Saturday, May 20, 2017

The decision that changed everything

"Wow, you're this big city girl that knows about cows?" said one of my fellow Toastmasters at a club meeting a few weeks ago. Quite the contrary. "I work downtown, but I'm hardly a city girl," I replied.

When people outside of agriculture meet me and find out about my passion (more like obsession) for farming, they usually ask how I found my way into that field. It's in my blood. But it almost wasn't my destiny. One well thought out decision involving a pros and cons list and days of deliberation changed the course of my life, but I wouldn't know it until years later.

So what changed? Let's start at the beginning.

If it's summer, we knew we could always find Grandpa on the tractor mowing, raking or baling hay in one of our fields. If he was raking, then it was our lucky day since we could go ride with him. His open cab, '50s model Massy Ferguson tractor made it easy for rocks to fly up when mowing hay so kids were not allowed to ride along. Not that today's giant tractor cabs offer much more protection without a rock guard. A few of my brother's tractor windows can attest to this. When we weren't riding on the tractor in the summer, we were helping him take the grass he just cut with the lawn mower to the cows. The cows loved fresh cut grass! Or we were racing our bikes down the lane. There was always something to do.

The cows LOVED fresh cut grass!

Fast forward to middle school. What an awkward three years, yikes. I was finally in 6th grade and determined to be cool, whatever that meant. I started thinking that maybe I was finally old enough not to spend my summers at the farm and that it would be much better to hang out at the mall or somewhere else. I was drifting away from the farm to try to fit in with my suburban classmates. I was 12 and my parents weren't about to let me go off and do whatever I wanted. And rightfully so. I was 12.

My uncle started talking with my brother over the next year about his 4-H days and my brother became very interested in joining 4-H,  so the family attended the Christmas Party meeting of the 4-H dairy club in town. I was still too cool for this type of outing, but I went along with it. It's good I did because I met my friend Sarah there. She had just joined the club and we became fast friends. My brother was all in on this, but despite being asked if I'd like to join, I wasn't sold. Over the next few months, Sarah and I wrote each other letters (because Facebook and social media or having our own cell phones were not a thing yet) and she kept telling me to join the club and about how much fun it would be. Fast forward three months to March and the family drove up to Monroe, determined to purchase a 4-H calf for my brother.

"Are you sure you don't want one too? Are you really sure? We are here and there are cows...," My dad continuously asked. Nope, I'm good. I don't need or want a cow. Thanks.

Ha, well that all changed on the ride home from the youth calf sale. "I think I want a cow!" I announced. "What?! We were just at a sale and you kept saying you didn't want a calf!" My parents exclaimed.

I find all of this hilarious now. During the next few weeks, we went out to one of the dairies in town and picked out a calf and bought it. Meet Allie, my stubborn three-month-old Holstein calf. What a pair we were.

Allie and I

I had no patience and she didn't understand what happened and why she was not hanging out in the heifer barn with all of her friends. The calf wouldn't move or cooperate. I really didn't know what I was doing either. And no surprise here, we placed last or second to last at every show that first year.

It all came to a head at the state fair that year when Allie was in heat for the first time and not only did we lose miserably, but she ran into other cows, almost knocked over the table with the ribbons and dairy princesses and tried to destroy the fence separating the two show rings. It was all I could do to hold it together and maintain my composure. Until I got to the barn. I tied the heifer up in her stall and went over to an area where I was sure no one could see and hear me and started crying. I couldn't do this. What was I doing anyways? This just wasn't worth it.

Enter Amanda, who's cows were tied on the other side of the wall that I was sitting near. Turns out that she placed one spot ahead of me in that class. She heard me crying and came over to see if I was okay. She was in her second year of 4-H and could relate to what I was going through. That conversation is why I didn't quit showing cows after that day. You never know when something you say will make such a significant difference in someone's life.

Amanda and I and a few of our other cow-showing friends
at the state fair a year later

The years and cow shows that followed went much better. I learned what I was doing, began to love working with my cows throughout the year to train them and we placed high at the shows. I also became involved in club leadership positions. As I learned what I was doing, I relaxed quite a bit. I'm sure my show cows appreciated that. Ha!

I learned a lot about grit and perseverance from showing cows and my overall experience in 4-H. And Amanda? She's been my best friend since that day in 2001. We laugh about it now.

4-H and showing cows isn't actually about the cows or the rosettes you get from winning. Hanging out with cows at the fair is awesome, but that misses the point. It's about the lifelong friendships built at fairs and club meetings, like the ones I still have with Amanda and Sarah, and the life lessons learned in the barn and in the show ring.

Until 4-H, I was extremely shy and public speaking terrified me. The required annual demonstrations about dairy topics to the rest of the club eventually changed that. That's why I thought it was ironic when, at a different Toastmasters meeting, I drew the topic "Which charity/organization would you donate your time to?" I chose 4-H. That's a given. The organization, my fantastic 4-H leaders and everyone else involved with it gave me an opportunity that completely changed the course of my life.

It's because of this childhood experience that I decided to major in agriculture in college and pursue a career in one of the best industries around. To say it opened doors for me is a huge understatement.

Me and my biggest fan (Grandpa) before college graduation

It's also ironic that the organization I joined in 2017 (Toastmasters) to polish up my speaking skills for a few upcoming keynote addresses - one ironically to 4-H members - is drawing parallels to the one I joined in 2001 (4-H) that helped me get over my fear of public speaking.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Weekly Meal Plan #20

This week's meal plan includes Blackberry Bread, Homemade Chicken & Rice Soup, Lemon Pepper Tilapia, East Coast Seasoned Charcoal Ribs, Quick Turkey & Dumplings, Gnarly Mexican Burgers, and Brownie Raspberry Chambord Whipped Cream Trifle.

If the recipes on the days we listed don’t work for you, just shuffle them around. We did most of the legwork, now make it work for your family & kitchen!
Fuel up with protein for breakfast with this Spinach & Tomato Veggie Omelet from Kimmi's Dairyland.

Get out the slow cooker for this delicious Crockpot Mac & Cheese from Organized Island that the entire family will love.

Lighten it up tonight and take advantage of the fresh produce in season with this Spring Asparagus Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette from The Crumby Cupcake.

It's the week of the slow cooker and fresh vegetables. Pull together the ingredients for Turkey Vegetable Soup from The Shirley Journey in the morning and dinner will be waiting for you when you get home.

Pick a few fresh tomatoes and some basil for these Caprese Sliders from Kimmi's Dairyland for an easy Thursday dinner.

Give the grill the night off and make ribs in your slow cooker. These Sweet Onion Teriyaki Ribs  from My Fearless Kitchen will leave everyone asking for more.

You can't forget the chocolatey dessert! These Mini Chocolate Chip Cakes will give you your chocolate fix whenever you need it this week.

Take the weekend off, enjoy your leftovers, or eat out. We’ll be testing more recipes for you in our own kitchens!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Caprese Sliders

If Caprese Salad is one of your go-to's at Italian restaurants, you will love this spin off of the traditional slider recipe. Melty mozzarella, dried basil (or fresh if you prefer), grape tomatoes dipped in balsamic vinegar... all on a Sweet Hawaiian roll. These are perfect for lunch or appetizers.

A few months ago, we hosted some of my friends for dinner and had barbecue sliders. It was delicious and everyone had a great time. This group of friends mostly comes from agriculture. One of the ladies grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin; another on a beef farm in Virginia; and the other friend used to be my neighbor. She's great and puts up with all of us talking farming all the time.

We are all very passionate about agriculture, but none of us farm exactly the same way and we don't agree on absolutely everything. That's the great thing about agriculture. While there are plenty of choices in the grocery store for you, there are also many production methods for farmers to accomplish the same goal of taking excellent care of their animals and producing a healthy, nutritious and safe food supply. Choice is a good thing.

When talking about dairy farms, the cows may be out on pasture, they may live in a free stall barn where they can lay down in any stall they want and have constant access to feed and water, or they may live in a pack barn without stalls where they can also choose where to lay down and they have around the clock access to feed and water. There are so many ways to do a great job taking care of animals. For more about how dairy farmers take care of their cows, check out this post.

At the end of the day, farmers all work hard. Farming is not easy work and it takes a lot of time and dedication. Those that aren't dedicated usually don't last very long in this business. Cows don't take holidays and they can't read a clock. You can plan all you want, but ultimately those cows may make you late for an event or two (or a lot more than that!). However, ask anyone who farms and they likely will tell you they don't want to do anything else. This passion is passed down from generation to generation with the farming legacy.

As you get together with your family and friends this summer, take some of these sliders! They are sure to be a hit.

Caprese Sliders

What you'll need...

  • Sweet Hawaiian rolls
  • Butter, melted
  • Dried basil
  • Mozarella cheese, sliced
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Balsamic vinegar
Kitchen Equipment
  • Frying pan(s) to fit the number of sliders you are making (if you want to make them all at the same time)
  • Small bowl to melt butter in
  • Small bowl for balsamic vinegar
  • Brush for melted butter

How to make it...

  1. Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave for 30-60 seconds until melted (the amount you need will vary depending on how many sliders you are making
  2. Before dividing the rolls, slice the sheet of rolls through the middle to form sliders (rolls will be divided afterward)
  3. Using a kitchen brush, cover the bottom of the slider buns with melted butter 
  4. Slice cherry tomatoes in half (after washing them, of course) and dip into balsamic vinegar
  5. Slice mozzarella cheese at your preferred thickness
  6. Distribute cheese slices throughout the sliders
  7. Place grape tomato halves dipped in balsamic vinegar on top of the cheese
  8. Cover both with dried basil
  9. Place the tops of the sliders over the basil
  10. Using a kitchen brush, cover the tops of the slider buns with melted butter, then add basil
  11. Cut the sliders apart into bunches to fit your frying pan (there should be several attached in the frying pan at one time) and place into a hot frying pan
  12. Using medium heat, watch the level of browning on the bottom of the slider buns. The goal is to be slightly brown and to melt the cheese. 
  13. Once cheese is melting and before the bottom of the sliders burn, flip the sliders over for a minute (like you would with a grilled cheese sandwich)
  14. Flip again and remove from the frying pan
  15. Let sliders cool for a minute and then cut apart into individual sliders 
  16. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Berry Chicken Salad

almost berry season, so toss your favorite berries onto this salad for a perfect summer meal.

We've always had a large garden. The row of raspberry bushes was always my favorite. As a kid, I would pick raspberries, strawberries and blueberries from the garden and Granny would make a pie with them. She's an amazing cook and her pie crusts were especially good.

While picking raspberries, it was always fun watching the cows since the front field wrapped around part of the garden. Cows are curious creatures and they were always curious what I was doing and why they couldn't join me. Cows frolicking through the garden certainly wouldn't make Granny very happy!

This is Hannah, my favorite cow.

In the spring, the cows are excited to get back out onto the pasture to eat the grass that is once again growing. Although our winters are mild and the cows are still out on pasture, there isn't much grass for them to eat since it isn't growing, so we feed them hay. More on how hay is made here.

Speaking of which, it's almost hay season! There's a lot that goes into it and the weather greatly impacts when you can cut hay. It's not good if the hay is rained on, it ruins the quality. First, we cut the hay, then let it dry out for a while (usually a day; if it's hot, maybe a few hours), then we ted it to toss it so it dries more evenly. Next, we rake it into windrows. This also helps it dry and places it into rows to make it easier for the baler to grab it. After baling, it's time to bring out the hay wagon and pick up hay bales. Some farmers make large square bales (more of a rectangular shape) or large round bales, but we still do small squares (rectangle shape) and lift those by hand. It's a great workout. Who needs the gym when you farm?!

If you've been working out and eating healthier, this salad will fit perfectly into your meal plan with lots of protein, fruits and vegetables. Enjoy!

Berry Chicken Salad

What you'll need...

  • Chicken tenders, cooked prior to making this recipe (I seasoned them with salt and pepper)
  • Spinach
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberry Merlot salad dressing
  • Whole grain croutons
  • Mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
**Amounts of the above ingredients will vary depending on how many servings you are making. 

Kitchen Equipment
  • Cutting board
  • Knife

How to make it...

  1. Slice strawberries
  2. Cut slices of mozzarella cheese into small cubes
  3. Place a bed of spinach on each plate
  4. Add sliced strawberries, raspberries and blackberries
  5. Top fruit layer with sliced chicken, distributed throughout
  6. Add whole grain croutons and mozzarella cubes
  7. Drizzle with Raspberry Merlot dressing
  8. Enjoy!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Weekly Meal Plan #19

If the recipes on the days we listed don’t work for you, just shuffle them around. We did most of the legwork, now make it work for your family & kitchen!

