You can take the girl out of the farm …

Photo Credit: Joe Murphy

… Picturesque …

Photo Credit: Joe Murphy

… Quiet …

Photo Credit: Joe Murphy

… Idyllic …

This is my home. This is Iowa. This is farm country.

These pictures show the beautiful scenery here. What they do not capture is the less-than-glamorous side: the hard labor, the investment of time and money, the nurturing of plants and animals (24/7/365), the fear of uncontrollable variables, and the never-ending piles of dusty, dirty laundry.

My husband and I were happy to be selected, along with about 50 other people, to go on a two-day tour of farms in SE Iowa. This trip was organized by the Iowa Food & Family Project to provide an opportunity for people to experience and learn about agriculture in Iowa. This year’s trip focused on farms near Pella, Oskaloosa, and Iowa City with stops at grain, pork, dairy, and turkey farms.

If you’ve been following along with my blogs, you know that I am a devout Iowa State Cyclone and St. Louis Cardinal fan. This portion of the state is NOT my comfort zone. This is Hawkeye and Cubs territory. You should be very impressed with my devotion to my blog …

What I learned on this tour is that farming in NW Iowa is exactly the same as farming in SE Iowa.

And it’s not.

The Same.

Faith, Family, Farming – My dad use to say that if you made these things your priority AND you kept them in order, everything would work out. It was clear that the farmers we visited on our tour agree. There was evidence of this from the signs on their walls to the prayer offered before our meal, the 91-year-old grandfather who keeps an eye on the work of his son and grandson while mowing the grass on all their farms, the four children who waited expectantly for us to arrive in our big tour bus to show us their turkeys, and the passion with which they all told their stories of fortune, famine, expansion, community and history.

The other common thread? These men and women love the land. There has been a lot of controversy and media coverage on GMO’s, water pollution, manure management, livestock practices, conservation, and food safety. Farmer’s are under a lot of pressure over these issues. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. The land and the animals are the investment and livelihood of these people. The products and machinery they use are absurdly expensive. They want to protect these things because it is the right thing to do and to not protect them is counterproductive and costly.
  2. Just because a farmer does not shout his/her case in the eye of the media or argue politics on the floor of a government assembly does not mean he/she does not have an educated, passionate answer. An intelligent and considerate question will be answered with an intelligent and considerate explanation.
  3. Technology is embraced by farmers. It is transforming the industry and allowing farmers to know their fields and animals at a much more detailed level than ever before. When a field fire is approaching a hog facility, and the manager of the facility receives notification of the fire and can control the temperature, misters, and, therefore, the comfort levels of the animals immediately through an app on his/her phone, that’s progressive farming.
  4. One bad apple spoils the barrel … and gets the attention of the world. Of course there are farmers who don’t follow the rules and abuse their land/animals. Shame on them. But that shouldn’t tarnish the reputation of the good and honest.
  5. These people invited us onto their property to ask questions. Every single one of them told us that no question was off-the-table. They encouraged us to ask so they could explain. We did and they did. What a concept …

And it’s not.

Farming in NW Iowa is as different from farming in SE Iowa as it is from farm to farm within the same county. Farmer’s are notorious for asking each other “How much rain did you get?” and then shaking their heads that just a mile or two down the road received the exact amount they needed. In the same way, they are grateful when the hail that damaged a field two miles away, didn’t touch a leaf of their crops. Of course, not all their fields are in one area so there’s the post-weather-event drive to check the conditions of the other locations. Unlike most business, farmers do not revel in the loss of their competitors. They mourn it because they are not competitors, they are friends and comrades.

Variability is magnified when you talk about different parts of the state. Soil types, pest problems, flat verses hilly land (no, Iowa is NOT all flat), and climate zones contribute to the science of farming. It is impossible to say that farming is the same all over the state.

And, yet, it felt like home.

After all, when it comes to farmers, it’s a tight community. At our first stop, one of our hosts asked me where I was from.

Me: Near Storm Lake
Tom: Oh yeah? Which town?
Me: Alta?
Tom: Really! Do you happen to know Ernie Glienke?
Me: Yep! He’s my uncle and Godfather!

That’s how it works around here.

Faith, Family, Farming … and FOOD!

As would be expected from a group with the word “food” in their name, we were fed well! Our trip started with a breakfast of yogurt parfait, hard-boiled eggs, and muffins. The parfait were compliments of Anderson-Erickson Dairy, a third-generation, family operated Iowa dairy.







Along the way, local favorites were brought to us … you know, to tide us over! Homemade S’more Ice Cream bars from the Kalona Creamery and kolaches from the Golden Delight Bakery in Kalona.

Blessed with beautiful weather, we were treated to a wood-fire pizza dinner on a farm near Wellman, Iowa. This pretty farm is home to the brick pizza oven of my dreams. Stonewall Pizza fires up the oven … literally … on Friday nights and people come from all around to enjoy their pizzas, yard games, live music, and the peace and quiet of farm life.

