Thursday, November 21, 2019

All It's "Crackered" Up to Be

The request was simple enough: I was to bring a fruit-type salad and crackers as my contribution to a PEO salad supper.

I could have gone to the store and purchased crackers. Nobody asked me to make a homemade version - much less two. But when do I ever make things easy on myself? (Answer? Rarely.)

And did I mention I was already in charge of making "fancy" cookies for a South Central Community Foundation grants award reception the very same evening? And, if truth is told, no one told me I had to make "special" cookies for that either. I just think an event like that deserves a festive flair.
For recipes: Macaroons, Pumpkin No-Bakes, Mexican Wedding Cookies, M & M Bars, Scarecrow Bars
Do I ever make things easy on myself? Same answer as above.

Thankfully, I could make both the cookies and the crackers ahead of time. So, between helping move cattle, feeding cattle, working cattle, recording my radio reports, blogging, volunteering and assorted other tasks, I made homemade crackers.

My sister, Darci, shared a recipe she and her husband Andrew had enjoyed while they were visiting friends in New Zealand. When I was tasked with cracker duty, I remembered that earlier recipe via email. It required a trip to Glenn's Bulk Foods to get all the different kinds of seeds, but they turned out well. They were chock-full of flax, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

I also remembered some cheesy crackers that were served at a local restaurant's Valentine sweethearts' meal several years ago. Since that restaurant is no longer in business, I wasn't able to track down her specific recipe. But Trisha Yearwood and the Food Network to the rescue. What's not to like about butter and cheese? The cheesy crackers are had plenty of both, along with flour and seasonings.

The PEO ladies didn't eat enough of the crackers.

Randy and I enjoyed some with homemade tomato and rice soup last week. I stashed most in the freezer and then used them as an accompaniment to two different kinds of soup at a Bible study Tuesday evening.

In the photo above, the crackers are pictured with a tomato rice soup that can be found at this link on my blog. On Tuesday night, I served the crackers with a Slow Cooker Potato Soup and a Slow Cooker Chicken and Rice Soup.

My church group also got the leftover cookies.
Sue's Crackers
From Wellington, New Zealand via my sister, Darci
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup spelt flour or rice flour  (I used rice flour)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
Sea salt for sprinkling (opt.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix seeds, salt and flour. Add water and olive oil; mix.

Spread thin on a 16 X 12 inch baking sheet with lip. Sue's instructions say to divide into two pieces and roll between two sheets of parchment paper until 3 mm thick (that's 1/25th inch - so it's very thin. I probably didn't get it quite that thin.) I then just put the bottom parchment paper with the dough on the baking sheet.

Lightly sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden and crisp. Place on rack to cool. Break into pieces.

You can serve as crackers. The "crumbles" are delicious as a crunch element in a creamy tomato or potato soup.

Cheese Crackers
Modified from the Food Network
1 cup butter, softened
3 10-oz. bricks sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded cold, then left at room temperature
4 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Dash of garlic powder
Cooking spray

Note: Don't use already shredded cheese because it's treated with an anti-caking agent. Shred your own for this recipe.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put the softened cheese and butter into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Using the heaviest mixer paddle, beat until the mixture has the consistency of creamed butter.

In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Gradually add the seasoned flour mixture to the cheese mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the remaining 1 cup of unseasoned flour a little at a time until the dough is somewhat stiff but still soft enough to be manipulated. You will likely not need to add all 4 cups of flour.

Use a 1-inch cookie scoop and scoop onto baking sheets that have been sprayed with cookie spray. (Or use parchment covered baking sheets.) Press down using a glass or you may use a fork. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

The original recipe made these into cheese straws. I don't have a metal cookie press, and I couldn't get the dough to push through the press I had, so I made them as explained above. However, if you have a better cookie press, here's the instructions for making them into cheese straws:

Lightly spray 4 cookie sheets with cooking spray. Put a portion of the dough into a cookie press fitted with the star tip and press the dough onto a cookie sheet into long strips that run the length of the pan. Repeat until the pan is full. Bake until straws are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

With your hands or a sharp knife, break or cut the long strips into 3-inch lengths. Use a flat, thin spatula or an egg turner to remove the cheese strips from the pan. Allow them to cool on a wire rack. When they are completely cool, serve or store in a tightly-covered container.

