May Day

May Day

Monday, May 4, 2015

Cleaning House

I can always find something I'd rather do than deep cleaning. But when I cleaned out a storage cabinet not long ago, I came across a forgotten treasure. (That should probably motivate me to do more, but let's be real. It probably won't!)

When Jill and Brent were little, Randy's mom, Marie, made them a finger play glove and several verses. I took them to Topeka, where a second generation can enjoy these handmade, interactive stories.

Marie sewed and decorated the felt pieces. She then attached Velcro to the shapes and to the glove.
Kinley enjoyed taking each of them off as I read the verses.
Some day, Brooke will want her turn, too. (That time is coming quickly, I hear. Even though we just saw them a couple of weeks ago, Brooke has mastered crawling, is pulling up to things and walking around them. Watch out world! More accurately ... watch out Big Sister!)
They don't seem to care that a couple of them are out of season.
Hidden treasures are always in season.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cream of Coconut Cake

I'm not sure whether a coconut dessert has a place at the table for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. (And Cinco de Mayo, coming up on May 5, seems to be the current theme among food bloggers these days.)

But this Cream of Coconut Cake had good reviews at a church potluck dinner last weekend. And, since my husband is a coconut fan, it also got good reviews for leftovers consumed at home. 

When people ask for a recipe, I always feel a little guilty when it starts with a cake mix. But this one is doctored up with some extras, like pudding and coconut. And who can really argue with easy?

It's essentially a poke cake:  When it comes out of the oven, you use a fork and jab it like a maniac on one of those detective TV shows. Then, for even more subtle coconut flavor, pour cream of coconut over the cake. Cream of coconut can be found where you'd find ingredients for mixed drinks. It doesn't have any alcohol. It just has the tropical flavor. A word to the wise: This isn't coconut milk, so keep looking if that's what you find. It's a syrupy concoction that oozes over the cake and gives it delicious moistness. The bottle I found was 21 ounces, but this isn't an exact science. Don't make yourself crazy looking for that exact amount. If it's an ounce more or less, it's still going to work just fine.

Once the cake has completely cooled, top it with Cool Whip. Or make your own sweetened whipped cream from scratch if you're feeling all virtuous. (I wasn't.) Sprinkle with toasted coconut to make it pretty and add a little more flavor and texture.

So, whether for Cinco de Mayo or for a church potluck or to satisfy your coconut craving, this recipe will be the "cream" of the crop.
Cream of Coconut Cake
1 pkg. yellow cake mix
1 pkg. French vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1 1/3 cups water
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 21-oz. bottle of cream of coconut (not coconut milk)
1 tub Cool Whip
1 cup coconut, toasted

In a mixer, combine eggs, oil and water and blend until well mixed. Add cake mix and pudding mix. Blend until smooth. Add flaked coconut. Pour into 9- by 13-inch pan which has been sprayed with baking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven. Using a fork, poke holes all over the cake. Pour the cream of coconut over the cake. Put in the refrigerator to cool. When the cake is fully cool, spread Cool Whip over the cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut to garnish.

Keep refrigerated until serving and refrigerate all leftovers. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Like a Flock of Dandelions

Who needs "Swan Lake" when you can experience Blackbird Ballet?

With a call that's been described as sounding "like a rusty farm gate," the symphony of my Blackbird Ballet may not have Tschaikovsky's staying power in the classical music world. But it is certainly a colorful dance and fortissimo musical rendition.

The past few mornings, the treetops in my front yard have been filled with yellow-headed blackbirds. I was a little afraid I'd landed in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." I saw that movie when I was in elementary school. It may be why I've never liked horror films. Thankfully, they weren't dive-bombing me like in the movie. But they sure raised a racket. 
Randy had seen a bunch around the cattle corrals earlier in the week, and he called from Jake's house to say there were more there. I was headed to the car to drive down there to see them. But I decided I didn't need to leave my yard to experience the yellow-headed blackbird invasion.

They are evidently camera shy like me. They kept to the tippy-top of the trees, singing their little hearts out in a cacophony of noise. They swooped from one branch to branch and tree to tree in a bird-like ballet. 
My friend, Pam Martin, who works as an educator at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms, said they migrate to Kansas in mid-April and leave for the winter in September. Before pairing off and rearing young, they gather in big flocks and often feed at cattle yards. They nest in the cattails at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms.
"We have great flocks of them here at the Bottoms, so many they look like dandelions in the fields."
Pam Martin
I wish I'd thought of that poetic description!

