Have you ever wondered whether organic eggs taste better than conventional eggs from the supermarket? I have. I’ve read varying accounts over the past couple of years, and after reading different opinions, I’m still not sure if the taste truly differs. But one thing is certain. I feel better eating an egg from a chicken that was raised humanely and with as little human-mucking-around as possible.
I’m pretty sure that a happy chicken will lay a happy, good-tasting egg. But what I’m certain of is that I’ll feel better about eating that particular egg from that particular chicken.
Which brings us to Sunday night.
Some months ago, I read about a unique event that has taken place at farms across the country, and I was intrigued. The concept is a farm dinner, and the mission of Outstanding in the Field is to bring people closer to the source of their food. Most of the events were initially in California, where the chef-owner lives, but over the last several years, OITF has brought their dinner events to farms all across the country – and even to Europe.
A dinner was held this past Sunday night at Lake Meadow Naturals farm in Orlando. Lake Meadows Naturals is a farm that produces cage-free poultry, with grassy pastures filled with chickens of different breeds, geese, ducks, guinea fowl, and turkeys. And, although they aren’t renowned for their non-poultry animals, there were even a couple of cows, a handful of goats, and several bunnies on hand, destined for someone’s dinner table in the months to come.
We had the pleasure of attending this dinner. Under the winter central Florida sky, my husband and I dined on local proteins and vegetables, while Lake Meadow Naturals’ chickens clucked in the background, and the native wood ducks swooped in at sunset to steal their feed.
It was glorious.
And while I’ll never answer the organic versus conventional chicken egg question, I can tell you this…eating dinner on the farm where the proteins were raised?
Nothing quite compares to that.
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[The photos below are linked to my Flickr account. Click through them for more information about each photo. ]
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Outstanding in the Field was founded by California chef and artist, Jim Denevan. If you ever have the opportunity to attend an OTIF event, I highly recommend it.
Lake Meadow Naturals is in Ocoee, Florida – right outside of Orlando proper. If it were not 2 hours away, I’d drive there weekly for fresh eggs and the occasional roasting chicken. In fact, when they open their u-pick egg coops, I plan on bringing the kids down to pick their own farm-fresh eggs.
So, I lied.
I told you I was going to stay away for 2 weeks, and I just couldn’t. I missed this space, and as soon as I wrote that I was taking a break, it began calling to me.
Mostly, though, I missed sharing my words — and my food — with you.
Toward the end of December – heck, for the past three months – I was having a hard time with the writing process. More times than I can count, I sat at my computer, fingers in proper position on the keyboard, ready for the words to come…and then nothing happened. Other times, I managed to get a few sentences out, but this was most commonly followed by rapid backspacing, deleting everything I had just written.
I started to dread sitting down to write. Which is silly and unfortunate.
Taking a break from the blog was a wonderful idea, I thought. Two whole weeks to not think about writing, to rest and simply enjoy whatever life brings each day. What I didn’t expect was that forcing myself to NOT write would actually make writing something of an obsession this past week.
I talked about writing and I read about writing. I re-read parts of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and I spent quality time with another one of my favorite book on the process of writing, Stephen King’s On Writing. Some of my favorite food writers have written about their experiences or thoughts on writing, and I devoured their words, nodding to myself as I read. I researched writing classes – because certainly I can fit something else into my schedule, right? – and I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for one.
And finally I decided that I’d better come back to the blog before I spent any more money on writing books or classes. So here I am, with my mind rejuvenated and fingers warmed up after only one week away.
The first recipe that I plan to share with you, in this first post of the year 2012, is a sweet one. I have several savory dishes coming your way, but I baked these rolls today, and the recipe is just too good to keep to myself for very long.
This recipe in Saveur caught my eye in the recent issue. I adapted the recipe to suit my own tastes, adding some pecans and golden raisins to the filling and using cream cheese in the icing. I prepared the dough last night, letting it rise while we ate dinner and put the kids to bed. I finished it up before I went to bed myself, storing the unbaked pan of rolls and the icing in the refrigerator overnight.
By 8:30 this morning, the kids and I were eating the orange sweet rolls, warm from the oven, sticky and gooey from the filling that oozed out of the crevices and the cream cheese icing dripping down the sides. By 8:40, my kids nominated me for a mother of the year award and then suggested I compete in a cooking competition.
