Our Meat Date

I don’t think my parents lived in constant fear of a catastrophe that would exterminate all grocery stores and hold us hostage in our home. But, they certainly stocked the kitchen pantry and basement deep freezer as if Armageddon could come at any moment. There was a never ending supply of canned, boxed and frozen goods ready for turning into a meal at our house. Or a meal for ten. Maybe even twenty.

I’m pretty sure it’s that aspect of my upbringing that makes the current state of my freezer so satisfying to me. Because it’s packed to the gills with seventy pounds of local, grass-fed beef.

Sheer joy.

About a month ago, one of my radio station co-workers asked me if I was interested in going in on a cow with her. It was being raised in Hugo, Minnesota, about a thirty minute drive from my Minneapolis home. It would be butchered just down the street. We’d pick it up and be set for the winter. Or until the apocalypse.

Naturally, I agreed right away. The last time Jay and I spent time with Alexis and her husband Angel, we went to a hip pizza place. This time, we met them on the farm for what we later dubbed “our meat date.”

Leo Lutz is the man behind this sign. He showed us where his cows live, just steps from where they are processed into beef to eat. There’s no massive truck hauling the cows to slaughter. There are no terrified cattle being brutally pushed and prodded into an assembly line of death. There aren’t hundreds of slaughterhouse workers forced to work faster and faster with no personal investment in the quality of their product.

There’s Leo. A man who raises cows and butchers two at a time.

Each cow is shot with a .22 right where it’s standing. There isn’t a panicked moment for that bovine before it dies and Leo says the lack of terror means the cow’s meat isn’t tough or bitter. The cow bleeds out where it falls to the earth. It is skinned and quartered just steps away.

And the split sides of beef hang in this cooler until they are butchered into steaks, roasts and ground beef.

The meat is wrapped in butcher’s paper, stamped by cut and labeled with the customer’s name. The ground beef in these packages comes from one cow, not hundreds of animals ground together in a massive vat and shrink wrapped.

Leo’s business practices are transparent and his property is open to anyone who wants to stop by. He even invited us to come back on slaughtering day. He isn’t a flashy man. He isn’t a hippie. He’s just a good man who does his work the right way.

Grass-fed beef, you say? Steaks? Locally raised? From a small farm and a one man operation? Ha, some scoff. Sure, if you want to pay and arm and a leg for it. But how can any normal, working class, American family just trying to make ends meet afford your fancy beef?

First, I’d argue that the food we put in the bodies of our families is worth investing in above all. More important than cable TV. More important than the latest video games. More important than new clothes. I could go on…but I think we’re all on the same page.

But I don’t even need to make that argument because the beef we bought from Leo cost a whopping $2.85 a pound. No matter the cut. I just checked an ad for the local big box grocer and found that on sale their store brand ground beef cost $3.49 a pound. A boneless round tip steak is going for $4.49 a pound. The cheapest cuts of corn-fed, industrially produced, grocery store beef can’t compare in cost to buying a nutritionally superior, ethically produced, grass-fed product directly from the farmer. And you can bet those factor farming feedlot operations won’t let you stop by to see what they’re up to at any given moment.

Now…just in case the end of the world does come…do I need a generator to make sure all that beef stays frozen?

Avoiding You

I’ll admit it. I’ve been avoiding you.

Not because I don’t like you. Or because I don’t have stories to share. But because I simply didn’t want to write what I know I have to write.

I’ve been putting it off for weeks. And weeks.

There’s so much life flourishing on our little urban homestead. The garden has been in full harvest mode. There are tomatoes, peppers and beans to pick every day. The kale is going positively gangbusters (anyone need some?). We’re busy preserving as much as we can and filling our basement shelves with glass jars. The squash vines are drying up and the sweet vegetables are being pulled inside.

Gracie

Gracie is practicing her bird flushing skills by teaming up with Henry to chase chipmunks in the yard. My tummy is getting rounder minute by minute and baby is moving nonstop.

All of this activity makes our recent loss even more difficult to take.

