Sunday, October 30, 2011

World Food Festival

Des Moines hosted the annual World Food Prize ceremony in early October.  The kick-off event for the celebration was the World Food Festival, which featured food vendors serving up specialty dishes from all around the world.  I'd heard good things about the World Food Festival, so I didn't want to miss it again this year.

I was greeted by dancers and rows of food vendors lining the streets of the East Village.

 Each vendor offered $1 samples.  I tried as many of those samples as I could.  Some of the foods I didn't like, but most were wonderful.  One of my favorite booths was Indian Delights.  I ordered the $1 sample, which was a curry-spiced potato, and the Mango lassi, which looked so pretty in the dish.

I stood in line forever to try a bacon-wrapped grilled banana.  To be honest, it wasn't that great -- not terrible, but not all that good either. But at least I can say I tried one!

My favorite discovery of the day was the cabbage-stuffed pierogi.  It was a revelation!  Soft and doughy like a fresh donut, but with a touch of peppery cabbage filling.  It was worth driving to Des Moines just for this pierogi!

Of course, I also couldn't help but get a $1 sample of the bacon ice cream.  Again, it was just OK, nothing outstanding.  Actually, I could barely taste the bacon, it was chopped so fine.

Pretty soon, I was getting full, and I didn't feel like standing in any more lines.  On a whim, I decided to try the homemade toasted marshmallows.  They were wonderful.  One marshmallow was coconut flavored, the other caramel.  They were nice a gooey on the inside.  I could have eaten several more of these lovelies.

Before I left, I ordered the chili-spiced cantaloupe with lime juice, just for fun.  Oh, goodness.  I loved this!  The hot chili powder really complimented the sweet cantaloupe.  I've got to try this at home.

I already can't wait to attend the World Food Festival again next year, just so I can get my hands on another periogi!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Colorado vacation: Boulder

On our second day in Colorado, my sister and I took our friends' advice and traveled up to Boulder, Colo.  The traffic was heavy on the highway between Golden & Boulder, and we quickly found out why.  There was a University of Colorado football home game that Saturday! We saw tailgaters everywhere!

Our friends told us that we had to go check out the pedestrian mall in Boulder.  And it was amazing!  Lots of neat, trendy shops, especially for outdoor enthusiasts.  And the food.  Oh, there was food everywhere.

Once again, luck was on our side.  We showed up just in time to check out the Boulder farmers market!  We have some great farmers markets in central Iowa, but I've never seen such a wide selection of produce.  I couldn't stop taking pictures of it all!

We walked up and down the pedestrian mall, checking out shops that peaked our interest.  We couldn't help but stop in this toy shop.  The kites were so colorful!

And I'm such a geek, but I had to take a picture of this dual-flushing toilet at a restroom we found.  Boulder is a very eco-friendly community!

We were also excited to find an amazing restaurant, Snooze, which serves up all-day breakfast grub.  I had heard of Snooze before, but I thought it was only in downtown Denver.  Turns out, we showed up at Snooze's new Boulder restaurant on its opening weekend!  Once again, we couldn't believe our luck.

My sister ordered the sticky roll French toast.  It was unbelievable!  It was just like eating the best part of a sticky roll -- the gooey caramel topping.

I couldn't decide between two pancakes I wanted to try.  So I ordered both!  The first was a blueberry lemon bar pancake.  The second was my favorite, a pineapple upside pancake, with crushed pineapple inside the pancake and a brown sugar butter topping.  So good!

We also ordered a side of hash browns.  Loved the presentation.

I absolutely loved everything about Boulder -- the bike trails, the shopping, the restaurants, the coffee shops on every corner.  And we saw the most colorful people -- literally.  Check out this green-screen man trying to get signatures for a petition.  Can you read what the sign is promoting?

On our way back to the hotel, we drove through Denver.  I really wanted to check out the REI flagship store.  It was inside a restored warehouse, with a rock climbing wall in the center.  It was neat to see, but the clothes were way out of my price range. (We found winter gloves for $200!)

We still had so much we wanted to see, including Elitch Gardens amusement park next door.  But rain clouds were moving in, so we decided to call it a day.  Wish we had more time to spend in Colorado.  I'm already fantasizing about returning for another short trip next year.  The weather was beautiful in the fall, and there was so much to do and see.

But I was very glad to come home to Iowa.  Even the mountains of Colorado can't really compare to Iowa in the autumn, in my opinion.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Colorado vacation: Golden

 For years, my sister and I have talked about going on a vacation together. But school and work (and our finances) got in the way. Now that my sister has finished school and has a great job as a dental hygienist, I asked her to join me on a trip to Colorado this fall.  What can I say?  I love Iowa, but every once and a while a girl wants to see the mountains.

It was a quick weekend trip.  We flew out of Des Moines on Thursday and came back on Sunday.  We decided to fly rather than drive to maximize our short time there.  But we left wishing that we stayed an extra day.  There was so much to see!

We started our trip in Golden, Colo., with a visit to the Coors Brewery.  It was a terrific tour -- and it was all free, including the beer samples!

Glad we hopped on the tour bus early, because there was quite a line when we were finished.

Here I am, standing in front of the "crystal clear waters" of Coors.

My sister, taking pictures of the copper kettles that start the brewing process.

