On a brisk November afternoon in a green, grassy pasture about 30 miles northeast of Dallas I met my Thanksgiving turkey-to-be.
Never before have I locked eyes with a future meal except maybe once when I was four. I snagged a fish in a pond not far from my Aunt Inez's house that I contributed to the family fish fry. But that's a stretch.
On The Farm The day was bright as Robert Hutchins showed me around his beloved Rehoboth Ranch in Greenville, TX. In a previous life, Robert ranched part-time and worked full-time for a Dallas-area defense contractor. But six years ago he divested himself of the corporate job to ranch full-time and he's never looked back.
The worst day on the farm is better than the best day in the office, he said.
Robert called out to the turkeys as we approached the pasture and several carefully jaunted over to us appearing to wonder what the commotion was about on this cloudless afternoon.
It would be the luck of the draw as to which of these birds would find its ultimate resting place on my Thanksgiving dining table I thought as I gazed into several pairs of eyes and listened to their soft gobbles.
They may be in mourning, Robert said as some of the turkeys seemed reluctant to join us. One-third of the flock had been slaughtered in the past week, he explained, and because turkeys are very social birds the remaining flock missed them.
Robert raises all his animals according to organic principles although the ranch is not certified organic. Most importantly, his animals are pastured with an abundant access to all they grass they can bend their heads to consume.
It costs a lot of money to earn an organic certification, Robert said, and mostly that just means I’m giving my money to the government. It means more to me to be able to look you in the eye and know that you trust me than to have a government certification, he said.
And while most people like organically raised meat for its flavor, for Robert nutrition is the goal - taste is a side benefit. Animals are most nutritious when raised eating a natural diet in their God-designed habitat free of hormones and unnecessary antibiotics he explained.
As we continued our tour, I met Minnie Pearl - the nosy mule whose job it is to guard the goats, but who preferred to follow us around until she got locked out of one of the pastures. She tried her best to jiggle the gate open. Minnie is quite the escape artist as Robert has had to retrieve her more than once from the neighbor’s property.
The cows ran as we approached their pasture. Pastured here just a couple of days ago and enjoying fresh grass they don't want to leave Robert said.
A ruckus of clucks broke out as we approached the chicken pasture and a couple of them escaped through a hole in the fence and followed us as we strolled by.
One of the goats tried to take a nip out of my sweater.
The sheep cared the least about who I was or why I was there; not one lifted a head or sauntered over to check out the action.
Except for the occasional bark, cluck, gobble, moo, and bleat, the only other sound on the ranch besides our conversation was the crunch beneath our feet.
“Look at this,” Robert said as he toed the earth. “See these earthworm castings?”
I did see them, realized they were the source of the crunching underfoot, had seen them previous to my Rehoboth Ranch visit, but had never known they were deposited by earthworms. I felt like a total city slicker, but Robert didn't seem to notice.
“If you ever visit an organic ranch and you don’t see their pastures littered with earthworm castings - run,” he said. And then he explained that earthworm castings are a visible indicator of a healthy organic ranch.
The shadows were long as I drove away from Rehoboth Ranch that afternoon with a new appreciation for the animals that provide my sustenance and for men like Robert who raise them.
A week after my visit to Rehoboth Ranch I picked up my turkey from the Dallas Farmers Market as scheduled.
Reactions from friends and family to my turkey farm visit ranged from mild repulsion, “ewwww” to slight surprise, “interesting,” with most playing on the idea that somehow I had executed a death warrant on some unsuspecting turkey.
Yeah, yeah, very funny; everyone’s a comedian.
But no one laughed and everyone thanked me on Thanksgiving afternoon as we dined on the juicy, tender, flavorful Rehoboth Ranch turkey.
What my family didn’t know and couldn’t taste in our Thanksgiving turkey was the nutritional benefit of Robert’s organically raised, free-range turkey.
Research has proven that meat from grass-fed animals is lower in fat and calories, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids, a good fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and Vitamin E. If you think you're getting these benefits from the grain-fed meat you're buying at the grocery store, you have some learnin' to do.
