In September this year I had an important birthday and wanted to celebrate it by camping with Rebecca across the west. We stayed in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, creating imagery all along the way for ourselves and a few new clients. We have a new outlet for a lot of this imagery as it's almost a brand to itself and some of it focusses on hunting our own meat. Conservation Society can be found on Instagram, youtube and Facebook for now while we sort out how to leverage an audience for the image and videos. We want to be more connected to our food and where it's sourced and eat as much of it from sustainable sources. Licenses also directly fund conservation and time away from a screen is essential to sanity in the modern age. Here's a small sampling of out takes from the trip. We'll be adding many more to our portfolio soon. We want to make sure our clients get first dibs on sharing images.
When I left my hometown of Wichita, Kansas almost 11 years ago, I left thinking I never wanted to go back. I longed for culture and the unknown. New experiences and strange places. I was drawn to people who lived their lives defying stereotypes and paving their own paths. When I left Wichita, the vast majority of those I knew lived their lives in the comfort of chain restaurants and trusting in their neighborhood church members to picket any establishment that might dare serve a cocktail. The American dream was to settle down in a suburban home that mirrored the rich and popular neighbors that lived just down the cul de sac. The most exciting moment of my week was racing to be the first family from our church to arrive at the local Pizza Hut after services relinquished.
After traveling the world for the last 10 years and absorbing all that I could from cultures that challenged everything that I had known, I heard whispers that a new breeze had been cast on my sleepy hometown. Exotic food, hole in the wall dives, and breweries; there had been an awakening of sorts. Blame it on social media, the traveling youth returning to their hometowns or transplants believing that people will gravitate towards their ideas as long as they sense that it is authentic.
Before arriving in Wichita, I had asked for recommendations as to where I should visit. I was amazed at the variety and diversity. So much so, that I actually planned out several different themes I could put together based on the locations. In the end I decided to go with diversity in cuisine I had not known existed along with a few breweries…because hey….beer.
Hopping Gnome Brewing Company
We started with Hopping Gnome Brewery. Who doesn't love a brewery with a twist. Small but mighty, they grabbed my attention with their unique theme and won me over by the friendliness of the owners Stacy and Torrey. Coming in before opening to meet with us and show us their space. This place has a vibe that is quaint and inviting. Plus, they offer a sour beer that is EVERYTHING a sour beer should be, called the HBIC (head bitch in charge). It's flavor lives up to it's name. Stick around for the food trucks and occasional live music. We'll definitely be back for another visit.
Next we visited German restaurant, Prost. Want to talk authentic? Manu is German born (near Frankfurt) and relocated to Wichita with her American husband, Austin. In typical German and Midwestern fashion, they definitely made sure we didn't leave hungry. My only regret was that I didn't have more people there to help share in the amazing feast they prepared. Everything from Curry-wurst to Schnitzel to a special run once a week called Schweinshaxe (a hearty ham hock with a German pretzel stabbed through it). They run a Stein club in which you get your own personal beer stein with yearly discounts on beer. The food was amazing, the owners and staff couldn't be more hospitable and I left saying I wanted to bring my entire family back to try everything on the menu.
George's French Bistro
The following day we headed to George's French Bistro. With all my traveling, Paris was one of the places I frequented the most. I have such a fondness for the cuisine so when I saw there was an authentic French restaurant, I knew I had to visit. The chef was classically trained in Montreal so I knew I was in for a treat. The atmosphere and decor are impeccable. At one point, I saw the chef himself scrubbing down the brass handlebars lining his wine bar and knew that he really gave a damn. Now lets talk food. Any place that can serve a lunch chicken sandwich with fries and make it feel like I am getting something so unique and gourmet, you have me sold. Also, in the Midwest, getting fresh seafood can be a challenge. Mussels, shrimp and oysters; we had it all and it was all amazing.
Whenever I want comfort food I often think of a hearty soup, more specifically Ramen. So simple yet so delicious. Discovering Yokohama Ramen was such a treat. Written up by USA Today and still a quaint little spot nestled into Delano (although rumor has it they are expanding). Typically I have trouble in the midwest finding places that are willing to serve you something actually spicy, not this place. If you like some heat you want their B.T.T.M. Spicy Beef Tongue TanTanMen. A wide variety on their menu with everything from fried rice to boba tea. You can be sure to take your Mom who is tentative about trying new things and she will find something she enjoys (trust me, I did it).
