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?

Leftovers For Breakfast

My mom is from Texas and I’ve mentioned that Jay’s mom was Mexican so we are all about the Tex-Mex cuisine in this household. I would never turn down a taco and basically any combination of beans, cheese and rice equals a satisfying meal. And if you’re a Minnesotan, you know that anything baked in a 9×13 pan is a comforting dinner.

This week on Minnesota Live, I shared my ground beef & bean enchilada recipe. I made these last week and my 7 year old asked for leftovers for breakfast the next day so I figured they were worthy of a television appearance. And amazingly, these come together so fast that you can make them from scratch on a weeknight, no problem.

I told the team at Minnesota Live that I fully support shortcuts here (canned refried beans, jarred enchilada sauce and even a packet of taco seasoning) with one exception: you must grate your own cheese. I like to use a raw cheddar from Organic Valley. The pre-grated stuff has anti-clumping ingredients in it that I’m not interested it. Get out your box grater and take 30 seconds to grate your cheese off the block – you won’t be sorry!

One more ingredient note – I’ve been loving the almond flour tortillas from Siete Foods – I think they give you an almost corn/flour hybrid tortilla texture. A package of 8 of them works perfectly for this recipe but you can also use whatever tortilla you prefer! Hope you love them for dinner and even breakfast the next day.

Ground Beef & Bean Enchiladas

Gather this:

1 lb grass fed ground beef

1 tsp olive or avocado oil

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 packet of taco seasoning

1 can refried beans (I use Amy’s Organic Refried Black Beans)

1 package Siete almond flour tortillas (8 count) or your preferred tortilla

8 ounces enchilada sauce (I like Frontera or Siete)

8 ounce block medium white cheddar

cilantro, avocado, sour cream, hot sauce for serving

Do this:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium sized skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and ground beef, breaking up with a wooden spoon. When almost completely browned, add your taco seasoning and 1/2 cup of water. Mix together and simmer over medium low heat until sauce is thick. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool. In the meantime, spoon a thin layer of enchilada sauce into a 9×13 pan, just so it coats the bottom. Lay out all of the tortillas on the counter and spread refried beans on them. You will split the entire can among the 8 tortillas. Divide the taco meat mixture among the tortillas, spooning it on top of the beans. Sprinkle about 1 tbsp of cheese over the meat on each tortilla as well. Roll up the tortillas and place them seam side down in the pan. Place six across, arranged so the ends are touching one side of the pan. Place the two remaining tortilla roll ups lengthwise, end to end. Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the tortillas (if you’re using Siete – you’ll have some extra. One Frontera package will be the right amount for the whole dish.) Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the entire dish and bake for 25-30 minutes – until the cheese is melting and the tortillas are browned. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes or so. Serve with cilantro, avocado, sour cream and/or hot sauce!

Crust of Bread

The impetus for so much of my gardening/composting/chicken raising journey began with one simple principle: reduce waste. Throwing out food just crushes me. And unfortunately, I still do it. I’ll find things buried in the fridge that I forgot about or reach into a bag of produce only to find it’s mushy and moldy. Composting (either in your yard or through a city program) is a great way to prevent food from going in the trash and backyard chickens are some of the best food waste digesters out there. But even better? Do what people have been doing for hundreds of years: use up what you have with recipes that are perfectly suited to ingredients that may seem “past their prime.”

On Wednesday’s episode of Minnesota Live, I shared my favorite ways to use up bread. These are less recipes and more methods – as you can switch out ingredients based on what you like and adjust quantities to reflect the amount of bread you have. If you start making your own bread (my favorite no-knead instructions are from Bread in Five and my sourdough guru is Amanda Paa of Heartbeet Kitchen) you’ll definitely want to make use of these (delicious) strategies as you’ll have a ridiculous emotional attachment to the loaves you pull out of the oven.

