Monday, December 30, 2013

The Christmas Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

I wasn't going to send a Christmas card this year...

I convinced myself to not send a card this year, in hopes of saving time, money, natural resources, and, mostly, my sanity. It didn't take too much convincing. I didn't have a nice recent picture of all of us, or even just the kids, since at least one of us has had a red, runny nose or some other illness since Halloween. And, I wanted more time to bake Christmas cookies and make Christmas gifts with the kids.

But then all of your cards and letters started filling our mailbox, and I started to feel bad about not sending out a holiday greeting of some sort. So, I compromised with myself and agreed to send a holiday e-greeting. For the first time since we lived in Cambridge, I am attempting to write a Christmas letter to go along with our Photoshopped family picture. Since I continue to write a column for the Dairy Star and this blog, writing a Christmas letter should be an easy task, but it hasn't been so. What to include? What to leave out? Where's the fine line between sharing accomplishments and bragging? I tip my hat to the folks who have mastered the art of writing the Christmas letter.

It only took three pictures to make this one...

Our Christmas was wonderful. Dan and Monika both had delightful Christmas programs at school. We were able to gather with both Glen's family and my family. I have enjoyed the break from school, but I think Monika has had just about enough of Dan being home every day.

March 2013

Daphne is 1 now. She is an easy-going little girl who loves to laugh and smile. She's on the brink of both walking and talking. One of her favorite activities right now is riding her stuffed rocking horse, trick pony style. She hangs onto the handles with both hands, then stands on the horse's back with both feet, and finally, looks up to make sure someone's watching so she can flash her triumphant grin.

June 2013

Monika is 4. She is enrolled in the Little Saints preschool program at St. Mary's School, which holds class three mornings a week. She was an angel in their Christmas program and played the part well. Monika is always singing and has recently started interpretive dancing around the house. She also likes to help milk her favorite cows in the barn.

September 2013

Dan just turned 7. He is in first grade at St. Mary's. His favorite subjects are math and reading. I continue to be amazed at how education has evolved since I was a student; Dan is doing early algebra and reading books that I'm sure I didn't read until second or third grade. He also enjoys building machines and animals with his LEGOs, taking electronics apart, and drawing.

December 2013

Glen keeps the farm running while I run after the kids. He did a little deer hunting this fall and even fired his muzzle loader this winter. I spend as much time farming as I can and as little time keeping house as I can. I avoid housework by baking, writing, and reading to the kids.

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best in 2014! Keep in touch!

Glen, Sadie, Dan, Monika and Daphne

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Man meat

Maybe you had to be here for this story to be funny...

One of the ladies we do farm business with brought us a Christmas gift yesterday. Included in the gift was a package of summer sausage. As she left, she said, "Each meat shop has their own recipe. I hope you like it."

I assured her that any kind of summer sausage would be enjoyed in our house.

When Glen saw the sausage in the fridge, I could tell he was delighted. The meat shop where the sausage was made happened to be one of the plants Glen visited when he worked as a meat inspector.

It didn't take long for the summer sausage to be sampled. Glen cut himself a slice as soon as he saw it. After he took a bite, he asked Dan if he wanted a slice.

"This is man meat, Dan," Glen explained, with an air of excitement in his voice, as Dan came over to the cutting board.

Then, there was a bit of silence.

What Glen had meant to say was: This is food fit for a man. Man food. Or something like that.

But Dan's literal, six-year-old mind interpreted Glen's statement about the sausage another way.

Quizzically, he asked, breaking the silence, "Is it made from people?"

It took everything I had to keep from laughing out loud. I would have let myself laugh, but I didn't want Dan to think his question was silly. Because, in reality, his question was very valid. We talk about the different kinds of meat we eat, and which animals that meat came from, at almost every meal... "This is pig meat; it's called pork." or "This is meat from a steer; it's called beef." or "This is chicken meat."

I like to think my kids have a good understanding of where their food comes from.

Thankfully, while I was stifling my laughter, Glen was able to answer Dan's question.

"No, this sausage is made from pork and beef."

And it happens to be a very tasty combination of pork and beef.

May you, too, be blessed with little moments of humor this holiday season!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#CookieChatter: Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

A little while ago, the folks at Land O'Lakes invited me to participate in their #CookieChatter Twitter party, as a representative of the dairy farmers who are members of the Land O'Lakes cooperative.

I agreed to join the party. But I had no idea what to expect. I've had a Twitter handle for a while now, but I rarely tweet. And I had never participated in a Twitter party.

Well, the party was tonight. And it was wild. My head is still spinning.

During the party, I shared the last guest post I did for the Land O'Lakes blog – Baking Memories Together: Our Holiday Traditions on the Farm. The post includes some tips for baking and decorating cookies with kids – and keeping your sanity. It did not include the recipe for the sugar cookies I make, because I figured just about everyone has a sugar cookie recipe already.

Several requests for the recipe were tweeted during the party, so here's the recipe I got from Glen's mom for Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies. (The raspberry extract was my idea; I use it all the time in place of almond extract.) These roll-out cookies are made with both real butter and cream cheese. They bake up perfectly crisp, yet almost creamy — even without frosting.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

2 cups butter, softened (4 sticks or 1 lb)
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp raspberry extract (or almond)
2 egg yolks
4½ cups all-purpose flour

Cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar. Beat in egg yolk, salt and extracts. Stir in flour until well blended. Divide dough into six pieces and chill for 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

On a well-floured surface, roll one piece of dough out to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness. (Keep other pieces refrigerated.) Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Leave cookies plain for frosting or sprinkle with colored sugar before baking (press sugar into dough with back of spatula to secure).

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until light and golden brown. Cool completely before frosting.

Tips & Tricks  (added January 10, 2014)

After my sister made these for the first time and called for advice, I decided I should add a few tips to this recipe.

→ If you're new to rolling out cookie dough, this video from Land O'Lakes is extremely helpful.

→ When you take this dough out of the fridge to roll, it will be rock hard. Either take it out 5 to 10 minutes before you start to roll or squeeze the dough gently in your hands (while still wrapped) to warm it up before rolling.

→ Use a generous amount of flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin.

→ Lots of rolled cookies recipes will recommend re-rolling dough only once (so will the video above), but I re-roll this dough until it's all cut into cookies. There might be a slight difference between the first rolled cookies and the re-rolls, but it's insignificant.

→ The number of cookies this recipe makes varies considerably depending upon how thick you roll the dough and what size cookie cutters you use.

→ I think these cookies are best when the dough is rolled out to 3/16 of an inch, but since I started using an adjustable rolling pin to roll my dough, I roll this cookie dough out to 1/4 of an inch – but only because my rolling pin doesn't have an option for 3/16 inch. They turn out great at either thickness.

 → I've tried several recipes for frosting these cookies, but this recipe has been the best so far.

I hope these tips help. Happy Baking!

I am a farmer-member of the Land O'Lakes Cooperative. Affiliate links were used in this post.