May morning after rain

May morning after rain

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Memorial Day Picnic Potluck: Mandarin Pasta Spinach Salad

Gate at Iuka Cemetery (Pratt County)
Memorial Day weekend just isn't the same as it was back when I was a kid. Yes, we still do the annual cemetery tour with my parents, putting flowers on loved ones' graves.
Look closely to see the rainbow in the clouds over Randy's parents' graves at Stafford - 2016
But back when I was a little girl, we sometimes gathered at Lemon Park in Pratt for a picnic before our car caravan to the cemeteries. My Great Aunt Helen and Great Uncle Mike and their family would often meet us there. As a child, I loved getting together, eating homemade favorites and playing on the playground equipment until it was time to go and place flowers on graves of ancestors, some of whom I remembered and some who had died long before I was born.
Jill helping decorate graves in 1988 - Age 2 1/2
At the time, I was blissfully unaware that preparing a picnic meal while also getting flowers ready for Decoration Day was more work for Moms and Grandmas. These days, we usually let a local pizza parlor do the cooking for us. And that's OK, too. But, if you have a picnic or a potluck to attend this Memorial Day weekend, this Mandarin Pasta Salad could be a contender.
True confessions: I think I saw this recipe on Facebook and printed it out a year ago. Sometimes I've wanted to make it, and I didn't have cilantro ... or spinach ... or some other vital ingredient. But this time the stars (and the pantry and fridge) aligned, and it was go-time.

It won't be the last time. Both Randy and I gave it good reviews. I served it as a side dish with grilled steak, but it would be tasty with grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon, too.

If you wanted to use fresh strawberries, blueberries and/or grapes instead of (or in combination with) mandarin oranges for even more spring-like freshness, I'm sure it would be yummy. The dressing could be used on a variety of salad greens.
Whether you're having a picnic at a park, camping out this Memorial Day weekend or are heating up the grill at home, this recipe would add a tasty side dish to your celebration ... or just an everyday meal. It may also make an appearance during harvest this year at our house.

If you try it, let me know what you think!
Mandarin Pasta Spinach Salad
with Teriyaki Dressing

12 oz. box bowtie pasta
4 cups spinach leaves (or spring mix)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup cashews
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1/3 cup rice wine or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup oil

Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. While pasta is cooking, combine dressing ingredients in a jar. Shake well to combine.

In a large serving bowl, combine cooked pasta, the chopped cilantro and the dressing. Just before serving, add all other ingredients. Toss and serve.

  • Use a thicker teriyaki sauce. Kikkoman's Teriyaki Sauce and Glaze works well, as does Panda Express's Orange Sauce. I've tried and liked them both with this recipe.
  • A 50-50 green mix was on sale at my local grocery store. It included baby spinach, baby lettuce, baby greens and radicchio. It worked well in this recipe. 
  • I served the salad with grilled steak, but it would also be good with grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp. 
  • We had leftovers. Even though the nuts and the greens weren't as crisp after sitting in the dressing, it was still tasty. You could add more nuts and greens for a little more crunch before serving the "re-runs!"

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Secret Garden

And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed,
and every morning revealed new miracles.
Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden

It's a secret garden hiding in plain sight. And it's in bloom yet again.

The Zenith Road is our thoroughfare to Stafford and home again. Early in our marriage, we lived in a house right along the road. But until four years ago, we didn't realize there were irises blooming under a grove of cottonwood trees, less than half a mile from that house. 
It was my sharp-eyed husband who first saw them. Every May since then, we subtly slow down as we approach the canopy of cottonwoods, glancing to the west to see if the blooms are back again.
It's like a surprise party each time they return.
As I parked in an old driveway and got out of the car, a pheasant squawked and flew away when I disturbed his afternoon nap. He startled me as much as I did him. After that, there was only the rustle of cottonwood leaves in the wind, accompanied by a bass line of tires slapping the pavement of U.S. Highway 50 only a half mile away.
Every year, I think about who might have planted this bed of irises. There's no concrete foundation, marking where a farmhouse might have been. The field to the west has long been in CRP, the brown grasses of winter still holding on while springtime blooms in this secret garden.
I stopped again as the sun was setting one day last week. The only other witnesses were swarms of mosquitoes who buzzed in my ears and came in for a landing.
Soon, the irises will fade again like the setting sun. But these blooms offer a lesson in appreciating life in the moment.
Last fall, Randy planted irises around our mailbox and near our front door. He knows that purple irises remind me of my Grandma Neelly's backyard, and, more importantly, evoke memories of my childhood. Not many of the irises bloomed this first spring. But to me, he couldn't have offered a more thoughtful gift.
Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message. 
–Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Every Month is Beef Month: Quick Beef & Salsa Skillet

Every month is beef month at our house. But it's Beef Month with capital letters in May. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said so!

I don't need a reason to serve beef. I have a freezer full of it. But I sometimes do need a reason to try a new recipe. Even though I enjoy cooking and baking, it seems I get stuck making the same old, same old when the clock has flown too quickly toward noon and its obligatory meal.

