Merry Christmas!

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Happy Holiday’s!

We have had a ball celebrating the season with our first live Christmas Tree… ever!

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It’s beautiful. We found it thanks to the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association: http://www.indianachristmastree.com/

They sort all the Christmas Tree farms in the state by county, tree height and tree type. Our tree came from a farm the county just south of ours.

The association also has a bunch of tips for selecting a tree and caring for it throughout the Holiday Season.

Enjoy your time around your tree with family and friends! I will be back on Bloom by the weekend because we celebrated another big holiday this week: Adam’s Birthday!

The 2013 Trost Christmas Card!

The 2013 Trost Christmas Card!

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Homemade Winter Brews

The weekend after Thanksgiving, Adam and I went to my parent’s new home. They moved to Saugatuck, a small beach town in Michigan this summer. They moved in this summer and I was there quickly in September, but have grown up spending summer’s in Saugatuck. It was Adam’s first time to the house and to the town.

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My dad had lined up an afternoon of craft beer making with a brew master at a local brewery. He wanted to create a beer brand for their new home (he is an ex-marketer, for those of you who might be thinking that’s weird…) so, he befriended the Brew Master at Saugatuck Brewing Company, Dexter.

Saugatuck Brewing Company is similar to any other brew pub: Big wooden bar, traditional pub food, only serving good home brews, so on and so on. One major difference is that Saugatuck Brewing Company shakes up the traditional feel with an area for creating your own unique microbrew, literally from start to finish. Or, from milling grains and barley to bottling.

My Dad’s new pal and our Brew Master had prior conversations about what we would be creating so we started our afternoon with a few samples of similar brews. My dad wanted to make winter beers, so we opted for a stout and IPA, but he also wanted to incorporate flavors that have a connection to the new house and our family’s journey to the west coast of Michigan.

The new house is named “Blue Water Lodge” (Yes. The house has a name… And this was done well before the branding extraordinaire knew it even existed, so he can’t take total credit for it.) It sits on the wooded east end of a long property that sprawls westward to the sand dune cliffs that drop into Lake Michigan. Because of all the trees around the home, we added hints of Pine to the IPA.

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The view to the west is the main focus of the exterior, but on the interior the hearth is the focal point.

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The whole home is very open thanks to a large living and dining area that connects to the kitchen. The hearth is large and made of stone, warming the whole space. We added a light smoky flavor to the stout, in addition to Quaker Oats. My parents worked together at Quaker in Chicago during the eighties. There, they met great friends that took them over to Saugatuck for long weekends and they fell in love with the area.

Dexter lead us to the back where we pulled our grains and barley needed to create each beer.

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His knowledge and passion for beer was impressive. He had precise measurements based on his recipes for each.

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Then we ran the grains and barley through a mill that made them fine, catching them in a long, mesh colander, and headed out to the main room to get brewing.

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We used the kettles the brewing company used years ago before they expanded production. This was very cool because we were using the same tools they started with.

It was here that I realized making beer is kind of like making tea, at least that’s how it seemed to me.

We put the mesh collander full of dry grains into hot water where we let it basically “steep” for an hour. To help spread the flavor we twisted and mashed the grains, discovering muscles in our forearms we never even knew existed.

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After the first hour, honey, molasses, Irish moss and hops were added to the kettle at different times throughout the next hour. Hops bring in a bitter, tangy flavor and help balance the sweetness. We learned here that hops are actually flowers related to cannabis flowers. In the dry state, it looked like green little pellets we used to feed my sister’s hamster, but it did have a definite smell similar to marijuana… Or, so I have been told.

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So, hot water. A sieve of dry ingredients put into the hot water adding flavor. Then adding sugar. It’s just like a cup of tea! (Okay, so minus the hops thing…)

But, what is happening in the next thirty days is what makes it beer: The sugars in the liquid mixture (now called wert) will turn into alcohol.

Each batch of beer will make about seventy two bottles and my dad will come back to bottle our brews around the New Year. He also has been working with my younger sister, who is a graphic designer in Chicago, to create a logo for the Blue Water Brews.

