Apr 28, 2010

The Heart of our Country

This book is amazing. Seriously. While reading it, I laughed out loud, teared up a little and got goose-bumpy shivers about every other page. Sometimes all those things at once... in the middle of a downtown Kansas City Panera Bread. Awkward, but worth it.

Paul Mobley, the photographer of "American Farmer," spoke at the National Agri-Marketing Association on Friday. He had so many incredible stories to share with his photographs. To me, the most interesting story was his. He immersed himself in the world of farmers and ranchers for three years, travelling across the nation to capture the spirit of agriculturalists in print.

Guess what happened after those three years? ...he became one of agriculture's biggest fans! How could he not? We're kind of a lovable group.  
"I embarked on this project as a photographer in search of artistic evolution, and I found it. But the exquisite and unexpected discovery was of a kinder and gentler world and way of life than any I had known before. The agricultural communities of America are made up of modest, hardworking men and women who prize their families, their land, and their heritage above all else," Mobley said.
He captured the stories and hearts of Wyoming cattle ranchers, California avocado farmers, Southern fruit growers, mechanics, cotton pickers, horse whisperers, beet farmers and everything in between.

And by in between, I mean everything in between. I loved that he captured more than just farmers and ranchers farming and ranching. Mobley shared several stories about families who took him outside of stereotypes. "He'd say, 'Oh, let's not talk about farming. I talk about farming all day. Let's talk about motorcycles."
Side note: please don't mind those big blobs of white leg meat
propping up
the book. I don't know who those belong to.

Mobley's photographs and Katrina Fried's writing tell so many captivating, unique, personal stories. Yet the book as a whole tells one common story I wish everyone in the world would hear.

"Like so many of us, I doubted the existence of this kind of goodness in the world. You look around at the ways we treat -- or mistreat -- one another, and it's gotten so out of hand. You want something you can believe in. You ask yourself, where have all the good people gone? Well, I can tell you. Drive up to any farmhouse in this country. You'll find them. They're there."
In short, I really just love this book. Every coffee table should proudly display this book. This book makes me wish I had a coffee table. I'm going to work on that.
Oh, and thinking of photography... my cute baby calf photo made the top ten finalists in the Beef Daily photo contest! I would love, love, love for you to stop by the Beef Daily blog and vote for my picture (it's #5) so I can win another wonderful photography book to share with you! Tomorrow (Thursday) is the last day to vote, so head over there and vote now!

But even more than that, I would love for you to sign up to receive news updates from Beef Daily. It is a news source that keeps a great pulse on what is going on in the cattle industry, whether you are a beef producer, consumer or someone who just like cows. 

Go here to vote: http://blog.beefmagazine.com/beef_daily/2010/04/26/baby-calf-photo-finalists-vote-today/. Then go buy Paul Mobley's book. Then make me an ice cream sundae. With crunchy sprinkles. Please and thank you.

Hey, it was worth a try while I was handing out demands, right?

Apr 24, 2010

The pack mule and a marathon runner

 My sister runs marathons. My brother went to college to be a physical therapist. He's a MegaMan. They were both star athletes in high school. They are both coordinated, strong and agile.

I was the water girl in high school. I took stats. I ran the time clock, cleaned locker rooms and laundered, organized and stored jerseys in numerical order with matching hangers. Are you shocked by any of this?

This weekend, Sister had her 20-mile training run. I got to go along. She sold it to me like this:

"Laura, on the Saturday that you'll be in Lincoln I have to go on a 20-mile run. Are you going to come along?"
"You can ride a bike while I run."
"Oh. OK. I should be able to handle biking the same amount of time as you run."
"Great. You can be my pack mule."
"Pack mule?! This sounds less fun."
"You'll just carry my snacks and drinks in a bag that attaches to the bike. You can bring your camera."
*snacks? juice? camera?*

Today, we set off on our 20 mile journey. Sister led the way. 
After about three miles of herding her along, I started to get bored. Luckily, the Jamaican Trail had a lot of fun stuff to entertain my camera and I (and relieve me of 20 strait miles of biking). I stopped to play near a little creek:
Somebody forgot their rusty barbed wire next to the creek:
I wandered my way back to the trail to find Sister, still running:
This is where we think the Boxcar Children lived. If you don't know who the Boxcar Children are, you should ask your parents why they didn't make you read more as a youngster.  
 A nice little assortment of broken down railroad cars, semi trailers and various other piles of junk. What a soothing addition to the running trail.
 Don't worry, Sister was still running. I really had to work to catch up to her this time.
Then there was a pretty little bridge.
Sister ran over it.
 I went under it and found a tire. A lot of random crap littered this running trail. 
There was pretty stuff, too.
Guess what Sister was doing?
Yup. Still running. Notice how much further ahead of me she is getting. I didn't notice that at the time, so I stopped to enjoy some more scenery.
Then there was DANGER. This sign suddenly made me realize I had piddled around so long that I didn't know where Sister was. I was under a creepy bridge that explicitly stated it was DANGER, in the middle of nowhere, near a railroad track with abandoned trailers.
Ah! Peddle faster, Laura! Faster! 
After a couple miles topping Earth-shattering speed of 13 mph she was back in sight, although smothered by a cloud of train smoke.  
...still running. I did not want to bike through the smoke, and the amount of energy I exerted trying to catch up with her made me hungry. Boy, was I glad to be the pack mule with all the snacks.

