Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page
For the fifth year, the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Winter Market was held this weekend in Capital Square and Nollen Plaza. It’s an opportunity for shoppers like me to buy our favorite local foods as we settle in for the winter, and it’s an opportunity for vendors to sell their wares in a guaranteed high-traffic venue.
Vendors sell a wide variety of products: cookies and cinnamon rolls, soaps and jams, carved wooden Christmas decorations, late-season produce, bread and cheese, flowers and wreaths, nuts, wine, pasta – you name it. I discovered a couple of vendors last year who sold packaged herbs that you add to sour cream or cream cheese to make simple dips and cheese balls. I think these vendors probably sell at the regular farmers’ market, too, but these products really only interest me at the holidays when I have to come up with something simple and portable to take to our family gatherings in Kansas City. Last year’s cheese balls got rave reviews, so I stocked up on more for this year.
Capital Square (400 Locust Street) is really too small and not exactly set up for this kind of event. Vendors are located around the perimeter of the facility’s two floors, and it’s not unusual to encounter impenetrable traffic jams, not to mention scarily overcrowded escalators. But it’s become a tradition for me, like the regular farmers’ market, so I make the trek downtown in November and December and fight my way to the Maytag Dairy and Frisian Farms cheese booths, the South Union Bakery booth, the Beaverdale Confections booth (for gourmet marshmallows and hot cocoa), and, of course, the Strudl Haus booth for yummy Dutch letters.
If you missed this one, there’s one more Winter Market Dec. 17-18.
I was working in Seattle for three days this week, so I tried to explore the city a little bit since I had never been there before. The two things I really wanted to do were to go to the famous Pike Place Market (where they throw the fish) and find a really funky Seattle coffee shop.
The first thing I learned, at lunch on Tuesday, was that just because you’re in Seattle, it doesn’t mean the coffee is going to be good. In fact, the coffee they served in the diner where we ate lunch was pretty nasty.
Not surprisingly, the weather was nasty, too. The temperatures were in the low 40s the whole time we were there, with strong winds and rain to make it feel completely miserable. Umbrellas didn’t help, because they turned inside out, so I spent three days with very attractive Hood Hair from wearing my raincoat the whole time.
We went to Pike Place Market early one morning. The market is pretty cool, although I’m not sure who really shops there. I enjoyed the neon signs and the mix of vendors. The fish throwers are famous, but that part just felt so touristy…I was not a huge fan.
In the market area, I ducked in to a Seattle’s Best Coffee shop and ordered a latte to warm myself up. The shop was cute in a trying-to-be-cute sort of way, and the baristas were friendly (and also cute, as if cuteness is a prerequisite). It definitely was not the grungy, Kurt Cobain-worthy coffee shop I was looking for.
A few more blocks past the market is Pioneer Square, a historic district with art galleries, antiques, bookstores, restaurants, and bars. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, it’s really not a square, and it’s home to a lot of homeless people and odd sorts. The streets were fairly quiet when we were there in the morning, so it wasn’t threatening, but I’d be wary about going there at night. I liked the architecture and I’m sure the shops would have been fun, but I was with my photographer/friend Jim Heemstra and he is not one for shopping.
As we traveled the city to our photo-shoot locations, I kept an eye out for the city’s most sincere and authentic coffee shop. Downtown, everything seemed too upscale. In the areas around the universities, I didn’t see anyplace that oozed the ambience I was looking for. I actually drank one cup of coffee at the University of Washington bookstore café, but it was in a paper cup and nothing to get very excited about.
At one point during our visit, the rain stopped long enough for us to take a walk in Discovery Park. The walking paths took us through rainforest, along a driftwood-stewn beach, and down to a lighthouse. We also got to see some breathtaking views of Puget Sound.
On the way to the airport Thursday morning, we attempted to find a neighborhood called Georgetown that Where magazine described as “beautifully gritty.” It’s not an area that’s easy to find, we learned, since it’s wedged in a triangular-shaped area with a rail yard on one side, an airport on another side, and the freeway on the third side. Trains, planes, and automobiles, indeed. I was ready to give up twice and go on to Sea-Tac, but Jim did a lot of his famous U-turns and persisted until we came upon a scroungy, industrial couple of blocks filled with the most wonderful little shops. There was a coffeehouse called Ground Control, presumably a nod to the nearby airport, and around the corner another one called All City Coffee. That’s the one we chose, and it was utterly delightful in a minimalist, grungy, real-Seattleites-with-lots-of-piercings-hang-out-here kind of way. I had the most awesome latte, served in a brown mug, with one of those little foam designs on top. A coffee-lover’s mecca! And the perfect ending to my trip to Seattle.
