Friday, September 30, 2011

S'More Bars

S'More Cookie Bars give you the taste of the campfire without having to light a match. Of course, you will have to light your oven.

Jill and I both spotted this recipe on a Facebook update from Mandy, my cousin's daughter. It was the weekend of the move. After unpacking dozens of boxes, we were taking a break. Jill was on her computer and I was on mine. We had to laugh when we both pulled up the recipe at the same time.

"Mmmmm ... that looks good," we said, practically at the same time.

And we were right. I recently made them for a Nu Lambda potluck. Randy taste-tested them before they went out the door and told me they should stay home, since they weren't company worthy.

But I saw through the ruse. He just wanted them all for himself. Never fear: My Nu Lambda friends left some, and he gladly cleaned up the leftovers.


S'More Cookie Bars
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars
7 oz. jar marshmallow creme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light. Beat in egg and vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until well combined. Divide dough in half. Press half into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan.

Unwrap chocolate bars and place over dough. Don't layer the bars; just break them to fit if you need to. Spread the marshmallow creme over the chocolate bars. With the remainder of the cookie dough, press the dough into "sheets" with the palm of your hand and lay it on top of the marshmallow fluff. Don't worry if the dough isn't covering everything because it will spread as it bakes.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly browned. If the top browns too quickly, cover it with foil for part of the baking time. Cool completely before cutting into bars. If you don't allow them to cool, they will crumble when you try to cut them. Makes 16-20 bars.

For more photos, check out the recipe on Crepes of Wrath, the site where Mandy discovered these delicious bars!

Farmchicks Farm Photo Friday

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Right Recipe

The right recipe is an important tool for any baker.

Getting that right mix of ingredients is equally important when it comes to getting a wheat crop off to a good start. With our region in an exceptional drought, the wheat needs all the help it can get. We try to improve its chances by applying fertilizer as we drill the 2012 crop.

Meal delivery is my specialty. But during these wheat planting days, I add fertilizer delivery to my list of chores.

I take the pickup and trailer to the Zenith branch of the Kanza Co-op to get the next tank load of fertilizer. First stop is the scales, where the pickup and fertilizer trailer are weighed empty. (After it's full, I weigh on again.)

Then I pull into the fertilizer shed, where the co-op worker hooks a hose from the co-op's tank to the trailer.

Then he turns a series of levers to provide the "recipe" that Randy asked for.

The fertilizer is a mix of nitrogen, phosphate and sulfur. This year, we're not adding as much phosphate in the fertilizer mix because it's so expensive. This is the first year we're adding sulfur. According to K-State Research and Extension, sulfur can help increase yields. Per acre, we're applying 20 pounds of nitrogen, 5 pounds of phosphate and 4 pounds of sulfur.

The yellow tank on the drill holds the fertilizer. The starter fertilizer is laid down right beside the planted seed. As the seed germinates, its roots seek out the nitrogen, phosphate and sulfur, establishing a strong root system.

Randy refills the yellow fertilizer tank on the drill by hooking up the trailer that I brought back from Zenith. The "nurse" tank holds 1,000 gallons of fertilizer. Kind of like a big "measuring cup," the tank is marked. That way, Randy can look at the tank to see how much fertilizer he's applied to each landlord's field. The co-op can then bill everyone accordingly.

It means plenty of trips back and forth to Zenith during wheat drilling season. (And it means a hefty bill will soon appear in my mailbox. But we hope it pays off down the road. Time will tell.)

"On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again ..." (Yes, Willie Nelson's song is running around in my brain these days.)

Check out and see how agriculture is affecting 6.5 billion people daily. September 29's Day in Agriculture tells the stories of America's farms and the people who make it happen!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I'm not a fan of dusting. (Just look at my house at the moment and you will concur.)

Randy is not a big fan of dusting either, as in having to "dust" in the 2012 wheat crop. But Central Kansas remains in a drought, so there's been plenty of dust in the air as he began planting on September 19.

Actually, he is planting in a little bit of soil moisture at the moment. However, with no rain on the seven-day forecast (or beyond), the moisture isn't going to last long. So, what's a wheat farmer to do?

In days gone by, wheat farmers would "dust in" their crop, barely scratching the surface and leaving the wheat kernel near the top of the soil. These days, K-State Agronomist Jim Shroyer recommends planting at the same depth as normal. Then there's not as much danger of freeze damage later.

Randy has upped the seeding rate, adding an additional 10 pounds of wheat per acre. If it were to rain, the higher seed population gives an increased chance of spreading out tillers to give ground cover, especially important in a dry year.

We had all the wheat treated with insecticide and fungicide. (That's why it's that festive pink color!) The application increases the costs of planting, but it protects the crop from insects and disease.

Some people haven't started drilling wheat yet. Others have. It's hard to figure out the right thing to do. The optimal time to plant in this part of the state is October 1-5. However, with the light rain shower September 16-17, Randy decided to use the moisture he had. Since wheat is our primary crop, we can't get the whole crop planted in the optimum "window" anyway.

This year, there's another complication. With the grass supply in pastures dwindling, he's planning to round up cows and calves from their summer pastures beginning October 3.

So, right or wrong, it's wheat planting time on the County Line. We'll see whether or not the gamble pays off. It's kind of like giving birth: You don't know what you're getting into for 9 months. Then you do.

(For more detailed information about planting wheat, click here for my blog post from last year.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hard to Compete

It's kind of hard to compete with Johanna the Cow. She was one of the star attractions at the Ag Day for fourth graders at Ellsworth County last week.

I'm guessing the fourth graders didn't give much thought about how milk gets to their school lunch milk carton before they watched Johanna give up the goods.

How are two middle-aged Kansas wheat farmers to compete with this sleeping bundle of cute? There was a collective "Awww!" when a beef farmer revealed a day-old baby calf snuggled in a bed of hay. The baby was a twin. She may not have been accepted by the mama cow, but there were about 55 fourth graders who would have been glad to give her a good home.

But we did our best. Maybe getting to play in a bushel of wheat will help fourth graders think about the wheat that goes into their peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I hope a few of them took their little plastic bag of wheat home and planted it. If so, they should be getting a few green sprigs right about now.

It may not be a baby calf or a big-eyed cow. But maybe, just maybe, it sprouted an awareness that they didn't have before.

(And I'm already trying to figure out how to bring up the fascination quotient for a couple of wheat farmers.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

This little girl with her hand in the air was just one of 55 reasons to leave work undone at home. So was the little guy who wanted to know how many kernels were in a bushel of wheat.*

We had just started drilling wheat, but Randy and I spent part of a day last week representing Kansas Wheat at an Ag Day event in Ellsworth County. Fourth graders from Wilson and Ellsworth came together to learn about everything from beef production to milking to ag by-products to careers in agriculture.

There's no getting around it: You think twice when they call in August and ask about a September calendar date. In all likelihood, it will be wheat drilling time. And it was. We got about 3/4 inch of rain September 16-17, so Randy decided to use what moisture there was and get started with wheat planting.

So why go and talk to a bunch of fourth graders, a few parents and their teachers? Maybe the answer was on the side of the Ellis County Farm Bureau trailer:

Whether people realize it or not, "There's just no way to have an ag-less day." Agriculture is the reason you can put food on the table. It's the reason there are sheets on your bed. It may even be the reason there's artificial turf on your favorite college football field.

But they won't know if we don't tell them. It doesn't get much more "rural" than Ellsworth or Wilson or any other little town in Kansas. But as the students came around to our wheat station, we asked how many of them lived on a farm.

The answer? Not many. There were a few who had grandparents farming, but very few of them actually live on a farm themselves. So it was important to bring a bit of the farm to them on a cloudy morning in September.

Food is something that comes from grocery stores or from the local restaurant or is served up by the lunch ladies at school.

But that morning, they saw the bushel of wheat.

They saw that bushel could be made into 42 loaves of white bread ...

Or 67 pizza crusts or 192 giant cinnamon rolls.

It was pretty gratifying to later hear kids naming off the Kansas farm products that went into their pizza and milk lunch.

And that's why it's important to leave work undone at home. Someday, these will be the customers who are filling their grocery carts or pulling out their debit cards at the restaurant.

And, along the way, you just might learn something yourself. *By the way, there are in the neighborhood of 1 million kernels in a bushel of wheat. No, I didn't count them. I had to Google it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chicken Poppyseed Pasta Salad

Ladies first. It's a good policy to teach your adolescent son. It's a good idea when trying a new recipe that features chicken. Since my Nu Lambda friends don't mind being guinea pigs, I tried out this Chicken Poppyseed Pasta Salad recipe for a recent potluck.

I found it on Heat Oven to 350, a cooking blog. If you want step-by-step photos demonstrating the recipe, click on the link. She recommended Brianna's Homestyle poppyseed dressing. I think I've seen that brand at Smith's Market in Hutchinson, but I didn't have it on hand. I used a fat free poppyseed dressing that I'd had for awhile in my pantry.

It's super easy and gets better after it sits for awhile. Even if it had chicken, Randy was glad to eat the leftovers. (He is a beef guy, but he's willing to support the chicken farmers on occasion.)

Chicken Poppyseed Pasta Salad
1 box (12-16 oz.) pasta
2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 6-oz. pkg. dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups creamy poppyseed salad dressing

Cook pasta according to package directions. I used mini farfalle (and since I didn't have quite enough, I threw in a little rotini.) Drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Refrigerate until serving.

Heat Oven to 350 recommended keeping just a dab of the dressing on hand to add just before serving, since pasta salad has a tendency to absorb liquid.

Serve in a lettuce-lined bowl.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Peace: A Photo Essay

The 23rd Psalm is only around 118 words, depending upon the translation. For me, it paints a word picture of peace.

I love seeing "messages" from God as I go throughout my day. He's in the sunrises and the sunsets. He's in the touch of a loved one's hand. He's in the phone call from a friend. He's in the cool breeze as I walk. He's in a table filled with food and a house that shelters me. He's in the big moments and in the small little blessings, too. I just need to keep my eyes - and my heart - open to Him.

To see my photo essay illustrating the 23rd Psalm, just head over to my Lovely Branches Ministries Food for Thought September blog post.

Here's just a teaser ...

He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul.

Hoping you find peace today even in life's storms ...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sugar High

Jill & "Smalls" at 23.5 weeks on September 17

I love frosted sugar cookies. Is the love of sugar cookies an inherited trait? Jill is a fan. Brent is not. Time will tell whether or not Smalls inherits the penchant for melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookie taste topped with a smear of almond-flavored frosting.

But I'm not a fan of having to chill sugar cookie dough, rolling and cutting them all out and then frosting them. So I was excited to see a recipe for Sugar Cookie Bars. I'm always looking for new bar cookie recipes to save time and effort in the kitchen. Sugar cookie bars? That's a bonus!

When we were visiting Jill for her birthday last weekend, I gave her several options for treats or a special cake. She chose Sugar Cookie Bars, which I found on a baking blog, Brandy's Baking.

My "baby" girl may have turned 26 with this birthday, but I still wanted to make her birthday special, so I did a little "doctoring" to the recipe. Both Jill and I love almond flavoring in sugar cookies and frosting. So while the original recipe didn't call for almond flavoring, that's what my girl requested.

The recipe was for a 13- by 18-inch rimmed baking sheet. I don't have a pan that big, so I made the dough without any flavoring at all. Then I "guesstimated" and took out about 1/4 of the dough.

To the remaining 3/4 of the dough, I added 2 teaspoons of almond extract and mixed well. I patted that part into my sheet cake pan and baked as directed.

Then to the remaining 1/4 of the dough, I zested a lemon and added part of it and about a teaspoon of vanilla . I used a small cookie scoop and then dropped the dough into sugar. After rolling the dough in the sugar, I put them on regular cookie sheets and flattened with the bottom of a drinking glass before baking.

A lemon version made into drop cookies

When it came to the frosting, I made the basic frosting without any flavorings. I took out about 1/4 of the frosting and added the rest of the lemon zest and some freshly-squeezed lemon juice, along with a little extra powdered sugar until it was spreading consistency.

Then I added a teaspoon of almond extract to the rest. Before coloring the frosting purple for my birthday girl, I took out a small portion to use to use for piping, "Happy Birthday Jill."

I arranged it all on a wooden serving platter and a birthday celebration was born! The finished bar cookie product seemed a little dry to me, so maybe I baked them a little too long. The individual cookies were somewhat better, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a quick and easy bar cookie recipe.

They definitely aren't as good as my sister Lisa's frosted Christmas cookies, but they will work in a pinch. Enjoy!

Sugar Cookie Bars
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla extract (I used almond flavoring, *see my explanation above)
Zest from 1 lemon (* see above)

1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract (or lemon juice)
Pinch of salt
4 cups powdered sugar
5 tbsp. milk
Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)

Cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking spray and prepare a 13- by 18-inch rimmed baking sheet. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Combine flour, salt and soda. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, beating on low speed just until incorporated. Add the flavorings, as you desire, mixing well. (See above. If you have a big pan and are going to use the same flavoring for the whole recipe, you can add the flavoring when you mix in the eggs.)

Press cookie dough into the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer. Bake 13 to 17 minutes or until light golden brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Frosting: Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Blend in powdered sugar and salt until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add milk and mix well. Add flavorings as desired. Tint frosting with food coloring, if desired. Spread over the cooled bars.

Decorate with sprinkles or as desired. Cut into bars.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

At the Right Place

September 9, 2011

It was one of those moments when I was at the right place at the right time.

But maybe it's more than that. Maybe it's having eyes that are open to see the beauty instead of just passing it by.

It also helps to have a husband who is willing to pull off the road and wait - patiently - no questions asked.

Sometimes I do get to places just when God is ready
to have somebody click the shutter.

Ansel Adams

This old elevator is on 4th Street west of Hutchinson. It's the road we most often travel to get to the "big city" of Hutchinson. On the south side of the elevator, it says, "Thos. Rayl, 1915." At a roadside stop on top of what's known as Rayl's Hill, there's a historical marker telling about President Warren Harding's visit to cut wheat in 1923.

