Supporting the Little Guys

As the crab apple trees and lilacs both came into their full glory, filling the yard with the fragrance of a delayed Spring, I took an additional day of vacation to extend a long weekend, and frantically scrambled to eliminate as much dog and cat hair as possible, while putting together an extra-special spread for the women of my book club.  We are usually pretty low key, but it’s not every day we are honored with the author at the table with us!

Crab Apple Blossoms and Lilacs in Duluth

With a couple of mutual friends in the club, the author of Locally Laid was gracious enough to find time in her busy schedule to join us for the evening to discuss her book.  Lucie Amundsen was fresh off the circuit of events surrounding “One Book Northland,” the annual community-wide book event in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a frequent speaker and instructor on both writing and agriculture-related topics.

Locally Laid, the book

In full disclosure, but honestly not influencing my review of the book (otherwise, I would simply not have put together a blog post at all!), I have come to know Lucie through a variety of intersecting organizations and activities. Before I became acquainted with Lucie personally, though, I became acquainted with her eggs — those of you following my blog for some time may recall this frittata recipe and encouragement to vote for Locally Laid Eggs as part of the Super Bowl commercial promotion contest (link to that post here)!

Lucie herself is kind, smart, and humor-filled — and the book reads as you would expect from someone like that: well-written, funny, and enlightening about what smaller farmers face in trying to break into the big ag industry and over-crowded grocery shelves. While my family has been a fan of “LoLa,” the little chicken that could (along with her “truly worth-every-penny” eggs) from the beginning, I was not aware of the full story behind this start-up until reading the book. Alongside the business story you also receive a healthy dose of classic Northern Minnesota life and understand why we love it here.

Chicken napkin rings to honor Locally Laid.

My book club has gathered every other month or so for the past 5 years, rotating among our dining room tables in the evening after work, enjoying interesting conversation (sometimes which even touches upon the book!), while sharing a light dinner and wine. The book’s theme this time gave me a chance to break out the chicken napkin rings, and do a little fun browsing for “compatible” wines.

Poultry, Agriculture, and "Uncaged" Wines

And a special book club guest provided an excuse for a festive (yet simple-to-prepare) dessert: Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse (link to full recipe provided).  To add a little color, I mixed in some raspberries with the blackberries, and used a four-berry preserve.  The recipe is easily adapted to a variety of fresh fruit preserves and berries.  It can be partially prepared ahead of time and ready to assemble just before serving – a perfect book club option!

Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse

If only I had hosted this book later in the summer, I could have gone to “Farm LoLa” and picked the berries myself to use in the dessert!

Locally Laid is an award-winning book, and is an excellent choice for an engaging book club discussion.  If you are fortunate enough, perhaps you (with or without your book club in tow) can catch Lucie at one of her upcoming speaker events, listed on Locally Laid’s website: http://locallylaid.com/the-book/.

~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relax 

After some holiday shopping, how do you spell R-E-L-A-X?  A little cheese and charcuterie …. with a side of hand-crafted cocktails from Vikre, Duluth’s local distillery (Juniper Gin and Tonic on the left, and Spruce Gin Gimlet on the right).

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. “Relax” is this week’s theme. Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here: Relax.

 

Minnesota State Fair 201: An Advanced Fairgoers Guide

That red-letter day is almost here – our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair!

fair calendar 2015

I have written before of my love for the Great Minnesota Get-Together, in my post “One in 164,694 (People): A Day at the Minnesota State Fair.”  As my boys became teens, and now with one now in college and the other poised to leave the nest next year, I have treasured this tradition of quality mother-son time that is often hard to come by!  Recognizing that we may not have the chance to keep up our tradition attending together every year as they pursue their studies and whatever life holds for them beyond, we make sure to maximize our visits to the Fair — the food, the bargains, the exhibits …. you can’t see it all, but you sure can try.  How do you pack it all in?  Follow me, friend.

Minnesota State Fair crowds, 2014

1.  Do Your Homework.

MN State Fair website

The Minnesota State Fair website is your go-to resource for daily event schedules, entertainment options, logistics, and more.  We map out exhibits and any special music or culutural shows we want to watch, in addition to annual standards.  Key sections of the website to check out?

MN State Fair mobile app

Download the free Minnesota State Fair mobile app.  You can flag the food, merchandise and fun things you want to do while at the Fair, and then scroll through the list of marked items while at the Fair.  The app’s map feature  is particularly useful at the Fair, as it has a feature that allows you to follow the blinking blue dot marking your location to the food, merchandise or fun items on your list.  And if you are craving a certain food item at some point during the day, pull up the app, and use the proximity-based search tool to view the options near you.

Star Tribune's State Fair Guide

The Minneapolis Star Tribune publishes a guide to the Minnesota State Fair the Sunday before it opens.  Then once the Fair opens, the newspaper has helpful and entertaining updates in their Minneapolis Star Tribune online edition.  Rick Nelson, the Star Tribune’s restaurant critic, is always spot-on with his food recommendations (on Twitter @RickNelsonStrib).