Weekly Meal Plan 19
Make these Bacon and Cheese breakfast muffins from Organized Island ahead of time so you can warm them up on the busy mornings ahead.
Celebrate the start of a new week with this delicious Eggplant Parmesan Caprese Skillet Pizza from The Crumby Cupcake. Made with baked eggplant Parmesan, fresh tomatoes, spinach and basil, it is a wonderful dish to gather around and enjoy!

Meal Plan ideas

This tasty Mac & Cheese with Pork and Peas from The Shirley Journey (aka Mom's Messy Miracles) cooks up in one skillet and is beautifully dotted with peas.

  Meal Plan idea
Make a fun and festive supper with these Sesame Ginger Steak Cabbage Boats from Kimmi's Dairyland. Made with a sesame ginger marinade, it will surely bring smiles to you family!

meal plan idea
The weekend is nearly here! Celebrate with these juicy Sweet and Spicy Pork Chops from My Fearless Kitchen. Made with a tasty rub you can prep in the morning, it makes for an easy, delicious weeknight dinner.
meal planning ideas
Wrap up the week with a tasty (and easy) Simple Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe from Organized Island. It can be put together so quickly with a rotisserie chicken to save time.
Easy Tortilla Soup - An easy dinner or lunch idea.

Celebrate with your family with this delicious Coconut Bundt Cake with Lemon Filling from Desserts Required! It is almost to pretty to eat, but don't let that stop you!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sesame Ginger Steak Cabbage Boats

Finding healthy choices at restaurants and sometimes when cooking at home can be challenging. If you're looking for some "cleaner" fare, try these Sesame Ginger Steak Cabbage Boats. You'll get plenty of protein and all of the nutrients that are found in steak, along with filling vegetables. Top it off with a splash of sesame ginger marinade to ramp up the flavor. You'd never know you were trying to eat healthy!

Steak is one of my favorite entrees to get when going out to eat. It's nutritious and so tasty. While there certainly is an art to cooking it so that it isn't "still mooing" and isn't over done, there's also so much that goes into raising the cattle that produced the steak.

We are cattle farmers these days and unlike dairy cattle that produce and give milk every day, it's a slower process for beef cattle. There are also a lot of different methods of farming. Each has their benefits. Whether you prefer cattle that primarily ate grass or if they were corn fed is your choice. I personally cannot taste a difference. Did you know that even the cattle that are fed corn in their final months spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture?

I've heard stories (likely from folks who have never seen a cow in person) of cattle that are crammed into feed yards and force fed corn. One thing you should know about cows is that they are stubborn. Anyone who has ever shown them at the fair or tried to get them into a trailer or anywhere else they didn't want to go that day can attest to this. Good luck getting them to do something they don't want to do. There's a science that goes into determining how much space per animal is needed and how many animals a particular barn or area can handle before becoming "over stocked." We learned all about this in my college animal science classes. Corn is actually a grass (who knew?!) and is a good source of energy for cattle.

As farmers, it's our job to keep our cattle healthy and comfortable. When they are fed more than grass, there's usually an animal nutritionist (dietitian) balancing all of the ingredients in the recipe to ensure all of the cow's nutritional needs are met.

You can cook this steak on the grill or in a pan on the stove. I prefer my grill. And don't forget to let the steak rest for a few minutes before cutting into it.

Sesame Ginger Steak Cabbage Boats

What you'll need...

  • Steak (cook prior to making this recipe, either on the grill or your preferred method of cooking steak)
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cabbage
  • Sesame ginger maranade (or if you can't find that, you can use any type of sesame ginger sauce)
  • Olive oil
Kitchen Equipment
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Frying pan with lid

How to make it...

  1. Cook steak and let it rest before cutting into slices
  2. Add a small amount of water to a frying pan on the stove to steam veggies; bring to a boil
  3. Chop onion length-wise so you have long pieces
  4. Chop carrots into smallish pieces
  5. Chop celery
  6. Add onion, celery and carrots to boiling water and cover with a lid to steam them until you can pierce them with a fork
  7. Drain the water
  8. Add 1-2 tbsp. olive oil and a dash salt and pepper to the pan and saute the veggies for a few minutes 
  9. Cut cabbage into 4 pieces; take 2 layers of cabbage per boat and place on the serving plate
  10. Add sauteed veggies and sliced steak to the cabbage boats
  11. Top with a drizzle of sesame ginger marinade/sauce (you don't need much)
  12. Enjoy!