Tried our first pumpkin beer at the Coors brewery tour.  They offered us each three free samples!
 What I loved about Colorado -- other than the mountains, of course -- were all the bikes on the street  There was even a bike lane on the highway to and from the Denver airport!  Maybe someday Iowa will be this bike friendly.  My sister noticed that it seemed like everyone in Colorado was in good shape (i.e., they weren't packing any extra pounds.)  We saw lots of people enjoying the outdoors -- jogging, biking and kayaking.

I'm so used to seeing "road" bikes in Iowa, it was cool to see all the mountain bikes in Colorado.

As recommended by our Coors tour guide, we stopped at a local bar (I think it was called Buffalo Rose) for lunch.  Honestly, it was kind of a dive bar, with a lot of greasy food on the menu.  But I did get a kick out of the Iowa Pork Fritter on the menu!

I had a craving for a Reuben sandwich, so I order it with a side of onion rings.  (Why not? I'm on vacation.) The onion rings turned out to be gigantic!  They were each the size of half an onion!  So good.

We then attempted to walk off the fried food and beer with a stroll along the trail.  We couldn't get over how clear the water was. Absolutely beautiful.

Also I loved the public art in Golden.  They embrace their western roots.

 Before we left for the day, we drove up to nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater, an outdoor concert venue built into the rocky landscape.  We couldn't stay long, however, because they were setting up for a Grateful Dead concert that night.  There were already several "Deadheads" camped out, waiting for the concert to begin. They were quite a colorful group of folks, to say the least.

Smoggy view of the Denver skyline.
My sister and I wrapped up our day with a trip to the coolest outlet mall we've ever seen.  We wished we had more room in our suitcases for all the cute clothes we wanted to buy!  And it seems like Colorado was  more fashion-forward than Iowa.  (I've heard that Iowa is about two years behind all the trends on the East Coast.)  Someday, I'm coming back to Denver just for the shopping!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cookie Friday: Apple brownies

I don't know about you, but I can't resist a good apple recipe, especially when Iowa-grown apples are in season in the fall. I found this apple brownie recipe in a recent issue of King Arthur Flour's Baking Sheet. I'm not sure why they are called "brownies," instead of "blondies."  There isn't any chocolate in this recipe.  Yet these apple "brownies" are still excellent.  I've baked up these brownies twice now because my husband liked them so much. The recipe is below, if you want to give them a try.


Apple Brownies
From King Arthur Flour

  • 1-1/4 C. King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 C. unsalted butter
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-1/2 C. (3 medium) apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 C. cinnamon chips (I left these out)
  • 1/2 C. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. melt the butter, either in a saucepan or the microwave. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Cool the mixture to lukewarm, then stir in the egg. Once incorporated, add the flour mixture, mixing to combine. Fold in the apples, chips and nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes. Yield: 16 brownies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Watermelon Rind Pickles

My husband practically begs me to make watermelon rind pickles for him every summer.  It's a favorite that his grandma used to make.  She would typically serve watermelon pickles for Christmas.  She would use food coloring to tint the pickles in pink and green holiday colors.

I had never heard of or tried watermelon rind pickles before I met my husband.  I wasn't convinced that I would like them.  After all, why would you eat the rind?  But I gave it a try for my husband.  And what do you know, I actually like watermelon rind pickles quite a bit -- although not as much as my husband, who will eat half a jar in one night!

I went to the North Grand Farmers Market in Ames to find the watermelons.  Most of the watermelons at the the grocery store are the seedless variety nowadays, and we find that seedless watermelons don't have very thick rinds.  And when you're making watermelon rind pickles, you want a lot of rind to work with.

To my surprise, the vendor at the farmers market gave me two overripe watermelon for free (!) when I told him I was making watermelon rind pickles.  I brought them home and asked my hubby to cut up the rinds for me, since his knife skills are better than mine.

He came up with a ingenious way to get the most rind from the watermelon.  He used our Oxo potato peeler to strip away the green part of the rind.  He even took a picture for my blog to demonstrate.


Many watermelon rind pickle recipes use white sugar and food coloring to tint the pickles.  My favorite recipe uses brown sugar and no food coloring.  The pickles aren't as pretty, but they taste like caramel candy, with a nice sourness from the vinegar.  Yes, they taste way better than they look!

Below is my favorite watermelon rind pickle recipe, from the "Joy of Pickling."  The pickles are are a little time consuming to make, but will definitely impress your friends and family when served on a holiday relish tray.  Enjoy!


Watermelon Rind Pickles
Adapted from "The Joy of Pickling"

  • 7 C. prepared watermelon rind (cut away the pink flesh and green skin, then cut into 1/2 to 3/4-inch pieces)
  • 6 C. cold water
  • 1 quart cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar (I use white)
  • 5 C. firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks,, browken
  • 1 Tbl. whole cloves

Put the watermelon rind into a pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, and boil the rind until it is just translucent; don't let it get soft.

In another pot, bring to a boil the vinegar and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Tie the spices in a spice bag or scrap of cheesecloth, and add them to the syrup. Drain the rind and add it to the syrup, too. Bring the contents to a simmer. Simmer them for 1-1/2 hours, until the syrup is dark and thick.

Remove the spice bag. Ladle the rind and syrup into pint or half-pint mason jars, leaving 1/2 headspace, and close the jars with 2-piece caps. Process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

Store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place.
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