Soup is Good Food…

Our church started something new this year before our Wednesday Lenten Services; Lenten Soup Suppers.  Families can sign up to make and serve soup either on their own, or with another family.   Jonathan asked if we should make soup for one of the days, so we signed up along with the Laleman family.  I tested a few ideas out on the family before deciding on Cheddar Corn Chowder.

Tuesday night, before heading to bed, I put 6 loaves of Rhodes Frozen Bread Dough into aluminum bread pans.  I bought the disposable bread pans, since I only have two “real” ones…and I needed to make 6 loaves.  This would turn out to be a bad idea, if you like your bread to look like the perfect loaf.

Wednesday morning, I baked the bread 3 loaves at a time. After turning the bread out of the pans and brushing butter over the top, the bottoms started to crush in a little under the weight of the top of the loaf.  Obviously, the aluminum bread pans were made too narrow to support a baked loaf.  I decided to make one more loaf, but this time I used a Bob’s Red Mill Potato Bread mix.  I typically make this in my bread machine, but I used the directions on the mix to bake it in the oven.  I also used my “real” loaf pan, and it turned out beautiful.  Lesson learned.

After I was done with the bread, I chopped up 2 1/2 pounds of bacon, and cooked it up until it was crisp.  I removed the bacon from the pot, and added 3 bags of frozen, chopped onions.  If I were to cut the onions myself, I would probably still be crying!   The onions were cooked on medium heat until they were translucent, and some were starting to brown.  Both the bacon and the onions were left to cool, then put into containers to transport to church.

Next, I needed to peel and dice 8 pounds of potatoes.   Uff da!  At least the Twins were playing, and I could listen to John Gordon call the game while I diced.  I put them into a large Tupperware bowl in a little water so they wouldn’t turn brown.  Presentation, you know!

I measured out the flour, salt, pepper and turmeric, mixing them in a bag to make the next step easier.  The prep work was finished…or so I thought.  Right before it was time to head into church, I realized that I had forgotten to grate the white cheddar cheese.  Fortunately, Jonathan jumped in to help me with that job!

It was also our turn to serve bars and coffee after the service, so I needed to bake a couple pans of the girl’s favorite bars.  Viktoria requested Turtle Brownies, and Laura requested Chocolate Oat Bars (also called Chocolate Revel Bars).  The Turtle Brownies take longer to make, so they were first.  I do cheat a little on this one when I am in a hurry, and use a boxed brownie mix.  While the brownies were baking, I melted the caramels and cream before mixing in the pecans.  The caramel mixture gets dumped onto the brownies when they are hot out of the oven.  Then you let the brownies cool.  While they were cooling, I made the Chocolate Oat Bars.  My favorite recipe for this bar is from the “Joy of Cooking” 75th Anniversary book.   When the Turtle Brownies were cool, I made the chocolate glaze to go over the caramel part, then chilled the brownies before bringing them along.

We arrived at church around 4:45, about 1/2 hour later than what we had wanted. The Laleman’s already had their Chicken Noodle soup on one stove.  While I finished my soup recipe on the other stove, Jonathan and the kids from both families helped cut and butter all of the bread, and set all of the serving pieces out.  They finished setting up the serving line just as the soups were finished, and the first guests arrived.

This was also the last night for Butter Braid sales, so I baked up one last sample braid while Jonathan served the chowder.  After supper was finished, I had to run upstairs to play my violin during  the Holden Evening Prayer (which we use as part of our worship during Lent) while the other cleaned up the kitchen.  The families who were scheduled to serve bars and coffee helped set up the trays of goodies, and served everyone as they walked out of the sanctuary.  More food, and more fellowship!

I am tired, but it is a very good tired.  There is something so satisfying about the making, serving, and eating of food in the company of friends.  Soup is good food…both for the body and the spirit!

Cheddar Corn Chowder

      8 ounces bacon
      1/4 cup olive oil (can use a little less)
      6 cups chopped yellow onion (4 large)
      4 Tablespoons butter
      1/2 cup flour
      2 teaspoons Kosher salt
      1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
      1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric or curry powder
      12 cups chicken stock
      6 cups medium-diced white boiling potatoes, unpeeled
      10 cups corn kernals
      2 cups half-and-half
    1/2 pound sharp white cheddar, grated

Directions

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add the corn to the soup, then add the bacon, half-and-half and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Power of Bundt Cake – final installment

It has taken me a lot longer to compose this portion of this little mini-series than I anticipated.  Every time I start, I get distracted, and fail to return to the task at hand.  So, without further delay, here is our culinary adventure.

We were given the choice of what type of restaurant to dine at.  The girls chose Italian, since they like the Olive Garden.  We were taken to Fresco by Scotto on East 52nd Street, which happens to be a favorite amongst celebrities like Regis Philbin.  Sadly, no celebs when we were there.

There were 8 of us dining together, so we sat at a giant square table – two on each side.  Joe really wanted the girls to have a great New York City experience, so he had his assistant, Even, sit near the girls and give them shopping locations.  It was amusing, from my standpoint.

The waiters first asked if we wanted bottled or sparkling water. Bottled went into clear goblets, sparkling went into blue.  That way they wouldn’t have to interrupt our conversation to ask what we needed for our refill.  After the water was poured, Joe motioned for the waiter to come over, and gave him instructions on the appetizers he wanted for the table.  He also asked for the wine menu, which was huge!  I have no idea what type he ordered – the label was not in English.  While we were waiting for the wine to be poured, the waiters brought out a basket of bread sticks in many different sizes and grilled pizza margheritas.  We still hadn’t ordered our main course when the second round of appetizers arrived.  It was Meat & Cheese Antipasto…wow.  The waiters were instructed to put a sample of all the elements on each plate. We had Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Mortadella, Fresh Mozzarella, Sweet & Spicy Sausage, Provolone and Capizola.  They brought out French Fries for the girls, just in case they didn’t like the other food.

After all of this, it was time to order our main meal.  We opened our menus, and to our surprise – the Schwan’s logo was in the center!  (The headquarters is 10 miles from our home.)  Jonathan ordered an organic Angus beef burger, two of the girls and I ordered the Ravioli Fresco, and one ordered the Spaghetti alla Chitarra.  When our meals arrived, it was just like in the movies where a long line of waiters come to the table to present everyone with their food.  Half-way through, Joe decided we should taste the Eggplant and Zucchini Pie, so he ordered that as well.

About the time we finished eating, Joe received a phone call and had to leave.  Connie asked if we wanted coffee or dessert, when a waiter came over and said that dessert had been taken care of.  They brought out coffee (which was also very good) and a dessert tray that was probably 2×3 feet…and filled with samples of many desserts to share.  There was Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers (my favorite cookie), two or three kinds of gelato, two types of cheese cake, biscotti, and fresh fruit.

The food was all top-notch, the service excellent, and the company was unforgettable.  We rolled out of there, and walked towards Central Park.  I was very thankful that we were walking everywhere after the feast we were treated to.

We hung out in Central Park for a short time, then thought we should make our way over to Broadway.  Connie ordered tickets for Mary Poppins for us.  We were floored!  She had us dead center – 6 rows from the front. We could see the sweat on the conductor’s brow…and when Mary Poppins got hit by a chimney sweep’s broom, we could see the blood trickling from her brow.  The show was amazing – different enough from the movie that it seemed fresh, yet very familiar.

We headed for home the following day, taking time to see my brother and sister-in-law, Byron and Lois.  They took us to Point Pleasant along the Jersey Shore. We walked along the boardwalk, ate at the amusement park, and walked on the beach and in the ocean.  A great end to a very memorable trip.

Mary Poppins!

The Power of Bundt Cake – New York City (part 3)

We decided to stay in Parsippany, NJ and take the train into the City for the two days we had to sightsee.  The first day was all on our own. The second day, we would be meeting at Chatham Imports before going to lunch with Joe and Connie.

The train ride into the City reminded us of the Polar Express, when the conductor came down the aisle to punch our tickets.  We looked to see if he punched any words in them, but he didn’t.  Our train destination was Penn Station, which is under ground.  When we rode the escalator up to street level the first time, we were all breathless.  The view was absolutely incredible.  We were in New York City.  On Fashion Avenue. Blocks from Broadway and Times Square.  Un-be-liev-able!

