Food for the Heart and Soul

Greg and I love to eat. It’s been an important part of our relationship. Greg first tried to woo me with pumpkin pie made completely from scratch and then with the excuse that we try making palak paneer together, and he has continued to woo me with homemade chocolate chip pancakes on many a Saturday morning.

Food has been a form of exploration. Like many a young hipster couple, we have discovered the joy of making and eating homemade pizza. Greg has learned to make delicious homemade bread (including Hawaiian bread). I have made homemade tortillas and my own veggie & chicken stocks. He and I have even tested the waters of canning & preserving and cheese making.

Food is a way to more closely live out values of sustainability, justice and community. Greg and I try as much as possible to buy seasonal produce from local organic farms. We both think it is worth a few extra dollars to know the farms where our meat, eggs, milk, & produce come from. Greg and I feel that it’s important to invest in our neighbors, support a smaller environmental footprint, and feed our bodies with healthy food.

Lastly, food also brings us together. It can be a quiet moment in the midst of a hectic week in which we can talk, laugh, or simply be together. Or it can be a meal shared in fellowship with friends and family.

I say all that to illustrate all the ways Greg and I want the food to represent who we are as a couple and as individuals — a meal to bring a community of friends and family together that is sourced locally and tastes delicious.

I thought this would be a difficult task. Originally, I assumed that caterers in Western Iowa wouldn’t be interested in using local ingredients or that I would be left trying to track down where to find produce. Greg and I had even considered trying to figure out how to feed a host ourselves to make it work. Much like finding the venue, planning the meal for the reception has been a journey in discovering the not-so-hidden gems of Western Iowa.

It started with my grandpa mentioning that his good friend’s daughter Danelle had recently started an organic farm One Farm. I hadn’t even known there was an organic farm so close to home, so I was excited when Danelle linked me up with a second organic farmer Ellen who owns and operates, with her husband Daniel, Pin Oak Place an organic farm and CSA. And as fate would have it, Ellen just so happens to run a consulting business Farmtable Procurement which helps consumers source local foods for events, plan menus, and coordinate with caterers. Bingo!

Ellen, and her adorable newborn son Xavier, kindly met with Greg, my mom, and me when we were back at Christmas. Ellen asked about our favorite vegetables to which we listed a whole host of veggies (because how can you really pick a fav?) and our vision for the meal (which for Greg included roast hog), and she offered advice and suggestions based on her experience. This meeting was followed by Ellen emailing us recipes which we tested out in our kitchen here in Princeton, NJ and all of us bouncing off ideas. Ellen also connected us with Tracey at Main Street Market a caterer who Ellen has worked with in the past and who just so happen to recently buy a new grill on which they can roast the hog.


My go at the kale and golden beet salad

And the final result? A menu that has our mouths watering & one that will hopefully have our guests excited:

  • Appetizers of 3 local cheeses, local grapes, and local bread
  • Sides of sweet corn salad, kale & golden beet salad, fresh watermelon, roasted sweet potatoes, and mac n’ cheese made with local cheeses
  • Main dishes of roast hog and confit byaldi for the vegetarians & vegans

Picture Perfect

Before meeting Greg, I had already dreamed about a wedding near Lake View, Iowa, where my parents have their cabin. I have long been excited about introducing my non-Iowan friends to the charms of Iowa, which include bucolic scenery, cheap drinks at the bar, and friendly people; and I thought that a wedding weekend that included boating, swimming, and water skiing seemed pretty fun to me. (Thankfully, Greg was also excited about this plan.) But I had never quite figured out where to host the ceremony and reception.

An option that is no longer open was the Lakewood Ballroom. A place with a long history, many kin and friends remember partying and dancing, back in the day, at one of the Lakewood Ballroom’s (it burned down several times). Sadly, the current building had fallen into disrepair and was not the most attractive of options.

Lake View has charming stone piers, where a family friend had previously been married, but the space is not big enough for a large wedding and still wouldn’t solve the problem of where to host a reception.

stone pier

photo source: Lake View & Black Hawk Lake Facebook Page

We had also considered the Chautauqua Building in Sac City, Iowa. I have to admit that I had never heard about the Chautauqua movement until I came across this building. Built in 1908, this auditorium once held lectures, concerts, and preachers. The building has an interesting history and an elegant rustic beauty both of which intrigued me.

chautauqua building

photo source:

At the end of the day, we found our location because of Greg. We were biking around the lake with my parents just weeks after getting engaged. Greg had wanted to stop at the hotel to find out about reserving a block of rooms. I, in an attempt to avoid the inevitable wedding planning, resisted. However, my parents wanted to stop and look at a cabin under construction across from the hotel and just then I needed to use the restroom. So there we were at the hotel talking with the staff about reserving a block of rooms and how we didn’t yet have a venue, when the staff person suggested Prairie Pedlar. My mom, who had been there ages ago, said ‘that’s it!’ and off we went to go have a look.

Prairie Pedlar really is picture perfect with 7 acres of beautiful gardens, a renovated Sears-Roebuck barn (yes, back in the day you could purchase a barn kit from Sears), a one room schoolhouse, and a chicken coop. The couple who owns it bought the farm in the 80s in a bit of disrepair and have turned it into a beautiful garden where they sell flowers and plants, host events, and host weddings. We feel lucky to have found such a lovely, enchanting venue. Now here’s to hoping that the weather cooperates!

photo source: