Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#MilkTruth: Thoughts on Milk

glass of milk


There were a lot of conversations about milk in the media yesterday. Those conversations will continue and they will continue to run the gamut from milk is the best food in the world to milk is the worst food in the world.

I happen to be in the camp that feels milk is one of the best foods in the world. I was lucky enough to inherit lactase persistence from my ancestors; as a result, I enjoy several servings of milk and dairy foods every day. I also happen to be a dairy farmer, who comes from a long line of dairy farming families, which, by nature, makes me biased towards the goodness of milk.

However, I understand that some people cannot consume dairy foods. Food allergies and food intolerances are real. My own sister poured orange juice over her corn flakes for the first several years of her life before she outgrew a dairy allergy.

Regardless of how I feel about milk, I support the consumption of whatever foods best meet an individual's or family’s needs. Stated another way, people should be free to make their own food choices. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who believe in converting others to their way of eating using whatever means possible. Thus, information about food has been tainted with opinion, emotion, and misconstrued science. And that has led to lots and lots of questions about the food we eat.

If you have questions about drinking milk, here are five things I think you should know:

• Milk is a nutrient powerhouse – and it’s not just for kids. Eight grams of high-quality protein per glass plus calcium, potassium, phosphorus, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin is one heck of a nutritional package.

• Milk contains a lot that’s good, without the “bad” that some people think (like excess calories and fat). Whole milk is less than 4% fat and contains only 150 calories per eight-ounce glass.

• Milk is simple – especially compared to non-dairy milk-like products that can have more than 10 ingredients. Regular milk has no added sugars, fillers, or flavorings.

• Milk provides high-quality protein (some non-dairy milk-like products may have just 1 gram of protein). The protein in milk is a complete protein and, gram for gram, one of the most affordable proteins.

• Milk is a real, wholesome and local product from family farms across the nation. My family and all of the dairy farm families I know take great pride in providing the best possible care for our animals, being stewards of our land and resources, and providing consumers with high-quality milk. That milk travels very few miles, relatively, from the time it leaves our farm to the time it reaches the grocery store.

If you’d like to read more, the new website – MilkTruth.com – includes links to a number of good articles about milk, authored by experts and writers from outside of the dairy industry, who aren't as biased towards milk's goodness as I am.

Holstein dairy cows

Along with believing milk is one of the best foods in the world, I take issue with plant-based beverages being marketed as dairy products.

Milk is known for it's purity, simplicity, and nutrient content. Commercially manufactured nut, seed, and grain milks are not pure or simple and they don't compare nutrient-wise to real milk. That doesn't mean I feel they shouldn't be produced; on the contrary, they are a great option for those who can't drink milk but want to enjoy a bowl of cereal or a latte. I just don't believe they belong in the dairy section of the grocery store.

The bottom line: If you think milk is one of the best foods in the world, keep on drinking. If you have questions about milk, please seek answers from a reputable source. If you happen to think milk is one of the worst foods in the world, let's respectfully agree to disagree.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dollop and Scoop – No. 3

This has been one of those weeks where I feel like I take one step forward and three steps back. I was trying to catch up after an event-filled weekend away from home. Then Monika came down with such a bad case of strep throat that she spent 24 hours vomiting. And then the kitten had to go to the vet. Maybe that's too many details, but I think you have an idea what the week's been like.

The wedding

at the wedding

The big event last weekend was Phil and Ashley's wedding. Since Glen was Phil's best man (Phil is Glen's younger brother) and Monika was one of the flower girls, we left for the wedding on Friday so that we could be there for rehearsal. The early arrival also gave the kids time to play in the hotel pool.

The wedding and reception were both beautiful. We all had a wonderful time. My only regret was not taking more time to get a nice family photo. We don't get dressed up all that often – heck, I can't even remember the last time I wore a real dress – so I was really hoping for a keepsake family portrait.

at the wedding

Unfortunately, we were in a bit of a hurry and taking photos with two cameras at the same time. So we ended up with half of us looking one way and half of us looking the other. And then there's always the challenge of getting everyone to hold still and actually smile.

We ended up with a couple of almost-keepsake portraits. And some super adorable candid photos.

Dan, Monika, and Daphne

Glen and I

Monika and Daphne dancing


Sunrise, sunset

sunrise

We've had some absolutely stunning sunrises and sunsets this winter. I caught a glimpse of the sunset below while waiting in our entryway for the kids to finish getting their barn clothes on. I told the kids to come look and grabbed my phone to take a picture. Then I went and got my good camera. Neither camera (or maybe it's just the photographer) took a photo that did justice to the sunset's colors. So I tried, instead, to enjoy the beautiful sunset while it lasted.

