Tag Archives: Cedar Rapids

Rod Blum is Scared of His Constituents

Rod Blum will not meet face-to-face with his constituents in a public forum in the largest city in his district.  Why?  I am guessing because he is scared of what his constituents will say to him in a face-to-face meeting.

Instead of actually speaking to the people he is supposed to represent in Congress, Blum will speak to an event sponsored by the Iowa Conservative Union on April 12th.  The event is to take place at a Godfather’s Pizza—Herman Cain tie in perhaps—located in the Town and Country Shopping Center in Cedar Rapids.  You can see where it is located here.  If you would like to attend here is a link to the event’s Facebook page.

Apparently, these events held by the Iowa Conservative Union have been open to the public but this event is going to be held under an extreme vetting process.  Extreme vetting has turned into the right wing’s new catchphrase for “making sure we keep put people who might not like our extreme views.”  Or it can mean “keeping out the brown people.”  Depends on the circumstance.

As usual Rod Blum’s website shows no public events because he is a coward and does not want to face his constituents save for friendly audiences screened for his approval.  It is ironic that the right wing makes such a big deal about so-called safe spaces and trigger warnings considering how incapable their elected representatives are to hearing anything but carefully selected viewpoints that magically agree with their world view.

Rod Blum is a disgraceful representative of the first district because he does not actually represent the people of the first district.  He represents Rod Blum and a small coterie of like-minded individuals.  2018 cannot come soon enough.

Is it Time for “No Show” Town Halls?

Given that members of Congress, usually Republicans who do not want to answer questions about a far right agenda that does not mesh well with actual human beings back home, are reticent to schedule town halls for fear that they will look like schmucks maybe it is time for constituents to schedule their own town halls.

A group of progressives in Fort Collins has scheduled a town hall to talk about Senator Cory Gardner.  The organizers invited Gardner and members of his staff to attend, but they do not expect any official attendance.

We should do the same thing in Iowa.  Here in Iowa’s first district Representative Rod Blum has only scheduled some office hours in small towns and avoiding the larger, albeit more liberal, large cities of Cedar Rapids or Waterloo.

Senator Chuck Grassley is little better.  After spending a career making a big deal of visiting all 99 Iowa counties in the so-called “full Grassley” he seems to be going out of his way to avoid constituents in his most recent town halls.  Look at the list of towns: Hampton, Iowa Falls, Garner, Charles City, and Parkersburg.  Really going out of your way to meet the people, eh Chuck?

Are members of Congress so embarrassed by their own legislative agenda and the behavior of the Trump administration that they are unwilling to meet with constituents?  Looks like that is the case.

Winners and Losers in the Search for Lactose Free Living, So Far

It’s been an interesting month or so since my wife and I discovered that our daughter was lactose intolerant. The most unfortunate side effect of finding out this fact is that a seven year old has developed some attachments to certain foodstuffs that she can no longer eat. Parmesan cheese anyone?

Many trips to the New Pioneer Food Coop have turned into treasure hunts for dairy-free or, at the very least, lactose free versions of foods you normally associate with the dairy aisle. Naturally, there have been some winners and losers sitting on the shelf.

Winners:

Vegan American Cheese—We do not really eat American cheese on anything other than grilled burgers and grilled cheese. It’s kind of a one-off menu item, but those grilled cheeses are damn important when it is six o’clock on a weekday and you do not have anything in the refrigerator for dinner. Granted, American cheese of the dairy variety seems to defy logic as a dairy product given its highly processed nature.

Soy Ice Cream—There was nothing quite like the look on my daughter’s face when she realized that she was not going to be relegated to fruit pops and those bizarre ice pouches. I think that we probably spent more than $20 picking up a sampler pack of different soy based frozen treats. It’s the little things that can really make a difference.

Vegan Carrot Cake—This is a New Pioneer Food Coop bakery item, so your availability may be limited. My daughter went nuts for this slice of carrot heaven. She is requesting this as her birthday cake in December.

Need Pizzeria’s Vegan Cheese Option—I do not know if it is soy or rice or nut based, but my daughter devoured a personal size pizza the other day at this new establishment. Located in downtown Cedar Rapids, Need Pizzeria will be getting my business due to the cheese option and a great selection of local beers.

Losers:

Vegan Cream Cheese—My daughter loves cream cheese and bagels. Instead of a sandwich in her school lunch she would like a bagel with cream cheese. The vegan substitute was just not working.

Still Looking:

Parmesan Cheese Alternative—Please, tell me there is something that I can use to replace the Parmesan cheese in my daughter’s diet. She may actually choose to endure the upset stomach in order to enjoy her yummy cheese.

