April Showers

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Easter Brunch: Quiche & Sweets

Don't you love a recipe that can be used for any meal? Or for a holiday breakfast or brunch? This Cheesy Ham and Veggie Quiche will have your family hopping to the table for Easter breakfast or brunch.

Ham is often the centerpiece of an Easter meal. But even if you're not hosting a huge Easter dinner this year, a quiche featuring ham still gives you the holiday flavor you crave. And, if you plan a big ham meal with all the trimmings for after church on Sunday, there will likely be leftovers. This quiche is a delicious way to use up leftover ham in a way that doesn't say "re-run."

However, this quiche doesn't have to wait for a special occasion or holiday. It's tasty at any meal. I'm a big believer in breakfast for supper. Or breakfast for dinner. This quiche made its first appearance for dinner, which, at our house, is 12 noon. My house, my rules, though my kids and grandkids don't see eye-to-eye with me on the terminology.

Anyway, I served the quiche for our noon meal. And then Randy ate leftovers for breakfast the next day. And we still had enough for a supper serving for him as well. Bonus! (And, thankfully, my husband doesn't turn up his nose to leftovers.)

I used homemade pie crust, but you can just as easily use pie dough you find in the refrigerated case at the grocery store. For one of my parents' Christmas gifts, I make homemade pies for their freezer. (This year, they got three blueberry, three cherry, two apple and one peach). My sister's never-fail pie dough recipe makes three crusts. And when all was done from my marathon baking day, I had enough pie crust "leftovers" to roll a couple of extra crusts and stick them in the freezer for another day.

I labeled them for home use, since they'd been rolled out twice and had more flour incorporated. But one of those crusts came in handy for this quiche.
The original recipe didn't call for any vegetables. I chopped enough onion, broccoli and colored sweet peppers to make 1 cup and microwaved the veggies to soften them. That added some additional flavor, nutrition and color to our meal.
 I served it with Apple Almond Crunch Salad, which would also make a delicious accompaniment to your Easter meal.
After you've checked out the quiche recipe, keep scrolling for some Easter treats at the bottom of this post.

Cheesy Ham and Veggie Quiche
1 unbaked pie shell
1 cup diced fully-cooked ham
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Chopped broccoli, onion and colored sweet peppers to equal 1 cup

Put vegetables in a microwave-safe bowl or mixing cup, cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave until tender, about 4 minutes. No extra water is needed. Cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put unbaked pie crust in pie plate; do not prick. Line pastry shell with foil. Fill with pie weights, dried beans or uncooked rice. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove foil and weights. Bake 3 to 5 minutes longer or until bottom is golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Beat eggs and add half-and-half, mixing well. Add salt and pepper. Stir in cooled vegetables.

Put ham and cheese in the bottom of the pie crust. Pour egg mixture over the ham and cheese. Cover pie crust edges with foil or pie shields. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before cutting to serve. Makes 6 servings. That day, I served it with Apple Almond Crunch Salad.

Other Easter Treats

If you do have Easter gatherings to attend or serve, here are some fun ways to celebrate:

Lemon Buddies (Add Easter M&Ms to make it full of holiday fun and color.)
Use Easter M & Ms for an easy-to-do-with-the-kids treat

 Try these Blonde Brownies
Happy Easter to you and yours!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow ... and So Does Wheat

As Randy and I walked into a field last week, I had an old childhood song tumbling around in my head. (By now, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that I have an on-going sound track in my brain):

Oats, peas, beans and barley grow.
Oats, peas, beans and barley grow,
Oats, peas, beans and barley grow,
You or I or anyone know how oats, peas, beans and barley grow.

First the farmer plants the seeds,
Stands up tall and takes his ease,
Stamps his feat and claps his hands,
And turns around to view his lands. ...
(For the whole thing and the actions, click here.)

Of course, there's a little more to farming than stamping your feet and clapping your hands. But our oats are growing.

Randy planted oats in an old alfalfa field the third week of March.  In April, the field is looking greener all the time, as the newly-planted oats take hold among the old alfalfa plants.
While the old childhood song doesn't talk about wheat, here in Central Kansas, it's growing, too. Our crop is thinner than it often is by this time of spring. And we don't have as much planted as we usually do. (More on prevented planting here.)
Though wet fields kept us from planting a third of what Randy had planned last fall, the downward trend in wheat acres is not exclusive to us.
This year, the Wheat State is nearing a 100-year low for acres planted to Kansas' most famous crop. Wheat acreage was down significantly in 2017 and 2018. Last year’s 7.7 million wheat acres hit the lowest point in 60 years.
Low prices and a wheat surplus moved farmers away from the Kansas staple. This year, those problems - combined with a delayed fall harvest and unfavorable weather - will push wheat acres to what could be the lowest point in a century.

Abandonment of wheat acres will be higher than the normal 10 percent because many stands, especially in North Central, Central and South Central Kansas, are poor because of wet and cold weather, experts say.

Unplanted acres that were meant for wheat won’t stay that way. Most farmers will plant the fields to corn, soybeans, grain sorghum or other fall harvested crops. We are among those who'll be planting more corn acres than we normally do because rain kept us out of some fields last fall. We got started with corn planting yesterday.
While recent surpluses and low prices have driven Kansas farmers away from wheat, a report from a former Kansas State University Extension wheat marketing specialist outlined that Western Kansas farmers have been losing money on wheat for some time. Bill Tierney, who now works as a market analyst for Ag Resource in Chicago, authored the report using data from Agri Benchmark. Participants in the Agri Benchmark network use standard procedures to best replicate the “standard” farm in their country or region. 

The data used by Tierney compares wheat growers in Western Kansas to those in Australia, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and more. (For the record, we are in Central Kansas.) The study looks at cost of production, yield and prices for the average farm in each country from 2013 to 2016.
The study data shows that while Western Kansas enjoyed one of the highest prices for wheat — at around $5.41 per bushel at the time of the study — it also had one of the highest average costs of production over the four-year period at $5.69 per bushel. 

But with lower average yields and higher costs of production, the report notes that from 2013 to 2016 the average Western Kansas wheat producer lost around 12 cents per acre — before low prices and unfavorable weather hit. (On Monday, the price at Sublette Co-op in western Kansas was $3.85. Yes, the price of wheat has gone down that much since the study. Sad but true. The cost of inputs would not have gone down that much.)
Vance Ehmke,  who sells certified seed in Western Kansas, said he doesn’t expect Kansas farmers to stop growing wheat. As there is less wheat, he expects prices to rise. Those prices could get very interesting in 2019, he said.

"A wise old man once told me that there is a reason why wheat goes to $6," Ehmke said in a news article earlier this year. "You ain't got any!"

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Reminder at Dawn

A whisper of color lightened the dawn sky as I filled my coffee cup. It reminded me of a Chris Tomlin song I'd heard on K-LOVE.

Morning, I see You in the sunrise every morning
It's like a picture that You've painted for me
A love letter in the sky
Nobody Loves Me Like You by Chris Tomlin

During Lent, Pastor Nate has been preaching a sermon series, Reconnecting with an Unhurried God. I admit it: Too often, I grab my cup of coffee and march down the stairs to my office to start the work day.
But yesterday morning, I took time to peruse God's "love letter in the sky." So I drove to the sunrise tree. Then, as the sky shifted for the grand reveal at sunrise, I stood in the cool breeze, with the birds singing, and the sky changing moment by moment. And I was again reminded of that call to an unhurried life during this season of Lent.
Last Sunday, Pastor Nate left us with this benediction:

Blessing for the Unhurried Life
May you notice creation around you
and how effortlessly it passes the time.
May you see the passing of time
as a friend, with all its fast and slow.
May you find delight
in the season of “right now.”
And may you be reacquainted each day
with an unhurried God
who is calling you to dive deeply into love.
Later in the morning, Randy and I walked down our dirt road. The fragrance of blooming shrubs decorating the ditches filled the air with fragrance.
Today, winter is set to give a final hurrah ... or what we hope is its last gasp.
So the blooms on the trees and the tender spring flowers will likely fall victim to the freezing temperatures that blasted into the state with a northern wind overnight.
You do not ask us to go back to some yesteryear,

but to take time to smell the roses, savor the twilight, bask in the sun.

We are your children, created to flourish along with all of creation.
From Reconnecting with an Unhurried God

So, I will enjoy the blossoms as they bloom.
And I'll celebrate the beauty that is there for the taking, if only I invest the time to see it.
It's a reminder to treasure the small blessings every day.

 Check out this song by Chris Tomlin.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Birds and the Bees (and Other Sticky Topics)

Randy has a secret to wedded bliss: Instead of expecting me to remember numbers while sorting cows and calves, he prepares a "cheat sheet."

I am notoriously bad at numbers. Give me words any day.
My eyesight is also not the best, even with my ever-present glasses.

But if I have something in black and white that I can hold in my hand, things will go much more smoothly ... for everyone involved. (For the uninitiated, BWF means black white face.)
In a pinch, my hand works, too. (I didn't take the photo of my hand with manure on it. You're welcome.)

But at least my hand wasn't where Randy's was during this particular cattle-working adventure. We needed the list of numbers so that we could sort out four cows that hadn't yet calved and one mama whose baby had died.

Most of our mama cows have already had their calves. So Randy wanted to see if the stragglers were pregnant. After hauling them to the working chute, Randy gloved up with a plastic sleeve and did the exam.
I had to hold the end gate up on the working chute so it didn't inadvertently come down and hit Randy in the head.
All four ended up being pregnant.

We sent them into another pen to await the arrival of their calves. And, in fact, two of them had their calves a couple of days later. The cow whose calf had died was taken to the Pratt sale barn.

For a cow-calf operation, pregnancy is the goal. So the bulls also had a doctor's appointment. This time, Dr. Bruce Figger came to conduct what's euphemistically called a "bull soundness exam (BSE)." In other words, is the bull up for the job that is to come this spring and summer?
 "You're going to do what kind of test?" Mr. Bull appeared to be asking.

