My Oink Outing…

Recently, my husband & I signed up for a CSA with Natura Farms.  (more details on that in a future post) Yes, we have a pretty big garden of our own, but my husband had the opportunity to tour this farm, (located in gorgeous Scandia, Minnesota) and is doing some business with them already.  We were excited to not only support another local business, but have the opportunity to enjoy some things we weren’t already growing.  We usually amp up our veggie intake in the summer, but this summer, we are eating some nights, nothing but veggies!  It makes me realize I could really become a vegetarian.  But then I come to my senses…how could I not ever smell my most favorite smell, taste my most favorite food…wafting in from the grill, smoker or on a lazy weekend morning…the kitchen!  Yes, people, I am talking Pig.  Pork, glorious Pork!A friend recently posted a picture on my Facebook wall (not going to share that here, as some of you might get emotional once see how cute it was) of an adorable piglet, all pink & fuzzy.  The caption read “I love you!!!  Okay, now you can’t eat me.”  Ha!  I found the humor in it, and yes, for just the smallest of moments I thought “how could you eat something so cute?”  But that’s what makes my relationship with Pork so amazing; I can appreciate and adore the tiny precious little piglets, still a pretty pink color and all soft & fuzzy looking.  And I can appreciate the Sow, the Mama pig, who bravely bears (called “farrowing” in pig farming) those little piglets, that someday will grow to be somewhere around 270+ pounds that will eventually make it’s way to my dinner table, and finally my belly.  Until recently, I had no idea the steps involved.  That was, up until I went on my very first Oink Outing!

Last summer, some of my Minnesota Food Blogger friends (now officially known as the group Fortify) were posting pictures from their Oink Outings and I asked how I could participate in one.  Well, this spring I got an email asking if I was still interested (YES!) and what dates worked best for me (ANY!) in June.  So yes, this happened last month…and truthfully, I don’t know what happened to July…can someone tell me?  I had this awesome posting calendar all set up and the summer derailed me.  Anyway, hope you’ll forgive me and let’s talk some Piggy now!

Oink Outings, sponsored in part by the Minnesota Pork Board, brings together families & pig farmers, educating both on how pigs are raised and what Mom’s like me go through when choosing how & what to feed our families. For my Oink Outing, we were excited to partner with farmer Judy Bode’s farrow-to-wean pig farm, Rebco Pork and Executive Chef Bryan Schouten of Brackett’s Crossing Country Club.  My day began at Brackett’s Crossing where Chef Bryan prepared a mouth-watering Pork Carnitas Salad (isn’t that red taco shell gorgeous!) for our lunch and provided us with several recipes to take home and enjoy with our families. Chef Bryan was able to join us for the day, as we toured the gorgeous southern Minnesota towns of Courtland & Nicollet .  We made a pit stop on the way down, at Schmidt’s Meat Market where we were given the honor of seeing some of their huge smokers and product being prepared for the retail coolers out front.  I was even given a gift of their award-winning Raspberry Chipotle Bacon, which I used to make this Brown Butter Bacon Ice Cream.

      

From there, we moved on to the Bode family farm, home to Rebco Pork.  The Bode’s have 900 acres of farmland in the Courtland area.  In addition to their fifth generation pig farm, they also grow corn & soybeans.  I was very impressed with the measures they take to keep their pigs healthy; every employee showers as they enter the building, at the beginning of their shift.  They each have their own supplies for doing so, along with clothing & uniforms they must keep at the farm.  Everything gets washed there, to again protect the pigs.  So, we acted like employees, all though we didn’t shower, we did have to suit up…here’s a picture of our whole crew ready to enter the building!

