Thursday, May 26, 2022

It's Time to Party

 

It was "mint" to be.

I could be talking about Brent and Susan, who will be married May 28. 

Engagement photo by Emily Brensing

Also, I was meant to make "mints." Another of my wedding projects has been making cream cheese "mints" - or candies - for the wedding reception. In reality, only one of the cream cheese candies I made is minty. The rest have different flavors and colors.

With a plethora of options, I may have gone a little "nutty" with the array of flavors. (Well, a couple have nut-inspired flavors - almond and vanilla butternut.)


I could have chosen several others, too, but I quit at six. To make it easier for people to get the flavor they wanted, I also used different colors for each of the flavors and then made a key:

Yellow - Lemon
Green - Wintergreen
Pink - Vanilla Butternut
Blue - Cookies & Cream
White - Coconut
Purple - Almond
 
For the record, Brent isn't necessarily a big fan of the candies. His verdict: The wintergreen ones taste like toothpaste. All righty then! 
 
But Susan likes them, and everybody wants to make the bride happy, right?
 
This is the recipe my mom used to make the cream cheese candies for my wedding and my sister's. I used it to make candies for Jill's and Eric's wedding 12+ years ago.
 
The cake table - and candies - at Jill's and Eric's reception
 
Photos of Jill's and Eric's wedding by Gina Dreher Photography, Wichita

 And I've shared the recipe with plenty of other people through the years.  
 


Jill thought my first efforts were a little too vivid for a wedding reception. I thought the heart shapes were a little too labor intensive, since I was shaping them all myself. 

So, for the second go-'round, I lightened up the colors, and I used only the rose silicone mold. However, the first ones will find a place on the dessert table for the rehearsal dinner.  They may be bright, but they're still tasty!
 

 
 Cream Cheese Party Candies
Recipe from Janis Moore
 
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Pinch salt
1 to 2 drops flavoring oil (or to taste)
Gel food coloring
Granulated sugar

Work powdered sugar into softened cream cheese until consistency is like pastry dough. Knead; divide into parts and add different colorings and flavorings, as desired. If you are working in the color by hand, wear plastic gloves to avoid staining your hands. 
 
Roll into small balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Press into silicone molds and then unmold onto waxed paper. Let dry. Store in airtight containers, storing flavors separately to keep the integrity of each flavor. May be stored in the freezer.
 
For the rehearsal dinner and wedding, I ended up making six colors and flavors. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer to mix. I doubled the recipe and I made it three different times. Each time I did the 6 ounces of cream cheese, I then divided it into two parts. For my experimenting, I had used my hands to work in the coloring and flavoring. However, for the "real" deal, I put the divided dough back into the mixer and added the different flavorings and colors, cleaning the mixer and beaters between them. 
 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Caramel-Filled (Rolo) Chocolate Cookies

 

Back in Jill's 4-H cooking days, she made Rolo Cookies as one of her early fair entries. We called them Surprise Middle Cookies because you weren't supposed to list brand names in 4-H baking. The recipe was always a hit with the judges. The caramel center was a surprise as the judges cut into - or bit into - the chocolaty cookie.

When I was thinking about cookies for Brent's and Susan's rehearsal dinner dessert table, I saw a similar recipe in the Stafford County Hospital Cookbook. It was from Darrell and Shannon Bauer, who own and operate the Wheatland Cafe in the nearby little town of Hudson. They have a stellar reputation for any and all of their cooking - main dish or desserts. And since I couldn't lay my hands on the recipe we'd used for 4-H, I decided to give theirs a try.

They were a success! 

The only difference I can remember is that Jill's 4-H entries were rolled in a combination of granulated sugar and chopped pecans before baking. This particular recipe didn't include the pecans, though that would be an easy substitute.  Since I had other cookies with nuts, I opted to keep these nut free.

Engagement photo by Emily Brensing

These will be part of the cookie spread I'll serve for Brent's and Susan's rehearsal dinner this Friday.


We are looking forward to all the festivities! Exciting times!

  
Caramel-Filled (Rolo) Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Stafford County Hospital Cookbook
Working Hands, Caring Hearts
Darrell & Shannon Bauer, Wheatland Cafe
 
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Rolo candies, unwrapped
Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookie dough balls in 
4 oz. almond bark
Sprinkles (optional)
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have parchment paper ready to use for cookie sheets.
 
In small bowl, combine flour, cocoa and baking soda; blend well, and set aside. 
 
In large mixer bowl, beat sugar, brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; blend well. Add flour mixture and blend until combined and a dough forms. 
 
Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each cookie, put an unwrapped Rolo in dough ball, roll it back into a ball, making sure the caramel candy is covered. Roll candy-stuffed cookie ball in granulated sugar and put on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets. (I used a cookie scoop to measure out the dough for the balls.)

Bake for about 8 minutes or until the cookie ball starts to crack. Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

After cool, melt almond bark. Put in a piping bag or decorator tube and drizzle over cooled cookies. Top with sprinkles, if desired. 

Another option: Sprinkle drizzled cookies with chopped pecans or another favorite nut while the almond bark is still wet.

Note: I used dark cocoa powder.
 


 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Moments and Memories: An Ode to Irises

Iris along the Zenith Road at sunset

Perhaps that great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, said it best:

Sometimes, you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. 

I had lots of moments in my Grandma Neelly's kitchen. Now, I wish I'd spent some of those moments asking Grandma her secrets for her homemade angel food cake or her Sunday dinner noodles. Too often as a kid, I was rolling my eyes at having to wash the aluminum foil and plastic bags to save for the next use. 

But I am sure my affinity for irises comes from Grandma Neelly. I made my Depression-era Grandma happy by standing at the sink and helping wash those "disposable" items. (She was a recycling advocate long before the "Recycle, Reuse, Reduce" message came in vogue.) But that kitchen window also offered a springtime view of purple irises. 

I sometimes accuse Randy of not listening, a common malady among husbands (and, if I'm honest, probably among wives, too.) 


 

 

But then he proves me wrong when he plants irises outside our front door and by the mailbox. This year, there are a few yellow irises nestled among the purple blooms.



This year, they have been prolific. Even though our wheat has struggled with the drought conditions, it seems the irises are thriving, despite the lack of rain.


Randy also watches the "secret garden" of irises along the Zenith Road with as much anticipation as I do, slowing down as we travel by, ready to see when the lavender-hued petals unfurl.


 

 

"My" Zenith irises are nestled under big cottonwood trees along the Zenith Road. It may be at an abandoned farmstead, though we're not sure.

This year must be a good year for the irises. Or I must have been at the right place at the right time to discover another "crop" of purple irises.

 

Just south of Stafford, the bed of irises brightens up an old building. I first saw them when I was taking Randy to Pratt to pick up the semi. I've been back a few times, trying to find a time when the blooms weren't swaying in the Kansas wind and when the light was right.


The fragile purple petals are a contrast against the weathered, rough wood.

 

I'm not sure who they belong to, but I figured I could beg forgiveness for trespassing. And nobody seemed to care except a barking dog.

Even though I may sometimes feel like I'm "too busy" to stop and smell the roses (as the saying goes) - or to stop and appreciate the irises, it's always turns out to be worth the pause.

 


It doesn't have to be
the (blue) iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot,
or a few small stones;
just pay attention
then patch a few words together
and don't try to make them elaborate,
this isn't a contest but the doorway into thanks,
and a silence in which another voice may speak.
From Mary Oliver's book of poems, Thirst

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Weeknd: Sky, Land & Water

 

They may not be the Justin Bieber of the bird world, but we'll take the "B-level" performers in our little part of the world, too. (Using Justin Bieber as a "star" probably shows how clueless I really am, which is no surprise at all. Actually, my curiosity won and I Googled biggest male singer of 2022. It's The Weeknd - just in case you wanted to know.)

"The Weeknd" visitors weren't the celebrity-level whooping cranes. They do travel through our area in the fall and spring. Their scarcity makes them bigger news and subjects for any paparazzi. 

But the Great Egrets at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge still warranted some camera clicks and watching through the binoculars. We had taken a sightseeing jaunt to the Big Pasture (Rattlesnake Creek pasture), and we took the long way home. I'll call it "sightseeing" because we aren't the ones responsible for day-to-day care of the cattle anymore.

But we still looked the cows and calves over - the ones that weren't hiding in the plum thickets anyway - and we checked the solar battery to make sure it was still charging.

And we stopped for the obligatory snapshot of the Rattlesnake Creek on the bridge. The water level is down some because we've had a dry winter and spring thus far. But there's more in the stream than there was back in 2012 during another drought. 

Our "long way home" took us on a drive through the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. On the Little Salt Marsh, we saw a number of Great Egrets.  We also saw their smaller "cousins" - what we typically call cattle egrets, too. We see cattle egrets all the time. 


In the map from Cornell University below, the purple is where the Great Egrets live year-round. The yellow shows the migration route for those that migrate. The peach is breeding and the blue is non-breeding. 

