Jun 24, 2010

A feedlot and the fitness buff

I am not a fitness buff. No amount of ZUMBA! will ever make me a fitness buff. No amount of trailing my marathon-running sister on a bike will ever make me a fitness buff. And taking a look at my cooking habits guarantees I never will be.

Ryan Andrews, on the other hand, has an MBA in fitness. My kind of MBA and an actual master's degree. He was a nationally-ranked body builder for five years and has more health/nutrition/exercise certifications than I have red high heels.

Seriously, take a look on my closet floor -- it's red, shiny and ridiculous.

Ryan is also a vegetarian.

What?! How?! Why?! All that delicious, lean protein in one little 3 oz. serving, and he doesn't eat any of it?! But that doesn't mean he bashes the system... any more. Ryan recently visited a Kansas feedlot. His account of what he saw and learned is such a great story.

No, he didn't instantly convert to meatitarianism... if that's even something a person can convert to. But his perspective was certainly changed and broadened. Read all about it here.    

Jun 22, 2010

Stereotypes in the city

I think it's been well established that I love my home state(s). A lot. I could talk about Big, Wonderful Wyoming or the Good Life in Nebraska for days. Unfortunately for people I meet, sometimes I do just that.

But the one thing I don't love about being from the WyoBraska area is the stereotypes that are often placed on the good folks from that area. Now, don't get me wrong... we do fulfill a lot of those stereotypes. I'd say folks out in my home states are a little old-fashioned, we're about five years behind in clothing fashion and are sometimes a little... um... culturally sheltered.

But if I am asked one more time if we all have this neat thing called electricity out in the wild west or if I rode my horse to school growing up, I will hog tie someone and drag em' through a pasture of yucca plants.

Now how's that for a stereotype?

Ok, it's been a while since I've been asked a truly outrageous question like that, although it has happened. But I do often get, "Oh, ya.... I've been to Wyoming. Jackson Hole!" Or, "You come from a cattle ranch out West? Your family probably run a couple thousand head then, huh?" Then there's, "Nebraska?! I drove across I-80 once... there is seriously nothing there. I mean nothing. You must have been reeeeaaally bored growing up." And then my personal favorite.... "So, how's the trailer court?"

As it turns out, I have no room to judge people who place stereotypes on my home states. A few weeks ago, I visited New York state. I spent a few day on a cattle ranch. Every time I told someone from home I was on a cattle ranch in New York, I got about the same reaction.

"A ranch?! In New York? What do they have, five, ten little pet cows?"
"Oooohh! New York City?! Did you see Sarah Jessica Parker?"
"Hahahahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Haha. No really, Laura. What are you doing in New York?" 

And I didn't blame them. After four trips to NYC over the past seven years, these are the things I knew to be true about New York:

It's a concrete jungle. Sky scrapers, bridges, and brick: it's a convoluted mess of metal and pavement. New Yorkers wouldn't know a natural building material if it gave 'em a splinter.
It's a non-stop hustle-bustle, and you've got to watch your back. It's best to hope you're in a mob of people at a street crossing, because there's no way anyone is stopping for you in any other circumstance... unless it's to rob you.
Speaking of driving... who really drives there, except cabby's? No one really owns a vehicle. If they do, it's not more than a year old, is black, has deep tinted windows and a paid driver in the front.
And thanks to all those crowded cabby's, there's no such thing as a clear, blue sky. A black cloud of smog hangs over New York all the time. I don't think they've ever even seen the stars or a full moon, much less a sky full of lazy white clouds.
Worst of all, nobody cares about a single person there. In a place full of people trying so hard to stand out and show off how unique they are, there's no such thing as really being noticed. You blend in with the masses... just another brick in the wall.
And large animal livestock? Fa-ghetta-bout-it! New Yorkers might as well put their knowledge of cattle and unicorns side-by-side and see what feeds our country faster.
 Speaking of things that don't exist in New York... let's talk about personal space. I feel claustrophobic stepping two feet east of the Mississippi.
Oh, wait... am I being too stereotypical?

Thanks, Rally Farms, for opening up a whole new view of New York to me. Less than 100 miles from the city, I found a place that blew all my preconceived notions of the Empire State out of the water. It was beautiful and idyllic and most of all, functioned like any other great ranch I've spent time at -- with a love for the land, the cattle, family and hard work.
But I'm still waiting to run into Sarah Jessica Parker. And Mr. Big. Jay-Z would be cool too.

Jun 18, 2010

The birthday in the Big Apple that just kept giving

The first week of June always seems to be a transition time in my life. That time of year always marks the end of school, the start of summer, first days of work, moving trips, new rent leases, and.... my birthday! 

I turned 21 somewhere between Wyoming and Ohio, probably on about hour 17 of my mom and I's cross-country trip to move me to the Buckeye State (the first time). I turned 22 two days after moving to Manhattan, Kansas, (the Little Apple). I drank a box of wine on my couch with Stones and went to my favorite college bar via teleconference with some of my dearest friends. I went to work the next day with a headache and wondered if I was really cut out for this whole moving-to-a-new-state-and-being-an-adult thing.