Fruit Smiles might be one of my all-time favorite snacks. I stopped to fully enjoy their sweet, smiley goodness.
But don't worry, Sister was still... oh crap. She's not running anymore.  
 Turns out her pack mule was dawdling and forgot to replenish her thirst. Turns out, her pack mule hadn't really checked in for about seven miles. At mile 15, that's apparently not very nice.

Don't worry, we go her back on the road, hydrated, re-fueled and running like the wind.
 I found a bee.
Round about mile 18,5, I finally caught up with her by the tulips.
She was looking for her pack mule again. Ooops.

Apr 22, 2010

Celebrating Earth Day

There was a time in my life where I thought "environmentalist" was a nasty word. It conjured up a lot of images of granola-eating hippies who were all about being at peace with nature and saving the rain forest. And women who didn't shave their legs. Those all seemed like weird/bad things to a young teenager.

Then I found out granola was pretty tasty. Hippies were cool in the '60s, and the '60s produced some pretty good hippie tunes. Since moving east, I realized I could use a little more peace with nature. And after watching the show "Life" on the Discovery channel, I want to save rain forests, too... as long as they keep filming all those incredible little creatures for my entertainment. Basically, I came to the conclusion many years ago that a lot of my stereotypes about environmentalists were unfounded and misguided.

But what really turned my thoughts around on the topic of environmentalists was the realization that even those descriptions weren't accurate. Environmentalists are simply people who care about the land, the animals that live off it, and being sustainable so future generations can enjoy our world and natural resources.

Guess who best fits that description of an environmentalist? Farmers and ranchers, of course! Agriculturalists were the original stewards of the land, and they are still working hard every day to care for this Earth and all the life that depends on it.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I'd like to share this video from Pasture to Plate's YouTube channel. Enjoy!

For more information about the original environmentalists, visit www.explorebeef.org.

Apr 21, 2010

A day in the life...

Over the weekend, a friend/co-worker of ours got married. It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony and reception on a gorgeous spring day in Woo-town. It was also a nice chance for Bobcat, caliAGchick and I to have a little bit of social interaction, which is an exciting event in our lives.
As we sat at the reception, giggling and telling stories of how we entertain ourselves in Woo-town, someone made the comment, "You girls are so funny. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in your house!"

Well, today is your lucky day. I happen to have photo evidence of a typical conversation between caliAGchick and myself. Welcome to a day in our lives.

caliAgchick: I need iced tea. Let's go to DQ. They have the crushed ice. I love crushed ice.
belle.of.the.blog @ DQ: Hmmm... no, I don't want anything. I'll wait till we get home.

Two seconds later:
belle.of.the.blog: Oh man... I wish I would have got a hot dog. I'm just a little bit hungry.

Five minutes later, at the Wendy's drive through across town:
belle.of.the.blog: This value menu is awesome. I think I'll have one of everything.

A nice young woman at the drive thru handed us our change. We sorted it out between the two of us, and something special caught my eye.

"Ooooooooo, caliAGchick! Look at this penny! What kind of penny is this? What's going on here? I've never seeeeeen a penny like this before!"
"It must be really old. How old is that?"

"I don't know. Old enough to be worth more than a penny, I bet!"
"Look and see!"
"1947?! Wow! That is old. I'm going to take a picture of it and then google it when we get home. Maybe it will be worth lots of money."
"I can't see it very well. I don't think my phone will take a good enough picture to be able to read what all it says."
"Well hold it steadier!"
"I'm tryyyyying! Maybe it will help if it's on a clearer background."
"Belle.of.the.bllllooooog! Get that thing off the top of my iced tea! Do you know how old that thing is?!"
"Yes! Since 1947! That's.... a lot of years old!"

"I know! Think about where that penny has been in that many years! Eeeeewwww! Get it off there -- its diseases could fall through the straw hole!"
"OK, fine. But we have to compare it to a normal penny, too."
"Oooohh! Look at the front, too! The old one is raised up and shaped different!"
"Oh man... this is awesome. We'll need a picture of that, too."
"My phone can't take a good enough picture to tell the different in contour. I need to get this at a different angle. caliAGchick, you're going to need to hold them up so I can take a picture at eye level. This is serious!"

