Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.                         

- Melody Beattie

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stalking rain clouds

 We need rain.  Bad.

There is rain in the forecast and we are so excited, but cautiously so.  Last time we had thunderstorms in the area, all of the action split and went north or south of us.  We are desperate for rain!

We noticed that there was some storms on the radar to our west.  The clouds started to look promising and any thunder-like noise had us stop and listen.

Given the likelihood that it might rain, we hustled out to take the fabric top off of the gazebo and to feed the alpacas some hay.  I grabbed my camera to get a few photos of the building clouds to the north and east of our house.

I was struck by how dry the corn looked in the foreground and yet so hopeful about the promise in the clouds.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes

This summer has been such an amazing time to try out some new recipes and I am so thankful for the time in the kitchen.  I find a tremendous amount of relaxation in cooking and know that experimenting with new recipes is an excellent creative outlet for me.

My most recent experiment was on Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes.  We love Philly Cheesesteaks in our house.  It was five years ago this summer that we had the best sandwich ever in Philadelphia at a little deli off the beaten path of the regular tourist stops.  We measure every Philly Cheesesteak anything to that sandwich.

Last week, I came across this recipe on Six Sisters' Stuff and thought it met the test for a weeknight meal - only a few ingredients and quick prep and cooking times.  It was a winner for us.  My husband even ate the mushrooms - that never happens.

Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1/4 c. steak sauce
1 c. beef stock
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pkg. sliced mushrooms
Provolone cheese, cut into slices or pre-sliced
Salt & Pepper to taste

In large skillet over medium-high heat brown the ground beef. Add the onion, green pepper and mushrooms and cook until they start to get tender. Stir in the steak sauce and beef stock, season with salt and pepper, bring up to a bubble.

Split open rolls, place one slice of cheese on one side.  You might want to toast the buns under broiler.

Place a scoopful of the meat on the bottom half of the bun, drizzle with additional steak sauce and place cheesy bun on top.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dirt, Denim and Diamonds conference

Women in agriculture should check out my friend's conference, Dirt, Denim and Diamonds.  Scheduled for August 10-12 at Living Water Ranch north of Manhattan, KS, the three day event promises to be a lot of fun with many opportunities for women interested in agriculture to network.  One neat aspect of the conference is that it is the capstone of the organizer's master's degree.

Grass and Grain has a great article about Lori and the conference.  You can find the conference on Facebook, too.  

I look forward to all of the learning and socializing.  We plan to have a table for the Friday night vendor session.  Let's hope some of the conference attendees are looking for alpaca yarn and rugs!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's not about how you look...

A couple of weeks ago I went to my eye doctor for my annual check up.  It just happened that I had been having some trouble with allergy symptoms in my eyes for several weeks.  After the exam, my eye doctor told me that I needed to not wear contacts for a week and then return for a follow up exam.

This might not be a big deal for most people, don't wear my glasses in public.  I just don't.  It might be because I started wearing glasses in middle school.  Middle school.  The absolute worse time for an adolescent girl to start wearing glasses.  I distinctly remember two boys sitting behind me on the bus ranking the girls in our class by our looks.  I slipped out of the top five because, according to one of my pimply-faced classmates, I got glasses.  I was devastated.  Ah, glasses.

With age and perspective, I know that there are several things wrong with tying your esteem to the opinions of others.  And, there are so many more things wrong with young women being ranked like cattle in a show ring.  That is a whole other essay.

Back at the eye doctor...

So, I did what any thirty-something with a glasses-wearing complex would do...I negotiated.

I asked if I could use the July 4th holiday as a reprieve for my eyes.  Then, if I could wear contacts on Thursday and Friday at work only and then use the weekend for the second wave of reprieve.  This schedule, in combination with some medicine, got the approval from my doctor.

The weekend was a great time for me to reflect on my glasses-wearing complex.  I thought a lot about vanity and vision and negotiated how to exercise and cook with glasses. (I forgot about all of the fogging up.)  Ultimately, I got really, really thankful for my healthy eyes and the fact that I can see.  And, I got a little more ok with my glasses.  Maybe I will even wear them in public...maybe...after I update my frames to something a little more hip.  Whatever hip is.  I'll have to ask someone cooler than me.

While scanning Pinterest, I found the great graphic above.  Loved it.  So perfect for my life in this time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pasta with tuna and tomato sauce

We found another recipe I can file as a keeper, even though my husband was initially a skeptic.  (This is a whole category in my cooking repertoire.)

Pasta with tuna and tomato sauce was a super easy and fast recipe that I threw together after post-work errands tonight.  I found the recipe on Punchfork or Pinterest or in a magazine sometime during the past month.  It sounded like a perfect option for the summer.

I did adjust the recipe in a couple of ways - the type of pasta and the amount of basil used.  We had some rigatoni on hand and it was the perfect pasta for this recipe.  My husband went to the garden to get the basil for me.  He's not a big fan of a lot basil, so he brought back just a few leaves.  It ended up being perfect for the amount of flavor - not too overpowering.  I also didn't bother to use the broiler.

In addition to being tasty, this recipe made a nice portion size that yielded some leftovers for lunches this week.

Pasta with tuna and tomato sauce

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 28-ounce can of tomatoes, whole or crushed
1 pound pasta shells
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 6-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped or torn
A generous 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a medium pot on medium heat and add the can of tomatoes, including the juice. If you are using whole canned tomatoes (or fresh ones) crush them as you put them in the pot. Simmer gently, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Once the sauce is cooking, heat a large pot of well salted water to a strong boil. Add the shell pasta to the boiling water and cook at a vigorous boil, uncovered, until al dente, cooked through but still a bit firm to the bite, which is usually whatever the time specified on the pasta package minus about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Pour off the excess oil from the tuna and stir the tuna into the tomato sauce. Add the ricotta cheese, and add salt to taste. Turn off the heat. Mix the sauce with the pasta in a large bowl. Mix in the basil.

Pour the pasta into a 2 to 3-quart casserole dish and top with the parmesan cheese. Put under a hot broiler for 4-6 minutes, until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Canning tomatoes

Canning merges several of my loves.  My plant geek, garden loving fool gets very excited to see our work result in delicious food.  My foodie/cooking fanatic side loves the challenge of finding new recipes and perfecting the process.  Our canning and preserving efforts are a family affair with me learning at the elbow of my mom.  And, I know that by gardening, canning and learning from my mom, I am honoring a long legacy of women in my family who have participated in these same activities.

I will forever savor hearing the "POP" of a jar sealing as it rests on the counter, fresh from the canner.  And, for as long as I can remember, my mom and I count them together as they sound off during the sealing process.

This season has been productive so far.  We have several quarts and pints of pasta and pizza sauces and a spicy tomato sauce that is something new for us this year.

We have likely reached the last of our big batches of tomatoes for the season.  The tomato plants are looking really sad with the heat and lack of rain.  I am holding out hope that we will get some moisture and they will rally for a late summer crop.

My more realistic thought is that I will start to scout the local farmer's markets for some tomatoes. At Saturday morning's market, there were a couple of vendors with canning specials on tomatoes, so I will have to do some more investigating.

One of the fun things about canning is that it turns your kitchen upside down.  I would give my kitchen high marks for cleanliness, but the clutter is laughable.  There is never enough counter space and you have to have enough supplies on hand which means jars, lids, rings, bowls, pots, and other canning tools everywhere.  The process is like musical chairs - moving and stacking, moving and stacking.  Last week I went through all of the supplies and tried to consolidate.  Now, I have neatly organized piles and stacks.

Still, I love this season.  One of my favorite ways to relax is to peal a pile of tomatoes and work them into a counter full of beautifully preserved food.


 Ahhh, Chicago!  We love Chicago and we were so fortunate to be able to extended a work trip for a little extra time in the city last week.

Of course, we took in some of our favorite things and tried out a few new things.  

After my conference wrapped up, we walked to Millennium Park and saw one of my favorite landmarks - Cloud Gate or "The Bean."  The buildings as the backdrop of this popular sculpture always make for a dramatic view.

 We kept moving toward our destination.  And, along the way, we got inspired by some planters in front of The Art Institute of Chicago.  I am filing these ideas away for next year's container gardening.
 We spent our lunch time at The Taste of Chicago - a huge multi-day food festival.  We got to sample offerings from several different Chicago restaurants.  It was fun, but something I wouldn't rush to do again.  The crowds and the heat made it difficult to really enjoy the whole experience.
 On the way back toward our hotel, we walked through the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park.  I am always fascinated by the wildflowers with the cityscape in the background.

We left the park and decided to stop at Starbucks because they had a free drink special that afternoon to showcase a couple of their seasonal drinks.  In full disclosure, we actually stopped at three different Starbucks for free drinks that day.  It was super easy because there was a Starbucks at just about every two blocks.  Thank you, Starbucks, for the Very Berry and Lime Refreshers!

We spent some time in a gift shop and then, the sky cracked open with this huge thunderstorm.  What to do?  Do we wait it out or make a run for it?  Or, do we catch a cab back to the hotel?  We decided to make a run for it.  We got drenched!  Our hotel staff had towels waiting at the door for the guests, thus earning them  high marks for customer service from this self-proclaimed customer service snob.
 We also went to our favorite restaurant - Flaco's Tacos.  We love, love, love this place!  The portions are great and the price is right, and I could go on and on about the flavors.  Chicken quesadillas, veggie torta, chips and guacamole, a frozen margarita, and sangria.  (Plus, a burrito because my husband couldn't resist ordering something else.)
 On our last night, we went on an evening brew cruise.  The price was pretty good for all of the beer you could drink and great skyline views from the lake.  We had a really good time.
Bye, Chicago!  Until next time!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kansas Ag Photos

The Kansas Department of Agriculture just finished a photo contest on their Facebook page.  While the most recent contest is closed, they promise to have more in the future.

This photo is my favorite!  The old truck reminds me of our old truck and I really love the saying on the old tag.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Founding Gardeners

I am waving my plant geek flag today.

Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nations by Andrea Wulf is a book that has been in my pile to read for some time.  I have been chipping away at it over the past month or so and it has been a delight.

I am a history nerd and a plant geek, so the book has a lot of appeal.  I just finished it yesterday - on Independence Day - and it was a fitting time to bring the book to a close.  The subjects of the book, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams - were our founding fathers who shaped our country in many significant ways.  I did not know they each loved agriculture nor did I recognize how their love of agriculture shaped their political decisions and vision for our country.  The whole book was fascinating.

One of my favorite parts of the book, speaking of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams:

Their time on the political stage might have been over but their passion for their country had not diminished.  For them, working the soil, experimenting with new vegetables and examining plants was a patriotic act as well as an assertion of their belief in America's future.  Planting trees, Jefferson wrote in June 1812, was a joy even when it was "for a future race."  The saplings they nurtured now would shade the next generation of Americans.  "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past," Jefferson wrote to Adams in the summer of 1816, their friendship now well and truly recovered.  "So good night.  I will dream on."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New chickens

 It was time to replenish our chicken flock.  We had been talking for several months about adding some new hens to the farm because our others had reached the point where they were not laying eggs on a regular basis.

We understood that it was normal for hens to reduce egg production as they aged and we were on the fence about whether to order chicks this spring or try to find some older birds that had been started by someone else.

My husband found some hens at an open air market at our Tractor Supply Company store.  Every month there has been a mini-market where area producers set up.  We decided to see if we could find some chickens.  Mind you, we made this decision on Sunday morning as we were getting ready to run to town for errands.  We had to get things in order quickly to make it before the market closed up for the day because of the heat.

We found the dog kennel in the basement, reviewed our list of errands, and counted our cash.  The market had several different types of birds, including a really fancy show bird.  We weren't in the market for a $20 show bird, but it was pretty.
We ended up buying 10 hens. The next challenge was introducing them to the existing birds without subjecting the new birds to a lot of what I will call chicken hazing.  The establishment of a pecking order is always a little hard to watch.  One way we hoped to make things easier was by buying older birds instead of trying to start our own chicks and raise them until they were big enough to hold their own in the pen.

Our plan was to keep the new birds in the kennel in the shade with plenty of water through the day.  At night when the existing birds were getting sleepy and beginning to roost, we would put the new birds in the pen.  My thought was everyone would wake up in the morning and think, "wait, have you been here the whole time?"

We kept and eye on the new birds all afternoon and moved them a couple of times to give them fresh grass.  At about 9 p.m., we moved the kennel in place and shooed everyone into the pen.  The next morning, all seemed to be going well.

Now, we wait until our new birds reach the point of laying eggs.  It will be good to again have a dozen or so eggs each day.