Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monster Taste

These Monster Cookie Bars are a twist on a classic cookie. They have the ingredients of Monster Cookies, but the dough is spread in a sheet cake pan instead of plopped onto cookie sheets for the traditional drop version. Quick and easy are as good a combination as M&Ms and peanut butter, don't you think?

I found the recipe on a favorite food blog, A Farmgirl's Dabbles. Brenda updates recipes from her South Dakota mom and grandmas, focusing on farm cooking, baking and family traditions. I think these bars will become a family tradition for us, too. I had printed out the recipe, and Jill put them together for harvest suppers in June. My cutest taste tester approved, and Jill wanted the recipe to take home.
It seemed a sure bet to make them again for a 4th of July potluck gathering Randy and I attended at Elm Mills with my brother and his family.

My intuitions were right: The whole plate of the M & M-dotted bars were gone before the first fireworks colored the night sky.
Want an explosion of flavor at your house, too? If you try them, let me know, OK?
Monster Cookie Bars

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups peanut butter (crunchy or smooth. I like crunchy)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3-1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 12.6-oz. bag milk chocolate M&M's, divided
Sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12- by 17-inch jelly roll pan with cooking spray. Set aside.  

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; mix until incorporated. Add flour, oatmeal, baking soda, and salt, and mix again until incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and about half the M&M's. Press into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining M & Ms, and, if you're baking for a special holiday, you can also add appropriate sprinkles. (I added red, white and blue star sprinkles for the 4th of July potluck.) Bake for 14 to 15 minutes. These bars are meant to be chewy, so do not over bake! Cool completely on wire rack, then cut into 48  bars. 

Notes: The original recipe called for a whole bag of chocolate chips and a whole bag of M & Ms. I didn't use quite that many. I had a partial bag of chocolate chips. I had mini M & Ms on hand. I put about half in the dough, then sprinkled the rest on top, making the bars more festive.

At A Farmgirl's Dabbles, Brenda dressed up her bars for the 4th by decorating with frosting and sprinkles. She says: "I used a can of fudge frosting that I picked up in the baking aisle. Place frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip and swirl the frosting onto the top of each bar. Add some red, white, and blue sprinkles, and you're set!"

It's Wednesday, so I'm again linked to another of my favorite food blogs, Wichitan Ashley's What's In Your Kitchen Wednesday.  Click on the link to see what's cooking in other people's kitchens.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On the Banks of Peace Creek

I'm no Laura Ingalls Wilder, so my little story about "The Banks of Peace Creek" will not be novel length.

Last evening around 6:45, as I was coming home from Hutchinson, I stopped on the old wooden bridge over Peace Creek. (There was a strategy behind the location of the photo op. I had on good shoes after doing interviews for a freelance writing job in Hutchinson.)

The overcast sky was still spitting the occasional raindrop, and the birds were singing their rendition of the "Hallelujah" chorus among leaves that look as though they've been colored by the Kelly Green crayon in a freshly-opened box of 64. During the past few days, we've gotten a total of 4.80 inches of rain here at our house.
Puddles in the road north of our house - (File photo)
There is water in the southwest corner of the basement again. And a bright yellow Tupperware bowl sits on top of the clothes dryer in the utility room to catch the water where the roof leaks. (We have tried in the past to correct both those problems.) This time, we have a new leak. Water started streaming in from the fireplace chimney. The old enamel roasting pan is currently in place until we figure out the latest quirk of our 1940s-era farmhouse.

We are thankful for the rain. And we also know that not everyone has been so fortunate to sweep up excess water from their house. I wish I could send some of the rain to Western Kansas or dole it out like a precisely-tooled budget, just when we needed it around here. When I looked at Facebook last night, I saw that Peterson Brothers Farms (of "I'm Farming and I Grow It" Youtube fame) had an additional 4 inches of rain in just an hour yesterday. As Greg Peterson stood on a country road that looked more like a creek, he was ready to share the abundance, too.