First up on the tour was the farrowing barn.  Rooms where Sows were placed to give birth.  I couldn’t wait to see some of the piglets, sweet, pink & brand new!  Pig farming has changed over the years.  Technology has enabled pig farmers to know pretty close to when a Sow will be giving birth, so they can move her to the farrowing barn before her big moment.  That same technology has also enabled pig farmers to choose the type of pigs they raise; consumer demand dictates this mostly, but today’s pigs are leaner and tastier than they have ever been.  As we entered the first farrowing barn, the piglets were about three weeks old.  They’ll be weaned shortly from the Sow and headed to the finishing barns, on another part of the Bode family farm.  From their they will grow to be pushing 270+ and will shortly thereafter make it’s way to the grocery stores we all shop at.  The next farrowing barn we entered had Sows just about ready to give birth, and as my luck would have it, one was giving birth right as we came in!  I know the picture might be a little graphic, but how amazing is that!  It’s crazy to see the difference in size from those tiny little piglets and the Mama laying on her side giving birth to them.

After pulling me away from the piglets, we moved to a different area of the facility; the gestational barn.  This is where the pregnant Sows are kept until they are ready to move to a farrowing barn.  I have to admit, it was difficult for me to see the Sows, lined up, all inside cages.  Of course I thought it would all be “Wilbur-like” and they’d be roaming free, eating grass and hanging out with the ducks, geese and other barnyard animals.  But there’s good reason they aren’t.  First, we can go back to the strict measures the Bode’s take to ensure their pigs stay healthy.  Free roaming pigs can pick up all sorts of diseases from just roaming about outside.  In this environment, everything is monitored; from the water they drink, to the feed they get.  Also, they are protected.  Pigs, believe it or not, can be a lot like humans, behavior-wise.  If they were left in an environment where each pig can freely eat what & when they want, bigger pigs can bully smaller pigs and they end up not getting what they need nutritionally speaking.  So for what they are trying to do, provide healthy, nutritious Pork to families all over the country, Rebco Pork & the Bode family are doing an incredible job!

The day came to close and as I drove home from my tour, I was happy to have learned as much as I did.  It’s good to know where your food comes from.  We should all learn that someday!

So let’s talk about some of my favorite ways to eat Piggie meat!  My most favorite Pork product is Bacon.  Ah, Bacon.  What ever would I do without Bacon?  I am also not a Bacon snob.  I like any Bacon… Although I am not sure I can stomach any of the “Bacon” themed crazy products out there right now. (see below) But I will eat it in salads, on Panini’s (if you don’t own a Panini press-get one), in pasta, dipped in chocolate (aka “pig-lickers”), try it in braised Mustard Greens, Kale or Swiss Chard, I’ve put it in ice cream (see above), I’ve put it in cookies.

Someday I hope to get Bacon Roses for Valentine’s Day…who wouldn’t love that!  Hint-hint…

Since getting my smoker for Christmas we’ve smoked Ribs (see previous blog post here) and just this past weekend, finally smoked myself a Pork shoulder for pulled Pork.  I will admit, it didn’t go as well as I had planned (we ended up putting it in the oven inside for another hour + to cook) but in the end, what resulted was the most incredible, juicy, tender pulled Pork!  My husband’s comment (after it was all said and done) “this was pretty good, but if you tried my pulled Pork recipe from work, it would curl your toes”.  Uh, really? I asked why he’s never brought home any samples???  Tease.

A note about cooking pork; most people kill it.  And I don’t mean in the good way…to safely eat Pork, you need to cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  (unless it’s ground Pork, which should be 160) LET IT REST before slicing into it and you should have a juicy, delicious piece of Pork!  If you want/need more info on cooking with Pork, check out the Minnesota Pork Board’s website HERE.

      

And my other favorite way to eat Pork is slathered with Mustard (Dijon & whole grain), chopped garlic, olive oil & tons of fresh Tarragon (ok in the winter it’s dried from my garden) you have to try it this way!!  We usually either bake these in the oven or sauté them.  In the summer, definitely throw them on the grill.  We also usually do this on Pork chops, but it would be incredible on a gorgeous Pork tenderloin or roast.  (salivating just thinking about it) And for another idea with Pork tenderloin, check out my Rhubarb Beer Jam post from last month.

