Thursday, July 24, 2014

Becoming a farmer


Ask a dairy farmer why they chose to become a farmer and you'll likely get an answer similar to:

"Farming is in my blood."
"This is what I was called to do."
"My roots are in farming."
"I grew up with it." 
"I love cows."


For me, dairy farming is what gives me my greatest sense of purpose. In the jobs I held before we started farming, I always felt unfulfilled...like something was lacking my life.

But, I'll admit, it took me a long time to understand what prompted those feelings. To understand that my place in this world is on a farm, that I am happiest when I'm with the cows.

Looking back at my childhood, I know that I became a dairy farmer long ago. The connection to cattle became part of who I am during the hours spent milking cows and feeding calves with my family.


This past winter, I watched Monika become a dairy farmer. She may not choose dairy farming for her future, but she has developed a connection to cattle that will always be a part of her.


Every time a calf is born, she excitedly asks, "Is it a girl or a boy?" She knows we will keep the girls and sell the boys.


Ninety-nine percent of the time, Monika is beaming with happiness when she's in the barn. But in the picture below, she's mad. When Misty had her calf, Monika wanted the calf to be a girl in the worst way, because she thought it was cute. But Misty's calf was a boy. We argued about the calf's gender. She kept insisting it should be a girl. I'm sure she understands that gender can't be changed. I think she just kept arguing to exercise her stubbornness.


Monika's love for the cows and calves has turned into a desire to help care for them. She always asks to help feed the calves.


And takes it upon her self to move feed around for the cows when they're fed inside the barn.


Monika is willing to help with anything in the barn, but I think her favorite job – at least right now – is milking cows. Star, Sandy and Garnet are known as Monika's cows and if Monika is in the barn, she gets to milk them.


Monika was so excited this spring when she could go to the barn without her snowpants on because it meant she would have pockets to keep her paper towels in and hang her dippers on, just like her dad keeps his towels in his back pocket and hangs his dippers on the side of his front pocket.

That was the same day she told Glen, "Dad! Don't let Star out. I didn't get to snuggle with her yet."


She recently declared that she can milk her cows by herself – and that I don't need to stand next to her.


Monika has also developed a precocious ability to remember cows and calves. She can see a cow in the distance and know that she is Maia or Helen or Willa. When I showed her the picture of Misty's bull calf (who was sold months ago) while I was writing this post, she knew right away that it was Misty's calf. (I had to look the calf's mom up in my journal app.)

Monika's connection to cows brings great joy to both my heart and Glen's. And I am forever thankful that we can give her these opportunities to cultivate that connection. Wherever her life takes her, I hope she will hold these memories of becoming a farmer dear to her own heart.

*     *     *     *     *
"Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. ...they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide." - Wendell Berry

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The bugs of summer

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar

The most famous bug in Minnesota might be the mosquito, but there are lots of other cool bugs living here, too. And they don't all bite. Here's a peek at all the buggy fun the kids and I have been having this summer.

Our bug adventures started with a bug show hosted by our school's community education program. Bruce the Bug Guy entertained Dan and a bunch of other kids (and their parents) for over an hour with an assortment of live insects and arachnids, including cecropia moth caterpillars and adult cecropia moths, giant cockroaches and millipedes, and tarantulas.

cecropia moth caterpillars
Cecropia moth caterpillars

cecropia moth
Adult female cecropia moth

cecropia moth
Adult female cecropia moth

giant cockroach, giant millipede
Giant cockroach from Madagascar, giant millipede from South America

Dan holding tarantula
Dan holding Rosie the tarantula

I bought Bruce's new book – Minnesota Bug Hunt – for Dan at the bug show, both because it's a very well done book and because I'm doing everything I can to encourage summer reading. It's hard to sit down and read when the sun is shining outside.

Bruce told the kids to keep their eyes open for bugs. He also said he'd be happy to help with bug identification – all we had to do was snap a picture of the bug in question and email it to him.

We were home from the bug show no more than 15 minutes when Dan yelled from outside: "Mom, bring your phone and take a picture of this bug!"

I went outside to see what bug Dan had found. It was a woodtick. I took a picture for him anyway.

woodtick
Common woodtick

Interestingly, I didn't sign Monika up for the bug show because she had a bad encounter with a woodtick this spring. Bad, at least, from her perspective.

I had sent Dan and Monika down to the pond to count the ducks. A few minutes later, Monika was pounding on the front door, screaming hysterically. (I have to lock the front screen door to keep Daphne from going out.) I got to the door – and, honestly, from the horrified look on Monika's face, I thought something had happened to Dan. She could barely breathe enough to answer me when I asked her what was wrong.

"THERE'S A WOODTICK ON MY SHORTS!" she finally cried.

Without laughing, I plucked the woodtick from her shorts and got rid of it, but Monika refused to go back outside. And for several weeks after that, she refused to walk any place where the grass was taller than her ankles.

Since we couldn't go to the bugs because Monika refused to go anywhere with grass, we started paying more attention to the bugs that come to us, like these damselflies that we found in the milk house.

blue dragonfly
Adult male damselfly, one of the Bluet species

black dragonfly
Black damselfly

I found these White-marked Tussock moth caterpillars while I was picking raspberries. I put them in an extra bucket and brought them home to show Dan and Monika. We have a 24-hour rule for most bugs which states that bugs can stay in the house (in the Bug Jar or another container) for 24 hours and then they must be released. We released the little tussock moth caterpillar the next day. But the bigger tussock moth caterpillar had pushed the lid off the bucket during the night, escaped into the kitchen and was nowhere to be found. I figured he would show up again as a moth, but I found him crawling on my dish drainer three days later and sent him outside.

White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillars
White-marked Tussock moth caterpillars

I identified them as tussock moth caterpillars by sending a picture of them to Bruce the Bug Guy. I also sent Bruce a picture of the pale green caterpillar below. The kids found this caterpillar a couple summers ago on our front lawn and came running to the barn, yelling something about a poisonous thing in the grass. I had never seen a caterpillar like her before, so I took a couple pictures and we let her go on her way. Bruce emailed me back right away and said she's a type of sphinx moth caterpillar.

Sphinx moth caterpillar
Sphinx moth caterpillar

Monika finally got over her woodtick scare about a week ago – just in time to start searching for Monarch caterpillars. We have several milkweed stands out in the pasture along the fenceline. I found one Monarch caterpillar last summer while bringing the cows in, but when I brought the kids back to see it, it was gone. So I was really excited when Dan found this one on our first caterpillar search of this year. I was busy trying to take a picture of the blossoms on another milkweed plant when Dan noticed this caterpillar.

Monarch caterpillar on Milkweed blossoms
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed flower buds

We have another stand of milkweed out by our silage bags, so we decided to check those plants for Monarch caterpillars, too. We didn't find any caterpillars, but we did find these Red Milkweed Beetles.

Red Milkweed Beetles
Adult male and female Red Milkweed Beetles

We still have lots of summer bug hunting left to do. We haven't spotted a Monarch butterfly yet – the picture below is from a couple summers ago – but they must be out there if we found their babies.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

We found a sphinx moth, but I couldn't tell for sure which kind it was, because it was floating in a pail of milk in the milk house. I'd like to find one that's not soaked. I'd also love to find another sphinx moth caterpillar.

We've also got our eyes open for another Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

And I know there are many more Minnesota bugs for us to discover.

What's your favorite bug?



Friday, July 11, 2014

#MilkshakeWeek: Strawberry-Rhubarb Milkshake


Necessity is the mother of invention. But usually only the great inventions go back to give necessity credit.

This Strawberry-Rhubarb Milkshake is one of those great inventions – the result of that necessity-born brain wracking that happens when you open the fridge and don't have the ingredient you need.

Milkshakes around here usually are no more than milk, ice cream, and jam. And, fairly often, frozen fruit, because I'm always trying to sneak extra nutrients into all of us.

I went to make Glen a blueberry milkshake a couple nights ago and opened the fridge to find no jam. Now, I could have gone down to the basement, where we have 12 more jars of the fantastic freezer jam that our neighbor trades us for farm fresh eggs. (We definitely get the better end of that deal!) Instead, I saw the container of strawberry-rhubarb sauce that I had left over from making these hand pies.


So, I added a couple spoonfuls of sauce to the blender cup, gave it a whir, and sampled the results. Oh. My. Goodness.

I brought the milkshake out to Glen and raced back to the house to test my invention again. This time, I added just milk, ice cream, and the rest of the strawberry-rhubarb sauce. The resulting milkshake was heavenly. It was the taste of Minnesota summer, in a milkshake. And it was creamy and frothy, just like a shake from a malt shoppe.


I tested the recipe on the kids, too. All three LOVED it. Hands down, one of my best necessity-born food inventions ever.


About the sauce...


This strawberry-rhubarb sauce is like nothing I've ever tasted. I fell head-over-heels in love with it when I first made it at the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen last month. Besides the strawberry and rhubarb (obviously), the sauce is enhanced with lemon zest and vanilla extract. I'm not sure what the magic is, but this sauce has an almost buttery richness to it. If you can call a fruit sauce rich.


I'm usually never afraid to make flavoring substitutions in a recipe – like bottled lemon juice for freshly squeezed, or lemon extract for lemon zest – if it makes my life a little easier. But since the lemon zest is part of the magic that makes this sauce, I only make it with lemon zest. It's well worth the bit of extra effort. (If you try making it with lemon extract, please let me know.)

This recipe is easy to double or octuple, which is what I did with all of this rhubarb.

fresh rhubarb

The only caveat with this sauce is that you should really let it cool a little (or completely) before using it to make milkshakes.

If you have extra sauce, it makes a delightful topping for angel food cake. Or, use it as a filling for hand pies. Or, just eat it by the spoonful.

You can also add frozen fruit to this milkshake recipe, with excellent results. I used a half-cup of blueberries in Glen's milkshake with a little less ice cream. I think frozen strawberries would be wonderful, too. But probably not frozen rhubarb.

(Quick story about rhubarb: When I was cutting the rhubarb, Dan came over and asked for a taste. "Just put a piece in my mouth, Mom; I don't want to wash my hands." So I plopped a chunk of fresh rhubarb into his open mouth and stifled my giggles while I waited for him to start chewing. His face contorted and he ran for the garbage can. It was priceless.)


Strawberry-Rhubarb Milkshake

Ingredients

For the sauce

1 1/4 cups strawberries, sliced
1 1/4 cups rhubarb, cut into half inch pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
One lemon, to be zested (about 1 tsp lemon zest)

For the milkshake

3/4 cup vanilla ice cream
1 cup milk
1/4 cup strawberry-rhubarb sauce

Directions

To make the sauce

Stir the fruit, sugar, corn starch and salt together in a saucepan. Stirring frequently, cook over medium-low heat. Once fruit has started to soften, mash with potato masher or between spoon and side of pan. Continue cooking until mixture is thick and bubbly. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla. Zest lemon right over saucepan and stir zest into sauce. Cover and refrigerate until cool. Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce.

To make the milkshake

Combine ice cream, milk and sauce in blender. Blend until well combined. Makes 1 large or 2 small milkshakes.

The sauce recipe is tweaked just a little from the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen recipe.



My blogging friend, Julie from The Little Kitchen, decided she wanted to devote an entire week to sharing milkshake recipes. Julie and her friend, Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil, decided it would be fun to invite a bunch of other bloggers to share their milkshake recipes. And, thus, #MilkshakeWeek was born.

In addition to some cool giveaways (which can be found here and here), #MilkshakeWeek is also calling attention to The Great American Milk Drive. The Great American Milk Drive is a national campaign to encourage donations of milk to food shelves, so that hungry families can have milk. Did you know that milk is one of the most requested products at food shelves, but it is rarely donated? Your monetary donation will be used by Feeding America to purchase and distribute fluid milk to food shelves in your area. You can also make a donation by texting “MILK” to 27722. As a dairy farmer, I think this campaign is sweeter than any milkshake.