I've reached the conclusion that breathtaking sunrises and sunsets like these, which seem to happen more when winter is at its most frigid, supply us with the rewards we need to continue our outdoor chores – or simply help us focus on something other than how blasted cold we are.

sunset

As I write this, though, we are enjoying unseasonably warm weather. (Thirty degrees in January is almost unheard of.) The kids can play outside without freezing their fingers and we've been able to clean out the heifer yard. We're even supposed to get some sunshine tomorrow! Maybe Old Man Winter feels bad about how he treated us last winter.

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Thanks for reading this edition of Dollop and Scoop. I've got my fingers crossed that next week will at least feel a little more manageable. I hope your week goes well, too.



Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Christmas Cookie List – 2014

If I'm still bringing Christmas cookies and candy out to the barn for Glen, then it's not too late to share my Christmas cookie list, right? That's what I thought.

When I finished my holiday baking and treat making last year, I told myself that this year's list of treats should probably be a bit shorter. Well, that didn't work. Before I even started baking this year, I had a list of 17 different treats.

decorated cream cheese sugar cookies
Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

To be honest, my goals were probably a bit overzealous. At one point, I was commenting to a friend about feeling behind on my baking. "I might only get four treats made," I told her, with sad acceptance.

"Why don't you just make four treats and call it good?" she asked.

Christmas cookies and candies
From lower left to upper right:
Rolo Pretzel Turtles, Coconut Macaroons, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies,
Caramel Nut Logs, Peanut Butter Bonbons, Raspberries, Chocolate-Drizzled Spritz

I didn't have a good answer for my friend at the time.

But after I thought about it for awhile and talked to my sister, I realized that deciding to just make four of the cookies on my list would require something terrible: choosing. As in, choosing which of the 17 cookies on my list were most important or most favorite. That, my friends, would be like asking me to pick my favorite child. It simply couldn't (and shouldn't) be done.

fat cookies
Fat Cookies

Part of not being able to choose is that I was again bringing treats to my family's Christmas gatherings and I know that certain family members have certain favorite treats. It didn't help either that I asked my family for their special requests and wanted to honor those requests.

I ended up with 14 different treats – that is, if Christmas Jell-O  counts as a treat. The list is below, in alphabetical order, because ranking the recipes any other way would be impossible to do. *wink*

decorated chocolate-hazelnut cut-out cookies
Chocolate-Hazelnut Cut-out Cookies

Buttercream Almond Bonbons
I developed this recipe last fall after discovering real buttercream frosting.

Caramel Nut Logs
This was another new recipe for me this year. I used this recipe from Land O'Lakes and coated some of the rolls with salted pecans, some with salted peanuts. (The 2 cups of chopped nuts called for by the recipe wasn't enough.) I will definitely be making these again next year, but I'll use all peanuts – those tasted better. More like a Salted Nut Roll. I'll also be rolling the filling into smaller diameter logs, so that the finished candies are smaller.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cut-out Cookies
These chocolate cookies from Bridget Edwards' book, Decorating Cookies, are as gorgeous as they are tasty. I tweaked the recipe a little for a couple reasons that I'll share in a future post. I made these and the Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies for the cookie decorating get-together we had with friends.

Christmas Jell-O
I'm not sure if this counts as a Christmas treat, but it sure is fun to eat. And it's nice to have a lighter option on the dessert table. I've used this recipe and tutorial for Layered Jell-O for awhile now, but this year I made the white layers with Greek yogurt instead of sweetened condensed milk. (Recipe coming soon.)

Coconut Macaroons
I suppose I could have just scrambled all the egg whites I had left over from making the spritz, sugar cookies, and buttercream bonbons. Instead, I made coconut macaroons and dipped them in chocolate. I combined a couple different recipes with fantastic results; I'll share the details in a future post.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
These might be my most requested cookie. I make them with raspberry extract and then add raspberry extract to the icing, too. Raspberry + Cream Cheese = Scrumptious! I tried a new method for icing the cookies this year and am pleased as punch with the results. The kids and I made some mini cookies this year, too, and decorated them with just sprinkles.

Fat Cookies
Yes, they're really called fat cookies. These no-chill cut-outs are rolled out thicker than a regular sugar cookie and puff a little when baked. I got the recipe from my friend Marcia a couple years ago, but this is the first time I've made them. I think I'll be making them more often because they're super quick and easy to make. And super yummy!

Marcia's recipe says the cookies should be frosted with white butter frosting, but I wasn't sure which of the million butter and powdered sugar recipes out there to use. I found a recipe on the side of an extract bottle for white wedding frosting. I substituted salted butter for the shortening in the recipe and had the perfect frosting for these cookies.

Mini Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
The kids said that Santa's favorite cookies are chocolate chip, so I made my go-to chocolate chip cookies for Santa's cookie plate. I made them about half the size I normally do (using a #40 scoop, instead of a #20, and baking for 11-12 minutes)  so they'd fit better on a cookie tray, but they still ended up having a tray all to themselves.

Oatmeal-Brown Sugar Cut-out Cookies
A recipe for Chewy Oatmeal Decorating Cookies came up one day when I was searching the King Arthur Flour website and I was immediately intrigued. Even though the reviews following the recipe were mixed, I gave it a try. The resulting cookies were awful – Ozzy (our dog) wouldn't even eat them. I thought this recipe had potential, though, and I love a good culinary challenge, so I tweaked the recipe and made them again. Then I tweaked the recipe a few more times and ended up with a cookie so tasty that my sister-in-law said they might almost be better than my chocolate chip cookies. I need to make these one more time so I know for sure the recipe is a winner and then I'll share it.

Peanut Butter Bonbons
I have been making these for years – they're basically Buckeyes that I dip completely in chocolate. But, every year, I fiddle with the recipe or the technique for one reason or another. This year's version was as close to perfection as I've got yet.

Raspberries
Last year I tried making these fruity candies with shredded, unsweetened coconut and had trouble forming them. This year, I had some sweetened, flaked coconut to use up, so I went back to that. The flaked coconut, which is what my grandmother used, works much better. I also ran out of white chocolate for making the leaf on top, so I used green icing. I'll go back to tinted white chocolate next year.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
I probably wouldn't make these if I didn't have kids who love unwrapping candies! Last year, I made these with a flourless peanut butter cookie dough. This year, I tried using the peanut butter and oatmeal dough (sans chocolate chips) from Kathy's Cookies. The oatmeal-peanut butter dough didn't work quite as well, so I'll go back to the flourless peanut butter cookie dough next year. Plus, then my gluten-free friends can enjoy these tasty treats. Oh, and I also used muffin tin liners this year, which was a huge time saver in removing the cookies from the muffin tins.

Rolo Pretzel Turtles
More candies for the kids to unwrap! Glen loves these treats and, minus the candy unwrapping, they are so quick to make. This year, I found round holiday pretzels at the grocery store in October (yes, October!!) and bought several bags. Last year, the round pretzels were all sold out by the time I was ready to start my holiday baking.

Spritz
I made these for the first time last year, using the recipe from my parents' recipe box. But when we got to my dad's for Christmas, I found a different recipe with my grandma's notes on it inside the box that holds her old cookie press. I tried that recipe last spring. The cookies turned out even better than the ones I made last year. I made them again for Christmas, but I think I was a little short on the flour this time, because they spread more than I wanted them to. They still tasted great, though. At Glen's request, I also tried drizzling some of the spritz with chocolate this year; it was a nice addition to the traditional almond spritz flavor.

decorated oatmeal-brown sugar cut-out cookies
Oatmeal-Brown Sugar Cut-out Cookies

What Christmas cookies did you make this year? What are your favorite holiday treats? Could you pick just one favorite, if you had to?


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dollop and Scoop – No. 2

Well, I started working on this post on Sunday, with plans to finish it yesterday. That didn't happen, so here I am finishing it today. Oh, well. The one thing I've learned about making plans is that plans always change, especially on a farm.

Winter farm kids

Dan and Monika in barn


When I told Dan and Monika it was time to go outside the other day, they replied with, "There's nothing to do outside, Mom." I can't completely disagree with them. Our frigid temps the past couple weeks have made it too cold to play outside for any length of time and, even if they could, the options are much more limited than they are in the warmer seasons.

But, they needed fresh air and exercise, so I sent them out anyways. They ran around outside for a couple minutes before the cold drove them into the barn. When I took the picture above, they were happily playing some game on the straw bales. It seems like they always find some way to entertain themselves once they get outside.

(P.S. I consider myself very lucky that Dan and Monika are such good friends. I hope their friendship stays this strong for the rest of their lives.)

Cookie thief

Daphne stealing cookie

We are in the middle of our winter calving break right now and we're not milking any extra cows, either, which means I have more time to spend in the house. I've been using my time to play around with new recipes and experiment with photography.

I've found that the best daytime lighting for food photos comes from the large picture window in our livingroom. We have a couch in front of the window, so I just set my photo station up on the couch. But that puts the station within reach of my little cookie thief. By the time I was done with these photos, I had three fewer cookies than when I started.

My little cookie thief has also perfected her pronunciation of 'cookie' in the past week. It is the cutest thing ever to hear her ask for a cookie. (She doesn't always sneak them – sometimes she asks.)

