Ryan: “Wanna start a coffee shop”
Liz: “Only if I get to bake things there”
Ryan: “Of course”
Liz: “Sure” ~ Arcadia.com
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Today starts the second in a series here at The Veggies .. one devoted to people living lives filled with creativity. Over the past few years, they're the kinds of people I've found myself fascinated with and gravitating toward. People who are a joy to be around .. they're so lit up about doing what they love.
I've started asking them questions. The more I ask .. the clearer it's become .. just how many options there really are for people (of all ages) to live a pretty incredible life.
I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I've enjoyed writing
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Liz Jeffrey and her husband Ryan are the geniuses behind Arcadia .. one of Ames, Iowa's most loved coffee shops. Home to “The slowest cup of coffee in town” Not only is their food comforting (mmmm .. Laksa soup and Sweet Potato Gnocchi) .. but the homey vibe makes you want to stay a while .. have a turtle bar .. and take a million Instagram pics
During the day .. you're likely to see Liz through the kitchen's big window. She'll be the one baking her signature breads and pastries .. and flashing you a welcoming smile. If you've yet to stop .. it's likely you've heard her name whispered with reverence at a party. That stunningly beautiful cake on the dessert table?
“It's a Liz cake .. you know”
Their story has a little something for everyone. A restaurant or coffee shop owner? Words of wisdom. A patron? How to be a better customer. A coffee lover? The secrets to a better brew. A baker? Tips and tricks for baking success. Somewhere in between? One never knows where they'll find nuggets of inspiration
Today .. in Part I of a week-long series .. they chat about moving to Ames .. early experiences in the culinary world .. and her parent's funny reaction when she told them they were getting married
How did the two of you meet?
Liz: My brother and I are four years apart .. so I was coming to the University of Iowa as he was working on leaving. One night when I was a sophomore (and Ryan was a super-senior) my brother said: “Hey .. I'm going to a friend's cookout .. do you want to come?”
I saw Ryan and thought “He's kinda cute .. I might stalk him later” He promises me he would have stalked me too .. but that's not how the story went
Ryan: She prefers to not acknowledge that part of the story
Liz: When I got home I searched the University's website. Because he has two first names .. I wasn’t sure I was going to find him .. but eventually I did and emailed him first “Hey do you want to hang out again?”
But then he invited me to a movie
— — —
What brought you to Ames?
I grew up in the Quad Cities and Ryan grew up here in Ames. When I graduated .. I knew I wasn't going to continue in Biology. I didn't have the patience for it .. didn't think I was smart enough to do it .. didn't want to get my Ph.D.. and I certainly wasn't going to write a thesis.
So I got a job at Bochner Chocolate
Ryan also knew Neuroscience wasn't in his long-term plans. So I said “Hey .. my boyfriend needs a job too” (He got better hours!)
Not long after .. Ryan's dad offered him a job. He'd always hoped one of the boys would come back home and work for the family company .. but to date .. neither had shown much interest. We'd always liked Ames. When we told people in Iowa City they said
“But you're going to Ames on purpose? Like for real .. forever?”
How did you go from biology graduate to culinary student?
At first, we thought “Maybe we can both work for the family company”
But words of wisdom from his father prevailed “It's not a good idea. If you want to start your own business together .. that's fine. But we can't hire you both. It never works well”
I'd always known I wanted to go to culinary school. So I put my name on the list .. and worked at a bank while I waited. It was a great job .. I got to dress up and they offered benefits. (Because we didn't get married until five years later)
Ryan: We were under the philosophy that our relationship was none of the business of the state or any other agency. So there was no reason to get married
At some point the math made sense. So I told my parents at Thanksgiving .. to which they smiled “Can we get some more mashed potatoes, please?” A few weeks later I reminded them “Hey .. you're coming for the wedding right?”
“What do you mean? We didn't think you were serious”
— — —
What was it like getting started in the food industry?