Central Standard Brewing
The last place on our short trip to Wichita was Central Standard Brewing. A good beer selection with a patio and rotating food trucks. Cozy velvet chairs on the inside and picnic tables on the outside. A Wichita brewery staple worth visiting. You can check out their website for daily food trucks worth pairing your brew to and sit outside on a nice day to enjoy.
Overall, I'm thrilled to see my hometown thriving. We all need it. We only benefit from it. Wether it's high end or low brow, as long as there's passion and attention put into it, there's no denying it's value. Coming back home to a city that I was convinced would continue to always remain stagnant gives me hope. It shows me that we are open to new ideas and new experiences. Given the amount of growth I've seen, I can expect that boundaries will continue to be broken, ideals will continue to be crumbled and walls will always fall. The future is uncertain but at least there's always hope.
In my experience of learning about BBQ, what first drew me in was pork shoulder. There are so many ways to use it and many cultures use various parts of pigs to great ends and the ethos of using the whole animal the shoulder is typically slow cooked into pulled pork, smoked into BBQ sandwiches, chopped up for stew, made into sausages and so on. The rear legs are typically turned into hams while the front shoulders are cooked in different ways considering the high percentage of connective tissue present.
When considering how to cook a piece of meat you have to look at how it's made up. How much marbling of fat or connective tissue are your starting points. Lean cuts can be cooked quickly, like a loin but the shoulders are totally a different type of cut. Over time, what would be a tough gristly piece of meat falls apart because the fat renders out and the connective tissue breaks down and basically disappears. A good average I've found for cooking the front shoulder of any four legged animal is to give myself an hour for each pound of meat. What that ends up meaning is that when I want to cook a pork shoulder it becomes an all day process. So either I will cook it in advance and freeze it for later use, or what I've recently realized is maybe a better approach.
I've started breaking down the shoulder, following the white lines of connective tissue in the meat and cutting out the bone present. I make what are approximately 1 pound chunks, put them on a rack to season, toss into a cast iron for 45 minutes at 450 degrees F, and then cover and drop the temp down to 280-300 and let them cook for another hour covered. A six lb shoulder turns into soft perfectly cooked meat in less than half the time, you get more of that precious outer bark seasoning layer and can eat sooner. This time I'm cooking a bunch in advance but I could have frozen some of the pieces for future use.
Another passion of mine is Ramen, which requires bone broth. So I'll take the shoulder bone and a fatty section of pork and add some water to slowly simmer on low for 8 hours. The pork and bone are later removed and I'll add a miso paste to taste and that stock is either used right away or refrigerated/frozen for later use. I have a hard time finding ramen in eastern Iowa where I live that's really up to snuff so I've resorted to just making it from scratch. I'd highly recommend making your own bone broth and using it as a starter for whatever soup or stew you're making. I've added it to chili, stews and so on and it's magnificent. There are apparently tons of beneficial healing qualities to the nutrients found in bone broth that you could research endlessly online so I won't bore you with that here. I'm just here to encourage you to look for more ways to get more deliciousness and nutrition out of your meals. Meat requires the life of an animal and we should not only strive to source humanely farmed or hunted animals but also honor them with beautiful rituals like an amazing meal. Not wasting or overlooking any part of an animal is about respect, for me.
Having been vegetarian for quite some time in my early twenties and in general wanting to just eat more ethically I've searched for the best diet for myself. I've reduced my consumption of factory farmed meats by finding good local providers of quality product that do so in a way that doesn't pollute as much and am quickly moving towards trying to actually hunt as much of my meat as possible if I'm going to continue to consume meat. That maybe sounds brutal to some people but personally I find that being a part of the process at every stage to be very sobering and essential to a respectful death for another living being. Also there are absurd amounts of certain kinds of meat that are actually invasive species due to the way that we as humans have taken over North America. Wild hogs are a big problem in the south and do a lot of damage to habitat that other animals need. Deer need culling to stay at healthy numbers. Without other predators to keep them in check, our wild lands would be quickly eroded into completely different habitats. So I'm dedicating time and funds into this adventure this coming year. Not just because of my lust for meat but also knowing that my direct action can restore a small bit of balance to the ecosytem and also that the funds I put into the activity through taxes on hunting and fishing gear and the licenses I purchase will DIRECTLY go to habitat and wildlife preservation.