Tag Archives: grinnell

Iowa girl done good in London! Pickle & Rye American sandwich shop

Met a talented young American couple at their cheerful sandwich shop in the London neighborhood of Mortlake yesterday. Val Miller grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, went to school at Central College in Pella, Iowa, fell in love with London during a semester abroad here (I did the same decades before.) While traveling around Europe, she met Alex Minor who grew up in Delaware, went to culinary school in San Francisco, worked in a restaurant in Italy. Three years ago, They opened their smart upscale shop called Pickle & Rye, serving large, well built, yummy sandwiches and are doing so well they are opening a second larger one nearby. The shop is decorated with U.S. tchotkes including mugs from Iowa and Des Moines on the tables. What a kick for Iowans in particular, and for my English friends who have visited us several times in Iowa. Did I mention the sandwiches are delicious? It is easy to see why they are doing well, given the quality of the food and their friendly Yank personalities. They are getting married soon in Grinnell and are determined to ride Ragbrai next summer, which I have been trying to convince my English friends to do for years. Word has it Richmond is home to the most Americans in London, but the customers I saw there were Brits.

On a crisp sunny day, we walked along narrow lanes lined with hearty flowers spilling over old brick walls to Barnes, which feels very much like a country village at times. we bought spelt flour, duck eggs, homemade hummus, crumpets and Florentines at the small outdoor Saturday market, then walked back up along the Thames to Mortlake Common where the local school was putting on a little fair. Then I feel asleep on a chair in my friends’ peaceful garden.

Later we went to an excellent Nepalese restaurant with an amusing name, The Greedy Buddha, in my old stomping ground of Fulham with my former neighbors from 34 years ago on Sullivan Road in Parsons Green, providing a little reminder of who I once was.




Filed under DINING, London, Uncategorized

What’s with the tree sweaters in Grinnell and Iowa City? Yarn bombing?

Some extra hands to help

During a recent visit to Grinnell, we were struck by the tree branches sporting colorfully hand-knitted sweaters on the campus’s “Peace Grove.”

A tree branch with sweater (or sock?) on the Grinnell College campusOn a cold winter day, the trees  looked bundled up and warm.


It took me a few minutes to remember where I’d last seen – and been intrigued by – trees wearing sweaters. It was in nearby Iowa City, of course. According to a recent story in Patch, the Iowa City sweaters are a public art project dating back to Nov. 2012 – the handiwork of dozens of volunteer knitters who hand knit “tree-huggers.”

Stitching a long sweater
Apparently this started downtown and spread to other parts of Iowa City – and maybe an hour west to Grinnell? Apparently it’s part of a new “yarn bombing” trend where people knit sweaters to decorate trees in public areas. (Seems like the wrong term for such a peaceful activity.) Here’s more from wikipedia: Yarn bombing, yarnbombing, yarnstorming, guerrilla knitting, urban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.

History (from wikipedia)

Yarn bombing examples have been recorded as early as May 2004 in Den Helder, Netherlands. In the U.S., in 2005 Texas knitters used their leftover and unfinished knitting projects, but it has since spread worldwide with custom pieces being created by artists.[1][3][2]

The start of this movement has been attributed to Magda Sayeg, 37, from Houston, who says she first got the idea in 2005 when she covered the door handle of her boutique with a custom made cozy.[4] Though artist Shanon Schollian was knitting stump cozies in 2002 for clear cuts in Oregon[5]. The Knit Knot Tree by the Jafagirls in Yellow Springs, Ohio gained international attention in 2008.

Yarn bombing’s popularity has spread throughout the world. In Oklahoma City the Collected Thread store yarn bombed the Plaza District of the city on September 9, 2011 to celebrate their three-year anniversary as a functioning shop.[10] and in Australia a group called the Twilight Taggers refer to themselves as ‘fibre artists’.[11] Joann Matvichuk of Lethbridge, Alberta founded International Yarnbombing Day, which was first observed on June 11, 2011.[12]

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Iowa City

Grinnell road trip : Robert Polidori photos,Prairie Canary cuisine!

Robert Polidori, Salles d'Afrique, Portrait of Louis XVI by Callet #2, Chateau d

Robert Polidori, Salles d’Afrique, Portrait of Louis XVI by Callet #2, Chateau de Versailles, 2007. Color photograph. Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College Art Collection.

Here’s a great way to beat the February blahs in Iowa – go to the fabulous Robert Polidori exhibit at Grinnell College’s Faulconer Gallery. We went yesterday and were bowled over by Polidori’s painting-like photographs of interiors of places as different as post-Chernobyl Ukraine, post-Katrina New Orleans and post-nothing Versailles. This is the second exhibit we’ve gone to at Faulconer Gallery and yet again, we walked away very impressed (and a little concerned that yet again we were the only people in the gallery on a very quiet Saturday afternoon on campus.)

We had an outstanding dinner at Prairie Canary, the new restaurant opened by Carly Groben (who made a name for herself in Des Moines with the restaurant Proof.)  The service was a little spotty but the food and ambiance was great. I only wish it was a little closer to Des Moines (it’s about an hour away.) We were glad to see the place was packed – at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night.

Located in a glass-fronted shop along Grinnell’s tidy Main Street, Prairie Canary looks distinctly contemporary with its plain exterior and tidy graphics, compared to the old brick facades of its neighbors (and the cool old movie theater The Strand, with its original arcade) but in a clean not garish way.

The interior is minimalist, with a long wood floor, pine wood tables, white designer chairs, neutral colored, bare walls – but it feels warmer, less spare than Proof, in part due to the huge old wood antique bar at the back with a big mirror that looks a bit Parisian. The pottery is by a local purveyor (among several listed on the menu) and is a nice off-white stoneware with a dark rim. Old fashioned glass jam jars are on each table, one with a little candle, another with a pretty well-chosen display of little green non-flowering plants and a narrow long cattail. All very tasteful but not too.

The food was very good – creative but not kooky, presented in an appealing, simple straightforward way. We started with an Asian sampler – a few crispy fried wontons/potstickers with “braised ginger pork and chives” inside, served with a sesame-soy dipping sauce; a very hearty spring roll stuffed with  shredded chicken and served with a chili-lime creamy sauce (I didn’t notice the advertised “mango-jalapeno” aspect);  two skewers with little chunks of perfectly seared and seasoned medium-rare beef. I had roasted pork tenderloin with tart cherries – which fortunately was not a huge slab of meat but small nice-cooked not-dry meat atop a thin slab of well-seasoned polenta (creamy on the inside, crisp on the outside) and a few pieces of also well-seasoned still-crunchy broccoli.  The sauce wasn’t creamy, as advertised, and I was glad. Instead, it was a light sauce – seemed to be made up mostly of the meat’s juices.  I’ve never been good at cooking pork (must be my Jewish heritage holding me back..) so I admire those who can – and many in Iowa can.

Carly Groben, owner of the Prairie Canary Restaurant

My husband had a fancier version of a Philly steak sandwich, deliciously salty tender meat with heaps of grilled peppers and onions, melted cheese in a perfect bun, crispy hand-cut fries served with the same chili-lime sauce as the potstickers  – again well-seasoned. For dessert, we shared a piece of the Canary Cake – a banana, pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting and candied pecans. We saw no sign of the actual banana or pineapple but  they may have been what contributed to the flavor and moistness of what appeared to be and tasted like a cross between spice cake and carrot cake. Delicious. The bar in the basement looked fun too. We will be back!

exterior of Prairie Canary in Grinnell (not the best shot, alas.)

exterior of Prairie Canary in Grinnell (not the best shot, alas.)

More on the Polidori exhibit:

Exhibition Date:

25 Jan 2013 – 17 Mar 2013

School Year:

2012 – 2013


Faulconer Gallery

For more than 25 years, Robert Polidori, the noted architectural and editorial photographer, has been photographing historic sites around the world as diverse as the Castro regime’s Havana, post-Katrina New Orleans, post-human Chernobyl, and the Palace of Versailles. This exhibition features 60 large-scale color photographs from these and other ongoing projects. A full-color, hardcover catalogue for the exhibition, co-published by the Faulconer Gallery and Steidl Publishers, Germany, is available.


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