Traveling for work, fresh produce

When I started working for The Gazette in January 2008, I was the community reporter.

My job was to write feature stories about interesting people and places in Eastern Iowa. It was a broad job description, but one I enjoyed because I was forced to leave the comfort of the newsroom behind and into small towns for stories.

The monthly Coffee Town feature was my favorite part of the job – and the most nerve-racking. Long before I was hired, the paper’s editors had identified 12 communities to feature in 2008. Each Coffee Town section was combined of an overall feature, a personality profile and a third, often quirky, story.

It was my job to find them.

That’s how I ended up hanging out with a group of retired farmers in a grain elevator in Fairfax, watching a family prepare Thanksgiving turkeys in Amana and being questioned by a police officer in Quasqueton. (I tended to just walk around towns if the weather was nice, looking for people to interview. I guess that did look pretty suspicious.)

Sometimes I arrived at a town with an idea of the stories I wanted to pursue. Other times I winged it and hoped for the best. My visit to Marengo nearly five years ago came with this suggestion: Visit Hillcrest Market.

That tip was shared by at least six people. Buy some asparagus was the other suggestion.

I did meet Karen Olson during my time in Marengo and I ended up purchasing a copy of “Iowa’s Garden Market Cookbook: Recipes and Ideas from Hillcrest Market.” This cookbook has become my go-to guide when I visit farmers markets and come home with a lot of produce I did not plan to purchase.

Karen’s recipe for Asparagus and Lemon Butter is one of my favorite recipes. This is a side dish that goes well with chicken, beef or a sandwich on those nights it’s too hot to use the oven.


  • 1 pound fresh asparagus spears (cleaned)
  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Cook asparagus covered in a small amount of boiling salted water for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender. While asparagus is cooking, prepare sauce.

In a small saucepan, melt butter. Blend in lemon juice, peel and mushrooms. Cook stirring frequently until mushrooms are heated through.

Drain asparagus. Arrange on a serving platter. Pour sauce over asparagus. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Makes 6 servings

Source: Iowa’s Garden Market Cookbook: Recipes and Ideas from Hillcrest Market by Dick and Karen Olson (Brennan Printing; 1st printing May 2000; 2nd printing March 2006)

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