Category: writing

Co-op and Cupcakes: A Day in Iowa City With Iowa Bloggers

I’ve never not had an enjoyable time when hanging out with other bloggers. Writers, in general, seem to make good company and my life is better for having met many throughout Minnesota, North Dakota, and Iowa.

This past weekend, I spent Saturday in Iowa City with a group of food and lifestyle bloggers. We met at the New Pioneer Co-op in Coralville who graciously hosted us for they first part of the day. They even welcomed us by placing a sandwich board outside of the front door listing all of our names. 
Here are some highlights from the event:
Co-op Envy
New Pioneer is big and beautiful. Like, Minneapolis Wedge Co-op beautiful. Our tour guide showed us around the store and we picked up lots of samples along the way. 
Pioneer sources as many local products as possible and works directly with farmers who grow organic wheat that’s ground into sacks of flour. I was especially envious of their sustainable seafood counter. 
Mason City is much smaller than Iowa City and our grocery store options are limited. HyVee offers organic food and health care product sections, but it’s just not the same as having an entire grocery store dedicated to local, organic and sustainable. And don’t get me started on trying to buy seafood. . .  
I brought home a crusty loaf of sourdough bread and croissants which actually cost the same amount as the generic ones I can find at my grocery store chain. 
The New Pioneer staff cleared out part of their bakery production area for us to gather and passed around rounds of vegan chocolate cake samples. 
Then, we got acquainted over lunch from the deli. I chose a fat slice of tomato and feta quiche along with curried couscous salad.

Afterwards, we visited Molly’s Cupcakes whose owner once won an episode of Cupcake Wars. They offered us 1/2 off a cupcake of our choice so I took home a creme brulee and pumpkin spice cupcake to share with Jake. 
Some of you may remember a little post in which I wrote about all of the reasons why I just don’t like cupcakes. . . 
I’m not one who seeks out cupcakes, but in all honesty, I did enjoy Molly’s. The creme brulee was my favorite since it was covered with a thin layer of caramelized sugar instead of frosting. We appreciated the moistness of the cakes and their complex flavors. 
Blogger Kier showed a couple of us some of her favorite boutiques like the White Rabbit Gallery and AKAR before we all convened at the Brown Bottle for dinner.

Swag Bags

I’d like to thank New Pioneer for sending us home with reusable shopping bags filled with treats like grapefruit-lavender spray, vanilla extract, and smoked paprika as well as Ally of Sweet and Savory Eats for coordinating swag bags filled with gifts like her brown butter chocolate chip cookies and Been There, Baked That‘s granola. I promptly ate these before I could take a photo.

The Chicago mix popcorn from Here’s What’s Poppin of Cedar Falls, IA is shockingly good. This is probably the best cheese and caramel corn I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve eaten a lot of popcorn. The ingredient list is short and sweet and lists real butter. I’m trying to figure out how to justify an hour-long drive to Cedar Falls so I can get a bigger bag.

Final Thoughts
I am smitten with Iowa City. The university intermingles with the downtown area and the city feels like much bigger than it is. I loved walking amongst the students and rowdy adolescents, and past fluorescent signs and crowded bars. Spending time in Iowa City made me realize that I’m a city girl at heart. It’s not that I am unhappy living in smaller communities, but I feel so energized when I’m in the midst of a busy city’s hustle and bustle. 

During the course of the day, I not only learned about topics related to blogging and photography, but also about life on homesteads, raising urban chickens, tapping maple syrup, and parenthood. I came away from this gathering feeling similar to how I’ve felt after attending other blogging events; like I’d made some new friends.

Meet Some Of the Other Attending Bloggers:

Q & A With North Dakota Food Writers: Food Haunts

I love a good story almost as much as I love good food.

At the TECHmunch conference in Minneapolis, Andrew Zimmern highlighted the importance of pairing good food with compelling stories.  And not just any stories, but those no one’s ever heard before.  When I’m searching for inspiration, I often turn to Chowhound discussion boards.  In my favorite discussion of all time, individuals contribute memories of food haunts they tasted once and haven’t found since.  I am both soothed and exhilarated by reading others’ accounts of foods so ethereal, they remain unforgettable, yet tragically out of reach.  However, they’re all worthy of a lifetime of rediscovery.

I’m constantly inspired by those who participate in the Twin Cities’ vibrant Fortify, A Food Community.  North Dakota’s community of food writers and bloggers may not yet be a force with enough leverage to be invited to restaurant tasting events, but this quickly growing group is compelling in its own right.  Three of my favorite North Dakota food writers join me in sharing their own stories of food haunts in my first Q & A feature.

Check out the North Dakota bloggers community on Facebook or find us on Twitter with the hashtag #NDbloggers. 

