Universal Iowa Recipe

The Universal Iowa Recipe was compiled after hundreds of visits to dining establishments large and small, posh and plain, established and popup. It is the pure, raw, essential heart of the Iowa dining experience, boiled down into one fantastically easy-to-follow rubric.

GROUP A: ANIMAL MATTER: Pick one:

  • One pound Niman Ranch pork tenderloin medallions
  • One pound Yoder’s Natural Farm free range chicken breast, cubed
  • One pound Graziano spicy bulk sausage

GROUP B: HEAVY STUFF: Pick one:

  • 16 ounces Barilla Cavatelli Noodles
  • 16 ounces Dahl’s Best Buy Tater Tots
  • 16 ounces of HyVee Sweet Potato Gnocchi

GROUP C: BINDING MATERIALS: Pick one:

  • 15 ounce can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 15 ounce can of Del Monte Creamed Corn
  • 16 ounce container of Anderson Erickson Cottage Cheese

GROUP D: PLANT MATTER: Pick one:

  • One cup of halved Brussels Sprouts
  • Twelve asparagus spears
  • One cup of morels (in season) or other mixed fungi

GROUP E: SAUCES: Pick one:

  • One cup DeBurgo Sauce
  • One cup Marinara Sauce
  • One cup Alfredo Sauce

GROUP F: FLAVOR CRYSTAL INJECTIONS: Pick one:

  • One-half cup of Maytag Blue Cheese
  • One-half cup of LaQuercia Prosciutto Bits
  • One-half cup of crisped and crumbled pork belly

GROUP G: INCONGRUOUS WILDCARDS FOR CRITICAL CREDIBILITY: Pick two:

  • Caramelized figs
  • Vidalia onion rings
  • Butter brickle ice cream
  • Hot dog relish
  • Salmon roe
  • Mexican chocolate

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cook Group A items until well browned. Drain fat.

Cook Group B items per instructions. Drain.

Blend Group A, Group B, and Group C items in a large bowl. Pour into casserole and bake at 375 degrees until brown.

Roast Group D items under a broiler.

Heat Group E items on stove top, whisk in Group F items.

Lay Group D items atop the casserole made of Group A, Group B, and Group C items. Pour Group E and Group F mixture on top.

Garnish with two Group G items. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve while hot.

BON APPETIT!!

Serves four (in Iowa), or twelve (elsewhere).

Iowa Entrepreneurship

Iowans are famously clever people who spend the 11 months worth of horrible weather they experience each year sitting at their kitchen tables, staring into space, and thinking big thoughts about how to combine this with that to make something else altogether.

The fertile combination of creativity and craziness has blessed the world with a plethora of indispensable Iowa-birthed products, ideas and services, including the personal computer, the opinion poll, the trampoline, the screen door, the ethanol subsidy, buffered antacids, and the Eskimo Pie.

Lest you think that the wheels of innovation in Iowa have grown rusty, here are ten exciting emergent developments I expect to see, hear and experience in 2015 — if their creators don’t snap and start shooting up their kitchens before the business plans are finished:

  • A wind-turbine powered factory that processes post-harvest corn stalks into pointed sticks to put food on.
  • Gray’s Lake Casino Paddle Boats, with all proceeds going to build the state’s next crazy casino concept, and so on, and so on, and so on, scheme without end, amen.
  • A BBQ and brisket smoker that mounts on the back of a soybean-powered pothole-filling and road-grading machine.
  • Candidate Caucus Insurance, where candidates can buy policies that pay damages if Iowans miscount their caucus votes. Again.
  • Maytag Blue Cheese Tostitos Scoops With LaQuercia Prosciutto Power Flavor Crystals.
  • Winnebago Migrant Camper Vans, which are tiny one-room cells on wheels that farm owners can use to transport their unsuspecting laborers elsewhere when harvest season is over.
  • The Federal Subsidy Voucher Exchange, where you can swap your old, unused wind turbine tax credits for rails-to-trails grants, wetland building permits, and more.
  • The Ethanol Malt Liquor Law, which will require all bum wines and fortified brews to be made with 15% or more fermented corn products by volume.
  • The Universal Horn, a brass instrument that plays only three notes, increasing the probability of the Hawkeye Pep Band being in tune from the current 5% to a working functional average of 25%.