So yah, there’s no chance of becoming a vegetarian with all the delicious Pork available today!   Thank you to the Minnesota Pork Board, the Bode family of Rebco Pork, Chef Bryan from Brackett’s Crossing and Oink Outings for letting me participate!  Eat Pork people!!

UPDATE ON THIS POST:

Just wanted to be clear, the thoughts expressed above are my own…since taking this tour, I have read & watched articles & videos on both “sides” of pig farming.  I have no answer to solve the problem faced by consumers & farmers today. The farm I visited was very clean and appeared to really care about their pigs.  I was compensated for my time (as I did take an entire day off of work to go) but I still wrote what I wanted to.  If given the choice, I would buy the best meat available to me; free range pigs and all.  We each do what we can, to feed our families in the responsible way we see fit.  Thanks for reading 🙂

Chronicles of a crazy 20 days!

Wow, it’s been a CRAZY month so far and it’s only the 20th of June!  I constantly complain about the months of May & June, as every year, they completely derail me with field trips, the end of school, parties etc.  This year, I threw in a couple extra new events, just to challenge my strength…or because I am crazy.  I know the days have been ticking by, still no post since last month….and now that I’ve had the chance to catch my breath, I thought it would be fun to, instead of the usual post, do a little recap of my activities!  Yea!  Hope you enjoy the ride…….

June 2, 2012#TECHmunch, an event I had been anxiously waiting to attend.  It is a one-day conference for food bloggers, sponsored by BakeSpace.com and was held at Studio 514 in Minneapolis.  You can read more about it here.  Because I have never learned the art of “sitting on my hands” (like they used to say in Girl Scouts so you wouldn’t volunteer for everything!) I decided to volunteer to help with set-up the day before and during the event!  All kidding aside, let me just share one piece of advise I have learned over the years…if you really want to make the most of an event you plan to attend, volunteer to help.  It exposes you to (work, which oddly enough, I actually enjoy-so be prepared if signing on in this capacity) many more people than if you just came as an attendee.  I met & got to know better, some really great people (Babette, Tammy, Lisa, Brenda, Meghan, Emily, Joy, Cathy, Stephanie, Scott, Molly & anyone I forgot (so sorry!) and all the food-famous speakers & panelists!) that hopefully over time, I will become better friends with!  I helped with the manual labor part of set-up the day before, something of which after my years of banquet management/service I am very familiar with.  The next day, I was assigned to help with AV.  That stands for Audio-Visual….yeah, for those of you who know me, not exactly my forte. Ha!  I managed through and the only real glitch of the day ended up not even being my fault!

The day consisted of seven different topics:  Eating your way to the top; a Fireside chat with Andrew Zimmern & Jason DeRusha, Mastering your Story, with Daniel Klein of the Perennial Plate.  SEO for food writing; with experts in the field of SEO Lee Odden, Joshua Unseth & Erik Deutsch.  A panel discussion on creating, distributing and syndicating mouth-watering content with Shaina Olmanson, Zoe Francois, Amanda Rettke & Brenda Score.  Design & Page Optimization with the Geek Girls, Meghan Wilker & Nancy Lyons.  Lessons in partnerships & monetization with Babette Pepaj and Erik Deustch. And finally, a session titled, How to get on a Food Editor’s Radar, with Stephanie March, Lee Dean, Rachel Hutton & Joy Summers.   It was a GREAT event and I was thrilled to have been able to attend.

