Friday, October 30, 2015

Lessons from Halloween

(Photo taken June 26, 2011, at the closing of Byers UMC)

At first glance, it may seem sacrilegious to mention Halloween and church in the same breath. I know some people believe Halloween is devil worship, but at the little country church of my childhood, Halloween meant a time to trick or treat for UNICEF.

We ghosts and goblins at Byers United Methodist Church had small milk cartons decorated with the UNICEF logo. As we collected our sweet treats, people would drop coins for UNICEF through the crudely-cut slots at the top of the milk carton.

Some of us would stay in Byers and go door-to-door. I always wanted to go on the northwesterly country route by car so I could put one of my Grandma Neelly's homemade popcorn balls in my goody sack.

I learned a lot about myself at Halloween. As a chubby princess, I declared I would never wear high heels again. My Dad proclaimed that he wanted a recording of that bold statement. But as it has turned out, I do prefer flats.

Another year, I learned that a computer made from a large box is tough to cram into the back seat of a car, especially when you're wearing it. (I wish I had a photo of it.) I was apparently ahead of my time. I didn't really work on a computer until journalism classes at K-State. But they were evidently in the news, since I decided to craft my own from a cardboard box that year. In hindsight, it would have been a better costume for walking the streets of Byers. But then I wouldn't have had the tale to tell, I suppose.

While trick-or-treating at country homes was a tradition in my childhood community, I soon learned that it's not the norm in the Stafford area. The first year we were married, I had my basket of goodies ready and the porch light on. Not a single trick-or-treater rang the doorbell. It was definitely a "trick" and not a treat for this Halloween-loving farm girl.
So when my own goblins got old enough, we always started our Halloween trek in the country at neighbor's houses and at Grandma and Grandpa Fritzemeier's, where Jill and Brent were tricked along with being treated.

Jill, at 13 1/2 months, was an angel for her first trick or treating experience in 1986. (Brooke is close to this age for Halloween 2015.)
It's a little hard to tell from the photos, but I think Brent, at 5 1/2 months, was supposed to be a kitty for his first Halloween in 1988. (I am definitely not a craft or costume queen.) He was much less excited than his sister about the whole affair.
But, as the years went by, Brent definitely relished the chance to dress up and pose for the requisite photo before going to collect treats.
Last year, we went to Topeka for Kinley's Halloween parade at preschool. She was a "kitty princess" - her idea.
Brooke and the rest of us came to watch, though she slept through most of it. She wasn't quite 2 months old at the time.

Later that evening, Grandpa Randy got in on the trick or treat fun in their neighborhood. Brooke was still unimpressed with the festivities.
The family is arriving today for Randy's 60th birthday.

Kinley won't be a cow, her first costume.
She won't be an owl either. (There seemed to be a strong animal theme up to this point, with her kitty princess choice last year.)
On Saturday, we'll watch Ariel and Flounder collect treats in their Mommy's hometown. That will definitely be a treat for this Grandma!

And it will be a great 60th birthday present for a certain Grandpa I know, too!

Note: Some of this was revised from a 2011 post. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Milky Way Blondies: National Chocolate Day

Trick or treat? When it's got the ooey-gooeyness of chocolate, caramel and mini candy bars, how can it be anything other than a treat? (Except when you get on the scale, I suppose. Then it's definitely a trick.)

Today is National Chocolate Day. Why anyone needs an excuse for chocolate is beyond me. And, with Halloween just days away, chocolate is practically one of the food groups. 

I know that homemade trick or treat goodies are frowned upon in this day and age. With visions of razor blades and pharmaceuticals, every parent wants hermetically-sealed store-bought candy for their little goblins. Or they want clementines and toothbrushes. (At this time of year, I'm always nostalgic for my Grandma Neelly's popcorn balls. That was my favorite goody from our Byers United Methodist Church Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF outings.)

But if you have a Halloween gathering, fall festival, tailgate or Royals watch party for which you need a treat, these Milky Way Blondies could be the perfect choice. Just like that glittery crown for your little princess or the cape for your Superman, these candy-filled blondies are the finishing touch for a sweet dessert spread.

