Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Farm (and Sea) to Table

As a mother, I am pretty sure I am constantly screwing up.  Each night thinking back on the day, I make a mental list of things that I know I could have done better.  Some days my list is longer than others, but there is a list every day.

While I sweat the small stuff, I am tremendously thankful that I don't have to worry about the big stuff: food, shelter, or clothing for my kids.  There are plenty of families out there struggling with not having enough, and I want my kids to be grateful for what we do have and not take anything for granted. 

It is particularly important to me that my kids understand where their food comes from, especially that it takes effort for to get it to us.  To stock the tidy shelves of our grocery store aisles, food needs to be grown, harvested, butchered, caught, and collected.  My kids are little, so they learn much better through experience, and we had some amazing ones recently.

Eggs come from chickens (that need to also be cared for) 

This past summer, we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in Hershey, Pennsylvania where breakfast was made from the eggs laid that morning in their chicken coops.  Here is my son at Airy Hill Farm, collecting our breakfast.

Though my daughter was too nervous to handle the eggs, she tagged along as we woke up early, collected the eggs, brought them back to the kitchen, and cooked them for breakfast.  Farm to table, in the truest, quickest sense.

Crabs come from the ocean, and fishing for them requires patience and luck

Later in the summer, we went to the beach and went crabbing.  With strings, fish-head-bait, and a steady hand, even my four year old pulled up a few crabs.  We brought them home, and after a dip in the "Jacuzzi" (despite the lessons I want them to learn, there are some things that need to be delicately explained to nightmare-suggestive preschoolers), we picked their meat and made a delightful salad of crab meat, corn, and tomatoes.

Apples come from trees, need to be grown, picked, and hauled home
Yesterday, as Fall decidedly arrived with a drop in temperature, we picked our own apples.  It was cold and wet, but we had fun climbing the ladder and picking the best low hanging ones.  After lugging the heavy bags back for weighing, the best part was snacking on a freshly picked apple.  (Stay tuned, I have plans for the remainder of those we picked.)
I know these are only individual instances of eating farm (and sea) to table, rather than a life-style, but while we are strolling through the grocery store, where we usually buy things like turkey, fruit, and vegetables, I can say, "These apples grew on trees, just like the ones we picked, remember?"  Or, "See those crabs, they came out of the ocean too." 
Even if my daughter lies screaming and kicking on the floor in the middle of Aisle 4, and my son takes my distraction as an opportunity to scale the shopping cart and stand atop, arms aloft, as the wheels threaten to slide the cart out from under him, I can hope something is sinking in.  Grocery store days are usually long list days.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Barbecue Melt to End it All

And, I'm done! See?!
I finally finished the last of the turkey. Twenty pounds of bird, five days, one girl.  The basic math is that I ate four pounds of it a day, but turkeys are between 25% and 33% bone (5 to 7lbs), and the thighmeat, wings, and some of the breastmeat went into the soup (maybe another 5lbs).  Accounting for moisture loss, all in all, I may have eaten six pounds of turkey over the past week. 
Last night was a quiet ending to this gluttonous, monotonous little project; I didn't even make a turkey cake to celebrate. 
Here's what I did make: 
Barbecue Melt
1 lb cooked turkey, shredded*
1 onion, sliced
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
sandwich bread
sliced American cheese
* if using raw meat, boil it in water until cooked through and falling apart, about 30 minutes.  Drain and save until step 3.
1. Cook the sliced onion in 1T hot oil until tender.
2. Combine the BBQ sauce, ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard and liquid smoke in a bowl.  Add to the onions.  Simmer for 3 minutes.
3. Stir in the turkey.  Simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Load meat onto bread, top with cheese.
Thanksgiving (and its leftovers) is only 48 short days away.  Gobble gobble! 
Grumble grumble. 
But for tonight: PIZZA!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Turkey, You Are Jamaican Me Crazy!

Who has two thumbs and is getting pretty tired of eating turkey? 

This gal!

Day 4.  Ugg.

This stubborn little experiment of waste-not-want-not reminds me of this redundant, albeit hilarious, Family Feud game:

As random as it is for this gentleman to take turkey to the beach, it's not a bad idea to bring the beach to my turkey.  Vacations refresh the soul, and, after multiple days of turkey, my palate could use some refreshment.

This is the view from my sister's honeymoon in Jamaica.  I can almost hear the reggae above the soft crash of waves, almost feel the light salty breezes.  I can almost taste the Red Stripe beer, but wait, there is another lingering flavor...oh, right.  It's everlasting turkey. 
It is only a photograph after all.  I am still here, far from the beach, and close to giving up this tiresome venture.  Jamaican Jerk Sauce, take me away! 

Jamaican Jerk Turkey Pasta

1lb cooked turkey, chopped*
1 onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Jamaican Jerk Sauce - my version from Jamaica is really spicy, use your own judgement depending on what your sauce tastes like
1/2 pound fettuccine
*If using raw meat, cook through and then add in step 3.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Saute the onions, green peppers, and grape tomatoes until soft.  Slightly crush the tomatoes so they release their juices.

3. Add Jerk Sauce and meat and heat through.

4. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the package directions.

5. Siphon off 1 cup of pasta water before draining, and add it to the vegetables and meat. 

6. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot without rinsing.

7.  Toss the pasta with the veggies and meat and serve.

Here is the turkey that is still left.  Fork, too.  Too.  Much.  Turkey. 


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Once, Twice, Three Times the Turkey

Day 3. 

I had my first taste of curry in my early twenties.  I hated it.  My husband cooked dinner, and because this was romantic (and rare) I grinned and bared it, giving the curry dish lots of insincere compliments. 

Next month he made dinner again.  And can you guess what he made?  My self-proclaimed favorite: Curry! 

Serves me right.

Surprisingly, though, the second time I actually liked it a little bit.  The more often I ate it, the more it grew on me.  And now...well, now I'm borderline obsessed with curry, and below is my favorite recipe.  We usually make it with scallops, but it works with poultry too. 

There are lots of options when it comes to curry powder -- red, yellow, green, sweet etc.  Curry is simply a mix of twenty or so different spices, rather than a spice unto itself like pepper.  The ingredients usually include turmeric, cumin, and cayenne pepper.  They vary in heat, so buy it in small quantities until you find one you like best. 

This recipe also calls for coconut milk, but if you don't like coconut (and are, therefore, against all things good and holy), feel free to use regular milk.

Coconut Curry Turkey

1lb cooked turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces*
1 T butter
1 T curry powder
1 T all purpose flour
2 scallions, chopped (from last night's bunch, bonus!)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup coconut milk (shake the can first)
2 tomatoes, chopped

* If using raw meat or fish, cook it in and extra 1 T of butter first and then set aside until step 5.

1. Melt the butter in the pan.

2. Combine the curry powder, flour, and scallions in a small bowl.

3. When the bubbles in the pan subside, stir the spice mixture into the butter. Cook for one minute.

4. Slowly pour in the chicken broth and coconut milk, cook until thick and bubbly.

5. Add the turkey (or other meat) to the pan and heat through.

6. Stir in the tomatoes.  Serve with rice.

So add curry to the list of culinary delights that my husband has introduced me to, including hard shell crabs, raw oysters and clams, and everything Korean. 

Here is how much turkey is left, with the obligatory fork for scale.  Man, that's a lot of bird.  (Have I mentioned that yet??)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Turkey 2.0

With visions of crusty bread and snowy Saturdays dancing in my head, I packed two containers of soup into the freezer.  There was still enough soup leftover to fill a quart container, so my husband ate some late last night when he got home, and my daughter and I will eat some for lunch today. 

I have a lot more turkey to eat. 

For dinner last night I made Lemon Turkey.  This dish is usually prepared with chicken, and tastes just like you ordered it off a Chinese restaurant menu. 

My recipe calls for Lemon Curd, which is like a jelly but creamier.  I can usually find it jarred in the baking aisle of the grocery store, near the canned fruit pie filling.  Last night I made only enough Lemon Turkey for one, but doubled the recipe here.

Lemon Turkey

1lb cooked turkey breast, sliced into strips*
1/4 cup lemon curd
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 scallions, chopped
zest of one lemon

1. Place meat into a pan on medium heat to warm through
*If you are using raw chicken or turkey, slice it into bite-sized pieces, dredge them in flour, and cook them through first

2. Combine curd, vinegar, broth, in a bowl. Pour over meat.

3. Simmer until the sauce thickens.

4. Stir in the scallions.

5. Garnish with lemon zest, serve with broccoli and rice.

And here is how much I have left to eat, with a fork for scale...

Yeah, it's a lot.  I'll let you know tomorrow what I do with it today!

Monday, October 1, 2012

You Turkey! Day One

I have had a frozen turkey in my freezer for, well, too long.  At first I had every intention of donating it, but months went by and I never seemed to find the time to drop it off.  I could desperately use the freezer space, so it is time to put up or shut up.  Yesterday morning I woke up early, set with determination, and roasted it to eat ourselves.

Now, my husband is so busy at the office that he is working through weekends and dinners for the foreseeable future, and the kids don't usually eat poultry unless it is in nugget form.  This leaves 20 pounds of bird just for me. 

That's a lot of bird. 

And so begins my week of turkey dinners for one. 

Hopefully, with a few varied recipes, I can mix it up enough to keep things interesting.

Day 1:
It turns out I'm not actually in this alone.  I remembered one thing  that the kids will actually eat: soup.  By the spoonful, by the bowlful, by the quart, they adore chicken noodle soup.  Turkey is close enough. I can make this work.

After the turkey was finished roasting yesterday, and fragrancing my house with the luscious smells of a happy Thanksgiving, I cut the breast meat and drumsticks off to save for later meals, and threw the carcass into the slow cooker pot.  I had to run out -- according to the kids, it was mandatory that we spend the gorgeous fall afternoon on a hayride leaving promptly at 1:15pm -- so I placed the meat-stuffed crock pot into the fridge. 

This morning, I covered the meaty bones with water, added one chopped onion, two peeled and chopped carrots, two chopped celery stalks, and one bay leaf.  I set the slow cooker to high and will leave it until the the vegetables are tender, the meat falls right off the ribs and thighs, and the bones release their flavor making an authentic and savory broth.

There is sure to be some skimming of fat involved in today's process, and I will have to fish out all the bones, and maybe dice or shred some of the bigger pieces of meat, but basically this turkey meal is making itself.  Later I will cook the noodles and store them separately, since they get mushy if added too soon and heat up easily when added to hot soup right before serving. 

On the menu for the rest of the week:
Lemon Turkey
Coconut Curry
And a few other things up my sleeve.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's recipe!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar

Saturday is officially the start of Autumn, but I couldn't help getting a head start on fall flavors when I saw this gorgeous stalk of Brussels sprouts in the produce section of my local grocery store. 

I know, I know, not everyone likes Brussels sprouts.  And it is true, they taste mostly like sour cabbage when they are boiled, but when roasted, their sugars caramelize allowing a natural nuttiness to shine through.  Add a little balsamic vinegar to finish them off and Brussels sprouts are suddenly a hit, even with people who swear they aren't fans. 

Taking the sprouts off the stalk is easy, just pull down.  My four year old loved helping with this part -- permissible destruction, yes please!  I notched an X in the bottom and blanched them quickly in boiling water while the oven was preheating.

Then I cut them in half, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and put them on a baking sheet.  425 degrees for about 25 minutes or until they start to burn.  Yes, that is right, I said burn.  Don't let them char, but a little (or a lot) of dark brown is good. 

While the sprouts were roasting, I poured 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and let it boil down by half, concentrating the sweetness and taking off a little of the bite.  Finally, I tossed the sprouts with the reduced vinegar after they came out of the oven, darkening them further.

Paired with this recipe for Macaroni and Cheese I found on Pintrest, it was a great meal.  (Though I tweaked the Mac and Cheese recipe by using whole milk and adding 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.)  My kids even ate the Brussels sprouts, with help from my trusty friend Ranch Dressing.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Bee Bim Bop

I try to take my kids to the library once a week.  I usually bring whatever book I am reading, settle in on a couch and give the kids free reign to play with the train table and pick out books.  I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter toddled over with the book Bee-bim Bop by Linda Sue Park.  

Bee-Bim Bop is a popular Korean dish consisting of rice, marinated beef, and vegetables, and this story combines adorable repetitive rhymes about cooking a meal from a child's point of view, with a kid-friendly recipe in the back.  Right up our alley.

Korean food is not as mainstream as other Asian cuisines, but it is just as good.  I am a more recent devotee, my husband has been eating Korean food since he was quite young. 

Thirty years ago, my father-in-law was studying Tae Kwon Do, the national sport of South Korea, and the friends he made at the do-jang led to a deep appreciation of Korean culture.  A love of Korean cuisine blossomed from there, and his young family, which included my husband, started eating it about as often as most American families eat Italian food. Along with spaghetti and meatballs, dishes like bulgogi, kalbi, and kimchee simply became part of their regular dinner rotation.

My first experience with Korean food came when I met my husband, and I was hooked. 

On him, and on Korean food.

Bulgogi (marinated and barbecued beef), Bibim Nengmyun (cold noodles in a chili paste), and kimchee (spicy pickled cabbage) are my favorites and we tend to order and make these dishes over and over.  Until our daughter randomly picked out Bee-bim Bop, we had never had this dish, but we were certainly excited to try.   

Here's how Linda Sue Park says to make it, with a few minor changes from me:

2 cups white rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, chopped
5 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb beef (sirloin tip) cut very thin
2 carrots, chopped julienne
1 can chopped spinach, drained
1 can Asian bean sprouts, drained
4 eggs
vegetable oil for frying
chili paste (optional)

Cook rice according to instructions on bag.

Meanwhile, for marinade, combine garlic, scallions, soy sauce, sugar, oil, sesame seeds, pepper in bowl.  Add meat to bowl, mix and massage for three minutes.

Whisk eggs together, pour a little oil into the pan and heat until hot.  Add enough egg to thinly cover the bottom.  Let egg sit until cooked through, flip in one piece, cook through on other side.  Finish off eggs in this manner, making and stacking pancakes.  Set eggs aside.  When cool, roll up the stack and slice into thin ribbons.

In the same pan, stir fry the carrots, spinach and bean sprouts over high heat until tender. Set aside.

Reheat the same pan over high heat, then add the meat and marinade in all at once.  Stir and spread out the meat, then let it sit for 3 minutes.  Stir until meat is brown and slightly caramelized.

To assemble, place the rice in a bowl, top with vegetables, egg strips, meat and juices, and chili paste (if desired), then mix the heck out of it!  Enjoy!

Hurry, Mama, hurry, Gotta chop chop chop, Hungry - very hungry for some Bee Bim Bop!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Oh Canada!

Last weekend my husband whisked me away on mini-vacation.  He works long hours at two jobs, and understandably misses our kids a lot.  Whenever he has time off, he wants to be with them, so we almost always make our weekend plans to include them.  I am home with the kids all the time, though, so I get very little "adult time."

To give me a break, my husband planned the whole trip himself, and kept the details a surprise.  I knew we were going and when, but nothing else -- not where, or how, or what we would do once we arrived. 

Take note, fellas, girls really like this. 

We have been married nearly 9 years, but I felt like a new girlfriend again!  Not only did my husband spend precious free time thinking about me and what I would like in a vacation, but now we would have some time together, just us, hopefully doing some of the things I like best -- eating late multi-course dinners at nice restaurants, enjoying a glass of wine or two afterwards, and then sleeping-in -- most of which have disappeared from my everyday life, now full of quick and dirty early dinners and insistent awakenings.

I was so excited.  We renewed our passports, and were on our way.

I figured we were flying, but when we drove right past the international departure gates at the airport, I began to wonder where we were headed.  I kept my eyes averted from the details on the boarding passes as we checked-in and went through security.  This took tremendous will power, though not as much as I figured because I was enjoying the surprise so much.

I knew when we arrived at the gate that I could easily look at the sign indicating where we were headed.  As we rounded the corner, I eagerly searched for the city name next to the gangway door.

"Buffalo, NY."

Ummm, Buffalo, New York?! 

I'm sure Buffalo is lovely in the dead of winter, but with all the great cities in all of the world, why Buffalo?!  My husband saw the thinly veiled look of surprise on my face and reminded me gently that I had said I would be happy going anywhere as long it was just us. When I sheepishly admitted this was true and tried to regroup and figure out what the heck we were going to do all weekend in Buffalo, he laughed and explained that Niagara Falls and Canada were just a short 30 minute drive from the Buffalo airport.

He had booked us a gorgeous hotel room on the 34th floor with wall-to-wall windows overlooking the Canadian and American falls. 

On our way to Canada, we walked around the national park on the American side of the falls and watched endless gallons of water plunge down into the Niagara River.

American side of the falls and Rainbow bridge

Both the American and Canadian falls

Mist created by the water descending the Canadian falls, with our hotel in the background

After crossing the Canadian border via the Rainbow bridge, we checked into our hotel and got ready for dinner.  The area around Niagara Falls has become pretty touristy, but along with many chain restaurants, it also has upscale restaurants overlooking the falls.  A little after dusk each night the falls are lit with white lights and then alternating colors before they finally fall dark about an hour later.  The fancier restaurants boast windows that take advantage of the show, along with menus created by celebrity Canadian chefs.

On the first night we went to Windows by Jamie Kennedy.  Not the goofy actor from Scream -- this guy:

Image Detail

While most of his restaurants are in Toronto, he recently opened his Niagara restaurant, applying his devotion to local, sustainable, and seasonal food.  Beside the regular menu, there was a daily "Some of My Favorite Things" menu which listed two four-course Prix Fix menus with wine pairings.  To me it was obvious what had to be done: we would order one of each set menu and share it all.

Our first courses were an amazing Great Lakes Fish Chowder, whose creamy chunky goodness was gone before a snapped a picture of it, and this beautiful Root Vegetable Salad.

It was a gorgeous stack of multi-colored thinly sliced beets, carrots, and jicama.  It was all raw, which made it tart, crunchy and refreshing, but I can't help but wonder how wonderful it would have been if the vegetables had been roasted and the natural sweetness enhanced.  It would have been soft, but I think I would have preferred it that way.

My second course was Pickerel out of Lake Erie. The fish was light and flaky, and served over a mayonnaise based potato salad.

The Saltimbocca was classically prepared with veal medallions, cheese, prosciutto, and sage. It was pretty good, but the braised greens underneath stood above the rest.  My husband's Beer Braised Short Ribs had mushrooms, and since I am allergic I only took the tiniest of bites. It was hearty and tender, and he liked it.

Our meal ended with a rich and creamy chocolate pot au creme and a tart apple Tarte Tatin.

The next day was rainy and foggy, making the falls nearly invisible.  It was still beautiful watching the mist from the water mix with the low lying clouds and waft slowly down river.  We decided to drive to Toronto for the day (about 90 minutes around Lake Ontario from Niagara Falls) and en route found this great website listing the fifty best restaurants in Toronto.  We wanted French food and, at random, picked Le Kensington Bistro in the Kensington Market area of the city. 

It was amazing, the best meal of the weekend.  So good I spent all my time savoring and didn't take any pictures.  We both started with a thyme-y version of French Onion Soup, and then my husband ordered the Duck Confit, which fell off the bone and was served with the best brussel sprouts I have ever eaten.  They were sauteed in duck fat, charred, smokey and hearty.  He offered me a few, and I fished out a few more when he wasn't looking.