Maryanne

MaryAnne was our beautiful Buff Orpington. The bird who would let me hold her as visiting friends would gently pet her feathers. The quietest of our flock, MaryAnne would simply coo and cluck softly while the others crow after they lay their ever-important eggs. Her yellow-orange feathers earned her the nickname “Gold’n Plump” among the neighbors.

MaryAnne

And she’s the first life we’ve been responsible for that’s been lost.

When we knew MaryAnne wasn’t going to make it, there were tears. And it sounds so funny to cry over a chicken. A chicken? We eat chicken all the time. If I cried over every chicken life lost, there would literally be time for nothing but sobbing. But this was our chicken. Our chicken who was young, still laying eggs and had a personality that we knew.

MaryAnne died of a common chicken illness that we caught too late. Because of that, there’s guilt. And regret. And more guilt.MaryAnne - 5 Weeks

But raising animals for food means losing them, most often at the Farmer’s hands. I think of my hog raising friends who tell me they make a comfortable bed in the trailer they use to haul their heritage breed pigs to slaughter. They remind the processing crew to treat the pigs with kindness. And there hasn’t been a single one of those trips that hasn’t been hard.

I also think of my dear friend’s mom who just can’t eat the meat of the first grass-fed cow she and her husband raised on their hobby farm after knowing the animal from the time it was a small calf.

Or a lovely baker I know who came home to the horror of neighbor dogs chasing her chickens, leaving her flock much smaller and terrified.

Raising animals for food comes at an emotional cost. We learned that. And there’s no question we’ll feel the pain again.

There. I said it. No more avoiding.

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Goodbye, sweet MaryAnne.

Riddle Solved

Let’s get right to it. A pheasant isn’t an easy thing to deal with. It can be gamey. I’ve even had some be mealy. They are super lean and tend to be dry. Most recipes online call for slathering pheasant meat with Cream of Mushroom Soup just to make it tolerable. Even the judges on Chopped say it’s tough to cook pheasant well. And those people know what they’re talking about.

If you have a pheasant hunter in the family, you have one of two things.

1) A freezer full of frozen pheasant that you’re trying to figure out how to eat.

Frozen pheasantOr,

2) A guilty feeling because you let the birds go to waste.

pheasant

I’ve had mixed results with pheasant. I made an amazing pheasant-bean stew in the slow cooker one day that I’ve never been able to replicate. Jay is so distraught about this that he now requires me to keep a notebook handy in the kitchen so I write recipes down as I create them.

He started feeling a lot better about the whole lost-the-over-the-top-delicious-pheasant-recipe situation once we came up with a one word solution to our freezer pheasant overpopulation: jerky.

Jerky in a jar

And fortunately, as much as I hate waste, I love kitchen gadgets. Like this dehydrator we received as a wedding gift (thanks Laura Lemon!).

dehydrator

These urban homestead ideas kind of present themselves as little riddles. We have 25 pheasants. Jay stops for jerky on his way out to the game farm. Turn the pheasant into jerky.

Maybe that’s more of a math story problem?

Jerky on trays

After doing some basic jerky recipe research and testing about a dozen batches on Jay’s hunting buddies and my co-workers, I think we’re really onto something here. And the process is really simple. Plus, it makes the whole house have a sort of woodsy/smoky aroma that makes me feel like I’m in a cabin in the middle of no where. When I’m really in a city bungalow and can practically reach out and touch the homes of my neighbors.

Slice the pheasant into thin strips, as evenly as possible so they dry out at the same rate.

Thawed pheasant

Slicing pheasant

Since Jay shoots them, I put him on the task of slicing them and I get to work on the marinade.

Jerky marinade ingredients

We like it salty, smoky, savory and a little spicy.

Marinating pheasant

Let the pheasant sit in the marinade in the fridge for 2-4 hours. Then lay the pieces on the dehydrator trays, set it to “jerky” and let ‘er go for about 5-6 hours (I’ve read you can also do this in a super low oven, but I haven’t tried that since we have the dehydrator).

