Tag: Bloggers (Page 1 of 2)

Baking Pies With Food & Swine + Pork Tenderloin At Goldie’s

You can cry or die or just bake pies all day.” – From “Making Pies” by Patty Griffin

After our friend Amy Hild died in a car crash late February, I baked a pie and wrote this post about baking feelings into pies. Grief can seem like a monster or feel like riding a wave and we’re all dealing with it in our own ways. One thing I learned is that I am not the only one who finds solace in baking. My friend Shannon connected with the post and coordinated a trip to Cristen Clark’s home near Des Moines for a pie baking workshop last week.

Group pies

Cristen Clark writes Food & Swine. She and her family grow crops and raise hogs on their farm. In her free time, Cristen enters baking and cooking contests, frequently taking home blue ribbons. I’ll always remember how she extended a hand of hospitality of friendship soon after we moved to Iowa. There are those people who just get your sense of humor, and she’s definitely one of them. Cristen graciously hosted us at her home for the day and shared her best pie-making tips.

Cristen Jessica aprons

We put on our aprons and Cristen walked us through making pie crust.

Group in kitchen

During this class, we prepared all-butter pie crusts. Pie fillings varied, depending on what fruit each person brought. I combined apples and pears and Cristen helped me add sugar, flour to thicken, lemon zest, lemon juice, and this delightfully fragrant Vietnamese cinnamon she bought from the King Arthur Flour.

baking supplies

One technique we didn’t learn in culinary school baking lab was how to make a lattice pie crust. Cristen mentioned that thicker lattice patterns are “in” and demonstrated how to weave the strips.

Cristen trimming pie

I topped my double-crust pie with horse cutouts.

pie Collage

Cristen treated us to lunch at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City while we waited for our pie dough to chill. Goldie’s claim to fame is winning the Iowa Pork Producer’s “Best Pork Tenderloin” contest in 2009. The Des Loines blog, my favorite resource for unbiased pork tenderloin reviews, lists Goldie’s tenderloin as a top contender near Des Moines.

Inside, the small restaurant looks like a diner and even has a drive-through window. At lunch time, the place was busy and people filled every stool along the counter.

goldies Collage

Mary and I ordered a pork tenderloin basket while the other bloggers ordered pork tenderloin sandwiches. “Would you like ranch? our server asked in true Iowan style. Of course we said “Yes.”

Our pork tenderloin arrived in thin strips and reminded me of the schnitzel fingers I once ordered at Glockenspiel restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The tenderloin was fried well so that the strips were crispy without being greasy and the pork was moist and tender. When I looked around the table, I noticed my dining companions’ sandwiches were accompanied by tangles of thin onion rings. Those generic, pre-frozen rings appear on so many menus that I’ve come to expect them. Thin rings are my favorite and I really regretted not ordering them here. Val let me try one of hers.

pork strips

Cristen also noted that the owner raises cattle on his family farm. The cows are processed at a local locker and the beef is served on Goldie’s menu in the form of burgers and sausage. The Magg Combo sandwich combines a pork tenderloin and burger patty. As a new Iowan, I’m still getting acquainted with pork tenderloin sandwiches, but can claim that this is my favorite fried tenderloin so far.

After lunch, we returned to Cristen’s house and finished preparing our pies to bake at home. The way that one bakes his or her pies is so personal and there’s always something new to learn. Competition pie baking is especially fascinating. It’s a completely different beast than baking pies for home consumption, only. I’m not ready for this world, but will certainly use some of these tips Cristen taught us.

Pie Wisdom From Cristen

  • Use a foil collar to prevent crust edges from burning. To make a collar, cut a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the perimeter of your pie crust and fold it into a thinner strip. Wrap it around your pie crust edges and remove it about ten minutes before the pie’s done baking. I can not believe I’ve never thought of this before. The collar sure beats trying to crunch strips of foil around hot pie edges and hoping they don’t fall off each time you move the pie.

