Fall in the Midwest Remembers Spring at the Four Seasons in Nevis

Last week while driving through rural Indiana I caught a glimpse of a soybean field at that special moment when it is green, yellow, and brown at the same time. I immediately stopped in the middle of the road. This is one of those moments, like the turning of the leaves, that change daily. You can’t wait until tomorrow to capture that view, because by tomorrow it will have changed.

It is pretty.

But, it is also a sign. A sign that fall is upon us and that winter is coming. The combines have started to churn up dust on the horizon. At night you can see the eerie glow of the combine lights as they work. Fresh apples are everywhere and the leaves will changes colors soon. This is all part of the opening act for the Midwestern winter – first comes harvest, then the leaves disappear, the wind quickly becomes unbearable, and then the snow. Maybe it will be an easy winter, maybe it will be another harsh one – it is impossible to predict. No one knows.

I looked at those soybean fields and my mind took me right back to my 5 days on the island of Nevis, West Indies in May. It is shocking how quickly a thought of winter will prompt my amygdala to paint scenes of sandy beaches and ocean sunsets in my mind.

I realized earlier this year that I was going to need a real break. I would need a vacation that was more than a stay-cation but less than an over-scheduled-experience-everything-possible vacation. A cousin and a dear friend both recommended Nevis after taking trips there (separately – they don’t know each other). So I signed up, with much less research than I normally do before committing to a trip.

I was a bit nervous about going alone. Traveling alone on a trip with a lot of activities is easy and I do that all the time, but I wondered if I would be happy being alone with nothing much to do for 5 days. But, I went anyway.

I am glad I did.

I spent five peaceful, refreshing, and fabulous days at the Four Seasons Resort on Nevis. It was so lovely that I did not leave the resort. Why would you – there are walking trails, 4 restaurants, 3 pools, watersports, and plenty of perfect beach right there.

It was the best solo trip I have ever taken – walks, reading, laying by the ocean, and making new friends. Dinners were amazing – the two fine dining restaurants Mango and the Coral Grill, were able to create celiac-friendly meals and legitimately seemed to enjoy doing it. The staff members were lovely. They learned my name and preferences quickly and made me feel right at home – so much so that I got goodbye hugs on my last night at Mango. It was an easy place to be.

I returned like new – calm, focused, and ready to get back to life until the next break. So, this winter when I am wondering when it is going to stop snowing I am going to remember Nevis to remind me that winter isn’t all that long. That should hold me over until Hawaii in January.


The Niagara Peninsula in Pictures

The second stop on my Canadian adventure was Niagara-on-the-Lake, about an hour and a half drive from Toronto along the Queen Elizabeth Way (the “QEW”). It is a lovely drive and worth a stop of its own. If only I had known. So, head west from the big city and be sure to veer off of the QEW and enjoy the view.

The country side of the peninsula is littered with scenic vineyards and gorgeous views. They don’t call it the Niagara Peninsula Wine Country for no reason. This is the De Sousa Wine Cellars Vineyard in Beamsville, Ontario.

At the Tawse Winery, 2010/2011 winery of the year, you can get a glimpse of the Toronto skyline on a clear day across the lake. It is breath-taking.

While at the Tawse Winery I met a kind gentleman named Dieter. Dieter met me at the door and gave me an interesting and enlightening tour of the winery. The picture on the left shows the gravity fed wine processing system, which is “based on the natural slope and contours of our property. The use of gravity as opposed to pumps allows the wine to move gently from pressing to bottling with minimum manipulation.” Fascinating stuff.

Dieter is also an interesting fellow. I told him that I was living in FW and he assured me that he knows all about FW. How, you say? He worked for GM, retired early, and took up the wine business with Tawse. My new friend Dieter is living the dream. I only spent little bit of time with him and it was clear that he is a happy guy. There is a lot to be said for doing what you love!

Tawse is a gorgeous place, whether you drink the wine or not.