What is this Stuff: Cobra Verde

The downside to spending a lot of time wandering the grocery store with your daughter looking for lactose free items is that you end up with things in your cart you may have never thought about buying before. Case in point:

Cobra Verde

In the refrigerated section at New Pioneer Coop in Cedar Rapids I came across this little bottle of Cobra Verde. What is Cobra Verde you ask?

It’s an all-natural energy drink with a pretty simple ingredient profile: water, green coffee extract, citrus, ginger, and cane sugar. It happens to be made in Iowa City just a short drive from my home in Cedar Rapids so that makes it local as well.

As a die-hard coffee loyalist and someone who has never been a fan of energy drinks—I don’t want wings, honestly—I was hesitant to crack open the lid and take a drink. Silly me. This stuff is awesome. It does, however, pack a heavy caffeine kick so if you are drinking this at some other time than early in the morning be advised that your sleeping rituals might be disturbed. I drank a bottle after a late afternoon bike ride to Urbana and spent the early evening running around like a meth head.

Do you want to know how to make Cobra Verde even better? Mix equal parts Cobra Verde and carbonated water from a Sodastream for a bubbly delight. It cuts down on the caffeine jolt and mutes some of the flavors, but there is just something fun about bubbles. I am a sucker for bubbles.

If you happen to be in eastern Iowa or Chicago Cobra Verde Retailers.

Backpocket Brewing NewBo Pils

Backpocket Brewing is getting to be known as the brewery of choice for collaboration beers. Recently, they have released a Swabian Hall Smoked Brown and Raygun IPA with the store of the same name in Des Moines. Today’s offering is NewBo Pils:

NewBo Neighborhood Brew

A while back the NewBo City Market, which rose out of the 2008 flood to become a hub of activity in the revitalized NewBo Arts district in downtown Cedar Rapids, collaborated with Millstream Brewery out of the Amana Colonies to make a pale ale. I wrote about the beer here.

This offering is a different beast. Instead of an ale, NewBo Pils is a pilsner. Pilsners fall under the lager family of beers which forms the other side of the beer world along with ales. Now, this beer is interesting in that pilsners are a traditionally Czech style of beer and the NewBo City Market is across the Cedar River from Czech Village. See the connection?

Pilsners, particularly summer pils, are supposed to be a crisp beer that you can drink as the temperature stays elevated into the evening. Served cold these are the ultimate lawnmower beers.

NewBo Pils pretty much nails that description.  For me, pilsners have an aftertaste that I somewhat disagree with and that I cannot place accurately.  It’s not the smokey or piney aftertaste of an IPA or the lingering mouthfeel of a high gravity porter.  It’s just something off.  It could be NewBo Pils or Natty Light.  The off aftertaste is present.

Here is the thing, pilsners are the style of beer that was bastardized by the mega-brewers to produce things like Miller Lite and Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you spent any time in a basement in college drinking beer from a keg you know the fundamental taste profile of a pilsner. Please do not say pilsner lager either. It’s just like saying tuna fish. A pilsner by definition is a lager.

Until someone comes up with something really daring or different a well done pilsner is going to taste like a well done Budweiser. This is not damning or faint praise, but it is the reality of the style. Now that lagers are the new frontier of craft brewing according to some and brewers are getting their feet underneath them from a technical perspective given the intricacies of brewing lagers there may be some exciting new beers to try that really push the envelope.

However, until that time comes to pass craft lagers are going to taste like well-done examples of America’s favorite style of beer:

Two Mug Purchase

Reimagining Tater Tot Casserole

Winter is a great time to dig into unassuming comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or chili slow cooked all day into sweet submission. If you have children like mine than you have run head first into the problem known as tater tot casserole.

Sometime during their formative years someone exposed them to this strange dish of tater tots, cheap ground beef, and cream of something soup. If you slavishly follow a recipe on the internet you will be left eating a 9×13 pan of sodium enhanced flavors brought to you by the giants of industrial agriculture.

The first thing to eliminate was any ground beef that might contain the joys of pink slime or be dosed with antibiotics or just be nasty. This was easy. On my weekly run to pick up a loaf of jalapeno cheddar bread at NewPi in Cedar Rapids I ordered up one and a half pounds of all-natural ground beef. I chose the fattier product because I intended to sauté some vegetables in the drippings.

The other major quibble I had with most tater tot casserole recipes is the use of canned cream of goop soup. Seriously, who thinks cream of mushroom or chicken or celery or onion tastes much better than a jar of processed cheese? The stuff is basically a gelatinous salt delivery mechanism. The easy answer was to replace a couple of cans of condensed soup with a rich béchamel sauce. This is one of my go to sauces when I want something creamy as a base. It comes together in a few minutes and I always have the ingredients around.

