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Mailbox Irises

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

4th of July Picnic or Harvest Meal? Orzo Pasta Salad

Fourth of July gatherings may be few and far between in 2020, thanks to an unwelcome guest named Covid.

But even if you're just celebrating with family, I have an idea for a pasta salad with a little different twist that's sure to create "fireworks" in your mouth. OK, the fireworks will come from flavor - not heat - but you know what I mean!
Jill, Eric, Kinley and Brooke were here last weekend for harvest. I had some excellent help decorating and filling the bags for suppers.
We had a couple of suppertime picnics in the field, but our noon meals were at the dining room table since Randy was in fields close to the house.
When I saw the recipe for Orzo Pasta Salad, I thought it would be a good salad to serve with the Greek Meatballs recipe Jill had shared with me earlier. (By the way, I made extra meatballs and used them for meatball subs for supper in the field last evening: Planned leftovers.)
If your garden is already producing cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh herbs, you're in luck. And if your zucchini is as prolific as Randy's plants, you could add a little zucchini to the veggie mix - just for a new way to use up a little bit of that garden crop that seems to multiply behind your back. Or visit your grocery store produce section or the local farmer's market for your fresh veggies.

Instead of the usual pasta twist or elbow, the base of this salad is orzo pasta. With add-ins like toasted almonds and feta cheese and a tangy olive oil-lemon dressing, it's a satisfying summer salad to add to your table - whether it's 4th of July, a harvest meal or just a regular old day.
The recipe may look complicated, but you can do much of it ahead of time. And we're enjoying the leftovers, too, so if you don't use it in one sitting, that's OK. However, you may need to add a little drizzle of olive oil and another squeeze of lemon since pasta has the tendency to absorb liquid as it sits.

If you try it, let me know what you think!
Orzo Pasta Salad
Adapted from Carlsbad Cravings blog

ORZO 
16 oz. uncooked orzo pasta
 2 tablespoon olive oil 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 
4 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth 
1/4 cup lemon juice 
1/4 tsp EACH salt and pepper 
1/2 onion, chopped
SALAD 
2 ears grilled corn, cut off the cob (grilling optional but recommended) 
1 English cucumber, sliced and cubed
2 cups (1 pint) cherry tomatoes, halved 
1 15 oz. can garbanzo (chickpeas) beans, drained and rinsed 
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved 
1/2 cup sliced almonds 
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped 
1/2 cup feta cheese
DRESSING 
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
1 TBS EACH fresh dill parsley and oregano OR 1 tsp EACH dried 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
1/2 tsp EACH garlic powder, salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Make dressing, whisking together all the ingredients in a small bowl or by adding to a lidded jar and shaking. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter with olive oil over medium-low heat. Once melted, increase heat to medium-high and add orzo and onions. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, until onions are soft. Stir in chicken broth, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Simmer until orzo is al dente, 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently the last couple minutes of cooking so it doesn’t burn. Transfer to a large bowl to cool in the refrigerator while you finish chopping your veggies. Add all of the salad ingredients to the orzo followed by the dressing. Toss to coat. Taste and season with additional lemon juice or salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Make-Ahead Notes:
  • Vegetables:  Can be chopped 24 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator or added directly to the orzo pasta without the dressing.
  • Orzo:  Can be made 48 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Dressing:  Can be made 72 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
If you want to make it ahead, toss all the salad ingredients together with only HALF of the dressing. Cover and refrigerate.  When you are ready to serve, toss with desired amount of remaining dressing.