*Throat clears*

Oh jeez. We're still at the first window of the drive-thru, with the window down and five cars behind us. The nice lady who made our change and handed us this pretty penny five minutes ago is staring through the car window.

Is this seriously the conversation I'm hearing right now? These two little dummies are seriously holding up my drive-thru line over a penny? Why are they still talking in my presence?

She didn't have to say anything. We knew what was on her mind from the cocked eyebrow and dumbfound expression.

"caliAGchick! Grab the pennies! We've got to go."

Moral of the story: You do not want to be the person on the other side of the drive-thru window from us, much less a fly on our wall. True life. Have we convinced you to come visit us in Ohio yet???   

Apr 17, 2010

Confessions of a compulsive baker

Welcome to my kitchen.

Well, this is actually my old kitchen, taken the last time my compulsive baking got out of control. I started off making a couple dozen Christmas cookies to force myself into a holiday spirit. Before I knew it, I had thumbprint cookies, chocolate cookies, peppermint cookies, chocolate striped/peppermint cookies and every sprinkle known to man stacked in my little Kansan kitchen. And a crock pot feast stewing in the background. 
This is totally a healthy way to deal with holidays away from home.

Fast forward four months -- another holiday nears, and another kitchen falls victim to an all-day baking marathon. My intentions were innocent enough. I just wanted to make something nice to take to [D]'s house for Easter brunch.

I started scouring my library of cookbooks... as I've previously mentioned, decision making isn't my strong suit. How could I make just one tasty treat when I have a whole cabinet full of delicious recipes?

It started by wanting to try something new. I found a "Celebrations Made Easy" cookbook in a bargain bin at Big Lots a few weeks ago and couldn't help myself. It turned out to be a fantastic find, if for nothing more than this recipe:
It had fresh blueberries in it, so I considered it a health food. Until I doused it with a nice coating of sugar.
The batter was amazing delicious, but I'm always nervous about debuting a new recipe to a large crowd. Just in case this mess of blueberries and sugar turned into a pan full of trolls, I figured I better make a tried and true treat as well.

Hello, Best-Ever Apple Cake. It is so adequately named.
With the blueberry shortbread in the oven, I started peeling apples. Don't apples look funny naked?
Add a good coating of sugar and cinnamon to make them look a lot less funny and a lot more tasty.  
Make a couple layers of cake batter and apples:
 And sha-zam! The Best-Ever Apple Cake is ready to start baking, too.
In the meantime, the blueberry shortbread has formed the perfect golden crust.
Think about how exponentially better the top of a blueberry muffin is compared to the plain ol' bottom. This is pretty much like a whole pan of blueberry muffin tops. Hot diggity.

Since my Christmas cookie spree, I've added a new element of awesomeness to an all-day baking binge.
I finally stopped mooching off my office during the week and driving to gas stations five times a day during weekends and bought a coffee maker when I moved to Ohio. Just another excuse to never leave my house between Friday at 5 p.m. and Monday at 8 a.m.... er, 8:30 a.m.

Somewhere between the first and second pot of coffee, my little apple cake came out of the oven. 
 Oh, and then there were scones.
I really just like the word, scone. It makes me think of sconces, which is another very cool word. Someday, when HGTV comes to re-decorate my house, there will be a lot of sconces involved.  

Do you feel smarter for reading my blog yet? 

Or do you just want me to shut up and bring you scones?
Big, fluffy, maple and cinnamon-y scones.
Another pot of coffee, a heap of cheesy potatoes fixed up in the crock pot, a major kitchen cleaning and a Netflix season of The Office later, and my day was complete. Sometimes it's just hard being me.

Apr 15, 2010

Help! I need help!

I hope you have had the chance to fully digest my last post about beef quality. There is so, so much more I want to share with you on that subject, but today is not the day. I'm waiting to get photos of my experience with carcass fabrication to finish up that re-cap. Trust me, you want photos to accompany the rest of this story -- it will involve hair nets, knives and a fun little story about me being a big girly pansy-pants.

In the meantime, I need your help! I am quite possibly the most indecisive person on earth. I can (and do) spend hours upon hours pondering life's big challenges... like, which flavor of ice cream do I love most (yes, I am that person in line at Coldstone)? Does sandstone-beige or moonstone-beige look better with plum eyeshadow? Which PW Photoshop action is most flattering to Stones? My life is really complex, as you can see.
That said, please, please please help me decide which little calf makes the prettiest picture. I plan to submit a photo to the Beef Daily baby calf photo contest, but just can't make up my mind. Leave a comment below and tell me which one is your favorite. Or tell me you hate them all and I'll go take more. