Kansas Sunshine

Kansas Sunshine

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Eagle Has Landed ... And Other Sky Watching

The eagle has landed. But he didn't stay long.

Our prolific July rains were good for fall crops. The downside? The rain generated a bumper crop of weeds. Randy swathed down some weeds in a pasture south of the farmstead last week. A few days later, he noticed the vultures were circling the makeshift "buffet," a collection of small animals that didn't scamper out of the way of the swather quickly enough.
But then he saw a different predator - a bald eagle. Thankfully, it stayed perched on a fence post long enough for me to arrive and snap a few photos.
Then, it soared away and its next perch was in a big old cottonwood tree too far away for my little camera to reach.
We don't often see eagles around the farmstead, and if they do pass through, it's usually during the fall or wintertime. A pair builds its nest at nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge each winter, but it, too, is too far away from a roadway for me to capture a photo.

Both Randy and I have kept our eyes to the sky to catch another glimpse of our majestic visitor. But we haven't been lucky enough to see him again. However, I keep thinking about that eagle and all that he sees as he's soaring through the air over our Kansas plains.

I found this quote:

Don't be a parrot in life.
Be an eagle.
A parrot talks way too much but can't fly high.
An eagle is silent and has the power to touch the sky.
--Author Unknown

It seems the world is mighty loud these days. For weeks, our landline rang from morning to night, touting one candidate and denigrating the next. On the occasions when I watched live TV rather than recorded programming, I rolled my eyes at the political ads. How stupid do these political action committees think we are, I wondered?

But, honestly, my Facebook feed some days is no better.

One person is convinced masks will save us all from Covid.
Another person is sure masks are at the center of a conspiracy to take away our freedoms and, by the way, all this craziness will all be over after the general election.
And vaccines? Oh my! That's a whole other can of worms!

One person wants kids back in school immediately.
Another thinks it will be a disaster.

The talk is endless. It's loud.
And some of us are just weary of the fighting.
We long for some listening - some indication there may be room to examine multi-faceted sides to issues.
So maybe I'll be like the eagle and "touch" the sky. These trips to nature seem to sooth the soul.
The summer skies have given us plenty of reasons to get outside - from daybreak to mid-day to dusk.
Last week, one of my email devotionals - New Every Morning - featured a book by Christopher Maricle, "Deeply Rooted: Knowing Self, Growing in God." Here was the message one day:
The entire spectrum of color is always present in the light all around us. Rain doesn't create rainbows. Rain reveals the colors that are already present in the atmosphere. This color spectrum is usually hidden from our sight and only revealed under special conditions. In the same way, we may have moments of insight and revelation that reveal to us - or at least suggest to us - the presence of the Divine that is often hidden but no less real.
--Christopher Maricle
There's just a hint of a rainbow at the bottom of the clouds.
It went on to ask:

How might you gain new insight into the presence of the Divine today?

Peace Creek lives up to its name!

Maybe the eagle has the answer in its silence and its soaring.
My sunrise tree

Prayer for the Week:
Give me the humility to know that I am a growing work in progress
and the grace and understanding to see the growth in those around me.
Ninnescah River at our Sylvia pasture

***
Note: I've taken these sky photos throughout the summer. They may have ended up on Instagram or in Facebook posts, but they hadn't been featured on the blog until today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Garden Fresh Tomato Quiche

Thickly-cut homegrown tomatoes nestled between a couple of pieces of bread and cozied-up to some salty, crisp bacon and fresh lettuce make for a favorite summer lunch or supper around here. But when Randy deposited another half-full bucket of tomatoes by my kitchen sink, I went in search of another way to use our summertime bounty.

I've made Panzanella Salad a couple of times, and we enjoy that, too. But a Garden Fresh Tomato Quiche was another delicious addition to our summer table and a way to use some of those succulent tomatoes.

I had a homemade crust in the freezer, which sped the process for a noon meal. (This is a link to my sister's Never Fail Pie Crust, which has become the go-to recipe for Jill and me. The pie crust recipe makes 3 crusts total, so I'd banked the extra in my freezer for just such an occasion.) If you prefer to use a refrigerator crust, I won't tell!
After reading through several options, I chose a Taste of Home recipe as the jumping-off point, since that recipe site rarely steers me wrong. Of course, I had to tweak a few things to make it my own.