This year, I turned 23 in the other Manhattan, a loooooong way from Kansas. We were working about 100 miles outside New York City on a farm tour and my co-workers treated me to a night out on the town for my birthday.
That was the fanciest birthday dessert I have ever had -- a peanut butter chocolate mousse cake. I very eloquently described it as "chocolate pudding mixed with cake perfectly formed into a pile of goodness with flecks of really fancy, thinly sliced Butterfinger candy in it. With ice cream."

But my favorite part of the whole night wasn't the amazing dessert, or the jalapeno whipped potatoes, or the creamed spinach or the Certified Angus Beef brand Prime dry-aged-to-perfection rib eye... although all those items were fantastic. My favorite part was... the menu.
Thanks, BLT Prime, for loving your customers so much you want to educate them about beef cuts. An educated consumer is a empowered purchaser. Go ahead and empower yourself to love the beefy basics a little more here.

Later that week, I arrived home to Woo-town to this sweet little gift:
I've been in desperate need of new luggage for about two years now. The old set finally became intolerable when I started using a safety pin to try and zip it open and closed. My favorite group of Woo-town friends took pity on the deplorable state of my luggage and got my new set started. They're awesome like that.

Know who else I think is awesome?
Jessica Simpson. I know, everybody thinks she's real, real dumb. Maybe she is. But I have to appreciate a girl who will rock a "Real Women Eat Meat" t-shirt after picking up on Carrie Underwood's ex. And she makes shoes and handbags to die for... and now luggage to love. 

The next day, I got this little treat from Rhinestone Cowgirl
If you can't read the note, the jest of it is this: she wanted to buy me a birthday beer, but there happened to be about 1,000 miles between us. So bought six and mailed them instead. That's friendship.
Early the next week, Ms M surprised me with orange cake for a belated birthday breakfast. I just finished the last leftover piece day before last. I can't even begin to explain how amazing this super special orange cake is, but if I ever finagle the recipe out of her, I'll share it, and you'll love me (even more) for it.
Then THIS week (now a full two weeks after my birthday), DOD finally made good on a promise and made it into a fun little birthday treat. He's been raving about this irresistible ice cream that's made only in the Buckeye State pretty much since the day I moved here.
I really had my doubts that this ice cream could really be that much better than other ice creams. Let's be honest, I'm not exactly known for my refined palate... this is a girl who digs truck stop food and likens a dessert at one of NYC's finest steakhouses to "fancy Butterfingers."

But I must admit... this ice cream was fancy. It was delicious and perfect and amazing. I think I just reached a quota for nice adjectives in one sentence describing something to do with Ohio.  
Well done, Graeter's. You've made a believer out of me.  

Meanwhile, the time between June 3 and June 18 has been filled with balloons, cards and sweet phones calls from friends and family.
Today, I think I finally closed the books on the two-week celebration of turning 23.

I lovingly took the Jessica Simpson tags off my new luggage, stuffed it full and loaded it up in the beefy mini-van. I begrudgingly handed it off to a grumpy man with the TSA at the Cleveland airport. It arrived in Chicago with me this afternoon, scuffed and a little dirty, and I knew the party was over.   

Jun 12, 2010

Take me out the baaallllgame...

Question: What is the most boring thing in the world to watch on TV?

Fact: Baseball is the most boring thing in the world to watch on TV.

But I don't have TV. Therefore, baseball gets to remain an idylic and nostalgic American pastime in my mind and is spared descriptions of mind-numbing boredom. Yes!

Baseball also has this going for it:
Baseball parks are one of the few places in the world that have food comparable to truck stops. Ballparks have the advantage of also serving beer. Mathematically, this means ballpark food > truck stop food. And you know how I feel about truck stop food.     

CAB took us out for an evening at the Akron Aeros ballpark last night. And by "us," I mean any of our 100+ employees who were interested in bringing their family to a AAA baseball game for free, nacho-cheese-sauce-and-jalapeno-smothered-hot dog included. How awesome is that?! 

What with the Americana nostalgia, truck stop-style hot dogs and cold beer, it was a perfect summer night with great friends.
I even learned a very valuable life lesson from KOD after taking this picture with Bobcat:
ME: I hate taking pictures so close to the camera. I always feel like my face is trying to back away from the camera so much that it ends up looking like my chins are literally attached to my chest and I don't have a neck.  

KOD: Tyra has to tell models to avoid that all the time. I learned this on America's Next Top model. You're suppose to put your shoulders back, keep your chin up and try to look intrigued by the camera all the time. You have to try to let your face stand out from your body.

*KOD stretches her neck out like a scared/curious giraffe.*
*Belle of the Blog follows suit*

ME: Oh, ya. I can totally see how that's flattering. So that's what I've been missing without cable all this time... 

KOD: Ya, who says Tyra doesn't have anything important to share with the American public?

