Category Archives: Iowa City

American Ballet Theatre at Hancher, Brix cheese, AKAR – Iowa City

Cool art installation custom made for “Whipped Cream” performance, with candy wrappers at Hancher. “Curtain Call” by Luisa Caldwell.

Have I mentioned that I love the second coming of Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City? Opened a few years ago to replace the old Hancher that was knocked out by floodwaters, the new auditorium is more intimate and comfortable. I could sit in its plush but sturdy well-upholstered seats for hours. Especially if I was watching dancers like those in American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Whipped Cream as we did last night. The place was packed with well-dressed young children (boys too, I was pleased to see) for good reason – the ballet, a surrealist fantasy about a little boy who O.D.s on whipped cream, had terrific dancing and choreography (by the star choreographer Alexei Ratmansky); otherworldly sets and atmospherics; fabulous costumes. Such a treat to see a world renown ballet company in the middle of Iowa. For future reference: the restaurant in Hancher — with great views of Iowa City – looks worth a try pre-performance.

Terrace View at Hancher Auditorium

The weather was suddenly spring like and the downtown ped mall in Iowa City was packed with students and locals and visitors, including those enjoying the Mission Creek Festival. We stopped, as always, at Prairie Lights, where we try to buy at least one thing. It’s the least we can do. Also did some graduation gift shopping at the cool design store AKAR (gift-of-the-times: reusable, sustainable plastic bags and wrapping for food). And we tried Brix cheese and wine, where we had a not particularly interesting cheese and dried meat board. (The Cheese Bar in Des Moines does it better.)

Leave a comment

Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Iowa City

Crepes deluxe, U of Iowa Women’s Archives – Iowa city

IMIOWACITYPIX.jpgA high school classmate I haven’t seen since high school (i.e. 41 years ago) who lives in Iowa City introduced me to a restaurant there – Crepes DeLuxe. It’s a charming little hole in the wall just east of the PedMall (and the public library).  I recommend the salmon crepe. I also did a little shopping, finding a very warm hat/scarf at White Rabbit and some great clothes (Simpli brand!) on sale (albeit still pricey) at Textiles.

I also toured the U of Iowa Women’s Archives, on the third floor of the main library, which has a remarkable collection of papers, journals and memorabilia from Iowa women dating back to the 1800’s. Wandering through library shelves with archival boxes, glancing at the neat labels, I found everything from prominent politicians and philanthropists to rural/farm women, African-American women, Jewish women and Latinas in Iowa. Proud to say that someday, it will also include my journals, 73 and counting, which I’ve kept daily since I was 13.  I really enjoyed looking at a  farm woman’s journal from the 1880’s – with yellowed pages and faded ink. Her family wisely took it upon themselves to transcribe the journal for posterity onto crisp typed sheets. (Although I won’t be asking my family to follow suit…)

Opened in 1992 by Des Moines philanthropist/activist/feminist/art collector Louise Noun  and Mary Chase Smith (an Iowan who chaired the Republican National Committee in the 1970s), the Women’s Archives is one of only a few in the country, I gather. Noun, a major art collector, sold one of her Frida Kahlo paintings for $1.65 million to endow the archive.

More from Wikipedia:

The idea was conceived by Noun in the 1960s while researching Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa.[2] To fund the archives, Noun sold Frida Kahlo‘s 1947 painting “Self-Portrait with Loose Hair” at Christie’s New York for 1.65 million dollars. The sale set a record for the most expensive work by a Latin American artist ever sold at auction. The painting was originally purchased by Noun for $85,000 in 1983.[10] The University of Iowa Foundation undertook fundraising to contribute half a million dollars for the archives, which opened in 1992. The Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives is open to the public and currently contains over 1100 manuscript collections of personal papers and records which record women’s history in Iowa and other communities.[9]


Filed under Iowa City, Uncategorized

Julien Baker, S. Carey and more at Mission Creek Festival 2018 in Iowa City

At the new Hancher Auditorium

I’ve lately become obsessed with the music of young singer-songwriter Julien Baker, so I was delighted to see she’ll be in Iowa City during the six-day Mission Creek Festival in April (she’s playing at Gabe’s on April 7, from what I can tell.) Also see S. Carey is part of the festival too…which has me thinking I need to look into the festival itself! Here’s more information:

Leave a comment

Filed under Iowa City

NYC Ballet at Iowa City’s new Hancher

What a treat to see the NYC Ballet for the first time in ages – and the first time in Iowa. Apparently, this was the company’s first visit to Iowa City, so I’m guessing it’s the first visit to Iowa since Iowa City hosts the state’s best dance performances (although Des Moines is improving!). The company was superb, as always, and it was a particular treat to see Iowa City native Miriam Miller dance – including in a sensational, sensual duet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (who choreographed The Joffrey’s new nutcracker, which we saw last year during our first visit to the new Hancher.) Speaking of which, the new Hancher is stunning —  I like it better than the old one. It feels smaller, more intimate, more vertical than horizontal, more peaceful with calming colors (seafoam green, grey, tan wood) and plush upholstered seats. Having sat in the balcony and on the floor, close to the stage, I’m not sure there is a seat with a bad view. (Our floor seats were way off to the side but we saw the vast majority of the stage.).
Dinner was a Takanami– for sushi and tempura, which was a nice change from all the heavy food we ate in the Deep South. We couldn’t deal with more burgers, ribs or fried chicken. We were tempted to try the new (or new to us) Szechuan Chinese restaurant, Bashu, that opened where the Linn Street Cafe used to be but it looked a little too authentic for a before-theater/meal. Didn’t want to get an upset stomach.  Locals seem to be loyal to Szechuan House.

Leave a comment

Filed under dance, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Iowa City

Wilson’s Orchard/Iowa Grown Market/Yotopia in Iowa City; bike trail and Heyn Ice Cream in North Liberty

Iowa Grown Market

Iowa Grown Market

I would not advise doing what we just did – riding the strenuous bike trail in North Liberty, near Iowa City – in 94 degree heat. But it was Sept. 23 and we were thinking “crisp fall day,” even after  weather reports forecasting near-record heat.

The roadside trail had its pretty moments as we cycled  south from Penn Meadows Park on Dubuque Street, past high dry corn and rolling, wooded properties near Coralville Lake. There wasn’t too much road traffic but when we turned right onto  Oakdale Avenue, we were deep in new subdivision land – not my favorite scenery. We found much the same heading north on 12th Street back toward town. There were also some killer little roller coaster bits, all the more killer in the heat. So not sure we’ll be doing this trail again. My quest to find a great trail in the rural countryside near Iowa City continues….

Wilson’s Orchard

We did appreciate the cold AC and sorbet inside Heyn’s Ice Cream, locally-owned and made,  inside a charming corner store  with an old-fashioned counter, in North Liberty.

We also took a very pretty drive to get to North Liberty from Wilson’s Orchard (a pretty place just north of Iowa City off Highway One that was packed with sweaty families with sweaty kids trying to pick apples on a ridiculously hot fall day. Good cider, donuts and, of course, apples. on trees in orchards lining a deep valley with weeping willows). The drive included a section of  RAGBRAI we rode a few years ago (very scenic but rolling, with lots of gentleman farms with white picket fences, perfect barns and big new houses that reminded me a bit of horse country outside Nashville).

Turning west off Highway One past a party barn, onto country road F8W/Newport Road, we stumbled upon a picture postcard perfect farm stand, Iowa Grown Market, (open June – October) where we could not resist buying some carrots, cherry tomatoes, a mottled pumpkin and a few other things we thought would survive sitting for hours in the heat in our car. (They did survive.)

Wilson’s Orchard (and sadly, the kids are looking at cellphones, not the view…)

In Iowa City, we had another very good lunch at the Bluebird Cafe (splitting the pulled pork sandwich, our favorite from last visit, and a good Greek salad) and stopped for frozen yogurt with “popping juice pearls” (kiwi/green; strawberry/red, passion fruit/yellow) at Yotopia (also locally-owned and made) before braving Kinnick Stadium to sit with thousands of other hot football fans (quite a few inebriated – this was a 6:30 p.m. game) watching the University of Iowa Hawkeyes lose (narrowly) to Penn State.



Leave a comment

Filed under Agritourism, biking, Iowa City

Hancher reborn, Nutcracker reborn (by the Joffrey Ballet), best burger — Iowa City

Outside the new Hancher Auditorium

Outside the new Hancher Auditorium

What a treat to visit the new Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus, not far from where the first was very destroyed but a flood 8 years ago. It is had not to compare the two buildings. Hancher One had a more open feel with a long wide front lobby, seating area and stage. Hancher Two feels a bit cramped by comparison but I really like its three floors and floor to ceiling glass with great views looking out across the campus. The auditorium is more of a horseshoe shape, with many balconies, which I think means lots of seats with a good view. Our seats were way on the side but we could see the full stage. I also liked the colors, sort of a light river green paint on the walls, wavey motifs here and there (mighty generous given that the river destroyed the previous building. The seats were also new and well upholstered so very comfortable.

img_0335AS for the ballet, I loved it, which was a bit of a surprise because I have seen the nutcracker many times so feared I might be bored. But this new version, by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is very fresh. THe staging is so dramatic that it also overpowered the dancing but I lived the sets, which appeared to be done by some sort of fantastical computer generated animation. IT was hard to tell what was actually physical vs. graphic at times. And the setting, the humble home of a working class polish family living in Chicago at the time of the worlds fair was refreshingly different than the posh aristocratic setting of nutcrackers pastttle. The choreography was fun and more contemporary than I’ve seen in nutcrackers past. I particularly loved the reimagined battle between the toy soldiers and mice. This time it was vs. nuts (little kids dressed in hilarious costumes, each a bulbous  nut that cracked open occasionally to reveal their little faces) atop spindly little legs in brown tights. My only criticism is that during the full ensemble dancing, the action became a bit of a blur, with the stage seeming too crowded at times.

We had an early dinner at Short’s, which serves the most amazing burgers. The meat comes from a local farm and tastes accordingly. The burgers ar huge and mine was actually prepared exactly as ordered — medium  rare– which is in of itself, rare.img_0333


Leave a comment

Filed under dance, Iowa City

Warren Dunes State Park, Infusco coffee, Sawyer produce — southwest Michigan

Nothing like a walk along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan to loosen up my aching back after a night on a img_0313too hard mattress at an Airbnb in Sawyer. And at the end of our walk on the near deserted shore, on a gorgeous unexpectedly warm fall morning, it was easy to feel optimistic about life.

Later, we had my dream picnic (smoked whitefish, raspberries and russet apples, all fresh fromMichigan) at a not quite perfect picnic spot– aa concrete picnic table at a rest stop along I-80, just over the border in Illinois.

We explored some more of the area around Sawyer, getting coffee at Infusco and produce at the local greenhouse including more raspberries and heirloom tomatoes. WE drove on a beautiful morning around Lakeside, spotting some fancy vacation homes off narrow dirt roads cut into the woods. new Buffalo didn’t make much of an impression but we liked the area around it and can see why it draws big city folk from Chicago (only an hour away).img_0144

Dinner was in Iowa City at Pullman, a newcomer that has been on our list for awhile for good reason, as it turned out. Delicious fried chicken and over-the-top “kitchen fries” with crispy fries, melts cheese, a mustard sauce and bits of what tasted like burnt ends from the best Kansas City rib joints. BAck to cottage cheese and carrots today in Des Moines.


Leave a comment

Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, DINING, Iowa City, Michigan