Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Sweet on Halloween

Source: CandyStore.com.
It's expected that $2.7 billion will be spent on trick-or-treat candy this year.

Yes, that billion with a B!

A couple of weeks ago, an email from Candystore.com showed up in my inbox. (It was fortuitous timing: I needed to come up with a PEO program for October.)

They had evaluated sales data from all 50 states and put together an interactive map featuring favorite Halloween candies by state.

Kansas' most popular Halloween candy has changed since last year. Reece's Peanut Butter Cups have edged out M&Ms, which dropped to second place. Candystore.com says that 231,476 pounds of peanut butter cups were sold in Kansas, compared to 230,082 pounds of M&Ms.

You'd think with all the corn grown in Kansas, candy corn would be the obvious choice. However, our third-place winner was Dubble Bubble Gum at 159,092 pounds. (I find it hard to believe, but that's what the website says.)
On this Halloween, we're headed to Manhattan to trick or treat with a couple of cute butterflies. I am guessing they aren't going to want to cover up their beautiful costumes with coats. Let's hope for stretchy wings! I remember one Halloween when it snowed so much that Jill's and Brent's Halloween excursion was curtailed to Grandma and Grandpa's house 2 miles away.

Now that our neighborhood children have all grown up, we don't have trick or treaters on the County Line anyway. Actually, we never have had many small visitors on October 31.

I grew up trick or treating in the country, but most of Stafford's rural kids just went to town for the holiday. I was so disappointed the first year we were married. I had my bowl of treats and my porch light was on. I waited. And waited. And waited. No one ever came.
(Photo taken June 26, 2011, at the closing of Byers UMC)
When I was a child, our little country church - Byers United Methodist Church - trick or treated for UNICEF.  At first glance, it may seem sacrilegious to mention Halloween and church in the same breath. We ghosts and goblins 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 ... or Grandma's popcorn ball!
Our two always started the evening trick or treating in the country before meeting up with friends in town.
I think they missed their calling. They should have been actors. (These photos probably aren't politically correct anymore. But they make me smile, and they were done in good fun back before I even thought about such things.)

The Halloween candies are already being edged out in the big box stores as the merchandisers make way for Christmas goodies. Sometimes, you can find seasonal candy on sale the day after the holiday. Candy prices seem to be high to me this year, so if you can score a bag of discount candy, you could make one of these tried-and-true treats, tested on The County Line. (Does anyone else find it depressing that all prices seem to go up ... except farm commodities?)

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sunrise and Sunset on a Milo Crop

A pastel blanket of sky snuggled in over the milo field behind our house. The pink tinges I'd glimpsed while filling my coffee cup lured me outside on a brisk October morning.
The sunrise is a lesson in celebrating the moment:

Miracles come in moments.
Be ready and willing.
Wayne Dyer

The sky shifts subtly, minute by minute, as more sunlight streaks the sky.
And then the sunrise gives way to the day. While photographers talk about the "golden hour" at dusk, the first light of morning also colors the world in a unique brand of light.
Later that same day (Tuesday), Randy began harvesting the milo, also known as grain sorghum. We only had 110 acres to cut, including the field behind our house where I watched the sunrise, and another a mile south.
We planted the crop on May 26. (Click here for a blog post that shows its progress through the summer.)
This harvest only took a couple of afternoons. The field behind the house yielded 62.4 bushels per acre, while the south field was 61 bushels per acre. Another fall task is crossed off the list.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Planting Wheat, Harvesting the Sky

The gas tank gauge on the car was drifting toward the "E" ... or as close as I ever let it get. As a country girl who grew up 15 minutes from town, I was encouraged to fill the gas tank when the needle neared the 1/4-mark. It was a habit that served me well as a teenager. When I ended up changing my "title" from father's daughter to farmer's wife, there was no reason to mess with a tried-and-true method.

Most of the last two tanks of gas have been "spent" running from one field to the next as we planted wheat. There was no fun trip to the homecoming parade and K-State football game last weekend in Manhattan ... just more trips to exchange the car for another trip to Zenith in the pickup, pulling the fertilizer trailer and refilling the 100-gallon diesel tank on the flatbed pickup. There were trips to deliver hot meals to the field and to help move the caravan of vehicles needed for wheat planting from one field to the next. A parts run to Hutchinson came after filling up a dwindling gas tank.

While I might be just a little sad (OK, a lot sad) that I didn't get to join Kinley and Brooke at the homecoming parade and get a preview of their butterfly Halloween costumes, I certainly have had some fringe benefits.
The sky! THE SKY!
It was like God was fingerpainting on the clouds, adding just a little bit of gold leaf ... like those fancy chefs on the Food Network.
I could almost ignore the mosquitoes the size of Piper aircraft to capture yet another image of Kansas beauty at its finest.
This wheat planting season has been a marathon - not a sprint. We started October 2, but we were slowed by some much-needed moisture interspersed throughout these past three weeks.(I told Randy that we can't complain about moisture after a dry summer.)
We finally got done with planting last evening, October 23. There are months of sunrises and sunsets until we'll harvest the 1,326 acres that will be Wheat Harvest 2018. (Let's hope it warrants the capital letters in 9 months time!)
Now it's on to harvesting another crop - milo. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cookie Butter Bars

Speculoos doesn't sound too appetizing, does it? But speculoos is actually a Dutch spiced shortbread cookie that's very thin, crispy and caramelized with an intricate design on the front. The cookies are traditionally baked on or just before St. Nicolas Day in the Netherlands and Belgium and around Christmastime in Germany.
Photo by By Zerohund

But some smart person didn't want to keep that goodness locked into a December time frame and  transformed the cookies into a peanut-butter-like spread.

It's a tasty alternative for those poor, misguided folks who don't like peanut butter. My husband is among those people. He will eat PB, but he much prefers other options. And thus, Cookie Butter Bars were born. I took a recipe that used peanut butter and peanut butter chips and substituted cookie butter and white chocolate chips.

They are among the treats that have found their way into suppers during wheat planting time. Bar cookies are a quick alternative to scooping individual cookies, an important factor when combining baking with parts runs and fertilizer deliveries.

They would also be a tasty addition to a Halloween party. Or, if you know your treat or treaters, they would be a tasty homemade treat to share!
  Cookie Butter Bars

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup speculoos cookie butter (like Biscoff, found in peanut butter aisle)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet - your preference)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 3/4 cups miniature marshmallows

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10- by 15-inch pan with baking spray. Line with parchment paper. (This keeps the marshmallows from sticking to the pan, making for easier removal.)

In a large mixing bowl, mix together butter, cookie butter and sugars. Cream well. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.

Add dry ingredients, just until blended. Fold in chocolate and white chocolate chips and marshmallows.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-22 minutes or until light golden brown. (Ovens vary. so know your oven.) They will seem a little gooey, but they set up when cooled.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Life Through the Rearview Mirror

I try not to live life looking in the rearview mirror. As a Type A perfectionist, I can make myself a little crazy with my "woulda, shoulda, coulda" thoughts.

But here lately, I've done quite a bit of rearview mirror watching. Literally.

I had three men who taught me about driving on the farm. My dad, my Uncle Leroy and summer wheat harvest driver Ed all contributed to my education on driving pickups and grain trucks. They all emphasized watching the rearview mirror, especially when driving slowly, to avoid being a one-vehicle traffic jam.

During wheat planting, I make my fair share of trips to Zenith for fertilizer and fuel. And I try to watch my rearview mirror for those fast-approaching vehicles. (For the record, there aren't many on the Zenith Road, but I'll see them if one happens along.)

I've also needed the mirrors for backing up to loading docks to pick up certified wheat seed at Miller Seed Farm and at the farm store for more acetylene and oxygen for those ubiquitous welding repairs.