I’m not sure I qualify for the Mom of the Year award, but this recipe is definitely a winner, folks. Make it for your family. Heck, make it for yourself.
1-1/4 cups milk, heated to 115°
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 16 tablespoons, softened
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 cups (512 grams) all-purpose flour
Filling & Icing:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
Orange zest from 4 oranges
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/8 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
Make the dough: Combine milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook; let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in granulated sugar, melted butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and egg; add flour. Mix on low speed until dough forms. Increase speed to medium-high; knead until smooth, about 8 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap; let sit until dough doubles in size, about 1-1/2 hours.
Make filling: Beat softened butter, brown sugar, and orange zest in a bowl on high speed of a mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, confectioners sugar, and vanilla extract; beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer 1/4 cup filling to a small bowl and set aside. In remaining filling, add chopped pecans and raisins, beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
Make icing: In the 1/4 cup of filling that was set aside, add orange juice and cream cheese; whisk until smooth.
Transfer dough to a lightly-floured work surface; using a rolling pin, roll dough into an 18 inch by 10 inch rectangle. Spread filling evenly over dough. Lift up bottom edge of dough and roll it into a log; trim ends and cut log into 12 rounds. Transfer rounds, cut side up, to a greased 9 inch × 13 inch baking dish; cover with plastic wrap. Chill 6 hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 375°F. Uncover rolls and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Drizzle icing over rolls before serving.
I’ve washed my hands more times that I can count today, but they still smell of smoke and onions and garlic. I began the morning by chopping vegetables, preparing my mise en place for braised beef short ribs (tomorrow night’s dinner) and for barbecue baked beans (part of tonight’s dinner). While the short ribs were braising, releasing meaty aromas into the kitchen, I kept an eye on the temperature of the Big Green Egg, opening and closing the vents in the top to keep the pork butts inside smoking at a steady 300 degrees.
Tonight we’ll gather with my parents, my grandmother, my aunt and uncle and cousins, and we’ll dine on pulled pork with vinegar sauce (thanks to this book for the recipes), barbecue baked beans, and potato salad. We’ll have the short ribs tomorrow, served over creamy grits. And we’ll have champagne, too.
We’ll drink the bubbly to celebrate the end of 2011 and the beginning of the new year. And gosh, I am so ready for a new year.
I have mixed emotions about 2011. I’ve had some wonderful experiences throughout the year, but everything has been overshadowed by my father’s health. Since January 29th, our lives have revolved around a series of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, rehab stays, and doctors appointments. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, but I’ve been trying to focus my efforts on getting used to the new Dad.
I’m having a hard time with that, but I’ll keep trying.
It will be good to see 2011 growing smaller in the rear-view mirror of life. My hopes for 2012 are not tremendously high — I’m a realist, after all — but I’m pretty sure it will be a better year than 2011 was.
I’d like 2012 to be the year that my dad uses his walker comfortably, and without a fear of falling.
In 2012, I’ll get to hug my brother again.
In 2012, we’re taking our kids on two pretty cool family vacations – a Disney cruise to start, and then a trip to California next summer.
In 2012, I turn 40. My husband and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. My daughter will start 3rd grade and my son will be in kindergarten. Lots of milestones with happy potential there.
I want 2012 to be the year that I write more – and more often. Fiction is a dream for me, but it’s never going to happen if I don’t start writing it. And maybe I won’t be very good at it, but at least I will have tried.
I would love to be healthier in 2012. And I will be.
To ring in the new year, and bid goodbye to that stinker of a year, 2011, here’s a cocktail for you. I raise my glass to you, dear readers, and toast to your health and happiness and peacefulness in 2012.
Cheers to a more beautiful 2012.
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Because I think it would be good for me, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from regular posting here at the merry gourmet. It’s always hard for me to stay completely away, but I’m going to try. See you again in January!
1 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1/2 ounce Meyer lemon juice
Champagne or other bubbly (cava, prosecco, sparkling wine)
Lemon twist, for garnish
In a chilled champagne flute, add St. Germain and lemon juice. Top with the bubbly and garnish with a lemon twist.
Tweaked from the recipe from St. Germain's website.