Iowa New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

Iowans are nice, yes. Just ask them. They’ll tell you all about it, at length, then explain how Iowans are also modest, and don’t like people to notice them, even if they are the nicest people in the country. And the most modest. They’ve got lists to back it up, from magazines. And websites. Nice!

But even for the nicest, most modest Iowans, there’s always room for self-improvement, right? Right.

So here are some suggested resolutions that self-aware Iowans might adopt in 2015 to make our shared State an even nicer, and more modest place. In fact, if enough Iowans adopt them, we might even finish #1 on Forbes’ 2015 “You Won’t Believe Which States Really Stick to Their New Year’s Resolutions!” list, and that will give us something else to be modest about next year. Let’s do this!

Top Twelve Iowa New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

I will develop some perspective on the relative importance of the Cyclone-Hawkeye rivalry.

I will respect our elected officials by calling them “Senator Ernst” and “President Obama,” instead of “Joni” and “That Damned Muslim Socialist.”

I will greet my kissing cousins with only handshakes from now on. Even the cute ones. Especially the cute ones.

I will give money to real established charities meeting real community needs, and not to the self-promoting hipsters behind the latest half-baked arts project in town.

I will not wait in line for bad service at crappy restaurants just because they’re new. Even if everyone else is doing it. Even if “Juice” tells me to.

I will not base all of my political beliefs on teaser commercials for “Fox & Friends” that air during football games, no matter how pretty the women in the commercials are.

I will not go to the hardware store and buy something I don’t need just to get some free popcorn.

I will not wear Ugg Boots with short shorts to the Mall, even if both are cute.

I already know that I don’t like Iowa wine, so I will not take numerous free samples of it every time I go to the Farmers Market.

I will replace the bald tires on my car before I get stuck on an exit ramp in half-an-inch of snow, causing a miles-long traffic stoppage on I-235 West during rush hour. Again.

I will stop quoting pseudo-scientific, click-bait Forbes or USA Today Top Ten Lists to justify why I live in Iowa.

I will not feel compelled to support things I don’t actually like, just because they come from Iowa. Sorry, Slipknot.

Iowa Cocktail Recipes

Christmas is almost upon us, and in Iowa, that means three things: driving really slowly through other¬† people’s neighborhoods to gawk at their lights, going to church (more than once, if possible), and drinking during the day. If you’ve got the in-laws and cousins descending upon you from Dunkerton, Ollie, Tingley, or Toeterville, here are some Iowa Cocktails you might want to try out. Not for the guests, mind you. They can bring their own beer. This is for you. Fortitude!

The Tickly Branstache

Three ounces of Old Grand Dad Bourbon
Two ounces of buttermilk
Two tablespoons of dark corn syrup
Black Pepper

Mix liquid ingredients and shake well for two minutes. Pour into an old mason jar. Garnish with a black pepper mustache. Govern.

Joni’s Hogballs

Two ounces of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey
One ounce of sour mix
Three drops of hot sauce
Two maraschino cherries
Grenadine

Vigorously stir the Fireball, sour mix and hot sauce together, and pour into a brandy snifter. Float two (no more, no less) maraschino cherries in the drink. Garnish with grenadine blood droplets.

DuPont-Pioneer Hi-Life

12 ounce can of Miller High Life
Two ounces of gold tequila
Two teaspoons of agave nectar
Baby corn

Pour the Miller High Life into a lab beaker, and gently stir in the tequila and agave nectar. Garnish with baby ears of genetically modified corn.