I watch the mirrors so I know when to stop when I weigh on with empty fertilizer trailers ...
... and again when I pull into the fertilizer shed to get the signal from the co-op worker when to stop. (That one's important: I don't want to have to back up a trailer if I can avoid it!)
I ignore the mirror when I'm filling up the 100-gallon diesel tank on the back of the pickup because I'm too busy reading my book. (Fringe benefit!) But I definitely use it as I leave the pumps to avoid anyone else arriving or departing at the same time.
Mirrors help me pull up to the right place so Randy can fill the drill.
I  needed a crystal ball - not a rearview mirror - to know that the rice I left on low on the stove would be incinerated by the time I got back from helping Randy. (I will definitely use past experience - ala a rearview mirror perspective - to influence my decision in the future. The rice was so bad even the cats wouldn't eat it. But I did manage to save the pan after a lot of scrubbing)
Not all the driving has been looking backwards. One morning, I looked to the side to check for traffic before I pulled out of the driveway and loved the play of morning light on the turning leaves.
And as I returned from Miller Seed Farm one morning, I watched a front roll toward me across the horizon. I couldn't resist a quick photo. (I had a little cushion of time before Randy was going to fill the drill, so my quick stop was sanctioned.)

Today, I have a meeting in Hutchinson this morning and one in Stafford this afternoon, so the guys are going to have to "drive" the day without me. I think they'll miss me. (Of course, I'll be back in time to make and deliver the evening meal, so they could be missing me more!)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

As I type this, the thermometer is valiantly trying to climb above the 40-degree mark. And I'm thinking that, as usual, I have impeccable timing ... NOT.

Sharing this recipe in July or August or even September would have been the smart thing to do. After all, that's the height of grilling season, and grilling is the genius behind these Chili Lime Tacos. But, if I look ahead to the weekend, temperatures will be on the rise. And with tailgaters firing up the grills again for another weekend of college football, perhaps the timing will rival that enviable connection between quarterback and sure-handed receiver. (That's what I'll tell myself anyway.)

Jill and Eric were actually the chefs behind this tasty meal. While they didn't serve it at a tailgate, they did offer it as supper after an earlier K-State football game this fall.
We enjoyed a meal on their back deck after the game with able table-setting assistance from a little K-State football fan. 
Somehow, sharing the recipe got lost among corn reports and hay auctions and unplanned journeys.

So when I saw the photos hanging out in my blog drafts, I decided not to punt until next summer. Chili Lime Chicken Tacos with Grilled Pineapple Salsa was a recipe Jill found at the blog, Carlsbad Cravings. The blog has become one of her new favorites for adding new recipes at their house.

I don't use chicken regularly in my meal planning at home for a couple of reasons:
1)  We have a freezer full of beef.
2)  Randy says he's not a big fan of chicken.
However, if he orders chicken "something" at a restaurant, I always give him "the look," questioning why I so fastidiously avoid the bird on our home menu. And, for the record, he thought these tacos were mighty good.

Chili Lime Tacos 
with Grilled Pineapple Salsa

1 recipe all-purpose chili lime chicken (below)
1 recipe grilled pineapple salsa (below)
4 flour tortillas or 6-8 small corn tortillas
1/2 cup favorite cheese, more or less

Prepare Chili Lime Chicken and Grilled Pineapple Salsa according to directions. To assemble, grill tortillas lightly. Top with chicken, salsa and cheese as desired. Add guacamole and other taco toppings as desired. May serve with rice, chips, beans, etc.

Chili Lime Chicken
1 lb. chicken breasts pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
Chili Lime Rub
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder (optional for more heat)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Lime zest from 1 lime

In small bowl, whisk chicken rub ingredients together and rub evenly over chicken breasts. Time permitting, allow chicken to sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate up to 8 hours, then bring to room temperature before cooking.

To grill: If chicken has been refrigerated, let sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes. Grease and preheat the grill to medium heat, 375 to 450 degrees. Grill chicken undisturbed for 5-7 minutes per side or until chicken is cooked through. (An inserted thermometer should read 165 degrees F.) Remove chicken from grill and let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Garnish with extra fresh lime juice, if desired.