I even came home from this trip with a new favorite summer pizza combination: sweet corn, tomato, and bacon! Seriously … is there anything that says “Iowa Farm Country” than that???

… but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

A recurring theme throughout our tour was established by the “younger” generation who were establishing themselves. I think I heard three different 30-somethings say “When I graduated high school, I was never going to live on a farm again!” They practically blush (men and women) when they say this because obviously the pull of farm life got to them.

As it does me.

I do live in a suburb. When the seasons change, I need a drive in the country to see the crops. I crave a trip back to the family farm to ride in the combine or just eat a meal to the field. I don’t miss the hog production side of things as much, but I sure do miss the bacon … and ham … and chops.

I’m not back on the farm … yet.

Thanks, Iowa Food & Family Project, for giving me a taste of what I miss.

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Foodventurous: Magnolia Market

After a few days of near perfect weather, crazy amounts of food, a headful of blogging information, and making friends with a bunch of lovely ladies from around the country (Foodventurous: Austin), I was not quite ready to go home. There was one more foodventure to take: MAGNOLIA! A bus trip up to Waco, Texas, was offered by the conference organizers and my husband and I are big followers of Chip & Joanna:


The only disappointment of the day was that this was as close as we would come to getting our picture with them!

The words that would best describe this place are “Chip and Joanna”. If you’ve ever watched their show, or read their book, or had any glimpse of these two together, that is the feeling you get on every square inch of this property. The staff is constantly on the move to make the experience as close to perfect and pleasant as possible. The grounds are immaculate. There’s a wide-open play area for kids (of all ages). It is a light-hearted, honest, clean, joyful place. It’s like everyone there was as happy as Joanna when she says “shiplap”!

The property consists of the market, bakery (highly recommend the lemon-lavender cupcake), garden shed, silos, food trucks, and the open-air play area. This is the perfect place for a picnic!


And that brings me around to the picture of the empty picnic table:


These tables lined the area right outside the silos. There were plenty of other tables too, but I kept thinking: “You are Picnic Life Foodie! Take pictures of picnic tables!”

When I looked at my pictures later, I was so disappointed that I didn’t take a few minutes to stage a full picnic on these tables for the pictures. Why hadn’t I implemented some of the things I had learned at the conference?

But the more I looked at this picture, the more I liked it. It represents everything I try to bring to my blog: simple, relaxed, comfortable, open, inviting, innovative.

I like the idea that when you look at this picture, you can imagine YOUR ideal picnic:

  • linen, candles, wine and charcuterie,
  • red gingham, daisies, fried chicken and pasta salad,
  • paper bags, balloons, sandwiches and chips, or
  • live music, a blanket from the car, pizza and beer.

Whatever your preferences, the tables are waiting.

Fill ’em up!

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Foodventurous: Austin

About six months ago, I received an e-mail from my oldest son that said something like, “Hey Mom! This sounds like you!” Attached was a link to a food blogger conference to be held in Austin, Texas. My first reaction was laughter. After all, I’m a rookie. My second reaction was shock. Am I such a rookie that I didn’t even think that there might be conferences for bloggers? And specifically food bloggers? My third reaction was curiosity.

I clicked the link.

April … Austin … food … oh yeah, better check out the agenda!

I expected cooking and gardening classes but found social media panels, SEO management, photography and video editing sessions, advertising and marketing. So many things about which I knew next to nothing.

Isn’t that the best reason to go to a conference?

My husband’s reaction to my idea? “Can I go with you?”

A little over a week ago, we boarded a plane for Austin: warm weather, some time with my cousin and her family, and facing the fear of the unknown.

  1. Would I be the oldest blogger attending? (I wasn’t.)
  2. Would I be the blogger with the smallest following? (Pretty sure I was.)
  3. Would I stick my foot in my mouth? (Yep!)
  4. Would I get to eat my way through a great city? (SO glad I packed loose-fitting clothes.)
  5. Would I learn enough to make the expense feel like an investment? (Definitely!)

To tackle fears head-on, you need to surround yourself with people who will encourage you and tell you to your face that you are being ridiculous … in my case, that calls for family!

When you come from a big extended family, there aren’t many places to travel without family near. For some people this might be a deterrent, but not for me! My extended family is a riot. And one of the best parts about Austin is that my cousin, Nicole, her husband and two adorable boys live there. We spent two nights with them, enjoying their pool and patio, sampling the areas best BBQ (Big Cat BBQ – get the ribs!) and donuts (Donut Crown – get the apple fritters), playing with and reading books to the boys, and catching up.

A mini-family-reunion broke out when Cousin Lynn, who lives in Fort Worth, drove down with her sweet daughter, and Cousin Kevin and his wife, from Austin, came over to see us. Southern hospitality at it’s finest! And laughter … loud laughter. It’s inherited.