The Des Moines Four-Way Stop Sign

One ounce Jim Beam Bourbon
One ounce Jameson’s Irish Whiskey
One ounce Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch Whiskey
One ounce Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey

Pour all ingredients into an old Dahl’s jelly jar and stir with your finger. Sip. Wave at everyone else in the room. No one is allowed to move. Ever.

The Hawkeye Three-Pointer

One ounce Chartreuse Yellow Liqueur
One ounce Romana Black Sambuca

Mix the yellow and the black in a random, chaotic fashion. Try to pour it in from outside, but miss the glass. Repeat.

Iowa Wine Report

Coastal snobs might be surprised to learn that Iowa has a robust wine-making industry, though if you consider the prevalence of arable land, the God-awful France-like climate, and the popularity of daytime drinking in the Hawkeye State, this should really not be a shocker. At bottom line: if you can ferment it and drink it for fun, then they make it in Iowa. Here are some popular homegrown selections (with tasting and pairing notes) to help new captives swig like the Iowa natives. Bottoms up!

Beaujoni Ernst Nouveau ’14: Very fruity, but without substance; hints of pork balls, saltpeter, and fox urine.¬†

J. Deere Tractor Cabernet ’10: Aged in cash-lined casks, distinctive green hue, strong diesel and corn husk notes.

Turbine Carnage White ’14: Grapes sourced from wind farm country; opens with Canada goose, good bald eagle finish.

Crazy Steve’s King Zing ’13: Strong lithium tang with finish of methamphetamine; does not pair well with Mexican food.

K Shiraz Shiraz ’14: Kum n’ Go’s house red; pairs well with Slim Jims and Doritos, also a great engine coolant in a pinch.

Branstacho Terrybranillo ’11: Always a favorite! Strong mouth-hair feel, hint of weasel musk, pink slime finish.

Muscatine Muscatel ’12: A fruit bomb from Mississippi River Valley, hint of catfish, bright cadmium and mercury aftertaste.

Templeton Perignon ’24: Aged for 80 years in an 18-karat gold cask, hints of unicorn tears and gangster sweat, strong fraudulent finish.

Two-Buck Chuck Grassley ’14: Sour grapes from all 99 Iowa counties, aged for six terms in a dark and smoky room.

Chateau DuPont-Pioneer ’10: Explosive all-GMO red sequenced from craft blended soy and hamster genomes; sudden breast growth after tasting a bonus!

DSM Vasserverks Claret ’12: Made from runoff of other upstream terroir; hint of phosphorus, great trihalomethane close.

The Fame of States

Does your state have a particular claim to fame with which it is closely associated?

For reasons too complicated to explain (like most things in my brain), I posed this question in a writing project recently, and then wondered how to answer it. On a gut instinct whim, I opened Google, and typed a search stream in the form of “Famous [State Name] [space],” then noted the first suggestion made by Google’s auto-fill engine. So, for instance, here’s what the search for Alabama looked like:

famousalabama

Famous Alabama Football Players? Okay, I’ll buy that . . . since the correlation between “Alabama” and “Football Players” does seem to be pretty strong in public perception. But what happens when you run this same test with all of the other states and major territories or affiliated entities in the United States? Do the correlations still ring as strongly? Let’s look and see!

As was the case with alphabetical alpha Alabama, college (and occasionally professional) athletics are among the most common categories of “Famous State” suggestions, as follows (with some notes):

  • Alabama Football Players
  • Colorado Rockies (Could also be the mountains, of course).
  • Idaho Potato Bowl (Interesting that the Bowl Game scores higher than the potatoes it is named after).
  • Kansas City Royals (Go Beloved Royals!).
  • Kentucky Derby Winners (This is the only animal related response in the mix, if people are looking for the horses, not the jockeys).
  • Minnesota Twins (Go Marcia’s Beloved Twinkies!)
  • Nebraska Fans (Wonder why fans over players? Is it because the Cornhuskers are so hated that it’s hard to imagine what famous people might like them? Probably).
  • Ohio State Football Players (Complete with mug shots).
  • Oklahoma Football Players
  • Oregon Runner (The singular is interesting. There’s only one famous Oregon runner?)
  • Texas Rangers (Could be the law enforcement types, too).
  • Utah Jazz Players (Because it’s Utah, we know these are basketball players, and not saxophone players).
  • Washington Redskins (Sad that Washington State’s search fame hinges on an ethnically offensive sports team mascot from the other side of the country).