Dehydrator settings

Pheasant jerky

This jerky only lasts for a couple of weeks since it’s not loaded with crazy preservatives, but I’m sure it’ll be down the hatch or out the door sooner than that. I’ve been packing up bags for Jay to take to his friends and colleagues nonstop.

Packaged jerky

See? No more gas station jerky for my hunter and pheasant population control in my freezer. Riddle solved.

I think.

***

Pheasant Jerky

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This marinade recipe makes just the right amount for 2 1/2 – 3 pounds of pheasant meat.

Use this:

2 1/2 – 3 lbs. thinly sliced pheasant

2/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce

2/3 cup worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup liquid smoke

2 tsp sriracha

1 tsp molasses

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp seasoned salt

1 tsp garlic powder

Do this:

Whisk all ingredients except for pheasant together in a large bowl. Add the pheasant, pressing the pieces down to make sure they are all covered by the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

Place pheasant pieces on dehydrator trays, shaking off excess marinade.

Set dehydrator to “jerky” and process for 5-6 hours, depending on the thickness of your pheasant strips. Thicker pieces may need longer drying time.

Store in jars or bags for up to two weeks.

***

 

It Has To End

It was cold. And raining. And windy. And they were right to insist I ditch my tennis shoes and pull on an extra pair of waterproof boots instead.

Cows in the Field

The grass was tall, but not as tall as these farmers would like it to be this time of year. The cows moved slowly through the mist, bobbing their heads up and down as they chewed contentedly.

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Last week, I spent a morning shooting a story for my day job on this glorious piece of land in Elko, Minn., farmed for four generations by the Zweber family. Two of those generations currently work the farm where cattle dig into a buffet of rich grasses and produce organic milk while dozens of chickens are growing up to feed us with their meat and eggs.

Mobile chicken coop

Barred rock chicken

I asked these farmers all sorts of things while the cameras were rolling, like how they raise their animals, why “organic” is important to them, why they live their lives on the farm. In typical city-dweller fashion, I marveled at the incredible about of work it takes to make a living off the land.

Cows on the pasture

I met the cows, some more curious about me than others. Tim Zweber explained how each individual has a distinct personality.  Tim and his dad can distinguish one from the other without even looking at the numbers on their ear tags.

Dairy Cow

“Nothing is wasted on the farm,” Tim said, confirming these cows will become meat when their milk producing days are over.

It’s a circle-of-life lesson that’s learned so early in families like this one, yet it’s so difficult for those of us raised off the farm to understand.

How can you consider eating an animal when you’ve named her? When you know her likes and dislikes? When you’ve looked into her eyes?

Chicken

I told Tim about the looks of horror that develop on previously curious faces when I say it’s likely we will eventually eat the chickens currently residing the backyard.

Tim chuckled knowingly.

“It’s a difficult thing for people to understand,” He gestured to his cows, happily residing in their field.

“In order for this relationship to exist, it has to end.”

A statement that’s startlingly beautiful in its simplicity, filled with understanding, respect and gratitude.

Thanks to the Zweber family for working hard to produce real food. And for being wonderful stewards of the land. And for keeping my feet dry with a good pair of boots.

You can see more here:

We’ll Get There, Folks.

I’ve literally made this recipe four times in the last four weeks. And no, I’m not sick of it. In fact, I’m planning when I’m going to make it again this week. Maybe Monday? Maybe Wednesday? Probably both.

Pork Lettuce Wraps

Pork lettuce wraps. Crunchy, light, flavorful and delicious. One of those perfect meals that leaves you full and satisfied in the evening but airy and flat-tummied in the morning. Yes, flat tummied. Says the girl who just bought a wedding dress that’s currently slightly snug. Hence the lettuce wraps.

Ground pork

Pork and garlic

Pork with garlic and ginger

Mix ground pork with garlic and ginger. Let the meat come to room temperature and the flavors meld together.

Cucumber, red pepper and cucumber

Vegetables with hot peppers

Vegetables

Put chopped red pepper, cucumber, carrot, cilantro, jalepeño and serrano in a large bowl and set aside.