If you use all of the dressing initially, your pasta may soak up all the dressing and will taste dry. You can "revive" it with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Notes:
  • My local grocery store doesn't carry many fresh herbs, and we don't grow them in our garden. I substituted a sprinkle of dried basil leaves. (If you use dried, DON'T use 1/2 cup. I really just used a sprinkle. There's a lot of flavor in the other ingredients.) I know the fresh would be better, but this was tasty, too! At this time of year, perhaps you can find some at a farmer's market or ask a generous gardening neighbor.
  • I also can't get English cucumbers here, and our garden cucumbers aren't ready yet. Since the cucumber I had bought had large seeds, I scraped out the seed portion and chopped up the rest.
  • I also didn't have corn on the cob, so I just used frozen corn. It didn't caramelize like fresh corn would, but it still added another texture to the finished dish. 
  • I did not use Kalamata olives (or any other olives). I served olives on the side for Randy and Eric. (There aren't many things I don't like, but olives are one of the few.)
  • If your garden zucchini are as prolific as ours, you could also add some chopped fresh zucchini to the veggies used in the directions. 
  • The original recipe called for sliced almonds. I only had slivered, so we browned them in a little butter until they were toasty. I also served the almonds on the side for the non-nut eaters in the group. 
  • You can use water and some chicken bouillon granules instead of the canned or boxed chicken broth. That's what I usually use. 
  • There are lots of additional recipe notes on Carlsbad Cravings, if you're interested in even more details from the recipe originator: https://carlsbadcravings.com/orzo-pasta-salad/  
 Here's another pasta salad that we enjoy for harvest: https://kimscountyline.blogspot.com/2011/08/macimum-taste.html  (Sorry the photo's not better. This was early in my blogging days.)


Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Different Perspective: Wheat Harvest from Above

NOTE OF THANKS:

All the drone photos and videos were taken June 18, 2020, by our neighbor Mark Pike. Thanks to Mark for this different look at our 2020 harvest! He gave me permission to use these on the blog today.
"I might need a drone," I told Randy.

My "need" was prompted by the photos and videos our neighbor, Mark Pike, shot by drone of us cutting wheat across from his house last Thursday evening.
I told Mark the same thing. He volunteered to let me come down and try his new toy "any time." But then, I started thinking about that.

He (and my kids) are of the video game generation. Joy sticks, electronics and such are second nature to them.
I, on the other hand, was my parents' "remote control" for the television back in the 1960s and '70s. There was no "clicker" to mindlessly glide through dozens of television stations. In fact, there were only three TV stations. It was a big deal when we added PBS as a 4th station beaming to our rural Pratt County farm home.

And I - or one of my other siblings - was the garage door opener. There was no clicking a button as you turned into the farm drive. It was child labor that heave-hoed the door up after a trip to town.
So I was imagining the damage I could do to Mark's new toy if I took him up on the offer to try it out ... and then promptly crashed it. Hmmmm - maybe not.
But the images were sure fun to see. Mark lamented that he'd tried - and failed - to capture the lightning that was flashing through the sky before a storm blew through. I lamented with him, telling him that it's not easy to achieve with still photography either - at least, by this amateur.
But his maiden journeys with the drone provided a different perspective than my dozens of photos taken on the ground the same night. (See Tuesday's blog, Beauty and the Beast, for those.)
Perspective - It's an interesting concept, isn't it? I've been reading a book this week called "The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness and the Men Who Could Be Me," by Bruce Feiler. A new NBC television show has been airing this summer called "Council of Dads," and I noticed in the credits that it was based on a book by Feiler. I signed up for it, and it was delivered on one of my trips to the Hutchinson Public Library parking lot.

In Feiler's real-life story, he chooses six of his friends who represent different parts of his life and could best speak to the different facets of his being. These friends were to fill the gaps for his young daughters in the event that Feiler would lose his battle with bone cancer. (The TV show has three men assembled for the same purpose, but it doesn't appear that the TV drama storyline has much in common with Feiler himself.)
One of the dad's in the book - the second Ben - says he would share this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke with the twin girls:
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.
Live the questions ...

It seems kind of like looking at things from different perspectives - maybe comparing the drone's photo angles to those taken by still camera on the ground. We're both seeing and photographing the "same" thing, but the perspective changes.

My view of sunset changes if I'm looking ...
west ...

or south ...

or southeast.

I suppose it's because we are all colored by our experiences. We are affected by the direction in which we are looking and the direction from which we've come. Are we stuck looking at past slights and failures or do we look toward the future? What wins out? Is it the memories of the schoolyard taunts or is it the compliment for a job well done?
Perhaps it's a reminder to stop and think. Will we be colored by the positive? Or will the negative win the day? It truly is a matter of perspective, isn't it?

It's kind of like the parable of the six blind men with the elephant, who touch the beast in different places and come up with wildly different impressions because of what they "see."

It seems to me that our world could benefit from a look at different perspectives. No matter which side of the political aisle my friends claim, I would suggest there's some validity in at least listening to another's point of view ... whether it's politics, race or even whether someone plans to wear a mask in public or not.

I loved this quote from "The Council of Dads:"
Confidence comes from the questions. I would tell the girls to live their questions. Throw themselves passionately into the quest for new perspectives, just like their father, who would go anywhere in search of answers to his questions. ...

What I love about the Council of Dads is that if your girls are too young to hear your voice, you can surround them with voices that will, in the totality of symphony, create sounds of their father. No specific instrument does it. Sherwood's drum may be beating too loudly, or maybe Black's or Stier's will screw things up. But Linda (Feiler's wife) will conduct the orchestra in such a way that the girls will hear enough music for you to be always present.
Ben Sherwood from "The Council of Dads"
Who knew thinking about drones and still cameras might be deeper than whether to fork over some money for a new toy?

Maybe our world could heal - at least a little bit - if we all were passionately on the quest for new perspectives. Worth a try?

***
By the way, I highly recommend the book. It is beautifully written.


Drone videos are by Mark Pike, Stafford. (It's on my Vimeo Account, so it says Kim Fritzemeier)


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Beauty and the Beast

Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
 
Beauty and the beast ...
From Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"

On Monday, as we drove around looking at damage from a straight-line storm that blew through Sunday evening, the song "Beauty and the Beast" rumbled around in my head.
No - I did not add a sunglow in editing this photo. Sunbeams really were streaking the sky!
Just last Thursday night, as the sun was setting, I was snapping photos
 to the north ...
to the south(west) ... 
and to the west ...

... as the clouds made a beautiful backdrop from a Kansas wheat field. (OK, I guess I missed the east but the show was great in every other direction)!
 
It was literally like the heavens were shining down on us.
But that night, it rained anywhere from 1.75 to 3 inches and halted harvest in its tracks after just three days of cutting.

"OK. It's great for the corn, the alfalfa, the pastures. I'll try to be happy." (Even though it kept our whole family from gathering for the weekend for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. Honestly, I was having trouble being happy.)

And then another storm blew through on Sunday evening, leaving behind another 1.25 - 1.60" of rain and some damage. Storms during harvest seem to be a "tale as old as time," all right! 

Our lean-to shed is leaning more than it's supposed to after 60-70 mph straight-line winds.
Our neighbor's semi cattle trailer is not ready for action after Sunday night's wind.
Randy had to find an alternate route to get to the pasture to check our heifers with so many large branches blown down by the Peace Creek Cemetery, a rural cemetery just a mile north of where Randy grew up.
I'm still trying to be thankful for the additional rain, which should help fall crops like corn, milo and silage, as well as the pastures.
Corn field - June 22, 2020
Silage - June 22, 2020
Ninnescah Pasture - June 22, 2020
Ninnescah Pasture - June 22, 2020
But we'll be glad when we can get back to the wheat harvest field, too. Some places will be a little slower going, since the rain and the wind have knocked some of the better areas over.
It's hard to capture on the camera. This is a seed wheat field, which is better and thicker wheat. More of it is down, so it will make cutting a little slower.
But I hope I'll soon be able to add more pretty harvest pictures to the ones I took last Thursday evening.
As I told Randy then, I have already taken more "pretty" photos from harvest than I did all of last year.
 
Last year's harvest was bad because of flooding that began in the fall of 2018 and even prevented planting in some of our wheat fields. The water-logged fields continued into the spring. Our overall average yield in 2019 was 23.6 bu/acre.
In the three days we've been cutting in 2020, we've averaged between 40 and 70 bushels/acre in each field. Hopefully, the yield and quality will hold up as we get back in the field.
Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
 

 
Ever as before and ever just as sure as the sun will rise ...
( Or in this case, as the sun will set.)
Yes, Kansas weather can be Beauty and the Beast.