Another Minnesota foodie worth following is Andrew Zimmern (on Twitter @andrewzimmern), who outlines his “Top Picks” for the Minnesota State Fair, as well as previewing new foods each year.  And be sure to bookmark Zimmern’s Instagram Scavenger Hunt to join in some photo fun.

2. Park & Ride is the Only Way to Go.

Entrance to the MN State Fair from the public transit parking lot

Parking on the fairgrounds can be a reasonable option if you arrive early in the day and are willing to pay $13.00.  The convenient and free options at any time of day, however, are the Park & Ride lots.  Park your car in one of the many lots scattered around the Twin Cities and hop a shuttle bus to the Fair.  Some lots are popular and may fill by noon on busier days, but a short distance away you are likely to find an alternate option.  Buses run from 8:00 a.m. to midnight.

3.  Support the MN State Fair Foundation and Enjoy a Cool Drink, Air Conditioning, and Clean, Uncrowded Bathrooms!

MN State Fair's J.V. Bailey House

Supporting the Minnesota State Fair with a donation to the Minnesota State Fair Foundation provides multiple benefits — not the least of which is helping to perpetuate the Great Minnesota Get-Together!  Become a “Friend of the Fair” and stop by the Foundation’s J.V. Bailey House when you arrive at the Fair to pick up your Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, calendar, supporter ribbon (contribution level may determine eligibility for different Fair gifts), and enjoy the old-fashioned setting and hospitality of the old groundskeeper’s house.  Contributions made after early August will go toward the following year’s Fair, so make your donation now and look forward to that clean, uncrowded bathroom option next year.

4. Don’t Miss the Crop Art.

Crop art can be found in the Agriculture Horticulture Building, as can the display of fantastical scarecrows. What is crop art?!  I provided some background information on this fascinating creative display in this earlier post.

Scarecrows at the Minnesota State Fair

5. Pet a Piglet.

While the avian flu concerns have emptied the poultry barns of the noisy array of chickens and roosters this year, the animal barns still have plenty to keep you entertained.  Baby farm animals have that universal “aawwwwww” factor, and the Miracle of Birth Center is aptly named.  Seeing a newborn lamb or piglet always invokes a sense of wonder.

Lamb at the MN State Fair

Piglet at the MN State Fair

2014 Poultry Barn, MN State Fair
I’ll be back …..

6.  Prioritize Your Food List — You Can Try, But You Simply Can’t Eat It All.

MN State Fair crepes

Saving the best for last:  At its heart, the Minnesota State Fair is all about the food!  Any regular fairgoer has a list of food favorites, and everyone’s list is different.  We have our favorites, but always try a few of the new foods for the year (see #1 above, with research resources for scouting new foods before you arrive).  With our trip looming, here’s our food plan — the key is having several people to share some items, so you each get a taste without getting so full you can’t sample the next selection.

Our tried-and-true?

  • Fruit and whipped cream crepe from the French Creperie ~ we each get our own to kick off our day at the Fair, no matter what time our day starts.
  • Cheese curds ~ from the Original Cheese Curds
  • Corn Roast ~ roasted ears of corn dipped in a vat of butter, with big composting bins nearby to collect the cobs
  • Mediterranean lemonade smoothie at Holy Land Deli at the International Bazaar ~ THE most refreshing drink on a hot day!
  • Pronto Pup
  • A new favorite after the 2014 Fair?  The Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade

We often share a shake from the Gopher Dairy Bar or a treat from the Dairy Goodness Bar in the Dairy Barn , after viewing the Princess Kay butter head carvings, of course!

Blue Barn's Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz with Chimichurri Sauce

And, finally, the new foods (either new to us or new to the Fair) we intend to add to the list this year!?

  • Butter Queen Coffee Ice Cream from the Hamline Dining Hall
  • Chocolate-Dipped Cherry on a Spoon from Jonny Pops
  • A Salad Named Soo at the Rabbit Hole in the Midtwn Global Market ~ a watermelon, basil, mint, and arugula salad with chili honey lime sauce
  • Minneapple Pie
  • Maple Bacon Funnel Cake from Funnel Cakes

What are your Minnesota State Fair favorites?  Share your tips and Fair traditions in the comments below.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Happy Third Anniversary (to me)!

Three years ago this week, I took the leap and hit the “publish” button for the first time.  The blog “Travel. Garden. Eat.” entered the blogosphere.  Three years of blogging = 314 posts, 21,118 visitors, and 48,048 views.

As I begin year four of my blogging journey, it is interesting to look back on posts of interest — whether yours or mine.  Some have been shared far and wide, others that I hold dear because of the memories they evoke may have stayed closer to home – it’s all good.  When one first tentatively puts that post out for public consumption, whether the effort is viewed or “liked” holds more importance, but I think over time that becomes less and less a point of attention.  Instead, this blog continues to be my creative outlet, for words and images.

