owlfish: (Feast)
A post of [livejournal.com profile] desperance's on kumquats reminds me that I've been meaning to start writing about our meal at Hibiscus. I'll be writing this in likely-erratic installment. Thanks to Chaz, I'm starting with the cheese course.

The cheese course was a sumptuous lump of melted Mont d'Or cheese partially smeared across a plate, a modest quantity to keep us comfortable in the midst of the installments of a tasting menu. A little bit of well-cooked leek added nominal vegetative fattiness to the cheese's well-rounded unctuousness. Black truffle shavings were applied, as they were to many dishes, with unnecessary abandon and, oddly, more coarse texture than flavor.

But the leek and truffle played supporting roles. The thin slices of lightly candied kumquat were the real contrast to the Mont d'Or, their distinctive sharp bittersweetness assertively balancing the smooth richness.

It was an evocative moment for me, one which put me on the edge of tears, because kumquats - a fruit of which I am not especially fond, but can work well as a condiment - are the fruit which reminds me of Louise Noun.

My family were over at her apartment for a rare dinner there (my memory is that she didn't really like to cook), her amazing collection of artwork by female artists on the walls. I was probably a high schooler at the time. After the meal, she served a bowl of fruit for dessert, and I tried my first kumquat: small, hard, bitter. It was so small, I thought I surely could finish it, and did. It wasn't a particularly pleasant experience, although obviously I grateful for the introduction.

The bittersweetness though wasn't just from the fruit or the largely pleasant memories of that dinner. It's Louise herself. She said she would commit suicide when sufficient age incapacitated her to the extent that she was in danger of becoming more burden than benefit. And she did.

She was in her 90s, she lived an amazing, accomplished life, and she ended it on her own terms. It still took away from my mother one of her best friends, and from the rest us, a well-loved family friend. One aspect of her work lives on the Chrysalis Foundation, which works to help girls and women be safe, secure, and educated.

So that was the cheese course.
owlfish: (Default)
Brass tacks
I learned a new idiom! "getting down to brass tacks" Never having heard it before, I naturally assumed it was an English Englishism, but this page tells me that it was first attested in Texas in 1863.

[Poll #1784154]

It suddenly struck me last week that "whale" as a synonym for human fatness, along with "blubber", seemed distinctly American to me (as opposed to British). True?

At dinner last week after her BSFA interview, Jo Fletcher wondered what a midway ride was. We settled on a "fair ride" as the closest easy translation.

Then this week, I read Drop Dead, Gorgeous (thanks to impulse library browsing), a large swathe of which takes place at an Iowa State Fair fairground which really does not resemble the original. For example: what main building? And if you had a large fairground designed to host tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, would you keep it closed 50 weeks a year if you could possibly use it a fair number of other weeks of the year for other events? By the time our main characters have done an incoherent tour of various farflung bits of the grounds, they could have been out of an exit many times over; but they were waiting for "the" exit.

Also, and more relevantly, the well-known really-tall slide is no indication at all that they are on the midway. Because it isn't.
owlfish: (Corn rows)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:22pm on 01/11/2010 under , , , ,

Yesterday's Chenonceau pumpkins reminded me of the bigger ones I photographed back in August at the Iowa State Fair. The winner of the fair's biggest pumpkin prize (the one on the right) weighed an impressive 1,323 pounds.

There was not a trick-or-treater to be seen on our street yesterday, but the candy shelves at the grocery store were cleaned out. I feel like I may have had this problem before: the grocery store expects me to be organized and buy candy a day or five in advance of Halloween. At some point earlier, it had put all the small, easily unitable candy on sale at half-price, and the shelves had been cleaned bare. So - all the candy gone, but no trick-or-treaters. Perhaps it's just the abbreviated days and pre-hibernation instincts which are driving local shoppers to stock up on half-price candy?
owlfish: (Corn rows)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:46pm on 22/08/2010 under ,
Baby Ostriches at the Iowa State Fair 2010

We went back for another visit to the Iowa State Fair yesterday, along with something like 100,000 other people. This time, in addition to eating fried pickled cucumbers, fried cheese curds, and pineapple juice ice cream, we visited the baby animals. They're in a new, air-conditioned building targeting public education about animal births, so between the cute and the cool, it was jam-packed with fair visitors. There were goat triplets, just two hours old; a litter of piglets born that morning; an ostrich still pecking its way free from its shell; dozens of still-hatching chicks. Videos played on flat-screen televisions overhead of animal births from the previous few days.

Above is a trio of ostrich chicks, a couple of days old.

Other highlights: Realizing that the rabbits hadn't gone on Wednesday, they hadn't arrived yet. Seeing the rabbits. See the largest pumpkin. Admiring the dahlia competition. Seeing the finished sand sculpture in the Cultural Center. Photographing goats. Watch trials for the llama limbo.
owlfish: (Corn rows)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:05pm on 18/08/2010 under ,
I've put the cuts in for the three photos, not because I was particularly verbose about the past few days here in Des Moines.

Adventureland )

New downtown pedestrian bridge )

Iowa State Fair )
owlfish: (Corn rows)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 12:07pm on 06/05/2010 under
The UK is voting today.

[livejournal.com profile] makyo observed that he, personally, had two votes: one for the local candidate, one for the national one.

With that in mind, I indulged in a thrilling surfeit of voting today. My Iowa ballot, for primary elections in June, arrived yesterday, just in time for me to join in on the ambient voting going on in the UK. It might only be a primary, but I didn't get to vote twice: I got to vote twelve times.

Admittedly, there was only a contested race for one of those votes within the party. But I come from a country where we vote on all sorts of things. On this ballot alone, there was voting for the County Treasurer, the State Treasurer, the State Attorney, and the State Secretary of Agriculture, among others. On the federal scale, a member of House of Representatives, and the contested race for U.S. Senator.

On non-primary elections (whatever they're called - "real" elections?), there may be ballots to amend the Iowa constitution, or to enact a local, county-specific sales tax on something-or-other. We elect members of the water board, the school board, and affirm judiciary appointments too. Even from the other side of the ocean, my ballot, so reflective of very local politics as it is, still ties me to where I grew up. I may be very far away from where I vote, but at least I get to vote a whole lot in compensation.
owlfish: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 06:37pm on 11/02/2009 under ,
8. Miss Piggy is apparently from Iowa. She started as a minor character on "The Muppet Show," but anyone who knows Miss Piggy can see that she wouldn't settle for anything "minor." Her first TV appearance was actually on an Herb Alpert special. It wasn't until 1976, when "The Muppet Show" premiered, that she became the glamorous blonde with a penchant for frog that we know and love today. Frank Oz once said that Miss Piggy grew up in Iowa; her dad died when she was young and her mother was mean. She had to enter beauty contests to make money.

From CNN's Surprising stories behind 20 Muppet characters. Some days I think I should collect Iowa and Des Moines references in a more organized way. Then I think further and realize that, even if I did, what on earth would I do with all of them?

In other, and entirely unrelated, news, I couldn't find my mother the other day. I looked for her off-and-on for nearly an hour, but if she was there, I couldn't tell her apart from the columns, the shop windows, the lights reflected vividly in the wind-dappled water. How embarassing it is to admit that I can't tell my mother apart from a column.

The problem was that I was looking for her at night through a low-resolution webcam. Her drawings from that evening - and evidence that she really was there then, even if I couldn't discern her - is here.
owlfish: (Corn rows)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:50pm on 14/06/2008 under
Poor Iowa. Wracked by flood. Unless it's early in election season, it's rarely good news which brings Iowa to the front page of the BBC, alas.

I was in Des Moines for part of the 1993 flooding, the flood which overwhelmed the levees and flooded the city's waterworks. For two weeks, the city had no running water. In the lowest parts of town, people rowed through the streets. We were grateful when friends in West Des Moines (which has its own water treatment plant) invited us over to take showers. Electricity was erratic, so we packed suitcases and cleaned the house by candlelight. A couple of days later, we were in Venice, where the boats rowing down the rii were business as usual, not alarmingly high floods.

