As the landing gear embarked from the bottom on the plane, I found myself excited to be touching down in Des Moines. In less than a few hours we had left the big apple and were now headed deep into the heartland. This is where food GROWS, massive fields of corn and soy beans flanking the roadside, people wave when they drive past, and small railroad towns hang on with yesterday’s charm. We were in Iowa and I was ready for some family time. My husband grew up in Iowa, moving away as an adult some years back. For him Iowa holds the same hum-drum feeling that Hawaii does for me. Once you live there a while the shine wears off and it becomes mundane. That’s why I however, LOVE Iowa, with its clean air, fireflies, undulating fields and its family atmosphere. It is nothing like Manhattan that’s for sure. Regardless, I was happy to be there. This visit to Iowa was two-fold, on the upswing of life we were visiting two new additions to the family and on the down swing for a funeral. It’s amazing experiencing the circle of life so purely… However, this is not a life blog, this is a food & wine blog so let’s switch it back to what you all should know about Iowa’s’ bounty.
The next morning after arriving in town, I awoke with my nieces and my mother & sister-in-law to head north on a mission to harvest our own blueberries at The Berry Patch Farm.
The Berry Patch Farm is a small family owned farm northeast of Des Moines and oh, how excited I was to visit them because to pick your own is to pick the best! The entire way there I was contemplating recipes while carrying on a conversation with my almost three-year-old niece. It was pure heaven…Once there we were standing in the middle of a huge blueberry farm, settled into a routine, picking handfuls of plump little blueberries and dumping them into plastic buckets. All of us sweating, tasting and grinning while the morning sun beat down on our backs. We finished up before the morning sun made its way toward lunch, bellies rumbling, we had managed to pick enough berries for all of us to bring some home. Believe me folks, when I say those containers of berries for $5 at the grocery store are worth every penny! It is backbreaking labor to harvest these little gems and I couldn’t wait to use them. We packed up the blueberries, savored fresh peaches at the farm stand and headed home. The next couple of days were filled with blueberries, some in smoothies, some alone, but I was saving mine for when I returned to New York…
Hazelnut Meal Crusted Blueberry + Maple Tartlets
*adapted from the Clean Start Cookbook by Terry Walters
Serves 8-10 | Prep time: 30 minutes | Rest time: 1 hour
2 Cups Hazelnut Meal (you could also use almond, if using whole nuts, blanc, de-skin and pulse in a food processor)
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp Maple Syrup
1 tsp Almond Extract
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Good Pinch of Sea Salt
2 Cups Fresh Organic Blueberries
1 Cup Apple Juice (I actually juiced two pink lady apples for mine)
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
2 tbsp Arrow-Root Powder
Zest of 1 Organic Lemon
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Good Pinch of Sea Salt (I used Himalayan Sea Salt)
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F and brush a tart pan or shallow ramekins with coconut oil.
To prepare the crust, combine in a large bowl, the almond meal, maple syrup, coconut oil (if solid heat the coconut butter in a pan until melted), salt, almond & vanilla extracts and mix thoroughly with a fork until well combined. Tip the crumbly dough into the tart pan and press to form the crust. Place the pan in the oven and bake for roughly 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool while you make the filling.
For the filling, whisk 1/2 cup of the apple juice and the arrow-root powder together and set aside. In a saucepan over med low heat, combine the remaining apple juice, lemon zest, lemon juice, almond & vanilla extracts, salt and half of the blueberries. Bring to a simmer and once the liquid turns blueish red, and the apple juice and arrow-root mixture. Stirring the entire time this should thicken up pretty quickly. Once thickened to your preference add the remaining blueberries. Pour the mixture into the cooled crust and refrigerate for at least an hour. I actually waited just an hour because I like tarts slightly warm. Then enjoy!!
Now to wash it all down or to sip on a hot day, maybe after a long morning of gardening…or if you want something festive sans alcohol.
Sparkling Thai Basil + Lime Agua Fresca
I large (32 oz.) mason jar (could use individual size pint jars)
A couple of sprigs of Thai Basil or any other basil for that matter
Juice of 1 lime
1 part sparkling San Pellegrino or sparkling water
1 part pure filtered cold tap water
A dash of agave syrup if you like it sweet
Add everything to the mason jar, shake it up, taste for sweetness and pour over fresh ice! Enjoy!
Now for some other notable places to check out while in the Des Moines area. The local farmers market on Saturday morning. This farmers’ market showcases incredible farm raised meats and fresh produce abound, not to mention a plethora of street food vendors. Although I would like to see more organic produce available, it is the perfect place to take the kids, they won’t even know you are teaching them about vegetables! And if you are really wanting to support the slow food, green, organic, whatever-is-healthiest-for-us-and-the-environment-movement then head over to see these guys…
Kelsey Byus and Fred Scott of Locally Grown Clothing Co. are hip, young and very much into the grassroots message driven lifestyle. They rally behind the resurgence of Farmers’ Markets and the renaissance of local agriculture across the country. Supporting local business and empowering folks to think about what they wear, buy, and eat are at the core of their message. Feel free to check them out and support some very cool midwest boys, and of course the environment!
Enjoy the sunshine this summer, eat your blueberries, and sip some of that delicious aqua fresca we talked about, I’m off to the park!