Fall Visitor

Fall Visitor

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cookie Butter Bars

Speculoos doesn't sound too appetizing, does it? But speculoos is actually a Dutch spiced shortbread cookie that's very thin, crispy and caramelized with an intricate design on the front. The cookies are traditionally baked on or just before St. Nicolas Day in the Netherlands and Belgium and around Christmastime in Germany.
Photo by By Zerohund

But some smart person didn't want to keep that goodness locked into a December time frame and  transformed the cookies into a peanut-butter-like spread.

It's a tasty alternative for those poor, misguided folks who don't like peanut butter. My husband is among those people. He will eat PB, but he much prefers other options. And thus, Cookie Butter Bars were born. I took a recipe that used peanut butter and peanut butter chips and substituted cookie butter and white chocolate chips.

They are among the treats that have found their way into suppers during wheat planting time. Bar cookies are a quick alternative to scooping individual cookies, an important factor when combining baking with parts runs and fertilizer deliveries.

They would also be a tasty addition to a Halloween party. Or, if you know your treat or treaters, they would be a tasty homemade treat to share!
  Cookie Butter Bars

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup speculoos cookie butter (like Biscoff, found in peanut butter aisle)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet - your preference)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 3/4 cups miniature marshmallows

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10- by 15-inch pan with baking spray. Line with parchment paper. (This keeps the marshmallows from sticking to the pan, making for easier removal.)

In a large mixing bowl, mix together butter, cookie butter and sugars. Cream well. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.

Add dry ingredients, just until blended. Fold in chocolate and white chocolate chips and marshmallows.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-22 minutes or until light golden brown. (Ovens vary. so know your oven.) They will seem a little gooey, but they set up when cooled.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Life Through the Rearview Mirror

I try not to live life looking in the rearview mirror. As a Type A perfectionist, I can make myself a little crazy with my "woulda, shoulda, coulda" thoughts.

But here lately, I've done quite a bit of rearview mirror watching. Literally.

I had three men who taught me about driving on the farm. My dad, my Uncle Leroy and summer wheat harvest driver Ed all contributed to my education on driving pickups and grain trucks. They all emphasized watching the rearview mirror, especially when driving slowly, to avoid being a one-vehicle traffic jam.

During wheat planting, I make my fair share of trips to Zenith for fertilizer and fuel. And I try to watch my rearview mirror for those fast-approaching vehicles. (For the record, there aren't many on the Zenith Road, but I'll see them if one happens along.)

I've also needed the mirrors for backing up to loading docks to pick up certified wheat seed at Miller Seed Farm and at the farm store for more acetylene and oxygen for those ubiquitous welding repairs.

I watch the mirrors so I know when to stop when I weigh on with empty fertilizer trailers ...
... and again when I pull into the fertilizer shed to get the signal from the co-op worker when to stop. (That one's important: I don't want to have to back up a trailer if I can avoid it!)
I ignore the mirror when I'm filling up the 100-gallon diesel tank on the back of the pickup because I'm too busy reading my book. (Fringe benefit!) But I definitely use it as I leave the pumps to avoid anyone else arriving or departing at the same time.
Mirrors help me pull up to the right place so Randy can fill the drill.
I  needed a crystal ball - not a rearview mirror - to know that the rice I left on low on the stove would be incinerated by the time I got back from helping Randy. (I will definitely use past experience - ala a rearview mirror perspective - to influence my decision in the future. The rice was so bad even the cats wouldn't eat it. But I did manage to save the pan after a lot of scrubbing)
Not all the driving has been looking backwards. One morning, I looked to the side to check for traffic before I pulled out of the driveway and loved the play of morning light on the turning leaves.
And as I returned from Miller Seed Farm one morning, I watched a front roll toward me across the horizon. I couldn't resist a quick photo. (I had a little cushion of time before Randy was going to fill the drill, so my quick stop was sanctioned.)

Today, I have a meeting in Hutchinson this morning and one in Stafford this afternoon, so the guys are going to have to "drive" the day without me. I think they'll miss me. (Of course, I'll be back in time to make and deliver the evening meal, so they could be missing me more!)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

As I type this, the thermometer is valiantly trying to climb above the 40-degree mark. And I'm thinking that, as usual, I have impeccable timing ... NOT.

Sharing this recipe in July or August or even September would have been the smart thing to do. After all, that's the height of grilling season, and grilling is the genius behind these Chili Lime Tacos. But, if I look ahead to the weekend, temperatures will be on the rise. And with tailgaters firing up the grills again for another weekend of college football, perhaps the timing will rival that enviable connection between quarterback and sure-handed receiver. (That's what I'll tell myself anyway.)

