Category Archives: Cooking

Grandpa’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I celebrated a bit early because Emmett and I were lucky enough to go to Chicago this past week and revel in our Irish heritage. It was great to spend time at home and with my grandpa, who is recovering from pneumonia. Luckily, he was well enough to bake his famous Irish Soda Bread with me and ham it up for the camera.


He starred in our second cooking video as a duo, walking me (and Emmett) through his Irish Soda Bread recipe. Making the video together is a memory (and taste) I’ll treasure forever. 

I’m so excited to share the recipe – which is written in my grandpa’s handwriting and was part of a book my family put together for me for my wedding.


Soda Bread 1

Soda Bread 2

We had the fam over to my mom’s for corned beef and cabbage (which I cooked using this recipe), lots of dessert and all-you-can-eat soda bread (of course). I got to meet my cousin’s new baby, Caitlin, and my childhood friend’s new baby, Hazel, too! The tiny babies made Emmett seem like a giganotosaurus. I can’t believe his 9-month checkup is tomorrow.


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Weekend recap

Finally: A long weekend that actually felt like a long weekend! And not a moment too soon, as I’ll be going back to working Fridays with my new gig. My mom and aunt flew in from Chicago on Friday afternoon and left Sunday evening, so we had lots of time to both be productive and relax and try to make Emmett giggle.

We went straight to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden from the airport and had lunch at Trellis, the new cafe by the talented Lisa LaValle.

20140228_134313Our plates were a bright contrast to the snowscape out the window, and the chance to walk around in 50% humidity and 80 degree temps was just what I needed headed into more freezing weather.

Friday night, I ditched the fam for my ladies’ book club. Seriously such a great group of women. I think we met for more than four hours, and discussed the book for maybe 20 percent of the time. Our next read is The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I enjoyed The Namesake, so I’m looking forward to this.


Saturday, we ran a few errands, which included popping into Stitch to get a few more fabrics for a quilting project my mom and I are collaborating on. I joked on Instagram that we were having a mother-daughter stripping session this weekend. (Gross, sorry. Couldn’t resist.)


We love to get Jethro’s carryout when they visit because two of the “Dinner for Two” selections is enough for four adults to eat a hearty dinner with enough leftovers for lunch the next day. Emmett definitely approved. He wasn’t into meat before this, but loved himself some smoked, pulled chicken.


(I gave him plain corn, but if you’ve never had Jethro’s jalapeño creamed corn it is ridiculously good.) Thankfully the meat didn’t shock his little tastebuds too much and he still ate his typical sweet potato dinner the next night.

While the ladies crafted and the baby slept, Joe worked on our beadboard banister project, which we’re hoping to complete before E figures how to crawl forward. He’s been scooting backwards and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. He also started to take some steps when we were “walking” holding his hands. Eeek. We have a long way to go before our house is baby-proof.


Sunday afternoon we made a batch of pretzels – our second in as many weeks. Joe and I made them for a Downton Abbey “picnic dinner” last Sunday from Alton Brown’s recipe. They turned out awesome:


Joe made the dough, which is the hard part, but I got into the dunking-in-boiling-water bit. We ate them with queso because we’re real fond of “light” dining options. 


Filed under At home, Books, Cooking, Des Moines Dining, Getting crafty

Parenting analogy of the weekend

Parenting analogy of the weekend: Starting out as a parent is kind of like making chili for the first time. Everyone wants to share “the best” recipe with you, but you just kind of have to throw what you have together (resources/philosophy/meat/beans), let it simmer and adjust to your own taste.

I mean, not that your white bean lamb chili isn’t uh-maz-ing, but I’ll just have it when I come over to your house. OK?


Joe likes to riff on the America’s Test Kitchen recipe. Normally we have it with chicken, but this weekend it was stew meat. Simple. Spicy.

Parenting links that will make Santa spit milk out of his nose: 

If you haven’t yet read this hilarious A Ten-Month-Old’s Letter To Santa post, I almost peed.

My friend Erin wrote this witty little Elf on a Shelf essay for The Register. She’s good. Check out her blog Parent Hard, too.

Oh, Drew Magary. Dadspin brings us “A Treasury of Childrens’ Insane Christmas Lists.” Prompted by this annotated version of his own daughters’.


Filed under Baby, Cooking, Life lessons

Soup’s on Saturdays

Somewhere around the three-and-a-half month mark, my semi-manic I CAN DO ALL THE SAME THINGS WITH A BABY streak screeched to a halt. I’ve been feeling like if I hang back too much, or give up too many of the things I love, I’ll lose myself in this motherhood role and opportunities that were once mine for the taking would get handed on to someone else.

I had a good little snotcry and acknowledged I was taking on too much, too soon. As long as I manage my expectations for Fridays home with Emmett (recognizing we might only check off one chore or just read books and play on the floor all day), I think I’ll find a better balance.


Thankfully, the past two Saturdays have involved simple plans with friends and soup and a chance to relax.

My college besties Christa and Amanda drove in from Chicago and St. Louis last weekend. Their visit mostly consisted of taking the stroller down to the Shops at Roosevelt for lunch and a baguette at La Mie, to pick up a cheese at The Cheese Shop to melt into homemade potato-bacon soup, and to try on consignment clothes at Worn. Cooking and laughing together and streaming episodes of The Mindy Project was just what I needed.


Then today we finally made it out to Pella, the Dutch town 45 minutes from Des Moines where my friends Amy and Josh moved this summer. They live just off the quaint town square and had warm vegetable soup and cornbread waiting for us. It was great to catch up with them and see their little one, Linden.


