I am at the grocery store – one of the large chains in Des Moines – picking up a few staples after work to set up my new kitchen…a bottle of olive oil, black pepper, Kosher salt…Kosher salt…where is Kosher salt? I am in the aisle with baking supplies – there are spices, flour, sugar, and salt – we have iodized salt, non-iodized salt, rock salt, sea salt, etc., etc….but where is the Kosher salt?
Now, one might wonder why I would be so determined to get Kosher salt instead of your regular round container of iodized salt, with a cheerful girl with an umbrella. Well, there are a few reasons. Kosher salt has a pure, clean flavor (one of the reasons is that this salt does not have any additives) when compared with table salt. Its texture is different – Kosher salt has a coarser grind than regular salt – I get a better feel of how much salt I use when cooking with Kosher salt, it just feels better. And honestly, at this point, after cooking with this particular type of salt for a long time, that’s just what I use.
By this point, it is 6:30pm, I am hungry and getting frustrated, I check the aisle one more time and finally decide to ask for help. The assistant comes over and looks around, dumbfound by the absence of salt. So he calls for help from his superiors…and Eureka!!! The salt is found…but NO, it’s not on the same aisle with all the others salts, it is a few aisles down the store in the ETHNIC section – seriously, right there with other Kosher products (your typical matzoh, borscht, crackers, etc) is the box of Kosher salt I was looking for. Only in Des Moines 🙂
It’s not even noon yet…and I have a slight buzz going. The reason? I was testing a recipe I developed for a drink. What can I say, it is my job…I can’t help it 🙂
A little limoncello, some frozen lemonade, mint, a splash of club soda, ice. It is delicious.
I’m absolutely loving my job. This has been a very rewarding week. I continued testing the two recipes I developed last week…with a few changes, I was happy with the final results and moved on to develop two more recipes. Adhering to the spring vegetables theme I started working on a green spring risotto and a pureed vegetable soup. My first hint that the risotto was good was when everyone at work had it for lunch and really enjoyed it (in fact, by the time I made it to the kitchen, risotto was completely gone). I made it several more times and got a green light from the editor.
The soup took a bit more work. Somehow I wasn’t really inspired to make a pureed soup. However, the soup would’ve gone very well with the other 3 recipes, so I went to work. I put some spring vegetables in a pot, sauteed, seasoned, added some chicken stock, pureed and tasted. There was just something missing. Our soup lady at work – she’s great, she is known for making great soups – recommended that I added some mint, and the soup was born. It’s funny how little things can brighten up the dish and bring out its flavors.
Once the recipes got approved, the next step was the photo shoot. For each of my recipes, I was going to have one main photo of the final product, and 1-2 photos illustrating a step in the recipe making. I worked closely with the art editor, deciding what look we wanted for the photos, the plating design, the theme, etc. On the day of the shoot, I prepared each dish from start to finish, stopping a few times to take the step photos and then finally the final photo. I can’t really described how it felt to see what I made on the page layout with the photos, the recipes and the description. It’s quite rewarding and wonderful.
Next week I will be working on the actual writing of the recipes, the method, photo captions, etc. Can’t wait.
Yes, to all of you sceptics out there, there is some culture in Des Moines – who would’ve thunked 🙂
World Food Festival
A 3-day event sponsored by Wells Fargo, the festival was in the East Village neighborhood of downtown Des Moines. I ventured out on Sunday to see what it was all about. Fun!!! Food galore – wonderful variety of food from all over the world – Indian, Chinese, Salvadorian, Mexican, Southern, Russian, American, etc.
Wonderful marketing strategy – $1 tastes. In addition to offering full portions at $3-$5 each, many of the vendors offered $1 tastes of each of their dishes.
Best food find – pupusas. Not only is it fun to say the name of this Salvadorian dish, but it was a tasty treat. Pupusas are corn tortillas stuffed with a variety of toppings – anything from cheese, chicken, beef, pork, beans, etc. The stuffed tortillas are then deep fried and served with pickled cabbage salad on a side. I wish I was eating one now. Apparently there is a National Pupusa Day in El Salvadore every November 13th. Eat your pupusas 🙂
In addition to food the festival showcased dancing (belly dancing, African dance, Brazilian dance), singing, and crafts. And then there was a SalsaIowa booth – you know I had to stop there. I got to chat with the dance instructor briefly and saw him give several lessons in salsa and merengue…good stuff. I’m so excited to have a chance to dance in Iowa.
After spending a few hours at the festival, I strolled around the downtown – cute. Fun little shops, some restaurants. It’s definitely a growing part of the city. There are several brand new lofts/condos…I couldn’t resist taking a tour of one of them – absolutely beautiful, and so tempting to move into one. The prices shocked me – so high…people, you are in Iowa, remember?
There is a part of the city called Valley Junction. I first discovered it last week as I was searching for the farmer’s market – sadly the market was no longer there. I came back on Friday after work for the Gallery Night – many of the galleries and shops stay open until 9pm, serve refreshments and showcase their art. I was secretly hoping to spend some of my first paycheck on something special, but nothing caught my eye. What did catch my eye was the audience – it was rather interesting to sit back and observe. You could definitely notice a difference in how people were dressed, how they acted, etc. It was like a splash of New York city lightly sprinkled on the Midwestern wholesomeness and goodness.
Some of us from Cuisine at home decided to get something to eat after the Race for the Cure. So there we are at a local diner, enjoying pancakes, eggs, bacon, and probably one of the best hashbrowns I’ve had (hashbrowns tend to be undercooked or burned, these were perfectly cooked and crispy).