Don't get me wrong: Those old tried-and-true recipes are tasty. They are quick. But sometimes you just need to change it up. This Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet fits those tasty and quick criterion, too. Plus, the ingredients were ones I had on hand in my pantry.

Randy and I are proud to be part of the cattle industry in Kansas. With more than 6.3 million cattle on ranches and in feedyards in the state, Kansas ranks third in the country in beef production. Yes, there are more than twice the number of cattle as people in Kansas!

Kansas has approximately 46 million acres of farm ground. However, not all of this land can be used to grow crops. Grazing cattle utilize grasses and plants growing on more than 15.5 million acres of Kansas pasture and rangeland, which would be wasted if not for ruminants like cattle that can turn those resources into essential protein and nutrients for humans.  Kansas also ranks second in fed cattle marketed, with 4.94 million in 2017. Beef cattle and calves represented 50.8 percent of the 2016 Kansas agricultural cash receipts.  

The product they help bring to market is one that contributes substantially to the human diet. Beef provides 10 essential nutrients, including zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins.

This Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet is just another way to put some of those nutrients on your plate.  Making it all in one skillet saves clean-up time, too -- a bonus in my book!

If you enjoy Mexican flavors, I think you'll like it, too. Team it with a tossed green salad, and you've got dinner. If you try it, let me know what you and your family think!
Quick Beef & Salsa Skillet
1 pound ground beef
1 16-oz. jar thick and chunky salsa - as hot or mild as you wish
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 11-oz. can fiesta corn, undrained
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp. chili powder (divided)
1 1/2 cups biscuit mix
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup shredded cheese

Brown beef in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat; drain fat. Stir in salsa, beans, corn, tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon chili powder. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low.

Stir biscuit mix, remaining 1 teaspoon of chili powder and the milk together until a soft dough forms. Drop by 6 spoonfuls onto simmering beef mixture.

Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover and cook 8 minutes longer. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook about 2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

For more beef recipes, check out the Kansas Beef Council's website.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wowbray: Loving My Library

Free Alerts about Your Library's Newest Books, Movies & Music!

✓ Receive free weekly email alerts or RSS
✓ Discover the latest books, DVDs and CDs
✓ Reserve bestsellers instantly
✓ Enjoy the early notification
✓ Completely private - 100% spam-free
✓ Wildly convenient - view it from home


No offense to my human email contacts, but Wowbray from the Hutchinson Public Library is probably my favorite Wednesday in-box entry.

Wowbray gives thumbnail glimpses of new books coming to the Hutch library and gives me a chance to put them "on hold." It's a good day when a favorite author has a new book coming to the library.

My first "click" is always "Mysteries and Thrillers." After I've perused and clicked my way through that list, I go to "Literature and Fiction." I usually take a quick glance at "Romance," though unless it's a go-to author in that genre, I usually don't do a lot of reserves.

All is well until I get that dreaded message: "You have reached the maximum number of hold requests." It happens after a patron has 20 books reserved. And I understand the rational. But I have to force myself not to go and get my husband's card to "bypass" the system. (For the record, I do not do that!)

Yes, I am that big of a nerd. And proud of it!

As I wrote earlier this year, I decided to sign up for two book challenges. I've been done for awhile, but just hadn't written the blog post yet. I decided I wouldn't overlap any of the selections, so I read different books for each of the challenges.

I don't need a contest to "make" me read. Books have been part of the daily diet for years.
My sister, Lisa, and I share some reading time
With only five books on the Nora Larabee Memorial Library adult reading program in Stafford, I finished it first. I spent my $5 Stafford Chamber Buck prize long ago, but here's my list:
  • Book about Kansas: What Kansas Means to Me edited by Thomas Fox Averill
  • Mystery: Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda 
  • Western: Come Spring by Charlotte Hinger
  • Biography: Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward by Lana Wirt Myers
  • Other: Any Dream Will Do by Debbie Macomber 
The Wichita Eagle/Wichita Public Library's #ReadICT list had 12 different categories. My final book was one published in my birth year. It was probably the toughest category for me - even harder than the graphic novel I was dreading before I began the journey.
For one thing, I decided I wasn't going to plod my way through anything I didn't like. Life is too short, and there are too many good books to waste my time. I chose Ed McBain's The Con Man published in 1957.  The Hutchinson Public Library had it on its shelves - another plus. OK, they didn't really have the original book from 1957 but a re-published version. It is 60 years old, you know!

I have read McBain before, so I figured I'd like this early entry in his 87th Precinct series. I was struck by how much the world has changed in regards to race and women. Characters called people from phone booths, not cell phones. A secretary had a "good-paying job" at $90 a week. Detective The victims had small heart tattoos, and Detective Steve Carella makes a point that not many women visit tattoo parlors. My, how times have changed!
Times may have changed, but my love of books has not. I try to have a book with me if there's any chance I may have a few minutes to read. If I'm along for the ride at the golf course, so is a book. (I do watch and take photos, too. Really.)
Since January 1, I've read 41 books (besides the Bible). I decided at the outset that I would read my challenge books, but I would also read what I wanted to along the way. If my name came to the top of the reserve list for a new Jeffrey Deaver book, for example, and I'd already read my mystery, that was OK. I read it anyway.
If you like mysteries and thrillers with lots of twists and turns, I recommend this book!
The reading challenge nudged me out of my comfort zone. Until the #ReadICT challenge, I would never have looked at the "graphic novel and comic book" category on Wowbray. My parents weren't fans of comic books when I was young, though they never censored anything I wanted to read. Still, I think I still must have a subconscious bias against comic books. And I'm not a super-hero fan either, which seems to be a prevalent theme for graphic novels.
It took several tries, but I ended up making it through The Flying Couch by Amy Kurzweil. It was about three generations of Jewish women, a young Jewish artist (who wrote and illustrated the book), her psychologist mother and her grandmother, a World War II survivor who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto by disguising herself as a gentile.

