Fall Fun Extravaganza!

Last weekend was absolutely gorgeous (and most likely our last perfect fall weekend of the year), so Diana and I decided it was finally time for our fall fun extravaganza. Every year, we designate at least one day to pack in as pumpkin/apple/fall awesomeness as possible.

While we vary our activities each year, we always make time for a visit to Tom's Farm Market in Huntley, IL. Compared to some of the other mega markets/pumpkin patches in the area, it's relatively small, which is most definitely part of its charm. They go all out with fun pumpkin decorations and the corn maze (it was zombie-shaped this year); they also have a small petting zoo with some very friendly goats and sheep, along with the cutest little cafe that serves some dang good cider and donuts. The best part that because it is a smaller family-owned market, there are always all sorts of personal touches (including various depictions of Tom's family as scarecrows/pumpkinheads) and it's never too crazy packed.

 I started out with a lovely breakfast of pumpkin pancakes with pecan crumbles and maple-spice butter from one of my favorite neighborhood brunch spots, Uncommon Ground. Sooooo much pumpkiny deliciousness!  

Cuban Sandwich with pulled pork & ham, baby swiss cheese, pickles, dijon mustard & mojo dipping sauce on a telera roll; Smashing Pumpkin latte (with a scoop of Bobtail pumpkin ice cream); pumpkin pancakes and chicken sausage

 Tom's Farm Market

The most adorable little pumpkin!

 Tom's parents, immortalized in the pumpkin outhouse ;-)

 Getting sassy with the pumpkin Cat in the Hat

 The rabbit area has a fantastic mini replica of Tom's barn

 This cute little goat wanted nothing to do with me or my camera until I offered him some snacks

As soon as he was finished noshing, he went right back to snubbing me - he definitely drives a hard bargain ;-)

After we finished in the petting zoo, we headed over to the zombie corn maze - of course, we were far too cool to take a map, so we ended up circling though one of his legs at least three times.

 Corn maze shadow selfies

 Once we finally escaped from the corn maze, we made our way down the wooded path o' pumpkin doom (ooooh!)

 The sky was so incredibly blue and clear - we couldn't have asked for a more perfect fall day!

We ended our visit with some delicious apple cider and pumpkin spice doughnuts

Happy Halloween to all of our awesome readers! 


American Cheese Month at Pastoral

Happy American Cheese Month! Wait, you didn't know that October is American Cheese Month? Well, to be quite honest, neither did I (which is weird considering my predilection for all things cheese)... thankfully, the awesome folks at Pastoral stepped in to show me the way just in time. I was invited to stop by their Lakeview location for a cheese tasting with Head Cheesemonger, Bryan Bland (how cool of a job is that?!). Anyone who knows me know I LOVE cheese, so of course, this opportunity was right up my alley.

Before we started the tasting, Bryan led me through the history of artisan cheesemaking in the United States, as well as the availability of American produced cheeses at Pastoral; while the store definitely has a special relationship with Midwestern cheesemakers, they actually represent every single state that produces cheese. We also chatted about the seasonality of cheese; while I was already familiar with many of the aging processes, I had never quite thought about how cheeses have seasons, just like fruits and vegetables. As Bryan explained, no two cheeses are alike - dozens of factors, including the temperature, the types of flora each animal is exposed to, and grazing conditions, can affect a cheese's flavor profile. Similar to harvest season, late spring to early fall is considered the prime season for cheese production.  

After our discussion, Bryan got down to the business of cutting the cheese (ha!). In honor of American Cheese Month, Pastoral is highlighting four American produced cheeses, three of which are from the Midwest. As much as I enjoyed all of the cheeses, my favorite of the four was a relatively new cheese from Wisconsin, a fruity and tangy cheddar made from a combination of goat and cow's milk. 

American Cheese Month featured selections
Good Thunder from Alemar Cheese Company in Minnesota: a robust and savory cheese washed in American brown ale
 Chandoka from LeClare Family Farms in Wisconsin: a mild, creamy, and tart goat and cow's milk cheddar
O'Banon from Capriole Cheese in Indiana: a tart and herby chèvre wrapped in Bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves
Blue Bay from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese in California: an earthy, sweet blue cheese
Capriole Cheese's O'Banon: this cheese is macerated in bourbon and has a slow, smooth burn at the end

 Head Cheesemonger, Bryan Bland

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese's Blue Bay: this is slightly sweeter than most blue cheeses and Bryan recommends it for those who want a milder blue (he also loves to use it to convert people who think they don't like blue cheese!)

 After my tasting, I spent some time wandering around the shop (and resisting the urge to buy everything in sight!). Along with cheese, Pastoral offers a variety of wines, chocolate, bread, charcuterie, pantry items, and gifts. They also have some fantastic cheese plates available to-go or to enjoy at Bar Pastoral.

Before I left, I just had to visit the cheese counter one more time. Along with a perfect to-go container of the featured American cheeses, I also picked up a buttery sheep's milk cheese and a lovely cow's milk cheese with a lingering tasty of salty bacon.

The celebration of American Cheese Month continues at Pastoral through the end of October (featured cheeses will also be available for purchase online or in-store after the end of the month).