As we are eating, I notice a peculiar, unpleasant smell…but can’t exactly place it right away. Imagine my surprise when I turn around and see a woman sitting at a table next to us…SMOKING!!! Inside the restaurant! Welcome to Iowa. Apparently smoking is perfectly legal and acceptable here inside restaurants, bars and clubs. I must’ve been spoiled by the anti-smoking laws in the last few states where I have lived.
My next encounter with inside smoking was inside a salsa club (that’s right, I can’t find salsa dancing in upstate New York, just to find a weekly salsa event in Des Moines!). By the time I left the club I reeked with smoke; my eyes were irritated; I could hardly breath. Ah!
This is the second year in a row that I have participated in Susan G. Komen – Race for the Cure. Last year in Dallas, this year in Des Moines (talk about a change).
Once again, it was an empowering, touching, and emotional experience. The race took place in downtown Des Moines, about 20,000 people participated, and it couldn’t have been a sunnier day (quite unusual for October). Cuisine at home participated in the race and strongly encouraged me to get involved – I was more than happy to oblige. The statistics are overwhelming and scary when it comes to the number of people touched by cancer…doing something to support the people who have been affected by the disease gives hope.
Day 3 at the Magazine. For the last two days I have been testing two recipes that I developed for the upcoming issue. How silly of me to think that I’d make the recipe once or twice, taste it, write it up and have it shot. Here’s the reality. I come up with ideas for the recipes, run it by the managing editor and get her feedback. Basically there are several issues that need to be considered – would the recipe appeal to the magazine’s audience? are the ingredients easily accessible? would the final product photograph well? does it emphasize a specific cooking technique?
So after some deliberation, we settled on making the Moroccan Couscous with Roasted Spring Vegetables. I made it twice last night, and once again today. We are almost there…tomorrow is another try – hopefully the final one. Next I get to work with the photographer, deciding on how to shoot the salad, how to serve it, etc. The magazine has a studio where all the photography is shot. I got to stand in on one of the shoots today – how fun! All the food is real, cooked right there, no touch ups, no “cosmetic surgery”. Pretty amazing.
A few mishaps today. My creamed spinach soup turned out…well…it was a beautiful green color…but tasted pretty horrible – grainy, slimy…it went straight to the garbage disposal. Another disaster was my potato salad. I thought that mixing the potatoes with pesto (made it today and the pesto turned out delicious) would be a great idea. Instead, pair with asparagus it turned the whole salad too green. At least the flavors were good – the salad was dinner for me tonight – why waste?
So tomorrow more testing, more brainstorming. The process reminds me of writing. You first come up with a subject/topic. Next comes the outline, followed by a first rough draft. The draft is edited and then more drafts follow. So here’s to more cooking and writing.
Today was the first day of my externship at the Cuisine at Home magazine. Rise and shine – it was an early 8am start. Conveniently, the entire staff of the magazine had a morning meeting, so I got to meet everyone and do a little introduction of who I am, what I am doing in Iowa (good question), and what I would like to do at the magazine. I’ve got to say, everyone seemed very nice. The majority of the staff are women. Quite a few are originally from Iowa. There are 4 CIA grads. The age varies – some are my age (most are married!!!), some are older. Hopefully over the next few months we’d get to know each other well.
Here’s a good example of the hospitality. When I came to my desk, I had a “Welcome” card, signed by every member of the department, welcoming me aboard. I’ve got to say – made me feel pretty special 🙂
The meeting was followed by a tedious 2-hour HR meeting, I also got a tour of the magazine, the kitchens, the photo studio, the gym, etc. The facilities are rather nice. There are fridges with free diet coke throughout the building – you know how happy that makes me.
Here’s another perk of the job. Pretty much, daily breakfast and lunch are provided for the employees. Coffee, fruit, toast, cereal are in the kitchen. For lunch we either get to cook something special, or get to eat the food that was tested for the upcoming issue. Sweet!
After lunch, I had a meeting with my manager and got my first work assignment – I get to develop 4 recipes – Spring Vegetable Side Dishes – for the upcoming issue. Exciting! I have some in mind, and will be testing a few tomorrow.
Special moment of the day – I got flowers delivered to work. I was pretty shocked. The delivery was from Olga – best sister ever! Mucho gracias.
Well, I can understand the “fields” part. In fact I’ve never seen so many fields (corn fields) in my life. To think of how many people can be housed on those fields…But I digress.
So right…8 more hours of driving today. Basically in the last 2 days I drove through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Indiana, and then finally Iowa!!! Boy, was I happy to reach my final destination. Des Moines greeted me with rain showers and winds – not that welcoming, I must say. The house I’m staying at is absolutely beautiful. Angular rooms, a loft, a sunroom, beautifully decorated. My room in the house…that’s another story 🙂 I get to occupy the room downstairs which has zero windows, so basically pitch black unless I turn the lights on. On the positive side, it’s furnished with a bed, a desk, a sofa, a private bathroom, a small kitchen and a HUGE walk-in closet. I’m going to be spoiled by all this space. Seriously, the closet size is similar to my entire dorm room at the CIA.
My landlord lady – 80 years old, but you wouldn’t think she was over 60 – took me out to dinner at a local Thai restaurant – how nice is that? So we chatted, and got to know each other.
After two days of driving, I made it an early night and went to bed to get some sleep. Monday – 1st day of work.