Memories are made when you make peanut butter brownies with a 2-year-old in his Superman jammies! This guy has chef skills … he listens well, he is careful, he let me help him, and his mom and dad taught me a thing or two about the culinary world (can you say “sous vide“?).

We said good-bye to family and hello to downtown Austin.

As I mentioned earlier, this conference was not about food but the food of Austin was highlighted at every opportunity. Early registration took place at the Embassy Suites on South Congress where we were staying. It was during this time that all my fears disappeared. After all, I had just entered a room full of food-loving, blog-writing, creative and curious people. The ice-breaking, conversation-starting statement was “So, tell me about your blog?”

It didn’t hurt that the room was also filled with amazing small plates and plenty of adult beverages prepared by the hotel’s award-winning restaurant, SoCo Bar & Bites!

Over the next two days, the organizers of the conference would woo us with incredible amounts of regional favorites: food trucks & caterers, cupcakes and pies, biscuits, fries, and grilled cheese (a.k.a. “melts”). Here’s a glimpse of all the food I ate … I mean, all the food that was offered to us. 😉

Yes, the food was impressive but equally impressive was the venue. Our days were spent at the beautiful Mercury Hall: inside for sessions and outside for breaks and eating.

So the food was great, the location was great, the weather was great … but what about the meat and potatoes (can’t pass up a good food analogy) of the conference? The information, instruction, and demonstrations? We were instructed, encouraged, and challenged by veteran food bloggers, advertising gurus, viral video entrepreneurs, and brand representatives. We were guided through the mazes of SEO (search engine optimization), advertising options, photo and video usage and editing, social media interactions, revenue options, and brand contracts.

After 20 years of owning my role as a stay-at-home mom, my brain was working hard to retain as much of this fast-paced information inundation as possible. I cut myself a little slack when during one of the presentations the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we have more than 100,000 followers and the hands of about half of the attendees went in the air. It was at that moment that I thought: “Girlfriend, you just concentrate on the topics and points that apply to you and your blog right now.” The future will take care of itself!

One of my favorite parts of the conference was when we were given the opportunity to implement the instructions we had received on staging and taking photos of food. We were given all kinds of salad ingredients, placemats and backgrounds, vegetables and herbs, fruits and plates and were asked to build a beautiful plate and take pictures of it. The first picture above was the very first picture I took and the one on the left was the last. Not perfect … but it was very rewarding to watch the pictures progressively improve.

I think the greatest gift of this conference was getting to know some really remarkable women and the ability to follow their blogs, learn from their perspectives and bounce ideas and questions around with them. I can’t wait to try some of their recipes and share them with you via Facebook!

Our evenings were free for us to explore Austin on our own. Downtown Austin is ideal for walking and discovering. The first night we headed north on Congress to a recommended restaurant called Moonshine Grill for some “Classic American Comfort Food”.


Now this place may be described as “Classic American Comfort Food”, but when you see things like “Rosemary Fries” and “Green Chile Cheddar Grits” and “Chipotle Cream Gravy”, you know comfort food has been taken to another level. I debated long and hard on what to order. I was stuck between the Green Chile Macaroni and the Chicken and Waffles.

Any guesses what I had?

I never really understood the concept of chicken and waffles. It always seemed too sweet for me (which is saying something). But this waffle wasn’t as sweet as breakfast waffles and the crispy, light coating on the chicken had a good kick of spice and salt that balanced it out. Fear of it being too sweet did not keep me from pouring maple syrup over it. After all, the chipotle cream gravy had a job to do too.


After all of that comfort food, it was a good thing we had to walk back to the hotel. We had crossed a big bridge on our way to the restaurant and on the way back, that bridge was packed with people. We had heard about a bridge in Austin that housed a bat colony during a certain time of year but didn’t realize it was the bridge a block away from our hotel. Our timing was perfect because within 10 minutes of our arrival, the bats started flying out from under the bridge (in a 4-6′ area) and created a cloud of bats moving through the evening sky.


This evacuation of hundreds of thousands of bats lasted long enough for us to cross the street, walk down the sidewalk to the area where the bats were emerging and find a place directly over the bats where people were already leaving. Over the edge we could see a crowd had formed on the bank of Lady Bird Lake and the cruise boats and kayaks were filling the water with those wanting an extra-special vantage point.

Even if you are queasy about bats, this is nature at its finest. I truly felt like I was witnessing a miracle … the instincts and migration patterns alone are astounding. And we just happened to be crossing a bridge at the exact right moment.