People with high levels of omega-3 are less likely to have high blood pressure, suffer a heart attack, or struggle with depression just to name a few. According to recent research, CLA may be one of our most important defenses against cancer, and Vitamin E has been linked with lower instances of heart disease and cancer.
Commercial feed-lot raised, grain-fed animals have significantly less omega-3 and much higher levels of omega-6 which is an artery clogging fat. We need omega-6, but only in balance with omega-3.
Typically missing from most Americans' diet, omega-3 is abundant in the meat, milk, and eggs of pastured animals. Pastured animals gift us with these important fats and vitamins just by doing what comes naturally – eating grass.
This is proof positive that we are what we eat and that we can eat more healthy without giving up the meat and dairy products that we love.
It all begins with a single blade of grass.
And ranchers like Robert Hutchins who are willing to look me in the eye at the cash register, and in whom I sensed a reverence for the land and a respect for the animals that reached far beyond “this is how I make my living.”
Family Pipes and Drums: The Meyerson Symphony Center has never seen or heard anything like this! November 26th and 29th; December 3rd and 10th. All shows at 8:00 p.m. The breathtaking sounds of 225 singing men will be accompanied by the spine-tingling majesty of the Lay Family organ plus the roof-raising sounds of 80 brass and percussion players from Frontier Drum and Bugle Corps. Combining the spirit of Broadway hits BLAST and STOMP from herald trumpets to trash can lids, from Santa to the candles and poinsettias - you're in for a fun treat. Benefiting Turtle Creek Chorale. Visit http://www.boxofficetickets.com or call 1-800-494-8497.
Unwrap the Magic - A Children's Christmas party at Rosine Hall at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Presented by the Women's Council of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, the morning of Saturday, December 9th is absolutely fun for all children, parents and grandparents. By reservation only, so get your tickets early.
For those who would rather spend an evening in a wonderful home and support the Women's Council's A Woman's Garden at the Arboretum, a patron party December 5th is just your ticket. A portion of all tickets is tax deductible. Visit the website for details and reservations: http://www.womenscouncildallasarboretum.org/
New Year's Eve at the Nasher presented by Bailey Banks & Biddle and sponored by PaperCity: Co-chaired by Heidi and Bill Dillon, the Twilight Ticket entices us to experience the allure of the eve of New Year's in the unparalleled setting of the Nasher Sculpture Center. After cocktails and canapes, guests will be escorted to a translucent tent overlooking the garden to enjoy a four-course dining experience by Wolfgang Puck and join in the Countdown party afterwards.
Make it a very special evening with the Twilight Deluxe Ticket and receive priority seating, limo or car service to and from the gala, luxurious hotel accommodations on New Year's Eve and more.
Twilight Premier Ticket - limited to 10 couples - all of the previously mentioned benefits plus a Mother of Pearl tiara gift and a personal VIP tour for up to 10 guests with Center director Dr. Steve Nash at a future date and more.
Or, if you do dinner on your own and just want to party down surrounded by one of the most significant collections of modern art in the world, join in the fun with The Late Night Ticket, which is the Countdown Party from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Co-Chaired by Christen and Derek Wilson, guests arrive later and join in the party with late night hors d'oeuvres and dessert bites, complimentary full bar, live entertainment and dancing to Emerald City ... they are fabulous! ... and more.
Join the Nasher Sculpture Center before the end of the year and receive great discounts on the New Year's Eve fare and a tax deduction.
Three Big Bands - One Big Night: the 1st Annual New Year's Eve Spectacular presented by AlonUSA benefiting the Communities in Schools Dallas Region Endowment At the Hilton Anatole Dallas, also presented by Modern Luxury Dallas and Barefoot Wine. The bands: Hunter Sullivan | Johnny Reno and the Lounge Kings | The Cary Richards Orchestra Different ticket packages include dinner, casino, raffles, midnight champagne toast, open or cash bar, live entertainment, valet parking, hotel accommodations and more. Visit the website http://www.cisdallas.org or call 214-827-0955, ext. 234.
