Another great Airbnb (unlike the one I booked in Minneapolis where the weird host cancelled at the last minute). We are in a airy blue-walled room on the second floor of an old wooden house in a neighborhood high on a hill above downtown and the blue waters of Lake Superior. Some nice touches including a Polaroid camera to snap a few shots (haven’t used on in years) and a white noise machine. Pretty little botanical prints on the wall, a map with pins to stick in to show where we are from (other Des Moines residents have been here, as has someone from Tehran and another from Hamburg.) We share a bathroom with the two other rooms, one of which is booked.
After a brief stop at The Minneapolis farmers market downtown on Lyndale near the Twins stadium to pick up huge red dahlias, raspberries, strawberries, scones and banana bread to take to Noah and Rachel’s new apartment on Emerson Street, we drove two hours or so to Duluth (not too much traffic) and tried our first batch of smoked whitefish at Northern Waters Smokehaus, a hip, foodie sandwich shop inside an old brick warehouse renovated into a marketplace with nice shops. I ate the fish on saltines with a smear of cream cheese, as directed.
The weather was so perfect (sunny and almost cool, not hot or humid) last Saturday that I feared the fairgrounds would be uncomfortably crowded. There were tons of people but the fair didn’t feel any more crowded than usual for a Saturday. There was a long line at the Dairy Barn, which is to be expected, and it remains the one place where I always feel sweaty, even in relatively cool temps, because there’s no shade.
But there was hardly any wait to get an egg-on-a-stick from the Iowa Egg Council inthe Ag Building or to get a ticket for the Sky Glider. We sailed right into the Pork Producer’s tent for dinner – maybe because it was relatively late? (about 7 p.m.)
The Midway did look cleaner, brighter and less seedy – as promised with the rebranding as Thrill Park. And I did overhear someone actually ordering a cheesy fried enchilada funnel cake – one of the “new foods” at the fair. No thank you. Other than that, just enjoyed the usual highlights, with the added bonus of having two of our grown kids and their significant others with us!
“There’s usually nothing new down there,” my husband muttered as I persisted in heading down a side street (near the new HyVee) in downtown Des Moines during the Saturday morning farmers market.
And he’s usually right. But this time of year, chances are he’s wrong – and he was. Spotting a crowd gathered around a vendor, we arrived at Coeur Bread which turns out to be new (or new to us and this particular market location) and makes noteworthy bread, which is hard to do in such a crowded field these days. The flavors are different – raspberry feta is delicious, “hot chocolate” a little odd but not too sweet, jalapeno corn has visible kernels and a kick. And the texture is perfect – dense, chewy, crusty and dusty on the outside, both the little rolls (sort of the size of charcoal brickets) and the loafs, sweetly wrapped in brown butcher paper with a little brown ribbon.
I was also pleased to see the return of Butcher Crick, which sells gorgeous heirloom tomatoes – all kinds of odd shapes, unusual colors and best of all, discernable flavor. And the sellers are so enthusiastic it’s hard not to suddenly drop $8 on a handful of beauties.
With fresh produce so bountiful and widely available this time of year, I’ve come to restrict my Saturday farmer’s market shopping to things I can’t find elsewhere and raspberry-feta bread and dusty red or tiger-striped tomatoes fit that bill.
The bike trail between Waukee and Perry in Central Iowa is about 18 miles – long and straight, cutting through classic farm country, fields of rising green corn, the occasional abandoned see-through wooden barn, a smelly hog confinement operation and a smelly fertilizer plant, a pretty farmhouse surrounded by a white picket fence dotted with orange tiger lilies. We rode in the late afternoon and early evening – returning just before 9 p.m., with the trail and the terrain all to ourselves. Or so it seemed. The light was stunning. A light breeze. Dragon flies whizzing around in front of us, hovering over the pavement. The sound of birds, frogs and crickets.
We stopped for a drink in the small town of Minburn at a depot that’s recently been turned into a little restaurant and then in Perry for dinner at Casa de Oro (after finding our usual Mexican place, Taco Villa, closed). Place was busy and the fajitas good. We’ll be back.
Didn’t have much time to be a tourist this trip but I did go to a reception at Rosa Mexicana, which had good -you guessed it – Mexican food — near the gallery metro stop (and hotel Monaco, where my work meetings were). I also had a bowl of chili at the Reagan national airport outpost of the famous Ben’s chili bowl. Didn’t bowl me over. But it obviously lacked the more urban atmosphere of the original Ben’s.
I had hoped to go to the ramen noodle place, daikaya izakaya, my sister highly recommended, also near the gallery metro but ran out of time. Next trip.
Last night I made my requisite pilgrimage to Politics and Prose, a longtime favorite bookstore on Connecticut. Always have to buy a book there, every DC trip!
We stayed near a 150-year-old cabin in the woods (see pix below) at Fern Hollow in Decorah earlier this month. (We were in the newer house, in a lovely room made of wood so it felt like a cabin.)
But I was also trying to remember the name of some other options when the DM Register came to the rescue so for future reference here they are:
The Natural Gait http://www.thenaturalgait.com near Marquette, along the good-for-canoeing Yellow River. (I’d heard of this one!) It’s a wildflower farm withe horse stables and a bunch of cabines.
Whiterock Conservancy near Boone – this is the old Garst place which we stayed (in the more gentile Hollyhock Cottage, not the River Cabin) at with our kids (and wrote about for the NYTimes travel section.)
Pinicon ridge Park near Central City, north of Cedar Rapids, – four cabins along a river with one of my favorite names – the Wapsipinicon. Three have heat and AC. The River Otter Cabin is more rustic.
Enjoyed the usual Iowa State Fair highlights at our annual outing last weekend but some new and old highlights below:
– Giant sculpture of the American Gothic sculpture near the Agriculture building, way cool. But what’s with the addition of a giant suitcase slathered with stickers from exotic destinations.
– Field of Dreams in butter – but how did I miss Kevin Costner in butter (which made the British newspaper The Guardian, which a London friend – whose a fair veteran – excitedly sent me.)
– No color photography this year – apparently it has something to do with the anniversary of the photo exhibit which began in the black-and-white days.
– Lamb instead of pork – yes, i finally talked my husband into this but found the lamb shishkabob kind of disappointing. Quality meat, not much seasoning.
– Campbell’s pecan roll – we never noticed this before but did this year and my husband gave it a thumbs up at breakfast the next day.
– Cutting edge/terrifying gizmo in the Varied Industries building – the “Aquamassage” which looked like a cross between an MRI machine and a drive-through car wash. And people were actually lying in the thing, trying it out.
– Curly fries – not new to the fair but somewhat to me. A noble guilty pleasure!
Guilty Pleasure: Curly Fries!