Friday, June 29, 2012

A Taste of Sunshine

Peanut butter and jelly ... peaches and cream ... salads and summer. They just seem to go together - especially on a week with multiple days showing 100-degrees plus.

For a women's group meeting, I tried a salad I found on Our Best Bites, a cooking blog. They were trying to duplicate a summer salad served at Chili's Restaurants.

I make salads pretty much every day, but I rarely make homemade salad dressing. I usually use Kraft's Light Done Right raspberry vinaigrette on fruit and lettuce-based salads (and I recommend it).

But since this was a special occasion, I tried the homemade dressing. It was a hit with the ladies and when I served the leftovers here at home. The orange juice is like a little taste of sunshine. Enjoy!

Caribbean Salad with Sweet Orange Vinaigrette
adapted from Our Best Bites blog
1 large bunch romaine lettuce, torn
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled
8-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
1 red bell pepper, diced or sliced
4 to 5 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (or fresh parsley)
6-8 tbsp. dried cherries or cranberries
Optional: Fresh pineapple or other fresh fruits, as desired, or in season

1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (about 1/2 of a large navel orange)
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup canola oil

To prepare dressing, combine orange juice, vinegar, dry mustard, sugar, and salt in the jar of a blender. Blend until sugar is dissolved. With blender running on low, slowly drizzle in oil, mixing until just combined. Store dressing in refrigerator until ready to use. Can prepare a day or two in advance.

To prepare salads, divide lettuce between four plates. Top with grilled chicken, chopped fruits and veggies. Sprinkle with dried cherries or cranberries. Drizzle with dressing. Serves 4 main dish salads or 6-8 side salads.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Out of the Blue

Details create the big picture.
Sanford I. Weill 

A bright blue summer sky stretched from horizon to horizon. But, at 55 miles an hour, I missed the other blanket of blue.

It wasn't until I was walking that I saw the ditch filled with little blue wildflowers. 
It was like a gift - a gift I could open only when I slowed down enough to see it.

“Now if I believe in God’s Son and remember that He became man, all creatures will appear a hundred times more beautiful to me than before. Then I will properly appreciate the sun, the moon, the stars, trees, apples, as I reflect that he is Lord over all things. … God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
— Martin Luther
 (I saw that quote on Jennifer's Getting Down with Jesus blog last week and thought it was a perfect fit for today.)

Sometimes, I need to stop and smell the roses.

Or see the wildflowers.
Erect dayflower: I figured out the name by looking at the Kansas Wildflower website.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Extraordinary GPS

You just thought GPS stood for Global Positioning System.

Here on the County Line, it stands for Great Plains Spouse (emphasis added by yours truly.)
Yes, there are farms who have authentic GPS units in their tractors and combines. We aren't one of those farms.

So Randy's Great Plains Spouse was called into duty yesterday morning. Instead of pushing a handy-dandy button to find where he is in this big old world, his County Line GPS had to:
  1. Find a yellow flag along the ditch.
  2. Walk "five large paces" south of the flag and mark that in the dirt. (We are highly scientific here.)
  3. Park the pickup door so that it aligned with said mark. 
  4. Sit and read my book until the tractor got so close I was afraid it was going to hit me.

Repeat at a new location with the following variation:
  1. Walk "five large paces" north instead of south.
My services were needed so Randy could start disking in a couple of fields. Earlier, he marked off the fields so he'd know where he wanted to disc to begin preparing the ground for a new wheat crop to be planted this September. 

He'll leave part of the field unworked. It will be summer fallowed, in other words, leaving the ground out of production. For wheat ground, he's often trying to get rid of cheat grass or rye by leaving the ground fallow for a season.

When he started the field on the other end - half a mile away - he aimed the tractor hood for the pickup door. That gives him a target to aim for and makes for a straighter line - theoretically anyway.

It's not that we are opposed to new technology like GPS. Our budget might be.

However, this Great Plains Spouse unit is actually fairly economical. Really. (Unless you take my teeth into consideration.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Double or Nothing

Double or nothing: I'm not much of a gambler. On second thought, maybe being a farmer's wife makes me one by association.