I ordered the steak tartar, and borrowed this picture from Le Kensington Bistro's website for your viewing pleasure.  That is a quail egg seated on top.  Peppery and deliciously raw, I loved every bite.

On our way back to Niagara Falls we passed what seemed like hundreds of wineries.  Each exit on the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way -- the main highway between Niagara and Toronto) listed four or five within 5km.  Since the area is well know for its cold varieties and ice wine, I wanted to stop somewhere and pick up a bottle to drink before dinner.  Again at random (isn't the spontaneity of travelling without kids amazing?!), we picked an exit and went to the closest winery.

This gorgeous place is called Peninsula Ridge Estates.  The house and barn where the wine shop was date to the late 1885.  We bought a bottle of Riesling ice wine and headed back to enjoy in front of our window overlooking the falls.

Ice wine is made from grapes that are frozen. According to the folks at Peninsula Ridge, they are harvested by hand between 10pm and 6am, and each grape gives off about a drop of juice, resulting in a rich golden wine with a heavy mouth feel.  Meant to be a dessert wine, we drank a little as an aperitif instead and then caught a cab to dinner.

The second night we dined at the Rainbow Room courtesy of Massimo Capra.  Apparently he is very popular and on Food Network Canada and seems quite a showman if the mini-movie in the elevator on our ascent to the restaurant is any indication.  There was lots of mustache twirling, in a campy villainous style.

Massimo Capra

It was so foggy when we arrived that we could barely see the falls at all from our window seat.  Our waitress assured us that the fog would probably lift once it got dark.  This sounded like faulty science to us, but sure enough, once the sun went down we could see the American falls pretty well.  We even got to see the light show.

I started dinner with a Caesar salad, and then we both moved on to pasta dishes -- the Bolognese for me, and a chicken carbonara for my husband.  Both were tasty, but didn't knock our socks off.  My homemade fettuccine and the very meaty sauce was quite filling, and though I ordered a dessert of berries in a brandy snap basket, I couldn't eat much of it.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend in Canada.  And my favorite part?  My husband agreed to do it again next year, only this time, I will do all the surprise planning.  I can't wait. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

Cold and rainy March nights require something hot for dinner to shake off that winter chill, so tonight I made Thai Chicken Noodle Soup.  It has the comfort factor of traditional chicken noodle soup, but the addition of peanut butter and coconut milk makes it soft and silky, and cayenne pepper adds palatable warmth.  Incredibly rich and soothing, this recipe is the food equivalent of a cozy blanket.

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1lb chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 can coconut milk (about a cup)
48oz chicken broth (6 cups)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 cups thin egg noodles
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, divided in half
S&P to taste

Heat the oil in a large soup pot and saute the chicken, mixing in the garlic, turmeric, and cayenne, until no more pink is visible. The dusty turmeric will turn the chicken bright yellow:

Add the coconut milk, chicken broth and lemon juice to the pot.  Bring to a boil.
Add the peanut butter, stirring and breaking it up with a spoon until it is incorporated.
Add the noodles and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes.
In the meantime, take 1/4 cup of the coconut and put it in a dry cold saute pan.  Turn the burner on medium-high and stir the coconut constantly until it toasts.  This takes some time to get going, but once it starts turning brown, all of the coconut becomes brown quickly.  Take it off the heat and remove the coconut from the pan once it has reached the desired darkness.  Set aside to use as a garnish.

Once the soup has started to thicken, add the scallions and remaining untoasted 1/4 cup of coconut to the soup.
Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with red pepper flakes (if desired) and the toasted coconut.