The original recipe called for mini Milky Way bars, so I suppose you could "appropriate" a few out of your little ghost's treat bag. ("Steal" is such an ugly word.) But I used a package of the Milky Way Bites. They are already unwrapped and the perfect miniature size - making them ready to toss into the blondie batter. And, just in case there's not enough gooey goodness, you throw in some more chocolate chips and caramel bits.

Any of the candy bite flavors could be substituted. You like peanut butter and chocolate? Use the mini Reece's PB Cups, along with some peanut chips and chocolate chips. Do you prefer Snickers? Use those, along with your favorite ad-ins.

Trick or treat? I vote for treat!
Milky Way Blondies
Adapted from Crazy for Crust
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1/2 cup caramel bits
1 cup chocolate chips
1 bag unwrapped Milky Way Bites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

Cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until well combined. Combine flour, baking powder and salt and add to creamed mixture. By hand, stir in caramel bits, chocolate chips and Milky Way Bites. Press into prepared pan.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes until golden brown, taking care not to overbake. The center will still be jiggly when you take them out of the oven. They will firm up as they cool. Cool completely before slicing into 24 squares.

You may substitute other candy bites for the Milky Way. You may use different flavors of chips - from butterscotch to cinnamon to white chocolate. (For example, use the mini Reece's Peanut Butter unwrapped bites with peanut butter chips.) The possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

From Bloom to Bale to Back of the Truck

The snapshot told the story: From alfalfa bloom to bale to back of the truck, another Kansas crop was completing its life cycle.
Last week was haying moving week. We will feed the majority of the alfalfa, sudan and silage we raise to our own cattle, but Randy markets the extra hay through Sunflower Trading, a division of the Kanza Co-op. So far this year, he has contracted seven loads to Morrill Hay Company near Larned.
After we added a semi to our farm fleet, Randy bought a hay trailer from our neighbor. Both Randy and Jake got their Commercial Driver's Licenses (CDL), so this is the second year we are hauling the hay ourselves.
Photo from June 2008
After the alfalfa is baled in the summer, the guys stack it in rows near the road.
Jake picked up the bales, two at a time, and then brought them closer to the truck.

Then he puts each bale individually on the trailer, placing them two across on the flat-bed. It's kind of like building with Legos. You just keep adding "pieces" to the "design." Unfortunately, there are no handy connective pieces to keep everything stuck together like Legos.
After the bottom rows were in place, he added another layer, positioning the upper deck in the "groove" between two bales.
Last winter, the guys painted a white stripe down the middle of the flatbed trailer. That helps give a visual marker for getting the load centered. 
This particular load was a little smaller because it finished out the field.
This year, the bales are lighter in weight. They are also worth less. This year, we are getting $70 per ton, while last year's high was $130. Much of last year's crop was sold at $110.
The price difference can be attributed to availability. This year, western Kansas has gotten more rain, so there's more alfalfa available. In addition, feed grain prices are down, making alfalfa worth less, too.
Once the bales were in place, the guys strapped them down.
Jake lifted Randy in the tractor bucket to place the straps over the top.
This is not the photo op your wife wants, believe me!
But they got it all strapped down with no mishaps and no insurance claims. Success!

Last year, we didn't sell any extra hay until February, so the photos weren't nearly as pretty as those on a beautiful fall day.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dusk on the Sudan

Dusk on the Sudan, African-style: Camels kick up dust as they plod across the desert and cast shadowy silhouettes against the Red Sea Hills.

Dusk on the Sudan: Kansas style:  Dust hangs in the air as the great beast moves across the landscape and the sun sinks into the western sky. There are no camels in sight.

