Restaurant Week

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One of the best things about August in Des Moines–besides the gluttonous foods of the Iowa State Fair–is Restaurant Week.  Organized and sponsored by DSM Magazine, Restaurant Week is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year with lots of fantastic lunch and dinner options from a variety of Des Moines-area restaurants.  Mrs. DDM and I have enjoyed options from the previous iterations of Restaurant Week at great places like Gateway Market & Cafe, Mojo’s on 86th, and Baru 66.  Here’s how DSM Magazine describes Restaurant Week:

“For Restaurant Week’s fifth anniversary, Greater Des Moines’ talented chefs will be creating special fixed-priced menus that will showcase their cuisine at the pocketbook-pleasing price of $25 per person for one three-course dinner or two lunches (excludes beverages, taxes and gratuity). The event will span two full weekends, August 17-26, 2012. Bon Appetit!”

The price is the best part–it allows those with tight budgets to get out on the town and enjoy some spectacular local food at a price that doesn’t break the bank.  Even before we were married, Mrs. DDM and I were able to have a wonderful date night thanks to Restaurant Week.  There are so many choices this year that it is impossible to hit every restaurant–even if you could afford to try you’d run out of time.  In addition to the great price Des Moines’ best chefs highlight local produce, cheeses, and meats in a variety of different ways.  This can be an eye-opening experience to many diners, allowing them to see the amazing products produced right here in the great state of Iowa.

We can’t believe that it has been five years of wonderful dining!  We’re heading to one of the participating restaurants later this week…we’ll make sure to update you on our meal.  Restaurant Week goes through Sunday, August 26.  Check out the full list of participating restaurants here.  You can download a PDF of the complete menu listings here.

Please share with us your experiences from Restaurant Week 2012!  Post in the comments where you went and what you thought.  And tell us where we should go as well!

Iowa Food Cooperative

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Some people argue that it is too difficult to buy local products.  It is rare that everything you need is together in the same place and trips to many different stores may be required.  Local products are also limited by season – certain products, especially produce, are only available during specific times of the year.  In the end it’s just easiest to purchase what’s available, regardless of whether it came from a different state or country.

The Iowa Food Cooperative is a unique way to purchase local products on a regular basis and allows you to shop from the comfort of your own home. Launched in 2008, the IFC has grown to 650 member-owners, more than 100 of which are producers.  Members can shop online, choosing from almost 1000 products.  Twice a month, members can pick up what they’ve purchased from one of four metro area locations.  Sales over the last two years have exceeded $150,000, 90% of which goes directly to local farmers and producers.  100% of the products sold in the IFC are locally grown and produced.  We have been proud members of the IFC for over a year now and have loved the products that have been available to us.

The cost of joining the IFC is $50 with a $10 fee annually after that.  In a recent price check of 28 products against Whole Foods, it was found that the IFC prices were 22% lower.  Whole Foods aims for 20% of their products to be locally grown or produced (as opposed to 100% at the IFC).  All money spent at the IFC stays in Iowa.  We asked IFC General Manager Gary Huber what buying local means to him.  “Buying local means knowing the people and farms who raise our food – who they are, what they do, where they live, what they value – and caring for them in ways that affect lives for the better, both theirs and ours.”

The backyard garden.

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One of the first steps to eating local can be as simple as growing produce in your own backyard.  I am our home gardener and I have a love-hate relationship with our garden.  Fortunately I learn from my mistakes and the garden slowly improves every year!

This year I was ambitious and eager and decided to start my garden from seed.  I had recently seen a news story on Seed Savers Exchange and was eager to try some of their varieties.  Seed Savers is a unique non-profit organization dedicated to preserving genetic diversity in crops and making heirloom varieties of vegetables available to the public.  Heirloom varieties are simply vintage varieties of garden plants that we grow today.  For more information on heirloom plants check out this article from the National Agricultural Library.  I ordered numerous vegetables and herbs and zealously planted them in our spare bedroom, eager to taste the fruits of my labor.