Cooking pork

Meanwhile, cook the pork and season with salt and pepper.

Lime juice

Add fish sauce

Add agave

In a small bowl, make the dressing with lime juice, fish sauce and agave nectar.

Crushed peanuts

Bibb lettuce

Lettuce wrap filling

Portk Lettuce Wraps

The only thing that would make this meal better? If every vegetable in the bunch came from my garden instead of the store. And if I was eating these bundles of goodness while wearing a white gown that fits like a glove. We’ll get there, folks. On both fronts.

***

Pork Lettuce Wraps

recipe adapted from Cooking Light

Use this:

1 1/2 lbs ground pork

5 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 medium sized English cucumber, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

4 medium sided carrots, peeled and julienned

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 jalepeño pepper, diced

1 serrano pepper, diced

2 limes

3 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp agave nectar

1 head of Bibb lettuce

1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts

salt and pepper to taste

Do this:

Put the pork, garlic and ginger in a medium-sized bowl. Mix together and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and put them in a larger bowl.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook the pork gently, until no pink remains and the meat is cooked through. Stir often.

While the meat cooks, juice the limes into a small bowl. Add the fish sauce and the agave and whisk until incorporated. Set aside. Crush the peanuts, either by chopping or blitzing in a mini-food processor and set aside.

Pour the cooked pork into the bowl with the vegetables and top with the dressing. Gently combine by folding all ingredients together. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if needed.

To serve, fill a lettuce leaf with about 1/3 cup of the pork mixture. Top with a sprinkle of peanuts and a bit of Sriracha if you’d like.

***

Quite Selfish

I knew I would be excited about the first eggs Roz, MaryAnne and Susie would lay. I knew I’d treasure them. And prepare them carefully. And savor every bite. But I didn’t know I’d become so protective over them that I’d actually turn into a person who’s quite selfish.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been sharing my eggs. Over the holidays, I cooked up lots of fresh breakfasts for family and friends who came to visit. When I was down to just one egg from my chickens, I gave it to my best friend and fried a free-range, organic grocery store breakfast for myself.

Egg comparison

The grocery store egg is on the left, the one from my coop is on the right. Tonya was delighted with the sunset orange yolk contained in the petite egg. Her appreciation for it made me beam.

But when it came to the idea of actually giving my eggs away, I just couldn’t do it. Friends and co-workers keep asking when their egg delivery is coming. I reply, “soon, soon!”

All the while, I’m hoarding a dozen at home and carefully planning how I’ll use them. When I fry, poach or scramble them, I watch the pan like I hawk to made sure the end result is just right. There’s something about knowing the animals who are producing your food that makes you want to treat their eggs or meat or milk with the utmost respect. Waste is not an option.

But the girls are producing eggs at a fabulous rate. Most days there are two gloriously colorful eggs to be found in the nesting boxes. Occasionally, three are discovered.

Compare the eggs

My eggs vs. co-op eggs

The eggs are also getting bigger. Compare the backyard eggs on the left to the large eggs from my local co-op on the right.

Supply is good. Taste is great. I decided it’s time. I need to release control. And just give some of these eggs away.

Small egg cartons

I utilized some of my holiday wrapping to put together lovely four packs of eggs. I’ve been saving cartons from the grocery store for months and cut them into thirds. Carefully making sure each small carton contains a variety of colors, I placed the eggs inside and closed the top.

Egg wrapping supplies

Stamp

Tied with Twine

I tied the packages with twine and used a stamp and a tag to decorate the outside.

When my lovely friend Stephanie March (who also happens to be the ridiculously talented food and dining editor for Mpls-St. Paul Magazine) asked me to fill in as co-host of her food-focused radio show this weekend, I knew I had to bring a special treat to her.

Egg gift pack

She shrieked with happiness when I delivered her package of eggs. As she gazed at the carton and peeked at the colors of the eggshells inside, I knew the ideas of how she’d enjoy them were running through her head.