Our second free night, we returned to the north side of Lady Bird Lake and found a contemporary Mexican restaurant with, my favorite, outdoor seating. La Condesa is the perfect place for those with a foodventurous spirit. I will let the pictures and menu descriptions speak for me …



El Cubico Cocktail (pictured below with tacos)

whole leaf tobacco infused cazadores reposado
vanilla-infused brandy
grilled-pineapple juice
mezcal essence
volcanic saffron salt rim





Hamanchi Ceviche

calamansi broth
crispy garlic
charred onion
habanero truffle oil





Conchinita Pibil Tacos

achiote-braised pork shoulder
black beans
pickled red onion
habanero escabeche





Dulce De Leche

dulce de leche pudding cake
sweet corn cream with saffron
cream cheese ice cream
caramelized popcorn

Dining out has become about much more than just eating for me. My best experiences happen when I am captivated by ingredients that are new to me, or the presentation is its own work of art, or the wait staff is visibly pleased to be asked about a menu item. La Condesa provided that kind of experience.  And that’s not just the tequilla and brandy talking. (HIGHLY recommend the El Cubico, by the way!)

It would be safe to assume, after this lengthy description, that this was the conclusion of our trip. But it wasn’t. The amazing organizers of our conference arranged for an optional bus trip to Waco, Texas, to … you guessed it … Magnolia Market! This bucket-list trip and an explanation of the empty picnic table pictured here deserve an independent post.

Foodventurous: Magnolia Market


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Foodventurous: Minneapolis II


I may have to make a subcategory under “Foodventurous” just for Minneapolis. Since our oldest son moved there, my husband and I look for excuses to jump on I35 North and spend a weekend with him and his girlfriend. Our “excuse” this time?

2017 Pheasants Forever National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic

My husband and our almost-5-year-old Brittany, Stark, are avid pheasant hunters. When Marty saw that the convention was being held in downtown Minneapolis, he knew it wouldn’t take much to get me to go. Spend time with our son and the promise of trying a couple new restaurants? Count me in.

With a quick stop at IKEA on our way into Minneapolis (a new garlic press, single egg pan, two glass measuring cups, and a few birthday gifts later … yes, that’s all the damage I did), we were just in time to meet Nick and Katelyn after work. Our plan was to try an Italian restaurant that I had seen on … you guessed it … “Diners Drive-Ins and Dives“: Broder’s.

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I checked out their website and discovered that there isn’t just one Broder’s option, but four! There’s Terzo (Wine Bar & Restaurant), Cucina Italiana (Deli), Grande Occasione (Catering), and Broder’s Pasta Bar (Restaurant). Since we were celebrating Katelyn’s birthday and she is a pasta-loving girl, I chose the Pasta Bar.  As you can see, there is a big bar area that overlooks the kitchen where the fresh pasta (made daily) is turned into amazing menu items. Small tables surround the outside of the room and a line runs down the hall and out onto the patio. Although I couldn’t make a reservation, the hostess was kind enough to warn me over the phone that on a Friday or Saturday night, there would likely be a 45-60 minute wait. Remember, this is February in Minneapolis. Waiting outside? It was chilly but we happened to be waiting outside during one of the warmest February weeks in history. So a nice glass of red and a blanket from the car …

All good.

Wish we had realized that Broder’s Deli (full of fresh pasta and Italian food items imported from Italy) was right across the street and a perfect place to browse, be warm, and pass time (note to self for next visit or note to you should you take me up on my recommendation).

Because we didn’t arrive at the restaurant until almost 7pm, we had a 90 minute wait.

Worth. Every. Second.

We tried hard to use our manners and not instantly devour the plate of bread that was brought to our table while we chose our entrées:

  • fettuccini alla Bolognese (egg pasta with beef, pork and nutmeg ragu),
  • linguine con vongole (egg pasta, button clams, pancetta and white wine),
  • tortelloni de barbabietola (golden beet and mascarpone tortellini with hazelnuts), &
  • penne rosa al rosmarino (pasta with rosemary, cream, chilies and tomato).

You guessed it. I’m the beet and hazelnut plate. AMAZING combination! All four of us were pleased with our choices. Marty’s pasta with clams was particularly good. He’s usually a tomato-sauce guy but this may have shifted his preferences a little.

Broder’s is one of those places that spoils my adventurous spirit … at least the Minneapolis-Italian portion of my foodie spirit. It still counts as adventurous spirit if you keep trying new things on the menu, right?

Saturday was reserved for two things: Pheasant Fest and ISU basketball. We wanted to be at the convention center by 10 am and I needed (more) coffee. An Instagram post had grabbed my caffeine-depleted attention (somebody cut me off of Food Network and social media) and pulled me to Five Watt Coffee.

Warm, caffeinated, art in a cup. The two coffee drinkers in the group indulged in a Busy Beaver (maple, cinnamon, molasses and black pepper) and a Sheepnose (apple, maple, and bourbon reduction). The Busy Beaver tasted like German Peppernut cookies melted in coffee, a perfect combination. Nick had the Sheepnose and was nice enough to let me sample (like he had a choice) which was more subtle on the flavors. I think I would have liked his more had I not already tried, and fallen for, the peppernut concoction.