Use Up Bread Idea #1: Panzanella Salad

Method: Cut your bread (can be fresh or a few days old) into 1.5 to 2 inch chunks. Any country loaf, sourdough, ciabatta, baguette, etcetera will work great for this. In a large skillet, warm some butter and/or olive oil over medium heat. You want the fat to coat the bread pieces but not soak them. Start with less – add more if the bread pieces look dry. Add the bread to the skillet, toss in the oil or butter and season with salt and pepper. Toast over medium heat until the bread is crisp and browned on the edges. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the salad. **These croutons are great to use atop any green salad or plopped in the center of soup too!** Slice grape tomatoes in half, chop up some cucumber into about 1 inch chunks, drain some kalamata olives, crumble up some feta & chop some herbs (parsley, dill, basil would all be wonderful). In a large bowl, toss all of the ingredients together (including the bread). In a jar, make a simple vinaigrette: I use a ratio of 2/3 olive oil to 1/3 red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, put a lid on the jar and shake to combine. Dress the salad to your liking and toss to combine. Serve right away – this can also sit for a bit as well.

Use Up Bread Idea #2: Toasted Bread Crumbs

Method: Tear bread into chunks and put in your food processor. Blitz until bread is a bread crumb consistency. Drizzle some oil and/or butter in a skillet – add the bread crumbs and toast over medium heat until toasted and crisp. Use in salads, meatballs, meatloaves, on top of pasta – basically anywhere you’d use packaged breadcrumbs.

Use Up Bread Idea #3: Baked French Toast

Before Baking — After Baking!

Method: This is a fabulous way to use up enriched breads like brioche or croissants. Cut the bread into 1.5 to 2 inch chunks. Butter a casserole dish that’s large enough to fit the quantity of bread you have. Spread the bread in the dish in an even layer. Now for the milk/egg mixture ratio: I’ve found that 1 cup milk to 1 egg works beautifully. For this dish, I had about four cups of bread cubes and I mixed 2 cups of milk with two eggs, a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp of vanilla. A dash of cinnamon or nutmeg is also delicious. Whisk together – then pour over the bread. Nestle some berries of your choosing in with the bread and, if you’d like, dot with 1/2 tsp drops of cream cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes – until the custard is set and the tops of the bread peeking out are toasted and crisp. Serve with maple syrup.

Jar of Sauce

A jar of marinara sauce is the ultimate meal starter. Toss some pasta in it and you have a simple dinner. Brown some ground pork or beef, add seasonings and simmer with your marinara and a meat sauce is born. Layer into lasagna, pour into my all time favorite pot of soup, use as pizza sauce, simmer meatballs in it…you get the idea. I’ve been making this marinara for years – I love that the carrots provide sweetness without adding sugar and the flexibility of using any type of canned or jarred tomato that happens to be on sale. The sauce freezes beautifully as well.

Simple Marinara Sauce

Gather this:

1/2 cup olive oil

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 small yellow onion, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

2 28 ounce cans tomatoes (can be whole, diced, crushed or any combination)

1 parmesan rind

2 bay leaves

Do this:

In a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery & garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the tomatoes, parmesan rind and bay leaves and stir.

Simmer, partially covered for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove the rind and bay leaves and blend sauce using an immersion blender in the pot or transfer to a blender carefully. Serve or save!

Stocked With Stock

After quite the hiatus, Home to Homestead is back in action! While my urban farming mission has never taken a pause, sharing it with you here did. But recently the team at my day job launched a brand new show called “Minnesota Live” (9 am central! KSTP TV!) and asked me to contribute by sharing what I’m growing, preserving, fermenting, cooking, eating.

I said “sure!” and decided that this would be the perfect landing place for you to check out the videos if you missed them on television and find the recipes and resources I share on the show. So…here we go!

Last week — I shared how I use every bit of a roasted chicken by making broth out of the leftover bits of meat and bones and adding aromatics and seasoning. This is more of a method than a recipe.

 

Homemade Chicken Stock

Put the following in the insert of your slow cooker:
chicken bones (bonus if you add some feet)
celery
carrot
onion
garlic
peppercorns
bay leaves
fresh or dried herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary, parsley)
mineral salt

Cover with filtered water
Set slow cooker to low – let go for 24 hours
Pull out solids and strain through a fine sieve

Store in containers or jars. If freezing, leave at least an inch of headroom before topping with a lid to allow for expansion. Use in soup, as a replacement for water in grain recipes, drink alone and more!

 

 

 

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.