Egg packages

What had I been waiting for? Sharing my prized eggs is as enjoyable as eating them myself!

Egg packages 2

Well, almost.

 

 

Add a Little of Something, or Sub This for That

Confidence in the kitchen leads to beautifully delicious things. You create a satisfying dish. You serve it to family and friends. They rave. You beam. Confidence boosted. Next meal. You recall your previous success. This time you feel free to add a little of something, or sub this for that, in the recipe that already delighted taste buds and tummies. Lo and behold, the next version is even better than the one before.

Such is the case with the evolution of my Tex-Mex Frittata. I made this at my day job last January. But the basic idea of an egg bake packed with vegetables, bits of flavorful meat and creamy cheese is a weekend staple at my house. I often whip one up on a Saturday morning. It’s delicious piping hot or at room temperature and the leftovers are good any time of day well into the work week.

My latest version is now officially called a Mexican Frittata Española. So named by me. Just today.

It’s so called because it incorporates the basic frittata structure. A vegetable and meat mixture is sauteed.

Beaten eggs are poured and swirled into the pan. It’s baked in a hot oven until puffy and ready to slice into wedges.

The Spanish version of this dish is called a Tortilla Española and contains potatoes, as does mine.

And because a life without avocado, cilantro and sour cream is not a life worth living, Mexican flavors seal the deal.

A couple of notes to ensure your success:

Be sure to use Mexican chorizo instead of Spanish for this recipe. And buy a good-quality chorizo. It’s flavorful and indulgent without being too greasy.

Despite my best efforts to Can the Cans, I haven’t found chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in anything but tin. Until I start making my own, I store the leftover can contents in a mason jar in my fridge. They last for months.

Finally, and most importantly: once you pull the piping hot frittata from the oven, under no circumstances should you remove the oven mitt from your hand until that hot egg bake is safe on the platter and the pan is sitting in the sink. If you remove the mitt, you will forget the pan you usually grab by the handle with a bare paw is as hot as fire. You will, for some unknown reason, want to relocate the pan. You will wrap your fingers around the blazing spear of metal and you will shout expletives profusely as you rip your hand from the source of intense pain. The people you are serving will cower in fear.

Your plate of breakfast will still taste amazing, but you will delight slightly less in it because of the throbbing and burning fury still happening throughout your hands and fingers.

Not that I’ve ever done this before.

That being said, make this. Love it. Build confidence. Get back in the kitchen.

***

Mexican Frittata Española

serves 6-8

Use this:

1/2 lb. Mexican chorizo

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

2 lbs (about 4-5 medium) Yukon Gold or red potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick

1 tbsp canola oil

1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cup cooked black beans (one can, rinsed and drained)

2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

12 eggs beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper

1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese

salt and pepper

Top This:

with any or all of the above: fresh cilantro, sour cream, avocado, salsa and hot sauce

Do this:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a 12-14 inch, nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and break up with a wooden spoon. After about 5 minutes, when chorizo is cooked through, remove crumbles from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add onion to pan and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add potatoes and canola oil and turn slices to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until a knife can go smoothly through the potato slices, but they are not mushy.

Add spinach, beans, tomatoes and chorizo to pan. Season with salt and pepper. Fold until all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Pour eggs over mixture. Swirl pan and lift potatoes with a spatula so the eggs slide between the layers of potatoes. Press mixture down into the eggs.

Top with grated cheese and put pan into the oven. Bake frittata for 15-20 minutes, until eggs puff up, the middle is set, and the edges are slightly golden.

Take pan out of the oven and let frittata rest for 5 minutes. Go around the edge of the pan with a spatula to loosen edges. Keeping your oven mitt on the entire time, carefully slide frittata onto a large cutting board or platter, using the spatula to help keep it together.

Slice into wedges, pile on desired toppings and serve.

***

Seize The Last Days of Fall

Just because I started picking apples from my backyard tree doesn’t mean I’m going to miss out on a trip to the apple orchard. When I told my mom we planned an afternoon picking apples, enjoying a tractor pulled hayride and choosing the perfect pumpkin, she was immediately transported back to the days when she would take her little girls out for some fall fun. Love those seasonal traditions.