Only 18 more days until Spring!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pennsylvania Farm Show

This past weekend we went to the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which fills a huge dedicated Harrisburg convention center with acres of indoor space showcasing tractors, live penned animals, displays of local produce, arenas for competitions, a large, crowded food hall, and, of course, a 12 foot sculpture made solely of butter:

Although we went to satisfy my husbands inner-farmer (he is a country boy at heart, and I am a city suburb living seems to be our compromise), I really loved the theme: Farm Gate to Dinner Plate.  There are always die-hard organic-eaters with concerns about modern farming methods, but salt of the earth Pennsylvanians are proud of their advanced methods that provide ample, affordable food.

The Pennsylvania Farm Show highlights all that our fair state has to offer agriculturally.  According to PenAg Industries Association, a Pennsylvania farmer advocacy and lobbyist group, the average PA farmer produces enough to feed 155 people, and one in seven jobs in the state is agricultural.  Pennsylvania produces maple syrup, wine, honey, squash, and is the "mushroom capitol of the world."  Here is a prize winning rabbit sculpture made entirely of mushrooms:

And here is the award winning squash.  Yeah, it was huge.

While the produce was judged by its size and perfection, and some animals were prized for their special talents -- alpacas and sheep for wool, cows for milk, chicken for eggs, and horses for strength -- most animals at the Pennsylvania Farm Show were prized for their meat. 

And no one pussy-foots around it. 

While watching the Farm Show's sheep competition (think Best in Show, but with sheep strutting around the ring instead of dogs) on Pennsylvania Cable Network, the judge casually used the word "carcass" instead of "body" when describing the desirable attributes of the live sheep. 

Despite Google's #2 definition for carcass: the trunk of an animal such as a cow, sheep, or pig, for cutting up as meat, I immediately think of the first definition: the dead body of an animal. The sheep were being judged and prized for their eventual meat, so I suppose it is the right term, even if it initially smacks as "Dead Man Walking."

Many other competitions at the Farm Show judged animals for their potential yield and deliciousness: pigs for their ham hocks, young bulls for their loins, lambs for their chops, and rabbits for their meat.  I have eaten rabbit before, and will surely again, but I'll admit it is hardest to look without compassion into the faces of these bunnies when faced with the reality that they are designated as "meat."

I, like wise Farmer Hoggett from Babe, need to remember that every animal on the farm has a purpose.  Sometimes it is a delicious purpose, and sometimes the purpose is work.  We spent a good chunk of time watching the Farm Class Horse Pull competition.  A double team of large horses (Percherons, Clydesdales, etc.) were hooked up to a metal sled filled with increasing weights of cinder blocks. The two horses weighed together upwards of 4000 lbs -- these are truly the largest horses I have ever seen, grown men could nearly walk under their flanks without ducking -- but they could pull over 9000 lbs.

It isn't just a test of strength, either.  The horses had to pull gently to start so that a tennis ball seated in a small tuna can mounted to the top of the sled didn't pop out.  The larger horses had a tougher time with their finesse when the loads were low because of their inherent power, but once they got through the first round and more weight was added, their prowess really shined.

After watching the competition and viewing the animals, it was time for lunch.  And what amazing offerings they had!!  The PA Co-Operative Potato Growers, PA Cattlemen Association, PA Mushroom Growers Co-Operative, and the PA Maple Syrup Producers Council all had booths.  I wanted fried vegetables from the PA Vegetable Growers Association booth, and my husband picked up hot dogs and a pulled pork sandwich from PennAg Industries Association. 

The lengths of the lines for milkshakes from the PA Dairymen's Association rivaled those seen at Disney World, so we opted for the equally delicious ice cream offered by PA Beekeepers Association, which was sweetened (and optionally topped) with Pennsylvania honey.  I chose Butter Pecan and topped it with a drizzle of blueberry honey.

We had a really great day looking at the animals, playing on the parked tractors, cheering on the horses, and eating local food.  It is quite a reality check when you spend the morning looking at the farm animals, and then head to the food hall to eat their brethren.  The truth behind the origins of the meat may be easier to ignore at the grocery store, but at the Farm Show, we were proud that our lunch was the product of hard working Pennsylvanians.