My evening out in Atlanta this past Thursday night began a month ago when I shared an exit row with a Delta pilot on an American Airlines flight to New York City.
It seemed odd that a Delta pilot would fly American, but Jay, who lives in Dallas and is based in NYC said he snags a seat on whatever airline will get him to the city on time for his next flight out. After we landed at NYC’s LaGuardia airport Jay planned to cab it over to JFK where he would board the plane that he would pilot to Istanbul, Turkey, that afternoon.
Now that’s a commute.
We chatted for a while into the flight then both of us pulled out our reading material. Jay ran though his newspaper and then lamented that with at least an hour and a half left in the air he had nothing else to read.
I jokingly offered the Bon Appetit magazine I had in my backpack thinking he would have no interest.
“I love to cook!” he said taking me up on my offer.
I handed him the magazine and we talked for a few more minutes about the kitchen of our dreams and favorite meals we enjoyed cooking. Then Jay asked, “Do you ever travel to Atlanta?” Occasionally, I said, with tentative plans to be there some time in November.
Next time you're in town check out my cousin’s restaurant, Repast, he said. And then he shared that it had earned a mention in the November issue of Esquire magazine.
I made a note and told him I would.
In an airport terminal somewhere, sometime in the next two weeks I passed a newsstand, picked up a copy of Esquire, and thumbed through it. No way was I going to buy it with that Marilyn-Monroe-looking picture of Scarlett Johansson on the front cover. I hoped no one even noticed that I picked it up, but mission accomplished – Esquire named Repast one of the best new restaurants for 2006.
So a month after my conversation with Jay I’m seated at a table for two in Repast with a colleague, Mike, who lives in Atlanta. It’s a hip, trendy place with a buzz of energy; the food, fresh and delectable.
The real treat of our evening meal, however, did not come from the obvious ambience or satisfying, wonderful food.
It was the unexpected pleasure of conversation with our fellow diners. Since the tables were so close that we could almost bump elbows with those seated next to us, Mike and I struck up conversations with them.
On my left was a couple, regulars at Repast, who lived close enough to walk; on my right, two Atlanta bankers, Dan and Drew, also first-timers at Repast.
As I enjoyed a bowl of French onion soup, dates wrapped in bacon and stuffed with almonds, scallops, and wild rice with cranberries and pecans, we chatted about the food, Atlanta, the comeback that this part of the city was making, and a bit about business and our personal lives.
Towards the end of the meal, Joe, Jay’s cousin and Repast owner, stopped by the table at my request. I introduced him to Mike, Drew, and Dan (the married couple had departed by then), and told him to thank Jay for the recommendation.
And I felt like my journey was complete.
But the evening wasn’t over.
The bankers invited Mike and I to join them at one of Atlanta’s hotspots - the Compound. Without solid directions we had a hard time finding the place partly because it is located in a questionable section of Atlanta, but mostly because it is closed on Thursday nights.
So we pulled into a parking spot at the Northside Tavern instead. If it hadn’t been the closest bar after our several dead-end-streets-and-u-turn attempts to find the Compound we wouldn’t have ended up there.
Northside Tavern is the kind of place you wouldn’t give a second look at and you would think twice before stopping in. It's the lack of streetlights, and well, the building is old; the kind of old that says when someone gave birth to this place they never envisioned a bar.
But someone did and lucky us. In addition to serving up liquor they were dishing out Blues on stage.
After relishing the delightful flavors and smells of Repast, my ears were now in for an after-dinner treat at this out-of-the-way-musical-oasis served up by a band called the Breeze Kings.
Lead singer, Carlos Capote’s voice, strong and soulful, made me wish I could sing the Blues. When he wasn’t singing, he was breathing life into his harmonica. And his fellow band members were just as talented on guitar, bass, and drums.
Having never before been a follower of the genre, on this night I was transformed into a Blues fan or at the very least a Breeze Kings fan.
