Americans love their hotdogs. So much so, July has been declared National Hot Dog Month. During hotdog season- Memorial Day through Labor Day- Americans consume nearly 7 billion hotdogs or 818 hotdogs every second. We top them with everything from the classics, to more exotic ingredients like Siracha and Sweet Onion Aioli and they grace the tables of backyard barbeques and family gatherings.
As you reach for a package of hot dogs, think about what is inside them. The fewer the ingredients the better. Look for a hot dog made from quality cuts of meat and check the label to make sure the livestock was never given added hormones or antibiotics. Not only will a high quality hot dog taste better, but you’ll feel good about what you’re feeding your family.
As you enjoy the summer, fire up the grill and cook an American favorite you can feel good about: All-Natural, Niman Ranch Fearless Franks.
At a recent event in New York, someone told me they had never met anyone with a stronger sense of place than my father, Paul Willis. I have been thinking about that comment for awhile and believe it is an attribute so many family farmers in the Midwest have in common. I began thinking about my own sense of place and feelings about being raised on a farm in Iowa. Having lived in other parts of the country – Iowa will always be home to me.
This brings me to my latest visit to a hog farming family who supply sustainably raised hogs to Niman Ranch. Richard and Delores Blackford have been selling pigs to Niman Ranch for well over 10 years. Now their daughter and son-in- law, Carolyn and Marty Osterman, are running the hog farming operations. Arriving on a bright summer.
I love everything about the 4th of July. The fireworks, picnicking with friends and family, and of course the undeniable aroma of smoky charcoal and searing meat, all remind of us of our great national pride. To go along with my favorite festivities, Niman Ranch Tri-Tip is perfect for the outdoor grill. You simply can’t beat the texture or flavor.
If you’re on the fence about what to cook this holiday, search no more! This recipe will please everyone in your gathering and simplify your job as host of the party. Best of all, it draws on diverse flavors helping us celebrate what truly makes America great… we’re a melting pot!
As we start summer, I am sitting here listening to the thunder roll through… a rare sound these days, and reflecting on the farm activity over the spring. It has been pretty dry and we were hoping for rain, it’s a welcome sound for sure. Here in Iowa we are ruled by the ever-changing weather. During spring we expect to get rain but we also hope that it stays dry long enough to get the crops planted and the pig field rotated.
Recently there has been a lot of talk about how farm animals are being raised. I have received several calls here at the farm about whether or not Niman Ranch farmers use something called, gestation crates. If you are wondering about that too the answer is no. Niman Ranch protocols don’t allow the use of gestation crates. “Then how are the gestating sows handled?” a journalist recently asked me. FYI: Sows are a breeding female that has had at least one litter of pigs. Niman Ranch farmers know the best way to treat their sows is to allow them plenty of room to move and behave naturally. I offered to provide some pictures to the journalist, but they said they would rather take their own. So I arranged a tour with one of the earliest members of the Niman Ranch network, Farmer Paul Menke and his wife Lenice. He has been farming with his family for generations. Raising pigs just comes naturally for him.
As we enter the New Year it has been unusually warm and it doesn’t look like winter. The landscapes are painted in toasty yellow ochre and sepia tones, not the high contrasts of bright white snow and stark grayish blue shadows we’ve come to expect from our winters here in Iowa.
With Thanksgiving behind us I have noticed my friends and family posting updates on Face Book about the things they are most thankful for. I saw one that said, “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything they just make the best of everything”. I just love that saying and it made me think about the life we have here on the farm. I was contemplating that while looking at one of my favorite photos of my father with my daughter, Sophia, holding a newborn piglet. I cherish the memory of that day, Sophia’s look of delight as she holds that baby pig in her arms while my dad looks on with his encouraging smile.
A group of our friends from Minneapolis came for a visit this weekend taking in the beauty of the changing leaves of fall on their drive down. The children, Micah, and Ben were looking forward getting a farm tour from my daughter, Sophia. They are 6 and 3 years old and have always looked up to Sophia since she is a bit older at 10 years of age. They were especially excited to see the pigs and tractors. As a country girl it’s easy to forget the allure of the tractor. I made arrangements with my dad to make sure they would get a ride of some sort.
The concept of the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner came about when my father, Paul Willis, was asked to be the guest of honor at a special restaurant anniversary dinner for Café Rouge located in Berkley, Ca lifornia. Chef Marcia McBride asked my dad if he would speak about our farm operation and why it was different or noteworthy, while the diners feasted on the masterfully preparedand flavorful pork from our farm. He was delighted to attend and was welcomed at the restaurant like a celebrity. “They really gave me the red carpet treatment”, I remember him saying. He explained how rewarding it was to interact with Chef McBride at the restaurant and be treated with such high regard. Mostly, it was amazing for him to see and taste what she was doing with the pork from our farm. How could bring this experience to all of the Niman Ranch hog farmers?
I ran into Chef Martin Murphy of Canoe Club (Hanover, New Hampshire), one of the featured chefs at the Niman Ranch Farmer appreciation dinner, on a Saturday afternoon at the Gateway Market in Des Moines and he told me he brought butter from New Hampshire to share with everyone. He said, “We have to break bread as family.” And he was right.
That’s what food does. It brings us together as one. As heard during recent Rosh Hashana services, “There is holiness when we share our bread, our ideas, our enthusiasm.” For this, I give thanks.
The first time I was in Iowa, Paul Willis took me to see his hens. He put a warm egg into my hand and I don’t know if he knew at the time – it was the closest I’d ever felt to the origins of my food. Paul gave me some eggs and sopressetta to take home with me. I savored it for weeks. Each night I would cut a small piece of meat and eat it with a peach or some cantaloupe. When I was sad, it took me back to a place of joy.