31 August 2011

Thirsty

During our first summer here, I remarked to Jack how green everything was in Iowa.  Not that my homeland of Nebraska is arid--at least not the east where I'm from--but Iowa seemed like it was saturated with water.  Creeks and rivers snake everywhere and on top of it, it rains plenty and snows even more abundantly.

We've been home now from Jack's co-op for nearly a month and the whole time, I've been praying for rain.  I'm not even sure the last time it even drizzled here.  Our whole acreage was thirsty.

The first thing to go is the grass.  The green retreats, leaving a dull beige everywhere.  The soft, downy feel of the tender summer blades is replaced by a stiff crunch.  It feels like trampling over a miniature forest when I tiptoe barefoot across the yard.  My container garden I'd lovingly grown in Cedar Rapids didn't fend well either.  Evie and I watered it faithfully every day and still the plants shriveled.

A week without rain during a hot spell is uncomfortable.  A month without a drop is a major problem and it was beginning to show.  More than losing the aesthetic appeal of our giant yard, most of our animals depend on green grass as the staple of their diet.  If grass doesn't grow, I have to dip into my precious winter hay supply.  The sparser the pasture got, the harder I prayed.

My animals weren't the only ones suffering either.  Several times I'd go to fill the horse's water trough and find a cowbird that had drowned.  There wasn't anywhere else to get a sip so they took the risk of quenching their thirst.  It was to their ruin.  I tried to keep the water topped off so they could perch on the edge but four thirsty horses drain water pretty fast.

Ironically, when the rain ebbs away, the weeds take over.  My arena has been a bit pathetic lately.  Jack was kind enough to mow it down for me so I could spray again.  Stoney couldn't trot through it without getting his legs tangled up.
Of course, there are a few benefits to limited rain: no sloppy mud, there's barely a need to mow (except the arena, haha!) and very few mosquitoes, all of which are definite blessings.  Still, I would have risked a few itchy bites and a mucky kitchen floor for the sake of some food for the grazers.

Eventually, all of those storms that kept teasing us as the rolled by to the south, gently billowed our way.  It drizzled steadily all day and the parched soil guzzled it up.  The plants are already looking perkier and no birds have perished in my watering trough today.  I'll take that as a good sign.
 


30 August 2011

Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

It's  been cold and rainy all day so I decided to turn on the oven and make something warm for dinner.  Here's a simple recipe that you've probably got all of the ingredients for already.  You can also double it if you've got a bigger family to feed.

About 2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli
2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup mayo (mayo Miracle Whip.  Trust me.)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 to 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella--whatever kind you'd like!)

Turn the oven on to 400F.  Fill the bottom of a 9x9 inch pan with broccoli.
Don't you feel healthy just looking at that broccoli?


Well . . . that healthy broccoli is still under there.  Somewhere.

Mix the cream of chicken soup, mayo, lemon juice and half of the shredded cheese.  Add the cooked chicken.  Thin out the mixture with 1/4 cup of water, then spread the mixture over the broccoli.  Crumble the remaining cheese over the top and place in the oven for about 20 minutes.

When it's all hot and bubbly, pull it out and dish it up with some rice.  It's a perfect meal for those chilly, wet days!



29 August 2011

Plan B

All week, I'd been focused on finishing the dining room floor.  It wasn't too terribly difficult to do once the nails and petrified dirt had been removed and the boards were sent through the table planer.  Then it was just a matter of laying them back down.  Some ends had tongue and grooves, others didn't.  Some boards were thicker than others.  It was sort of an intriguing puzzle to get them all back together again.

Little by little . . .


. . . the floor came together.  Sure, it will need a bit of sanding and then a few coats of polyurethane after we stain it, but I was getting so close to finishing that I could see the end in sight!
I really need to keep telling myself that every project will take twice as long and cost twice as much as I originally anticipate, then I wouldn't be so discouraged if I did happen to get done faster and under budget.  Anyway, I returned home after a volunteer commitment on Saturday just in time to kiss the girls goodnight.  The sun was setting so I hurried and measured, cut and arranged the wood out in the yard.  My pile of useable wood boards had diminished over the week and I was so proud of myself and how much I'd gotten done in so short a time.  If everything went the way I planned, the floor would be finished on Saturday, Sunday would be the much needed glorious day of rest and Monday, I'd head to the hardware store to rent their sander for the day.

I drilled.  I nailed.  I glued . . .


. . . and then I realized there was a problem.

I don't quite understand how tearing up the floorboards and laying them down in the opposite direction means that all of a sudden, they don't cover the same amount of space.  It's an enigma that I can't begin to comprehend.
So I did what any rational person would do.

I moved all of my furniture out of the living room . . .