A major way I added flavor without resorting to the salt shaker was to use very flavorful white cheddar. A little bit of white cheddar goes a long way in adding a shot of flavor.

I really wanted to do something about the inclusion of Ore-Ida tater tots. Like, I really did not want to give my money to a monster industrial food conglomerate like H.J. Heinz, but Ore-Ida’s tots are the best option. I have tried every bag of overpriced, supposedly better for me, options and every time the result is the same: buck up and by the tots from Ore-Ida. Damn.

In the end, it tasted like ‘Murica!

IMG_0199

Reimagined Tater Tot Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 32 ounce package tater tots of your choice
  • 1 ½ pounds all-natural ground beef
  • 1 decent sized onion diced
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2 cups béchamel sauce
  • Shredded white cheddar to personal preference
  • Salt and pepper to personal preference

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Brown ground beef and break it up into small chunks; Try not to make it into chili sized chunks because you want a little bit of size
  • While meat is browning, toss in diced onion and cook until softened
  • Add corn and peas; Cook until warm
  • Remove from heat and incorporate béchamel
  • Pour into 9×13 pan
  • Top evenly with tater tots; One 32 ounce bag should roughly cover an entire 9×13 pan with a few stragglers stacked on top
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until tater tots are crispy
  • Scatter shredded cheese on top and bake for an additional 5 minutes
  • Enjoy

Total prep time, including making a béchamel sauce from scratch, is about thirty minutes with a thirty five minute cook time. So, you are in and out in under an hour.

Thoughts on the Arrival of New Pioneer Coop

After much hand wringing, on the part of Iowa City residents, and pleading, from Cedar Rapids residents, New Pioneer Coop decided to open a store in Cedar Rapids.

For those of you who do not live in this area there is a tension between the two communities that resembles the “town versus gown” tension in college towns. Iowa City, where the University of Iowa is located, would be the “gown” and Cedar Rapids, where more people live and work, would be the “town.” It’s an imperfect analogy, but it starts to get at how each city generally views the other.

However, not serving a community just thirty minutes up the road seems silly and the membership of New Pi finally saw the light. The new store, in the old Fin & Feather location at 3338 Center Point Road NE, opened in early December 2014. I wanted to wait and give my impressions a moment to ferment.

The location is great. It’s conveniently off of I-380 and near the north side of town where a large chunk of commercial activity, not to mention the city’s two largest employers, resides. The best part is that it’s just a few turns of the crank away from the Cedar River Trail that connects to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and the Hoover Nature Trail. I have spoken at length about the gem that this trail system represents and the more businesses that locate near the trail system the better.

The bread is amazing. Now coming from a centralized bakehouse to meet the demand of three stores and commercial contracts, the bread has maintained its well-known quality. I highly recommend the jalapeno cheddar bread. Trust me, I stalk the 2 PM Saturday delivery like a paparazzo. It barely lasts into the next day. A dry-hopped IPA and a slice of this bread are the perfect evening snack.

The prepared foods are also great. The kitchen staff is headed up by Matt Steigerwald who was the owner/chef of the highly regarded Lincoln Cade in Mount Vernon. He is assisted by former co-worker at the Lincoln Café and former owner of Braise Company Shawn Price. It will be very interesting to see what these two cook up, literally and figuratively, as the store gets its feet underneath itself in the near term. I also tend to have an addiction to the Cashew on a Hot Tin Roof sandwich. I have a problem.

Given that it is winter in eastern Iowa I am going to wait to pass judgment on the produce section. The store seems to be laid out in such a way to add produce as seasonal items become available. The local Honeycrisp apples were delicious.

Two areas that were underwhelming to me were the beer and coffee selection. I am a beer snob, but I had hoped to see something different on the shelves. It really felt like a chopped down version of the craft beer case at any local HyVee. The bulk coffee selection underwhelmed as well. The selection was limited—no bulk decaf option—and there seemed to be a real lack of variety.

Work is not yet completed outside. This is the product of living in Iowa where the winter stalls out construction for months and the legacy of having to remove a pest control office that used to sit in what is now the parking lot. When completed the parking lot is going to feature a bioswale.

The bioswale will slow runoff and allow runoff from the parking lot to filter through vegetation and compost before hitting any streams. This is a key improvement because a critical urban waterway runs along the Cedar River Trail just to the west of the store. Given the city’s history with flooding and the importance of urban waterways, a freakin’ runs right through downtown, I hope that bioswales become more common across the area.

There is a whole lot of positive happening with New Pi’s Cedar Rapids location. I consider the initial store layout and product offerings to be a test case that will evolve over time as local tastes and preferences come into play. Evolution is good.

NOTE: I am a member of New Pi, so my opinion is not totally unbiased.