Fully caffeinated, we were off to Pheasant Fest. The kids (yes, I still call them “kids” … it’s all relative) were willing to go with us once they found out there would likely be puppies to hold and dogs to pet. The convention center was filled with aisles of vendors handing out freebies, 6 stages set up around the outside for presentations and, yes, dogs! My husband had presentations on bird dog training he wanted to see and as I was looking through the program, I got a very unexpected surprise: a cooking stage! I don’t know why I didn’t expect it because the vast majority of hunters I know are very conscientious consumers and cooking wild game well requires special attention. Looking over the list of presenters, I saw the name “Amy Thielen” … cookbook author (The New Midwestern Table), Food Network Show host (Heartland Table), and Minnesota resident/celebrity/chef!


While Marty was learning more about dog training, and Nick & Katelyn were loving up dogs, I planted myself in her audience. She presented a venison bolognese with homemade pasta and shared stories of her time as a chef in NY, her family’s butcher shop, and her hometown. She asked for help from the attendees in shaping the pasta and no one responded. I hate that. So next thing you know, I’m on stage with another cooperative soul, shaping pasta into orecchiette (little ears). By the end of her presentation, I had also won a pound of bacon from their family butcher shop and was in line for her to autograph my new copy of her cookbook. She was also kind enough to pose for a picture.

Following Amy’s presentation, Hank Shaw was scheduled to speak. I was not familiar with that name, but my husband was. And I’m so glad I now am. Hank is, what I would call, a nature chef, as is evident by the name of his James Beard Award-winning website/blog: hunter-angler-gardener-cook. I knew I liked this guy when I saw that one of his cookbooks is titled “Duck. Duck. Goose.” and another “Buck. Buck. Moose”. He gave a very engaging talk on how to Build a Better Stew. I didn’t think I should spend more at this event than Marty so I didn’t buy his book … but I will be checking out his website and blog for more tips and recipes.

There really was something for just about everyone at this event: coloring, painting, fishing and sponge-dart shooting for the kids (of all ages); nature preservation (DNR, NCRS, bees/honey, monarch butterfly displays, wildflower restoration); and did I mention puppies?

By midafternoon, we were ready to get off our feet, catch the Iowa State basketball game on TV, and dig into a Minnesota favorite, Heggies Pizza. Heggies is a frozen pizza company based in Milaca, Minnesota (about an hour north of Minneapolis) and widely available at gas stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Apparently it is a crime if you don’t almost burn the top or if you cut it in triangles. All I know is it went great with a Cyclones victory and some of Nick’s latest batch of ale.

Before heading back to Iowa on Sunday, we had two goals: a store my friend said I HAD to visit and a Juicy Lucy.

The store is called Bachman’s and it is HUGE! It is a floral, garden center, home decor heaven, and cafe. Marty knew he was in trouble the minute we walked through the doors.


I found a seed sprouting system for the microgreens I’ve been wanting to try to grow as well as a few seeds to try in it. Watermelon radishes and lemon cucumber seeds also made it into my basket. I have been looking for the lemon cucumber seeds since we returned from our Colorado vacation last August. We were served these cucumbers as part of a salad at the Fly Fishing resort and my eyes were opened to a whole new concept of cucumbers. My final selection was this little Smoke in a Cup. I have wanted to experiment with adding smoke flavor to the food we grill and this will be the perfect starting point.

I’m getting pretty excited just thinking about the pictures and blogs that will come out of this last paragraph, not to mention the food!

After about an hour, I was rounded up and forced out of the building … a slight exaggeration … we were all ready for lunch. Burger time! But not just any burger, a Jucy Lucy.

This is Matt’s Bar. Matt’s is in a never-ending battle with at least one other Minneapolis burger joint for the title “Home of the Original Jucy Lucy”. This battle has been well fought on Food Network, The Travel Channel, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc. There is something about a line out the door of a small bar with a cooktop and fryer smaller than many kitchen islands (repeat after me: I will not complain about the size of my kitchen) that makes the food inside worth investigating.


The only part of the bar that you cannot see in the top picture is a booth with a sign in it that says “It’s COLD in this BOOTH. ALWAYS.” More fun signs were to be found downstairs on your way to the very clean bathroom.


Four Jucy Lucys, a basket of fries, and a couple of beers please!


I’m not sure if I should blame the lighting in the bar or the fact that my hands were trembling a little with hunger for the lack of focus on the cheese in this picture but you get the idea! I think it’s the grilled onions that really puts this burger over the top. Onions and the charred edges … mmmmmmm.

Tummies full, we head back to Nick’s apartment to pack up and head home. It is so much fun to spend a weekend in the city. Stark likes visiting Nick too. There are lots of dogs in the apartment complex. Mostly, he likes the view.


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12 Plates of Pork

Have you ever entered a contest on social media by commenting on, liking, and/or sharing a post? Will you enter pretty much any contest? Do you only enter those with a prize that you really want? Or do you scroll past it thinking “I never win those things.”