There was no place I would have rather been after dinner that night than the Northside Tavern. It was the perfect ending to a pleasurable evening just like dessert, or a cup of coffee, or an after-dinner drink that follows a great meal; just when you think this is as good as it gets, it gets better.
Thanks to Jay for the kick-start to the evening a month before.
On future flights I may offer up my food magazines to reading-material-deprived fellow travelers even before they ask.
We trade the pleasure of tongue-tingling, flavorful food for massive quantities of quick, easy, and cheap grub. We ingest fast, frozen, and mostly junk food that fills the belly, but leaves our palates wanting. We mistake our lack of satiation as hunger so we snack and over-consume at the next meal searching for that ever elusive sense of savory satisfaction.
Perhaps if we focused more on introducing our palates to a wider range of interesting foods, flavors, and tastes we'd make healthier food choices and consume less.
These were the thoughts I mulled over during a private party in Los Angeles this past week.
I was in Southern California with 5,000 other sales-types and propeller-heads for a software vendor conference that hosted a night at Universal Studios with free food and drink.
So it was on a beautiful Los Angeles evening with just a bit of a chill in the air that I was literally surrounded by food. I couldn’t walk more than 15 yards without bumping into a buffet table or a bar.
I surveyed the heavy-laden tables then filled myself a plate with fried rice and a few other Asian items to assuage my hunger. My stomach stopped growling, but my tastebuds were bored. I could have been dining on scrambled eggs or ravioli for all they knew.
My palate yearned for a spice that would scream "this is fried rice!"; something that would make all 10,000 of my tastebuds do a jig right there in front of the entrance to "Revenge of the Mummy."
But, it was industrial food at its best -- heavy on quantity, short on flavor. Several teams of Sumo wrestlers could have feasted on the leftovers.
“I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills Man came by to hook up my cable TV We settled in for the night my baby and me We switched 'round and 'round 'til half-past dawn There was fifty-seven channels and nothin' on”
So his lament was about TV, just think food.
We need to rethink and revolutionize our culture of eating.
Eating should be about the pleasures of the table – the unique flavors of the food and the enjoyment of those with whom we share a meal, not the sheer pursuit of maxing out our bellies every time we pull up a chair.
I’m not advocating a Julia Child’s experience at every meal; satisfying can be simple and more nutritious when we seek first to please, or at least interest our palates with a diversity of food and flavors, fast, frozen, and junk not included.
Our cholesterol counts, blood-sugar levels, and waistlines will thank us.
Our tastebuds will adore us.
(I don’t have any photos to share from my Los Angeles night out, but here’s one from my summer 2006 trip to Italy with Ariel and Hannah. Hannah snapped this photo as we sat next to the canal in Venice enjoying a leisurely meal.)
Wanted to share my email from this afternoon after hearing this tragic news:
Oh, how awful this is. Carl just came home from work and had been talking to the editor of the Mount Vernon Optic-Herald about the story she has featured on the front page of this week's paper about his new DVD "Inside Ten Days" and he mentioned we were going to stay at Robert Whiteside's bed and breakfast next weekend. She told him Robert Whiteside was murdered this week. Shot to death in his own house. Such a tragic loss.
Besides being our dear friend, Robert was a gifted artist, artistan, musician and gentle soul. He and his partner had moved to Mt. Vernon and opened their bed and breakfast, The Veranda, for the past 5 years or so. We were going to stay there next weekend when Carl does his Veteran's Day salute with the DVD. His partner found him Wednesday night, after he returned from a trip to Dallas.
Robert kept his jewelry design business in a separate building in the back and had just emailed me some new designs on a new method he was working with. I'll attach them here. I wore one of his rings today:)
He found a friend in everyone he met and will be dearly missed. Such a tragic death ... to be shot to death! Prayers to his family and friends. We miss him already.
Another note: I met Robert in the late 1980s when I was chairing The Western Stomp, benefiting the March of Dimes Women's Auxiliary. He donated a custom designed and handcrafted belt buckle for the live auction and hosted a party in his new shop on Inwood. That's where the friendship started ... and it has lasted ever since. God bless.