A BSE has three components:
  • Scrotal circumference is highly correlated with semen output and serving capacity. 
  • A physical exam is performed to simply ensure that a bull is physically up to the challenge of the breeding season. Are his feet and legs structurally correct? Is he free from injury and/or infection?
  • The veterinarian then examines the bull's semen to determine if the sperm cells are normal. After getting a sample, Dr. Figger smeared a sample on a slide and looked through the microscope.
With the first look, he was testing the semen for motility, its "swimming" ability to travel to the cow's egg.
Then he smeared the slide with a dye, which killed the sperm. He could then look at morphology, the shape of the sperm. He was looking for abnormalities in the shape, which could indicate a problem with the ability to breed.
Microscope photo credit to Dr. Bruce Figger
The sperm in the upper left is healthy and correct. The sperm nearer to the light is not healthy. The bulls he tested were all fertile.

After the fertility tests, the bulls were each given vaccinations to keep them healthy during their summer in the pasture. It's similar to giving our children vaccinations for their optimal health. Their vaccinations prevent blackleg and BVD, a respiratory disease in cattle.
He also applied a pour-on de-licer.
The bulls are deemed ready for the job, but it will still be a couple of weeks of  "vacation." Then we'll put them to work for their part in creating the Class of 2020.
I agree with most of the bullet points, though at the County Line, we do "fire" bulls for being obnoxious and destructive - especially if that "insubordination" is directed toward humans.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Lemon Bars and Other Tasty Treats

Randy says he doesn't like lemon.

I've never really understood it. If we go out to eat, he's the first one to say, "Water with lemon please." He likes lemonade. So why not lemons in baked goods?

Like I said: He says he doesn't like lemon. But when I had Lemon Bars left over from serving my PEO group refreshments, he didn't shy away from them.

Maybe it's more accurate to say that, given a choice between lemons and coconut, for example, he'd choose coconut.

This may sound sexist, but I think women are more likely to be lemon lovers. My very unscientific research among my PEO sisters would seem to support this hypothesis.   

I've made other lemon bar recipes. But I had never found one that I wanted to label "go-to." Until now! These are based on Food Network star Ina Garten's Lemon Bar recipe. And they are definitely "pucker worthy." Other lemon bars I've made have yielded a grainy lemon filling. But this one was smooth and velvety.

The bars use a whole cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice, plus the zest from those lemons. Substituting bottled lemon juice just won't yield the same flavor and burst of freshness. I probably should invest in a newfangled lemon juicer. But every time I use the glass one, it reminds me of my mother-in-law, Marie. It's from her kitchen, and she used it to make a whole lot of cherry limeades in the summertime. Plus, since my husband prefers other flavors, I don't know that it's worth adding another kitchen gadget to my stash.

Besides the tart lemony filling, these bars also have a crisp, buttery crust.

They aren't the easiest bar cookies to cut and serve since the lemon filling is not overly firm. I found it beneficial to use a wet paper towel to clean off my knife after I made each slice. They will probably leave a sticky residue on your guests' fingertips, but I didn't hear anyone complain.
Lemon screams "spring" and "summer" to me. So this was the perfect addition to a cookie tray for my PEO friends.

I should have taken a photo of the whole tray, but I neglected to do that. The centerpiece of my cookie offerings was a tray of decorated sugar cookies made and frosted to honor our Stafford BK PEO chapter's 98th birthday.
I used the same sugar cookie recipe I'd used for Kinley's Kansas Day sunflowers. (Click here for the recipe. It has become my go-to sugar cookie recipe.)

Never one to underachieve, I also made these tried-and-true recipes from my files for my cookie platter. Since I'd spent so much time making and decorating the sugar cookies, I chose easy bar cookies and my go-to macaroon recipe to fill out the platter.

And you can't have a cookie platter without a little chocolate, right?

This time, I used mini M & M candies on part of the batter for some color for the platter. I used mint M & Ms on the other half for their green color and spring-like flavor. However, you need to store the mint brownies separately until you are ready to serve (and if you have leftovers). If you don't, the mint will permeate all the cookies.
Click on the link for more variations. You can make one batter with multiple flavors - a bonus timesaver!

I recommend all these recipes if you're looking to add a cookie tray to your Easter table. They can all be frozen and then assembled for serving.

Lemon Bars
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten
1 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 tsp. salt

6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (no substitutes), about 6 medium-sized lemons
1 cup flour
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust: Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light. Combine flour and salt, and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter mixture until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9- by 13-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/4-inch edge on all sides. (You can line the pan with parchment paper and lift the entire recipe out of the baking pan to cut.)

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes until very lightly browned. Let cool on wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the filling: Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and flour. Pour over the crust, and bake 30 to 35 minutes until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature. Cut, cleaning the knife between each cut with a wet paper towel. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. If you put the lemon bars in the freezer, you may want to use additional powdered sugar before you serve.