I’m usually a “scroller”, but a few weeks ago, a post on Facebook caught my attention. The Iowa Food and Family Project was offering two tickets to something called “The 2017 Iowa Taste Of Elegance” sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers. I didn’t know what this was but it had the words “Iowa” and “Taste” and “Pork” in the description, so I really didn’t need any more information or incentive. To enter, all I had to do was comment on the post identifying my favorite restaurant in Iowa to order pork (FYI: Los Tres Amigos in Waukee – Carnitas Dinner). Done.

A little time on google revealed that this was a tasting of pork dishes prepared by 12 chefs from across the state in competition for monetary awards and bragging rights. I was pretty curious. Curiosity became excitement when I learned I had won!

Never say “never”.

On January 23rd, my husband and I attended the event held at the CCCU Convention Center in Des Moines, not really knowing what to expect. We knew we’d be eating. 👍 We had discovered that we would be eating pork loin, the cut all chefs had to feature in their dish. 👍 What we did not expect was local celebrity sightings, a reunion with a fellow baseball dad/coach, and inspiration for some pretty amazing combinations!



Gorgeous, right?

Each guest made their way to the Chefs’ tables to pick up a “taste” of each entry. We were at a table on the edge of the room and by the time we could get to some of the chefs, many had run out of the sides/condiments. Even though we didn’t get to try all of the elements of the dishes, it was awesome to see and taste the personalities of the chefs and the restaurants they represented.


Here is a list of the competitors and their dish:

  1. Daniel Dennis – Independent Catering Chef – Cedar Rapids
    Fancy Pork Nacho
  2. Brian Pomerenk – Iowa Machine Shed – Urbandale
    *did not compete
  3. Wallace Franklin – The Whiskey House – Ankeny
    Boubon Pork Tenderloin, Mashed Potato Truffle Esmpuma, Raspberry Pomegranate Gastrique, PIckeled Chanterelle Mushrooms and Rainbow Chard
  4. Jordan Walton – Harvey’s Diner and Pub – Redfield
    Pan Seared Pork Tenderloin, Basil and Sweet Potato Bread Pudding, Hoisin Braised Mustard Greens, Caramelized Mandarin, Red Pear Ponzu Sauce
  5. Travis Taylor – Marlenes at Sevastopol Station – Des Moines
    *no description
  6. Troy Tucker – Caroline’s Restaurant Hotel Julien – Dubuque
    Seared Pork Tenderloin with Aquavit Infused Hungarian Pepper Sauce
  7. Brenden Waltz – Minervas Bar & Grill – Okoboji
    This Little Pig Went to the Fair
  8. Kurt Nyguard – 1910 Grille – Mason City
    Seared Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Sauteed Mushrooms and Apples, Cherry Molasses, Butternut Squash Puree, Honeyed Broccolini
  9. Pamela Oldes – On The Green – Oskaloosa
    Hawaiian Pork served with Coconut Cornbread and Green Bean Macadine
  10. Louis Cram – Diamond Jo Casino – Dubuque
    Pork Tenderloin Cabbage Roll
  11. Ben Jones – Brazen Open Kitchen & Bar – Dubuque
    Pork Tenderloin, Textures of Carrot, Hazelnut Dukkah, Pigtail Briouat
  12. Justin Scardina – Norse Culinary Team at Luther College – Decorah
    Apple Brandy Poached Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Thyme Tart, Fennel Jam, Cherry Mostrada, Apple Brandy Honey Reduction and Crisp Smoke Pork “Chip”

Just reading these descriptions was inspiring my brain to amp up my creativity in the kitchen and at the grocery store. Ideas of savory bread pudding, pickled carrots, mushrooms pared with apples, pureed popcorn (what?), and brandy poached meat, have me thinking about my kitchen as a culinary science lab.

Experiment #1: hazelnut dukkah (Chef Ben Jones).  Dukkah (doo-kah), as I learned after I returned home, is an Egyptian condiment made up of herbs, spices and nuts (commonly hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cumin, and coriander). Salt, fennel, mint and thyme make regular appearances in dukkah recipes. Chef Jones was named “Chef Par Excellence”!

Experiment #2 & #3: mustard greens and pureed popcorn (Chef Brenden Waltz). This past year, I have become quite infatuated with micro-greens. The tiny sprouts of mustard, pea, beet, and radish sprouts packed with flavor and nutrients brighten sandwiches, smoothies and salads. The combination of mustard with pork is always a winner for me and Chef Waltz hit the walk-off homer. His entry, “This Little Pig Went to the Fair”, reminded me of the ever-popular pork chop on a stick, popcorn, and the mustard drizzled over my corn dog. Give me the flavors of a good memory in a formal dining presentation and you’ve got yourself a fan! I e-mailed him to ask for a more detailed description of his entry:

Pork tenderloin roulade, filled with blue ribbon applebutter, wrapped in caul fat, roasted until crispy and sliced. Served on a popcorn puree with a Dijon gaustrique and garnished with Cherry Lane Farms micro mustard greens, and popcorn kernels coated in bacon powder.

