Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Fall Festival on the Farm

Last night we had what we hope is the first of many Fall Festivals on the Farm. It was a great afternoon/evening. After weeks of cold, rainy, gloomy weather, the sun came out, the air warmed up slightly, and it ended up being the perfect day for a party.

First you need to know how this came about. The Husband has a tendency towards grandiose ideas for parties. Unfortunately, in the past, he has tried to pull them off on a few days notice. Having voiced his desire for a Fall Festival in the past, I felt some planning in advance was called for.

We got our pig from a local farm, Highview Pastures. It was pasture-raised, Berkshire cross.

The owners were wonderful. They promptly answered all our questions (and boy did I pepper them with questions and request), opened their place for a visit, and delivered the pig to us. They even brought us extra pig offal (they had processed another pig at the same time they processed ours).

The Husband took the party as an impetus to get some things done with the pole barn - our party location. We now how power to the pole barn (yeay) and we were able to organize and clear out a lot of things. In addition, we bought some 30 bales of straw to use at the party and later for our chickens and the dog (I hear straw is the best bedding for dogs during the cold, cold winters).

So, let's return to the day of the party.

Our friend, the Pig Roaster Extraordinaire, showed up way before the butt-crack of dawn (before 5am) with pig roaster in tow. The Pig Roaster Extraordinaire (or PRE) had some culinary tricks up his sleeve. First, there was stuffing the cavity of the pig with a mix of sauerkraut and apples (and a secret blend of spices). PRE expertly stitched up said pig and the pig was rolled up in a wire mesh to facilitate easy flipping throughout the roasting process. PRE also brought a special basting liquid, again with a special blend of spices, which was liberally applied to the pig on each flipping (done on the hour).

The Husband and I worked to get the pole barn ready for the party. It is always the case that all this work gets pushed and crammed to the last minute. Aside from the Christmas lights in the rafters, we spread out several bales of straw, set up the tables (some bought, most rented), and made sure all things were ready for the apple tasting, the homemade canned goods swap, and the pumpkin pie contest.
We set up a kids activity table with small pumpkins to paint, some wood pumpkin and autumn leaf cut outs to paint, paper, paints, and crayons.

The pig was absolutely fantastic - so juicy, tender, and lots of flavor. I will admit: PRE, the Husband, and I helped ourselves to an ear and the snout well before any guests arrived. PRE even made a pate from one of the livers for lunch (and a side dish for the buffet table). We got buns from Brick Oven Bakery in Northfield - a rustic French, an Oatmeal, and their signature Minnesota Rice.

The apples for the apple tasting (and the cider) were from Pepin Heights Orchard in Lake Pepin. We had 6 different varieties: Honeycrisp, Cortland, Prima, McIntosh, Green Gold, and Haralson. The favorite of this year's festival was the Honeycrisp. Next year, we hope to have a SweeTango.

We had 4 pies entered in the pumpkin pie contest - all vying for the coveted 2009 Walnut Nocino. We ended up with a tie between two of those pies. Every judge said that all of the pies were very good, but each was very different from any of the others. They had such a hard time deciding. In the end, a blind draw between the two winners determined who went home with the nocino.

We had so many people attend: neighbors, Guard friends, people the Husband knew from high school whom he hadn't seen in years, friends from Kantorei. There were smores, which were a big hit with the kids. It was a great time. Husband and I pretty much passed out upon hitting the pillows. Now, after a bit of rest and recovery, we're looking forward to next year's festival. I'm thinking a wild game festival...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Joan Baez

Last night, I watched American Masters on PBS. This episode was about Joan Baez. I have to admit that I slowed in my channel surfing only because a) there was nothing else on - can you tell we don't have cable or satelite? and b) Joan Baez is a musician. I've known OF Joan Baez, but I guess I had pretty much thought that I knew what she was about: peace, folk music, and the 60s.

I have to say that I was drawn into this look into Joan Baez's life. I got a better understanding of why she got involved with the activism that she did. I learned that her family were Quakers - thus she grew up learning non-violence. As a young child, she challenged the things that she thought were wrong. As a senior in high school, she protested the school nuclear drills because she felt the were ineffectual and served no real purpose.

It seems that she got into the folk music scene quite by accident. She had taught herself the guitar growing up and sang with one of her sisters (Oh, how I can relate to that!). She tried college (well, more was attending college on paper) and got playing in the right town (Boston) at the right time. She ended up on stage at a folk festival and poof! She was christened Queen of Folk Music! If only it was like that for the rest of us!

Whether you agree with Joan Baez's political philosophies or not, I think you should at least admire her steadfastness to her convictions of non-violence and peaceful protest. This was a woman who walked the walk - not just talked the talk. She was walking with the protesters in the South working for racial equality. She spoke out against war (whether past or present). She has put herself in dangerous areas so that she could see for herself what was going on.