Jill and Eric were actually the chefs behind this tasty meal. While they didn't serve it at a tailgate, they did offer it as supper after an earlier K-State football game this fall.
We enjoyed a meal on their back deck after the game with able table-setting assistance from a little K-State football fan. 
Somehow, sharing the recipe got lost among corn reports and hay auctions and unplanned journeys.

So when I saw the photos hanging out in my blog drafts, I decided not to punt until next summer. Chili Lime Chicken Tacos with Grilled Pineapple Salsa was a recipe Jill found at the blog, Carlsbad Cravings. The blog has become one of her new favorites for adding new recipes at their house.

I don't use chicken regularly in my meal planning at home for a couple of reasons:
1)  We have a freezer full of beef.
2)  Randy says he's not a big fan of chicken.
However, if he orders chicken "something" at a restaurant, I always give him "the look," questioning why I so fastidiously avoid the bird on our home menu. And, for the record, he thought these tacos were mighty good.

Chili Lime Tacos 
with Grilled Pineapple Salsa

1 recipe all-purpose chili lime chicken (below)
1 recipe grilled pineapple salsa (below)
4 flour tortillas or 6-8 small corn tortillas
1/2 cup favorite cheese, more or less

Prepare Chili Lime Chicken and Grilled Pineapple Salsa according to directions. To assemble, grill tortillas lightly. Top with chicken, salsa and cheese as desired. Add guacamole and other taco toppings as desired. May serve with rice, chips, beans, etc.

Chili Lime Chicken
1 lb. chicken breasts pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
Chili Lime Rub
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder (optional for more heat)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Lime zest from 1 lime

In small bowl, whisk chicken rub ingredients together and rub evenly over chicken breasts. Time permitting, allow chicken to sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate up to 8 hours, then bring to room temperature before cooking.

To grill: If chicken has been refrigerated, let sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes. Grease and preheat the grill to medium heat, 375 to 450 degrees. Grill chicken undisturbed for 5-7 minutes per side or until chicken is cooked through. (An inserted thermometer should read 165 degrees F.) Remove chicken from grill and let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Garnish with extra fresh lime juice, if desired.

Note:  You may use the stovetop to cook the chicken, using a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat

Grilled Pineapple Salsa
(Makes 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 ripe pineapple, trimmed and sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1 whole jalapeno pepper
1/2 small red onion, peeled and cut in half
1 1/2 cups loosely-packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Grease grill and heat to medium-high heat. Drizzle red onions with olive oil and thread onto a metal skewer. Drizzle red bell pepper and jalapeno with olive oil to lightly coat.

Working in batches as needed, depending on the grill size, grill pineapple and vegetables at medium-high heat until tender and lightly charred all over, about 12 minutes for onions, turning occasionally; and about 8 to 10 minutes for the pineapple, or until caramelized, flipping once; 6 minutes for the red bell peppers, flipping once; and jalapeno for 3-5 minutes, turning occasionally.

Once cool enough to handle, dab off any excess oil on vegetables with paper towels. Devein and de-seed jalapeno pepper and dice. Chop pineapple and remaining grilled vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Stir together pineapple and all veggies, spices and cilantro in a large bowl. Can be served immediately, but it's better chilled.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hold On!

"Keep your hand on the plow. Hold on!"

Our adult church choir started practicing a song about a month ago called "Hold On!" It's a Negro spiritual, and, as you might guess if you know me (or if you've hung around here on The County Line much at all), the song has taken up residence in my head for days after the weekly Wednesday choir rehearsal.

We shared it for special music at church on Sunday, so it will go back in the choir room file cabinet until the next time. But I hope the message behind it will stay stuck in my mind.

Besides the memorable tune, it reminded me of a plaque that's in my parents' back hallway. Every day, my dad walks past it as he goes out the back door to farm:

The plaque came from my Grandpa Leonard's office, and, as my dad says, it definitely reflected Grandpa's philosophy on both life and farming. After Grandpa died, my dad asked for the plaque. It's been hanging in my parents' home ever since.

After the senseless tragedy of last week when a deranged man killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more, I saw lots of Facebook posts about praying for the victims and their families. I certainly did that, too. 

I do believe in prayer. But I also believe that God doesn't expect me to pray, then sit back and twiddle my thumbs.Yes, God will provide. But He expects me to "hold onto the plow" and "keep hoeing," too.

I'll admit something: I couldn't watch hours and hours of the coverage this time. It isn't good for my mental health. It feels a little selfish to admit that when people are still recovering in the hospital and other families have begun having funerals for people who were gunned down for no reason at a country music concert.

So, yes, I prayed for the victims, but I kept on "hoeing." I kept on fulfilling my obligations to my community, my church, my work and my family. And instead of watching network news and feeling defeated, I went outside as the Monarch butterflies came through on their annual migration.
There was a strong southerly wind, so the butterflies found refuge on the north side of a shelterbelt, giving them a little respite in a daunting journey.

