured there is no dog in the recipe. It’s simply a reference to this salsa’s heat level. Hot chiles can cause the nose to run, thus the metaphor.

There’s more to xnipek than just heat, though. It not only uses the Yucatecan powerhouse chile–the habanero–but also includes the native fruit known as naranja agria, or bitter orange, which is also the secret to great Yucatecan escabeche. It’s hard to find fresh in the States, so there’s a brief recipe for a reasonable facsimile following our rendition of this fiery relish.

Read the rest (and get the recipe) at the Huffington Post.

Table Wine: Let Canary Islands sweeten your day

Follow the African coast southeast from Gibraltar, just past Morocco to the edge of the Western Sahara and look east. There you will find, as the Spanish Conquistadors did in the 15th century, the tiny archipelago they called Las Canarias — The Canary Islands.

It is not easy to grow grapes anywhere in the tropics, but the Spanish planted grapes everywhere they went, to varying degrees of success, and the Canaries were no exception. The equatorial sun increased the sugar content of all the grapes they planted there. High ridges and low valleys made for a wide range of microclimates, and the high-mineral soil rendered by the still-active volcanoes lend a note of toast and bitter smoke to otherwise sweet wines.

Soon the powerful, sweet wine was famous throughout the courts of Europe. Fans of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” may recall that the boisterous John Falstaff was at one point nicknamed John Canaries precisely because of his fondness for Canary Sack.

Read the rest at Iowa City Press Citizen.

Eat This Post: On Foodies, Phonies, and Neanderthals

I am proud to call Elissa Altman my friend.  She is one of, if not the, best food bloggers out there.

Years ago, I worked at a foodie mecca in Soho. You could walk straight to the back of the store, buy a larding needle (for all of your larding needs); a French copper turbot poacher for $700; truffles from Alba ($150 an ounce); and, on your way out, a tomato for $10.00 that had been flown in the night before from Palermo. Some of our customers came in and asked for the most expensive cheese without giving a fat rat’s behind what it was, or where it came from, or even what it tasted like; even more customers sent their maids and “houseboys” over for pounds of smoked salmon and enormous tins of caviar to feed their children at dinner. This was the late 1980s in one of the richest parts of New York, and if you were a foodie who worked where I did, you might very well have been doing bad things in the walk-in and laughing at the haves as they ordered smoked pheasant drizzled with raspberry mayonnaise to be picked up by the chauffer and driven out to East Hampton; if you were already rich, you were likely doing the same thing, only in the bathroom at MoMAs Warhol opening. But wherever you were and whatever you were doing at that time in New York, expensive food — food as art, food as entertainment, food as culture low and high, food as an attempt to ruthlessly outdo and impress, food as the highest rung on the pomposity-ladder — was in your face, everywhere. There was no escaping it then, and there’s no escaping it now, as B.R. Myers so unfortunately, and so sadly, knows.

In his now-famous rant in The Atlantic, Myers tears to shreds anyone—everyone—who talks about food, writes about it, thrills in it, delights in it, and sanctifies it. He shreds Tony Bourdain and Alice Waters, Kim Severson (what the hell did she do besides contribute solid smart journalism for years to the New York Times, and write a remarkably brave memoir), Michael Pollan, Jeffrey Steingarten, and a small raft of contributors to The Best American Food Writing. The only food people he doesn’t skewer are those who hate food and the act of sharing it in any of its forms. He’s got that role covered.

Read the whole post at her brilliant blog Poor Man’s Feast: Eat This Post: On Foodies, Phonies, and Neanderthals.

Eaters Unite! Food in support of labor, labor in support of food

Food and politics often come together in peculiar ways.  It’s not that their coming together at all is unusual – far from it.  Civilization and politics are both a direct result of agriculture.  But these days food’s impact on political discourse can lead to some odd sights, such as free pizza being delivered to protesters in Madison, paid for by sympathetic activists in Egypt.

In a story first broken by Meredith Shiner at Politico, Madison landmark Ian’s Pizza got a call from a person in Egypt ordering pizza for the protesters in the capitol building around the corner.  Ian’s put out a tweet about it, and since then according to the article the little pizza place has delivered over 300 pies and given away over 1000 slices thanks to the support of people in 48 countries (last count) and all 50 states.  So shines a good deed in a weary world.

All this was begun by a single concerned Egyptian, who had just played a part in toppling a decades-old regime via protests that centered on – among other things – food prices.  Similar complaints led to similar results in Tunisia, and are now boiling over in Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya.  Here in the US the protests are about labor rights, but they too are beginning to spread, notably to Indiana where a (now former) Assistant AG called for the use of deadly force against the protesters.  There have been similar protests – though admittedly not as big yet – here in my home state of Iowa and in other states. [Read more →]