Valley of Fire State Park

So, I went to the doctor yesterday only to have her tell me what I expected to hear:  it’s allergies combined with something “viral” so they can’t give me anything to make it better – I just have to ride it out.  She did give me Nasonex (makes NO difference that I can tell), some Zyrtec D (so I can have the effing jitters all day) and some cough syrup with codeine that I will hardly take at all, because I am fully aware of the nature of my, ahem, addictive personality.

::sigh::

Anyhoo, I know I promised a recipe for today, but I’m saving that tomorrow so I’ll have something for Fight Back Friday.  Also, it’s Travel Tip Thursday over at Pseudo’s place – and the one thing I took boocoos of pictures of over my extended “vacation” was of this place:  Valley of Fire State Park, just north of Las Vegas.

I apologize for the lack of commentary (I’m still feeling like doo doo), but if you’d like to learn more about this beautiful, fascinating and HOT state park, go here.

Valley of Fire State Park Entrance
Long and Winding Road
Blue Sky, Red Rock
"Beehive" Rocks
Faces in the Rocks
Rainbow Vista
Beloved Takes In the View

White Feather Meats

I’d promised more about our adventure acquiring Chuck (our nickname for the side of grass-fed beef), and here it is.  I’ll try to make it interesting, but…well, today is one of those days when there just isn’t enough coffee in the state of Ohio to knock the menopausal brain-fog out of me.  🙂

When I called Jon Berger and asked about buying some of his pastured beef, he suggested we pay a visit to White Feather Meats in Creston, Ohio – the people who process his beef exclusively – and buy some in their retail store before we made up our minds.  So we did, and we were very pleasantly surprised by what we found.

White Feather Meats

We’d been in the retail stores of a local beef farmer before – bustling places with huge counters stuffed with just about every kind and cut of beef you can imagine and people waiting in line to be served.  This was not our experience when we arrived at White Feather one Saturday morning at about 10 a.m.

First, there were no long counters full of meat waiting to be weighed and wrapped, just several freezers full of vacuum-packed meats, a small counter and a window into a back room that was dark and quiet.  A tall, dark-haired young man who introduced himself as Seth Perkins greeted us and asked if he could assist us in any way.

Seth's Brother, Scott

And assist us he did – answering all of our questions patiently, not only about their relationship with Green Vista Farm but their own business, which isn’t confined to Jon’s grass-fed beef.  In addition to processing and selling the products of many local farmers, including beef (both pastured and grain-finished), pork, lamb and some chicken, they also raise, process and sell their own bison.

Bison Steaks

It’s darn tasty, too.  Yup, in addition to several cuts of Jon’s pastured beef (which included a brisket) we bought some ground bison along with a couple of bison steaks, a bison brisket and some bison stew meat (I’m going to make chili with the stew meat in the fall).  We were so impressed with the quality of the beef and bison, we’ve been back several times and purchased pork chops, sausage, bacon, lamb chops and ground lamb – I haven’t gotten around to the lamb yet, but I have to tell you the pork we’ve purchased is so good that we’re going to source a whole pig through White Feather, as well.

Yummy Ground Bison

It isn’t just the taste and quality of the meat we’ve purchased that has made us such strong advocates of White Feather Meats and the Perkins family, it’s their passion for and knowledge about what they do.  On one of our subsequent trips to their farm, we spoke to Seth and his brother Scott about their processing methods and just couldn’t have been more impressed.  They explained to us, chart in hand, about the various cuts of beef, where they came from on the steer (only steers go to market as beef) and how they should be cooked.  These young men also did a marvelous job in explaining the advantages of pastured beef – so much so that they accomplished something in twenty minutes that had taken me weeks:  convinced Beloved that this was absolutely the right thing to do.

Cutting to customer specifications

I was also very upfront in questioning about their slaughter methods; Scott, in turn, was very upfront about answering.  Not only are their methods humane, they far exceed the USDA requirements as outlined in the Humane Slaughter Act.  They are also USDA certified, which means there is always a USDA representative on the premises during the slaughter process.  All of the meat is then dry-aged for at least 14 days in temperature-and-humidity-controlled facilities before it is cut to customer specification, vacuum-wrapped in USDA approved material and quickly frozen.

And they don’t prevaricate or fabricate in order to gain business – when I asked if the pork they sell is pastured, Seth was quite honest in answering “No.” But, he explained, the farmer they do business with treats his animals ethically – they are housed in clean, uncrowded living spaces, never given growth hormones or treated needlessly with antibiotics and are never fed any of the dangerous garbage and GMO-laced feed that are the normal diet of industrial, CAFO animals.