The summer's off to a bad start with the rain there. The weekend's due to be clear. May the weather continue to be mild, and keep down the rain below '93 levels.

Edited to add: More photos.
owlfish: (Beautiful Iowa Waltz)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:55pm on 04/01/2008 under ,
The sheer amount of attention which Iowa voters get pre-caucus is extravagant. We can all meet most of the candidates personally if we want to. Several times. Our answering machines are stuffed with messages and our mailboxes with fliers. Caucusing is very much a neighborhood event, and if your neighbors get behind a particular candidate enthusiastically, you'll know it. They'll call you to promote their candidate - as neighbors, they say, not as politics. And all of this happens a week to months before other states are ready to start dealing with the process. It's decadent not having the precedent of other states to help sway voters, but it's really quite silly just how much attention we get - especially this year.

And that's why Caucus! The Musical was written. It's the story of the fictional Wise family, statistically typical Iowas, who are the subject of a series of articles by a New York Times reporter. That attention means they become THE voters whom the leading four candidates of both political parties try to attract to their cause over the course of the months and days leading up to the caucuses. It's a funny take on everyone's worries, from the stresses of the system-gaming politicians to the stress of a family under too much attention. Along the way, we also meet the candidates' campaign managers, the waitress at the local café, and an out-of-job factory worker. Radio ads - too true and very wrong - for the candidates intersperse the acts. It's a plot with twists, with a lovely narrative tidiness, and not too much character development.

Staging was simple and effective, and costuming aided in keeping the cast straight, but light design and operation was occasionally ineffectual. Gina Gedlar, playing the waitress, was the vocal standout of the cast, with the rest generally delivering their songs solidly. Good song titling included "Anything for a Vote" and "The Tough Question Sidestep" (a song-and-dance number). At the moment, though, "One Happy Family" is the only song whose tune I can still remember. Tunes were accessible, with a live band accompanying, hidden behind the raised platform on the stage.

Best of all were the lines and lyrics, densely full of references to presidential candidates past, the importance of pronouncing Dubuque correctly, and skewering both major political parties. It's endearing without being cute, sometimes educational, and almost always irreverent.

The musical's on until January 13th (the day before the caucuses were originally going to be held!) at the State Historical Museum.
owlfish: (Corn rows)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:22pm on 03/01/2008 under
Last night, somewhere in southwest Missouri, we were sitting around trying to decide where to go for dinner. Our hosts had left the t.v. on, silently. I glanced over and there, to my great surprise, was a CNN reporter giving the camera a tour around my junior high school.

That's the junior high school where my precinct (and three others) met tonight to vote for presidential candidates. It was my first time caucusing. The date may be insanely early, but thanks to that, I could attend. Two Italian newspaper reporters walked over from our house with us to check out the Iowa caucus. The place was mad, crammed with people, far more than expected.

Our precinct had 554 people attend the party caucus. For the first time, we were pre-divided by candidates, although not actually counted until we'd clustered more distinctly into groups, with Edwards, Clinton, and Obama getting the bleachers and the "second tier" candidates clustering in groups at the front of the room. In the first round, the first tier candidates' supporters all formed viable groups. The rest did not. (15% of the attendees must support a candidate for their group to be viable. In our caucus, 83 people, were necessary to form a viable group.) Biden had something like 45, Richardson, 35, Kucinich 13, Undecided 16, and everyone else less. Most of the smaller groups went with Biden, which still wasn't viable, so most of them then joined Obama's camp. In the end, 5/9ths of our precinct's county delegates went to Obama.

It was a more entertaining process than I'd expected. There were chants and cheers and lots of t.v. cameras. I ran into lots of neighbors I hadn't seen in years. I had interesting conversations with people who happened to sit near me. C. came and took photos.

When we returned home, a message on our answering machine from a friend said we looked good on t.v. I don't know which channel it was.


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