While at Saugatuck Brewing Company I tried two of the beers they create in house. I had the Oval Beach Blonde Ale, which was perfect for me. I am not too daring when it comes to beer and this was light and drinkable. I also tried the Michigan Wheat which was 100% made from Michigan grains, barley and hops.

But, the weekend didn’t end with just local Michigan beers. We also visited Fennville Winery, which is maybe seven minutes from my parent’s new house. Um, amazing?

The wine was great. They make them at the estate and use only Michigan grapes, 80% of which are directly from their vineyards.

Fennville Winery Vinyards

Fennville Winery Vinyards

We enjoyed a free tasting of six different award winning wines of our choice and even got to try some warm, mulled cherry wine that seriously tasted like Christmas in a glass.

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Based on the event calendar, there is often something unique going on at Fennville Winery. Adam and I were particularly interested in a chili cook off in January. Wine and Chili? Can you say heaven?!

But, even if there isn’t an event the next time we visit the Michigan coast we will be sure to visit Fennville Winery again. There is a great tasting room and they offer a big discount when you purchase wine in bulk. Their prices per bottle are incredibly reasonable and they are really tasty!

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And with all this booze, we of course needed a little sustenance. My mom took Adam and me to the Farmer’s Market in Holland. The market runs year round and my mom loves it.

I was a little skeptical because I couldn’t imagine there being much there the first week of December, but I was way wrong.

There were huge bunches of kale. Lots of apples. Baked goods. Christmas décor including wreaths made from blueberry branches, which turn red after blueberries are harvested. And this one particular vendor that caught my eye… at this booth you could fill up a department store bag with any and as many root vegetables that you wanted.

I told Adam this was a deal so we got busy selecting carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, yams, celery root and loaded up our bag so much that Adam had to carry it in his arms versus using the handles.

Some of out root  veggie loot... Spuds!

Some of out root veggie loot… Spuds!

More on this and what we did with these veggies next time… 🙂

Adam and I had a ball in snowy Michgan. And we are so looking forward to a lot fun and local food on future visits!

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

Happy Fall, Ya’ll!

Unlike much of the rest of the world, I have not fully come to terms with the fact that it is Fall.

Now, before you choke on your Pumpkin Spice Latte, let me say that I do love Fall.

I love all of the seasons. And, yes, Fall is wonderful. Football, chili, over-sized sweaters, colorful leaves… Love it.

But, let me also remind you that, in Indiana, it was a muggy, eighty degrees all last week.

Not exactly the kind of weather that makes you want to carve pumpkins or pick apples (… or have a PSL, for that matter), but it is time to welcome Autumn with open arms and give it a try.

Recently, my parents were visiting and I was trying to figure out how to entertain the Ex-Chicago Yuppies in the country. I thought about the little apple orchard I drive passed nearly every day that is just around the corner from our home, but have never been to. So, I suggested a trip to the apple orchard.

They took me to pick apples as a kid so I thought what better way to kick off fall and return the favor.

Some fun shots from a trip to an orchard just outside of Chicago in 1991.  My little sister couldn't have been much more than a month or two old.

Some fun shots from a trip to an orchard just outside of Chicago in 1991. My little sister couldn’t have been much more than a month or two old.

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We took the whopping two minute drive to Farlow’s Orchard, drove up a gravel driveway past rows and rows of apple trees to a small barn with open doors.

Inside it looked like a basic gift shop. There were lots of different varieties of apples around the room that you could buy as a bushel, peck, or individually. There was also a cooler full of ciders and many apple desserts like apple dumplings or caramel covered apples.

We were greeted by an older man in bib overalls. He explained they don’t have a “You-Pick” operation to preserve the orchard. He mentioned that Farlow’s is the oldest apple orchard in the state of Indiana. The orchard was created by his wife’s family three generations ago.

I knew I wanted to make something with the apples and had recently scanned through the Canning for a New Generation book. There was a recipe for applesauce that had caught my attention in the “Fall” chapter.

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I asked which apple was good for making apple sauce. He said lots of them were, but his wife’s favorite for apple sauce is the Cortland variety.

Good enough for me. A woman who grew up on an apple orchard and continued to live there well into adulthood? She probably knows what’s best.

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My dad treated me to my apples and got himself an Apple Slush, basically an apple Slurpie.

“Mmm, that’s good,” he said offering me a sip. It was.

He thought for a moment. “A suggestion?” the marketing extraordinaire questioned the orchard owner, “A little caramel in here would really just make it incredible.”

“They sell pretty well enough on their own,” the orchard owner bluntly replied.

Welcome to the country, Dad. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Another thing that clearly had not broken was the cash register. It looked like it was at least a hundred years old. It was a huge machine covered in ornate designs and complete with a big hand crank. The owner said he tried to use a computer once, but this worked better.

Again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I took this mind set home with me and prepared to make applesauce. After cutting, boiling and mashing the apples I pushed them through an old, aluminum sieve with a wooden mortar that belonged to Adam’s grandmother.

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Adam found it in his childhood home after his parents moved out and had to hang onto it. It had still not been used since it was in our possession so I decided to give it a try.

Oh my gosh. I discovered muscles in my forearms that I didn’t even know existed. It was crazy, hard work. But, with my peck of apples (… Minus a few for snacking.) I made two jars of apple sauce.

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Here is what I did:

Get about about six pounds of apples (Not as many as you would think once you weigh them.)

Core apples, cut into 1-inch chunks

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Add to a pot with about 1 ½ cups water

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Heat on high, bring to a boil and stir occasionally. As the apples cook down, the peels will separate from the apple. Cook for about forty minutes.

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Pass through a food mill (or sieve). I had the puree fall onto a deep cookie sheet. You can use a bowl as well.

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Bring puree to a boil for five minutes.

Can, if you would like. I did not, just because I didn’t make that much. If you were to water bath can apple sauce, process the jar in the boiling water for fifteen minutes.

The apples and applesauce were a perfect first taste of fall.

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Now, time for chili… And maybe even a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Indiana’s Wine Country

With the craziness of summer, especially this summer, weekends with just Adam have been nonexistent. We have either been running in two different directions or in fast forward with groups of people for some sort of celebration.

While this summer has been a great time, it is sometimes nice to just be a couple.

Last March I reserved a tour of Oliver Winery’s Creekbend Estate Vineyard. It was hard to book something so far in advance but, it was nice to know through all the jam-packed, full throttle weekends this summer, there was this day to look forward to.

Oliver Winery is a very successful Indiana Winery just north of Bloomington, which is home to Indiana University and, is at the forefront of the local food movements across the state. At Oliver, there are a handful of wines made from grapes shipped from California and others that are grown locally at their Creekbend Vineyard, a few miles away from the main tasting room.

Oliver's Bloomington Tasting Room.

Oliver’s Bloomington Tasting Room.

Adam and I have been to the tasting room at the winery many times and fall even more in love with it every time. One of our first road trips together was to Oliver after a long, stressful few weeks in the first year of our careers. Adam even proposed to me over a bottle of Oliver’s Merlot.

Thanks to this special place in our hearts for Oliver, I was excited to have the opportunity to tour the private vineyard.

On Sunday, Adam and I headed out on the two hour drive to Bloomington, looking forward to the afternoon. The drive from the tasting room to the vineyard was windy, hilly and amazingly scenic.

We were welcomed into the vineyard by vast grape vines as far as we could see in either direction. Adam pulled up to an old farm house where two men were sitting on the porch. The older man introduced himself as Bernie, the vineyard manager. The younger man, about our age, was a farm hand named Jay. Bernie told us that we were the first to arrive and that as we wait for everyone else we could explore the farmhouse or the table grape vines planted in the back.

After the long drive, we both needed to use the restroom so we headed into the house to visit the facilities. While I was waiting for Adam, I read a plaque in the kitchen stating that the home dated back to the 1830’s and the original owners were buried on the land. Much of the house is still intact, including the unique chestnut floors in the kitchen.

Adam and I headed out to the back to check out the table grape vines. These grapes are sold in the cheese and fruit platters in the tasting room. I excitedly tested out my birthday present, a new Nikon camera, while Adam was looking around to try and figure out what bird was making this weird call he kept hearing.

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The tour was kept to twelve people and once everyone arrived Jay brought out some champagne to kick off the tour.

Bernie told us the basics about the vineyard, including that the vineyard is located in a microclimate making the growing days and temperature during those growing days very similar to Napa Valley. The soils are great and thanks to the limestone and hills that are predominate in the area, rain runs off easily. There are about 69 acres of vines in the vineyard which re-opened in 1994 after Professor Bill Oliver began making wines in the sixties.

We began our walk around the vineyard with a fresh glass of Chardonel, which was a delicious hybrid grape that is similar to chardonnay.

One of the first questions asked was about the foil ribbons on the end of all the rows of the vines.

Red foil designed to keep birds away.

Red foil designed to keep birds away.

“Bird Control,” Bernie explained.

He mentioned that when the sun hits the flapping foil it reflects light keeping the birds away. They also use recordings of bird distress or attack calls.

I looked at Adam and laughed. That was the crazy bird he was looking for!

The next wines we tried were the Catawba and Traminette. Both of these we had tried before. The Catawba is one of Adam’s sister’s (many) favorites. Bernie snipped a few bunches of grapes and let us try the Catawba grapes. They were approaching harvest and were juicy and sweet.

Tasting some Catawba.

Tasting some Catawba.

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Next we headed up a large hill which actually serves as a landing strip for pilots that can land on grass. Along the landing strip were new grape vines which were planted this spring. We learned that grapes cannot be harvested until they reach three years of maturity, but, if taken care of, can last thirty years.

Adam in the landing strip, with vines as far as the eye can see!

Adam in the landing strip, with vines as far as the eye can see!

While walking up the hill, I asked Bernie how he got the job as the vineyard manager.

He laughed.

“Yeah. What did you study? Did you come from farming?,” Adam asked.

Two farmers, chatting it up.

Two farmers, chatting it up.

“Nope. Definitely did not come from farming,” Bernie smiled. “That’s a good one for the whole group to hear. I will answer that in a bit.”

Bernie, the vineyard manager, teaching the group about the grapes.

Bernie, the vineyard manager, teaching the group about the grapes.

We continued on the last leg of the walking tour. We passed some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon rows. Here, Bernie grabbed a handful of the Cab grapes and handed them out for us to try. These weren’t as sweet as the other grapes and he asked if we tasted green pepper.

The whole group lit up. Yes!

He explained these grapes were not ripe yet and if you ever have a bottle of Cabernet that tastes similar to a green pepper, it means the grapes were not ready for harvest.

As we walked back to the Farmhouse, Adam and I brought up the rear of the group taking a few more pictures and checking out the last few rows of grapes.

I looked at Adam. “You having fun?”

“A blast,” he beamed. “This is a perfect day.”

Perfect Day.

Perfect Day.

A gourmet cheese platter was waiting for us in the farmhouse complete with Indiana cheeses, including one from Fair Oaks Dairy, as well as a glass of Chamboursin, a dry red wine. Adam and I both declared it our favorite of the day.

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The final bottle uncorked of the tour was an ice wine. This incredibly sweet wine was paired with Lindt chocolates and reminded me of honey. It was good enough for me to appreciate but was much too sweet for any more than a couple sips. I looked at Adam, who seemed to be feeling the same way, and wished we had split a glass, so not to waste the wine.

Bernie thanked everyone for joining him and asked if anyone had any other questions.

I reminded him that he had not answered mine about how he got his start.

“Oh, that’s right! Thanks for reminding me.”

He told us his career actually began in the military and he took a government job that brought him back to Indiana in 1997. Prior to this he worked as a bomb specialist. During the grape harvest, he volunteered at the vineyard with his wife and became good friends with Bill and Kathleen Oliver.

Over a bottle of wine at the end of a festival in Indianapolis, Bill asked Bernie to be the vineyard manager. Bernie said three jaws dropped that afternoon. His, his wife’s, and Kathleen’s.

Bernie replied, “Thank you for the offer but, I don’t know anything about growing grapes.”

Bill responded “You are a bomb specialist with all ten fingers, I can teach you to grow grapes.” Three weeks later, Bernie accepted the job and has been there ever since.

And, he hasn’t looked back.

“My grandfather was a farmer,” Bernie winked, “And I know he’s sending me a big, old high five from heaven.”

Creekbend Vineyard Quick Facts

http://www.oliverwinery.com/vineyardevents
7508 North Woodall Street
Ellettsville, IN 46429

Tours are only offered a handful of weekends in late summer and book up fast. As mentioned, I made this reservation in March. It’s because I tried last summer and spots were not available.

It’s a walking tour (about one mile total) so dress accordingly. Wear good shoes. Prepare for the weather as it could be chilly or hot. They provide umbrellas if it’s drizzly.

Prices are $40 for an individual or $70 for a couple. Heck of a deal. We tried nearly ten wines, some of which are not offered in the tasting room, were fed a beautiful cheese and chocolate platter, and the tour was given by the incredibly knowledgeable vineyard manager.

It’s a hilly, twisty drive on back roads to the vineyard. Use the map on the website versus trying to use a GPS. According to the vineyard manager over 85% of the time the GPS will get you lost.

Creekbend also offers picnic’s in the vineyard throughout the summer where you can bring your own meal, take a stroll through the vineyard on your own, and purchase estate wines by the bottle or glass for the evening. Sounds amazing!

Even if you can’t make it out to the vineyard, check out the tasting room on 37 just north of Bloomington. It’s beautiful, and a lot of fun.

… We made a stop by the tasting room to purchase a case of the estate wine. We already can’t wait to bring some of these bottles out during special occasions in the year to come!

Checking out the Creekbend brand back at the tasting room.

Checking out the Creekbend brand back at the tasting room.

Creekbend wines back at home.

Creekbend wines back at home.

... 'til next time.

… ’til next time.

An Udderly Fabulous Afternoon at Fair Oaks Farm

So, was anyone else struggling yesterday?

After the long, fun filled, holiday weekend I had a little trouble getting going Monday morning. It was a great weekend though. We had friends over for a big bonfire on the third, spent the day at the lake on the fourth and fifth skiing and boating. Then Saturday, Adam and I had to split forces to make it to our third and fourth wedding of the year. (… Don’t worry; we still have seven more before Christmas.)

Both were beautiful and a lot of fun, but we both thought it was pretty weird to go stag after all these years of weddings with a permanent dance partner.

We were together at a wedding just a couple weeks ago near Chicago. It was a beautiful Roman Catholic Mass full of neat traditions, not to mention a rocking reception where we were able to catch up with a lot of Adam’s fraternity brothers and their wives.

As we headed home down I-65 on Sunday, I commented on all the billboards for Fair Oaks Farms, a relatively big dairy just off the interstate. I have driven back and forth on 65 for years going from Indy to Chicago for work and visiting friends, but had never stopped. Adam had been a couple times when he was younger and suggested that we stop.

With nothing better than laundry to do at home, I happily agreed.

… Plus, one of the billboards said they had ice cream. It’s hard to say “no thanks” to ice cream.

We parked and walked into the building built like a huge barn.

Inside, we paid and the staff member told us the tour would begin in about twenty minutes. In the mean time we looked at all sorts of exhibits with facts about the farm and cows.

This is where I began to learn that I knew absolutely nothing about cows.

My first lesson in Cow 101?

Females are called Heifers. Which, I just thought was what just a cow in general was called. Not to mention, quite an unlady-like nickname.

Adam laughed. I questioned, “So, bulls are the boys? Right?”

“Yep. And steers are boy cows without their balls,” he ever so eloquently put. Thank God he doesn’t do the school field trip tours…

Soon we hopped on to a big cow print bus (Seriously. Cow Print. Awesome.) and headed to the cow stalls. They are at a separate destination for the sake of sanitation. The property is 19,000 acres and began in 1998 thanks to a few dairy farmer families.

The bus ride had a recording playing with information about what we were looking at. The recording drove home their concept of “Cow Comfort.” The stalls are cleaned three times a day. They maintain a seven mile per hour breeze and there are heaters in the winter. They also have veterinarians and animal scientists on staff to make sure the cows are healthy.

Calf's in their pens.  They will move into the larger stalls once they are larger.

Calf’s in their pens. They will move into the larger stalls once they are larger.

What we saw next blew my mind.

The bus stopped and we headed up a flight of stairs to an observation deck. We were overlooking the machine that milks all the cows.

The machine was similar to a carrousel as it spun in a slow circle. The cows were getting on and off this carrousel on their own.

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The guide mentioned that the cows are creatures of habit so they know exactly how to get off the carrousel and want to get on because they want to get milked. Each cow is milked three times a day and they only take five minutes to milk. The machine runs for nearly twenty four hours a day. The guide said that it takes seven hours to milk the whole heard. The hour after the milking is used to clean and sanitize the machine.

Fair Oaks Farms produces 25,000 gallons of milk each day and nearly 99% of it is sold to a major grocery chain in Indiana. The farm obviously also produces a lot of manure, but it’s used to benefit the farm too. The cows waste is turned into energy that powers the whole operation. It’s equivalent to the power needed for 750 homes.

The bus took us back to the attraction area we did a little more exploring. There were a lot of fun rides for young kids, an awesome garden that Adam and I “ohh-ed” and “ahh-ed” over, and even a room where you can see a cow have a calf. There are eighty calf’s born a day! It was really neat to see.

A cow tending to it's just born calf.

A cow tending to it’s just born calf.

The awesome garden and grounds at Fair Oaks.

The awesome garden and grounds at Fair Oaks.

Before we hit the road we stopped by the café and gift shop. They sold all sorts of cow souvenirs, milk, cheese, sandwiches and that homemade ice cream I had been waiting for. We both grabbed a delicious single scoop. Vanilla for the both of us. I wanted to taste the natural cream at it’s most simple state and not covered by mint or crumbled Oreos. (Although, any flavor sounded excellent.)

Next it was onto the cheese. I think if I was asked to select one food that I had to eat everyday for the rest of my life, it would be cheese. I love it. Any kind. Plain, on a sandwich, in a salad, with wine, paired with crackers. It doesn’t matter. Adam picked up some dill flavored cheese cubes and I choose a wedge of aged gouda. The gouda made for a great little appetizer a few nights the following week. I loved it’s creamy, slightly salty texture.

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I really enjoyed our agroturism adventure at Fair Oaks and would love to go back, especially with children. There was so much to learn and lots of interactive activities for little ones. I also loved to see how much care was given to the cows. They have taken great steps to make sure the animals are comfortable and treated well.

… I will also be much more apt to stop there now that I know how fabulous the café is.

The gouda back at home with some moscato from an Indiana winery.

The gouda back at home with some moscato from an Indiana winery.

Fair Oaks Farm Quick Facts:
856 N 600 E
Fair Oaks, IN 47943
(… in simplest terms, halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis on 65)

Make sure you have a little time. The tour is about forty minutes and there is a lot to see. It’s not a place you want to be if you’re in a rush.

The Farm is open seven days a week with shorter hours on Sunday. For more information about hours and admission (and everything else Fair Oaks) visit: http://www.fofarms.com/en/home

If you are in the area and have kids or are a teacher, look into the field trips offered.

They have a “Pig Adventure” opening in August! They will have a similar tour, just with pigs. Wonder if this means there will be bacon in the café? Mmm… bacon.