Of course a food blogger conference isn’t complete without amazing food, which you see a bit of above.  We had beautiful pastries donated by Patisserie 46 and gorgeous berries from Driscoll’s Berries.  Fresh squeezed juices  were provided by Whole Foods, Joia Life donated some of their amazing natural sodas, Bull Run coffee helped us all stay fueled up and I cannot forget that Sangria…made by Scott Pampugh.  A backyard picnic lunch was catered by Tastebud Catering and included Chicken & fresh Corn off the grill (with a couple of amazing butters to spread), two awesome salads (a carrot slaw I NEED the recipe for!) and a refreshing Basil Lemonade that I am totally recreating at home!  Dessert, decadent chocolate brownie like confections was sponsored by (and eaten early by many of us standing in line for lunch!) Bogart Loves.  An afternoon nosh, consisting of pita breads, hummus, olives, cheese and roasted veggies was provided by Whole Foods and served along with more of that magical Sangria.  We had swag bags donated by and filled with nourishing snack bars, natural produce bags and awesome coupons from Land O’ Lakes &. others.  (sorry I didn’t link any of those….& hopefully I am not missing anyone but holy crap we had a lot of great sponsors that day!!!)

A geeky moment of the day, pictured below, is where I asked the legendary Scott Pampugh (who was also volunteering that day) to take a picture with me.  We are both from Winona, MN (that automatically makes us kindred spirits right? Although he was a Cotter boy…I won’t hold that against him!) and if you don’t know much about Scott, he’s out to change the landscape of food as we know it.  Read more about him here.  The day finished off at Fulton Brewery, where attendees got to tour the facility, dine on Hola Arepa & Anchor Fish & Chips food trucks, conveniently parking outside and of course drink beer!!  There’s gonna be a #TECHmunch in Philadelphia in October…hmmm maybe I need to plan a trip out to see the Pennsylvania relative contingency!

   

I got a day to rest up, (although I spent most of it standing in my kitchen prepping for dinner the next night!) after being on my feet at that event for 13 hours, before my Dad and his family, packed into their new RV, rolled into town.  We got him for one night, and he requested his Mother’s Rhubarb Pie.

 Oh that pie.  What did I ever do before that pie… Want to make this pie?  Check out my previous post with recipe here.  And this time I made it with homemade pie crust, another first for me.  He said “his Mother never made it better” which I guess means he liked it.  🙂

This is my almost 7th grader, just after finding out she tied for first place in overall books read for the year with her class.  When I look at this picture I just want to wail…she is growing TOO damn fast.  It truly takes my breath away.  The kids last day of school was June 7th and took the day off to hang out with them.  They both had carnivals, and my daughter had a 6th grade graduation picnic that I helped with.  It was bittersweet watching her with her classmates.  I know that next year I won’t be able to volunteer like I had this past year, going on field trips etc.  I also know that Junior High is tough, not like grade school.  At the beginning of this year I felt like there was no way she would be ready to take on the challenges of 7th grade, but now, I feel differently.  My baby, growing up so fast

   

On Sunday June 10th, we went to our first ever Minnesota Twins game.  Yeah, I know, lame.  Lame that we hadn’t gone in the last two years!  I had bought tickets through the kids school and as luck would have it, ended up sitting right next to our close friends and their kids!  It was a HOT day and I worried about us actually making it through the whole game (at one point I looked over at my daughter, and if you have kids, you’ll know the look she gave me…something between “I am about to puke or I am about to pass out”)  It was a bit terrifying, but we persevered and made it through the game!  The pictures above are of my first ever Big Ginger a delicious drink made with 2 Gingers Whiskey & Ginger Ale (again lame, that I work at the hotel, connected to The Liffey and haven’t had one yet!) and the Nacho Helmet helped!  (seriously $14 well spent!)
  

June 12th brought another day I had been looking forward to for a long time, my #OinkOutings trip!  I had been so looking forward to my Oink Outing, not only because I love pigs…(loved them since Wilbur & love to eat them, in any form), but also because I had never been on a pig farm. I had no idea how pigs were birthed, raised etc. I’m happy to tell you that my expectations were met! I was well-educated that day & although it wasn’t the life I pictured, (Wilbur) I was happy to see the care taken by the Bode family both towards their pigs and staff that tends to them, 365 days a year. They are meticulous about the safety of those pigs, so that the end result, that bacon or pork loin you are cooking for your family is the best quality & safest it can be. Technology has changed pig farming; helping farmers raise pigs that are lean & delicious. Something dictated by consumer desire for leaner meat while still preserving the flavor.

