Friday, September 6, 2013
I wrote this piece for Bismarck's Be Magazine, Sept. 2013 issue. I'm posting it here because it says everything I could want to say about the Dinner at Riverbound Farm, held August 24, 2013, an event I created and organized at a local CSA farm in the Missouri River bottoms south of Mandan, North Dakota. I poured my heart into that dinner, and I couldn't have been more ecstatic about the end result. Here's the story:
Last February, amid the snow and ice, I craved one perfect tomato. Just plucked off the vine, still warm from the sun, eaten like an apple with tomato juice spilling down my chin. A simple thing, but entirely impossible in the depths of a North Dakota winter.
Bundled against the cold with trust that the seasons would continue to turn, winter would eventually end, and my tomato lust would eventually be sated, I had an idea: a summer harvest celebration. A dinner out on the farm, with fresh, local food prepared simply, accompanied by local drink and good music, all served up in an elegant atmosphere. I approached Angie McGinness with this idea. Angie, who owns and operates Riverbound Farm with her husband Brian south of Mandan, readily agreed under one practical condition: “We’re farmers, and that’s a busy time for us. We won’t be much help.” Understandable.
Fast-forward to the harvest celebration, now known as Dinner at Riverbound Farm, held on August 24. As I prepped a huge bin of gorgeous red and yellow tomatoes for the dinner’s fresh tomato sauce, I sliced off a chunk of a fresh-off-the-vine Brandywine for myself and took a bite. After six months of waiting, the bright burst of taste from that perfect tomato is imprinted in my memory. Indeed, the hard work and dedication of the McGinnesses, along with nearly a dozen other local farmers, ranchers and producers, was detectable in every bite of the evening’s menu. Despite Angie’s comment, Riverbound Farm and the other food producers involved didn’t just help create the event – they were the reason the event happened.
Certainly consumers are becoming more aware of their food sources. New farmers markets such as BisMarket in Bismarck’s Sertoma Park are opening and proving to be popular. Shares in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms are sold out year after year. Many area farm chicken and egg producers can’t keep up with demand. More families are choosing to purchase beef in bulk direct from the farm. Such choices benefits not only the consumer, who is purchasing some of the freshest food available, but also each purchase of locally produced food helps strengthen our economy and allow families to make a living off the land, keeping rural North Dakota and its agricultural way of life vibrant.
When it was time to start preparing food for the event, I entered into every cook’s dream: a well-equipped commercial kitchen, generously lent to us for the event by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, and mountains of fresh, top-quality local food purchased from area farmers, ranchers and food producers. When you have good ingredients, they require only the simplest of preparations to become a truly excellent meal. Add in a small tribe of enthusiastic volunteers, great music and a very talented event decorator, and this was shaping up to be a memorable event for everyone involved.
On that hot August evening, 48 guests arrived around 6 pm. The farm’s pet snow goose Sunny served as the unofficial greeter. Under the shade of the Chinese lantern-adorned cottonwoods, guests were invited to grab a glass of cold iced tea from Steep Me a Cup of Tea, honey wine from Apple Creek Winery, or beer from Laughing Sun Brewery. Apron-wearing servers passed around Brown’s Ranch deviled eggs, homemade vegetable chips including beet chips from Riverbound Farm, and cheeses from Bessy’s Best.
The long table was elegantly appointed, thanks to the decorating talents of Katrina Hanenberg with Sparkle Events. Bread from Bread Poets graced the tables and the Prairie Meddlers tuned up and started to play as the courses were brought out: vegetable chowder, highlighting vegetables from the local farmers markets and Cloverdale bacon; a cooling cucumber feta salad with vegetables from Riverbound and Roving Donkey Farm; the entrée of Ruso Ranch baked meatballs with fresh tomato sauce and a side of fresh vegetables; and dessert of Peacock Alley pink grapefruit sorbet with a krumkake cookie and a leaf of basil.
From my perspective in the kitchen, I didn’t really know how everything was going out at the table. I focused on the task at hand - prepping and plating - while the servers assured me that everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves with plenty of conversation and laughter. The empty plates returning to the kitchen signaled that, well, at least the food was edible. Regardless of outcome, I knew that we had all put in our best effort to make the evening a true celebration of the area’s bounty, and hoped that our guests were feeling celebratory as well.
As we served the last bowl of sorbet for dessert and realized it was all done, I finally emerged from the hot kitchen for a refreshing glass of iced tea. Approaching the dining area, the guests erupted into applause with a standing ovation, and my mutual joy and enthusiasm for this event and all it represented spread across my face in a huge smile. The hard work, lovely ambiance, honest food and wonderful people, it all culminated into that one beautiful moment. A celebration, indeed.
Posted by Rhubarb and Venison at 5:20 PM