As I've said before, I don't have a fancy camera, so it's hard to get portraits of my winged friends. While I was pointing my camera up to the treetops, I noticed another visitor on a line nearer to the ground. I snapped a photo and also sent it to Pam for identification
She says this guy is a barn swallow - not exactly an exotic visitor. Who knew they were so pretty! They usually dart around so quickly, catching insects mid-air, that I've never seen their pretty plumage. When I'm at the barn, maybe I'm too busy dodging cows to notice the bird's feathers as they swoop over my head.

Pam says, "In Ohio, it was considered good luck to have them next to your barn!"

As good educators do, Pam prompted me to do a little research on my own.
"If swallows nested in farm buildings, it meant well-being and good fortune for the owners. People believed that the presence of these birds protected farm animals from diseases and curses and buildings from fires." 
This barn swallow was on a wire near the barn. Yay for good luck!
I can always use a little bit of luck, well-being and good fortune, especially as we begin three days of working with cattle this afternoon!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Start and Stop

Corn planting for 2015 has been start and stop because of the weather. What else is new about life on the farm?

Randy initially started planting April 11, but we got rain that night and the next day, totaling 1.50 inches. Then, we got another 3.10 inches here at home on April 16 and 17. A week later, April 23, a couple of fields had dried out enough to plant more. But when Randy about got the tractor and planter stuck after moving to another field, he took another hiatus. He started again yesterday (April 28). And, just so there is no question, I'm definitely not complaining about getting rain. I know some parts of the state got little to none.
Wheat is still our primary crop at the County Line. Corn was a primary crop in this area when it was settled. The 6th Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture of 1888 reported that corn was the main crop for Stafford County, covering 48,030 acres. Oats were grown on 10,849 acres, while the winter wheat crop totaled 8,717 acres. Pasture ground was tallied at 13,446 acres. Other crops in 1888 were millet, spring wheat, rye, Irish and sweet potatoes, sorghum, castor beans, cotton, flax, hemp, tobacco and broom corn. Swine outnumbered cattle in livestock. (Information taken from Stafford County History: 1870-1990.)
Randy applies fertilizer to give the seed a boost of energy for germination and early growth.
In some ways, I guess we are returning to Randy's Stafford County farming ancestors' roots by planting corn. However, the corn planted today is much different than the varieties planted 125 years ago.
Today, many farmers plant RIB corn (refuge in a bag) - whether it's irrigated or dryland.

The green-colored seeds have a different genetic make-up and are treated with a different insecticide than the pink-colored seeds. The pink seeds are a refuge for several different insects in a field, giving them a habitat to satisfy EPA rules. Before RIB technology was available, farmers had to plant so many acres in a field to a corn that wasn't resistant to the bugs and the rest of the field could be resistant. With RIB technology, farmers can plant it all at the same time, without changing seed and figuring acreage requirements.
Our planter was set at 18,800 corn seeds per acre. Each $260 bag had 80,000 seeds and plants 4.3 acres. One bag of certified wheat seed costs $15 and plants a little more than 1/2 an acre. A bag of milo seed costs $100 and plants 14 acres.

Before switching to corn three years ago, we planted milo as our row crop. Corn offers a potential for higher yields. There is more drought tolerance built into dryland corn seeds than previously available.
Additionally, corn is Round-Up ready, and milo is not. We have been having trouble controlling weeds in milo. If there are weeds and grasses in the corn, we can spray with Round-Up without harming the growing plants.
We only have 200 acres of corn to plant. Who would have thought it would take 3 weeks to accomplish? (And I'd better not get ahead of myself. We're not done yet!)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Early Departure

When cattle start getting out, it's time to move them to another location. So that's what we did last week, even though conditions weren't exactly ideal for sorting cattle - or walking through lots without losing shoes in the mud.