pie crust guard

  • Competition bakers keep their pie chilled. Cristen mentioned that when she makes competition pies, she pops the pie back into the fridge frequently to keep the dough cold for perfect forming.
  • Add an egg to the crust: The pie crust recipe I’ve used at home at in culinary school did not include an egg. We added it to the flour and butter, along with the water. I didn’t notice a huge difference, but it turned out well.
  • On shortening & crusts: Different shortenings produce different kinds of crusts. Last November, Cristen wrote this helpful post explaining how each shortening effects crust. I’ve never worked with lard, but it sounds like the combination of lard + butter is popular among bakers. We also learned it’s possible to make a no-roll “push” pie crust with just oil that’s actually won awards at the state fair, too. I haven’t tried this method yet.
  • You can roll pie crust edges up or down: In culinary school, we always rolled the edges of the pie crust down, which Cristen recommended for apple and pear pie. However, she rolled them up on the berry pies. Now, I know I have two options!
  •  Use a giant dough scraper. I don’t own a giant dough scraper. When I’ve made pie at home, I work as quickly as possible so that the shortening doesn’t melt and sprinkle the dough with a lot of flour when it sticks to the counter. The dough scraper made it easy to lift the rolled-out pie dough from the counter and, as a result, I used less flour.
  • Tapioca thickens berry pies. Cristen says the award-winning bakers she’s encountered thicken berry pies with tapioca pearls. She uses 1/4-1/3 cup per pie.
  • Dab with butter: Just like my culinary school instructor, Cristen places little dabs of butter on top of the pie filling before covering it with the top crust.
  • Look for slow bubbles. We baked our pies for 20-minutes at 400℉ and another 40-minutes at 350℉. Slow bubbles indicate that the juices have thickened into a sauce with an ideal consistency.
  • “Blonde” pies are a thing. Pies without any browning on the crust are called “blonde pies.” Some judges prefer them while some don’t, but I’m with Cristen. I like the appearance and flavor of crust with spots of golden brown color.

And my favorite way to enjoy a slice of apple pie? For breakfast with a cup of coffee and cheddar melted on top of the crust!

group outside goldies

From left to right: Cristen (Food & Swine), Jessica (Belong, Create), Val (Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids), Me, Mary (Natural Plus Nursery), Shannon (The Field Position).

Special thanks Cristen for hosting us and surprising us with lunch at Goldie’s and to Shannon for coordinating the event and providing transportation.  

I Met Cooper The Chicken & Ate Broasted Chicken At A Drive-In: Let’s Save The Barrel

There’s a giant chicken in Clear Lake, Iowa.

His name is Cooper and if you drive along U.S. 18 from Mason City to Clear Lake, you won’t miss him. He likes it when people take his photo.

Cooper Collage

Cooper stands outside the Barrel Drive-In, a historic restaurant that’s served ice cream and broasted chicken since 1958. The Barrel started as the small shack pictured below on a gravel lot and expanded into a covered drive-in with two dining rooms.


A 1/2 chicken dinner is no longer $1.25, but it’s still darn affordable. It’ll cost less than $10 and still come with a roll, side salad, choice of crinkle fries, thick slices of broasted potato, or coleslaw and twist of soft serve ice cream.

Barrel food Collage

Back in the day, the Barrel used to be a hot spot. A DJ played music from the booth on the rooftop and people would come out to dance. These days, the Barrel is in need of many updates.

Current owner Seth Thackery shared his story and vision with us at our last North Iowa Social Media Breakfast. He began working at the Barrel at age 14 and bought the restaurant in 2007. He’s already put a lot of his own money into fixing what’s worn. Unfortunately, he’s finding much of the worn can’t be fixed, but must be replaced. He considered selling the drive-in when Casey’s General Store expressed interest in purchasing the property. When he learned that Casey’s wanted to tear the building down, he sought help for his business.

After learning about the Barrel’s possible fate, the community has rallied behind Thackery. Julie Wright, owner of Executive Financial Architects and Michael Fiala, owner of Northern Iowa Internet & Creative Services awarded him a $75,000 grant along with business and marketing coaching. Other volunteers are offering assistance with repairs and social media management. Plus, the Barrel recently applied for a Restaurant Impossible make-over.

Thackery especially needs a new kitchen and hopes to add a soda fountain bar.

The Meal
The broasted chicken was as memorable as everyone implied with its crackly-crispy skin and juicy meat. I chose a side of french fries. They were fried well without being greasy and nicely salted, though I envied my companions who nibbled thick, broasted potato wedges. Side salads came with a sweet, homemade French dressing and I think I tasted celery seed.

Chicken Dinner

Sara used the booth’s speaker to call-in our order.

Sara Ordering

Thackery’s passion for his business shone through. After hearing him speak and spending time with him at the Barrel, we all want this hardworking restauranteur to succeed.