Apparently, “popcorn puree” involves simmering buttered and seasoned popped popcorn in heavy cream, straining it and combining the cream with potato puree. Why would anyone go to all this trouble? You should taste it!

Experiment #4: combining everyday ingredients in a more sophisticated way. Chef Nyguard (winner of the People’s Choice Award) captured the flavors of a family dinner on a chilly night by adding sauteed mushrooms and apples over a puree of butternut squash with a drizzle of cherry molasses. He was kind enough to talk with me for a few minutes about his appearance on a segment of the PBS show “Iowa Ingredient“. He is the chef at the 1910 Grille in Mason City, located in the Historic Park Inn (the last Frank Lloyd Wright hotel designed and built in the world). The beautiful 1910 Grille has landed itself on my bucket list of restaurants (yes, an actual list).

Our meal of pork samples concluded with a few samples from the dessert bar! Chocolate covered strawberries, brownies, cheesecakes, lemon bars … I know there were more choices but I was full!

The evening was complete with great food (obviously), music (piano accompaniment), beverages (samples from Iowa craft breweries and wineries), and, as all great dining experiences (a.k.a. picnics) should, great company. In attendance were Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, several local news personalities (including our Emcee for the evening, Eric Hanson from KCCI), and a friend and fellow baseball coach from our days of travelling youth baseball who has been involved with the Pork Producers and the Board of Directors for many years. Catching up with him, hearing about his family, and reliving some old memories really made for wonderful evening.


This picture was on display at the event. It really tugs at this farm girl’s heart. Wide-open blue skies, summer fields soaking up the sun, weathered grain bins waiting for the next bumper crop, the uncertainty of the clouds rolling in … I don’t know who deserves the credit for this piece of art but I’d like to thank them. I am grateful to all the chefs who piqued my curiosity and tugged at my memories of growing up at an Iowa table. And I am grateful to the Iowa Food and Family Project for the opportunity to enjoy this event and for their efforts to promote the farming community in this great state.

As always, I encourage you to be “foodventurous”! Never pass up an opportunity to try new foods, new preparations, new combinations. Never pass up an opportunity to ask the chef how they did something or tell them you liked what they made. Everyone likes to hear their work is valued.

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Exploring SW Colorado

August in Colorado = a perfect vacation for a foodie and her fly fisherman husband.

Our vacation was decided when we were introduced to a place where guided peach orchards meet guided fly-fishing trips. Three nights at the lodge of Black Canyon Anglers (near Delta, CO) and three nights in Ouray (a town known as “The Switzerland of America”) would make for an amazing trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary!


Where there are orchards, there are wineries. Where there are wineries, there you’ll find me. After leaving I70 at Glenwood Springs (and a side trip to pay our respects to Doc Holiday’s grave), we headed southwest for about an hour and a half, taking in the landscape of mountains and rivers. At the town of Paonia, we got into the heart of orchard country and stopped for a little wine-tasting at three wineries: Stone Cottage, Azura, and Black Bridge (I know that sounds like a lot but they were so close together, I couldn’t choose!).

Stone Cottage Cellars

Azura Cellars & Gallery

Black Bridge Winery

The views from Stone Cottage and Azura are breathtaking, and although the two are just around the bend from each other, they have completely different vibes. Stone Cottage is simple and rustic, charming and quaint. We sat down with two other couples who arrived shortly after us and small talk came easily.

Azura gave me the feeling of being in Italy. Of course, I’ve never actually been to Italy (Foodventurous 2017?), but for whatever reason, this is how I imagine it. The modern art mixed with the russian sage, the tiled roof, and the hummingbirds bombarding each other to get to the perfect flower drew me in. At the end of our tasting, our server asked “Would you like to try our Chocolate Merlot Sauce?” Oh boy! Dessert!

Black Bridge is best described as a “country market”: welcoming, peaceful, and relaxed. A river runs along the edge of this orchard/winery/market and the grass along it is dotted with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs just begging you to grab some food and come sit down. As we walked to the market, we were greeted by the owners asking us if we wanted to try a fresh peach sundae. Oh boy! Dessert! AGAIN! On Sundays, they have free ice cream with fresh peaches, a drizzle of their own Ripe Peach White Balsamic Vinegar and their Merlot Chocolate Sauce. Amazing!

I love consumable souvenirs. Two bottles of red, a bottle of chocolate Merlot sauce, a bottle of ripe peach white balsamic vinegar and a glass from the first two wineries. I’ll get to those peaches soon.