But it doesn't work that way. And, a year ago, the story here was drought, which left miles of the Rattlesnake Creek dry and reduced parts of the Ninnescah River to just a trickle. But this year, a week of rain, along with periodic rainfall since January, has boosted stream flows across South Central Kansas, along with replenishing farm ponds, reservoir levels and subsoil moisture. It takes awhile to recover from an extended drought, but this unusual July rainy season has helped.
This has not been a normal Kansas July. Monday's rain could bring July's total into the top 10 wettest Julys on record, according to Kansas State Climatologist Mary Knapp. That is drastically different from the past two Julys, which experienced 0.18 of an inch of rain in 2011 and 0.58 of an inch in 2012.

And, still, the drought is intensifying in Western Kansas, which has received only spotty showers. About 47 percent of Kansas, all in the western half, is in an extreme to exceptional drought - the highest ranking of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

I'm praying they get their turn at the rainfall soon. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

In the Weeds

Sunflowers are the extroverts. They wave wildly and shout "Hello!" with their vibrant yellow arms and winking brown eyes. Even when we race by at 55 mph, they stand tall and shout, "Hey, look at me!"
But, the introverts among us have beauty, too. We aren't going to see them at a glance or hear their whisper unless we silence the rest of life's noise and busyness.
The blue in this at-a-glance scene was the cerulean sky, stretching from horizon to horizon, interrupted only by streaks of white clouds. At 55 mph, that's all I see. But, that blue sky was mimicked by a subtle blanket of blue in the ditch. It wasn't until I walked past them that I discovered the treasure. They aren't waving enthusiastically in the Kansas wind like their yellow, extroverted cousins. Instead, they hide their delicate beauty, tucked in the weeds.
I think there's a lesson there: Sometimes there is beauty in the weeds and the clutter of our lives.

Wishing for all of us a week where we can truly see the gifts right in front of us - large and small. And may they not have to shout to get our attention.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Sip of Water

You know when you're going to have surgery and you're not supposed to have anything to eat or drink after midnight? When you're brushing your teeth the next morning, maybe, just maybe, you let a little of the water slide down your throat. Just a sip, mind you. Of course, I would never do that.

It's like having a thimbleful of water when you want the Big Gulp size. I'm not sure our corn has gotten the Big Gulp-equivalent of rain. But some timely showers have helped some of our dryland corn crop.

On July 18, I took these photos, where you could see corn stalks and leaves browning and curling from lack of rain, especially along the outer rows where it is less protected from the sun and wind.
When we looked at the ears in that field, we saw cobs that hadn't filled well. My personal corn consultant (my brother, Kent) says the cob pictured below is done filling. His diagnosis? The corn didn't pollinate well, probably due to drought stress and 100-degree temperatures when it was trying to pollinate.
In the past week and a half, we've gotten about 2 inches of rain total. Thankfully, our rain came in the liquid variety, unlike those to the east of us who were pounded by softball-sized hail Tuesday night.

Yesterday, in a different corn field, it looked like the rain came at a more opportune time. This cob was nearly filled with kernels. Kent says that rain at this point forward helps the kernels that are already on the ear to develop.
My "human measuring stick" and I also went to the field across our house for a new comparison photo. It's kind of like making that mark on the growth chart to commemorate your children's birthdays, isn't it? 
July 24, 2013
The corn hasn't grown nearly as quickly in the past three weeks, as you can see by comparing it to the July 2 photo. But it's still amazing to make the comparisons from less than 2 months ago.
July 2, 2013
June 6, 2013
The rains will also help the newly-planted sudan sprout and emerge.
July 19, 2013 - Planting sudan
Randy planted some alfalfa on July 20. For newly-planted alfalfa, "little sips" are better than a Big Gulp anyway.

After two summers of drought, we are even more thankful for rain showers - big or small.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ahoy, Matey! It's a Party

I'm hoping the nutrition police won't make me walk the plank for serving sweet popcorn mix and sheet cakes at 9 o'clock in the morning.  (Yes, that's a mixed metaphor if you've ever read one. But stick with me.)

