An apology and “Celebrity” judging at the Uptown Art Fair…

Okay friends, I gotta say, I have completely gone off the rails…food-blogging wise.  My last post was at the end of August and the calendar page just flipped to the beginning of November.  I am so sorry!  I owe you three new Beer for a Year blog posts, a post about our first family camping trip & this post!  I have no excuse other than the need to prioritize my life so that I was working on “income-producing” activities. As much as I love this blog, unfortunately, a girls gotta pay the bills!  Speaking of jobs, this week I learned that the part-time position I currently hold, at a local hotel in the Sales department is becoming full-time.  While some may see that as a positive, it is not in my case.  I can only work the part-time, 24 hours a week I had been doing, allowing me the other half of the work week to handle my gift basket orders.  It has been a perfect balance of my time for the past two & a half years, but they need more & I am ready to do more with my Basket business.  So it’s a good thing, but scary at the same time.  All the questions I was afraid to confront, now have to be asked & answered.  This past year has been so amazing for me personally & professionally.  I feel as though the universe is working to help me achieve the type of life I want to live.  More time for family, friends, eating/drinking/food-blogging, all while doing what I am passionate about and making a decent living in the process.  Isn’t that what we all want?  So if I have any advice to you, it’s to DO IT.  Stop waiting, stop thinking “tomorrow”…Don’t be afraid to walk that edge, jump off that safe boat and make the life you dream about happen NOW!

I recently posted this Steve Jobs quote on my personal Facebook account, which I think I got off Pinterest….

That says it all really.  Unfortunately, we all need money to survive.  Why not make it by doing what you love instead of wasting your life in a job that is slowly killing you, day by day.  Do it people!  Okay, enough of that, lets talk about “Celebrity” judging, at the Uptown Art Fair this past summer!

The first weekend in August, brought the inaugural 2012 Kitchen Window Culinary Arts Competition put on by the Uptown Art Fair and sponsored in part by Kitchen Window.  The phrase “Celebrity” judging was given by one of my favorite foodie friends and fellow judge Emily Sue Anderson of The Broccoli Stalker.  We laugh about the title because it left many of us food blogger friends who participated asking ourselves, how are we “celebrities”?  (okay, there are at least a couple of you, reading this that are celebrities in my eyes : ) Pretty cool, but my guess is the real celebrities weren’t available!  Anyway, I had a blast!  The picture above is of myself along with the two other judges I had the honor of hanging with all day.  Amanda Rettke & Melissa Hoepner.  I’ve hyperlinked their food blogs so you can check them out!  These girls are the best…I miss you both!  The competition was held over Friday, Saturday & Sunday.  The 1st & 2nd place winners (most points) from each days competitions would move on to the semi-finals on Sunday.  Each local Chef contestant was paired with an Uptown Art Fair Artist and they were charged with putting together a dish, and a piece of visual art.  The teams were given thirty minutes and the food was made using three required ingredients- beer from Schell’s Brewing, artisan chocolates from local chocolatier B.T. McElrath and rice from Gourmet House®  Rice.  In addition to that, one secret ingredient, unveiled to them just minutes before competition time.  They had use of a full pantry of items sponsored by Whole Foods and the artists pretty much could do what they wanted, as long as it somehow tied into the Chef’s dish.  I saw some very creative things come out of this competition!

The first round I helped judge was Saturday morning, August 4, 2012 at 11:00am.  The secret ingredient for this round…Corn, which both chefs used creatively in their respective dishes.

 

First up,  Chef Tim Draughn from Old Chicago & Artist Paul Lundquist – Photographer.  Chocolate & Coffee encrusted Beef Tenderloin and a picture as gorgeous to match in which he used both the B.T. McElrath chocolates & whole coffee beans…

…vs. Chef Annette Colon from Sunstreet Breads & Tim Foster – Oil/Pastel.  Yes, those are luscious eggs on top of her dish (you know I am egg-obsessed) and Tim’s oil painting…oh my…let’s just say, there was a bit of a discussion after the competition of just where that painting would make it’s final home!

And the winner is….

Chef Tim Draughn & Artist Paul Lundquist!!

Next round, at 1:00pm found Cherries as our secret ingredient…

This round found Chef Josh Boge from Urban Eatery & Artist Michele Combs – Painter.  Another painting we loved and a gorgeously plated dish by Josh, was almost too pretty to eat!

…up against Chef Ben Mauk from Birdhouse & Artist Paul Gill – Sculpture.  Paul’s sculpture was made mostly of chocolate and if I remember correctly, he had beer in the center. It’s hard to see what that was, that Chef Ben made…so let me tell you, it was the most delicious chocolate-cherry rice pudding; not too sweet, a bit of heat…oh my!

And the winner is…

Chef Ben Mauk & Artist Paul Gil!

And the final round of the day, 3:00pm brought Mushrooms as our secret ingredient.

This final round had Chef Sarah Master from Barbette & teammate Artist Rebecca Phan-Tretter, Photographer up against…

Chef Tammy Wong from Rainbow Chinese and teammate Artist Bill Wolfson-Painter.

With this being the last round, we had a better handle on the whole point scoring process.  It sounds like an awesome job to have, but with so many categories and food/art perspectives to keep in mind, it truly was a difficult challenge for us judges!  Chef Sarah made a perfectly cooked & delicious piece of Pork Loin, with Chocolate-Beer Mustard sauce and an Arugula salad with puffed Wild Rice.  Chef Tammy’s dish had many things going on, from stir-fried beef & mushrooms, a chocolate fruit salad and an asian slaw that had crunchy, barely cooked bits of Wild Rice.  She took full advantage of the Whole Foods pantry for sure!  The artists creations this round were unique as well, with Artist Bill Wolfson’s gorgeous painting taking cues from Rainbow Chinese’s color palette & incorporating her dish into the final design.  I was completely in awe of Artist Rebecca Phan-Tretter rendition of the Stone Arch Bridge, incorporating the beer & Chef Sarah’s dish into the final design construction.  And in the end, the winner was…

Chef Sarah Master & Artist Rebecca Phan-Tretter!

They ended up winning it all on Sunday, congrats to them both!  You can enjoy her winning recipes by clicking on this link.

I plan to use a couple of her recipes for my belated Beer for a Year blog posts, so stay tuned on that.

My thanks to the Uptown Art Fair & Kitchen Window for allowing me to participate in this year’s competition!  I hope they’ll ask me again next year! 🙂

And to you my faithful readers, I am getting back on that darn wagon/train and promise you delicious future posts, more often!

Until then, cheers!

Shawn

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