In Minnesota, fall is short lived. We treasure every sunny autumn day when the trees are still full of leaves in bright shades of orange, yellow and red. We know it’s only a matter of time before the cool temperatures turn to downright cold and we take advantage of it.

Jay’s brother Tom and his wife Michele have two fabulously fun girls. Audrey is four and Sofia is three. A few Saturdays ago, all of us ventured out to the orchard to make some memories, people.

After tasting several varieties that were ready for picking, Jay and I decided to go Cortland all the way. The Cortland is a sweet, juicy apple with a lovely balance of tartness. When you cut through the reddish green skin you’ll discover a snow white flesh. Interestingly, they are slow to turn brown so they are just the variety to serve raw in a salad or on a fruit and cheese plate.

Watching Audrey and Sofia run through the orchard, searching for the perfect apple was nothing but delightful. Jay and Tommy would lift the girls up so they could reach the higher fruit. They insisted on carrying their own bags, no matter how full and heavy they became.

At some point, each of us would spot an apple we were sure was flawless. Lovely shape, bright color, surely sweet and tart on the inside. We’d stretch and reach and weave between the leaves and branches to get our hands around it, only to be sorely disappointed. A worm hole or a soft spot was discovered. The picker let out a groan, opened their hand so the apple would fall to the ground and continue the hunt. We left full of fresh air and with a trunk full of fruit.

But as much as I enjoy the taste of apples, I rarely just grab one and take a bite. Instead, I prefer them alongside other flavors. Like cheese. And meat. And bread. I mean, that makes sense, right?

Seize the last days of fall, get out to the orchard and make some memories. And then make this snack.

***

Apple and Speck Crostini

I’ve been making these for snacks and dinner parties nonstop since bringing home bags of apples. In this version, I used pecorino cheese. It’s hard, salty and made of sheeps milk, contrasting beautifully with the sweet apples and honey. I also made a version with a good quality blue cheese which was equally delicious. If you can’t find speck, prosciutto will also work well.

Use this:

1 baguette, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

2 apples (such as Cortland), cored and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices

4 oz pecorino cheese, sliced

6 oz thinly sliced speck, cut crosswise into three sections

2 tbsp honey

1/4 cup olive oil

salt

pepper

Do this:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the bread pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush each slice with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and toasted, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Top each crostini with a slice of cheese, a slice of apple and a mounded slice of speck. Drizzle honey over the entire platter of crostini and serve.

***

Get In On The Milking Action

Years of working as a news reporter has trained me to be completely unafraid of asking someone I barely know if I can come over to their home. This lack of fear and social boundaries seriously paid off a few weeks ago when Jay and I hit the road for a homesteading field trip. And the only thing on my mind was milking goats.

I know a lovely young woman named Lynn who, like me, works in television. She’s a director for the 5 Eyewitness News morning broadcasts. She works early mornings and aside from saying hello in passing, she and I never had much contact at work.

That all changed when she heard through the grapevine that some chickens were coming home to roost at my house.

Lynn sent me an email saying she learned I was adding a flock to my life. And over the course of a few weeks, she told me about her homesteading life. The only natural thing for me to do was to declare that I must come over and see this for myself. As in, this Saturday. With my camera. And my boyfriend. And armed with about eight thousand questions.

Lynn, being an overall delightful person who is clearly used to dealing with pushy reporters, replied with a “yes” and we were on our way.

Brownton, Minnesota is a town of 800 about 60 miles West of Minneapolis. Lynn and her fiance Shane are two of those residents. Lynn has a brutal commute to work every day, but she says there’s no question it’s worth it.

That’s because Lynn and Shane live on a five acre homestead complete with a garden, a barn, chickens and very smiley goats. And Lynn said if we arrived by three in the afternoon, we could get in on the milking action.

Entertaining us for an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon was a serious sacrifice for these two because time’s-a-wasting. When a typical couple is planning to get married the following month, they have lots of little details to take care of. But these two are a totally different story.

That’s because Lynn and Shane are having their wedding on their property. They are renovating the upper level of this barn so they can pledge to spend their lives together inside it.

Below, four goats curiously greet us from their stalls. These lovely ladies are milked twice a day so Lynn can turn their milk into goat cheese. She’s freezing each batch to serve to her guests who will be seated at tables in the yard for the wedding reception. I helped with the milking…although I haven’t quite mastered the double-hand rhythm that Lynn has.

After the goats are good to go, we head outside to search for the chickens. These birds run wild during the day and return to their shelter at dusk.

Just days ago, they were slaughtered. And soon, those birds who roamed free like chickens should, will be cooked by the chef at a local restaurant and plated up for the couple’s first post-wedding dinner. Isn’t that amazing?!

Also on the property is a coop for the laying hens and their handsome rooster. Like Jay and I, Lynn and Shane have an Americauna and a Buff Orpington.

They also have a Barred Rock, but theirs is the man of the house. Seeing the grown version of our teenaged chicks was fascinating. Their rooster hates to be separated from his girls and wasn’t too happy about our visit. While we walked through the run and the coop, he squawked and crowed outside the fence. Clearly, we were in his territory.

We explore some more, wandering past the garden, some grape vines and a black walnut tree. And then it’s into the house for a little goat milk tasting session.

We passed the living room on our way into the kitchen and something caught my eye. An example of Lynn embracing all sides of her. The side that wants to raise her own food and live in the country. And the one that wants to look great in a darn cute outfit. Stacked on top of Country Living magazine was the latest J.Crew catalog. Ahhh, the yin and the yang of life.

Lynn pulled out a mason jar of fresh, raw goat milk and poured some into two glasses. The milk was cold, creamy and slightly tangy.

She unwrapped a mound of creamy, white goat cheese and plated it up. We pulled crumbly chunks off of the plate and popped them into our mouths. It was light but creamy at the same time. The flavor was mild but with a more intense tang than the milk.

Not only do I invite myself over to Lynn and Shane’s house, but once I arrive, I ask to take photos of the inside of their refrigerator. In that moment, it seemed like the right thing to do. It was overflowing with jars of raw milk and cartons of multi-colored eggs. Thinking about it now, I realize I clearly have no shame.

Lynn and Shane sent us on our way with more milk and a dozen precious eggs from their hens. Jay and I drove back to the city feeling nothing but admiration for our new friends.

It’s clear Lynn and Shane have a vision of what they want their life to look like and they are making it happen with every milking session, every long drive to and from work and every nail they pound into that barn. And that’s something they should be very proud of.

Outstanding In The Field

One of the greatest joys of my day job is the opportunity I have to share the stories of people in the Twin Cities. I love to see how people live and the passion behind what they do. Of course, when those stories are centered on anything related to composting, cultivating or cooking, they are even more interesting to me. Today is an example of that.

For about a year now, I’ve been checking in on the work of an organization called Outstanding in the Field. My sister tipped me off to these pioneers of the modern farm dinner and I’ve been dying to get to one of their events. When I saw that an Afton, Minn. farm was hosting a feast in it’s field this summer, I knew I had to go there and see it for myself.

The concept is simple: the Outstanding crew travels from farm to farm across the country. They connect top local chefs with sustainable farms to create a dinner for up to 200 guests. The diners share one long communal table for a dinner party unlike any other.

Little Foot Farm is a place I absolutely, positively fell in love with. I felt at home the minute I arrived on the property.

Karen and Sally own the farm. They are raising pigs, chickens, produce and their two sons. And the Outstanding meal centered on the pork. Chefs Scott Pampuch and Mike Phillips created the menu months ago, preparing by pickling seasonal vegetables and curing the meat.

It’s an intimate and unique way for guests to get as close to the production of their food as possible.

And you can get as close to the experience as possible by watching this:

The only thing I’ll do differently at the next Outstanding event I attend? Less working, more eating!