Chasing Dorothy

Review: The First Season

Everyone needs to watch this documentary from Slamdance Studios. While it is at times difficult to watch, “The First Season” delves into the work done by neophyte dairy farmers Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh in upstate New York. The couple sold their home, left their jobs, bought a defunct 1700s dairy farm and moved to become dairy farmers as well as give their young children the opportunity to grow up in the country.

What started with the couple’s desire to grow their own food turned into a full-scale dairy farm, complete with an entire herd of cows and calves, several horses, a group of rambunctious pigs and four curious children.

The rocky start – the milking shed wasn’t ready when the cows started calving – turned into months of teetering on the brink of disaster. But the Van Amburghs stuck it out and after almost two years, they were breaking even.

The film guides the viewer through hardship and success, and highlights some of the struggles that may not be immediately apparent – a sink full of dishes and dinner to get on the table, for example. Caring for five children and trying to make a dairy farm thrive would make any strong person buckle, but the couple’s patience and perseverance permeate the film, giving hope to even the bleakest situations.

Paul says the couple didn’t get into farming to make money, but it’s sad to think that this courageous couple and their children are simply breaking even. “And every farm you see, they’re doing just that, breaking even or worse,” Paul says.

Watch the trailer here, and download the full documentary on Amazon or iTunes.

The First Season - trailer from David Meneses on Vimeo.

Heirloom Tomato Festival: A Sneak Peek

I spent August 24 and 25 at the breathtaking Chicago Botanic Garden for the Heirloom Tomato Festival. The garden is sprawling, meticulously landscaped with flowers, shrubs, trees, and an organic fruit and vegetable island right in the middle. This weekend, which was formerly an heirloom pepper weekend, targeted veteran and novice gardeners alike, as well as cooks and tomato admirers of all kinds. Thousands of Chicago-area residents made their way to the free festival for a weekend of tomato education, cooking demonstrations, tours of the gardens, seed-saving demonstrations and more.

Just across a bridge over the massive koi pond, you're greeted by garden volunteers, many of who are master gardeners and horticulturists. The island is several acres and contains about 75 varieties of tomatoes, including a special section dedicated to those varieties that appeared in Thomas Jefferson's garden at Monticello. As folks wandered through this section of the island, many wondered how such an old variety could still be grown today and how gardeners knew the tomatoes were the same as they were then. The question is valid and the answer is because heirloom seed it true, and if saved, will produce the same fruit year after year after year. Heirloom seed saving not only gives us beautiful and delicious fruit each year, but it is an important part of preserving history.

All this talk of saving seeds led me to a white tent with a welcomed respite of shade. Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist for the Chicago Botanic Garden, demonstrated two incredibly simple ways to save seed, which we will post for you soon. But trust me, they're almost too easy.

Lisa's intern Sophie showed me the many different ways they grow tomatoes to demonstrate that anyone, anywhere, with any amount of growing space can raise tomatoes. Terracotta containers lined a walkway, and both heirlooms and hybrids were thriving. The gardeners even experimented with growing tomatoes in straw bales. Unfortunately, it didn't go as well as they had hoped.

I caught up with Lisa, and she pointed out to me the different tomato support structures they use. Again, to show attendants that there is not just one way to support tomatoes. In fact, a few plants were without any support at all, and were close if not directly on the ground. While not ideal, Lisa said she wanted people to see that even the laziest gardener can grow tomatoes. The trellised tomatoes seemed to be the happiest, healthiest and most robust. 

By this time, my stomach let me know it was nearing lunch time, and luckily, a chef demonstration was about to commence. Chef Laura Piper of Trattoria No. 10 in Chicago's bustling Loop neighborhood prepared a dish that highlighted the pure, unadulterated flavors of heirloom tomatoes. Her canvas of choice: Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi, which she described as the filling of ravioli. I'll post this and two other recipes this week. Trust me when I say you'll need to make this immediately.

That's a general summary of the weekend's activities. Keep an eye out for recipes, photos and more articles. Still to come: an interview with the man who is responsible for the Speckled Roman tomato, two easy seed saving methods, exclusive Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi, and tips for making your heirloom tomatoes thrive.


Feathers on the Ground

This time of year all I want to do is sleep and recuperate from the holiday season. It happens in a flash, but I'm always exhausted after it's over. Especially after hauling the tree out of my house last night and vacuuming for an hour afterwards. As much as I would like to sleep for the next two months straight, there's work to do and tasks to complete. The next best thing is turning my bathroom into a mini spa. Luckily, I recently received a box of bath goodies from Feathers on the Ground to jump start my post-holiday relaxation. I have to say...I'm hooked.

Tricia makes all the goat's milk products at home using milk from her Nigerian dwarf goat Maggie. The goat's milk nourishes and moisturizes skin without drying chemicals. What better way to give my skin a little TLC in the dead of winter?
My favorite thing about their soap is the delicate scent. So often the soaps in the grocery store are very overpowering, and not in a pleasant way. Gentle essential oils, shea and avocado butters moisturize and exfoliate the skin. You're left with a subtle and beautiful scent. The Cold Water scent is masculine, and it is Feathers on the Ground most popular men's fragrance. I was lucky enough to receive two seasonal scents, Christmas Spice and Pumpkin Spice, which smell so yummy you want to eat them. But you probably shouldn't.