Some states’ claims to fame are similarly linked to their colleges, though not for their athletic programs, but instead for those who matriculated from their institutions of higher learning:

  • Arizona State Alumni
  • Georgia Tech Alumni
  • Maryland Alumni
  • Michigan Alumni
  • Virginia Tech Alumni

The next most common category of responses are related to food, with some interesting variations between “restaurant(s)” and “food(s)” perhaps indicating where people dine out more, and where people eat in more:

  • Connecticut Pizza
  • Delaware Food
  • Guam Food
  • Illinois Food
  • Louisiana Restaurants
  • Mississippi Restaurants
  • Missouri Food
  • New Jersey Food
  • New York Restaurants
  • North Carolina Foods (interesting that this is the only plural incidence of “food” . . . apparently the Tarheel State does not have one singular signature cuisine item?)
  • Pennsylvania Food
  • South Carolina Food (Complete with organ meat).

Two states improve on the food cluster by prioritizing sudsy libations over eats:

  • Vermont Beer (A little surprising).
  • Wisconsin Beer (Not at all surprising).

Some states are apparently best known (or searched) for their cultural resources:

  • Arkansas Rappers (Really?!? Okay, I’ve got to do some research here and figure out what’s going down in the Little Rock hip hop scene).
  • Maine Artists
  • Massachusetts Artists
  • New Mexico Artists
  • North Dakota Artists (Okay, this one surprises me. Sorry, North Dakota. Just saying).
  • Rhode Island Actors (Because Providence is the Hollywood of Southern New England).
  • Tennessee Authors (I wonder if “Tennessee Williams” skews this one?)

There are a cluster of states whose geography resonates most strongly with Google searchers:

  • Alaska Cities (Are people surprised to learn there are more than one?)
  • California Beaches
  • Florida Beaches
  • Hawaii Beaches
  • Puerto Rico Beach (Is there only one?)
  • South Dakota Landmarks (Plural? Does that infer that there’s something other than Mount Rushmore?)
  • West Virginia Hotel (Just one? Why does that make me think about some weird combo of The Shining and Deliverance?)

A couple of states apparently raise the question “Who the heck actually lives there?”

  • Montana Residents
  • New Hampshire Residents

Sadly enough, there are a few regions in the United States that apparently have nothing famous worth searching for, including our Nation’s Federal District:

  • American Samoa NOTHING
  • District of Columbia NOTHING
  • U.S. Virgin Islands NOTHING
  • Northern Mariana Islands NOTHING

Then there are some weird ones that don’t quite fit into any other category:

  • Indiana Jones Quotes (Harrison Ford’s limited dialog in an action movie series is more searchable than everything else in the Hoosier State? Wow).
  • Nevada Brothels (Well, yeah, sex sells, apparently even more than casinos do).
  • Wyoming Attorney (There’s only one? Apparently that’s enough).

And, then, finally, there’s the state where I’ve made my home for the past three years. I figured that when I searched for “Famous Iowa [blank]” that I might get “Iowa State Football Players” or “Iowa Wrestlers” or “Iowa Corn” or something along those lines. But how wrong I was, since here’s a screen capture of the actual result:

famousiowaMurders? The most searchable thing in Iowa is homicide?!? Well, I guess I might have done my part to help that out when I visited and wrote about the Villisca Axe Murder House, but, still, why is Iowa the only state in the Nation where searchers are most interested in the taking of someone else’s life?

This remains an open question for me. I’d welcome your thoughts on what the answer might be!