We pretty much walked everywhere the first day. We ate at a McDonald’s that has appeared on Travel Channel shows, walked past the theater where we would be seeing Mary Poppins the following night, and walked into Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum to purchase tickets for our sightseeing bus tour.   We figured the bus tour would be a good bet, since we could get a feel for the city without wearing Anna out.  Unfortunately, their dry spell ended that day.  We were given rain ponchos to wear while we were on the top level of the bus, but it was raining much too hard for them to keep us dry.  Jon and I ended up sitting below, where the windows were fogged over, and there was little ventilation.  Me, being claustrophobic, thought I was going to die.  Every time the bus slowed down for a stop, water cascaded down the steps from the upper deck into the lower level.  We eventually got off at a stop without knowing exactly where we were.  We were just about to call a cab, when another bus pulled up that had a plastic cover over the front of the upper seats.  It was the Brooklyn tour.  The rain showers had let up by this point, so we jumped on and had a great tour of Brooklyn.  When the tour was finished, we walked back to Penn Station to catch the train to our hotel.  We would have to be on the ball the next morning so we wouldn’t be late for our meeting.

The weather was definitely better the following day, although trains were running late through the tunnel between New Jersey and New York due to flooding from the deluge the day before.  We had to hurry from Penn Station to Chatham’s in order to get there in time. Thanks to the GPS on my Smartphone, we made it.

The office itself was pretty small, but everyone was very friendly.  The secretary is originally from Iowa, and made us feel very welcome the way Midwesterners do.  Connie brought us into the conference room, where Joe joined us a short time later.  They asked the girls a ton of questions, just getting to know them, and making sure they were experiencing the City the way they were hoping to.

After hearing more about their company, Jonathan and I were invited to have a sampling of the vodka made from our corn.  Chatham’s markets three flavors of organic vodka under the Crop label – plain, tomato, and cucumber.  We learned the proper way to taste test without getting intoxicated before lunch. 🙂   It amazed me how the tomato and cucumber vodkas tasted just like fresh from the vine produce.  We next tasted their organic gin, which is marketed under the Farmers Gin label.  I had never tasted gin before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  The taste of juniper was very pronounced, but when we did the “spit” part of the taste test, the flavor of lemon filled my mouth.  For fun, we were given tastes of Joe’s favorite Biscotti liqueur, which tasted just like the cookie.  We chatted for a few more minutes, then we were off to lunch.

Next… lunch!

The girls in their rain ponchos before hopping on the bus

The Power of Bundt Cake (part 2)

Now that harvest is wrapped up, and traveling is done for awhile, I can catch up on my blogging!

A few weeks after the visit from Joe, Connie, and Jim, we received a package in the mail.  It was a box from Joe and Connie, containing gifts for Jonathan and I…and Pongo, our rat terrier.  They sent Jonathan an Hermes tie, and I received an Hermes scarf.  They also sent a thank-you note with another invitation to visit them in New York.  That really started the wheels turning in Jonathan’s head!

It is tradition in our family that the graduate gets to choose the summer family vacation destination before they head off to college.  Anna chose the Iowa Speedway for the inaugural Nationwide Series race.  (She was hoping to see Joey Logano, her favorite driver. Sadly, he was not there.) Christina wanted to go to Los Angeles or Hollywood, but I was trying to talk her into staying in the Midwest.  Then we received the second invitation to visit New York.  Christina, with Jonathan’s full support, quickly chose New York City as her family vacation destination.  The first week of July we were still trying to find an open week in our schedules.  We narrowed it down to the week of July 10 – 17. That gave us about 3 days to make all of our travel arrangements, and line up help for chores.  Not to mention our town’s celebration, and my very first 5k attempt…

Jonathan contacted Connie, who was thrilled that we would be coming.  She asked what we were planning on seeing while in the City, and gave Jonathan some ideas.  Christina really wanted to see a Broadway show, and walk in Central Park.  The girls all wanted a chance to shop a little, which was no surprise.  Connie asked which Broadway show we wanted to see, which we left up to Christina.  Wicked was sold out, so she chose Mary Poppins, since we all love the movie.

We packed up, loaded the van, and headed east.  We put in a long day on that first day, getting past Chicago.  Lessons learned…take frequent breaks to stretch and get the blood flowing, drink a lot of water, and don’t eat salty snacks.

Next up – our arrival and first day in New York City.

This is me, back home after my very first 5k at Cottonwood Coming Home Days. We left the following day for New York.

The Power of Bundt Cake (part 1)

Last spring, my husband, Jonathan, received a phone call from one of our corn buyers.  This buyer uses some of our organic corn to make vodka for other companies.  They wondered if we would be interested in hosting three people who would be in the area to visit the corn plant and organic vodka bottling plant where their product is processed.  We have had the privilege of hosting Dean Phillips and his marketing team when they rolled out Prairie Grains Organic Vodka.  We love to tell people our farming story, so we thought it would be alright to host another group.   We were given a date, along with their names and the names of their companies.  This is when things got a little interesting, and nerve wracking for me.  Two of our guests were from Chatham Imports of New York City.  I don’t know if you have the same stereotypes that I do, but I instantly felt that I was too redneck to be their host!

The day of their visit, the weather was warm and beautiful. The sky was a gorgeous blue, without a single cloud – a perfect day!

They pulled up in a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car.  Not something you see very often in this part of Minnesota! I had to laugh when the driver was eating his lunch…being watched by two farm cats perched on the roof and hood of his shiny car.

We invited Joe, Connie, and  Jim into the house, and visited over “a little lunch” of Lemon Bundt Cake, coffee, water, and juice.  All three were very interested in the process of a farm becoming certified organic, and asked many questions.  After we finished visiting in the house, we brought them outside for a tour of our farm.  They were pretty intrigued with all of the equipment that we showed them. We explained what the different pieces of tillage equipment do, and whether we use it in the spring, summer, or fall.  They had the opportunity to sit in the combine, and hear how the grain gets harvested.  We tried to answer all of their questions regarding the farm, organic farming, and if I really did make my Bundt cake from scratch.

We found Joe and Connie to be very warm and friendly. The 2.5 hours they spent on our farm really flew by.   They invited us out to New York City to visit them and see their company, which planted an idea in our heads.  But that story will have to wait…

Lemon Bundt Cake

Cake:

1 package lemon cake mix

1 package lemon pudding (not instant)

¾ cup oil

¾ cup water

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon butter extract

1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling: Mix in small bowl

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup brown sugar

Put all cake ingredients in mixer bowl and beat for 8 minutes at high speed.  Grease and flour bundt or tube-type pan.  Reserve 1 cup of cake batter; pour remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon filling onto batter, being careful that filling does not touch sides of pan. Pour reserved batter on top. Run knife through batter to swirl filling into batter. Bake in a preheated 350o oven for 45-50 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto platter.

Why I Care

Twenty two years ago, I went from city girl to farm wife.  I moved three hours away from my family and friends to start a new life with my husband, Jonathan.  We were married in a drought year, which meant harvest had started within a few days of our wedding.  We decided to come home a day or two early from our honeymoon to help my father-in-law.

Our house had been “decorated” by Jonathan’s friends, so we had a little clean-up to attend to before we could help move corn wagons.  My in-laws had surprised one of the guys doing the decorating, and suggested we enter the house carefully.  After a little cleaning and unpacking, I learned how to hook up the wagons to the John Deere 4020.  Eventually, I learned how to drive the 4020, and how to unload the corn into the bin.  It was a lot for me to remember and I made many mistakes.  Jonathan and his dad were so patient with me, that I wasn’t afraid to try all the new things.

The patience and caring that I was shown as a new bride in a new atmosphere has had a lasting impact.  I try to live by those same principles, and treat others with respect and care.  Their example has also fueled a passion for agriculture and its importance in our world.

Jonathan and I have three beautiful teenage daughters. We have both become active in our church and community. I am currently serving as president of our county Farm Bureau, and have served on a few State Farm Bureau committees.  I look forward to sharing some of my perspectives with you about the farming industry, and what goes on in our family during the different seasons.