The original recipe called for dried thyme. I prefer dill, so I substituted that spice. If you have fresh dill,  basil or thyme, you could use fresh herbs instead. It always takes more fresh herbs for a recipe if you're substituting for the dried version.

Thinking of our favorite BLTs, I also sprinkled the bottom layer of cheese with some already-crisped bacon bits - real ones, of course. You could fry your own or, if you had some leftover ham in the fridge, you could add it for your meat-loving diners.

My pie shell was smaller than 10 inches. With the addition of the bacon and the smaller crust size, I couldn't squeeze all the egg/cream mixture in. I saved some of that mixture in a lidded jar and cooked it separately another day. Even though I retained some of the liquid, a little of the egg mixture floated onto the crust. But it just added a little extra "gold" around the edge of the pie. But try not to overfill the crust because you don't want a mess in your oven!

After it was golden and brown, I served the quiche with additional sliced tomatoes and vinegar-soaked cucumbers, also from Randy's prolific garden. The onions in the quiche and some fried potatoes were additional bounty from the garden.

If you try it, let me know how you like it!
Garden Fresh Tomato Quiche
Adapted from Taste of Home
1 unbaked 10-inch pie crust
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup chopped onion
4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped and drained
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried dill
2 cups (8 oz.) fiesta cheese, shredded (or use sharp Cheddar or Monterey Jack, if you prefer)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
Bacon or ham (optional)

Par-bake your pie shell at 425 degrees for 5-7 minutes until the bottom is lightly browned. BEFORE baking, put pie weights in the bottom of the crust to prevent the crust from puffing up or sliding down the side of your pan. Cover the edges with pie shields before baking. Remove from oven.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute onion in butter until tender. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and dill. Cook over medium-high heat about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat. I still had a fair amount of liquid, so I did a quick drain of the tomato mixture with a colander to remove additional moisture.

Sprinkle 1 cup cheese into the bottom of the par-baked pie shell. Cover with tomato mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

In a small bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Beat in cream. Pour into pie shell.

If you haven't already covered your crust with pie shields, do so before baking. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees. Bake 40 minutes longer or until top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe notes:
  • After putting 1 cup of cheese in the bottom of the pie pan, I sprinkled with packaged real bacon bits. You could also add leftover ham, if those at your summertime table prefer some meat in their main dish!
  • If possible, use a deep-dish pie plate and crust to get all of egg-milk mixture in the pan. Don't overfill or you'll have a mess in the oven. If you aren't able to pour in all the liquid, refrigerate the leftovers to use in a small tart or other application another day.
***
Need other ways to use tomatoes while they're plentiful this summer? Try these other County Line-tested options:



Thursday, July 30, 2020

Dizzy

"I'm so dizzy, my head is spinnin' ..."

It could be a dust-provoked headache generated by old newspaper clips and a basement storage room that hadn't seen the business end of a dust rag for quite some time. Or it could just be from the seemingly never-ending task of deep cleaning and purging.

For those of you who weren't fortunate enough to be around when Tommy Roe released his song, "Dizzy," in 1969 (insert slight sarcasm here), it's a line from that hit, which occupied the No. 1 slot for four weeks.

I liked the song well enough that I forked over some cash for the album of the same name. As I've been sorting and cleaning in the office, I found the album occupying some real estate among the predominantly Barry Manilow and Carpenters discs:

I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning
Like a whirlpool it never ends
And it's you, girl, makin' it spin.
You're makin' me dizzy



Of course, I have no turntable these days, so I had to pull it up on YouTube.

And the piles of paper (and other stuff) I've sorted and Randy has carried out of the house is "dizzying" in itself.

As I was going through yet more file cabinets and boxes crammed with dusty newspaper and newsletter clips, I texted my kids. In all honesty, I was feeling a little blue.
This is hard, I told them.