Dozens of them took refuge and gave their wings a rest. It sounds like a lot of work to me to travel for two months, across thousands of miles, bucking wind and rain and predators. And it's all to get to a destination they've never visited before.

They begin the journey in their summer home in Canada and the northern regions of the U.S. They are headed for a mountain range 70 miles west of Mexico City in central Mexico, where they find the perfect habitat to survive November through March in the Oyamel forests. As many as 300 million spend the winter there. It's not like ducks and geese which migrate year after year. They will only make this journey one time.

They are a beautiful signal of fall. And, this year, in the face of depressing nightly news, they were also a symbol of fortitude and perseverance for me.
One line of the spiritual says: "Can't plow straight and keep a lookin' back." The butterflies aren't looking back. They are looking toward the journey. And they keep traveling on - despite the obstacles.

It's true for butterflies. It's true for us.

It would be easy to despair. It would be easy to hide in our houses. But we combat hate when we put our hand on the plow ... when we keep hoeing ... when we keep going and doing in God's world.

Last week, country singers Maren Morris and Vince Gill released a song called "Dear Hate." Proceeds from record sales go to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Give it a listen, if you'd like. It certainly resonated with me.

I am linked to Tell His Story, Jennifer Dukes Lee's blog. Click on the link to read other stories of faith.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A 2017 Corn Report: Mother Nature Won

Mother Nature won. In the epic battle of Farmer vs. Mother Nature, she denied access to timely rain. She opted for 100-degree temperatures during critical growing times. She would tease us with rain clouds we could see on the horizon but kept the raindrops from falling on our parched fields.

So, it's a bit anticlimactic to report on Corn Harvest 2017. On second thought, let's just keep it lower case ... corn harvest 2017 doesn't deserve the capital letters. It was not a bumper crop. In fact, it was the worst corn crop we've had in the five years since adding it to the crop rotation on the County Line.
 Our 320 acres planted to corn yielded an average of 43.6 bushels per acre.

Since we are a totally dryland farming operation, we are dependent upon Mother Nature's rains and her heat index during critical times like pollination. She seems to be like the playground bully when it comes to County Line corn.
To compare with previous years, 2016's overall average was 71 bushels per acre. Our first year of corn production was 2013, and we had an average yield of 57 bushels per acre. In 2014, we had our best year to date, with an average of 108 bushels per acre. Overall yield average for 2015 was 43.88 bushels per acre.
The journey toward Corn Harvest 2017 began in April, when Randy planted the crop. (For a look back along the way, click on this link.)
April 2017:  The corn seed in the middle of the photo was at the end of the row, where Randy turned. Most of the seeds end up underground, where they are supposed to be, but I still liked the photo.
May 2017
We finished corn harvest September 25, but it would have been sooner had we not had some combine problems.

Our 320 acres of corn likely sounds like small potatoes - or small sprouts - to anybody who has circles of corn.
But we are primarily wheat farmers, and we were thankful for our second-best wheat crop ever here on the County Line.

After a nice, gentle 3.40" rain the week before, we started planting wheat on October 2. However, we've gotten 0.50" in the past couple of days, so we are at a standstill in that process. No complaining about moisture is allowed! We'd like to keep on Mother Nature's good side for this crop.

More on wheat planting to come ...

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hills and Valleys

A song has played in an intermittent loop on my mental soundtrack for the past couple of weeks. It momentarily gets bumped to the background by a hymn we sing at church or a song on the actual radio dial.

But, if there's no music playing, it's a song that keeps resurfacing on my internal radio feed. It started on a trip to South Dakota.  Randy had gotten a phone call that his brother, Lyle, was in the hospital in Rapid City, so we hurriedly finished some obligations, then got in the car a couple of days later for the 12-hour trip.

We traveled across our Kansas plains, skirted the Nebraska sand hills and arrived on the plains of South Dakota. But as we got closer to Rapid City, the plains gave way to the Black Hills. It was dark by the time we arrived that first day, but I could still see the faint outline of hills as we drove west. And I first began thinking of Tauren Well's song, "Hills and Valleys," a song that I've heard quite a bit on K-LOVE, a contemporary Christian radio station.

Hills and Valleys
(Find all the lyrics at this link)
Find the story behind the song at this link
Sung by Tauren Wells

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

The next few days, we spent most of our time in the hospital ICU, but we also went to Deadwood to retrieve a few things from Lyle's apartment.
Painted Lady butterflies danced and swirled in the flower gardens in front of his apartment building, reminding me of their "cousins" I'd left behind in Kansas.
There's beauty everywhere, even when your mind is swirling with other concerns. On the way back from Deadwood, we made a wrong turn and ended up in Wyoming.