It remains to be seen whether our attempts to double-crop milo and sudan will pay off later this summer. Glancing at the field behind our house, it doesn't look like much more than a few stalks of wheat left behind during wheat harvest 2012.

But a closer look reveals some little green milo plants breaking through the wheat stubble residue. During the past couple of weeks, we've had 2.75" of rain, which has given the newly-planted crop a boost and has been a welcome change from last year's severe drought.

We'll see how the milo fares after several days of 100-degree-plus temperatures and no rain in the forecast this week. We're praying that this vivid reminder of last year's summer of record-busting, century-mark temperatures is just a memory - not a preview of things to come again this summer.

Double or nothing? It's not just a bet in Las Vegas.

An update: I saw a couple of friends/family members post this video to Facebook today and just had to add it to my blog so you'd have to chance to watch it, too. I don't know the Peterson Brothers, but I'm a fan! These Kansas farmers rock ... or rap! Enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Fruits of Her Labor

Katherine keeps giving me gifts, though she has long since passed from this earth. Every June, the day lilies she planted on the west side of the wash house bloom.

We've lived in Katherine's house since I was 8 months pregnant with Jill. It will be 27 years in August. I have no idea when she planted the orange blooms. I just know they've always been a part of the landscape of our backyard.

They are hardly worth noticing as I head out on an early morning walk, as dawn turns to day. Since they are on the west side of the building, it takes longer for the morning light to reach them.
But even an hour later as I return, the blooms are beginning to open and show their true colors.
So many years ago, as Katherine tilled the soil and planted the lilies and watered them, she was making her world more beautiful.
Lucky for me, she made my world more beautiful, too. It just goes to show you how the small things we do can have a big impact.

We plant seeds in life. We may never realize the way they blossom far into the future. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Zucchini in Disguise

Do you have your cup of coffee ready to go this morning? I have your muffins hot and just out of the oven. Sorry the scratch and sniff portion of the blog is malfunctioning this morning. 

A few years ago, I asked a real gardener named Kim for some zucchini recipes. She shared this easy one that uses a carrot cake mix as the base. This week, I tried an orange supreme cake mix. If I go that route again, I'll bump up the orange flavor even more by adding a little fresh orange zest. I think it would also be tasty with spice cake or butter brickle flavors. Just use your imagination - or what's in your pantry.

This recipe is a good one for using up some of the prolific zucchini in your garden. We're not to the stage where we are going to put the zucchini in grocery sacks, knock on our neighbor's door and run away. That's a little hard to do when your closest neighbors are a mile away.

But if someone happens to share their garden bonanza with you, this recipe's a winner. And, with a cake mix, it won't take you long to be unwrapping a hot muffin at your house. You supply the smell-o-vision.

Happy weekend!
Look closely and you can see the grated zucchini in these. But if you distract your kids, they may not notice it - not that I'm trying to put anything past your kids.

Zucchini Carrot Muffins
Recipe from Kim Volker
1 pkg. (18 oz.) carrot cake mix
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup raisins (or dates)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

In large bowl, combine the cake mix, applesauce, oil and egg for 30 seconds. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in zucchini, raisins and pecans.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 16 muffins (I got 18).

Variations: Use a spice, orange, butter brickle or similar cake mix instead. For more fresh taste, you can also grate a little orange or lemon zest into the batter before baking. 

If you missed it earlier this week, here's a totally homemade muffin, complete with whole wheat flour and oats:  Low Fat Zucchini Banana Bread/Muffins.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Life Expectancy

My life just got a little longer. Or so I'd like to believe. A new study reveals that coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer. Regular or decaf? It doesn't matter.

I read it in my newspaper a few weeks ago, so it must be true, right? Since I definitely like my coffee, I sure like this study better than the one that said coffee will be the death of me.

I thought I'd share my rediscovered health. I'm always looking for blog topics. So I took a photo of coffee in this pretty cup. It's the china I inherited from Randy's Grandma Ava.
I don't usually drink my coffee in it. In fact, I rarely use the china, except when we have guests. And even then, I don't usually serve the java complete with cup and saucer.

I could use the china. I probably should use the china.