Maybe I'll be forgiven since the sweet treats were for a surprise birthday party for our minister. We're still in the getting-to-know-you stage with Pastor Ben, who began serving the Stafford United Methodist Church this month. We know he wears high-top sneakers to match the color of the current liturgical season. Right now, that means his pastoral robes are jazzed up with bright green Converses. We also know that he has an affinity for pirates. Who would have thought that I'd type "Talk Like A Pirate Day: September 22" on the agenda for the upcoming worship team meeting? Not me.
His birthday actually fell on his second Sunday with us. Lucky him, right? (I'm not sure he'd agree.) Anyway, when I saw a pirate pinata on a sale table, I thought it was the perfect centerpiece for a surprise birthday party.
When I saw the same popcorn snack mix featured in two of my bookmarked foods blogs, it was like Blackbeard himself was giving me party-planning tips 'cause this popcorn mix is like a sweet treasure with its mix of M&Ms, miniature marshmallows, mini chocolate chips and oatmeal. Oatmeal? Yep, oatmeal! Does oatmeal give it any redeeming nutritional value at all? Probably not, but it does help give it a monster cookie-esque taste.

It also has chocolate chip cookie dough candy bites. Since I had to go to Hutchinson for a personal dental emergency, it allowed me to pick up this ingredient that I can't find at my local stores. (No, the irony of shopping for candy after having to visit the dentist for a bad toothache is not lost on me.)

Whether you're looking for a way to celebrate a birthday or just want an easy movie night snack mix, you'll want to add this Monster Cookie Dough Popcorn Munch to your treasure chest, errrrrrr, recipe box. It would also be delicious for tailgating (though you may need to wait until it's cooler so the chocolate bits don't melt). You could even dress it up for the occasion by using M&Ms in your favorite team's colors.

Monster Cookie Dough Popcorn Munch
Adapted from Inside Bru Crew Life blog
7 cups popped popcorn
1 cup M & Ms
1 cup cookie dough bites candy
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
10 oz. almond bark
1/3 cup biscoff cookie spread
1/2 cup quick oats

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the almond bark, heating for 1 minute at a time at 70 percent power, then stirring. Continue until the almond bark is melted, making sure it doesn't burn. Add the biscoff spread and stir until melted and creamy. Stir in the oats. Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the popcorn and marshmallows. Pour the melted almond bark mixture on top and toss lightly until everything is coated. Add the cookie dough bites, M&Ms and mini chocolate chips and toss lightly again. Pour the popcorn out on a large, waxed-paper-lined cookie sheet. Place in the refrigerator about 5 minutes to set up. Take out and break into chunks. Store in a tightly sealed bag or container.

  •  If you want a little more salty element, add a cup or so of deluxe mixed nuts. 
  • The original recipe called for 1 1/4 cups white chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon of shortening, melted together. I used the almond bark instead.  
  • If you don't want to measure, 7 cups of popped popcorn is roughly 1 regular bag of microwave popcorn. (There's probably a little more than that, but it works.) Be sure to discard any "old maids" before mixing up the snack mix. You don't want an unexpected trip to the dentist either. (FYI: That wasn't my problem.)
  • You can find biscoff cookie spread by the peanut butter at some food stores.
  • I found the cookie dough bites candy in the candy aisle of a discount store. The box looks like you'd get at the snack counter at the movie theater. 
See that Strawberry Sheet Cake in the corner of the pirate pinata photo? It's a favorite cake at Stafford United Methodist Church and is as easy as it is tasty. Click here for the recipe, which begins with a white cake mix. I also made a chocolate sheet cake and a Texas white sheet cake from scratch. They are all church approved.

