Thursday, September 30, 2010


I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha'n't be gone long. You come, too.
Robert Frost

Randy's not much of a poet. But he could definitely understand the sentiment of the poem, "The Pasture" by Robert Frost.

We had an evening trip to the Rattlesnake Creek last week, which I suppose is our version of Frost's "pasture spring."

And Randy was raking the leaves - or grasses - off the electric fence. The fence catches debris as it floats down the creek and can knock out the power of the electric fence. Since we'd prefer to keep our cattle in their appointed home-away-from-home and out of the neighbor's pasture, this is a housekeeping chore that must be done from time to time.

Robert Frost did know what he was talking about. However, he was a more successful poet than he was a farmer. His grandfather bought Frost and his wife a farm in Derry, New Hampshire. Frost spent nine years there, farming and writing. He didn't do so well with chicken farming, but I guess the poetry thing worked out pretty well.

I think Randy will have to keep his day job, since I don't believe poetry is in his repertoire.

His effort did help "the water clear," as Frost would say, on a beautiful autumn evening in Kansas.
Usually, the "wildlife" in the pasture is our herd of mama cows and babies, whose growth over the summer has probably put them in the adolescent phase, rather than toddlerdom these days.

Some visiting pelicans changed the usual landscape until our efforts to get a little closer caused them to take off.

It may not have been our fault. It was approaching sundown, and they may have been returning to their nighttime roost. They flew off in the direction of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

It may have appeared we were following them, but we weren't. Really. We were just taking the alternate route home.

It was definitely worth the detour as we watched the sun set on another beautiful fall day.

I think a return trip through Quivira was just what the doctor ordered. As it happened, I had been having technical issues with uploading photos to the worldwide web.

"I don't know what else to try!" I told my husband when he came in the house before going to the pasture.

My wise husband didn't refer to Frost's "The Pasture," but it was still his advice.

"Take a break and come with me," he said.

After watching the sun set on the day, I think my blood pressure returned to normal and my outlook turned about 180 degrees.

So Robert Frost (and yes, Randy, too) had it right:

I sha'n't be gone long. You come, too.

I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Little Off the Top

You know that feeling when you first get a dramatic new haircut and you wonder if you've made a horrible mistake? You look in the mirror and you hardly recognize yourself. (I am such a stick-in-the-mud that it doesn't happen often to me because I don't change my hair on a whim. But if you've ever lived with a teenage girl, you know what I mean. The simplest of hair trims can be a red-alert crisis.)

That's kind of how I feel when I drive home from the north these days. Our shelterbelt to the north of the house has had a little "taken off the top." Actually, it was more than a trim. The first row of trees has been scalped.

It's all for a good cause, however. Our rural electric company has contracted with some tree companies to trim trees and limbs away from the power poles. The company that worked in our area gave us options. We could have the trees trimmed. Or we could have a row taken out. We opted for removal.

You might opt for removal, too, if you'd experienced what we did three winters ago. We were without electricity for 12 days after an ice storm in December 2007. The best Christmas present that year was getting the electricity back on a couple of days before Christmas Eve.

I know removing the trees along our road isn't going to keep my lights on indefinitely. But I also know there are tree crews trimming all over Ark Valley Electric's service area, using FEMA disaster funds. We can always hope it will help, right?

This is the before picture. You can see the trees in relation to the power pole. There wasn't a lot of wiggle room there for falling branches in an ice storm.

The electric company is also replacing some poles to further strengthen the infrastructure. (Note to self: You need to get your Cat Crossing sign off the pole before it disappears forever.) According to the tree crew, the "R" stands for removal. The yellow stake shows where they will put another pole in its place. (Thank goodness! I will admit I am an electricity addict. Withdrawal for this addiction is agony.)

The crews worked a couple of days sawing down the trees and turning some of them into wood chips and some into firewood.