 Feathers Soap 

The lotion is just dreamy. I've shared it with several people in the office and every person says, "Wow, that is so moisturizing and smells incredible." I love that it's thick, yet absorbs quickly, so you don't spend all day rubbing in greasy lotion. Tricia sent me the Waterlily Orange-scented lotion and told me it's one of her most popular scents.She says the lotions are made for more sensitive skin. She uses rice bran oil in her lotions because it's even gentle enough for babies. If you have sensitive skin, but still would like a wonderful-smelling lotion, these are for you.  
Feathers Lotion
Then there's my absolute favorite product from this company and maybe even of all my beauty products. Perfume solid. It's unlike anything I've ever used, and I don't think I'll ever be able to live without it again. It's small, portable, can't spill or break, and it's just the right amount of scent. I keep one in my desk and one in my purse. Sometimes in the middle of the day you find your perfume could use a little pick me up but you don't want to suffocate your coworkers by spraying your perfume everywhere. Or maybe you're meeting your honey for a dinner date after work and don't have time to go home and freshen up. Enter perfume solid. You just use your finger to apply to your wrists, behind your ear, back of your neck, anywhere. It's a solid moisturizing bar so it doesn't make a mess and can't spill. It's almost like a solid lotion. It doesn't get on your clothes and jewelry like liquid perfume, and it's even small enough to take on the airplane. I cannot say enough good about it. It's genius! The White Ginger and Amber scent smells like a tropical vacation. It's light yet sophisticated. Very feminine and ladylike. At just $3.00 each, they're incredibly affordable and will last a very long time. How can you go wrong?

 Feathers Perfume 
Check out Feathers on the Ground for yourself. Order products from the Feathers on the Ground Etsy store or follow the Feathers on the Ground blog. Become a fan of the Feathers on the Ground Facebook page.

How to Make Butter

 Homemade-Butter    Making butter is an incredibly simple task and the reward is unmatched. I'm convinced that absolutely nothing tastes better than homemade butter. Fresh sweet cream butter needs to be consumed quicker than grocery store butter, but who can complain about that? All you need is heavy cream, a hand mixer, and a little salt if you want salted butter. Here's how to make it:

1 cup heavy cream
Bowl of ice water

Pour cream into a bowl and whip on highest speed you can without cream splattering. Cream will turn to whipped cream with stiff peaks and then get more solid. Soon the cream will turn yellow and become a solid, leaving behind some liquid or "buttermilk." Once butter is yellow and has separated from the buttermilk, pour off the buttermilk into a sealed container. You will want to keep this. Wrap the fresh butter in cheesecloth (it will be soft) and submerge in bowl of ice water to rinse off any remaining buttermilk. Remove from cheesecloth, wrap and refrigerate for later use or spread a healthy serving on a warm slice of bread.    Yields: 1 large stick of butter   Note: Keep fresh butter wrapped up as good as you can to make it last longer. Stored in the fridge, fresh butter will keep a week or maybe a week and a half. You can tell by the smell if it's gone spoiled. For every cup of fresh buttermilk you have, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to sour it for use in buttermilk pancakes, waffles and biscuits.

Photo: Africa Studio/Fotolia

Ranch Organics

Last week, the sweetest of packages was delivered to me at work. Not too sure what it would be (we get all sorts of deliveries here at Grit), I carefully opened the top and reached into the white mass of packing peanuts. Now, it could have been diamonds, it could have been chocolate or it could have been perfume. But on this particular day, nothing could have made me happier than this boxful of luxurious bath products. Soaps, bath gel and lotion lay before me, each one smelling more divine than the next. The source of this packaged relaxation? Ranch Organics based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Ranch Organics, as the name suggests, is dedicated to creating mineral-rich bath and beauty products derived from plants and herbs found on the working Rocky Mountain ranch. Scents are invented to reflect the changing seasons (fall's lavender, for example), sensual interactions with nature and the unmarred beauty of open spaces. Certified organic botanical extracts whisk you straight away to this idyllic ranch situated on a mountain meadow. After you try something from this brand, you will understand why they were included in the Emmy's gift bags in September.

Let me tell you about the products the owner, Debbie, sent me in this sweet little box.

Cedar Wood Goat's Milk Soap: This is the creamiest, yummiest soap I've ever used. I think what I love most is that it's not heavily scented, but leaves your skin smelling beautiful, not to mention impossibly soft. A hot bath with this soap and freshly laundered cotton pajamas are the keys to happiness. Until you read about the next product: Lavender Bath Gel.


Lavender Bath Gel: I used this as a light bubble bath, but I'm sure its original intention truly is a bath gel. Whether bubble bath or gel, one thing everyone can agree on is the intoxicating scent. Wrap yourself in a lavender field with this luscious product, and you'll find it's hard to remember the day's struggles. Just a little bit is all you need to create a lavender oasis in your bath or shower.