Spring in Iowa came incredibly early this year and my planning for transplanting outdoors around the 1st of May (generally the average latest frost date) resulted in my plants being incredibly behind.  Every time I went to a nursery or garden store I saw plants much further along than my tiny seedlings and was disheartened at my efforts.  Some of my feeble seedlings did not make it and were replaced with supermarket varieties but the plants that did survive have produced amazing results!
Take, for instance, the Martino’s Roma tomatoes I planted.  In the past, I have only planted one or two tomato plants and if I was lucky enough to prevent them from succumbing to blossom end rot, I still would only harvest 1-2 tomatoes a week.  What is one to do with 1-2 tomatoes?  My favorite dishes are sauces and salsas that require a bumper crop to be successful.  Well, this year I have turned that around!  Traditional Romas tend to be oval-shaped, while this variety is more of a pear shape.  I planted about 8 plants and have been lucky enough to harvest 5-6 tomatoes a day, plenty to keep me rolling in sauces and salsas all season!

My heirloom Roma harvest from over the weekend!

My failures this year were butternut squash and zucchini – I had a nasty run-in with squash borer beetles that I couldn’t beat.  I am still waiting on my heirloom jalapenos, onions, and leeks but am looking forward to savoring them as well.  I can’t wait to order next year’s seeds from Seed Savers!

Backyard gardening is an easy way to have produce readily available at a minimal cost.  If you choose, you can grow organically.  I did not this year – I applied calcium to prevent the blossom end rot and applied Miracle Gro when I noticed signs of nitrogen deficiency.  I applied an organic pesticide (Safer Brand Killing Soap) to try to combat the squash bugs but I was unsuccessful.  What summer gardening tips do you have?  What are your favorite vegetables or fruits to grow?

Buy locally, live globally.

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When I first moved to Des Moines from Minnesota in 2005, I had two immediate complaints: there were no Noodles and Co. or Chipotle restaurants in the immediate metro area.  As a Drake student without a car, my only shopping option within walking distance seemed to be Walgreens.  And in a time before Jethros and the West Village stores and restaurants, there seemed to be no college-priced eats within walking distance.

My husband and I met in 2007 and our dates were made up of frequent trips to Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s.  It seemed to be all Des Moines had to offer.  When we graduated in 2008 and got a place of our own, it seemed that our eyes finally began to open.  It started with a few trips to the Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market.  I think I read in the news at least once a year that our market has been named to a “best of” list, and with good reason.  We discovered the joy of perusing the booths, indulging in Court Avenue Brewing Co. root beer or a delicious pastry.  We made a game out of bringing produce home and finding a way to prepare it.  We were ecstatic when we discovered fresh and locally grown meats.  Our first pound of local ground beef was phenomenal and it somehow felt better knowing that we could visit the farm it came from.

As the years passed we slowly grew into the locavores we are now.  I can’t remember the last time we ate at a chain restaurant such as Applebee’s, and by the time Chipotle and Noodles and Co. came around we had already discovered delicious alternatives in Bandit Burrito and Z’Mariks.  We joined a local co-op and started shopping more at local markets, both of which opened our eyes to a whole new world of locally available products.  We discovered the rich local brewery and winery scene and immersed ourselves in the amazing local restaurants.

Recently the Des Moines market has become home to national retailers Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  We found ourselves having the same reaction to those stores opening as we did previously to national restaurant chains – how wonderful it is that they find Des Moines a viable home (it seems we are named to “best of” lists for business almost as frequently as for our farmers’ market).  However, as with the restaurants, again my husband and I will make the choice to support the local alternatives.  We’ll discuss organic versus local in a later blog post but we feel it is more globally conscious to purchase locally made products than it is to purchase products that are shipped here from around the world and more and more often, overseas.  Though these stores do offer some local products, most were already available in the Des Moines market, many at Hy-Vee as well as at other stores and co-ops.

Des Moines: it is meant to be enjoyed, respected, and devoured.

Welcome!

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We are Delectable Des Moines, a new blog about eating local and experiencing local here in the heartland.  Join us tomorrow for our first post!

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