One thing that I think present protesters (whatever they are protesting for or against) miss something that I saw in Joan Baez. Joan would protest not by shouting or slandering. She didn't resist any law enforcement presence. There were no signs with hateful words. She would say her piece softly but strongly. She understood that she was making a statement and that in order for it to have any power, she had to do it peacefully and respectfully. When she got arrested, there was no dragging her heels or trying to be a dead weight. There was no yelling or taunting of law enforcement. She went quickly and quietly with law enforcement and went through the process.

As a singer, Joan's voice is very iconic. You hear a song that she is singing and you immediately know that it is her. Perhaps because I am a fellow soprano with a fairly light and quick vibrato, but there is something comforting in her voice. I admit that I don't have any of Joan Baez's music myself, but perhaps I'll have to rethink that now.

What about you? Is there a person (musician or not) who had an impact on you in some way?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thousand Hills Cattle Company Open House

I just got back from the Thousand Hills Cattle Company open house event and I had to do a post. For those who don't know, Thousand Hills Cattle Company is a grass-fed beef producer that is based out of Cannon Falls. The Husband and I really like their beef. It has a much better flavor than conventionally raised beef and it has a lot of other benefits, too. I learned much more about those benefits at the the open house today.

The day started off at Grandpa's Garage in Cannon Falls. We met with Todd Churchill, the head of Thousand Hills Cattle Company, who spoke throughout the event about what they do and why the do it.

First we picked up the obligatory swag. I really liked the MN Cooks calendar, so I had to pick that one up. Then, we introduced ourselves (there were about 20 of us) and said why we were there today. I, of course, said that I love food and that my husband and I were very interested in the local and sustainable food movements.

We had grass-fed beef hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch.

It was great to have a hamburger that was not well-done. The burger was very flavorful with a nice char and very juicy - but not so juicy that it rendered the bun a soaked mess. The hot dogs were also excellent - a lot more robust flavor than any national brand hot dog with a more dental texture. The skin didn't have a lot of crispness (I like to have a bit of snap), but the flavor more than made up for that.

Todd spoke a lot about the benefits of grass-fed beef. There is the health aspect: Conventional beef has an Omega-6 fatty acid (the bad one) to Omega-3 fatty acid (the good one) ratio of about 20:1. Humans should really have an O-6:O-3 ratio of 6:1. The oft touted "Mediterranean Diet" has a ratio of 4:1. Thousand Hills Cattle Company beef has been measured to have a O-6:O-3 ratio of 2:1 and even 1:1. Pretty impressive stuff!

Additionally, cattle are meant to eat grasses - not grains. In order to eat the grains (corn, soybeans, etc), the PH of the cattle's stomach drops from 6.5 to 4.5. Guess what nasty organism thrives at 4.5 - that's right - E. Coli! Just by going grass-fed, we could eliminate 99% of the E.Coli that gets into our food supply. Doesn't that sound like a better way to go than irradiating our meat?

The environmental aspect: Properly managed grass-fed beef will actually build the soil up rather than depleting it. No chemicals means not killing the micro-organisms that help to create the soil. Having grass on the soil prevents erosion from both wind and water (and helps to keep the moisture levels up). Todd Churchill believes that we can really combat the increased carbon emissions using grass-fed cattle.

The animal welfare aspect: These cattle are not in a feedlot being pumped with antibiotics, being fed food that makes them sick, and are not standing their entire lives in a pile of smelly feces. These cattle are on grass, in fields, doing what they have been designed to do.

Some of you may say "Yes, but in the end, they still get slaughtered - and I've heard all those horrible stories about animal slaughter." Well, then you haven't heard of Lorentz Meats. Lorentz is the local meat processing plant. Thousand Hills Cattle Company uses Lorentz Meats for all of their processing. They do the whole thing - the slaughter, the hanging, the butchering, even some curing and cooking - all under one roof. They do everything as smoothly, calmly, and humanely as possible. Lorentz Meats was actually mentioned in Michael Pollan's book Omnivore's Dilemma for those reasons.

We got a small tour of Lorentz Meats. We missed the actual slaughtering, as they got done before we got there. But, anyone is welcome to come and see what they do and how they do it. We were able to look through a window into the kill room and also the processing room where they do the butchering. Today, they were butchering red deer.

Todd also took us to his farm south of town. He explained that he has specific things that he is looking for in both the cattle breed and how it is raised in order for it be Thousand Hills Cattle Company beef. It was interesting to hear his various opinions on types of grasses, how often to rotate the cattle, which breeds of cattle work best, where to get the best feeder cattle, etc. The guy is a font of knowledge. He's done his homework.

Thousand Hills Cattle Company is starting a line of raw dog and cat food, which they showed us in their warehouse. It looks pretty interesting and is just getting started. They said that if a store has their beef, they probably will have the raw dog/cat food - just maybe not out on display. So, if you are interested, you may need to ask for it.

I walked away having learned quite a lot about how Thousand Hills Cattle Company works, how they got to where they are, and why they do the things they do. I am even more excited about the fact that they are near us and we can reap the benefits of their hard work. But, most exciting of all, we all went home with free packets of their regular and habanero beef jerky. Yum!