It was a great day, getting to know everyone involved that advocates daily for the Pork producers of Minnesota. We started at Brackett’s Crossing where I met Chef Bryan who had cooked us delicious Pork Carnitas which we then had in that gorgeous taco shell pictured above.  From there we set out to Rebco Pork, the Bode family farm. Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!  We made a pit stop on our way down at Schmidt’s Meat Market were we toured their smoking facilities, sampled their delicious summer sausage & were treated to their award-winning Raspberry-Chipotle Bacon as a take home gift!  Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!

June 15th brought yet another birthday for me…sigh.  I am thirty-six this year.  LOL!  Really though, birthday’s aren’t a big deal for me.  I don’t expect to be lavished with gifts, but I do like to spend the day doing something I enjoy.  And, if you know me, that’s eating, drinking & shopping!  I decided We haven’t been to Stillwater in quite some time, so I thought, because it worked out that the hubby was on vacation that day, we were free!  I knew for quite some time that I wanted to check out a place called Swirl Wine Bar.  It is located in the sleepy and gorgeous little town of Afton, MN  So, that was stop number one.  There I purchased my first birthday present, a Redneck Wine Glass.  Yea, I know….don’t judge me.  I LOVE using jam jars to drink out of.  We were doing that before it was cool.  We also ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and three delicious appetizers which were devoured by the four of us.  I HIGHLY recommend making the trip and be sure to order the Grape & Brie Flatbread & the Truffle Fries…DELISH!
We then moved on to Stillwater, ducking into a few shops after strolling along the river.  One store we visited for another birthday treat was the Stillwater Olive Oil Co.  I love how these little shops have popped up all over and hadn’t actually been in one until that day!  They had many different varieties of Olive Oils, some infused and Vinegars-rich, syrupy aged Balsamic’s and a great variety of flavored white Balsamic’s.  We chose a bottle of Persian Lime infused Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon white Balsamic vinegar.  The vinegar just exploded the second it hit my tongue… I thought it would be fun to start a hashtag to chronicle my day; you can find my posts by searching for #BirthdayNosh and the picture collage above was some of the deliciousness of the day!

Gorgeous Strawberries!  Ever since I was young, I wanted to learn to can.  It’s been one of those things on my food bucket list, that I have been scared to try.  All it really takes is patience and organization.  The Strawberry Jam I made this weekend was SO good!  Stay tuned for a future post on canning.  I plan to do a Rhubarb Beer Jam for my next ‘Beer for a Year‘ post, and just last week, we signed up for a CSA share from Natura Farms and they have Currents and Elderberries, so hopefully I will get the opportunity to use those in future canning endeavors.  I also plan this summer to make Chow-Chow; a pickled vegetable deliciousness I had back in Pennsylvania Amish country.  Again posts to follow…..

And finally, June 17th, Father’s Day…..

The hubby loves ribs, so I decided that I would break out the smoker and attempt to make a scrumptious dinner for him.  The weather forecasters said “a gorgeous day is on tap for Sunday” and guess what?  It rained on and off ALL day!  The picture above was taken by my daughter, as she came out laughing at me standing there with the umbrella.  Yes, I could have let it go, but seriously at one point it rained for over an hour.  I know this because I stood there that long…and for the first time ever, I was maintaining a consistent temp on the smoker and didn’t want to ruin that!  The things we do for love…..

Oh yeah, his present?  The gorgeous cookbookVolt Ink” written by brothers Michael & Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame.  It was really a win-win gift. 🙂

So, there it is people.  The last crazy 20 days of my life.…hope you enjoyed following along.  I promise to get back on my regular schedule of posts, none of which hopefully will be this long!

Until then,

Shawn