We have a couple of fireplaces in our house, but we don't burn wood in them anymore. The last time we tried it, we had 25-plus people coming to Thanksgiving dinner and it smoked up the house. (No, it was not my cooking!) No amount of visits from a chimney sweep seemed to fix the problem.

But a neighbor came and picked up the wood and plans to use it at his house, as well as share it with some of his family members.

It really looks different when you drive in from the north these days. And, if you're a regular reader, you know how much I love change (sarcasm alert!).

All the time the tree crew was working, I kept thinking about the shelterbelt that my parents added to the south of my childhood home one summer. My sister and I carried water to the trees and hoed them all summer long. I wondered if some little boy or girl had hauled water and hoed weeds to establish these trees along the County Line to protect the house from the north winds. How would they feel to see their "work" crashing down years later?

But there are definitely some positive sides to the change. We can see traffic coming from the north much more clearly now (Not that there's much, but we do get a little traffic along the County Line).

And I'm still holding out hope that it will help us during the next ice storm.

Honestly, tree trimming and removal probably isn't going to make much impact on ice as thick as we had in 2007.

Power line after power line was gone along the Zenith Road.

Our front yard looked like a combat zone.

It was the same in the back yard.

The electric fence was weighted down with ice. Unfortunately, the electric lines looked like this in places, too.

About the only good thing to come out of the ice storm was the feeling of camaraderie among neighbors and a few amazing photos. There were even a few pretty photos of ice in the trees to contrast with all the destruction.

As much as I love photos like this, I will gladly keep my electric lines, thank you very much.

Just to show them how much I appreciated them, I took pop and cookies out to the crew two times. Come to think of it, did they come back the next day just for my cookies? (No, but they did tell Randy that the cookies sure were good.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall Chill = Fall Chili

A chill in the air equals chili on the menu.

Fall officially arrived on the County Line yesterday. I pulled on a sweatshirt for the first time this autumn when the open windows overnight made for a brisk morning, even inside the house.

So as I was leafing through a recipe book in search of a meal to take to the field for Randy & Jake, chili seemed the perfect choice. Jake is disking ground ahead of Randy drilling wheat. To save time, I have been taking the noon meal to the field. (Let me clarify: To save time for them, I'm taking meals to the field.)

This was a new recipe for me, but it will definitely be repeated. I found it in a Bisquick cookbook I purchased at school several years ago.

I modified it a bit. The original recipe didn't have beans, but I threw in a small can of chili beans and reduced the amount of chili powder. We're not huge fans of ultra-spicy, so I left out the red pepper sauce entirely. But if your family likes spicier chili, it would be easy to bump up the heat with chili powder, hot sauce or jalapenos.

I had more biscuit dough than I wanted to use for the dumplings. I wanted the dough to be well-cooked in the middle, and I wasn't sure how it would cook in the steamy environment. By the time the dough expanded in the chili, I was glad I'd baked four biscuits separately.

Randy liked the dumplings in the chili, but he also enjoyed the crisper texture of the baked biscuits.

I have an insulated carrier that I used to transport the bowls of chili to the field to keep them nice and warm.

It was the perfect meal for a beautiful fall day.

Chili with Corn Dumplings
2 lbs. hamburger, browned with minced onion
1 can (15.25 oz.) whole kernel corn, undrained
1 can (14.5 oz.) stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 small can chili beans
1 can (16 oz.) tomato sauce
2 tsp. chili powder (you may add more if you like things spicier)
1 1/3 cups Bisquick
2/3 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (opt.)
A sprinkle of dried cilantro or parsley, if desired

Brown hamburger with minced onion in 4-quart Dutch oven (or similar pot) until beef is browned; drain well. Reserve 1/2 cup of corn. Stir remaining corn with liquid, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili beans and chili powder into beef mixture. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Mix Bisquick and cornmeal. Stir in milk, cheese and reserved corn just until moistened. (My photo of this step wasn't worth posting - sorry!)

Heat chili to boiling. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto chili. Sprinkle lightly with dried parsley or dried cilantro. Reduce heat to low. Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes. Cover and cook about 10 minutes longer or until dumplings are dry.

The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of red pepper sauce. We don't like things that hot, but you may adjust accordingly. The original recipe also didn't call for cheese in the dumplings, but that was a tasty addition.


Monday, September 27, 2010



Is it bad if you know most Barry Manilow songs by heart?

OK. Don't answer that.

I am not ashamed to admit that I had pretty much every Barry Manilow album produced back in the 1970s. Yes, I said albums. This was before CDs and iPods and digital downloads.

If that's dating me, so be it.

Barry joined Richard and Karen in getting me through my share of teenage angst back in the day. (You know, Richard and Karen Carpenter. I aspired to be Karen Carpenter. Alas, it didn't quite work out that way.)

When I saw the gorgeous sunrise a few days ago, it was Barry's song, "Daybreak," that popped into my head. I have my circa 1976 "This One's for You" album on a shelf in the office, which includes "Daybreak."

But I have no record player to play the album, so I went to youtube to listen to it instead.

Barry didn't disappoint.

Neither did the gorgeous sunrise. Yes, Barry, I DO wanna believe in Daybreak. And with beauty like that, it can't help but make me "shine, shine, shine" - maybe not all around the world, but surely on the County Line and my little part of the world.

I think it's the perfect message for a Monday. Enjoy!

Singin' to the world
It's time we let the spirit come in.
Let it come on in!
I'm singin' to the world
Everybody's caught in a spin
Look at where we've been
We've been runnin' around
Year after year
Blinded with pride, blinded with fear.


But it's daybreak
If you wanna believe
It can be daybreak
Ain't no time to grieve
Said it's daybreak
If you'll only believe
And let it shine, shine, shine!
All around the world.
(Singin' to the world, singin', singin')


Singin' to the world
What's the point in putting it down
There's so much love to share
I'm singin' to the world.
Don't you see it all come around
The feeling's everywhere
We're been closing our eyes
Day after day
Covered in clouds, losing our way.


But it's daybreak
If you wanna believe
It can be daybreak
Ain't no time to grieve
Said it's daybreak
If you'll only believe
And let it shine, shine, shine!
All around the world.
(Singin' to the world, singin', singin')

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sheep Thrills

Ruth Cramer and her winning Governor's Cookie Jar
at the 2010 Kansas State Fair

If you visit the Domestic Arts Building at the Kansas State Fair, there's a good chance you'll run into some familiar faces.

Ruth Cramer is one of those faces. She's been exhibiting at the fair since I was a beginning reporter at The Hutchinson News. I covered my first fair in 1979, so both Ruth and I have been around the block a few times since then.

The 85-year-old grandmother won the coveted Governor's Cookie Jar champion ribbon at the 2010 Kansas State Fair. She's won this prize so many times her family had trouble remembering just how successful she's been.

"How many times has Ruth won the Governor's Cookie Jar?" I asked her son Stan after the ceremony last Friday in which Ruth shook Gov. Mark Parkinson's hand and presented the cookie carousel.

He paused for awhile and said, "I think this is her 3rd time."

He forgot one. Actually, the Hutchinson woman has won the cookie jar prize four times - 1991, 1997, 2007 and 2010. That's a lot of cookies!

Back when I was an editor at The News, Ruth was a frequent entrant to the newspaper's recipe contest. She won prizes in that contest on more than one occasion, too. Let's face it: The woman can bake.

This year's cookie jar was a team effort. Ruth baked 14 different kinds of cookies for the jar. Actually, she made 15 different kinds - the most allowed in the jar - but the 15th one just didn't live up to her standards.

Her son, Stan, constructed the carousel that surrounded the gallon jar. Her daughter, Marilyn, made the carousel animals that "rode" the merry-go-round to victory.

Ruth's neighbors and family had to critique cookies: It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. Ruth, I'd like to volunteer the next time.

The cookies and the carousel all fit the 2010 fair theme: Sheep Thrills. She gave some of her favorite cookie recipes new names to correspond to the theme, for example, "Green Pastures" lime and Brazil nut logs and "Meadow Delights" for her carrot cookies with orange frosting.

The competitors have to include at least one cookie representing these general methods for cookie baking: drop, bar, refrigerator, rolled and molded.

I have had the privilege of judging foods at the Kansas State Fair several times. I've judged a salad dressing contest and Spam contest on more than one occasion. But I only got to judge the Governor's Cookie Jar one time. (I didn't judge any foods events at the 2010 fair.)

If you're not a state fair food contest groupie, you might not know that the quality of the cookies carries the most weight. Cookie quality counts 60 percent, with the outside decorations worth 40 percent.

The fair book also says that the cookies should be mostly visible. I've been standing around the display case at the fair and have overheard visitors speculating as to why this or that particular cookie jar didn't place better.

The outside may be beautiful, but the cookies might be less than perfect. Or an elaborately decorated cookie jar may totally cover up the cookies inside.

But, as usual, Ruth got it all right ... with a little help from her friends and her family.

I've been saving Governor's Cookie Jar cookie recipes for years. Back in Jill's 4-H baking years, Jill's 4-H baking years, we would often use recipes that had been state fair winners. (Check out the recipe for Surprise Middle Cookies by clicking on the link!)

But here are a couple of Ruth's creations I'll gladly add to my own collection:

Meadow Delights Carrot Cookies
with Orange Frosting
1 cup mashed cooked carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup shredded or flaked coconut

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix carrots, sugar, butter, shortening and eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in coconut. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake until almost no indentation remains when touched, about 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately remove from cookie sheet. Cool. Frost with Orange Butter Frosting. Makes about 5 dozen.

Orange Butter Frosting
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. grated orange peel
1 tbsp. orange juice

Mix powdered sugar and butter. Beat in orange peel and orange juice until frosting is of spreading consistency.

Shepherd's Snacks
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
3/4 cup raisins
3 tbsp. orange juice
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. freshly grated orange peel
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups quick oats
8 oz. white chocolate chips
1 tsp. shortening

Soak raisins in orange juice overnight in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter until fluffy. Gradually add sugar and egg along with orange peel. Mix well until thoroughly blended. Combine flour and soda together. Stir into butter mixture. Add raisins and the liquid they were soaking in. Add the oats. Mix well. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes; don't overbake. Cool completely on wire rack. In a double boiler, melt the white chocolate and shortening over a warm temperature. Don't let the mixture get too hot or the chocolate will thicken. (I would personally do this in the microwave. Use reduced power and stir often to make sure you don't burn the chocolate.) Remove from heat once the mixture is smooth and well blended.

Put mixture into a small pastry bag with a fine writing tip and drizzle back and forth over each cookie to achieve a pretty effect. Cool thoroughly. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Outstanding in His Field

Once upon a time, I remember giving my dad a birthday card that said: To a Dad who's outstanding in his field.

You opened it up and there was a farmer standing in his field.

I don't know if any little city girl thought it was the perfect card for her dad, but for my farmer Dad? It was the hands-down choice.

It's probably not nearly as clever as I thought it was back in grade school, but I thought of it every time we went to the field to take a photo of the sudan crop this summer.

My farmer was out standing in his field (and, in my personal opinion, he's pretty outstanding in other ways, too.)

It's been a fun photographic experiment.

This photo was taken August 15. We had gotten 1.10 inches of rain that morning.

This photo was taken August 23. Look at the growth in a week and a day!

Then on September 7, two weeks and a day later, we took this just before Randy started swathing the 2010 sudan crop. At that point, some of it was taller than him.

Randy planted 85 acres to sudan, double cropping after the wheat harvest. The photographic experiment illustrates why he plants sudan: It's a fast-growing crop, which we use to feed during the winter to our cattle.

It's a relatively inexpensive crop to plant, a cost of about $21 an acre ($7 an acre for seed, $5 an acre for fertilizer and $9 an acre for herbicide). Randy estimates it costs an additional $15 per acre for fuel and machinery wear. That doesn't count labor.

We use the same pull-type swather to cut sudan that we use for harvesting our alfalfa hay, though it has to be set differently for this taller, thicker crop.

It chops it off near the ground and leaves it in windrows. Sudan doesn't have grain in the head, one of the differences from the silage that we harvested September 8. So it doesn't have as much protein or carbohydrate as the silage. Randy prefers to use it for mature cows rather than feeder cattle. Cows don't have as high a nutrient requirement as feeder cattle.

So why plant and harvest yet another, different feed for our cattle? For one, we don't have room in the silo to store enough silage to feed our cattle all winter.

And you're heard the saying, "Location, location, location?" Well that's true in farming, too. He planted the silage closer to the silo to reduce the distance it needed to be hauled. He planted the sudan close to a pasture where we'll have mama cows this winter, reducing the distance needed to haul it.

During a four-month hay feeding season, a 1,200-pound cow will consume approximately 30 pounds of hay each day. This means that each cow will require between three and four round bales weighing at least 1,100 pounds.

Sudan doesn't get quite as tall as the silage: You can see how its height compares to the height of the tractor cab.

Sudan isn't quite as sweet-tasting as silage, which has a higher sugar content. And how does Randy know that, you might ask? Yes, he has tasted it. I vaguely remember tasting silage as a kid, too, when my Dad would cut into the stalk and we'd suck on it.

Randy plants a brown midrib variety of sudan, which is more palatable to cattle because it's a little sweeter.
Yes, there are equipment breakdowns in swathing, too. Here he had to "unplug" the sudan from the swather.

So what are the risks to planting sudan (in addition to breakdowns on the swather, of course!)? Sudan doesn't grow well if you don't get rain. We have been blessed this summer with timely rains. If sudan is raised in drought conditions, however, it may be too high in nitrates. If that occurs, we would have had to wait until after a freeze before it could be swathed or grazed to avoid nitrate poisoning in cattle.

Because it's so thick, it takes quite a bit of time to "cure" or to be dry enough to bale. That creates another potential risk. If there's a heavy rain on swathed sudan before it's baled, it can begin to rot, lessening the quality of the sudan.

Randy swathed the sudan on September 7. It was finally dry enough to bale on September 17 and 18. Miraculously, we didn't have any rain on the sudan while it was drying, unlike all the alfalfa hay we had down this summer. I think we got rain on almost all of it. Again, we use the same baler to bale the sudan as we used to bale the alfalfa. In fact, during the same time he was baling sudan, he baled the summer's 4th cutting of alfalfa.

Randy uses an electronic tester on a completed bale to make sure it's dry enough. The probe gets into the center of the bale and determines the moisture.

It should be under 18 percent moisture, with this particular bale reading 14.5 percent moisture.

Randy baled as sundown approached. Sometimes as the dew comes on at sundown, it becomes too wet to continue to bale.

He started the baling process on September 17 and continued on September 18. On September 18 alone, he baled 236 bales. We had a total of 270 bales.

Randy uses an additional layer of net wrap on the outside of the sudan bales to protect it from the elements and to keep the bale together. Sometimes the sudan gets held over for another year before it's fed to cattle. It is harder to find a market to sell sudan, as compared to alfalfa.

Besides swathing and baling our own crop, Randy also did a little custom harvesting for a couple of different neighbors. He charges $15 an acre for swathing and $10 a bale to bale and netwrap each bale.

You can see the moon in the background, just over the bale. Harvest moon, I guess!

The sudan may grow back some. We'll be able to fence off the field and let cattle graze as another fall and winter "dining" option.

So there you have it: Sudan harvest on The County Line!