Thankfully, my favorite farmer assigned me the job where I didn't need a flotation device. I do need to invest in a pair of waterproof boots. (On second thought, maybe the lack thereof led to my plum post. So maybe I'll just keep my ruined tennis shoes handy.)
The heifers got their feet wet, too, as we sorted them from their babies for the ride to the Ninnescah pasture.
Eventually, we got them divided - the babies behind one fence and their mamas behind the other. If ever you need a hearing test, the bawling will clean out your ears.
We take the mamas in one trailer ...
... and the babies in another. This protects the babies from getting stepped on during their chauffeured ride to the pasture.
After they were loaded, Randy sprayed them with an insecticide to keep the flies at bay.
It was a beautiful spring day for a drive.
The old cottonwood tree waved hello at the pasture gate.
Once at the pasture, the mamas and babies were reunited.
The 15 pairs arrived to the party early. They will have the buffet all to themselves until late this week, when we'll take another 55 pair and bulls to the Ninnescah pasture.
Stay tuned ...

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Sky's the Limit

Whether it's sunrise or sunset or the blue expanse dotted with the marshmallow puff clouds of spring, I love sky watching. 
Sunset, April 19, 2015
Friday night, as I was driving home from a birthday party in Stafford, I stopped several times to take photos of the stormy sky. If I would have driven straight home, I wouldn't have gotten wet. But I also wouldn't have witnessed the ever-shifting majesty of the Kansas sky.
Zenith branch of the Kanza Co-op (HDR photo treatment), April 24, 2015
Even though I didn't get any lightning photos, I marveled at the beauty and the power of God's creation. I'm thankful we missed the hail and tornadoes and just got the beauty shots.

I saved a devotional that arrived in my in-box last week from Guideposts. These photos seemed made to illustrate it. 
April 24, 2015, Stafford/Reno County line, looking east
God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.  Genesis 1:31

A Time to Think

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–
the assurance that dawn comes after night,
and spring after winter.
 Rachel Carson
April 24, 2015, Stafford/Reno County line, looking northwest

A Time to Act

Look at the world with a vision magnified by the power of faith deep within you.
Sunset, April 19, 2015

A Time to Pray

Father, today I resolve to be a good steward of our world.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fresh Brussels Sprouts Salad

I have never been accused of being trendy. I just don't think it's part of my DNA.

So imagine my surprise when I saw an article about food trends in The Wall Street Journal. Using Brussels sprouts raw in a salad was one of the food trends pictured in a photo accompanying Sarah Nassauer's article, Here Today, Kale Tomorrow: The Arc of a Food Fad.

And, lo and behold, I had Brussels sprouts in the fridge, ready to use raw in a salad recipe I found on Iowa Girl Eats.

Nassauer writes:
Food trends typically advance in predictable stages. New culinary fashions often appear first in a creative chef's kitchen, at an ethnic restaurant or are invented by the eccentric owner of a small food company. ... Foods like acai, kimchi, kale, coconut sugar, sprouted grains and fancy burgers first became popular this way. In the early stage, almost anything can get a day in the sun. Cricket flour is now being pitched by a handful of small companies as cheap protein. ...
OK, let's not get crazy now. There will be no cricket flour in the County Line kitchen. But Brussels sprouts? I can get trendy for those! 

The fresh taste of the Brussels sprouts is enhanced with salty crumbled bacon and almonds. Red apple and dried cranberries add just the right hint of sweetness. And a homemade warm bacon vinaigrette dressing brings it all together.

This time, I served it with teriyaki-glazed salmon and cheese grits. Yummy! The fresh salad was definitely better than the leftovers, so if you can, just make enough for one meal.
Fresh Brussels Sprouts Salad
(with apples, almonds & bacon)
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
4 slices bacon, reserving fat
Olive oil, if needed
1 tbsp. shallots(or substitute sweet onions)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or white balsamic)
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
1/4 cup whole salted almonds, roughly chopped
1 red, tart apple (like Jonathan, McIntosh or Pink Lady)
2-3 tbsp. dried cranberries

Cook bacon until crisp in large skillet over medium heat. Remove to paper towel to drain. Reserve 3 tablespoons bacon grease in skillet, adding extra virgin olive oil if there's not enough. To the bacon grease over medium heat, add shallots and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and whisk in vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Return skillet to heat and whisk until ingredients are combined, about 30 seconds. Again, remove from heat.

Using a grating blade attachment on a food processor, slice trimmed Brussels sprouts very thin. Put in a large bowl. Crumble cooled bacon. Add to Brussels sprouts, along with chopped almonds, apple and dried cranberries. Pour dressing over the salad. Mix and serve immediately.