Barrel with Seth

Grantor Julie Wright said, “Be appreciative of what seems old-fashioned,” and her words rang through my head all day.

There’s still a place for an old-fashioned drive-in where families order from speakers in their cars or booths and eat broasted chicken with their fingers. Hopefully the Barrel will get the renovation it deserves and you’ll see people dancing by moonlight to music spun by a rooftop DJ next to a spinning barrel and a chicken named Cooper.

Volunteers can offer their time and talents here to save the Barrel.

My Lunch Dates:
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life: Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
Donna, Donnahup.com
Katy, Learning As I Go: Learning About Being A Wife, Step-mom & An Adult
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara

Our First County Fair: Cake Decorating & Pork Sandwiches

When North Iowa blogger Val of Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids asked me if I wanted to team-up and compete in the Franklin County “Cake Wars” decorating contest, of course I had to say yes.

I warned her that my cake decorating abilities were very limited.

In culinary school in Moorhead, MN, Mrs. Kraft patiently tried to teach me how to pipe little rosettes and shell patterns with a piping bag with mixed success. And I can put sprinkles on things. Basically, sprinkling sprinkles was what I was bringing to the cake decorating table. Fortunately, the competition was not cutthroat, but focused on cultivating fun.

On Saturday afternoon, the fair was extremely busy. We enjoyed grilled pork tenderloin sandwiches and apple pie at the 4-H food stand.

The first part of the cake contest sent us on a scavenger hunt around the Franklin County Fair to earn points to purchase cake decorating supplies. Every team was given a small cake, white frosting, funfetti sprinkles and a single knife.

I let Val take the lead. She knew her way around the fair and I’d seen her amazing Curious George banana cake she made for her son’s third birthday. We were also excited that Donna of Donnahup.com joined us for the afternoon. She cheered us on and took some fantastic photos.

Jen, Val, Donna.jpg

We based our cake design on the 4-H theme. It’s a good thing Val piped the letters because if I had tried, they would have looked like blogs. I was so impressed with the cake decorating skills of our competition, too. Some teams thought outside of the box and cut their cake into shapes.

PicMonkey Collage.jpg.jpg

In the end we won our snazzy green participation ribbons which were the perfect icing on the cake of my first county fair experience.

I like to call us Green Ribbon Winning Cake Decorators.

Our Favorite Summer Flavors Featured on Travel Iowa

Thank you Travel Iowa for featuring some of our favorite summer flavors from around the state!

The Iowan Food & Lifestyle bloggers live in various parts of the state and write about everything from cooking to DIY projects. But what we all have in common is that we love to explore Iowa and share our favorite experiences.

Brats, mason city farmers market

Find out what we highlighted as some of our favorite Iowa summer flavors in Travel Iowa’s latest blog post.

What would you add to the list?

Liebster Award Tag!

leibsterawardThis is a long overdue thank you to Cristen of Food & Swine for nominating me for the Liebster Award, a virtual way for bloggers to recognize other bloggers. According to the official rules, any blog with under 1,000 followers or subscribers is eligible for the Liebster.

Nominating blogs for the Liebster Award is essentially like playing tag. Bloggers can choose to pass it on if they wish, but they are certainly not obligated to participate.

I’ve connected with Cristen more recently through Iowa blogging networks (she wrote about the Bauder’s Pharmacy Peppermint Bar at the Iowa State Fair in my post compiling Iowa bloggers favorite hometown foods). As a new Iowan, I’ve appreciated her warmth and friendliness and enjoy following her blog in which she shares about her family, raising hogs, and cooking adventures. This week, I was thrilled to learn she is an award winning bread baker, having won multiple blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair.

Like Minnesota and North Dakota, I’ve thankful to have found a hospitable group of local bloggers, many of whom I consider friends and enjoy collaborating with.

Cristen’s Questions For Me:

  • What drove you to start your blog and when did you start it?

I had always read food blogs but was too afraid to start my own. After I made arrangements to travel to Puebla and Queretaro, Mexico with two friends, I vowed to start a blog and begin by writing about our trip. I was inspired by Twin Cities food writers and bloggers and realized I also wanted to contribute to the discussion.

  • Who or what inspires you in the kitchen?

A childhood watching Julia Child and Two Fat Ladies and reading cookbooks like novels. Now, I love exploring these food fascinations in my own kitchen. I am also inspired by recipes and techniques I see on food television, magazines, books, and blogs. My husband and I live in a smaller city and can’t just run out for Korean and Indian food so I’m inspired to learn how to make more foods.

  • How much time do you spend on your blog per day?

It depends on the day. Typically, I’ll spend about two hours a day chipping away on posts and commenting on other blogs. If I have the time and hit a writing groove, I’ll spend more hours.

  • Who convinced you to finally start your blog?

My family and friends have been very supportive of my blogging, but I think I had to convince myself.

  • What are your three top favorite personal recipes you’ve ever featured?

How I baked a cheap ham, (more for the commentary than the recipe), Korean Chap Chae and Lefse. As an honorable fourth, Stu’s recipe for a crock pot corned beef & cabbage meal.

Liebster Collage.jpg

  • What topics would you like to cover more in your blog posts?

Local travel and exploration. I embarked on a lot of road trips and detours when I lived in North Dakota and would like to continue to explore oddities, small town cafes, dive bars in Iowa and Southern Minnesota.

  • What is one skill you wish you had?


  • Where do you see your blog in 5 years?

I would like to have grown my readership and continued to connect with my readers and other writers. I also hope to remain true to my mission to write the blog I want to read. It would be a dream come true if blogging led to travel opportunities.

  • What is one dish or baked good that you’d love to master?

I would like to make better Indian food.

  • If you could cook one meal for anyone (alive or passed) who would it be for and what would it be?

My mom passed away from cancer in 2008 and never really got to try my cooking. I would love to make her knoephla soup and strawberry pie with a homemade crust.

  • What is your advice for someone thinking about starting a blog of their own?

First and foremost, be authentic.

If you see yourself blogging long-term, invest in a self-hosted WordPress site. I spent my first three years on Blogger before transferring everything to my own website. I am grateful for those who assisted me with this process (most especially Mike at Tela) and wish I had moved sooner.

Choose your blog name wisely so you don’t have to rebrand later, but don’t let this stop you from getting started.

Connect with local blogging networks, always consider bloggers as friends instead of competition, and don’t be afraid to use social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Google +. Once you publish, you’re out there, so go for it.

Eleven Random Facts:

  1. I have an irrational fear of bugs and insects.
  2. My favorite color is pink.
  3. I didn’t watch The Goonies until the end of my senior year of college.
  4. I finally visited the iconic Spoonbridge & Cherry sculpture in Minneapolis when I was 26.
  5. I don’t like frosting.
  6. The best concert I ever attended was Colin Hay playing The Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, MN in 2006.
  7. Most everything I cook at home is spicy.
  8. If I could travel anywhere tomorrow, I would like to see the redwood trees in northern California.
  9. One of the most interesting and impactful experiences of my life was living at a homeless mission in San Bernardino, CA during a May term.
  10. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time in Laguna Hills, CA and Cuyahoga Falls, OH visiting relatives. My grandparents have since passed away and my aunts and uncles moved.
  11. I like washing dishes by hand. And, just like my grandma, I find it relaxing. If I’m invited to your house, I’ll probably wash your dishes, too.

Liebster Award Tag!
I’d like to recognize the following blogs. Whether or not these bloggers have more than 1,000 followers, I don’t know but I look forward to reading whatever they write.

  • Feisty Eats: I’ve followed Sarah since I lived in North Dakota. She also shares a variety of recipes and her inspiring health journey. I feel like we’re kindred spirits in that we get joy from pet ownership.
  • Katey911: Katey is also a North Dakota blogger. I had the pleasure of meeting her briefly before moving to Iowa. She shares her thoughts on life frankly and authentically.

My Questions for My Nominees:

  1. What’s your blogging mission?
  2. What drove you to start your blog?
  3. What would you like to write about more often?
  4. What always makes you laugh?
  5. What are your top three personal favorite blog posts (not necessarily the ones that get the most views)?
  6. If you could see any musician perform live, who would that be and why?
  7. What’s your favorite hometown food or restaurant?
  8. How do you fight writer’s block?
  9. What advice do you have for new bloggers?
  10. What are three essentials you always stock in your fridge?
  11. Who’s one of your childhood heroes?

Liebster Award nominees can participate by doing the following :

  • Thank the blogger who presented you with the Liebster Award and provide a link back to his or her blog.
  • Answer the questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself, and create 11 questions for your nominees.
  • Present the Liebster Award to several other bloggers who have blogs whom you feel deserve to be noticed.
  • Leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been nominated or email them.
  • Upload the Liebster Award image to your blog.
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