Weird winter

snow covered field

After getting a foot of snow in November, I thought we were in for another snowy winter. The kind of winter where we end up with walls of snow where we've plowed to get to the cows' feed. But, all that snow melted and then it rained. By Christmas Eve, our chickens were out foraging on the lawn and there was hardly any snow anywhere.

We've picked up a couple inches of snow since then. Just enough to make this field look like cookies 'n cream ice cream. In some ways, the lack of snow makes life easier. But, in other ways, not so much.

We're concerned that the dormant alfalfa doesn't have enough insulation to protect it from the bitter cold. And there isn't a single snow pile in the yard right now for the kids to play on, dig in, and slide down. There's not even enough snow on the hill in the field for them to go sledding.

But, we've got a lot of winter left, so I'm guessing we'll see some snow again before we see green grass.

Heifer chores

Julie the calf

Even though it was only 10°F on Sunday, the sun was out and it actually felt warm. (It's pretty crazy that 10° can feel warm!) We used the nice afternoon to move some calves from the baby calf pen in the barn to the heifer pen outside and to put new corn straw down for the heifers outside.

There are a lot of reasons why I like the way we rear our baby calves, but the system still has it's challenges. First, in the winter, we end up moving calves out of the pen later than we should. We try to move calves when it's somewhat warm out, because, with the barn kept at 40°F, the calves' winter coats aren't as thick as they would be if they had been raised outside.

Second, there's no easy way to move calves from the calf pen to the heifer pen. It takes a halter and two people – one to lead (or pull) and one to push. Now that we've got a pallet fork for the skidloader, we've talked about making a little portable moving pen, but that hasn't happened yet.

So, when the calves get bigger than they should because you're waiting for a warm spell to move them and then you have to move them with a halter, it makes for quite the afternoon.

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Thanks for reading this edition of Dollop and Scoop. Barring any major changes to my plans, the next edition will be posted next Monday.


Friday, January 9, 2015

The New Year Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

Last year, I convinced myself not to send a Christmas card.

This year, I had every intention of taking a nice family picture with a real photographer and sending out a real Christmas card. But, somehow, time slipped away from me and none of those things happened.

Maybe for the same reasons that it's now January 9 and I'm resorting to Plan B – writing a Christmas e-letter. Oh well. Christmas will come again next year, so I'll have another chance.

After looking at last year's Christmas letter, it became painfully clear that I wasn't nearly as attentive to taking photos of Dan, Monika, and Daphne together. Maybe because Daphne doesn't sit still anymore. Anyway, I did get one great picture of them.

kids at table

So, until next year, here is our 2014 Christmas e-letter, which should now be called a New Year letter or an Epiphany letter. (But, thankfully, not yet a MLK Day letter or Valentine's Day letter.)

Dan in tractor

Dan is 8 now. He's in second grade at St. Mary's School. He has become quite the reader in the past year, which makes his parents very proud. He started skidloader driving lessons this past summer and is looking forward to helping more with equipment work. He also earned his exploration rights to the farm last summer, which led to many expeditions to the ponds and pasture with Monika. He still loves LEGOs and has taken a great liking to our new house cat, Grace.

Monika with Sparkle

Monika is 5. The big news in her life was the start of kindergarten last fall. She enjoys school immensely, even if it means less time to spend with her beloved calves. She is anxiously waiting for her turn to read chapter books like her brother and is making excellent progress toward her goal. She still loves singing and dancing and has added gymnastics in the living room to her repertoire.

Daphne with kitten

Daphne is now all of two years old and she is the comedic, lovable little sister. She has perfected the heart-melting art of kisses and hugs and is working hard at expanding her vocabulary. She loves to spend time outside and in the barn with her Daddy and the kitties. In a close second, she loves cookies. We are awed by how much she has grown up in the past several weeks and would give anything to keep her little for a little while longer.

kids on straw bale

Dan and Monika's growing level of responsibility and Daphne's growing independence meant that Daphne was able to spend considerably less time buckled into a stroller last summer and more time playing, while Dan and Monika supervised. This made for many fun moments for all three kids and less toddler-containment guilt for Mom.

kids with new calf

Glen and I kept plenty busy with our farm and family responsibilities. We did manage to sneak away together to St. Louis in August for a meeting/vacation. Other highlights of the year included family trips to Camp Lebanon and our now-annual appearance at the Stearns County Fair's dairy show.

us

We did manage to get one family picture this year... at the farm tour we hosted in June. I've resolved to take more family pictures this year. I've also resolved to send a real Christmas letter.

Until then, I'll keep sharing little bits of daily adventures here on my blog (you can sign up to have blog posts delivered to your email inbox), on Instagram, and on Facebook.

Wishing you all the best in 2015...

Love,
Glen, Sadie, Dan, Monika, and Daphne