“We wouldn’t do business with him otherwise,” Seth said.

All reasons we are vocal advocates of supporting small, local businesses, ethical and sustainable farming operations and the folks at White Feather Meats.  They have loyal customers here at the Sushi Bar.

Green Vista Farm

I received a wonderful telephone call yesterday.

“Hello, I’m with White Feather Meats – I wanted to let you know that your order will be ready tomorrow.”

As you probably know, we recently ordered a side of grass-fed, 100% pastured beef.  It took us at least a couple of weeks of research before we did, and I’m glad we did the research.  A great many local farmers pasture their animals – until they reach a certain weight.  Then they move them to a feedlot where the cattle are fed grains, which reverses most of the benefits of being grass-fed (conversely, you can remove an animal from a feedlot and pasture it, and the damage done by being grain-fed will be reversed).  Many of these beef farmers will keep an animal pastured if you request it and we nearly went this route, since it was a tad cheaper than the option we ultimately chose.

There were two reasons we didn’t choose the less expensive option:  First, these people are not experts at raising 100% pastured animals, and we simply weren’t willing to spend a large chunk of money on something we couldn’t be completely sure about.  You can go into their bustling little retail store and purchase the meat (which is quite tasty), but I couldn’t get anyone to talk to us about visiting the farm or speaking with the people who actually raise the cattle.

The second reason was Jon Berger of Green Vista Farm.  Jon is an expert at raising totally pastured animals; a half hour conversation with him is nothing short of enlightening.  He is very passionate about what he does – you can tell he loves it, and understands exactly why his methods of cattle farming are so very important.  And not only are his farming practices ethical, so are his business practices; when I initially called Jon to speak to him about purchasing a side of beef, he suggested I go to White Feather Meats – the small, family-owned business that processes his beef and sells it in their tiny retail store – and purchase some before we bought the entire side.  He wanted us to make sure this meat is what we wanted before we made the kind of investment buying an entire side of beef at one time required.

So, we did – and the beef is absolutely delicious.

When I called Jon again to discuss how to go about purchasing our meat, I asked if it would be possible to visit his farm – his answer was a hearty “Of course!  Just let me know when you want to come out!”

Then I asked him if I could bring my camera.  Again, his answer was an enthusiastic, “Sure!”

So, days after placing our order and being given the “hanging weight” of our beef, we headed to Jon’s farm on our way to Cincinnati, camera and check for our purchase in hand.

Grazing Cattle
A Bull and Farm Equipment

This is Jon’s son, coming in from the fields on a large piece of esoteric (to me, anyway) farming equipment.  That’s the farm’s bull in the foreground.  Green Vista actually boasts three bulls, but only this one is allowed to breed for the time being; they are very careful about the breeding of their cattle.

A Cute Calf

This sweet little guy was in a pen outside of the barn – Jon told us he usually resides in the field with the bulls (that are kept separate from the steers that will eventually go to market), but he had put him in the pen while his son was in the field on the large and potentially dangerous farming machinery.  He was also the only calf on the farm, and seemed far too young to be weaned.  And he was; apparently, most calves stand moments after their birth – this baby did not.  He didn’t stand for some time, and rather than leave him with his mother to see if he’d live or die, Jon took him to his farm and is raising him, which is quite a commitment for such a busy (but obviously compassionate) farmer.

Chickens

There were quite a few chickens running about, doing the things chickens are supposed to be doing, and when I asked about the sale of them and/or their eggs, I was disappointed when Jon told me they were laying hens that provided his family with just enough eggs.  “I’m no chicken farmer,” he said, grinning.

Jon Berger

Jon himself, patiently answering our many questions with humor and a great deal of knowledge.

Oh, and one more thing – his prices, as well as those of the folks who are processing the beef, are very reasonable.  I’ve been talking a lot about the investment this has required, but that’s simply because we had to pay for it all at once.  Actually, after it’s all said and done, we paid just over $4 a pound for a supply of meat that will very likely last us at least a year.  When was the last time you paid $4 a pound for a beef tenderloin or a porterhouse?

Live in or near northeast Ohio and are asking “Where’s the beef?”  It’s here, at Jon Berger’s lovely Green Vista Farm.

G. Michael’s Bistro

Back in late March, we saw The Young One off at Cleveland International Airport so he could go visit the paterfamilias for Spring Break. We did a celebratory jig as his plane took off and began planning our drive down to Cincinnati to visit with the G Man for a couple of days before heading to a cabin in Hocking Hills.

“Let’s stop someplace in Columbus for dinner,” Beloved said as we got in the got in the car. I agreed, and before I knew it he had his laptop out and we were Googling “fine dining in Columbus.” We chose one, took off driving, and I called to make a reservation for about 7 p.m., when we expected to be there.

And the number was disconnected.

I called directory assistance, and they had no listing for the restaurant at all.  Which is really a shame, because the menu listed online looked nothing short of stunning.

“Call that other place,” Beloved said.

“Awwww, I dunno – they serve Italian,” I replied (I think I’ve mentioned a time or two that I’m not all that crazy about Italian cuisine).

“Grab the laptop again, and look at the menu – maybe they do Northern Italian.”  (Beloved knows the way around my Italian food prejudice is a well-prepared dish of osso bucco and some rich, creamy polenta.)

Well, I didn’t have to grab the laptop – I had my Blackberry handy, so I looked it up that way.  (As an aside – I’m just full of  ’em in this post – the Droid is MUCH better for surfin’ the net, IMHO.)  What I saw amazed me – small plates of shrimp and grits, several delicious-looking fish dishes, and a “low country trio” that consisted of a grilled quail, a crab stuffed shrimp and a wild boar sausage.

“Hon, this is not Italian,” I said.  “It looks…Southern.”

So we called and made a reservation, and boy – are we glad we did.

Front Bar

G. Michael’s Bistro is a small, casual-yet-upscale restaurant located on Third Street in Columbus’ historic German Village.  It’s listed as an Italian restaurant, but aside from the perennial (and really good, as The Young One will attest to) lasagna on the menu there are no Italian dishes served here.  Apparently, it was originally opened as an Italian place, but a mere couple of months later the head chef left.  The restaurant changed hands after that, and one of the owners – David Tetzloff – become the executive chef.  Chef Tetzloff is a native Ohioan, but earned his Culinary Arts degree from Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina.  Better yet, at least to Beloved, he worked in the kitchens of Slightly North of Broad, or SNOB as the locals affectionately refer to it, in that historic Southern city.

Main Dining Room

For the most part, the food at G. Michael’s is well-prepared and delicious (I ordered the grilled veal chop this last time, which, while tasty, was a bit on the tough side).  I can definitely recommend the PEI mussels with chorizo as well as the honey-glazed scallops, both small plates, the grilled globe artichokes (the vegetarian offering on the menu that Beloved and I shared and scarfed down as an appetizer), the grilled filet “Oscar” and the duo of Ohio pork is, in my opinion, the best thing on the Spring menu that we’ve ordered so far.  There are daily specials – Chef Tetzloff, PLEASE make the pork belly appetizer a regular on the menu! – and the small selection of desserts has, so far, been quite delicious.

Jumbo Scallops Entree

One of the things that helps make the place so special, though, is Tim.  We were seated in Tim’s section on our initial visit and he immediately became one of our favorite experiences with the place.  He is funny, personable and extremely knowledgeable about the menu.  He quickly sizes up his patrons and will become very familiar with you if he feels he can get away with it; by the end of our first visit, he was giving me big hugs and patting Beloved on the shoulder, but we noticed that he was much more formal (albeit still personable) with the group at the table next to us – who looked as if they would object to a “touchy-feely” waiter.

Shrimp and Grits "Small Plate"

We’ve gotten to where we visit G. Michael’s every time we go to visit Jolly and the G Man now, and we always ask to be seated in Tim’s section.  Indeed, we were very disappointed when, on our last visit, his section was full and we were assigned a different waiter.  Not that this waiter was incompetent (I have a feeling an incompetent waiter wouldn’t last long in the place) or unfriendly, we just didn’t enjoy him as much.  Nor was he quite as knowledgeable about the dishes served – he read the specials to us off of a list, something that Tim has never done, and didn’t seem to be as familiar with the preparations (again, Tim knows his stuff).  He also was not as prepared to deal with my picky teenager – Tim can get him to eat.

One more thing, and this is something that has become pretty important to me – G. Michael’s Bistro uses as much local, seasonal food as they can.  While a lot of the seafood like shrimp and scallops aren’t local, of course, the pork, poultry, beef, dairy and produce usually are; from what Tim tells us, Chef Tetzloff not only makes his own sausage, but butchers the pigs he sources locally in the kitchen himself – you gotta love that.

There is also, as you can see pictured above, a cozy, full-service bar that won Beloved’s devotion immediately:  they carry not only several single malt scotches, but Hendrick’s gin as well.  The prices aren’t what you’d call cheap – this isn’t TGIFriday’s, for heaven’s sake – but they aren’t prohibitively expensive, either, and it’s not the kind of place you need to get all dressed-up to go to – we’ve seen patrons in suits sitting at tables next to people wearing jeans.

So if you’re ever in Columbus and want a great meal in a nice atmosphere and have a little – not a lot – of extra cash, I highly recommend G. Michael’s Bistro.

And ask for Tim, but remember he’s off on Thursday and Sunday.

For more Travel Tip Thursday, hop on over to Pseudo’s place.

Lehman’s Hardware

This week’s Spin Cycle is all about technology.

I love technology – it makes the life I live possible.  My kitchen is full of some of my favorite technology – my dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, stand mixer, food processor, ice cream maker (just to name a few).  I would not be employed without it; since we develop software for a living, it is absolutely necessary.  And, of course, there would be no blog without modern technology.

Living less than a 30 minute drive from the largest Amish settlements in the world, though, gives me a chance to see – and appreciate – those who chose to live without many of the conveniences provided by the modern technology most of us take so for granted.  I find the Amish culture simply fascinating, and the people themselves are warm and friendly.  We make several trips a year to Holmes County, sometimes just to drive around and enjoy the sights, often filled with tiny horse-drawn buggies and Amish farmers working in their fields – sans tractors – but often, believe or not, to shop.

Lehman’s Hardware is almost always at the heart of our shopping excursions, and for good reason.  Founded in 1955, Jay Lehman opened a small hardware store in Kidron, Ohio to supply the Amish with many of the things that were disappearing in a post-World War II era of automobiles , central heat and television.  In the 55 years it’s been open, it has developed and expanded into a 32,000 square foot “low tech superstore.”  Indeed, Lehaman’s Hardware is the largest purveyor of historical technology in the world.

And they let you take pictures.

West Entrance

Lehman’s has several entrances, but the West entrance is the one fronting their rear parking lot, and usually the one we use.

Windmill and Gazebo

This windmill and gazebo sit next to the entrance – the entire outside of the store is studded with the quaint and old fashioned.  But don’t let this modest looking entrance fool you, the place is absolutely massive.

Main Corridor

The store consists of four pre-Civil War era buildings, the largest (as far as I can tell) is the barn, the entrance of which is posted above.  The view here looks down the main corridor with it’s high ceilings crisscrossed with large, wooden beams (and yeah, a fake pigeon or two).

Look Up!

Every room and passageway in the place is lined with shelves way above patron’s heads that hold treasures of a bygone era: here we have what seem to be several old ice-boxes, a washing machine and I’m not sure what that thing to the far left is.  But it’s old.

Butter Churns

Need a butter churn?  They’ve got lots of them!

Hand Plow

How about a hand plow?

Oil Lanterns

Or some lovely, yet functional, oil lanterns?

Wood Fired Cooking Stove

Or perhaps an old-fashioned, cast-iron, wood burning cooking stove.  Yes, the price tag reads $5,250 – no one ever said this old fashioned technology was cheap.  I paid considerably less for my modern gas range – which I imagine will break or wear out many years before this baby does.

Of course, not everything is so arcane that the average schmoe off the street wouldn’t buy it.  Lehman’s is first and foremost a hardware store with a huge selection of the things that most hardware stores carry – hammers and saws and nails and screws; and if you can buy a pitchfork and a scythe there, too, well – hey, historical technology!  They also have what I consider the absolute best part of the place:  a large and varied housewares department.

Old Fashioned German Pottery
Lots O' Ladels
Cast Iron Skillets

I’ve bought every piece of cast iron cookware I own at Lehman’s, including my enameled cast iron – and a wok!

You can also buy edible goodies there, many of them handmade by the Amish and some produced specifically for the store.

Hot Pepper Jelly
Chocolate Granola

These pictures only represent a fraction of what you can find here – there are cookbooks featuring Amish and Mennonite recipes and old-fashioned toys and hand-cranked ice cream makers and the list goes on and on and on.  You can literally go in there and not come out for hours, there’s so much to look at.  Oftentimes, you’ll find Amish craftsman in the parking lot, selling handmade goods such as baskets and there’s a flea market right next door that operates on the weekends in warm weather.  If you’re very lucky, you’ll visit on a Saturday when there’s a farm and livestock auction going on – Amish buggies for as far as the eye can see.

If you should ever find yourself in northeast Ohio, make time to drive to Holmes County and visit Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron.  It’s a fascinating and fun experience.