Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa.

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I love that famous line in that fabulous movie. I love to watch it because of those endless summer skies, especially at dusk. This month, I went home. Not to my childhood house, my home town, but home to Iowa. I love my state. It has so much to offer, such wonderful people, and we entertained ourselves for days without shopping malls, tourist attractions or chain restaurants. My sister Patti lives on a farm outside of Waterloo, IA, so my Los Angeles sister Lori and I flew in to Minneapolis and Patti came and got us. There is the first caveat of Iowa. It's not terribly easy or cheap to fly to the tiny little airports, but Minneapolis is just a 3 hour skip through God's country.

A little background, we grew up in Clinton, Iowa and I went to high school in Davenport, Iowa. Most of us graduated from University of Iowa, and my sister Patti, brother Paul and mother-in-law Darlene still live in Iowa, albeit very far from one another. Just over a year ago on Memorial Day, Patti lost her beautiful farm house, barn and shed to an F-5 tornado. Tragic on many levels. The house was just 8 years old, it had been rebuilt after the 1st tornado wiped it off the map just 4 years after she built it. So, third times a charm. The new and improved house is gorgeous. Much prettier than either of its former selves.

On our first morning, we went to an old rail trail for a little exercise and wild black berries. We picked about 4 cups of the little black caps as they call them. The have sharp thorns, and entwine themselves in all the brush, but they are delicious. Patti is planning on adding them to a batch of wine, but more about that in the next blog. The great thing about rail trails is that the foliage surrounding the old rail road tracks was never sprayed so it is loaded with wild black berries, wild grapes and unusual flowers. Lori and I were taken with the mulberries. We had a mulberry tree growing up, and those fat black mulberries brought back great memories. We walked everyday, but after this day, we walked the many gravel roads in the country.

In fine Petitti fashion, our days always melded into a fabulous dinner. One night we did an Iowa cookout. We went to Fareway Foods to buy steaks. This is the coolest grocery store ever (sorry Dad). The meat department had no less than 6 butchers in white coats and Fareway caps. Patti bought a huge ribeye and had it cut and wrapped right there. I don't know about where you shop, but most of the people that work in the meat department of my grocery don't know the difference between Prime and Choice, and here is a 2009 store with 6 trained butchers. Mind you, this isn't a mega market, in fact it is hardly bigger than a 7-11. People shop here because they know the meat is fresh. No pre-wrapped meat here. Need I tell you how wonderful they were on the grill?
Of course we grilled fresh Iowa corn, straight from Hesse farms, peaches and cream it's called. Grilled in the husks. It was so delicious it didn't need butter, but hey, it does make everything taste better!

We also had an Amish excursion. In central Iowa there is a large settlement of Amish and they have embraced the tourism there with shops and restaurants. However, a couple of miles down the rod from Patti is another settlement, no tourism, but interesting to see. We did venture into a few little stores but the real attraction is what goes on outside. Horse power and hard labor is all they use to get the job done. It was a cool day, and we spotted plowing and they were shocking oats. This is where they mound them up into little piles.

My brother in law pulled into a beautiful farm and we talked to the grandfather type man, and waved at the adorable little grandson. The farm was really beautiful and home to goats and horses. I shot some great pictures of the workshop and animals.

Perhaps the best shot of the day came as we were heading back home. We passed yet another beautiful farm. The vegetable gardens are bordered by brilliant flowers, and there were 2 adorable kids "mowing" the small strip of grass between the garden and the road. The little girl was pushing the old hand mower, and the little boy had a rope around his waist pulling. They were both barefoot and are the picture of innocence.
The adventure continues in the next blog. We went to an exhibit at the museum on Iowa food, we baked grape pie and we hunted out barn quilts! But most important, we worked in Vito's Vineyard. Stay tuned for pictures and recipes!

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