Pella was puddle-wonderful and charming, even in the drizzle. We stopped by Jaarsma Bakery for a Dutch letter and took a quick little tour of downtown (windmills galore!) before heading over to Lake Red Rock for a short walk on the trail. It felt good to breathe deeply the musky fall smell of damp leaves and earth.







Filed under At home, Baby, Cooking, Life lessons

Just Peachy: Hood River Fruit Picking

Orchards line the highway in the Hood River area. It’s fascinating to see thousands of containers lined up in the grass, ready to transport the fruit commercially, but there’s also a 35-mile “Fruit Loop” dotted with U-Pick farms.

Fruit LoopMap via

Peaches were in season, and we picked 13 pounds of them at Draper Girls Country Farm.

Draper Farm

The peach trees provided plenty of shade, and it was fun to reach out and grab the golden, fuzzy delicious fruit in reach.

Peach close

Who can resist these sweet peach cheeks? Peach cheeks

Picking so many peaches the day before we planned to fly home was a bit silly, but they baked down into a delicious peach cobbler we had the whole family over to sample.

Peach box

The farm even had a little goat pen, so I got my baby animal fix.


They also had a big swing that framed Mt. Hood – a fun family photo op. Emmett will be so smiley and expressive and then the minute we try a posed picture, he goes into cranky crunch.


We stopped at a lavender farm not far down the road on the way back to town. It. Smelled. Amazing. The aroma of lavender was almost hypnotic, like some place in a storybook that lures little girls to sleep for a thousand years.




They had u-pick bunches for $5, but I didn’t think I had enough room to pack and bring it home. They also have a little gift shop with plenty of other items made from their acres of lavender, too.

If you’re staying in Hood River, see what’s in season! I can’t believe it’s almost time for apple-picking here in Iowa. We love going to Center Grove Orchard. I’ve never been to The Berry Patch, but would love to visit next summer.


Filed under BS outside the Midwest, Cooking, Travel

State Fair Food at Home: Italian Sausage Grinders

I should probably divide my life into two eras: Life before I’d experienced the Iowa State Fair and Life After the Fair. I’m exaggerating, but as a transplant to this great state I’ve definitely come to love the Fair – especially its kitschier, more down-home elements, like the miniature animals, food competitions, butter sculptures and beard-growing contest.


I got to run around the fair a lot in my time as a reporter for Juice, and after interviewing fair-crazed Des Moinesians (I called them “fairwolves” in an article), I got the inside scoop on the best things to experience. One of those readers tipped me off to the goodness that is the State Fair Grinder, and I coerced Joe into coming up with a way to re-create them at home. I especially love cooking these in the depths of winter, but we made them this weekend as the Fair approaches to count down.


A grinder is essentially a loose-meat Italian sausage sandwich, with red sauce, onions and green peppers served topped with melted cheese on a hoagie bun. Here’s how to make our version at home. Note that if you live in Des Moines, there’s no substitution for Graziano Brothers Italian Sausage. It’s the best.


First, brown your Italian sausage. (If you’re wondering, yes, that is the tail end of a ceramic manatee spoonrest on our range.) Preheat the oven at 375 degrees.


Then, chop up your onion and green pepper into bite-size chunks. Add the onion, chop the pepper and then combine and cook.



Then add in your red pasta sauce and stir it all together. You can also chop up and add some garlic to taste, if you like.


While the filling is simmering, hollow out the hoagie bun a little bit. This will help prevent it from breaking on the bottom, spilling your sandwich’s guts. We had enough for four grinders, but reserved half the filling for seconds the next day.


Line a pan with foil and fill the hoagies with the sausage mixture.


Top with sliced provolone cheese, then pop in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes – enough to brown the cheese.


I wouldn’t recommend putting this sandwich on a stick. Keep a nice stack of napkins and handy and pour yourself something refreshing to drink. It’s hot and spicy.


Now there’s a little taste of the State Fair in your kitchen! What’s your favorite element of the Iowa State Fair, or the fair where you live?


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Lunch date: Hotshots Hotdoggery

Joe and I had been itching to try Hotshots, the new “craft hotdog” joint downtown, so his second-to-last day of paternity leave, we decided to squeeze in a lunch date and let Emmett tag along.


Overall, I really like the concept (maybe I’m just a sucker for menus with clever naming?) and the look of the place, but I think there’s room for improvement in the dog-finishing department.

I ordered the Valentino Rossi ($6.95), an Italian link with Scala Sunday gravy, provolone, Romano, caramelized peppers & onions and tater tots on the side. It sounded like it had all of the components of a delicious grinder like the ones I love to get at the State Fair. Unfortunately, the bun couldn’t handle all that goodness, and got soggy and completely fell apart. (Toasting the bun may have helped?) I’d also kind of expected the cheese to have a broiled, melty and browned effect, but it was drizzled on cold. I ended up eating mine with a fork. The tater tots were nicely spiced, but nothing addictingly special.


Joe was more pleased with his dog (he snarfed half of it before I could snap a photo), the Marlon Brando – $7.50 (kielbasa, spicy mayo, bologna, cilantro, jalapeno, pickled carrots, onion & radish), which he got with a side of pasta salad. We ate outside and the pasta had a nice summer picnic feel to it.


Both of us agreed that we expected the dogs to come grilled; I think that touch of char marks and burnt crunch could be the missing link to a great dog.

To celebrate the countdown to the State Fair and satisfy my lingering craving for a good grinder, I got all of the components to make them at home this weekend as a special treat! I’ll let you in on the recipe, too. Joe entered a lemon basil beer into the State Fair contest this year, which sounds like the perfect sip to pair with it – don’t you think?

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