The culinary program took two and a half years to finish. That's a long time. We honestly had no idea what we were doing. I'm surprised we didn't poison anyone
I always knew I wanted my own place. We both have an entrepreneurial spirit .. and being a worker bee just isn't part of my DNA. That being said .. while in culinary school I had to get a job .. so I went to work for a cafe-style fast food place.
It was hard work at minimum wage .. and in many ways, I learned what I didn't want to do. You had to be quick at something .. and you had to be very sharp. Because there were at least nine or ten orders .. and you had to have them all consolidated. You were timed. I made it six months
Eventually, I got a job at The Cafe. One of the guys I went to culinary school with worked there .. and he got me an interview in the bakery
I worked there two and a half years .. which is a long time. I learned a lot and was really happy. But eventually, I began to contemplate moving on
( .. to be continued .. )
My love affair with Laksa began the night of their soft-opening. While everyone else tried dishes of grilled octopus .. kefta .. and harissa lamb ragu .. I ordered soup
It was amazing .. and has been my go-to ever since
This is a spicy noodle soup .. featuring springy rice noodles swimming in a fragrant coconut broth .. spiced with laksa paste, lemongrass, chilis, garlic, and ginger. A medley of chicken, shrimp, and tofu make the soup hearty and filling .. without feeling heavy
Added are the madness of garnishes .. from just a few rings of scallions to caramelized shallots, scallions, chilis, bean sprouts, cilantro, and lime juice .. for a hint of sour at the very end
A few notes about the recipe
Homemade laksa paste is truly wonderful .. but you can also use premade
Most recipes call for using all rice noodles .. although traditionally the soup is served with a combination of vermicelli and Hokkien noodles
Tofu puffs are spongy and a bit funny looking .. and are wonderful for soaking up the coconut broth. I found mine at our Asian grocery in the refrigerated aisle. They're more about the laksa experience rather than the flavor
Laksa is typically served with bean sprouts and either seafood .. or shredded chicken. Other additions include any combination of fried shallots, sliced fresh scallions, sliced fresh red chilies, cilantro, and lime wedges
ps: To read more about Laksa .. NYTimes
~ Adapted from Bon Appetit
- Laksa Paste
- 3 dried red chiles (such as guajillo, Anaheim, or New Mexico, stemmed, halved, seeded)
- 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 4 red Thai chiles, chopped
- 3 medium shallots, chopped
- 3 lemongrass stalks, tough outer layers removed, finely grated
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- 4 tsp Thai shrimp paste
- 1 Tbsp ground coriander
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- 2 14-ounce cans coconut milk, divided
- 3 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 12 tofu puffs, cut in half (optional)
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 8 oz wide rice vermicelli
- 2 tsp palm sugar or light brown sugar (optional)
- fine grain sea salt
- Bean sprouts
- Lime wedges
- Crispy fried shallots
- Finely sliced red chilli
- Laksa Paste
- Place dried chiles in a small heat-proof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened (~ 12–15 minutes).
- Drain and set aside
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high, add the ginger and garlic, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred and garlic is just tender (~ 6-8 minutes)
- Transfer to a clean surface and peel the garlic
- To the bowl of a food processor, add the reserved chiles, Thai chiles, shallots, lemongrass, oil, shrimp paste, coriander, curry powder, cumin, ginger, and garlic
- Puree until smooth (it’s okay if a few flecks of chile remain)
- In a large saucepan over medium-high, cook the laksa paste, stirring often, until it has slightly darkened and begins to slide around the saucepan when stirred (~ 2 minutes)
- Add half of the coconut milk and continue to cook, stirring often, until reduced by half (~ 4–6 minutes)
- Add chicken stock, tofu puffs (if using), and the remaining coconut milk.
- Bring to a boil and add the chicken.
- Reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender (~ 20–25 minutes)
- Transfer chicken to a plate and let cool; shred meat
- Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
- Add chicken and sugar (if using) to the soup; season with sea salt.
- Divide soup and noodles among bowls.
- Serve with toppings