From Paonia, we only had to drive about 30 minutes to get to Black Canyon Anglers, a fly-fishing guide service and lodge. As I mentioned earlier, this is where trout and peaches meet. Not only is this an amazing fly-fishing lodge, it is also an organic farm and orchard.

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On our first full day at the lodge, we took a guided fly-fishing, white-water rafting trip down 14 miles of the Gunnison River. A 45-minute, half-paved, half off-road drive followed by a 45-minute hike down into the gorge followed by about 7 hours of rafting and fishing (yes, at the same time), produced some incredible catches (the “small” one is mine), incredible scenery and one incredibly tired me.

Throughout the rest of our stay, we had plenty of opportunities to wade and fish the rivers around the property and plot our “the one that got away” stories.

Carin, the organic farm produce manager, gave us a tour of the gardens, greenhouse and orchard. We watched as she checked plants for insects or disease and listened as she talked about new heirloom varieties they were trying and tasted the produce as we walked. Call it an appetizer for what we were going to experience at the evening meals in the lodge.

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The dining area of the lodge overlooks a large portion of the property that runs along the river. If you’re not admiring the view you can admire the hand-painted collage of the property that spans one interior wall. And, if that’s not enough beauty for you, just wait until the food starts arriving!

In the morning, a continental breakfast is waiting, complete with whatever is fresh from the farm. For us, it was peaches and nectarines, as well as fresh hard-boiled eggs.

In the evenings, a four-course meal is prepared by Bill, the lodge chef. He takes the time not only to serve us, but to explain what we are having, how it was prepared and where the ingredients were raised/produced. A few of my favorites were:

  • braised lamb – tender but with those crispy edges
  • fresh salad greens topped with edible flowers – a new experience for me
  • flourless chocolate cake – a bowl of fudgy goodness

What did I take away from these meals? Besides a full and happy tummy? Next year, I will plant nasturtium (the yellow edible flower that added beauty and spice to the salad) and I will spend more time investigating new varieties of vegetables to plant in my garden. Oh, and that I will need a bigger garden!

As if organic gardens, a greenhouse, chickens, sheep and several thousand fruit trees weren’t enough to manage, we also got to witness the harvest of the farm’s hops fields. The vines climb about 20 feet from the ground to a suspended wire up thick ropes. The ropes are first cut at the ground and then cut near the top of the wire and loaded still wound around the rope. The mile and a half walk to watch this process was worth every step … except the one when I almost stepped on a snake.

True story.

After our 3 days at the lodge, we packed up and headed a little farther south to our next destination: Ouray.


On our drive to Ouray, we stopped for lunch at The True Grit Cafe in Ridgway. This John Wayne classic was filmed in this town and surrounding area. We took in the view from the patio over the entrance while taking in some shrimp tacos and peach sangria! I’m not a big fan of old westerns but when you live near the hometown of John Wayne, it’s only right to pay tribute. My husband tried to convince the waitress that people who live within 30 miles of The Duke’s birthplace get a 10% discount. She didn’t think he was as funny as I do!

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When we reached Ouray, a small town nestled in a valley of the San Juan mountains, the lure (get it? that’s a fishing joke) of the waterfalls, hot springs and mountain air welcomed us. We stayed at Box Canyon Lodge which backs to the mountains and has its own set of hot spring fed hot tubs. As the name suggests, it is also conveniently close to Box Canyon Falls … a fantastic place to do a little hiking, experience the thundering falls and take in a spectacular view of the town below. A few blocks down main street and a brief hike away is stunning Cascade Falls. Box Canyon is impressive for its complexity and noise, Cascade Falls is stunning in its simplicity and the ability to sit and view the flow of the water from the top of the cliff to the stream below.

Now, back to the food.

Probably our favorite spot to eat in Ouray was The Timberline Deli and we never got past breakfast to try any of their other food! A beautiful patio area, stuffed french toast, peanut butter donuts, and “the best breakfast sandwich” my husband has ever had (and he took the time to tell them so).

And then we ran into ol’ John Wayne again. The Outlaw restaurant and “legendary home of John Wayne’s hat” provided three reasons why it should be mentioned here:

  1. San Juan Mountain Trout sautéed with lemon-butter and white wine
  2. A very talented piano player
  3. Mud Pie

In case you are wondering, we did share and finish that massive piece of pie. Don’t judge us … we’re celebrating!

IMG_4258This remote area of Colorado provided the two of us the quiet, relaxing getaway we wanted. As a final souvenir from our trip, we were able to hand-pick a box of peaches so we could enjoy the flavors of Colorado while dealing with our post-vacation recovery.



I think it’s obvious (in shear word count alone) that we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of our trip. Reliving it here has been so much fun for me. As I was writing, I realized that this was a true Picnic Life Foodie vacation. After all, it was filled with simple (fresh) food, good company (my favorite travel companion/husband and the wonderful people who served, entertained, and guided us), and a comfortable place (I gotta get me one of these)!