Here are some more fabulous #MilkshakeWeek recipes:

And here are my other #MilkshakeWeek recipes:

Turtle Pecan Milkshake
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Milkshake

(Each post has links to a dozen or so of my fellow bloggers' #MilkshakeWeek recipes, too.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#MilkshakeWeek: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Milkshake


I love raspberries. And, by that I mean, I LOVE raspberries.

I start every day with a raspberry smoothie. I drink raspberry tea. I find ways to incorporate raspberry into everything from meatballs to sugar cookies.

I love raspberries so much, I had them tattooed on my foot.

So I might be just a little biased when I say that this Dark Chocolate Raspberry Milkshake is the best milkshake ever.

Why do I love raspberries so much? I can't say for sure, but I believe my grandmother may have had something to do with it.


The first time my dad saw my raspberry tattoo, he didn't respond like I thought he might. Instead, he said, "Oh, that's really special."

A little surprised, I said, "Really? Why?"

Sitting there in the car together, the day before my wedding, he told me the story about my grandmother and raspberries. He said that the summer before my grandma died, she took great joy in feeding me raspberries and teaching me to say the word. I was barely a toddler, so I have no memories of that time with my grandmother, but I like to think that my love for raspberries began that summer.

Maybe Grandma Jeanie introduced me to chocolate, too. Because if raspberries are my first love, dark chocolate is a close second. I tend to combine these flavors any time I can. This Dark Chocolate Raspberry Milkshake is a combination of these flavors that I have been making for years. It also happens to be very similar to the smoothie I make each morning.

The raspberry flavor comes from both frozen (or fresh, if you have them) raspberries and raspberry jam. (I don't ever use fresh raspberries, because if I have fresh raspberries, I eat them before they can be added to anything.) The jam counters the tartness of the raspberries and enhances their flavor. If you use fresh raspberries, you could probably get away with reducing the amount of jam. The dark chocolate flavor comes from cocoa powder.

Don't tell your tastebuds, but this milkshake actually has some redeeming nutritional qualities – antioxidants and fiber from the raspberries and the cocoa, plus protein and calcium from the milk. It's like a win-win dessert. I hope you think so, too.

I thought it was fitting to photograph it for you using Grandma's fancy ice cream glasses.


Dark Chocolate Raspberry Milkshake

Serves: 1 or 2

Ingredients:

1/2 cup vanilla ice cream (about 2 scoops)
1/2 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen – I use frozen)
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons raspberry jam or jelly*
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

whipped cream (optional)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth.

Pour into glasses. Top with whipped cream, if desired.

*Decrease jam amount if using fresh raspberries.



My blogging friend, Julie from The Little Kitchen, decided she wanted to devote an entire week to sharing milkshake recipes. Julie and her friend, Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil, decided it would be fun to invite a bunch of other bloggers to share their milkshake recipes. And, thus, #MilkshakeWeek was born.

In addition to some cool giveaways (which can be found here and here), #MilkshakeWeek is also calling attention to The Great American Milk Drive. The Great American Milk Drive is a national campaign to encourage donations of milk to food shelves, so that hungry families can have milk. Did you know that milk is one of the most requested products at food shelves, but it is rarely donated? Your monetary donation will be used by Feeding America to purchase and distribute fluid milk to food shelves in your area. You can also make a donation by texting “MILK” to 27722. As a dairy farmer, I think this campaign is sweeter than any milkshake.

Here are some more mouthwatering #MilkshakeWeek recipes:


If you missed my first #MilkshakeWeek recipe, you can find it here: Turtle Pecan Milkshake.

Check back Friday for another milkshake recipe.

Monday, July 7, 2014

#MilkshakeWeek: Turtle Pecan Milkshake



Right after school got out this spring, I told Glen and the kids that I wouldn't be baking for the summer. Instead, we'd be satisfying our sweet tooths (teeth?) with fresh fruit and ice cream.