ME: Well, usually I do. But I guess I'm wrong. I mean, we're clearly on our way to being America's Next Top Model with technique like this: 
Clearly. Thanks, Tyra.

You all can now look forward to a new, hotter, more photogenic Belle of the Blog from this point forward... or a weird, head-floating-away-from-my-body-chubby-giraffe-look. Whatever.
KOD pulls it off so much better than me. I guess that's the benefit of seeing Tyra's examples first hand.

Oh, wait... there's a baseball game going on?
Yes, there was. And we actually did pay attention to it. We did the wave, we high-fived, we danced along to cheesy music and we jeered at one of our co-workers for not making a dive for a fly ball that landed three rows in front of him.

To top it all off, there were fireworks.
I like fireworks. A lot. I squeal like a little baby kid and oooooh and ahhhhhh and clap and want to high-five people. So many awesome things all at once.

I swear, someday I'll grow up all the way. But not today. And certainly not until after the 4th of July. OK, fine. Maybe never. Here's to summa, summa, summatime!

Jun 2, 2010

The beefy basics, part II

May was Beef Month. May 28 was National Hamburger Day. Today is the second day of June. So why, you ask, is today the day I share the second episode of The Beefy Basics?

Well, quite frankly because I've been a terrible blogger lately. I've barely blogged more than once a week this whole month. I have so much to share right now my head is nearly exploding, but it turns out when I'm actually having a life, there is less time to write about it than times when I'm living in my PJ's talking to Stones more than human people on a regular basis.

You might remember, I started with blog with the intention pressuring myself into having a life and being an educational outlet for all the seemingly useless knowledge that jumbles around in my hear. Lately, it's been more of a personal gossip column. Sorry about that. Unless you are a reader who prefers senseless and sometimes pointless ramblings about my fabulous life -- In that case, sorry about the fact I'm about to cram more educational and important knowledge into your eye holes.

Remember last time I explained the basics of beef grading? I hope you read that one. I know, it was long and involved numbers and graphs instead of pithy jokes and fun pictures, but I swear it was a post full of valuable information. Today, I want to share the second part of the BEEF 509 course I took earlier this spring: the basics of beef cuts.

Here's a video from the American Meat Institute that pretty much sums it all up:

It's a little dry, but that video just summed up about three pages of writing in less than three minutes of simple video. You're welcome.

Why is this important? Well, when you're standing in front of the meat case dumbfounded by all the options, names and shapes, just image the sub-primal cuts and how those names are reflected in the individual cut names. Think through it logically and imagine this picture:
Beef that comes from the middle of the animal (rib and loin) are more tender and can be quickly cooked -- think grilling, broiling, etc. Those muscles don't get much exercise, so they are nice and tender (like me). Cuts that have names from the front and back of the animal (chuck, round and others) work a lot more. They are more muscular (like the Hulk) and do better in a slow cooker or as a roast. In short, I'm perfect just the way I am. The Hulk might need a little time or marination to tolerate.

Yes, that was a legitimate analogy.

In all seriousness, here are the points about beef cuts I want you to remember:
  • The most tender cut of beef is the tenderloin. We cattle people are not trying to trick you, folks. 
  • For the leanest cuts, look for the words round or loin in the name.
  • There are 29 cuts of beef that are considered lean by the USDA. Yes!
    • Remember in the beef grading basics blog when I described the standards for beef that meets the Certified Angus Beef(R) brand? Well, there are 24 cuts of CAB you can enjoy while staying lean, too. Yes! (fist pump) Yes!
  • If you are looking for something with a more robust flavor, go with something like a ribeye (my favorite).
  • Don't be afraid to ask the meat manager, butcher or chef if you don't recognize the name of a piece of beef. While we're not trying to trick you, sometimes marketers try to get jazzy and make simple terms fancy. Fancy = confusing. That's why they call PR "the dark side." Ask questions, because knowing what kind of cut you have is going to have a big impact on how you should prepare it and ultimately how much you enjoy that tasty little packet of protein.
Most importantly: if you are ever in a situation when you have the chance to learn about beef cuts first hand and break down a sub-primal, do it. It's a very cool thing to learn and do. But do not; I repeat: do NOT, think being this hot will prevent you from being clumsy with a very sharp knife:
Despite the hairnet, wrist guard, hard apron, cut resistant gloves and XXL frock, it is still possible to mistake your finger for a rib. If you mistakenly cut your finger instead of a rib steak, it bleeds a lot.

Sometimes, doing that will make you realize all the blood that is rushing out of your finger is coming directly from your brain. When all of your brain blood is gushing from your finger, this may lead you to faint in a meat lab. Sometimes it even takes a few minutes to wake up and remember where and who you are. Sometimes, you'll be one of only three girls in a class of 30 men and suddenly find yourself being viewed as the most stereotypical drama queen in the world.

Sometimes, a wound like that will make your finger swell and turn green and spurt blood for three days.
Sometimes, a camera phone photo with no flash doesn't do justice to how dramatic an injury really is.

That's all I have to say on that very hypothetical subject.