Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2006 | People

Comfort Food: Ann Crowley

By Shelbi Thomas

Ann Crowley may have written the book on Iowa bed and breakfasts, but that doesn't mean she's ready to start one of her own.

After months traveling around the state doing research and photography for her self-published Favorite Recipes from Iowa's Bed and Breakfasts, Crowley, 77PhD, appreciates all the time and effort involved in looking after guests. "I learned that innkeepers usually last only five or six years before they burn out," she says. "They're hard-working, dedicated, and caring people who enjoy pampering their guests."

Crowley's book merges three of her passions—food, photography, and travel—and draws upon her long-standing knowledge and some more recently acquired skills. Decades after retiring as director of nutrition services for University Hospitals and Clinics, Crowley still works as a dietitian and returned to school in 1996 to become a professional photographer. "I have a background in the science of nutrition, so it seemed natural to study the art," she explains. "Food is so beautiful."

More than 400 recipes supplied by 55 of Iowa's B&B innkeepers certainly back up that statement. From raspberry fudge torte to stuffed pork tenderloin to a 200-year-old family recipe for Irish soda bread, the food captures Iowa's warmth, history, and cultural diversity.

Crowley taste-tested the recipes, tidied up any unclear instructions, and adjusted them to serve a family instead of a roomful of guests. She also dished up the human stories behind the culinary creations—tales of innkeepers who preside over reputedly haunted homes, those for whom hospitality is an enduring family tradition, and the "courageous owners" who rescue dilapidated houses from ruin. 

Crowley, who worked as a professor, dietitian, food columnist, and nutrition counselor while raising her seven children, will draw upon these varied experiences for her next two books. One showcases photographs she took at farmers' markets in the U.S. and abroad. The other is a compilation of recipes from bed and breakfasts in California.

Why the fascination with bed and breakfasts? Crowley defines their appeal in terms that also apply to her book. "People like them for the camaraderie and because they're not commercial," she explains. "They're social and comfortable and the food is always good."