I'm linked today to Ashley's What's In Your Kitchen Wednesday. Click on the link for more tried-and-true recipes from food bloggers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Golden Hour

Real photographers call it "the golden hour." An hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise, the light shines on the Earth at an angle, diffusing the light and casting a golden glow. During this hour, light is warm, soft, and perfect for taking pictures, or so says an internet search. Gone are the harsh shadows from the sun shining directly overhead. The only flash needed is the soft stream of light breaking through the haze of a summer evening.

Randy was more concerned about a marginally cooler 4-wheeler ride to check cattle than the magic of twilight during last week's trip to the Ninnescah Pasture.
Mr. Bull was ready for his gold-tinged portrait. 
So were his pasture mates.
Prairie flowers dotted the landscape, mimicking the sunset skies with pops of purple ...
and splashes of yellow.
The sound of birds was silenced by the thunder of water as it toppled over the dam and pooled downstream.
We didn't bring the fishing gear this time, so Randy could only dream about the big one who got away.

Seeing water in the pond is a blessing after two years of drought. 
Here's how the same location has looked the past couple of years:
Summer 2011
We loaded up our "chariot" as the sun sank toward the horizon.
The golden hour?
Yes, indeed. With a little red and orange thrown in for good measure.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Remember Saturday mornings as a kid, sitting around in your pajamas, watching as Wile E. Coyote chased the roadrunner and never quite succeeded? That's how our Saturday morning went - minus the dynamite, thank goodness.

I got a call at 7:04 Saturday morning, saying that there was a bull and a calf out on the road by the Ninnescah Pasture. From the description, I didn't think the bull was ours. (We don't have red ear tags.) But the calf had a yellow ear tag, so I thought he might be an escapee from our pasture. The first cartoon-worthy episode was trying to get ahold of Randy. We live in the never-never-land of cell phone reception. On the other hand, it's a little hard to answer a phone that is not on your person. (That would never happen, right, Randy?)

After 45 minutes and three tries to reach him, we were finally on our way, with 4-wheeler locked and loaded. And, yes, indeed: There a bull and a calf were out on the road. As predicted, the bull was not ours, but the calf was. We decided to take care of the calf first. He wanted to get back in with his friends, and, probably more importantly, his own personal milk machine known as Mom. But he wouldn't cross the fence. (It obviously didn't stop him the first time!)
We swung open the pasture gate, and Randy unloaded the 4-wheeler. (You can see the calf has now acted like the roadrunner and sprinted down the road. If you look closely, he's that little black speck in the distance of the photo.)
I leave jobs like unloading 4-wheelers to Randy. I don't want to be like Wile E. Coyote and fall off a cliff - or the backend of a pickup on a 4-wheeler.

Then, the chase was on. My job was to help turn the escapee into the pasture and not let him get past me. 
Since I was there, why not take a few photos of my own Saturday morning version of the Coyote and the Roadrunner?
Mission accomplished ... at least Part 1 before the commercial break. 
The bull was our neighbor's, but since we were there and it was the neighborly thing to do, we were going to try to get him corralled. The plan was to open the gate on his pasture and drive the bull in. Kind of like the Coyote's grand plans, that didn't go so well.

Boys will be boys. The neighbor's bull and one of our bulls wanted to be THE ladies' man in the neighborhood, and they had the testosterone to prove it. They were butting heads through our fence. Randy got Keith's bull moving in the right direction, and away from the fence. But he wouldn't turn, no matter how much "Hey, hey, HEYING!" I did. As the 2,000-pound beast barreled toward me, I decided I didn't want to become the flattened pancake creature on Saturday morning cartoons, so I stepped aside. I'm usually pretty brave, but I try not to be stupid.

After several attempts to get the neighbor's bull into his own pasture, he leaped through our fence so that he could continue the "discussion" about superiority with our bull. 
You will have to take my word for it: There is not time to take photos when standing in front of a running bull ... unless you are in Pamplona, Spain, I guess. But I'm not that crazy.

So, while Randy loaded the 4-wheeler, I did what I do best and looked for pretty things to make the day seem better.
Randy dropped me off at home, and then went back to fix the fence wiped out by the bull's barreling his way into our pasture.

In this episode of Saturday morning comedy of errors, nobody got squished. Randy didn't break his arm, which, by the way, did happen with a run-in with a bull last summer. Nothing was harmed ... except for a fence. There's always an upside, if you look hard enough.

Later ... more photos from an evening excursion to the Ninnnesah Pasture. They will be more pastoral, as a pasture should be, right?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rolling Into Salina by Kinley

Hello all!

It's me again, Kinley. It's been almost a week since I "rolled" into Salina and had an adventure. But there's just been no time to write! I've been busy, busy, busy perfecting my somersaults and working on my sprinting. I say "Set!" and my Mommy and Daddy say, "Go!" I am super fast. My Grandma says I get that from my Mommy.

Anyway, I figured I'd better get this story told before the weekend rolled around again, and I had more adventures to report. Last Saturday, my Mom and Dad had some business to take care of in Salina. I had some business of my own. I needed to entertain Grandma and Grandpa.

They seem to like zoos. I really like animals. I had the perfect solution: Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure.

I was ready to pay my own way. But bonus! I was free. Grandma and Grandpa weren't old enough to get the senior discount. Grandma was glad. Grandpa was hoping for the discount.

One of my favorite animals right now is the turtle. In fact, I said my first complete sentence when I was with Uncle Brent, Mommy and Daddy at the Louisville (KY) Zoo earlier this month. "I see turtles." I got a stuffed turtle to commemorate the occasion. The turtles at Rolling Hills were being l - a - z - y last Saturday. They just laid around in the mud.
Grandma says the turtles must like cooler weather better. When she was there in March, they were moving all around.

Oh well! I showed off some of my other skills by identifying the eyes, nose and mouth on a turtle statue. It's pretty easy to impress the grandparents, I am finding out.
The turtles weren't the only things we found in the water. We also saw swans. I was thinking that joining them in the water seemed like a very good idea on a very hot day, especially since they had bubbles in their pond. Grandma says that it was a fountain. But I told her it was bubbles. I love bubbles.

Grandpa got me some fish food for a quarter, and we watched them fight over the food. I showed my Grandma how fish make a funny face. 
Besides the swans, we saw a pretty pink flamingo and three ostriches who had just gotten fed.

The turtles weren't the only tired creatures at the zoo. The orangutans didn't want to come and play either. Grandma had to find me a picture from another trip so I could see what they looked like. One guy just wanted to lay beneath a cardboard box. He wouldn't even wake up to say "Hi!" to Grandpa and me. Can you believe it?
A big old cougar looked like he was ready to eat me up! Can you blame a girl for getting away from that!?
My Grandpa says that the Rolling Hills grounds crew needs to take care of their bind weed. I don't know anything about that, but I did like the prairie dogs and the pretty white flowers.
I liked the big, tall giraffes. I just might have gotten a stuffed giraffe as a souvenir from our adventure ... and a book about animals and colors. You can tell my Mommy that I didn't ask for any treats. Grandma just thought I needed a little something to remember the day.
I don't know that I've ever seen an anteater before. He was kind of silly looking. I liked the camels. But I don't know what a camel OR an anteater says.
Did you know I'm bilingual? Well, I am pretty well versed in animal languages. I told each and every animal, "Bye, bye." It's only the polite thing to do. Don't you tell folks goodbye when you're leaving their house?

It was getting really hot, so Mommy and Daddy didn't meet us at the zoo this time. After we cooled off and had some lunch, we went to the mall. I guess Grandma and Grandpa weren't done seeing me with the animals because I got to play with some animals there, too.
Then my Daddy said it was naptime, and I had to head for home. I needed to rest up to see Grandma Christy and Grandpa Alan and the rest of Daddy's family the next day. Whew! What a weekend! No wonder it took me awhile to rest up enough to write this.

Until next time,
Kinley Marie