The Wild Rose Independent Film Festival came to town last weekend. Held at the Fleur (my favorite movie theater in Des Moines), it ran from Nov. 4-11 and featured short films produced by students and other independent filmmakers, feature-length films, lectures, panel discussions, an acting workshop, and more.
This seemed like a lot of fun, but the only day I could make it down was yesterday – the last day of the festival. It still seemed cool, because they were screening three feature-length films in the New Iowa Film Showcase Series. The first one started at 4:30 p.m. – awfully early, if you work an 8-5 job – but we made it there in time.
The film showing at 4:30 was The Experiment. I remember when it was being filmed in Des Moines because Adrien Brody was in a war-protest scene with hundreds of local extras, and it was filmed near the capital so it got a lot of news coverage – but I didn’t really know much about the storyline. I was actually more interested in the later films – one called Haunting Villisca about the unsolved Villisca axe murders of 1912, which you may remember reading about in this very blog, and one called A Million Spokes, a RAGBRAI documentary.
When we got there, I was rather horrified to learn that each film was going to cost us $10 – which seems like a whole lot considering the normal matinee price is $6.50 and regular evening shows are $8.50. I was hoping we could view all three films for $10, but nope.
At that point I wasn’t about to walk away, so we paid for two tickets and went in. I think there were five other people in the theater, all of whom looked to be retired. Before the show began, a woman from the film festival welcomed us, talked about the film, and showed us a trailer for another film shot in Iowa – Molly’s Girl.
And then The Experiment began, and I can’t begin to tell you how horrible it was. Dave said afterwards that he has a pretty high tolerance level for bad movies and this was one of the worst films he’d ever seen.
Let me just say that this film went directly to video, and there’s a reason for that. (Come to think of it, perhaps the fact that they showed it in the middle of the afternoon should have been my first clue.) The basic plot involves a group of men who volunteer to participate in a psychological study that takes place in a mock prison in the middle of a cornfield. The subjects will be paid $1,000 for each day of the two-week experiment – that is, if they make it to the end.
Think of it as Lord of the Flies For Grownups, Trapped In a Concrete Building.
I objected to the extreme violence, yes, but more than that, I objected to the ridiculous storyline and the evolution of these characters from mild-mannered guys to full-on sociopathic cretins in something like three days. It was totally laughable.
I would have laughed more if I hadn’t been robbed of my ten dollars. When the film was over, we decided we were NOT going to take a chance on the second film about Villisca, even though the subject was interesting to me. The running time was more than 2 hours – way too long for “paranormal thriller” about a haunted house.
We decided to salvage what was left of the evening and go to dinner. On the way there, we wondered aloud why two such excellent actors (Brody and Forest Whitaker, the film’s other “star”) would take on such terrible roles. Both men have won best actor Oscars (Brody for The Pianist and Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland). The only thing we could think of was, like their characters in The Experiment, these guys were told they could make $1,000 a day if they made this film. Or something like that.
Anyway, we headed downtown Des Moines to eat dinner, which is something we rarely get to do on a weeknight. We went to Django, a cozy French restaurant on 10th Street. I had been there once before for happy hour (a great deal) but never for dinner. I thought it was amazing. We started out with fresh-baked twists of bread with big slabs of real butter while we looked at the menu – a menu that actually had many vegetarian selections. I’m not used to having that many choices, so it took me a long time to decide. Would I have wild mushroom crepes? The grilled cheese with white cheddar and swiss on South Union bread? The daily special veggie pot pie? Or just a wine flight and cheese plate? I ended up with the spinach and goat cheese ravioli tossed with fresh thyme, tomato and champagne beurre blanc. And a generous glass of Oregon Pinot Noir (not cheap, but the irony of that $10 glass of wine was not lost on me. Good wine trumps bad films every time.) I was hoping to have room for dessert, because the dessert list looked spectacular, but alas, I was too full from the bread and pasta.