Monday, October 1, 2018

Easy-Peasy Cowboy Beans

Hi friends – or should I say Howdy? 😉

All cheesy jokes aside, if you’ve been following along over on Instagram you will know that a few weeks ago I took a little trip to Niman Ranch in Iowa for their 20th Annual Farmer Appreciation Weekend. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with this awesome organization, let me fill you in!

Niman Ranch is actually more than just a single farm – it’s a network of U.S. farmers and ranchers dedicated to raising livestock humanely and sustainably. There are many brands out there that claim to never feed or administer antibiotics or added hormones to their livestock, but I got to witness firsthand that Niman Ranch holds true to this practice. All animals are raised following strict humane treatment and protocols, and they are never given antibiotics or hormones, period. In fact, all Niman Ranch pork, beef, and lamb are 100% Certified Humane.

Niman Ranch is so committed to sustainable agriculture practices and supporting small, independent family farmers and ranchers that the organization actually established The Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation, a (newly created) 501(c)(3) non-profit to provide opportunities for young people in agriculture. Through scholarship assistance, The Niman Ranch Generation Foundation gives aspiring farmers the chance to follow their dreams and distributes these scholarships at their annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner.

I’m so honored that I was given the opportunity to attend and so grateful for the help Niman Ranch is providing, especially with the recent challenges the agriculture industry has faced. Did you know that 284,000,000 agricultural acres and 3,607,560 farms and ranches have been lost since 1950? In fact, the average number of farms lost per day is 52 – holy crap! Ninety percent of hog farm operations have been lost since 1977, and it’s an established fact that there are now more prisoners than farmers in the U.S. Thankfully, Niman Farms is working to change these statistics. The organization has partnered with 1,623 hog farmers since 1995, and $1,000,000 scholarship dollars were awarded this year to new farmers. To top it all off, Niman Ranch pays their farmers DOUBLE what commodity farmers get.

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The farm we toured was 120 acres and absolutely beautiful. I loved watching the pigs and piglets – and from the level of attention they received, it was obvious how much pride and joy Niman Ranch takes in providing humane care for its hogs. Fun fact: Pigs love the mud because it cools them down! 🙂

At Niman Ranch, the piglets stay with their moms for five weeks before they are weaned, and they participate in group lactation with other piglets so when they are weaned, it’s not super stressful. (You also don’t want stressed out pigs because it affects the quality of the meat.) One thing I noticed were all of the different breeds of hogs on the farm – and learned that’s actually desirable for genetic variance. (At commodity farms all of the pigs are the same.) The hogs at Niman Ranch are fed an all vegetarian diet, and they don’t practice tail docking. And while farmers are audited once per year by field agents, they do actually visit up to four times per year to help the farmers with any challenges they may face.

While at the farm, we enjoyed a traditional pig roast, and I had the opportunity to sample all sorts of yummy eats made with Niman Ranch products, including an incredible recipe for Cowboy Beans. I seriously could not stop raving about them! Needless to say, I left ready to create my own ranch-inspired recipe!

These Easy Cowboy Beans use Niman Ranch all-natural bacon (you can use any of their 7 varieties). I used their Uncured Double Applewood Smoked Bacon, which has no added nitrates or nitrites (so hard to find with bacon!), no artificial flavors or ingredients, and is gluten-free. It’s literally pork prepared with water, salt, turbinado sugar (and there is a no sugar variety), and celery powder – that’s it!

Just like I’m all about food products with a short ingredient list, I’m also all about recipes with a short ingredient list! With just six ingredients, including the bacon, this is an easy-peasy one-pot meal that’s just as delicious for lunch leftovers as dinner. The barbecue sauce gives it a nice smoky flavor, while the marinara sauce adds a zesty zing. And with both pinto and red kidney beans, this is a dish not only packed with flavor, but also with fiber and protein!

Since it’s so hearty, these Easy Cowboy Beans can be served as a side dish or the star of the show! I think it works great as both an easy weeknight meal as well as a great crowd-pleaser for potlucks and get-togethers! This dish literally screams fall!

Easy Cowboy Beans Recipe


Easy Cowboy Beans


4 pieces Niman Ranch sliced bacon, cut into bite-size pieces

1 can (15.5 ounces) pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 can (15.5 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

2/3 cup marinara sauce

1 cup barbecue sauce of choice

1/2 small onion, chopped


In a large pot on the stove top, saute bacon with onion until bacon is fully cooked and onion is soft and translucent.

Pour in barbecue and marinara sauce as well as beans. Heat mixture until warm and delicious.

Serve immediately.

I’m so glad that I received the opportunity to visit Niman Ranch and witness firsthand all of the awesome ways they promote sustainable agriculture and humane treatment of their animals. I love that the organization is empowering the next generation of farmers to help them provide high-quality meats across the country. After all, doesn’t everything taste better with bacon?

from Carrots 'N' Cake

Love By The Lake

One year ago… this amazing man became my husband. I couldn’t ask for a more loyal, giving, supportive, devoted, funny, handsome partner, and I love him more each day. I can’t wait to see him hold our baby – what a perfect anniversary present that will be! 