 

Range Map for Great Egret

Map from All About Birds: Resident to medium-distance migrant. Most Great Egrets move south for winter, traveling as far as the West Indies or southern Central America. They migrate by day in small flocks. During mild years, Great Egrets may stay as far north as Massachusetts. Individuals from the southern U.S. may not migrate at all. In late summer and fall, Great Egrets range widely over the continent. Map data are provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE.

The Great Egrets migrate through our area, including the wetlands of the refuge.


According to All About Birds, they are slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, but they are still large birds with impressive wingspans. Great Blue Herons usually don't hang around when humans are in the area. The Great Egrets didn't seem to mind much.

From All About Birds website

They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late19th century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds. They are no longer endangered. 

The Great Egret eats mainly small fish but also eats amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals and invertebrates such as crayfish, prawns, isopods, dragonflies and damselflies, whirligig beetles, giant water bugs, and grasshoppers. They hunt in belly-deep or shallower water in marine, brackish, and freshwater wetlands, alone or in groups. It wades as it searches for prey, or simply stands still to wait for prey to approach.

The Great Egrets aren't the only avian visitors to our area. The Baltimore orioles have returned to our backyard another year.

I've not been too successful yet in capturing them on camera, but I did get one, who was preoccupied by the grape jelly Randy provides. 

Besides the birds, we encountered wildlife of another variety later in the evening on our trip to the Stafford County Country Club. (As I've said before, it sounds fancier than it is.) But the recent rains have helped green up the scenery. 


 And the clouds were pretty spectacular, too. 


 Randy even gave me credit for his better-than-usual putting game.  

The clouds cleared out for the final viewing of the weekend. We had perfect sky conditions for a little star gazing ... or, more accurately, the lunar eclipse. There are a lot of wonderful images of the lunar eclipse on the internet. These aren't among them. (I haven't figured out how to take moon pictures.)

Whether I got good photos or not, we still enjoyed a beautiful night under the stars. (Well, we made it for the first half of the eclipse. We didn't watch as it reemerged.)



Thursday, May 12, 2022

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

I have made a lot of cookies in my life. Honestly, they're one of my favorite things to make. They have been, since I was a kid using my Mom's Sunbeam mixer to make chocolate chip treats. (We'd make oatmeal raisin - on occasion - for my Dad, but chocolate chip was the Moore girls' favorite.)

I've made hundreds of cookies for bridal showers and baby showers. I've made cookies and stuck them two-by-two like Noah's Ark in plastic bags and stashed them in the freezer until it was time to grab a few for meals in the field. I've made them for church dinners and PTO soup suppers and a jillion other reasons.

So cookies were the dessert of choice when we were talking about what to serve for Brent's and Susan's rehearsal dinner. With the venue some 5 hours away from home, we decided to have the meal itself catered. But a cookie table for dessert was a way I could still make it personal for them, their friends and family.

Last summer, I made a big assortment of cookies for a bridal shower at church. I used some of my favorites from that baking marathon. But I also tried to think of others in my vast repertoire.  

I used to make Peanut Butter Cup cookies using a cake mix for the cookie part. They were easy - and tasty - but I wanted a homemade dough for this special event. I found a recipe on a blog, Two Peas and Their Pod. 

And it didn't disappoint. Well, it didn't disappoint for anyone but Randy. I rarely make peanut butter "stuff" unless I'm taking it somewhere else, since it's not Randy's favorite.

If you don't have similar aversions, I highly recommend the recipe. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
From Two Peas and Their Pod blog

40 miniature chocolate covered peanut butter cups, unwrapped
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg (at room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk (at room temperature)
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 24-cup mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. This recipe makes about 40 cookies, so if you have two muffin pans, grease them both. This will speed up the process. (I didn't have 24-cup mini muffin pans, but I had multiple 12-cup pans. If you have them, prepare enough of them to make about 40 cookies.)
 
Place the unwrapped peanut butter cups in the freezer until you are ready to use them. 
 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugars, and peanut butter together until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg, vanilla and milk until well mixed. Add the flour mixture; mix until just combined.
 
Roll the cookie dough into balls, 1 tablespoon of dough per cookie. (I used a cookie scoop.) The dough will be a little sticky; if it is too sticky, you can chill it in the fridge for 20 minutes. Place each ball into prepared muffin pans.
 
Bake for 8-10 minutes; don't overbake. Remove from oven. The centers will collapse a little. Remove the peanut butter cups from the oven and press a peanut butter cup into each cookie. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes so the cookies can cool. This will keep the peanut butter cups from melting and it will make the easier to remove from the pan.
 
When the cookies are completely cool, remove them from the pan and place on a cooling rack.
The recipe author suggested using smooth peanut butter, so I did. (I usually prefer chunky). They said it makes it easier to remove the cookies from the pan. 

 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

All We Are Is Dust In the Wind

 

If you look up quotes about wind, writers wax poetically about it (as poets are wont to do). 
 
"The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean..."
- John Milton, 'On The Morning Of Christ's Nativity', 1629

But quotes about the wind among farmers this winter and spring would likely to be censored for a curse word or two. 

Wind has been the topic of conversation at coffee shops, on Facebook, at church and anywhere else people gather. Observations about the violent winds can even be muttered to yourself. (Not that I'd know anything about that.)

On December 15, we had a terrible windstorm.

Photo taken from my dining room window, December 15, 2021. You couldn't see our north driveway.

From my front door, December 15, 2021. You couldn't even see the road.

 It turned the landscape into a reenactment of the Dust Bowl Days here on the Central Plains.


This was the dirt that swirled in through my front door. It was everywhere. I truly was afraid that the mighty old trees around our house would come toppling down on me. Thankfully, that didn't happen. But the replanted wheat across the road gave up its noble fight for life as the wind exerted a powerful death knell.

Photo taken on May 8, 2022

These are not the beautiful wheat photos you want to post on your blog or Facebook page. It's not what you want to drive by as you travel to and from anywhere. But the photos are reality in one of our wheat fields, just across the road from our house. Randy had to replant it last October because of some untimely rain. And then the spigot turned off, and we didn't get hardly any moisture in snow or rain this winter. The small wheat just couldn't hold on during that December 15 windstorm - or any of the other "red flag warning" days since.

 

Randy chiseled where it was blowing. He tried to roll out some hay bales. And while it helped a little, it's still been blowing on windy days. Unfortunately, December 15 wasn't the only day with excessive wind. Maybe I don't remember the specific days. (I think I'm going to remember December 15 for awhile.) But there were plenty of people - including me - complaining about the wind. During the last week in April, my weather radio siren went off, advising me of a wind warning. That was a first, too.

An article in The Topeka Capital-Journal last week confirmed what we on the Central Plains already knew: It's been an unusually windy winter and early spring.  

Here's the graph that accompanied the article:

 

Reporter Tim Hrenchir interviewed Chad Omitt, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service Office in Topeka. Omitt said the state had never seen more than 25 high wind warnings in any calendar year since it began tracking the data in 2006. Kansas has already seen 30 such warnings this year, according to data The Capital-Journal acquired from Iowa State University’s Iowa Environmental Mesonet.

Omitt said Kansas sees an average of about 11 high wind warnings per calendar year and had already seen more than twice that amount in less than four months of 2022. (And that evidently doesn't even count December 15, since it occurred in the 2021 calendar year.)

The weather service issues a high wind warning when it expects sustained winds of 40 mph or more for an hour or more and/or wind gusts of 58 mph or more for any duration. Such winds bring an increased danger for wildfires, power outages and damage from debris. (Not to mention what it does to farm ground.)

A key reason it’s been so windy this year across the region is because a very active and strong jet stream or storm track has been focused over the central Rockies into the central plains, which causes very strong areas of low pressure to form near the surface, Omitt told The Capital-Journal.

Since March, he said, that jet stream has caused numerous strong low pressure systems to develop just east of the Rocky Mountains, then head east across the region.

“When that occurs, we have very strong winds out of the south or southwest to the east or southeast of the low pressure system,” Omitt said, “and then as the low center moves away, winds become west or northwest and often tend to be nearly as strong.”

A similar phenomenon is occurring in Iowa, which is seeing a close-to-record number of wind advisories, The Des Moines Register reported.

It attributed the high number of advisories, at least in part, to Iowa’s having seen many storms this year coming out of the south, only to be followed by winds coming from the northwest, with the mixing of winds tending to increase wind gusts. Here in Central Kansas, we can relate to that!

The weather service issues a wind advisory when it expects sustained winds of 31to 39 mph for an hour or more and/or wind gusts of 46 to 57 mph for any duration.

 

I'm hoping the sun soon sets on this stint of excessive high winds! 

We did get some timely rains last week - a total of 1.5 inches during a couple of different days. The moisture prompted the wheat to head out. The next several days of unseasonably high temperatures won't do it any favors. But, at least, the moisture during heading helped give it a chance.

Photo taken May 8, 2022, after 1.5" of rain the week before.