Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Smokefest 2009 and Camden State Park September 17-21, 2009

Last Thursday Paul and I headed to southwestern Minnesota
for a stay at Camden State Park near Marshall, Minnesota.

Camden is located on the Redwood River, a designated trout stream.  We moved into a nearly deserted campground and set up for our stay.

Although it was a really nice little park, the real reason for our trip to this location was to observe our nephews, Chad and Kevin Dotzenrod, participate in

a barbeque contest sponsored by  Southwest Minnesota State University.

They have cooked for many family events and their food is always excellent. The barbeque process is a timely effort and because we don't live near them, we have only experienced (and enjoyed) their finished products served at family functions. I was very excited to be able to observe the process from its beginning stages and to watch a real live cooking competition.

Friday after our morning coffee, we headed to campus to the designated contest area and found Chad and Kevin already hard at work setting up their cooking station.

This contest was one of the 300 annual contests sanctioned by the

which means specific guidelines are to be followed.

There were 38 cooking teams entered in the event.

The parking lot steadily filled throughout the afternoon.

Everybody was busy getting organized.

Paul and I could not believe the huge setups owned by most of the other contestants. Chad and Kevin were not intimidated in the least.  

They had too much prep work to do!

We did our best to supervise and lend them moral support that afternoon.We helped them in whatever way we could without imposing on their creative efforts!

After their rubs and marinades were completed and the prepared meat was back in the coolers to rest, we left them for the night just as the music for the street dance poured out over the contest site.  They would start their smokers up during the night and keep a close vigil over the temperatures to keep them constant.  Sleep was not part of their world while Paul and I slept like babies back at the state park.

The next morning things were already hopping when we arrived.  The brisket, pork shoulder and ribs were started during the night and early morning hours.  As the day progressed, the chefs checked to make certain everything was cooking as planned. 

Kevin and Chad were extremely organized and methodical in their work. 

Later in the morning, the chicken was placed on the grills.

They prepared both legs and thighs to decide which of the two to enter based on the finished product.  

Chicken was the first entry on the judging schedule. They made the decision to go with the thighs.

I would have been proud to enter either the legs or thighs as both tasted incredible.  We were too excited to get a picture of the chicken as they readied the box for entry.  We wouldn't make that mistake again.  

The ribs were prepared to be entered next.  Events were spaced in thirty minute segments.

Paul and I were placed in charge of prepping the lettuce for the boxes.  We worked carefully to make no mistakes.  Chad and Kevin were meticulous in their work.  

Their ribs tasted even better than they looked; tender, juicy, flavorful.  We had so much fun helping them prepare (and taste) their entries.

Next event to be judged was pork.  Chad pulled the meat with the bear paws.  Again, the flavor and tenderness of the meat was wonderful. I felt like Andrew Zimmern because I kept shaking my head and saying, "Wow!"  Everything was great.

Six portions, one for each judge, were presented in each entry box.  If room allowed, a little extra serving was added for the table captain as well.  

Last entry to be judged was brisket.  Chad put edge pieces around the slices for a little extra taste treat for the judges.  

I could see no way these two were not the grand champions of this event.  Their entries were excellent and I was one very proud aunt!  

We waited for the results. 

As the winners were announced in each category, I was completely shocked their names were not called.  I just couldn't believe theirs was not the best in any category.

Chad was very pragmatic about the results.  He competes against himself and was pleased to know they had entered four excellent dishes.  Kevin brought his usual good humor to the front and wondered how the guys in those big expensive rigs felt because many of them left without any "hardware."

Their true colors showed at that moment.  And, I was an even prouder aunt. 

You see, I wanted to find the judges and ask if I could taste the winning dishes.  I really NEEDED to know what could have been better than my nephews' food.

We said our goodbyes and told Chad and Kevin we would love to travel to another competition if they wouldn't mind us tagging along. They headed to a local hotel for a night of much needed rest and Paul and I headed back to the campground.  

We were able to bring some pretty incredible food with us as a main course for our evening's meal.

Chad and Kevin, you both are winners in my book!

Congratulations on a job very well done.  

Meanwhile, I keep working to let it go.  I don't think entering cooking competitions  would be in my best interest. 

But, I am thinking I might need to take a KCBS judging class!  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Minnesota's North Shore-September 7-14, 2009

Labor Day has always been a significant day for us.  Facing the beginning of a new school year, it was always a busy day tinged with excitement and some angst. Last year, as we entered retirement, we decided to start a new tradition to celebrate our ability to "write our own curriculum." A trip to the North Shore was our choice to start our new chapter. Last week, to continue the tradition, we headed north on Labor Day for our second annual camping trip to Temperance River State Park.  We made our reservations for this year's campsite last September to ensure we would have a spot overlooking Lake Superior.  We couldn't wait for our first morning to enjoy that cup of coffee while looking out over the lake.

Paul was the first one to point out that the kids were piling into those classrooms back in our old lives.

Although the vastness of the horizon can't be captured through the camera lens, take a look at the view from our chairs.

We could have spent the whole week in the campsite, but we had an agenda to follow!  Paul had checked this book out of the library and used it to make a list of places to explore during our stay.

The book served as an excellent framework for us as we scoured the North Shore from Split Rock up the coast almost to Grand Portage.

We started with a hike out to Shovel Point in Tettagouche State Park.

The choice of the name for the point is quite obvious!

This easy hike provides beautiful views of the lake.

I fell in love with the Mountain Ash trees growing in their natural habitat. They looked so much happier than the ones we see in suburban yards!
We explored Iona's Beach Scientific Natural Area and listened to the shingle rocks "tinkle" as the waves washed them onto the shore.

We climbed down to Crystal Cove and walked the deserted beach.

Another day found us at Paradise Beach.  Paul loves to search the North Shore for agates and thomsonite.

George, the wooden egret, faithfully waited for us every day back at the campsite.

We visited Last Chance Gallery in Lutsen and enjoyed a visit with the owner and resident metal sculptor, Tom Christiansen.  Back at the campground that evening, we enjoyed our dinner

while we listened to Tom host the jazz program on WTIP, North Shore Community Radio.

We ate a picnic lunch on Two Fish House Beach

and visited a local tourist trap or two.

We spent a day biking on the Gitchi-Gami Trail.  The weather continued to cooperate.

We visited the site of Father Baraga's cross

and hiked Artists' Point in Grand Marais.

We also ventured away from the lake and drove inland to hike to the top of Eagle Mountain, the highest point in Minnesota, located in the BWCA

and Superior National Forest.  The hike was seven miles round trip and the trail required one to watch carefully for rocks and roots.

There were several small lakes along the way.

The trail became steeper as we neared our destination.

The view over the vast forest made the work well worth the effort.

  What a fantastic place to eat lunch on a Friday afternoon!

We also hiked around Eighteen Lake near Isabella, Minnesota

and drove on  a pretty rough road

to take a look at a designated trout lake with a politically incorrect name.  It was beautiful and we were the only ones (humans) there.

Paul threw a few casts on the shoreline below our campsite.

Although we never ate in a restaurant all week, we enjoyed great meals.

And because of the warm weather, we were able to enjoy our campfires.

Our only regret of the week was that my brother Al, who was supposed to join us, had to cancel his plans because of his work schedule.

As we watched the sunrise on our last morning, we decided next year the tradition continues.  We confirmed our reservations for next September as soon as we got back home.  Get out your calendar, Al.  Let's start making plans!!!