One year later, we spent our anniversary weekend by a different lake, celebrating more love! Our friends Andrus and Susan tied the knot at Smith Mountain Lake on Saturday. There was a little bit of a question of whether or not we could go when I found out the closest hospital was about an hour drive from where we were staying. But my doctor gave us the go ahead, and we brought our hospital bags and car seat with us – just in case!

We rented a condo at Bernard’s Landing for the weekend. A ton of Thomas’s friends from growing up rented condos nearby, so we had a great time hanging out all weekend. The wedding was held just across this field.


On Friday night we went as a party of about 20 to a Mexican restaurant at one of the marinas. It was a good time with lots of laughs and a big ole virgin margarita for me!

Saturday was spent mostly relaxing. We had coffee and PB banana toast for breakfast, went for a power walk, and hung out down by the water.

T played four games of volleyball while I did my best to get comfortable in an old hammock = impossible this pregnant.

I didn’t have much of a lunch because the one restaurant was closed and we didn’t feel like driving out for anything, so I had an apple, a Dang bar, and a handful of snacks throughout the day. The ceremony was at 4:30, so we knew we wouldn’t have to wait long to eat.

After showers and curling irons, we made our way to the ceremony!

They had such beautiful flowers that reminded me so much of our own wedding with all the eucalyptus and muted colors!

Husband and wife!

Husband and wife, one year in!

The appetizers were so delicious, especially because hunger is the best sauce.

We had a seated salad with dates, fresh corn, and spiced nuts and then a buffet of delicious food after dark that I didn’t capture in the dim lighting.


Was one of the best wedding cakes I’ve ever had. It tasted homemade in the best way!

By the end of the night my feet were so swollen (note the emergency shoe change!) and my whole core ached – back and front. It was not my dancing-ist wedding! However T got me on the dance floor for some Despacito 😉 He and his buddies tore it up out there.

We sent off the bride and groom through a sea of sparklers.

I want to end with this beautiful quote that we used in our wedding ceremony a year ago <3

Serving each other is integral to love.

‘Love is mutually feeding each other, not one parasitically living on another.’

Love calls us to abandon ‘the scales that obscure our vision,’ scales of selfishness that obscure ‘our equal humanity.’

Love rejects ‘the notion that we’re ranked rather than linked.’

Love says, ‘I’ll walk with you.’

Love does not keep score and demand, ‘Pay me that thou owest.’

Rather it invites us to say, ‘Please tell me how I can love you better.’

-William Blake

from Kath Eats Real Food

Sauchuk’s Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch

Hi, friends! Happy Monday! 🙂

We had QUITE the epic fall family fun day yesterday at Sauchuk’s Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch – like Sauchuk’s will absolutely become part of our annual activities from now on. It has SO MUCH to offer, and I can’t believe no one ever mentioned it to us before. In fact, we randomly Googled “corn mazes” last weekend and found Sauchuk’s in Plympton, which is less than 30 minutes from our house. How had we never heard of it!?

Sauchuk’s is actually so much more than a corn maze and offers all sorts of fun outdoor activities for the whole family – everything from hayrides and pumpkin patches to zip lines and pig races and more! The “corn box” was probably Quinn’s favorite activity of the day. It’s a big box filled with corn kernels, like a ball pit, and he went in 3 different times!

The corn maze was MASSIVE. One of the employees told us it would take about an hour (or more!) to complete.

Quinn started to lose interest after about 20 minutes, so we wandered around and then escaped through the entrance. FYI: Parts of the maze can get really muddy, so wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.

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Other fun activities: Cow and Bee Trains!

These babies whizzed around the farm. Quinn (and Mal) had smiles on their faces the whole time!

Quinn also loved the zip line, which was various heights (and speeds) for different aged kids. He actually got to do it 3 or 4 times because, when we arrived, there weren’t any lines for the activities.

A quick note about the lines: By the time we left Sauchuk’s at noon, the place was jamming. There were people and lines everywhere. The lines weren’t crazy long, but, if you have a little kid, you know waiting can be hard, especially when there’s so much fun to be had.

Sauchuk’s opens at 9:00 AM on Saturdays and Sundays (and Columbus Day), so I’d get there early to avoid the insanity. Truthfully, on Sunday morning, it really didn’t even pick up until about 11:00 AM, but after that, it was pretty crowded.

Quinn really loved the Apple Blasters, which you had to pay extra for, but everything else was included (besides food) in the price of admission.

We seriously had the best time at Sauchuk’s and can’t recommend it enough. We’ll definitely visit again next year!

Question of the Day

How was your weekend? What fun fall thing did you do?

P.S. If you’ve been wanting to try Atlas Bars, I’m giving away a box of your choice over on Instagram! You can also save 15% on with code CNC, and there’s free shipping on orders over $50!

from Carrots 'N' Cake