I’m often haunted by the food treasures I remember from my childhood and meals I enjoyed from afar.  Now that I live in North Dakota, I’m haunted by my favorite foods from the Twin Cities.  One day, when we leave North Dakota, I’ll be haunted by the foods I am presently taking for granted.I have a love-hate relationship with travel.  I crave exploration to no end, yet am simultaneously terrified by it.  Considering that I may have some manifestation of agoraphobia and become convinced I will face untimely death when I journey away from home, it’s impressive I even made it to China.  After a 12 hour flight, a two hour flight, an evening in a Guangzhou hostel, and an eight hour bus ride, my friend and I landed in Qinzhou.  Twice, my friend took me to a tiny shop where we slurped spicy bowls of noodle soup that cost about 30 US cents.  Rice noodles, fresh greens, pickled vegetables, and fried tofu pouches floated in an atomic red broth.  Although my friend asked the woman to only add a tiny splash of spicy liquid from her bubbling cauldron, my soup was still was so skalding I could only eat in tiny, painful bites.

More recently, I traveled to Puebla with a few friends.  We were spoiled by our proximity to restaurants specializing in Tacos Al Pastor.  This was the real deal.  For Pueblans, making Tacos Al Pastor does not equal throwing raw, marinated meat bits on a grill.  Instead, they roast towering cones of local pork.  These meat cones are then shaved into tacos ready to be topped with pineapple, doused in lime, sprinkled with salt, and drizzled with spicy salsas.  If I am lucky, my life will include opportunities to taste these treasures again, but more realistically, I’ll have to endure the haunting. 

Beth, Rhubarb and Venison
For over a decade now, I have unsuccessfully been trying to replicate the tortilla española that I’d have as a snack in the university cafe during a semester abroad in Spain back in my college years.  Simply known as “tortilla” there, those slices of egg-and-potato omelets carried me through many a long Spanish grammar class.  Since then, I’ve whisked eggs until my arm is stiff; I’ve tried using baked potatoes, boiled potatoes; I’ve fried, broiled and baked; but try as I might, I still have not been able to replicate the lightness and overall deliciousness of those amazing (and amazingly affordable) morsels.  I think another trip to Spain is in order…
Beth Schatz Kaylor is a freelance writer whose work has been published in various regional and national media outlets including Midwest Living magazine.  She writes about rhubarb, venison, and other North Dakota kitchen adventures at

Brianna, Don’t Eat Crap
My husband and I took a trip to Philadelphia for our one year dating anniversary. We had many popular food places on our agenda but little did I know my favorite food would be served at the Philadelphia  Eagles game. Chickie’s & Pete’s world famous Crabfries are amazing. I am a french fry addict so it wasn’t hard to fall in love with these unique fries. The hot and steamy french fries that are crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside makes me weak at the knees. When we were approaching the stadium we overheard a conversation between two gentleman where one man was telling the other he would have to try these fries. He continued with, “They were the best food in the stadium.” I knew instantly I had to have them.

Now Chickie’s & Pete’s Crabfries are unlike anything I’ve ever had. They are served in a round paper bucket with special seasoning. I’d describe it as almost seafood seasoning with a side of gooey white American cheese sauce to dip your fries in. If you are ever in Philadelphia you must try these fries. I secretly want to go back just to taste them again.
Check out Brianna’s blog and follow her on Twitter @donteatcrap.
MeLissa, Fargo-Moorhead Writer, Artist, and Studio Art Instructor 
My haunt is a bit more physical. I seem to have misplaced the most romantic breakfast I’ve ever eaten.When the Cajun Daddies start brewing Sunday’s dinner on Friday, you realize in Louisiana, food is sex. Food is social. Food is life.
A decade ago, I was a food virgin. You know, I ate in equivalence to procreation (versus multiple orgasms).  Then, in 2003, I drank 30 or so pots of piss in a local pub in Australia, spun a globe, and moved to Louisiana. In the heart of Cajun country, slow moss drips down slower trees and the breeze never comes. And the men, they dance, they sing, they tell stories, and most importantly, they do the cookin.’There’s a reason that Eve Ensler herself refers to New Orleans as “North America’s Vagina.” The wide mouth of the surly Mississippi and sweltering swamp summers require industrial strength coffee to combat the lethargy. Though some do give in, sitting on porches, sipping mint and watching the gardens grow. My favorite way to enjoy this heat is the perfect patio brunch.
My first voyage to New Orleans was nothing but magic; it was like perfect Parisian rain, I was staying in a boutique hotel in the French Quarter, it was pre-Katrina, and everything was a feast for my young eyes. After a long night, we asked the gentleman tending the door where to get ‘breakfast.’ His directions were a smiling, “three blocks up this here road, and one blockovah” sort of something. I ordered my first flambéed tableside Bananas Foster. I fell in love with New Orleans. In no time, I was part of the greatest jazz legends, the most tender folks, and the most charismatic food. And countless nights I wandered the Quarter alongside southern belles and drawls; yet ne’er did I find that pink shutter door again.
You can find MeLissa’s art installation at the Moorhead Center Mall and writing in the High Plains Reader where she covers the local food scene, food system, and travel. 

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