But some other mammals are going to appreciate our sudan crop, come wintertime. 
Sudan is a fast-growing hybrid that goes from seed to feed source in approximately 60 days. Randy planted the sudan in early August on ground from which we'd harvested wheat earlier in the summer. 
August 4, 2015
By August 17, the sudan was up and growing.
I neglected to get many growing photos this year.  (See the photo at the bottom of the post to see how tall it got.) Randy swathed the sudan October 13. Because it's thicker than alfalfa, it takes quite a bit of time to "cure" -- or to be dry enough to bale.

He got the last of the sudan crop baled last Tuesday evening.
Sudan doesn't have grain in the head, one of the differences from the silage we harvested October 3.  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? (We also raise alfalfa for our cattle.) 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.
Randy baled 110 sudan bales total this year. 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.
We use net wrap to keep the bale together and make it easier to move to cattle during the winter. It also helps shed moisture to prevent spoilage. He puts 3 1/2 wraps on each sudan bale. He usually puts 2 1/2 wraps on each alfalfa bale. 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. That's why it gets another layer of protection.
There was a brief timeout to change the net wrap roll.
It always helps to read the directions, right? (Or at least look at the pictures!)
After it was threaded through just so, it was back to baling.
He left two fields of sudan standing - a total of 70 acres - and he'll put mama cows on them in November after we retrieve them from summer pasture and bring them closer to home.
Randy swathed the borders of each field. The guys will put electric fence up around each field. Digging holes for the fence posts has been slow-going since we still haven't gotten any rain.
You can see how tall the sudan grew by comparing it to the hay bale.

During the 2015 production year, we baled just under 1,000 bales of alfalfa and sudan. It will make for good eating for the cows this winter.

Friday, October 23, 2015

One-Pot Chili Mac

Dinner? Lunch? Supper? No matter what you call it, a one-pot meal makes mealtime simple.
Here on the farm, we've always called our noon meal "dinner" and our evening meal "supper." It was the same at our childhood homes for both Randy and me. 
Now that our children are city dwellers, they have transitioned their terminology to "lunch" and "dinner." So we play the name game sometimes when we are discussing mealtime - or meal times!

No matter the time of day, a new recipe I tried this week, One-Pot Chili Mac, makes meal preparation a snap. And it has flavors that are universal for kids and adults - hamburger, macaroni and cheese, with a bunch of other tasty stuff thrown in for good measure.
Serve with a fresh lettuce salad.
Thankfully, my hubby doesn't mind leftovers. The recipe says it serves 4, but, in reality, it would serve at least 6, and probably more (unless you're talking harvest hands or teenage boys)!

The original recipe called for fresh chopped parsley to garnish the top. Since I didn't have that (or cilantro or green onion tops), I sprinkled with a little dried parsley. I also added a sprinkle of additional cheese and topped it with a few tri-colored tortilla strips. Besides making it pretty, it gave a little crunch.

Best of all, it really did only dirty one pot, plus a few measuring cups and spoons. And it only took about 30 minutes to prepare - start to finish. Serve it with a green salad, and dinner ... or lunch ... or supper ... is served!
One-Pot Chili Mac
Adapted from the blog, Damn Delicious
1 lb. hamburger
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 large green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth (or use 4 cups water plus 2 tbsp. dry chicken soup base)
1 14.5-oz. can stewed tomatoes, cut up
1 can white cannelini beans  (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 cups dry elbow macaroni
2 cups shredded fiesta cheese (or Cheddar cheese)
(Garnish: additional cheese, colored tortilla strips, green onion, cilantro, etc.)

Cook hamburger in a Dutch oven or other large pot with garlic, onion and green pepper until hamburger is browned and veggies are tender.  Drain excess fat. Return to stove.

Add chicken broth (or water plus dry chicken soup base), tomatoes, beans, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer.

Stir in pasta. Bring to boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer until pasta is cooked through, about 13-15 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in cheese and stir until melted.

Serve immediately. Garnish as desired. The original recipe called to garnish with fresh parsley, but I didn't have that, so I sprinkled on a little dried parsley, a little additional cheese and added a few tortilla strips for color and crunch.

I'm sharing this recipe at Weekend Potluck today. Check out the other recipes at these hosts' blogs: