Monday, October 17, 2011

A trip worth waiting for


















My dad is on his way home from what may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Two weeks ago, he left behind his crops (which are ready for harvest), his cattle, his wife and his job at the bank to travel to Russia on a Kansas Beef Marketing trip with the Kansas Secretary of Agriculture and the Governor of Kansas.  He has spent the last two weeks spreading the word about Kansas beef to people on the other side of the world.

When I stop to think about the life he left behind compared to the world he has been exposed to in the last 14 days, it renders me, well, without words.

But maybe that's because I know his whole story.

The story that began with a young boy growing up chasing fly balls and quarterbacks in the neighborhoods of working-town St. Joseph, Missouri, and ended with a cattleman that earned the respect of a Governor and his fellow agriculturalists in the State of Kansas.

My dad learned of the farm and experienced the farm through his grandparents.  His own dad wasn't able to take on a farming and ranching livelihood given the agricultural technology of the 1950's coupled with severe asthma and allergies.  His dad, my grandpa, married my grandma, moved to St. Joseph, raised six children, sent them all to Catholic school, watched them all graduate from college, and only on rare occasions missed a little league game.

My dad went to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.  He played football and baseball - was fiercely competitive and athletically astute.  He married my mom, earned a degree in English (his vocabulary dances circles around mine), and started a career teaching and coaching at his old high school.

Not long into his teaching and coaching gig, I came along.  My brother followed 13 months later.  Teaching and coaching at a catholic high school in the early 1980's wasn't exactly paying the bills.

He took a risk, moved his family, and tried his hand at banking.  Turns out, he was good at that, too.

He took another risk.  Moved us one more time.  Took another banking job, and began investing in farm ground and trying his hand at farming.  The farming thing really seemed to suit him.

My two younger sisters joined the family, the farming operation grew, and our family grew up chasing fly balls, quarterbacks, point gaurds, 4-H livestock, and Simmental cattle across the northeast Kansas countryside.

And that pretty much sums up life for the past twenty years.  Add in college, some weddings and some grandkids, but mostly, you'll find my dad chasing cattle and following K-State football.

I have always had a deep respect for my dad.  The trip to Russia didn't really change that.  What I wholeheartedly admire is the way he has "delayed the gratification."  He has spent his years quietly building his herd - his family and his cattle.  And now, into his fifties, he is stepping away from the farm, the ballgames, the grandkids, and doing something that is personally rewarding.  Satisfying.  And well deserved.

I'm so proud that someone else recognized the knowledge and experience my dad can bring to Kansas agriculture.  I've known it all along...


Friday, September 9, 2011

They just keep comin'...

The changes.  These changes just keep coming.
























I dropped Tucker off on Tuesday for his first day of preschool.  He was all smiles.  And the report on the way home: "The work wasn't that hard, Momma."



















 By Thursday, he was eager to go back.  As we approached the drop off, I saw all the other parents walking their children to the door, holding their hand.

Okay, we can do that, too.

From the backseat I hear , "Momma, can I walk up there by myself?"

"Sure, buddy!"

He grabbed his backpack, jumped out, and smiled and ran all the way to the front door.  In a way, it was more emotional than walking him to the door holding his hand.  And it was complete reassurance that waiting a year to send my summer-birthday-boy to school was the absolute right thing to do.

These moments of change are happening every day around here...


 















Wednesday evening, in celebration of a much needed relief from the summer's heat, we took bikes to the church parking lot.  Noah scored a big-girl bike this summer.  Her old training wheels don't touch the ground.  So, it was time to really ride that bike.























I expected that after a long day at school, her endurance for bike riding would be short-lived.



















Wouldn't ya know, that little gal proved me wrong!  She was wobbly and wiggly, oh sure.  And she took plenty of spills.  But she jumped right up and persevered.


















"I've almost got it, Mom!" she'd yell from across the parking lot.  Sure enough, after a bit of support from Dad, she was riding the length of the parking lot.  (And then crashing clumsily and getting up to do it again.)























We returned the next night for another go-round.  That little gal could make it two complete laps around the parking lot.  (Before crashing clumsily and getting up to do it again.)

 Like I said, these changes are happening fast.  Daily, in fact.


 





















And while it's sad to watch them take these first steps from the nest, how beautiful and rewarding it is to watch them begin to fly.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kindergarten sure changes things























Noah started kindergarten.  Two weeks ago.  She's been a full-fledged kindergarten student for two whole weeks.  I'm almost getting used to the idea.

Noah is the sort of daughter who any mom with heart-tugging-prone-to-tears emotional attachments to her first born baby should feel blessed to have as their first baby.  And I do.

It makes the "sending them out the door to a school you're completely unfamiliar with and teachers and staff you barely know" much easier.  (I have control issues, I know.  That's why I had to stay home with my kids.  I like to be in charge.).

But, as I was saying, it's easier to let go because Noah's a naturally bright little gal.  And she's socially confident.  (Have you met her Daddy?)  I know she'll be a good student.  So long as her academic motivations conquer her social motivations. 

Two weeks in, and she's mastering the life of a kindergartener.  Oh sure, she's had some after-school meltdowns that remind me of her toddler days.  But the girl's completely exhausted.  Bedtime is no longer a battle.

Aside from Noah's personal transition to school, and my emotional transition to mom-with-school-aged daughter, it seems we're all feeling the effects of an adjustment to school life.

The two younger kids are up and at 'em with Noah.  (Or earlier.)  Breakfast is wrapped up by 7:15, and we send Brent and Noah out the door by 7:45.  It's not that we didn't have a schedule before, it's just that preschool didn't start until 9:00.  There was time for some play, or cartoons, or an extra pancake.  Our day is certainly much quieter.  Tucker and Nell miss their buddy.  She was the ring leader for the really fun stuff - like digging in the mud and turning the living room into a vet clinic.  And now, nap time comes quickly after lunch so we can make it to the 3:05 dismissal. 

Oh, dismissal.  The time of day when every parent in town congregates at the same intersection.  It's a lovely sort of chaos.

Then there's Brent.  His entire morning routine has been over-run by our kindergarten student.  Mornings have never been his thing.  Now they come earlier.  He has to get to work on time.  And he doesn't have enough time to swing by his favorite convenience store for his morning Diet Dr. Pepper.  Poor fella.  I'm making him coffee each morning to try to cheer him up.  But now all my favorite coffee thermoses are lost in his office.  And, do you know how hard it is to try to enjoy my own morning coffee without my favorite thermos?

Sheesh.  Who knew kindergarten had such over-reaching effects?

In four more days, Tucker will start preschool.  That will leave Nell and I alone for two mornings each week.  That'll certainly be something different.  Completely different.  A thought that I couldn't have comprehended when she was born two-and-a-half years ago.

I guess you could say things are changing around here.  As a mom who likes to be in control, it's trying on me to let my little ones take these first steps out into the world.  How thankful I am for the time I've invested in them.  Albeit it frustrating and isolating at times, I know I'm completely responsible for my children's early, formative years.  The good and the bad.  I'm 100% accountable.  I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

4-H: Locally Sourced Food, Lifelong Learning

Submitted for publication in the Ellsworth (Kansas) Independent Reporter




A recent post on the CNN food blog site, Eatocracy, posed this question: “Does 4-H desensitize kids to killing?”  A timely question considering county fair season is in full swing across America; yet a question that could have only come from someone who drove by a county fair.  Once.  A long time ago.  



The Ellsworth County 4-H Fair is in full swing this week.  Pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, rabbits, homemade baked goods and hand-crafted arts project have descended upon the fair grounds.  It’s a great, low-cost outing for you and your family.  And it’s a perfect opportunity for you to answer that question for yourself.    



It’s becoming quite vogue in American culture to know where your food comes from.  And while I firmly believe that it’s imperative to understand our food systems and to share that information with your children; it’s equally imperative that you base your information and food purchasing decisions on facts.  From the source.  Like a 4-H’er who has spent the past six months or more caring for his or her cows, pigs and chickens.



So as you and your family stroll down the aisles of animal exhibits at the fair, ask a 4-H’er about the care they gave to their animals.  What type of feed did they use?  How often did they water their animals?  What did they do to keep them cool in this summer’s extreme heat?  Will their animal be going to market or going home after the fair?  How do they feel about that?



In my lifetime of 4-H experiences, I know that 4-H animals are among the best cared for livestock.  They truly live a luxury life.  If it’s possible for an animal to live in luxury.  And I know that 4-H sensitizes and educates children about our animal production systems in America.  I have been heartbroken over steers and pigs headed to market.  But I was privileged to grow up in the understanding that animals destined for human consumption deserve a life of good care and respect.  



I hope your trip to the county fair this week will allow you a glimpse into the world of livestock production.  And that it will allow you to see how 4-H is preparing the next generation of livestock producers to care for and respect their animals in a way that you can feel good about.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A non-traditional DC vacation

I'm just getting settled back home after what could be called a non-traditional DC vacation.

Or, a weekend in the Washington DC area as those who actually live there may wish to experience.

Because my little sister, Mary, actually lives there.  And if you've seen the Capitol Mall on a Saturday in June plastered with tourists and students from every state, then you too, may wish for a bit of an escape in the hills of eastern Virginia.  

Don't get me wrong.  Every single American should take at least one traditional Washington DC vacation.  Tours of the Monuments.  The Capitol.  The Museums.  A stroll by the White House.  (Unless you know people who know people who can you get a private tour of the West Wing.  Accomplished this on the DC trip three years ago.  The latest change in the administration means I no longer know people who know people.) 

















We arrived in DC on a Friday afternoon.  Mary picked us up curbside in her new Volkswagon.  No taxis.  No tour buses.  We were among the locals now.

Mary suggested we spend some time strolling around Old Town Alexandria to avoid the mess of rush-hour traffic.  We stopped into a local coffee shop - I needed a little pick-me-up.  I ordered an iced vanilla latte.

"We don't have flavors, mam." 

Right.  It was now apparent I was a Midwestern tourist with limited urban coffee drinking experience.

"Well, then, just make it skim, please."

Sister Molly - also a big city-dweller - then gave me a few "coffee snob" pointers so I could order coffee without the stress of a barista looking down his nose at me the next time.  Sure wish she could have made those tips available before I perpetuated the (largely misguided) Kansas stereotype.

Moving on.  We encountered tiny bundles of lavender selling for $15.  (Mom has a beautiful plant in her yard.)  And expensive Turkish hand-painted dishes where the shop owner kept a close eye on giggling Midwest sisters.  Then got a glimpse of the wide Potomac.  (Makes the Smoky Hill River look like a babbling brook.)

Then back to Mary's apartment.  The third floor of a row house that overlooks the Library of Congress and is steps away from the Capitol.  Six hundred square feet at a monthly rent price that will make your mortgage and 1,400 square feet home seem down-right cheap.

Mom had a new scarf to wear.  And that meant we were going out for a nice dinner.  You've got to love logic like that.
















We decided on a Mediterranean restaurant in Eastern Market. And I'm almost embarrassed to say that I ate lamb for the first time.  How's a farm girl live 32 years without eating lamb?  Good question.  But I liked it, and I will certainly eat it again. 

Pause.  Time for a mommy agvocacy moment.  Given the growing popularity of Mediterranean food, lamb market prices are on the rise.  I'm considering investing in some ewes (that's the mommy sheep), and some pasture, and a farmhouse, and a good sized barn for lambing, and a chicken house just because I like chickens...

Focus.  The lamb was good.  And so were the two drinks I ordered.  Which turned into a conversation about a few more things "mom was right about." 


A good day always begins with Good Morning America and good hairspray.

A handful of chocolate chips will make bad days melt away.


Early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.  (mostly)


So we headed home.

















And Mary had us out the door and on a six mile walk by 8:00 am Saturday morning.  (That's pretty early for vacation standards.)


We walked by the Capitol and down the National Mall, around the Washington Memorial, around the World War II Memorial, and down to the Lincoln Memorial.  And back. 

By then, the tourists were beginning to descend on the National Mall.  So we headed east.  Or south.  I never know what direction I'm going in that city and that makes me crazy.  (Type A personality.  Not surprising.)  We drove in the general directions of berries and vineyards in Virginia.

 





















We climbed hills to pick strawberries and raspberries.  I had just picked strawberries the week before and made strawberry jam.  But the Middle Eastern family picking alongside us doubtfully picked strawberries and made jam the week before.  Therefore, we should all be thankful for the opportunities provided by Virginia's agri-tourism farms.  (Hand picked berries for the city-dwellers.  Premium prices for Virgina farmers.  I love free market capitalism.)

























How about all these beautiful pictures?  Mary snapped these with her snazzy camera.


















And then to the vineyards.  Along with never eating lamb, I've also never been to a wine tasting at a vineyard.  I know, I know.  I have lived a sheltered life.























The first vineyard, while picturesque, was a bit snooty.  And their wine was a bit on the yucky side.  (I'm not a wine snob, either.  Yucky is an acceptable adjective if you're not a wine elitist.)

The second vineyard was more my style.  Casual, rustic, comfortable.  And the wine was yummy.  Very yummy.  (I should be a food writer.)

So yummy, in fact, I napped all the way back to the city.  Where we made a strawberry and raspberry cobbler and had a cook-out with Mary's beau Tyler.  I had failed to give consideration to the challenges of having a cook-out when you live in an apartment in a city.  We hauled charcoal and a cooler full of food and sangria to a public park that had grills and picnic tables.  Tyler expertly managed the grill...as if he owned his own and cooked on it every night.

The non-traditional DC vacation continued right on into Sunday.  We leisurely made our way to 10:30 Mass and then Sunday brunch at a popular, hip little joint.  And while I'm on a roll with "firsts," I'll add one more.  I ordered my first "cocktail before Noon on a Sunday."  The college-girl in me is so proud.

We walked off cocktails and brunch as we strolled through a flea market and farmer's market.  I picked up goodies for each one of the kiddos, and we bought Mary a way-cute dress for her birthday at a funky little second hand store.  (You're right.  We got off cheap.  I'll mail her a gift card.)

On the topic of Mary's birthday, we celebrated with frozen yogurt later that evening and a walk around our nation's Capitol, sans tourists.  Well, only a small group of crazies on Segways.  But otherwise, quiet and peaceful.
 






















And sniff, sniff, it was time to drive Molly to the airport for her flight home to Detroit. 

But don't be sad.  Molly is considering a move to DC to be a potato lobbyist.  Mary - employed by the big beef lobby - told her about the job and Molly thinks it's a perfect fit for her.  She loves all things potato!

And we're not sad.  We're already planning the next trip.  We considered the vineyards of California; for a fleeting moment.  Decided we're not hip enough.  The casual, car-free atmosphere of Makinac Island sounds better suited for us.

You know, perhaps it seems silly to have flown all the way to DC to pick berries in the hills of Virginia.  But, there's nothing silly about spending a little time with your mom and your sisters.  Together.  It was seriously worth the trip.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mom was right...

Turns out, my mom was right about a lot of things.

She was right about Hamburger Helper.  That stuff's just not good for you.

She was right about plucking my eyebrows.  "Sometimes it hurts to be beautiful, sweetie."

And about chasing a college education and a career.  She knew I'd set it all aside to raise my babies one day.

She was right about reading books, never leaving the house without mascara and putting family first.

But the one thing she really had right.  The thing that put her way ahead of her time.  Our dinner plates.





















About three weeks ago, the USDA released the new Choose My Plate visual aid, replacing the antiquated and complicated food pyramid. 

For at least the past thirty-two years, this is how the dinner plates at my childhood home have looked.  A fruit, a vegetable, meat, bread and milk.  But always, a fruit and vegetable.

I put up plenty of fuss.  I was certainly no angel!  I smashed peas under my dinner plate.  Forced myself to gag on hominy.  Preferred extra servings of meat and bread and milk. 

But, my mom made sure the fruits and vegetables were there.  Every meal.

And it only took thirty-two years for the USDA to vindicate her meal-time choices.  It took me about twenty years to get it right and really get serious about making fruits and vegetables a priority. 

I have said a word (or two) about the new USDA dietary guidelines, no need to repeat myself.  But I wanted you to see the new dinner plate.  It's simple.  Easy to understand.  Do-able.

And while it pains me to give credit to the current federal administration - much like it's painful to admit when mom is right - I should give credit where credit is due.

Thank you USDA, First Lady and super-smart graphic design folks!  This dinner plate thing deserves my sincerest "thank you."

(My mother said so.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Inaugural Camping Experience

We survived our first family camping trip.  And if you forget about the rain, the frightening gust of wind and collapsing tent, well then, you could even call it fun.

The kids definitely thought the trip was fun.  Dirt digging, crawdad hunting, hot dog eating, no bath taking fun.

We arrived at Wilson Lake with almost everything we needed for the weekend.  Except matches.  Thank goodness for friendly park rangers.

We then unloaded our gear and successfully put up our (massive, yet accommodating) eight-foot-tall-tent, and met up with Brent's cousin, Scott, and his son, Jack, for a trip around the lake on their boat.

While swimming in a cove, cloudy skies turned to rain.  Rain turned to wind.  We feared for our eight-foot-tall-tent.  We buzzed across the lake to see our campsite.  And a collapsed tent.  As the men climbed up to re-establish the tent, I could see towards the west huge swirls of dust blowing our direction.  Did I forget to mention that I was holding the boat in the water while four small children waited along the shore?

Now back to those swirls of dust.  That wind hit the water and what was happening before my eyes looked like something that should be happening in the middle of an ocean.  Not on a lake in the middle of Kansas.  That wind gust blew "spray" across the water and I watched the wind race toward us.

"Jack, hold onto Nell," I yelled as I braced the boat as if I could protect it from the nearby rocks.  The wind and spray lashed at us.  Tears and cries came from the four small children.  Two worried daddies raced down to the shore.

Well, that wasn't exactly something I had considered to be a part of our first camping experience.

Moving on.


Boat to the marina.  Set the tent up.  Again.  Cook burgers with Scott and Jack in the comfort of their cabin. 
 

















Explore nearby ponds, caves and wildlife.

 























Watch the sun set on a beautiful, still evening on the lake.
























 Patiently wait while Daddy starts a fire to cook Smores.






















Get into the marshmallows while not-so-patiently waiting for Daddy to build a fire to cook Smores.
























 Create a wonderful ending to a rough start of a camping trip.

















Ahhh...peaceful.



















About two hours later.  The wind came back.  Why am I not surprised?  Some really, really, really smart folks have built the largest wind farm in the state of Kansas just a couple miles south of Wilson Lake.  Guess they knew what they were doing.

The tent held up quite well.  I should know.  I listened to the wind beat against the tent all night long.  Waiting for the worst.  Around 4:00 am, the southwest support pole gave way.  Brent supported it with his feet while trying to sleep in Nell's pink sleeping bag.  (Hilarious.)  By 6:30 am, the entire southern half of the tent gave way, caving in on Brent, Tucker and Noah.

We got up.  Got dressed.  Fed the kids a hot dog and a bun for breakfast.  I'd like to meet the man who could have started a fire and cooked monkey bread and scrambled eggs for the kids in that wind.

One quick trip down to the water to hunt for sea shells, and the inaugural Goss Family Camping Experience came to an abrupt ending. 

Tired mommy + tired daddy = time to go home.

After a shower, a nap, and some time to reflect, I have decided there was just enough good to compensate for all the bad.  I'm not yet giving up on conquering nature and creating dirt digging, crawdad hunting, hot dog eating, no bath taking fun for my family.

Just as soon as we buy a camper...

Friday, June 3, 2011

I is for Ice Cream






















Summer is off to a spectacular start around here.  And if I survive the weekend, I'm certain I'll be ready for fall.

Monday was Memorial Day.  Brats, hot dogs and margaritas (and Kool-Aid) with good friends.

Tuesday was our first t-ball game of the season.

Wednesday we broke in the new slip-n-slide and took a dip in the neighbor's hot tub.  (More like a "warm" tub...just right for the kids.)

Thursday we played at the park and had our second t-ball game.

And today, Friday, we've been preparing (packing, grocery shopping, testing the tent and stressing) for the inaugural Goss Family Camping Trip. 

Oh, and we're going to the swimming pool as soon as the kids wake up from a nap.

And we made ice cream.

By Sunday, I will be completely exhausted and ready for Noah to start kindergarten.

Or not.  My baby girl surely can't be big enough for kindergarten.  (A thought that will be running through my noggin until mid-August.)

But back to Friday.  And ice cream.  I is for Ice Cream.  I've already lost control of this entire post thanks to the emotions flowing through me as I prepare to send my baby to kindergarten. (And the pending camping trip.)

Yes, I is for Ice Cream.  Pause...I just checked facebook.  And you won't believe this.  It's Kansas Dairy Month.   Wasn't that just like getting a little extra hot fudge on your sundae?  Sweet!


Ice Cream comes from milk.  Which comes from cows.  Who live on a dairy farm.  Remember?  D is for Dairy Products.

I think we all - kids included - know where ice cream comes from.  But did you know...




















that in order for a frozen dairy product to be labeled "ice cream," by law it must contain at least 10% milk fat and 20% milk solids by weight.  Otherwise, it has to be called something else.  Like ice milk, or something else snazzy that a food science wiz-kid came up with.





















Or did you know that ice cream flavors must be labeled either natural or artificial.  For example, natural strawberry ice cream or strawberry-flavored ice cream.  (Meaning: they really used strawberries or they substituted with some strawberry flavored syrup stuff.)  Note to self: should have taken a food science class in college.

And did you know that a single serving of ice cream is about a half-cup worth.  Awfully chintzy, huh?  However, that half-cup serving contains 130 calories, 10% of your daily fat intake and 20% of your daily saturated fat intake.  (Based on a normal adult's 2000 calorie diet.)  Not so chintzy anymore, is it?


When ordering ice cream out, it's doubtful you get a half-cup serving.  Think at least three to four times that much.  However, Dairy Queen is picking up on America's need to slim down.  They are offering a new "mini" blizzard this year; and at a premium price.  Let me explain.  "Smart, financially comfortable, weight conscious consumers are willing to pay a premium to enjoy a down-sized DQ blizzard without all the guilt."



Whatever.

May I suggest you hand crank your own homemade ice cream in a cute and rustic ice cream maker your father-in-law picked up at a farm auction.























That way, when you over-indulge in a full cup serving, you won't feel as guilty because you've spent twenty-five minutes in the summer heat cranking your own ice cream.
























Tucker gets a cup and a half serving.  It requires his entire body to turn the crank.























That's an intense look there, folks.  He's saving a couple bucks and burning calories to make his own ice cream.  This is a very serious moment for him.
















Twenty-five minutes later - frozen dairy goodness.



















Pour into recycled ice cream buckets.  (I'm so hip.)   Stir in frozen chocolate sandwich cookies.  (The store brand, of course.  Saved me a couple bucks.)  And freeze.

A few hours later, enjoy on the patio with some friends after a trip to the swimming pool.

This is where I should have a picture of Nell eating ice cream since she was left out of the other photos.  But I forgot.  Because I'm stressed about tomorrow's camping trip.

Monday, May 16, 2011

H is for Herbs

The second installment of the Potted Goose Herb Garden is well under way.  If you'll recall from last year, we started an herb garden from seed using recycled egg cartons on Earth Day.  That was some front page, super cool, foodie stuff right there.  But you should also recall, I was country when country wasn't cool.   

We had quite a successful herb garden last year.  (I still have dried basil in my cabinet.)  And a few failures, too.  I learned just enough to want to try my hand at herb gardening again this year.

Noah, who suddenly quit eating anything green around age 4, will eat dishes made with the herbs we've grown.  She'll ask about the green flecks in the dish, and when I tell her it's herbs, she's happy to eat it.


So here's my (short and sweet) take on H is for Herbs.  By no means should you expect a full, comprehensive look at the dozens of herbs growing across the globe or an economic overview of the global herb market.  We're keeping it local, as in my backyard and my kitchen local.  Six herbs.  Six suggestions for growing them in your backyard.  And six tips on how to use them in your kitchen.

On May 3rd, we got started...



 
















...filling (re-used) greenhouse flats (any extra egg cartons are going to Brent's nieces and their new laying hen adventure) with potting soil and planting basil, cilantro, chives and dill (they smell just like a pickle) seeds.  With the help of six little hands, we did our best to keep the seeds in their proper location. 
















And we labeled each "area" with re-used plastic knives and popsicle sticks.  (So green, so cool.)



















Ten days and lots of gentle watering later...


















we have herbs!!  Or at least a very good start to the second annual herb garden.  The basil, cilantro and dill were making an excellent start.  The chives weren't so sure about showing themselves just yet.  But by today, day 13, a few tiny sprouts are beginning to appear.


We keep the herbs in full sun and keep the soil moist.  We are still several weeks away from moving them out of these flats and into pots.  Last year, I kept all the herbs in pots on my patio.  (I even gave away several pots...the stuff was prolific.)  This year - and I'll explain more later - I want to put some in the ground and let them go to seed. 

Basil


Basil was the easiest herb to grow and the most abundant producer.  It grows easily from seed, and once the seedlings were 3-4 inches tall, we transplanted to pots.  The pots stayed on our east patio - getting the best morning sun, and staying out of the scorching afternoon heat.  We watered almost daily - it was easy to tell when the basil plants needed a drink.

To harvest, I used my kitchen scissors to cut away 3-4 inch sections of stem.  I picked the leaves from the stem, and chopped the leaves to use fresh in tomato dishes or a fresh, summer stir fry.  These plants were so abundant that I gave away pots of it to friends and neighbors.  I harvested in large bunches, wrapped in moist paper towels and delivered to friends along with my bruschetta recipe (scroll down).

And at the end of the season, I harvested everything that was left and dried it.  To dry the basil, I tied the stems together with a rubber band and hung in a basement closet that is dry and dark.  This winter, I used the basil in tomato dishes and a new family favorite, slow cooker spaghetti sauce.  However, bruschetta is far and away our favorite use for fresh basil.

Garden Fresh Bruschetta

14 slices French bread, 3/4" thick
Garlic powder
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for brushing on bread
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, oil, garlic, basil, salt and pepper.  Chill in fridge at least 1 hour.

Brush French bread slices with olive oil and lightly sprinkle with garlic powder.  Bake at 350 for 5 minutes, until lightly browned.

Place a heaping spoonful of tomato mixture onto each bread slice.  Serve immediately.

Cilantro

The cilantro plant serves two purposes: the leaves are used in Mexican and Asian dishes, and when let go to seed, the seeds are harvested and dried and called "coriander."  Ground coriander is used in meat dishes and has a Mediterranean flavor.

We grew the cilantro for the leaves; primarily for salsa.  Brent grows lots of tomatoes and peppers in the vegetable garden.  And I make lots of salsa each summer.

Cilantro is easy to start from seed, and transplants easily to pots once the plants are 3-4 inches tall.  Some thinning will be required. 

I was able to get one harvest from my cilantro plants.  I've read that the will regrow, but mine did not.  I have also read that you should start new seeds every three weeks during the growing season to ensure cilantro all summer long.  I used what I could fresh and dried the rest, hanging upside down in paper bags that I placed in the basement.

Once the plant flowers and goes to seed, the flavor of the leaves will change.  My plants were very potent last year - a little bit went a long way in a batch of salsa.  When using fresh herbs, add them at the very end of the cooking process.  When using dried herbs, add them at the beginning.

Chives

Chives are a tall, slender plant with beautiful, clover-like purple flowers.  They give a mild onion flavor when used in recipes.  I had mild success growing them from seed last year, and have since learned they are easier to plant established plants from a nursery.  Or transplant from a nameless neighbor who has a beautiful patch of chives.  This could be called "Plan B for the 2011 Chives."

Chives, when planted in the ground, will come back year after year.   A perennial, in case you've forgotten.  When planted in pots, they won't survive the winter.

I used my small chives crop last year when making potato dishes, dressings and anywhere I wanted to substitute for onions.  My personal preference is for a more mild onion flavor anyway, so chives suit me just fine.

Dill

Dill can be easily started from seed.  I read that it can be difficult to transplant, but I had no troubles last year moving it to pots on the patio.  Dill does not like the extreme heat of July and August.

I harvested my dill before it went to seed.  I used fresh dill in creamed peas and new potatoes and vegetable dips.  I dried the rest and used it over the winter.  You can also let your dill flower and harvest the seeds.  Which would be a wonderful thing to do if you also grow cucumbers in your vegetable garden and want to take on the challenge of canning pickles.  (Tried it once.  Didn't come close to Vlassic.)  Or, you can plant the dill in the ground and let it go to seed and it will come up the next spring. 

Mint

Thanks to another nameless neighbor, we've added mint to the herb garden this year.  If you've ever grown mint before, you know why my neighbor was happy to give me a bucket full of mint to transplant.  The stuff is invasive.  The stuff will take over your garden.  I always like a good challenge.  I planted some in a pot, and then planted a small patch in my flower garden. 

Mint grows best when transplanted.  Next year, I'll share some of mine with you.  Mint likes to be kept moist, but will tolerate dry conditions.  It should do just fine in my Central Kansas garden. 

I intend to use mint sprigs to flavor lemonade and adult beverages that I intend to enjoy on my east patio that I suspect will be overflowing with herbs by mid-summer.  I think you should join me!

Rosemary

This herb was a total failure last year.  A complete flop.  I think two or three seeds sprouted.  And then quickly died.  Months later I learned that rosemary is one of the most difficult herbs to start from seed.  I didn't feel so bad anymore.


This year, I purchased a small pot of rosemary from my local greenhouse.  It does not like to be over watered.  Which in my case, means it needs to be located in a place where my two-year-old can't get to it.  She loves to water the flowers.  Usually the same pot over and over and over again.


Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs.  I just the aroma!  It can be over-powering, so a few leaves will more than flavor an entire dish of potatoes.  I have used purchased, dried rosemary in my oven-roasted potato recipe.  I am excited to try my own fresh rosemary this year.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

4-6 medium potatoes, cubed
Olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic powder and parsley

Cube potatoes and spread evenly on a baking sheet.  Drizzle generously with olive oil.  Season generously with salt, less than generously with pepper, rosemary, garlic powder and parsley.  Roast in oven at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until tender, tossing mid-way through.

For more detailed information on growing herbs, check out these resources:

K-state garden guide

Culinary herb guide

It's not too late to get started with your own herb garden.  Pick herbs that are familiar to you; ones you'll be eager to cook with; flavors you think your family will enjoy.

I'm eager to get cooking with my herbs this year.  And I'm looking forward to learning more about growing herbs and sharing that knowledge with my kiddos too!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Perfect Oatmeal Cookie

I have been in pursuit of making the perfect oatmeal cookie.  I also gave up chocolate for Lent.  Oatmeal cookies are a temporary substitute for sweet sanity when Tucker has pulled every t-shirt from his drawer for the fourth time in one day, Nell has experimented with crayon on the kitchen chairs, and Noah has turned my living room into a shelter for forty-two stuffed animals.

Finding just the right balance of chewy, soft, sweet, whole oat goodness baked into a little cookie is my Lenten alms giving.  Who says you can't find a little piece of Heaven in an oatmeal cookie?

Three batches - 9 cups of rolled oats, 4 1/2 cups of flour and 3 sticks of butter - later, I have created the perfect oatmeal cookie.  Chewy, soft, sweet, whole oat goodness yielding a little piece of Heaven in my kitchen this afternoon.  Amen!

If only perfecting oatmeal cookies was as easy as parenting.

In the middle of my perfect cookie pursuit was Noah's preschool parent-teacher conference.  While academically, she's more than ready for Kindergarten, it seems a few social skills "need improvement."

"Noah's a natural leader," her preschool teacher tells me, "but right now, she's competing with three other girls for the role of chief ."  She goes on to say that Noah is competitive, quick to point out when other students aren't pulling their weight, and absolutely believes that her way is the right way.  

We talk at length about Noah's misgivings, and it almost feels like I'm chatting with a counselor about my own, personal short-comings.  Confident, bold, and at times, less than empathetic.  It was a very humbling twenty-minutes.

I have learned, err, I'm still learning throughout my life how to temper the misgivings I have now passed on to my oldest daughter.  Noah's grandpa said it best the other day, "As we grow older, we do not grow wiser.  We are simply slower in showing our ignorance."  (He's good at putting thoughts together like that.)  (By the way, Noah's a third generation capitalist.)

If only I knew how to tweak the recipe comprising my five year old.  I have learned - usually the hard way - when and when not to take control of situations; how to show empathy to those I love and those I barely know; and how to positively encourage others to do their part.

I've given much thought on how to be a bold, confident woman and mother raising a bold, confident daughter.  How do I teach her empathy and understanding and self-control, all the while expecting her to be at the top of her class?  My recipe needs time.  Patience, love, and much time.

My own parenting recipe will not be perfected in a matter of weeks. 

Scratch that.

My parenting recipe shall never be perfected.  Salvation asks that we strive for perfection; not that we actually get there.

And if it takes a few oatmeal cookies to help simmer the bold, confident women in my household along the way, well then, at least I've got a perfect recipe.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Old Friends

Eight years ago, when Brent and I made the move to this little town in Central Kansas, we were convinced we would be the youngest kids on the block.  And for the most part, we were.

We were fresh, fresher-than-fresh, out of college, unmarried, apartment renting, take the only two jobs open in town kids in a town of seasoned, married, mortgage paying, steady job, two kids and dog folks.

While there were many things about growing up and getting a job that we weren't prepared for, perhaps the most unexpected change we faced was a welcoming, young(er), fun-loving group of friends who welcomed us into their lives and their community.

Friends who loved to get together - planned or unplanned.  Who loved playing ball, watching ball games, celebrating birthdays, and finding interesting things to do (bar hopping across three counties) in a seemingly uninteresting part of the state (country, world). 

I used to think I could never replace my college friends.

I've since learned that God grants friendships for every phase of your life.

My college friends saw to it that my 21st birthday was celebrated appropriately; saw to it that my dreams and goals were supported.

Those friends surrounding my present-day-life, brought casseroles each time I brought a baby home from the hospital; and help me to remember the woman behind the mommy.

God grants friendships for every phase of your life.

While I only recently entered my thirties, many of my present-day friends are entering their forties.  (My mom always said I was born old.  Should be no surprise I have older friends.)

My "youthfulness" may provide plenty of fodder for jokes, but I wanted them to know that I fully appreciate the benefits of having older friends.  For example:

As soon as they are ready for botox, I'm tagging along and lying about my age.


I've never been much of night-owl.  Old friends like to turn in early.

When age forces them to retire from recreational sports, I'll still be kickin' it.

Older friends offer sage advice on finances, cooking, home improvements, keeping up with teenagers, underwear and international travel.  (In no particular order.)

Older friends force you to think about your life and and what you hope to accomplish by the time you're as old (young) as they are.

As I was saying, my (older) friends are a blessing.  An unexpected blessing.  A large part of the reason this little town in the middle of Kansas has been more than just a stepping stone for our lives.

And when I turn 40, in eight-and-one-half lo-o-o-ng years, I hope my (older) friends see to it that we celebrate appropriately!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

F is for Flour



















Are you wondering about the "F is for Fish" post?  Quit looking.  You won't find it here.  The government's nutritional guidelines may have guilted me into thinking I need to eat more fish, but the truth is I live in the middle of Kansas.  The Wheat State.  The Breadbasket of the World.  Out here, folks, F is for Flour.

About 22,000 Kansas farmers, including my father-in-law and almost every farmer I know in the western two-thirds of this state, grow 20% of the entire US wheat crop.  In a single year, we grow enough wheat to fill a train stretching from western Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean.

Kansas is the number one wheat producer, number one wheat exporter and the number one flour miller in the United States.  And you thought we were just famous for tornadoes and sunflowers!


And while you should have know that flour comes from wheat, there are probably a few things about the wheat fields in Kansas you didn't know.  Let's get down to the details...


There are six classes of wheat grown in the US.  Three of those classes are grown in Kansas: Hard Red Winter, Soft Red Winter, and Hard White Winter.  95% of Kansas wheat is Hard Red Winter, the class of wheat best for bread because of its high protein and strong gluten content.  But we'll talk more about that later.

The other three classes of wheat are White Wheat, Durum, and Hard Red Spring.  Each class of wheat has different properties that ultimately result in a different end product.  Nutrionally, the differences are insignificant, however, the varying protein levels among the varieties makes a significant difference in terms of baking properties.  Durum wheat is the highest protein content, i.e, strongest, wheat and is therefore used to make pasta.  Hard wheats are the next strongest and are ideal for yeast breads and all-purpose flour.  Soft wheats are used in flat breads (tortillas), cakes, pastries and cereals.

What's the difference in spring and winter wheats?  This simply refers to the time of year the wheat is planted.  Winter wheats are planted in the fall.  They emerge, go dormant over the winter, and emerge again in spring for an early summer harvest.  Spring wheat is - you guessed it - planted in the spring.

If you're a Kansas mommy, take a drive down the highway with your kids today.  See that green, grass-like looking stuff emerging from brown fields?  That's wheat!  Pick a spot you frequently drive by, and help your kids to notice the changes to the wheat fields between now and mid June. 



















That green, grass-like looking stuff continues to grow.  Sometimes, cattle may even graze the wheat fields for a short period of time in the spring.  The wheat eventually develops a head, turns beautiful shades of gold and amber (O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain) and is harvested by every man, woman and child in the western two-thirds of Kansas.  At least that's how it seems out here during wheat harvest.  Everyone has a part to play.  (Remember the lesson of the Little Red Hen?) 

From the combine, to a truck and into town to the local elevator, grain is stored until it's transported to a flour mill.  Wheat is sold by the farmer in bushels: 60 pounds per bushel.  And, in today's market, a farmer is paid $8.10 per bushel.  (A price that doubles the most recent ten-year average.)  One bushel of wheat yields 42 pounds of white flour or 60 pounds of whole wheat flour.  One bushel of wheat also yields 42 loaves of commercial white bread (1.5 pound loaves).  Roughly speaking, a $2.00 loaf of bread contains 19 cents of wheat.  Or, the five pound bag of all purpose, unbleached flour I bought last week at Dillons for $1.66 contains 96 cents of wheat.  Ready to be a wheat farmer now, aren't ya?

Let's keep trucking.  When you're a bushel of wheat in Kansas, you don't have far to go to get to a flour mill.  There are ten mills across our humble state - remember, number one in milling! 
























Here's another chance to get the kiddos involved.  I just happened to have a bag full of wheat in my kitchen.  (Looks super cute in mason jars and topped with candles or American flags in the summertime.) And I just happen to have three kids who love to touch things.  A quilt, a bowl full of wheat and some measuring cups made for great afternoon play!



















But then two more pairs of hands woke up from their naps and joined the fun.




















And six little hands playing in the wheat made a mess.   

Now, back to milling that wheat into flour.  The milling process is really quite simple.  Grind, sift, grind, sift, grind and sift some more.  Want whole wheat flour?  A lot of grinding, not much sifting.  How about all-purpose flour?  Lots of grinding and lots of sifting.

Each kernel of wheat consists of three parts:
 
     Bran: outer layer, great source of fiber
     Endosperm: 83% of the kernel, source of white flour
     Germ: embryo, or sprouting section of the kernel

Milling the wheat involves grinding and sifting those three parts to get the desired product.  Whoel wheat flour contains all three parts, the bran, endosperm and germ.  All-purpose flours and other white flours contain only the endosperm.  The bran and germ have been sifted out.  Here's another chance to get your kids involved.  Let them watch this short video with you about the K-State Flour Mill. 





By the way, K-State is the only place in the country to earn a degree in milling science.  And those guys and gals make big bucks - earning some of the highest starting salaries for college graduates. 

Next time you're at the grocery store, take a look at all the different types of flour available for purchase.  All-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, self-rising flour, cake flour.  A different variety of wheat or a simple change in the milling process results in these varieties.

Remember when I said Kansas' famed wheat variety - Hard Red Winter - was the preferred flour for baking bread?  Here's why.  Flour derived from wheat is the only grain with sufficient gluten (protein) content to make leavened (raised) bread.  The gluten gives the bread strength and elasticity allowing the gas bubbles to form and the bread to "rise" as a result of the leavening agent, yeast.  Hard Red Winter wheat is high in protein. 

And what about all the talk about the horrors of bleached, enriched flour?  Flour is sometimes bleached to create a uniform, very white flour.  This is a chemical process that speeds up the natural whitening and maturing of the flour.  Bleaching the wheat gives a uniform, white appearance to the end product (white bread; not almost-white bread), and bleaching does not impact the nutritional value or leave residual chemicals.  Unbleached flour is whitened and aged naturally, by the air, and is preferred for yeast breads as bleaching can impact gluten strength.

Flour is enriched so that some of what is milled out is replaced.  The enrichment process has done wonders for our nation's health.  Bread has been enriched since 1941, and the most recent addition of folic acid in 2002 has decreased neural tube defects in infants in this country by 26%.  Amazing!  Bleached, enriched flour is not bad for you.  However, nothing but enriched, bleached flour is bad for you.  Simply make half your grains whole.  Whole wheat toast for breakfast, tortilla quesadillas for lunch, and throw some whole wheat flour into the cookies you make for dessert.  It's an easy thing to do!

The latest nutritional guidelines tell us that grains are the foundation for our diet.  The carbohydrates found in grains give us our energy, literally.  And more specifically, the complex carbs found in grain based foods give us a longer lasting source of energy, versus the simple carbs of sugars.  Grains are an easy, inexpensive, healthy part of your diet.  (Here's just one more resource to use when your kids are climbing into the pantry looking for fruit snacks.  I'm speaking from experience, here.  Steer them towards some toast and peanut butter or a tortilla with cheese, instead.)

Now that you know all you need to know about flour - and you have the kids busy on the floor playing in a bowl of wheat - it's time to make Pioneer Woman's chocolate chip cookie sweet rolls.  You must.  Because after you do, you'll eat nothing but chocolate chip cookie sweet rolls for the rest of your life.

Or, you can begin the process with your "I'm too big for naps preschooler."
























And then, after the first rise, involve your grumpy three-year old as soon as he wakes up.

























Then eat these perfect rolls, with your sweet, perfect children for a guilt-free bedtime snack.  Because you're now an expert on flour.  And you deserve one, or two, or three...




Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Happy National FFA Week!

This is the image of the National FFA Organization in 2011. A modern, forward thinking youth organization.















This may be the stereotype etched in your memory.























Gangly, awkward teenagers running around in less-than fashionable corduroy jackets.


















And at times, in small towns across the country, there were lots of gangly, awkward teenagers running around town in corduroy jackets.

You may have even wondered, "What's up with all those kids and aren't they hot in those jackets?"

In case you didn't already know, it's National FFA Week.  A week dedicated to celebrating all those kids and their corduroy jackets.  And a few other things.

I could use this space to help you understand all the wonderful things about the National FFA Organization.  (That's the name, now, by the way.  They stopped calling if the Future Farmers of America twenty-three years ago.)  Instead, I want to take this space to shed some light on the state of the agricultural education in my small town.

One year ago, ag education took a major hit in funding and support from the local administration and local school board.  The program was cut back to half-time.  Half the usual number of classes and a half-time teacher - who also was responsible for running the concession stand at dozens of home football games and coaching wrestling and track.  This was the best the school district could put forth.

Today, things have changed.  The school district has advertised to hire a full-time agriculture education instructor and re-instate the program to it full-time status.  Much applause!

The timing couldn't be better - for a number of reasons:

- 25 ag education graduates from Kansas State University are seeking employment.  Currently, there are two openings across the entire state.  The opportunity to hire a young, eager, top-of-the-class teacher is literally knocking on the door.

- Current, local FFA membership is up.  Involvement is down.  That says we have lots of interested students - but a teacher without the time to get the students involved in valuable ag ed programs.

- 3% of Americans are food producers.  But 20% of Americans have jobs tied to agribusiness.  Take a quick drive around town and that's easy to see.  Agriculture education benefits not just the future farmers, but the future Kan-Equip or John Deere employee, the future banker and the future machinist at Great Plains manufacturing.  An investment in ag education is, simplistically, an investment in your future work force and the future patrons of your school district.

- 100% of Americans are food consumers.  And the majority of those are generations removed from the farm and lack a basic understanding how food is produced in this country and around the globe.  We need food literacy - we need people to understand how their food arrives at the local grocery store.  Furthermore, we need 100% more food in the next 50 years to feed the growing world population.  If you want your children to have job security, encourage them to learn about agricultural careers through the local ag education classes.

- Agriculture education has the solid support of this ranching, farming, and manufacturing community.  Cutting back ag education here, can be likened to cutting back basketball in Milan, Indiana.  (Don't take that wrong - I played and loved basketball in my small town high school.  But making the all-county basketball team didn't help me get through college or instill within me the understanding and passion for an industry that feeds the world.)

For me, National FFA Week is a chance to remember all the wonderful ways my involvement helped me prepare for a lifetime of service to the agricultural industry.  And, it's an opportunity to speak out to ensure the same opportunities are presented to the next generation of agriculturalists.

Happy National FFA Week, folks!