Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Homemade Moose Munch Popcorn

Moose Munch popcorn is a Harry & David trademark. Their signature popcorn is one of their most popular treats for Christmas. They call it "premium popcorn," and it definitely has a "premium" price tag. So when I saw a recipe for a homemade version, I decided to try it. 

As a teenager, I loved to make caramel popcorn. The caramel base for this recipe is similar to the caramel corn recipe I've used for years. This version has nuts and some chocolate drizzled over the completed snack. Chocolate is sure to make anything premium, right? 

I first tried it for our Super Bowl watch party. But it would be a great snack as year-end basketball tournaments begin. Our K-State men's team didn't make the Big Dance, but they play tonight in the NIT vs. Iowa. And the play-in games for the NCAA tournament start tonight, too. Our K-State women's team will take to the Octagon of Doom court on Friday afternoon vs. the Portland Pilots. So there are plenty of snacking opportunities ahead this week. 

Or, dress it up with some Easter M&Ms for your Easter guests and they'll think you spent the big bucks on the Harry & David trademark!

Enjoy! And Go 'Cats!

 Moose Munch Popcorn
From Favorite Family Recipes 

20 cups popped popcorn with kernels removed
1/2 cup whole cashews, lightly salted
1/2 cup whole almonds, lightly salted
1/2 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Cover two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place popped popcorn and nuts in a large bowl.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and salt. It will foam up. 

Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and fold until well coated. Pour equal amounts on prepared cookie sheets. Spread the popcorn to a single layer. Bake 15 minutes, stir, then bake another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Melt chocolate in microwave-safe bowl, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth. Use a spoon or folk to drizzle melted chocolate over popcorn. Let is sit until chocolate hardens. Break into bite-sized pieces. Stores in airtight container or plastic bag. It will stay fresh for about 2 weeks. 
  • I had cocoa-covered whole almonds leftover from Christmas baking, so I used those in place of the salted almonds. You can use any combination of nuts totaling 1 1/2 cups. 
  • I also used semi-sweet chocolate rather than milk chocolate because I prefer the slightly more bitter version. 


Southwest Ranch Dip

Looking for other snack ideas? I included a round-up of sandwiches, meatball, dips and other snacks in a Super Bowl post. Click HERE for all those recipes, just a couple of which are pictured. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Heartbeat of the Community

We were in the Nora Larabee Memorial Library in Stafford as the sun was setting. As always, the light streaming through the stained glass window cast beautiful, warm color into the library. 

Stained glass window at the Nora Larabee Memorial Library in Stafford 

We were there to celebrate a $100,000 2024 Heritage Trust Fund Grant from the Kansas State Historical Preservation Office. This is on the heels of a $90,000 Heritage Trust Fund grant that was the genesis for a renaissance of refurbishing and restoration at Stafford's library which began in 2022.

Later, as I again looked at the photo of stained glass, I thought about how all those individual pieces of glass are fused together to make the portrait complete. Apart, the pieces of glass would be pretty, but put together by master craftsmen, the result is a complete, beautiful picture.

Perhaps those individual pieces are a fitting description of the efforts behind the renaissance at Nora Larabee Memorial Library, too. It took a whole lot of people - staff, donors and volunteers - to come together to accomplish a thing of beauty - the revitalization of a small-town treasure. 

Ribbon cutting - Oktoberfest 2023

During his presidency George H.W. Bush handed out "Point of Light Awards" to citizens working to aid their communities through volunteer work. In 1990 Bush spearheaded the creation of the Points of Light Foundation, the goal of which was to promote private, non-governmental solutions to social issues. Stafford has its own "Points of Light," too. 

The first "point of light" happened long ago. The impetus for the building of the library nearly 120 years ago was a tragedy. Nora Emily Larabee died in 1904 at the age of 27 from tuberculosis. Her family sought to remember her and have her legacy live on. Her parents, who were prominent Stafford residents - Joseph Delos (J.D.) and Angeline Larabee along with her two brothers - contracted the building of the library, complete with a stained glass portrait of Nora. The family donated the library as a gift to the City of Stafford. It opened its doors in 1905 and has served the Stafford community since.

None of Stafford's current residents remember Nora personally, of course. But her family's influence has impacted Stafford - and the region - since the turn of the 20th century. During the reception, a restored photograph of Nora was unveiled. The original had fallen from the wall, and it was feared that it was ruined because of tears in the canvas. However, master photographer Stan Reimer of Pratt used modern technology and years of experience to restore and reframe the portrait. It came back home to the Larabee Library the night of the reception.

In the grant application, it says: "Nora's portrait in the stained glass window was taken from an oil portrait, based on a photograph donated to the library by the family. The practice of making oil copies of portrait photographs was a common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries."

To restore the painting, Stan took a photo of the original photograph. He uploaded it to PhotoShop and spent chunks of time for a month working on it - correcting the color, visually "repairing" the tears, etc. Once done, he sent it to a professional photo developer, which processed it and made a 20- X 24-inch custom art print using watercolor texture fine art giclee paper. He reframed it and added museum glass to protect the image. 

Stan added his talents and skills to that of many other volunteers who have come together to make the restoration and renaissance of the Larabee Library a reality.

While the beginning began with one family, it's taken many "prisms of light" for its mission to the community to continue. That includes library staff and also innumerable volunteers, working together to make a difference. 

During the reception to honor the grant award, Library Board President Mary Jo Taylor talked about a television feature she'd seen just that week on KWCH-TV. The reporter talked to the director of the Washington, D.C. public library system, as well as the executive director of the Urban Libraries Council.

And even though those men were talking about huge libraries in urban settings, their observations about libraries are just as true for small libraries in rural Kansas or elsewhere across the nation.

Libraries are central to our communities. 
They are really the beating heart of our cities.
Brian Rainwater, executive director, Urban Libraries Council 
From a news feature, Evolving Libraries, The Good Side, by reporter Debra Alfarone

Taken several years ago in the east room of the library - The Richardson Wing.

It used to be that it was all about books. But people have various ways of accessing information and that fact has liberated us to be more creative. ... Today, libraries serve every age and stage of life. ... It's free. That's central to the mission of libraries - free and open access to information and services. Tell us what you're struggling with and how we can help.
Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of DC Public Libraries (Washington, D.C.)

The reception gathered just a few of the people who have helped revitalize the library. There are so many more. In 2006, the library was accepted for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the initiative of longtime librarian, Dixie Osborn. As librarian in 2020, Denise Dickson commissioned an architectural and structural engineering site assessment of the failing foundation and front door. Then, in 2021, librarian Jan McKeel wrote an article for The Stafford Courier, asking for donations to fund the foundation restoration project. Additionally, she wrote a successful application for the Heritage Trust Fund Grant, which brought in $90,000 from the Kansas Historical Society.
Ribbon cutting during Oktoberfest 2023, celebrating the renovations at the library.
The Courier article attracted the attention of two major local donors, who pledged $50,000 and challenged the library and community to raise matching funds. Thus, the Preserving Nora's Legacy Committee was launched. During the fall and winter of 2021, donations from large to small began arriving at the library, thanks to the hard work of volunteers. An additional $98,000 was raised. The library also got grants from Golden Belt Community Foundation, South Central Community Foundation, Kansas Strategic Economic Expansion and Development and Midwest Energy. To date, $310,000 has been raised to help restore and preserve the library.
Donors are recognized for their gifts in this memorial display, created by local woodworker/artisan Robert Owens.

While the library is an historic treasure in Stafford, it is not simply serving as a "museum" to the past. Nora's Place - as it is affectionately called locally - has undergone a renaissance in the past few years. Librarians and volunteer committees are also working hard to make the Nora Larabee Memorial Library a hub of community activity. Since 2021, the library has sponsored Nora's Gatherings. These once-a-month events offer art, music, storytelling, children's activities, food and fellowship. In June 2023, Stafford welcomed Bike Across Kansas participants. The library provided a cool place for weary bikers to rest, to access reliable wi-fi, get a homemade piece of pie and ice cream and visit with fellow bikers and community members. Nora's portrait in stained glass became a backdrop for many photos that bikers shared to provide a memory of that day in Stafford. (Click HERE for more about that event.)

The library also hosts reading programs for all ages, access to computers and wi-fi, Medicare enrollment and other health programs, art classes and much more. 

My friend, Linda, at a Nora's Gathering in July 2022

Libraries are a reflection of their communities. They want to make sure they have available what the community wants and needs. Libraries don't just bring together their communities. They should represent their communities. ...Libraries give people from all walks of life that access to those spaces, those places, where people can come together.
Brian Rainwater, executive director, Urban Libraries Council 

The library board and the Preserving Nora's Legacy committee (among other volunteers) have made that a reality in Stafford. This latest $100,000 grant will "seal the envelope" as library volunteer Nancy Hildebrand says, keeping it "buttoned up" from the elements and further decay (like wood rot). It will repair three basement windows, five stained glass window panels and three beveled-glass window surrounds (totaling 15 panels). 

The light is still shining through - literally and figuratively - as the library continues its mission, just as it has for nearly 120 years. 

(For more information, see Preserving Nora's Legacy and the Nora Larabee Memorial Library on Facebook.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

We're All A Little Different


Maybe it's a face only a mother could love. But that face - and, in reality, the whole body - certainly peaked the curiosity of long-time beef cattle producers.

A hairless baby calf was born to a mama in the local maternity ward. Randy and I have been around cattle our entire lives, and it's a first for us. My dad - who will be 90 in April - hasn't ever seen one. Other long-time beef producers were similarly flummoxed. 

However, in some ways, it reminded us of the 6-legged calf we had several years ago. (See that blog post HERE.) 

File photo from our cattle herd in 2018. That calf survived and seemed unaffected by its extra appendages.

Just as there are in human births, there are sometimes anomalies in reproductive genetics.

I didn't find a lot about the condition when I "searched it up," as Brooke would say.  According to Dr. Google, it's called congenital hypotrichosis. Hairlessness occurs in several breeds of beef cattle. It expresses itself as complete or partial loss of hair. Calves are often born with no hair but will grow a short curly coat of hair with age. 

Affected calves are prone to environmental stress (cold, wet, sunburn) and skin infections are more prevalent. A recessive gene causes hairlessness. (Information from the National Library of Science.) The veterinarian that the owners consulted had only seen one hairless calf in his long-time practice, and that had involved a baby dairy calf. 

The first time we visited, the calf was lying near a shelter belt wind break, with its mama nearby. But when we got a little too close to suit them, the baby got up from its nap. Except for its unusual appearance, it moved around like its fellow pasture mates.

However, the next time we visited was during the seasonal temperature swing that swept through Kansas last week. They had put the little calf in a shed to try and keep it a little warmer. 

When we visited, it didn't seem to have a lot of energy.We later learned that the baby didn't make it. From my internet search, the affected calves may have other anomalies that can't readily be seen, so it's hard to say why it didn't make it.

As I've written before, we'd all like the stories on the farm to be like fairytales. Who wouldn't want green pastures, frolicking baby calves, rain when it's needed and sunshine in good measure? But life isn't like that - whether on the farm or in the city. 

A friend who writes a column for Farm Bureau just wrote about that, too. She said:

My heart will always hurt when we lose a calf, but death is an inevitable part of owning livestock. A lifetime experience on the farm helped me build the strength to weather the cycle of life and death that is a truth of this life. Farm life is full of hard thing — hard lessons, hard truths, hard work. Confidence and competence to face challenges in life by doing what is difficult and surviving.
Jackie Mundt from her Kansas Farm Bureau Insight column dated March 4, 2024

Maybe those hard lessons should help us see the miracles all around us ... and make us even more grateful for every one of them.