Another graphic novel I brought home was How To Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You. Randy read it; I did not, even though I'm convinced that Randy's favorite feline, Big Cat, gives me the evil eye.
I don't read many biographies, but the challenge led me to a book about a Kansas poet who lived in a neighboring county nearly 100 years ago, Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward. I ended up using one of her poems to go with some of my photos for my Kansas Day blog post.
Doing more reading than fishing is not unusual for me!

One fringe benefit of the #ReadICT challenge was joining its Facebook page. Other readers post what they're reading, and I've gotten some ideas to put on my "to-be-read list" from their suggestions.

The Stafford library is starting a summer reading program for adults next month. Sign me up!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fishing Trip or Business Trip?

I bought fish coating mix before we went fishing. That could have been why we didn't catch a thing.
Or maybe our onlookers were too loud. No, I don't think that was it. 
They were curious and they may have done a little moo-ing, but they were really more interested in eating.
Maybe the fish were scared away by the bathing beauties.
No, I don't think that was it either. Not many of them chose to get their feet wet that day.
Maybe we didn't catch any fish on our trip to the Ninnescah pasture.
But we can't complain.
It was still a beautiful day.
An inch of much-welcomed rain had the water rushing over the dam.
There was a little breeze to keep us cool enough under a bright sun-filled day.
And even though I didn't catch any fish, I caught a little time sitting in a lawn chair, reading a book.
I got to spend some time with this guy.
It was a work trip .... really. We found the bulls.
The calves looked bigger already since their April 24 arrival at the Ninnescah, and their mamas looked in fine form, too.
Yes, it was a work trip. But it might have been a pleasure trip, too.
Just look at that view. 
We've been moving cattle for the past few weeks. On Monday, we moved the final group to the Rattlesnake pasture. 
The Monday move was the final piece of the puzzle, getting all the cows, calves and bulls to pasture for the summer. 
We never move cattle to the Rattlesnake before May 1. Randy now owns it with his cousin, Don, but the gentlemen's agreement has been in the family for years. This year, we didn't move the cattle until May 7 to give the grass more time to grow after little moisture during the winter and a chilly April.
After the move, the guys got the trailers cleaned out. (I opt out of that job.) The feed truck has been put back in the shed. And the cattle are settling in at their summer vacation spots. Let's hope they eat with just as much fervor as humans at a cruise buffet line.
"Paint" treatment from my camera - After you've taken hundreds of cattle photos, you might look for something new.
Au revior to our bovine friends until our next fishing trip or summer 4-wheeler "dates" to the pastures!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

April Showers Bring Fall Corn?

If April showers bring May flowers, we hope May showers bring fall corn. (And those May showers sure don't hurt the wheat crop, alfalfa or pastures either!)
Randy started planting corn on April 24 this year, later than normal. I took these photos the afternoon of May 2, the second day when our part of the state had the chance of severe thunderstorms. Thankfully, we got 1.40" of rain, but missed the hail, tornadoes and high winds that other parts of the state experienced. It rained Randy out before he could finish the field, but he got done yesterday afternoon.

The rain certainly gave the newly-planted corn a boost. So does the nitrogen fertilizer Randy applies  to promote germination and early growth.
This year, we planted 280 acres of corn, a little less than last year. I'm sure that seems like small potatoes - or small sprouts - to anybody who has circles of corn. Since we are an all dryland farm, wheat remains our primary crop.
On a walk last Friday, we checked out the newly-emerged corn coming up in fields where he'd first planted.
Our walk also took us past a wheat field, where it was starting to head. The 2018 Wheat Quality Council's Hard Winter Wheat Tour was last week. And the 95 participants who traversed the state along six different routes found what we already knew: The 2018 wheat crop is behind schedule. Because most of wheat country has been in a severe drought since last October, the crop is shorter than normal and head size is smaller. 
Friday, May 4, 2018
The Wheat Quality Council's estimate for the 2018 Kansas wheat crop is 37 bushels an acre. Kansas Wheat reports that total production of wheat to be harvested in Kansas is 243.3 million bushels. If realized, this would be about 90 million bushels less than last year's crop and the lowest production in Kansas since 1989.
Monday, May 7, 2018
By Monday afternoon, many more heads were unfurled in the wheat fields.
My eternal optimist reports that the rains late in April and early in May should help some,  especially if we don't plunge right into summer temperatures. However, these days with 85-degree-plus temperatures won't do the crop any favors.