Versailles on a Rainy Day
Versailles on a Rainy Day

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

~ Anaïs Nin

The topics of traveling, gardening and eating merely serve as a base — life is rich and varied, and I think blogging often provides the opportunity to remind oneself that the little things in life are often the most rewarding.  A walk in the woods can be just as rejuvenating and eye-opening as a journey across the sea.  Our own backyards often yield just as much interest as the backyards of our neighbors far and near.

Beargrass in Glacier National Park
Beargrass in Glacier National Park

The most viewed posts over the past few years reflect that philosophy of interest near and far.  For the five months I blogged in 2012, the posts with the highest views were all in response to Weekly Photo Challenges — a great way to engage bloggers on a wide variety of topics, and  help inspire a little creative stretch from time to time!  The challenges of Big, Renewal, and Everyday Life generated the most traffic that first year.

Buona sera, Trastevere!
Buona sera, Trastevere!

In 2013, traveling and eating both were reflected in the most viewed posts:

Pre-wash rinse, courtesy of the cat

Moving on to 2014, one of the most popular posts for visitors was my visit to the Apostle Islands’ Ice Caves, “It’s Not Too Late for the Party: Day-Tripping to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves.”

Kat in the cold seat
Kat in the cold seat

And, finally, 2015 — a year not over yet, but one in which I finally returned to gardening in “Gardener’s Mecca in Minnesota: An Illustration of the ‘Why’” for the most viewed post this year-to-date.  Interestingly, one of my older posts, “Iceberg Lake Trail ~ Glacier National Park” also has been a popular post this year — it is a favorite travel memory, so always happy to revisit that one!

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

~ Ansel Adams

Iceberg Lake Trail ~ Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake Trail ~ Glacier National Park

Thank you to all who have followed along since the first year, as well as those who have joined more recently — all 989 of you (spammers and all — I don’t flatter myself to think that I have almost 1000 engaged followers, but I am grateful and amazed by how many truly interesting and engaging bloggers and readers I have met along the way!).  For a little celebratory fun, I updated the look of the blog, and welcome any feedback you have — Font hard to read? Like the layout? Miss the old look?  All comments welcome.

lakewalk kathy corbin 2 4_22_13

Thanks for reading – blog on!

Ciao! ~ Kat

Indian Summer: Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering

Summertime is perfect for lazy afternoons on the patio, with a book in one hand and a beer in the other.  Grilling ribs is an art that requires several hours, so it is a perfect companion for the lazy afternoon on the patio (especially if it is your spouse or partner doing the grilling while you sit with the beer and book!).

My boys and I decided to improve the probability of this scenario by splurging on my husband’s 50th birthday present …… a Primo Oval XL 400 Grill.  Yep, that’s 400 square inches of cooking surface and a ceramic grill construction that allows for perfection in grilling and smoking.  Some men have their dream sports cars, my husband has his dream grill.  When I went shopping for the grill, I texted my sons jokingly, “Do we love him that much?”  My oldest replied, “Well, the grill is a show of love as well as an investment in future meals for ourselves, making the deal substantially more attractive.”  With meals like this Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering, we have been quickly realizing that return on our investment!

Fennel-Spiced Ribs on the grill

The grill was actually the perfect opportunity for my husband to try one of the recipes he had been eyeing in the cookbook I recently purchased from one of my favorite bloggers — Tikka, Tikki & Spicy Bites, authored by Peri Avari and Rohit Kapoor, over at Peri’s Spice Ladle.  The Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering did not disappoint!

After marinating the pork ribs overnight, they were ready for hours of slow roasting on the grill. In order to help keep the ribs moist, my husband sprays them down every 20 minutes or so with a mixture of juice, vinegar and water.

Finishing the Fennel-Spiced Ribs

After smoking the ribs in the rack, and cooking them for a couple hours, he then wraps them in foil to cook for another hour.  The last stage is to put the ribs directly on the grill with indirect heat to finish them with a glaze.

Glazing the Fennel-Spiced Ribs

Using a silicone brush, he glazes with a heated mixture of mango chutney and chicken broth.

Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs on the Grill

After the grilling stage is done, the ribs are transferred to the kitchen for application of the Onion Cilantro Tempering.

Onion Cilantro Tempering on Fennel-Spiced Ribs

Fennel Ribs 20150530 6

We served the ribs with a side of cucumber raita, and bookmarked this recipe for a repeat performance!

Fennel-Spiced Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering and Cucumber Raita

Peri’s newest cookbook, Tikka, Tikki & Spicy Bites, is a bargain at only $5.99 (USD) through Amazon, and also available through Amazon’s international sites.  I have followed Peri’s blog since I began blogging several years ago.  If you are not familiar with Peri’s Spice Ladle, it is a feast for the senses with delicious recipes and food ideas (ranging from family-friendly weeknight meals to more sophisticated dinner and party options), as well as interesting writing on the Indian culture and cooking techniques.

Ciao! ~ Kat