This is the Tawse celler. One interesting fact I learned is that the red markings on the barrels that appears to be from the wine bleed-through is not. No, some poor wine intern has to go around and use the grape scraps to paint the center ring of all the barrels so that they will look neat rather than show the stains from samplings. Poor kid. Also, for the Celiacs out there that are wine drinkers – the wineries I visited make their wine in brand new barrels, not used ones. So, you do not have to worry about cross-contamination from used barrels. How is that for cheers to you!

Another lesson I learned on this trip was that grapes are fun. Fun to photograph, that is. I thought it would be boring, even though I love a farmer’s market. I am glad I tested my assumption and found I was wrong. The way the light moves through and around the grapes and leaves is really interesting and challenging to catch. And, they are pretty, especially the dark grapes – the purple on the green is lovely.

The drive from Toronto the Niagara-on-the-Lake should have taken an hour and a half. Lucky for me it took 3 hours. Three hours of peaceful driving, gorgeous views, and visiting. This area is really a must-see in Ontario. Also, it is impossible to get lost in (there are maps everywhere and great signage) and the people are super friendly and generous with recommendations for where to go next or where to have lunch. All you need is time, a car, and a camera.

Midwestern Spring Snaps

The spring growth in Northeast Indiana has started. Bring out the heavy equipment.

Freshly worked dirt is all over Allen, Whitley, Wabash, and Kosciosko Counties.

New babies join the world.

Dog walks are becoming greener.

The Queen is getting friskier. No squirrels or rabbits are safe. Watch out.

The kids have come out to play. The Queen loves meeting new people (translation: she is an attention hog).

It is a happy time in the Midwest these days. The only thing better will be more green and a nice warm breeze.


Slater’s of Sidney

Slater’s Fruit House is a pleasant little surprise on South Main Street (Route 13) in Sidney, Indiana.  Sidney is a small burg between North Manchester and Pierceton.

You can get groceries, including fresh produce, and plants for your summer crops at Slater’s. Today Slater’s had a large selection of freshly picked morels (those are dry-land fish where I come from). I picked up a dozen eggs, local asparagus, an onion, a head of garlic, and a double decker oatmeal pie (I was thrilled to find it was super-fresh) for less than $5.50. The folks were super kind – the nice lady at the register gave me some advice on cooking morels. Next time I might be brave enough to buy some.

Slater’s reminds me of a couple of local country stores back home. Good stuff, kind people, and off the beaten path. It is worth a visit.

Between Heaven and Earth

In the words of Sophia Petrillo (I love The Golden Girls), “picture it,” North Manchester, late September 2011, a light rain was falling as 75 hungry farmers, business people, neighbors, family, and friends happily gathered on the J. L. Hawkins Family Farm to dine between heaven and earth. Well, it was close to being “between heaven and earth”.  Because of the rain we  dined between earth and the top of a clear plastic shed.

The guests were unaffected by the weather.  We could see heaven and the food we dined on was definitely heavenly.  The Hawkins Family farm hosts an annual harvest dinner -between heaven and earth – on the farm.  Actually, right in their yard.  The dinner is $75.00 a plate and all the proceeds go to support Hope CSA “a not-for-profit teaching ministry that offers a course of experiential learning and academic study to assist pastors to become healthier and more effective leaders.”  Jeff Hawkins, the farmer, is a pastor and runs Hope CSA.

All the produce and meat served at the dinner was locally grown.  The coffee and beer was also local, well as local as coffee gets.  The FW based local Red Brick Roasters provided the coffee pairing and FW brewery Mad Anthony’s provided the five beers paired with the four courses served.  Oh, and the pretty flowers on the tables were grown there on the farm – no detail ignored!  Chef Jennifer Disler, who has a passion for local food, prepared the menu and did the cooking in a small building behind the farmhouse using largely a brick oven.  The theme for her menu was preservation . . . thinking canning, smoking, and pickling.