 Lavender Gel 

Rose Geranium Lotion: Talk about a lotion that not only leaves your skin hydrated and smooth, but also smells like a perfect summer's day. Lots of times, the lotion that smells good is not the lotion that is good for your skin. Some of my best smelling lotions leave my skin dry and agitated. Enter Ranch Organics lotion. My skin felt fresh, hydrated and squeaky clean after using this lotion. The smell is beautiful and alluring without being overwhelming. You can safely use this in the office without causing your coworkers a sneeze-fit. 


Mountain Range Soap: All I can say is you want this in your bathroom. Just having the bar of soap out will make your bathroom smell like a spa. That's what we all strive for, isn't it? This bar of soap sat on my counter over the weekend and every time I walked in, I couldn't believe how lovely it smelled. You'll feel good about using this soap knowing it's chock full of organic goodness. My favorite part of this soap is seeing the little bits of what went into it. Ditch the chemical-laden soaps for this natural and pure peace of Heaven. 


Double-Dipped Fried Chicken Strips

Photo of Natalie K. Gould   I love fried chicken. It's the epitome of comfort food. Pair it with mashed potatoes and my heart soars. Maybe I'm the only one who suffers this affliction, but when I eat fried chicken, I am clumsy and incredibly ungraceful about the bones. I always end up biting one, poking my hand with one or scratching myself. I hate it. Not to mention the meat tends to be pretty greasy and sometimes the coating falls off. Note this: There is nothing worse than the fried part falling off before you take a bit of it with chicken. Half the reason I eat fried chicken is for that coating. You best believe I want to eat the crunchy part with the chickeny part. Did we already talk about how much it sucks to cut up a chicken? I do not enjoy this one bit.

Because of my sufferings, I came up with a recipe that combines the indulgence of fried chicken with the ease of boneless chicken. These are fried chicken strips, and I wish I could eat them every day. I wish I was eating them right now. They are best served along side warm cornbread dripping with honey and buttery mashed potatoes (because we need a healthy vegetable in there). Simmer down, Nelly, we're all going to learn how to make this.




1 package chicken breast tenders

Buttermilk (or regular milk with some salt to make a brine)

4 cups flour, divided evenly

2 teaspoons salt, divided evenly

1 teaspoon pepper, divided evenly

2 teaspoons paprika, divided evenly

2 teaspoons garlic powder, divided evenly

Vegetable oil (or lard because I work at Grit magazine)


1. In a shallow dish, soak chicken in buttermilk for a minimum of 30 minutes. I like to stick it in the fridge and let it soak for an hour or two if I have time.

2. Using two paper bags, pie pans, or any other shallow dish, place the divided flour, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder. For example: I would have two paper bags (or shallow dishes), each with 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon paprika and 1 teaspoon garlic powder.

3. Prepare a separate dish with enough buttermilk to coat all the strips.

4. In the meantime, pour an inch or so of oil into a heavy skillet. Heat over medium-low or medium heat. We need to make sure the strips attain a perfect golden color while being cooked through.

5. Coat strips in the following order (I find you can do about three at a time):

  • Remove strips from old buttermilk, place in bag 1, shake to coat, drop into new buttermilk, place in bag 2, shake to coat, set aside.
6. Repeat until all strips have been 'double-dipped'.

7. Cook strips in oil until golden, turn and place on a paper towel lined plate. They should take a minute and a half to two minutes each side. Check the first one out to make sure there's no pink remaining in the middle.

8. Pat yourself on the back for combining the greatest parts of both fried chicken and chicken strips. Ring that triangular dinner bell and get your brood to the dinner table. The only problem I see here is that we need more cowbell.




Brussels Sprouts You'll Swoon Over

Brussels sprouts? Yeah. Brussels sprouts. They are the unpopular kid in the vegetable world. They get made fun of, picked on, and straight bullied. I'm here to tell you that this need not be. There is a way. We can all get along, and pretty soon (after you make this recipe) you will be best friends with these baby cabbages. You will forget all horrific childhood memories of being forced to sit at the table until you finish your Brussels sprouts. I've converted many a Brussels sprouts skeptic with this magic side dish. Not to mention, we're entering prime Brussels sprouts season. Did you know that Brussels sprouts get sweet after the first frost? It's true. If you've had a frost in your area, find some local Brussels sprouts and try this dish immediately. Lest you remain a sprout hater and regret your decision forever. More on Brussels sprouts another time. Let's get to braisin some sprouts.

Bacon-Balsamic Brussels Sprouts 
(A chef in Chicago once told me that you could braise anything in balsamic and it would be divine. There's your proof.)
1/2 pound bacon, sliced
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
1/4 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and cut in half
2 cups chicken stock
1. Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned, but not crispy. About 10 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease in the skillet. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease and stir in the olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the onion softens and the garlic lightly browns, 5-7 minutes.
2. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and bring to a simmer; cook until the liquid has reduced by 1/3. Add the reserved bacon, brown sugar, Brussels sprouts and stock. Stir, then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the Brussels sprouts are tender, yet still slightly firm, about 10 minutes.
3. Never scrunch your nose up at Brussels sprouts ever again; apologize for being so mean to them over the years.