This makes a lot! The original recipe said 4 dozen cheese straws. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Building Fence: A Link to Memories

I lifted my foot from the accelerator and did my mental, "one little second, two little second, three little second ... " all the way to six little seconds.

Randy and I were building fence. Well, Randy was building fence while I drove the pickup to carry the fencing supplies. My life on a farm truly has come full circle. I was probably 6 years old the first time I drove a pickup for fence building.
Kim - May 1965 - Almost 8 years old
My dad was the guy who hopped on the back of the pickup between fence post intervals way back when.
It was a bit like looking in a rearview mirror to see where you've been, I suppose.
During this latest fence-building expedition, Randy initially was telling me when to start and stop. But after awhile, I started counting the seconds between fence posts and we developed an unspoken rhythm for the work. (Hence the "one little second ..." chant.)
The fence building isn't just a deju vu experience for me. There's plenty of Randy's past tied up in the tools we use. That's especially true for the Ford 8N tractor.
These days, we have a wire winder on the back and use it for rolling out electric fence so we can move cattle to stalks for grazing.
The wire winder itself is homemade from a Model T frame, adding to the longevity of this farm workhorse.
 I think the rust is the only thing holding the tractor together these days.
But there is something about tradition. That tractor seat has been occupied with five different generations now. 
Melvin and Clarence bought the tractor back in the 1960s, when Randy was in grade school.
Clarence (Randy's Grandpa, seated), his Dad Melvin and Randy holding Brent in 1988. 
Clarence and Melvin used it to load silage for feeding cattle. Randy remembers using it to pull a two-row John Deere planter when they planted milo. He also cultivated milo with it when he was junior high age.
Now he uses it to roll out wire.

That wire also tells a story. There is about 1 1/2 miles of wire on each spool. At one time, Randy says they had 12 miles of wire and posts they used for temporary fencing projects.  Over the years, he's had to discard some of the rusty sections of fence that have fallen victim to inclement weather and age.
Randy says that he used to find splices in the wire that he could attribute to his dad. Melvin twisted the wire a bit differently than Randy does. So the farming legacy stretched between the two generations even after Melvin's death.
And who knows how long that tool has been called into service for fencing projects?
But all those tools - and yes, the aging people - are still getting the job done.
The fence went around sudan fields and milo stalks. Many years, we bale sudan. This year, the crop wasn't very abundant. Randy did swath the edges of the fields to make it easier to put up fence.
Last week, after the "ladies" got their OB/GYN checkups with Dr. Bruce, we moved them to the stalks for a little winter dining.
They were ready to check out their new "digs."
Now if only the deer would quit crashing in to the fence.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

I've Been Enlisted

I've been enlisted. No, not into military service. But I have been enlisted to drive the feed truck this winter. In its former life, our feed truck was an Army truck. We purchased the 1991 5-ton, 6-wheel drive Army truck and had the Kelly Ryan feed wagon box added to the back in 2014.
C. Melvin Fritzemeier, 10th Infantry Division, U.S. Army
Since Randy's Dad drove an Army truck in the Korean War, there's a bit of nostalgia there, too.

It still has its Army number emblazoned on the driver's side door. That first step is a doozy. So I use my handy-dandy ladder to get into the truck.
 Once inside, it looks a little like mission control. 
 With the gap between the windows and the frame, it's kind of a cold ride on nippy mornings! Randy "says" there is a heater. There may be a blower, but I'm not convinced it's heating anything.
Every morning, Randy uses the loader tractor to scoop out silage from the trench silo. The silage crop was rather small this year, so the silo isn't nearly as full as it sometimes is.
It takes several scoops to get enough silage to feed the cows and the calves.
Once I get a thumbs up, it's time to get the truck turned around and headed back to the corrals.
It's kind of a tight squeeze. My least favorite part of the trip is pulling in and out of the drive and the narrow gate.

To make sure I don't end up in Peace Creek, I have to pull into a driveway past the actual entrance into the pasture, back up and then come in from the north. I make my exit in the same convoluted way.
There are no guard rails on that wooden bridge.
Once I make the trek back to the farmstead, Randy augers some grain in the truck while I follow voice commands. (I turn off the blower first so I can hear him. It doesn't seem to make much difference in the temperature in the cab anyway.)