. . . and tore up the living room floor!
I couldn't just stop at the six pieces of wood I needed to finish the dining room either.  It was going to be torn up eventually, so I decided that today was the day.  It also went a lot faster when I realized I could just toss the wood out into the yard from the window.  What a time saver!
So, yes, now I have to use Plan B.  The dining room floor is on hold until the living room is sanded and painted.  Then I'll sand, stain and seal the dining room floor, followed by some much desired carpet for the living room.  After that, it's just putting the trim back up!  Well . . . after that's planed, sanded, stained and re-varnished.  I guess that light at the end of the tunnel was just a mirage.  Sigh.  I am so gullible sometimes.

28 August 2011

Sleepy Babies

There's not much sweeter than watching your babies sleep.  Following a full day of playing, napping, snacking, more playing, helping mom and a little innocent trouble-making, resting children are so peaceful. 

A close second, adorably speaking, is watching these guys.
Though it's true that horses spend most of their time snoozing while standing, thanks to a handy locking knee joint, they do also frequently lay down for that much needed REM sleep (Hey!  Horses need to dream too!).  I'll also take a guess that no one's ever heard of "horse tipping."  That's because horses, unlike cows, have a pretty wide stance relative to their body so they don't tumble over with a little shove.  I wish I could sleep standing up without falling flat on my face.  Horses really are amazing animals.
Oh no!  Dancer's dead!  Sniff!  Sniff!  Oh, wait . . . she's just a foal in this picture and like any sleepy baby, she needed a nice, cozy bed to really get her rest.
Way back when I was taking an introductory animal science class, we talked about allelomimetic behavior in herd animals.  It's basically the idea that social animals will copy the behavior of other animals nearby.  Here's proof that the theory is true:
I can almost see them thinking, "So-and-so's laying down.  I think I'm tired too."
Stoney takes "bed and breakfast" quite literally.  Often, he wakes and doesn't bother to get up before he starts munching on the hay that was just his mattress.
Stoney is like a big brother to Dancer and they treat each other accordingly.  She follows him like a shadow, he pushes her out of the way to get to the grain and more often than not, they nap right next to each other.
How cute is that?

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

There are several things I like about these muffins, particularly the fact that they are muffins rather than loaves.  I don't know if it feels more personalized to serve everyone their own little share or if it's the built in portion control.   I do happen to like the fact that it takes less time to bake muffins because who couldn't use more free time?  I also adore this recipe because besides being quick and simple, it uses butter rather than shortening, making the bread fluffier.  And it's got chocolate in it--what could be better?

Ingredients:

3 large, ripe bananas (the blacker the better!)
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate work wonderfully)

Mash bananas.  Add sugar and slightly beaten egg.  Add the melted butter.
Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the banana mixture.  Blend well.  Fold in the chocolate chips.
Line muffin pan with paper muffin cups or grease with cooking spray.  Divide batter evenly between twelve muffin tins.

Bake at 375F for about 20 minutes.  Muffins will crown and turn a golden brown.  They are finished when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (Don't pull them out until that toothpick is clean!  Trust me, they might look all finished but if the inside isn't cooked, you'll have a crater in the center of your pretty little muffins when they cool).
Enjoy!

27 August 2011

Refridgerator Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes have to be on my top five list of favorite foods so it's no wonder that this is a cherished recipe of mine.  As delicious as it is, I think my mom generally only makes it for Thanksgiving, probably because it is so rich.  Being a grown woman, I decided I didn't want to wait until Thanksgiving!

The great thing about these (other than their wonderful, creamy goĆ» t), is that you can store them in the fridge for up to two weeks.  When you're ready to indulge, turn on the oven to 350F and pop the potatoes in until piping hot.

For the recipe, you'll need:

9 large potatoes
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons butter


Peel, wash and cube potatoes.  Place in boiling water and cook until fork-soft (but not so soft that it disintegrates when speared), about ten minutes.  Drain water, add additional ingredients then mash/beat/whip until creamy.  It's that simple!  Enjoy!

26 August 2011

Mrs. Field's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Obviously, I'm not Mrs. Field, nor am I personally acquainted with the real Mrs. Field . . . whoever she is.  All I know is that she sure knows how to make a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I will say too that I generally cut this recipe in half unless I have someone to share them with.  The temptation to eat them all is too great!

The wonderful thing about these is that they are just as delicious if you make the dough ahead of time and shape it into an oblong roll, cover it with plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer.  Then you just let it thaw enough to cut it into slices and bake for delectable, gooey cookies.

Here's the recipe:
Cream together
2 cups butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups brown sugar

Add
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add
4 to 5 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Add
3 to 4 cups chocolate chips (I prefer milk chocolate but semi sweet works too, as well as combinations of butterscotch, peanut butter, white chocolate, etc--many, many possible, delicious varieties!).

Mix well.
Roll into uniform balls and space on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 350F for 7 to 12 minutes.  Be careful not to over bake!


After they are removed from the oven, let cool on pan for a few minutes before placing individual cookies on a wire rack or paper sack.  Let cool and enjoy the stacks and stacks of cookies this recipe makes!
And try to keep yourself (and others) from gorging on the dough.
Enjoy!

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