Note:  You may use the stovetop to cook the chicken, using a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat

Grilled Pineapple Salsa
(Makes 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 ripe pineapple, trimmed and sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1 whole jalapeno pepper
1/2 small red onion, peeled and cut in half
1 1/2 cups loosely-packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Grease grill and heat to medium-high heat. Drizzle red onions with olive oil and thread onto a metal skewer. Drizzle red bell pepper and jalapeno with olive oil to lightly coat.

Working in batches as needed, depending on the grill size, grill pineapple and vegetables at medium-high heat until tender and lightly charred all over, about 12 minutes for onions, turning occasionally; and about 8 to 10 minutes for the pineapple, or until caramelized, flipping once; 6 minutes for the red bell peppers, flipping once; and jalapeno for 3-5 minutes, turning occasionally.

Once cool enough to handle, dab off any excess oil on vegetables with paper towels. Devein and de-seed jalapeno pepper and dice. Chop pineapple and remaining grilled vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Stir together pineapple and all veggies, spices and cilantro in a large bowl. Can be served immediately, but it's better chilled.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hold On!

"Keep your hand on the plow. Hold on!"

Our adult church choir started practicing a song about a month ago called "Hold On!" It's a Negro spiritual, and, as you might guess if you know me (or if you've hung around here on The County Line much at all), the song has taken up residence in my head for days after the weekly Wednesday choir rehearsal.

We shared it for special music at church on Sunday, so it will go back in the choir room file cabinet until the next time. But I hope the message behind it will stay stuck in my mind.

Besides the memorable tune, it reminded me of a plaque that's in my parents' back hallway. Every day, my dad walks past it as he goes out the back door to farm:

The plaque came from my Grandpa Leonard's office, and, as my dad says, it definitely reflected Grandpa's philosophy on both life and farming. After Grandpa died, my dad asked for the plaque. It's been hanging in my parents' home ever since.

After the senseless tragedy of last week when a deranged man killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more, I saw lots of Facebook posts about praying for the victims and their families. I certainly did that, too. 

I do believe in prayer. But I also believe that God doesn't expect me to pray, then sit back and twiddle my thumbs.Yes, God will provide. But He expects me to "hold onto the plow" and "keep hoeing," too.

I'll admit something: I couldn't watch hours and hours of the coverage this time. It isn't good for my mental health. It feels a little selfish to admit that when people are still recovering in the hospital and other families have begun having funerals for people who were gunned down for no reason at a country music concert.

So, yes, I prayed for the victims, but I kept on "hoeing." I kept on fulfilling my obligations to my community, my church, my work and my family. And instead of watching network news and feeling defeated, I went outside as the Monarch butterflies came through on their annual migration.
There was a strong southerly wind, so the butterflies found refuge on the north side of a shelterbelt, giving them a little respite in a daunting journey.

Dozens of them took refuge and gave their wings a rest. It sounds like a lot of work to me to travel for two months, across thousands of miles, bucking wind and rain and predators. And it's all to get to a destination they've never visited before.

They begin the journey in their summer home in Canada and the northern regions of the U.S. They are headed for a mountain range 70 miles west of Mexico City in central Mexico, where they find the perfect habitat to survive November through March in the Oyamel forests. As many as 300 million spend the winter there. It's not like ducks and geese which migrate year after year. They will only make this journey one time.

They are a beautiful signal of fall. And, this year, in the face of depressing nightly news, they were also a symbol of fortitude and perseverance for me.
One line of the spiritual says: "Can't plow straight and keep a lookin' back." The butterflies aren't looking back. They are looking toward the journey. And they keep traveling on - despite the obstacles.

It's true for butterflies. It's true for us.

It would be easy to despair. It would be easy to hide in our houses. But we combat hate when we put our hand on the plow ... when we keep hoeing ... when we keep going and doing in God's world.

Last week, country singers Maren Morris and Vince Gill released a song called "Dear Hate." Proceeds from record sales go to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Give it a listen, if you'd like. It certainly resonated with me.

I am linked to Tell His Story, Jennifer Dukes Lee's blog. Click on the link to read other stories of faith.