But, truth be told, I drink my coffee in an old plastic mug that Jill gave me. Every single day. She bought it one year at the Kansas State Fair. It has a photo of her in all her junior high girl glory enclosed inside a plastic liner. It's been washed so many times that you'll have to take my word that it's a photo of Jill. 

It's horribly stained and ratty, and I didn't want anyone to think badly of me. So I took the photo of coffee in the pretty china cup.

And then I saw a video on Facebook called Life Is Like a Cup of Coffee. It was posted by a blog friend I've never met, but I hope to someday.

And I got to thinking about my need to "look good" for other people. I'm perfectly happy drinking my morning coffee in my ratty plastic mug. In fact, I prefer it. But if you see how I really live my life, you might not respect me. Or like me. You might judge me.

So I got out the pretty china cup.

After I watched the video, I thought again. It does give me a Touch of Class.
It says so, right on the mug.

So, yes, I'd like to believe my morning coffee isn't taking minutes from my life. But along the way to this post, the message changed just a bit. As the video says:

The happiest people 
don't have the best of everything.
They just make 
the best of everything.

Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.

Those things will probably help me live happier and longer than any amount of coffee - whether it comes in a china cup, a stained plastic mug or a Styrofoam cup.

I hope you'll take time to watch the video. It'll take 3 1/2 minutes of your life. Have another cup of coffee. It's worth the life investment.

Tomorrow: Check back for something to eat with that coffee.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Flower Power

 More photos from the Stafford County Historical Society's 
 along with some quotes.
 It's not as pretty as being there ... 
but at least you won't sweat!
Jeanie's Gardens

Remember that children, marriages
 and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr. 

Barb and Kenny's Yard
The Amen of nature is always a flower.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ruth's Gardens
This is the quote that Ruth had on her handouts for the day:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Sheree's Gardens
Earth laughs in flowers. 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

OWLS and Vegetable Gardens at Stafford Schools
A garden is a grand teacher.
It teaches patience and careful watchfulness.
It teaches industry and thrift. 
Above all, it teaches entire trust.
Gertrude Jekyll 

Stafford Schools' STARS after-school program participants and individual classrooms in the elementary school planted their own garden plots. Director Sharilyn McNickle says that children involved in planting and tending the gardens were much more willing to try vegetable wraps prepared by local restaurant owner Jan Turner (The Gathering Place, downtown Stafford) during a chef demonstration. 

The school received a Farm to School school gardening mini-grant from Team Nutrition at the Kansas State Department of Education.  I had to send photos to Jill,  since she's the Team Nutrition director and some of the funds went to her high school alma mater!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Incredible Green Hulk

The zucchini didn't get the memo. I said we aren't gardeners around here. They ignored me.

Leave them a day to get a little bigger, and they become The Incredible Green Hulk. We could make our own B movie: Giant Zucchini Take Over the World (or at least our little garden plot). I wish the tomatoes would vie for starring roles in that film.

Yesterday, I tried a new quick bread recipe. While I had the grater out, I grated the largest three zucchini and portioned it out in 2-cup measures. I put the bags in the freezer and will use them for future baking projects.

If this plentiful harvest continues, I may have to invest in a new food processor. The grater portion of my ancient machine doesn't work anymore, so I used my box grater. On second thought, maybe not. I think that grater and I built up some new arm muscles (or gave me a neck ache).

This recipe combines whole wheat flour and oats with all-purpose flour. It also uses applesauce to replace part of the vegetable oil. Add zucchini, mashed bananas and some dates, and it packs a nutritious punch without sacrificing great taste. Enjoy!

Low-Fat Banana Zucchini Bread (or Muffins)
Recipe from

1 cup white flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup dates (or raisins or walnuts or a mixture)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar, oil, vanilla, applesauce and mashed bananas to the eggs; mix well. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, mixing just until moistened. Fold in zucchini and dates.

Pour into 2 lightly greased 9- by 5-inch loaf pans. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

I made smaller loaves and some muffins. Bake the small loaves 25-30 minutes and the muffins 18-20 minutes or until the toothpick inserted comes out clean. Ovens vary a lot: You know yours better than I do!

I'm linked today to Crazy for Crust's Crazy Sweet Tuesday. Check out the other sweet treats there!