The fresh fruit idea has been going over pretty well. Mostly, we've eaten a lot of watermelon. I caved and made some juice popsicles, too.

The ice cream idea has gone over very well. But I knew it would. We all love ice cream.

We've been enjoying lots of ice cream cones, milkshakes, and sundaes. I got an ice cream maker and have been playing around with recipes for homemade ice cream, too.

We also got a gift basket from the Dairy Star filled with goodies for enjoying ice cream – cones, maraschino cherries, candies and cookies to crumble on top of sundaes, and chocolate topping. The chocolate topping was Smucker's Magic Shell. If you've never tried it, Magic Shell is an ice cream topping that hardens on the ice cream right after you pour it on.

Although I had seen a recipe for Homemade Magic Shell on another blog, I hadn't tried any kind of Magic Shell before I got the bottles in the gift basket. I wasn't sure what to expect. Dan and Monika think it's the best thing ever. I like it quite a bit, too. I like the chocolate fudge flavor better than the plain chocolate. It reminds me of the chocolate topping Dairy Queen uses to make my favorite Blizzard – Turtle Pecan Cluster. Plus, for a packaged product, there are relatively few ingredients.

One night after I topped Dan and Monika's sundaes with sprinkles and the Magic Shell, I had one of those light bulb moments: I could make my own milkshake version of a Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard using the Magic Shell.

I always have pecans on hand. And I had some homemade caramel sauce in the fridge. I put some vanilla ice cream and milk into a blender cup. (I use a personal size blender to make shakes and smoothies.) Then I added the pecans, caramel and Magic Shell, and blended it up. Voilá! It tasted just like a Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard. I should note, though, that since this is a milkshake, it's not thick like a Blizzard. Think of it as a lighter, more refreshing version of a Blizzard.

And the best part? There were little bits of pecans and chocolate left in the bottom of the glass to scoop up with a spoon. Yum!

I asked Glen to give it a try, to make sure I wasn't the only one who thought it was divine. He's requested it several times since. He also wanted me to tell you to hold the straw off the bottom of the glass when you're sipping this, so that you don't get a bit of pecan or chocolate stuck in your straw.

I'm super excited to share the recipe with you as part of #MilkshakeWeek. What's #MilkshakeWeek? See below for the answer and more great milkshake recipes.


Turtle Pecan Milkshake

Makes 1-2 servings

Ingredients:

3/4 cup vanilla ice cream (about 3 scoops)
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons pecan pieces
1 tablespoon caramel sauce
1 tablespoon magic shell chocolate topping

Directions:

Add ice cream and milk to blender, then add pecans, caramel, and chocolate topping. Pour the chocolate topping into the center of the blender, otherwise it will really stick to the sides. Let the topping sit for a few seconds to harden a little before blending.

Blend until well combined.

Pour milkshake into glasses and serve with straws and spoons to scoop up the yummy bits that settle to the bottom.



My blogging friend, Julie from The Little Kitchen, decided she wanted to devote an entire week to sharing milkshake recipes. Julie and her friend, Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil, decided it would be fun to invite a bunch of other bloggers to share their milkshake recipes. And, thus, #MilkshakeWeek was born.

In addition to some cool giveaways (which can be found here and here), #MilkshakeWeek is also calling attention to The Great American Milk Drive. The Great American Milk Drive is a national campaign to encourage donations of milk to food shelves, so that hungry families can have milk. Did you know that milk is one of the most requested products at food shelves, but it is rarely donated? Your monetary donation will be used by Feeding America to purchase and distribute fluid milk to food shelves in your area. You can also make a donation by texting “MILK” to 27722. As a dairy farmer, I think this campaign is sweeter than any milkshake.

Here are some of the other #MilkshakeWeek recipes:


Check back on Wednesday for another great milkshake recipe!


Neither Smucker's nor Dairy Queen asked me to mention their products.