But our "wrong" way transported us to the "right" place all along. We saw glimpses of a small stream as we drove. Finally, there was an extra-wide shoulder and we pulled off to explore.
Before I ever reached the clearing, there were more butterflies.
And then we stepped into the stillness of the pine trees. It was quiet. Just the rush of water flowing over a small waterfall hidden in the trees marred the silence. The water was enough to mask any sounds from the highway, though it wasn't busy anyway.
The tall pines and their shorter neighbors provided a maze of light and shadows.
Light and shadow ... our little oasis of beauty and pleasure in a sea of illness and shadow and uncertainty. And I remembered more of those lyrics ...
I've walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I've felt the pain of heartbreak
And I've seen the brighter days

And I've prayed prayers to Heaven
From my lowest place
And I have held Your blessings
God, You give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I'm standing in Your love

Later, after Lyle was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Montana, we drove to Mount Rushmore.
It was overcast, and the rain clouds blew in, causing pine needles to pummel us as they fell from the trees surrounding the monument.
And, again, the words from "Hills and Valleys" came to mind:

Father, You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all, You will remain
Over it all ...

And I will choose to say
Blessed be Your name
And I am not alone

Yesterday, we started planting wheat. My trip to Zenith to get a load of fertilizer was on the flat landscape of our Central Kansas home. There were no literal hills and valleys to traverse. But as tragedy unfolded on television screens and on radio stations yesterday from Las Vegas - and in real life for way too many people - those words again resonated.

And I am not alone.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Les mauvaises terres a traverser (The Badlands)

The "flowers" bloomed from earth that looked more like gravel than quality soil. The wispy yellow blooms seemed out of place when set against a jagged and unforgiving landscape. It was a little like pinning a boutonniere on a grungy work shirt. It made you look twice to make sure it wasn't a mirage. 
Our unplanned trip to South Dakota wasn't a tourist trek. We had made the 12-hour drive to be with Randy's brother, Lyle, in the hospital. But on our way back to Kansas, we drove through Badlands National Park.
Closeup, the unyielding land seems anything but beautiful or productive. But the sweeping landscapes of peaks, gullies, buttes and prairies help you overlook the unforgiving soil.
It's another one of those "you've-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it" places. It's also a place where amateur photos just don't capture how beautiful it truly is (kind of like Grand Canyon photos).
But, of course, that didn't keep me from attempt after attempt!

In some places, it looks like I imagine the surface of the moon to be - full of craters and crevices.  But instead of the totally "black hole" of space, a blue fall sky provided the backdrop for the stark environment.
In other places, it was almost as if the rocks formed cathedral spires, like architecture from the natural world.
In fact, architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in 1935: "I've been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere - a distant architecture, ethereal ... and an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it."
It's amazing how much the landscape changes from one overlook to the next - from browns, to reds to yellows and tints in between. The Lakota Indians knew the place as mako sica. Early French trappers called the area les mauvaises terres a traverser. Both mean "bad lands."
By mid-September, children are back in school and families aren't on a summer road trip. But there were still plenty of people exploring the terrain - from those on motorcycles to private cars to buses to campers - all of us in awe of God's creation. 

“The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character
 to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color
 as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.”
— President Theodore Roosevelt

Authorized as Badlands National Monument on March 4, 1929, President Franklin Roosevelt issued a proclamation on January 25, 1939, that established Badlands National Monument. In the late 1960s, Congress passed legislation adding more than 130,000 acres of Oglala Sioux tribal land (used since World War II as a U.S. Air Force bombing and gunnery range) to the Badlands to be managed by the National Park Service. 
An agreement between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the National Park Service governing the management of these lands was signed in 1976. The new Stronghold and Palmer Creek units added lands having significant scenic, scientific and cultural resources, according to the National Park Service. The park consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States.

More than 11,000 years of human history pales to the eons old paleontological resources. Badlands National Park contains the world’s richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old. The evolution of mammal species such as the horse, sheep, rhinoceros and pig are studied in the Badlands formations by scientists.
The only animals we saw were big horn sheep, some of which grazed near the roadways. Well, I take that back. We also saw prairie dog towns, and several photographers flocked to those areas to play hide-and-seek with the rodents. However, I can see prairie dogs as I drive toward WalMart in Hutchinson, so we skipped that stop.
I also imagined a bird perched on top of the rock when I saw this formation.
And I thought an animal could have been crouched inside this "cave."(On the lefthand side of the shot.)
 The Badlands wasn't all massive rock formations. There were also some areas of plains.
But it was time to return to our own home on the Kansas plains. So we left the Badlands behind and hit the road.
Our only tourist stop in Nebraska was a quick gaze from the overlook of the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. And then we headed the car south to our home near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.