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Sower

Cone flower in Jeanie's garden

I must admit a bit of envy. Envy is never good, but it seems even more a sacrilege on Sunday afternoon after hearing God's Word at church.

But admit it, I must. 

I don't suppose the Stafford County Historical Society was aiming for envy during their fundraiser garden tour yesterday. I came up with that little side trip all on my own. I'm guessing they were striving towards inspiration and other virtuous attributes.

And, ironically, it was the Parable of the Sower that Pastor Jeff preached on at church yesterday morning and our Sunday School class pondered afterwards.

I looked at the beautiful gardens, painstakingly tended by my friends and neighbors. And I thought about how my yard pales in comparison. Our lawn is more weeds than grass. My two little containers of annuals and the smattering of tulips and hyacinths that bloomed earlier this year can't compare to Jeanie's cottage garden or Ruth's tranquil space outside her back door. These gardeners definitely have found their "good earth."
Jeanie's Cottage Garden
I want the look without the work. Isn't that the story of life?

As Randy and I drove home, we passed by a field of alfalfa in full bloom. The green of the alfalfa after more than 2.75 inches of rain was vibrant against a cloud-strewn, cerulean blue sky. The purple blooms were fragrant as we stopped to "tour" our garden only a half mile south of our house.

And I found that I could again discover beauty in my own "backyard." I am not a gardener. But, thankfully, the Creator is.

(More photos from the garden tour to come in another post. And, honestly, probably more alfalfa photos to come in future posts, too!)

I'm linked today to Michelle's blog, Graceful: Faith in the Everyday, and her Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday feature. Click on the link and check out the other writers there.

Friday, June 15, 2012

(Coco)Nuts About Dads

Professional family photo by Stan Reimer, Pratt, KS
I have the packages neatly wrapped in Kansas sunflower paper. The cards are signed and attached with an inch or two of tape.

But the best gift of the weekend won't be found by tearing off the Kansas sunflower paper. (Yes, I obviously need to replenish my "manly" wrapping paper selection.)

The best gift came complete with a fantastic light show. It wasn't in a box but in a slender cylinder-  a rain gauge. Around here, we got varying amounts from 1 to 1.5 inches. For my folks, it was more in the 0.80" to 0.90" range.

No question: It was the best gift a couple of farming dads could order for their Father's Day weekend.
Professional family photo at the top taken by Stan Reimer: Since it was taken in December 2011, my Dad has one new grandson-in-law and two more great-grandchildren, with another on the way.
Today, I'm thankful for the Daddys in my life - my own Dad and my late father-in-law Melvin who with Marie raised the best Daddy for my kids that I could have prayed for.

I also made a new sweet treat to go along with my gifts for my guys. These Caramel Coconut Bars are a tasty treat for Dads who like coconut. If yours doesn't, then you'll need to go with Plan B.

Since both Randy and my Dad choose to celebrate their birthdays with coconut-based cakes, this treat is made to order.

They are not as good as rain. But they are still good. Happy Father's Day to all the Dads and to the families blessed enough to have them!
Caramel Coconut Bars
Adapted from Cookies and Cups Blog
6 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
1 1/4 cups caramel bits (or chopped caramel pieces)
1 tbsp. milk
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes for garnish (opt.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch pan with cooking spray.

In mixer, beat butter and sugar together until well creamed. Add egg and vanilla and mix on medium speed until smooth and well blended. Turn mixer to low and add in flour, salt, baking powder and coconut, mixing until combined.

Spread evenly into prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.

When the cookie base is baking, melt the caramel and milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 1 minute at a time on 50 percent power, stirring after each minute, to prevent burning. Repeat until the caramel bits are melted and spreadable.

Spread caramel evenly over baked cookie base and return to oven, baking 10-12 more minutes. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips on top of the caramel. Put back in the oven for 1 minute. Remove from oven and use an off-set spatula to spread the chocolate evenly over the caramel layer. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, if desired (The original recipe said 1/4 cup. I didn't think that was enough, but use your own judgment.)

Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 30 bars.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hurray for the Red, White and Blue!