They didn't "know" me as a newspaper writer, and later, as an editor of the Focus (lifestyle) section, I told them. Brent was a baby when I quit the full-time commuting, and Jill was almost 3. I wrote a twice-a-month column, "At Home with Kim," for The News for several years when they were small. I also freelanced for a public relations firm in Hutchinson, writing copy for several quarterly newsletters. (These were in addition to the Stafford Main Street newsletter and The Messenger, the church newsletter which I am still doing when there's not a pandemic going on.)

But I hired a babysitter when I'd go for interviews for the newsletters, and I did most of my writing when the kids were in bed at naptime or the evening.

As I looked through story after story, I realized my kids just saw me as a Mom, and later, as a part-time school secretary and community volunteer.

I wouldn't change any of that. My most important job ever was being a Mom, and the other roles dovetailed nicely with that mission. But before I tossed all of the articles, I wanted them to know that I was pretty good at the newspaper/writing gig, too. I won plenty of state awards and even a few national awards for writing and editing.
Both of them acknowledged my difficulty in tossing things. (They both know I'm sentimental.) Here's what Jill had to say:
... Just because you're throwing away the physical reminders of your work at The News doesn't take away from the achievements you had and the hard work that went into it. ..."
Brent echoed:
... I agree that you should take pride in what you accomplished and the people and stories you amplified. It's good to know and remember. Throwing out a box of papers doesn't take away from that."

How'd they get so smart?

During one of our phone conversations, Brent asked me about what stories brought back the most memories.
One was from the first fire I was ever sent to. It's not because it was an award-winning story, but because it was my first venture into "hard" news. I had been hired as a lifestyle reporter. However, with a management change, all of us had to cover breaking news, community meetings, etc. It was one of the first times I had a front-page byline back when I was still Kim Moore. But I would have gladly given that up to skip covering the fire. The homeowner escaped, but her two dogs perished in the fire. I went to the car afterwards and cried.
Another front page article was a sidebar to a national story when the Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986. With the afternoon paper still to go to press, I remember watching the TV and can still feel the intensity as the whole newsroom scrambled to write stories. The Hutchinson News was in a unique position because of the Cosmosphere, a museum on the Kansas Plains - an unlikely place for a Smithsonian-affiliated space museum.

I interviewed a Goddard science teacher who had been in the running for the Teacher in Space job that eventually went to Christa McAuliffe. I talked to both he and his wife by telephone about their impressions of McAuliffe during the workshops and pre-flight receptions. Even that day, he was ready to apply to be in the next teacher in space.
I uncovered a series of stories I did on the Amish and Mennonites in the area. I was invited into several of their homes and discovered a world much different from my own.
There were hundreds of colorful food pages and other food-related stories like Cook of the Week. I wrote the stories, but The News had a talented graphic designer at the time named Karen Scott. As the Focus editor, I enjoyed working with her to brainstorm ideas and produce quality pages every Wednesday.
For one of those food pages, I earned a runner-up finish in the national Golden Carnation Awards Program for nutrition writing. My managing editor told me I should go to the awards ceremony during the International Food Media Conference in New York City. I stayed in the hotel at the World Trade Center back in 1987, long before 9-11. It was quite an experience for a small-town girl from Kansas, and I later wrote about it for a column.
 
I met First Lady Nancy Reagan (and I have the picture to prove it) when I attended a American Press Institute seminar in Reston, Virginia, for lifestyle editors, shortly being named the Focus editor. (The managing editor at the time told me he wanted to move me from hourly as a reporter to salary as an editor so he didn't have to pay me overtime any longer. This was before kids, and I was still working on a work-life balance, I suppose.)
After I "retired" from The News, I did some freelance writing for a public relations firm in Hutchinson. I wrote the copy for Wesley Towers, a retirement community in Hutchinson from 1988 to 2014. (I remember Randy had to go with me to the first set of interviews because I was still breastfeeding, so I had to take some timeouts in the schedule. TMI?)

My favorite series for Wesley Towers was interviewing World War II veterans for a story that ended up spanning several issues. It required numerous interviews with our nation's heroes, as well as a lot of reading and research. I then wrote a series of stories, which became a living history lesson for me. So was a story about residents who had celebrated their 100th birthdays and a series about residents with Hutchinson businesses whose children had carried on the legacy and were still operating on Main Street and other storefronts in the community.
I wrote the Newton Medical Center Connection newsletter from 1989 to 1996 and for United Methodist Youthville's Crossroads from 1992-98, plus other articles assigned infrequently by the PR firm for AgTrax, the Kansas Area United Methodist Foundation, Training and Evaluation Center of Hutchinson and others.
As I was going through my piles of clips I'd entered in the Kansas Press Women contest through the years, I ran across this artwork:
So, yes, at the heart of it all, I was still a mom at the core.

And you know what? My kids are both pretty good writers, too.

(This post is more for me, so that there's some record - somewhere - of my writing career ... since I threw away most of this stuff - SIGH!) Maybe the soundtrack should have been "Memories" - not "Dizzy.")

We've lost count of all the trips to the trash pit, and I also sorted through some other tubs and boxes in the basement, plus did a long-overdue closet purge. Randy and I had dental hygiene appointments before harvest, and we ended up taking both the car and pickup to Hutchinson so that we could leave the car at the shop.

We filled both vehicles with goodies for Goodwill. I texted my family:
"Is it bad that my treasures filled up all the bins at Goodwill?"

I guess it was bad for the car in line behind me, but it's good for my basement storage area, and my kids are thrilled that I've gotten rid of some stuff. Thanks Covid-19? Hmmm ... I'm not sure I will go that far!

True confessions: I haven't done much (any?) sorting since harvest. Maybe posting this is my motivation to get started again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Imagine Your Story

I got a text from my husband last week after he checked the answering machine:

"Congrats. You are a summer reading winner at the Hutchinson library. You read the most books. You get a sticker book."

A sticker book? Didn't I enter the adult division of the contest, I questioned myself?

As it turns out, that was just Randy's attempt at humor. Instead, I got a book bag and book light with the logo, "Imagine Your Story," along with a hardcover book they selected.

It may not have been a trip to the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty. (One sister evidently still has some unresolved issues from my elementary-school prize from the summer reading program at Pratt Public Library long, long ago.) But even if I'd won a trip to something fun like that, it likely would have been canceled this year anyway in the wake of Covid-19.

Imagine Your Story.  My story includes a whole lot of reading.

As I've been digging through boxes this summer, I found a prize from what I'm guessing was my first reading award. It was a book by Robert Louis Stevenson.
When Kinley was here, I showed her the inscription on the inside cover:
Since Kinley had just finished second grade, I thought she'd be interested. Yes, "once upon a time," Grandma Kim liked to read just as much as Kinley does! (Grandma Kim still likes to read, but that's not a surprise to either of the girls.)
This was how I looked on the first day of 2nd grade. I probably didn't look a whole lot different at the end.

Earlier, when I'd weeded out books on the office shelves, I found a couple of other books awarded as year-end reading prizes. I got "Best Friend" for reading 166 books in third grade and "Anne of Ingleside" for reading 47 books as a 4th grader. (I guess I was a slacker in 4th grade or the books got longer - probably the latter.)
Kim's 3rd Grade Class - Byers Grade School

As you can see, I didn't have to "beat out" too many readers in the third grade at Byers Grade School.
My fourth grade class dwindled to three people. (So you can take my award-winning ways for what they are worth!)

The following year, when I was a 5th grader, Byers joined Skyline Schools, a rural consolidation. Either books weren't awarded as year-end prizes or I was no longer the "champion" reader. I'm kind of guessing it was the former.

Just for a little perspective: I also found some report cards and notes from the same teacher who awarded the reading prizes. She sent math flash cards home over the summer, with a note to my parents that I needed to practice my math skills. So I certainly wasn't winning any math awards in grade school (or high school, for that matter)!
I thumbed through "A Child's Garden of Verses" this week, looking at the illustrations. I found a couple that help explain why I love reading so much, I think.
Reading can transport us away from our everyday lives. I'm someone who pictures the scenes in my head as I read. Even during Covid-19, they can take us far, far away.
They can help us think "Happy Thoughts."

We all could use a little of that, don't you think?

***
Several times this year, I've posted some book recommendations. I posted this same recommendation on Facebook last week, but for those who aren't my Facebook friends, I'll repeat it here. I always love finding a new-to-me author who already has several books published.
Steve Cavanagh is my discovery this summer. I've read three of his books already - The Plea, The Defense and Thirteen. My library is fresh out his books, so I ordered a couple more via a used book site.

The series features a con man turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. I would call them a combination of mystery, thriller and courtroom drama. With an excess of July rain, Randy has enjoyed reading them, too. We both highly recommend the series. (I am a much better reader than golfer!)

I also recommend this book by Robert Dugoni. It was one of my favorite books from last year, but I don't think I ever shared it here. It's a coming of age story about a boy with a rare eye condition that makes him look different from everyone else. It's about prejudice and friendship - two things that are certainly in the forefront this summer as well. It will make you think.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Baked Monte Cristo French Toast

Somehow, a chain restaurant didn't make the cut for Taste Atlas' Top 6 Monte Cristo sandwiches. I think Bennigan's in Wichita was the only place I ever personally tried this sandwich. (Bennigan's is no more in Wichita, so we're outta luck - at least, at that restaurant.)

A variation appeared on The County Line table when Jill's family visited during wheat harvest. The day before, I had prepared a spiral ham, so I knew I needed ways to use the extra meat. The Baked Monte Cristo French Toast recipe was in my "to-try" pile, so it was perfect timing to begin the day with a hearty breakfast. 

Taste Atlas describes it as: "an American sandwich consisting of two slices of white bread filled with a slice of cheese, ham and turkey or chicken meat. The combination is dipped in beaten eggs and fried in butter, resulting in a delicious, calorie-packed concoction that is crispy on the exterior while tender and custardy on the interior."

What's not to like, right?

That website says the first Monte Cristo was served in the 1950s in southern California, but some people claim that the sandwich is just a variation on the classic French Croque Monsieur.

What's Cooking America's website says the croque monsieur was originated in a Paris cafe in 1910 and consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter. This sandwich is still a popular snack or casual meal throughout France and Switzerland in most bars and cafes.

Many American cookbooks, published in the 1930s to 1960s, featured this sandwich under different names such as French Sandwich, Toasted Ham Sandwich and French Toasted Cheese Sandwich. Although there are no existing documents to support the claim, it is believed that the Monte Cristo Sandwich was first served in southern California in the 1950s.

Then, in 1966 at Disneyland in Anaheim, it appeared on their menu of the Blue Bayou and Tahitian Terrace restaurants in New Orleans Square and has continued to be a popular menu item to this day.
The recipe originator - Favorite Family Recipes - used a boysenberry syrup. I had blueberry syrup on hand, so we used that. You can also fruit jam - rather than syrup - for dipping.

Baked Monte Cristo French Toast
From Favorite Family Recipes
1 loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch slices
8 tbsp. whipped cream cheese
1/2 lb. deli black forest ham
1/2 lb. deli turkey
1/2 lb. Swiss cheese
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
Powdered sugar for dusting
Fruit syrup or jam

Place 7-8 slices of French bread in the baking dish, trying not to over-crowd and squish too much. Spread cream cheese over each slice of bread, then layer on ham, turkey, and Swiss cheese.
Top with remaining slices of French bread (making "sandwiches").

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Pour over bread and let sit for 5 minutes. Turn bread over and cover pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or even overnight. (I refrigerated it overnight.)

Drizzle melted butter over the top and bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Dust with sifted powdered sugar over the top. Serve immediately with syrup or jam.

I also served with fresh fruit.

***
If you're looking for a more savory way to use leftover ham, try this Ham & Cheese Quiche recipe.
Plantation Turkey is a favorite recipe from a contest sponsored by The Hutchinson News. Despite its name, it also uses diced ham. (I've gotten better at food photos since I took this photo in 2011; however, the recipe is one we usually have if there's leftover ham in the fridge.)