The experience started with brick oven French sourdough crostini (the flour used for the bread was milled in Northern Indiana and the bread was made by the farmer’s son) with fresh goat cheese with assorted tomato jams and beet chutney toppers, open faced duck pastrami sandwiches with Sunny Meadow swiss and Oktoberfest mustard.  The appetizer was paired with Mad Anthony Gabby Blonde Lager, Mad Anthony Oktoberfest, and fresh mint flavored water.  The duck pastrami was amazing, I had never had anything like it (and the fact it was slathered in cheese did not hurt).  The beet toppers were both pickled and raw – very fresh and sweet when paired with the goat cheese.  It was a great start.

Throughout the dinner, which was intended to be leisurely and enjoyed, several speakers addressed the group.  The first was Jeff Hawkins, the farmer, and his family.  The Hawkins Farm is truly a family affair.  Both of the Hawkins children and their spouses were heavily involved in farm operations and/or the dinner.  Mr. Hawkins gave us a tour of the farm (from the shed).  The farm is designed to sustain itself as much as possible – all the animals selected are done so with the purpose of supporting another aspect of the farm.  The farm features pigs, chickens, domestic turkey (big white Thanksgiving turkeys), smaller turkeys, and Jersey steers and cows.  There are also some guinea hens, beautiful birds, that decided to cut-up during dinner.  Apparently it took them 2 courses to realize we were there?  This also got the pigs riled up offering us a nice background of farm noises – it was delightful and fun.

The salad course and entrees were served buffet style alongside one another.  The salad was a collection of fresh greens with apples, French breakfast radishes, flat leaf parsley and a maple/sage vinaigrette.   French brick oven pain au levain was paired with the salad along with Mad Anthony’s Woody Pale Ale, fresh mint flavored water, and iced black and lemon tea.

Please prepare yourself for this entree selections . . . it is impressive.  Once passed the salad we encountered the carrot slaw with honey dill dressing, which was delicious.  Probably the freshest carrots I have ever eaten.  Next was smoked Hawkins Farm pastured turkey, pasture-raised Hawkins farm Tamworth ham with peach and caramelized onion jam, Hawkins Farm pastured chicken confit with shallots and thyme, red fingerling roasted potatoes with oven dried tomatoes and garlic, smoked duck greens, summer bean ragout with creme fraiche, toasted corn, leek, eggplant and garlic strata, wax bean pickles with fennel and jalapeno, eggplant pickle relish with chilies and lemon thyme, sweet potato biscuits with rosemary/orange salt paired with Mad Anthony’s Old Woody Pale Ale and Mad Anthony’s Creme Stout.

Amazing.  I had to try it all – everything looked too good to pass up.

All of the meats served were cooked to perfection and were moist and flavorful.  The smoked duck greens were unique and awesome – why wouldn’t you put duck in your leafy greens?  I am Southern I love greens, it is a rule.  My favorites (although all were good) were the ham, turkey, greens, and wax beans.  This was truly an experience that you cannot get anywhere else.  It was an adventure of food, culture, and conversation.

The speakers during dinner continued to provide short comments.  Around the end of the entree service we heard from Cliff Kindy and Mark Sloss.  Mr. Kindy is the owner and farmer of Joyfield Farm, which provided many of the vegetables that we ate on this night.  Mr. Kindy and his wife have a special farm.  Joyfield Farm is organic, simple, and sustainable.  They are involved in a ministry that involved a trip to the Middle East.  Mr. Kindy returned and decided that he was going to do his part so that “we do not have fight over oil” and his part was to “give up the tiller”.  Mr. and Mrs. Kindy plant their vegetables the old fashioned way – with a hoe.  They also have elected to not use public water for irrigation but rather enrich their soil with humus and rotate their crops in a such as way as to encourage water retention.  Now in dry years they do fine.  It is hard, I imagine, but it must be rewarding.  I was very impressed and I deeply admire this couple and what they are doing for themselves and their community.  They are special and the rest of us can learn a lot from folks like these folks.

Mr. Sloss followed Mr. Kindy and he is a pastor that has participated in the Hope CSA program and now serves on the Hope CSA board of directors.  Mr. Sloss gave a lovely talk about the benefits of Hope CSA programming to pastors.  Participants have the opportunity to become closer to creation and spend a day away from the busyness of life.  It sounded like it would be a program useful to many groups of people in addition to the clergy.  Support your local church!

Then came dessert.  Each table received a tray of deliciousness that included honey brownies, zucchini sandwich cookies (think whoopie pies), apple cider caramels, and maple nut brittle all paired with Mad Anthony’s Raspberry Wheat Ale and Red Brick Roaster’s Cafe Volo coffee.  I never dreamed that zucchini would be a dessert, but it was outstanding.  As for the caramels, well, at least one of those ended up in my pocketbook for later.  They were excellent.    The dinner was closed out with the introductions of the chef and cooks.  It was a marvelous evening.  The food was fantastic and the weather cleared just as dinner started.  An added bonus was that our table was filled with fun, interesting, and friendly folks from just down the road.  To my right was a farmer and his wife who live next door on a family farm.  They farm the land and in their spare time build Habitat for Humanity homes.  To my left were faculty members and the president of a local college.  Who would imagine that such a diverse group could be collected on a farm in the middle of Route 300 in North Manchester, Indiana?  It happens.  The most interesting people are often in your backyard, so to speak, but you have to get out there and meet them and more importantly talk to them and you will probably learn a lot.

I really enjoyed this event.  I am so happy and blessed that a kind colleague of mine thought of me when he and his wife could not attend this event, prompting him to pass along his tickets to me.  His generosity was put to good use.  Next year I will be getting a reservation early.  You should too.

Worthwhile Cause: Community Supported Agriculture

Nearly every Wednesday The Queen and I go to Solomon Farm on Dupont Road for the weekly Farmer’s Market.  There is always a great selection of fruit, vegetables and other goods, including honey, desserts, and educational information.  Also, there are always plenty of folks who want to pet and love on The Queen, which she loves.  So, it is a win-win.

One group that is faithfully present every week is Graber Farms.  Graber Farms is Amish owned and operated.  The operation does not use electricity or modern conveniences.  A non-Amish volunteer has started a website for them that she maintains.  She also comes out weekly to sell and promote the organization.  Graber Farms is a certified organic farm that supplies produce to local markets, restaurants, and companies in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.  Graber also has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation that provides weekly deliveries to subscribing citizens – 20 pounds of organic produce – from May 30 to October 15.  You can purchase in 10 or 20 week shares in small, medium or large sizes.  Graber also has U-Pick events and the option to purchase farm shares.

Graber produce is the freshest you can get, it is organic, and it is local.  There is no better way to support the local economy than to support such an organization.

CSAs exist throughout the Midwest and beyond.  Another favorite farm of mine is the Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester, Indiana.  The Hawkins Family Farm also offers a CSA that includes beef, chicken, turkey, and pork as well as fresh produce and more (there will be a future post on their fabulous Between Heaven and Earth Dinner).

There are certainly CSAs and local farms everywhere, find one near you and support it.  It will make you feel good and food is pretty!

Gold and Green Fields

The summer has started to wind down here in Northern Indiana.  While the trees are not yet showing their fall colors, the soybeans and corn have started to fade to yellow, gold and brown.

I spend a fair amount of time driving through the Northeast Indiana countryside and have noticed that yellow and gold are really prominent colors in nature around here.  Until now, I never really knew that yellow or gold was a color that should be associated with a farming landscape.  Turns out, it should.  By the end of the corn season the tops of the corn stalks are waving and sparkling gold.  LIkewise, just before the soybean harvest when the leaves drop off the bushes, these little guys turn the loveliest shade of yellow.  I love green, it is beautiful.  However, as fall comes on here in the Midwest green has a rival; and gold can hold its own.  As you might guess, I think it is pretty.