It may seem like just another day. There's no national holiday. It's not like July 4th or Christmas, when folks have been counting down the days until a day off from work. Advertisers, who so readily promote chocolate-covered bunnies before Easter or the latest, greatest techno-toy for under the Christmas tree, pretty much ignore it. 
But today is a special day. June 14th is Flag Day. It was first celebrated in 1877, commemorating the adoption of the United States flag back in 1777. 

Today, I'm remembering the guys and gals from Stafford who are serving our country. Jake and Ethan are currently in Afghanistan. They played football with Brent. Two other soldiers, Jamee and Dallas, were in Brent's high school class. All of them are currently serving or have served their country. There are many others, too - names that fill a good portion of our church bulletin insert each week. Other names come to my email in-box as one of their moms asks us to pray for her son's platoon and send them letters and care packages. I don't know these other young men. I imagine how they look. I imagine where they are from. I imagine their Moms and Dads as they send their sons off into a world I can't really fathom.
"Our flag honors those who have fought to protect it, and is a reminder of the sacrifice of our nation's founders and heroes. As the ultimate icon of America's storied history, the Stars and Stripes represents the very best of this nation."
~ Joe Barton
 Around here, the guys will celebrate Flag Day by raking and baling alfalfa and disking wheat stubble. I'll be on the computer and in the kitchen, doing my normal, everyday routine. Others will go to their office buildings.
But as we go through our everyday lives today, maybe take a moment or two to realize how fortunate we are to live in the good old U.S. of A. where have the freedom to follow our dreams and pursue our livelihoods. And then remember the servicemen and women who still work today to preserve our right to fly Old Glory.  And remember their Moms and Dads, their brothers and sisters, their wives and husbands and children: All of them are sacrificing, too.

"I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself, the pictured suggestion of that big thing which makes this nation.  My stars and my stripes are your dream and your labors.  They are bright with cheer, brilliant with courage, firm with faith, because you have made them so out of your heart.  For you are the makers of the flag, and it is well that you glory in the making."
~Franklin Knight Lane
If you want to celebrate with some patriotic-themed baking, here are a few ideas:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Double Dip

When you're standing at the ice cream counter, choosing a double dip multiplies your tasty options. Double-cropping isn't nearly as tasty as a double dip of ice cream, but it does increase your opportunities.

Double-cropping is raising two crops on the same acreage. Yesterday, Randy planted milo on 40 acres of ground where we had just harvested wheat last Friday.  On Monday, he planted 56 acres of sudan grass on wheat stubble at another location.
Just like that double dip of ice cream, there are some things to consider. The double dip ice cream cone may not be the right choice for your waistline. Double-cropping is a gamble, too, especially if this summer is as dry as last year.

We bought a no-till planter a couple of years ago, so the guys just worked the wheat stubble once. They needed to disc the field because there were some weeds coming up. But leaving the majority of the residue will help the ground retain moisture and will reduce wind erosion. 
If it doesn't rain, the milo likely won't have enough moisture to produce grain. So the expenses for seed, fertilizer and herbicide won't be recovered with a crop.
You've heard the saying, "Location, location, location!" It applies to double-cropping, too. Even if the milo doesn't produce grain, Randy hopes it will grow enough to be able to use it for cattle grazing this fall. The milo field is just east of our house and the corrals we use for cattle, so it would be easy to use for grazing. He hopes to bale the sudan grass later this summer (if we get enough rain for it to come up). That location is close to another spot we use for cattle, making it more convenient and efficient to move bales.

At both locations where he double-cropped, it's time for the ground to be taken out of wheat production and to go to sorghum. We practice crop rotation on our farm, which essentially means that we produce one crop for several years - for example, wheat - then we alternate with a different crop - like milo. That helps to fight some of the weeds - like cheat and rye - that infiltrate the wheat crop after repeatedly going back to the same crop.
Randy added 15 pounds of nitrogen per acre of fertilizer as he planted the milo. He also had the Kanza Co-op spray herbicide and an additional 10 pounds of nitrogen/acre. Yes, I asked why, too. The planter only has the capacity to put down 15 pounds of nitrogen. Additionally, that fertilizer goes down right by the seed. The fertilizer spread by the co-op is a more general application, which will help establish the roots, too.

Will double-cropping double our harvest pleasure? Time will tell.