Then I become fence opener for our neighborhood Meals on Wheels delivery.
I like the warmer days ...
... better than the frigidly cold days. 
It doesn't seem to affect our diners much. They like the meal plan - no matter the weather.
Come to think of it, the cab of the truck is warmer than the outside temperature most days.
However, until the calves get moved to a larger lot, there's a lot of maneuvering involved. So gate duty it is!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

All in the Family: The Big Pasture

These two cousins have been rounding up cattle at the Big Pasture for several decades. They did it again last week.

I helped with the round-up there for the first time last week. To our knowledge, I was the first woman to help with the actual cattle work since the ground was purchased by a family member in 1904. After it was all over, I accused Randy of trying to scare me with "worst case scenario" options.

As you can tell from their smiles - and the fact that I was able to convince them to take a photo - we didn't end up with any major mishaps. It was a beautiful fall day. And Don said I was hired for next year. I told him they must have a fairly low threshold for "employment."

But as I waited with Randy and Don for the cattle trailer to return for the next load, I did hear one story that qualified in the "worst case scenario" category. One year, a cow tried to hurdle Melvin, knocked him off his 4-wheeler and a hoof hit him in the head.

Thankfully, there were no cows trying out for the Olympic team last week.

The waiting gave me an opportunity to eavesdrop on the two cousins' conversation while I pretended to read my book. (I did do some reading, too.) Later, Randy said he always enjoys that part of the day. We live halfway across the county from Don, so they don't get as many opportunities to visit. There used to be a family reunion a couple of times a year, but as the older generation passed away, those gatherings died, too.

As Randy and Don sat on the back of the pickup and talked, I thought about the family that came before them and worked to give them the opportunity to keep running cattle on this pasture on the Rattlesnake Creek.
The three brothers on the back row owned the pasture. Clarence was Randy's Grandpa; Ed was Don's dad.
Years ago, Randy's grandpa Clarence and his brother, Ed (Don's dad) owned the pasture with their brother, Harve. I used a working photo from a 1950s cattle round-up in my last blog post. This one looks like it was from a wedding anniversary celebration, and it includes their sisters, Minnie and Edna. But, even as young boys, Randy and Don got in on the family affair that the fall round-up entailed.
Undated photo - Clarence and Melvin
As our feet dangled off the back of the pickup and we ate our ham sandwiches, I thought about the previous generations who'd done the very same thing. 

Eventually, Randy's dad, Melvin, inherited the pasture from Clarence, while Don's portion was passed on to him by his dad.
Who knows? Maybe this Hereford pictured with Melvin was on the big pasture at some point. At that time, the Fritzemeiers raised horned Herefords.
Now, Randy and I also have Hereford bulls as well as Angus bulls for our crossbred herd. But we have opted for polled Herefords. 

Before this year's round-up, Randy had been bringing a pickup with hay to the pasture in hopes that they'd come running for a free buffet. However, one lonely cow was the sole curious observer when we first arrived.
Well, that's not entirely accurate. A herd on the other side of the road was curious enough to come to the fence to watch the action and to chime in with a chorus of "cattle calls."
But, eventually, all my honking had generated some interest in our pasture, too.
For the record, alfalfa doesn't give cows "minty fresh breath."
I know because a few of them had their heads practically in my window.
Once the 4-wheelers had made the circuit and had pushed the cows and their calves toward my honking pickup, we began the "parade" toward the corrals, with me leading the way and the cattle following in a cloud of dust.
Then it was time to urge them into the corrals.
While the guys made one final sweep of the pasture to look for stranglers, I sat and read my book.
Then it was time to set up panels, the loading lane and loading chute so we could get the cattle from the pens to Don's semi.
Don built the lane and chute one winter.
The two cousins (along with a couple of other helpers) sorted while I ran the gate. The guys have been doing this a long time and they seemed to know instinctively what the other was going to do. It took four semi trailer loads - two with cows and two with calves - but the job was finally done.
It was just in time. As we were getting ready to leave, the clouds covered the sun and gave us a stunning farewell sky.
We almost got everything unloaded and put away at home before the cold front blew in.

The vet will be here today to preg-check the cows from that pasture and then vaccinate the calves from both the Big Pasture and the Ninnescah. It's going to be a cold day.

But it's a good feeling to have the cattle home - even if it means I now have a daily job driving the Army truck-turned-feed truck. More on that to come.