It's not the first time I've used the old elevator as a backdrop.

June 2010

And it probably won't be the last.

September 2009

I figure there will be other opportunities. After all, it's been decorating the landscape for almost 100 years now.

Farmchicks Farm Photo Friday

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eating: The Newest Spectator Sport

Have you ever had people intently watching you eat? It's a little disconcerting. Is there a smear of chocolate on my lip? Has my smile become obscured with chocolate frosting?

With rides on the midway and beautifully crafted quilts just steps away, you'd think people would have better things to do than watch a couple of home economists eat cake. But food judging is a spectator sport every year in the Domestic Arts Building at the Kansas State Fair.

I got to judge the C&H Chocolate Cake special contest at this year's Kansas State Fair, along with fellow judge Lois Schlichau. I try to keep my glances toward the crowd at a minimum. I'm not the best at keeping a poker face. (That's probably not the best quality for a judge.)

Wendy Rowe was one of the observers intently watching our every move. Her husband Jimmy was so nervous he didn't sit down the whole time. But the wait was worth it for Wendy, whose Dark Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling took home the second prize the special contest.

It was a tough choice, and Wendy's cake was definitely in contention for the top prize. Like the first-place winner, she had added some elements to her chocolate cake and filling to make it stand out in the crowd.

She says she's trying to build a cake business, so getting a nod from judges at the state fair is another building block toward her goal. Jimmy is her best PR guy. At his job at Siemens Wind Energy, he's helping her build a client base of customers.

Someday, Wendy would like to open a storefront bakery. For now, she bakes to relax after long days as an assistant manager at Sirloin Stockade in Hutchinson.

If you're looking for something special, try Wendy's cake. Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Cake
2 cups C&H sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dark cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch-round pans. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Raspberry Filling
1 8-oz. whipped cream
1 8-oz. pkg. raspberry gelatin

Combine gelatin and whipped cream. Mix until evenly blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. raspberry extract
1 lb. C & H powdered sugar
1 tbsp. milk
3/4 cup dark cocoa

Cream together butter and shortening. Add vanilla and mix well. Slowly add powdered sugar and cocoa. Continue to blend all ingredients until well mixed. Add milk as needed until icing is smooth and creamy.

To assemble: Put one layer on the serving platter. Top with half the raspberry cream. Top with next cake layer and the rest of the raspberry cream. Top with third cake layer. Cover all with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Pipe design and decorate with washed, well-drained raspberries, if desired.

Note: If I were making this cake, I wouldn't use the raspberry flavoring in the frosting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

From the Trail

They look like they stepped out of the pages of a history book. These guys and gals aren't Saturday night cowboys. Their cowboy hats and chaps are like a second skin, not a movie prop. Their stance in the saddle is as comfortable as if they were sitting in an SUV instead of atop four legs providing their horse power. They are the drovers of the 2011 Kansas Cattle Drive.

Their journey commemorates Kansas' 150th birthday. It began on Labor Day weekend in Caldwell and will end September 24 in Ellsworth. They are loosely following the Cox Cattle Trail, named for William M. Cox, a general livestock agent for the Kansas Pacific Railway Co. in the 1800s.

On Tuesday night, the drovers laid out their bedrolls or pitched tents in a pasture southeast of Sylvia.

Tom Schick, an Oklahoma cowboy, says that taking care of their horses is one of the first tasks as they head into camp. They hitch their mounts to a rope line and spread out alfalfa for them to eat.

The "cookie" makes sure the cowboys are well fed.

Hardtack may have been on cowboys' dinner plates a century ago, but this crew travels with a refrigerator/freezer that gets plugged in at night. Chili was on the menu Tuesday night.

At 7:45 the next morning, as the sun struggled to peek through a cloudy sky, they opened the pasture gates and began their 15-mile journey to Wednesday's campsite on the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Though it's a scene that could transport you back to the 1800s, there are reminders that it is the 21st Century. A cowboy or two just might have been talking on cell phones. And port-a-potties took the place of building a nightly latrine.

Wednesday evening at the Quivira camp, some sat around the fire, maybe as much for the stories as for the steak that was on the night's menu.

Those stories flowed as freely as the coffee hanging from the pot at the end of the cook stove ... until someone noticed a couple of small visitors who had come to say hello to some real cowboys.

The meal may have been served on plastic tables, but the food was dished from cast iron pans onto metal plates, filling the cowboys' bellies for another day on the trail.

To read more about the journey, visit the website for the Kansas Cattle Drive 2011. They will be at a celebration in Ellinwood this weekend before making the final trek to Ellsworth on September 24. Happy Trails!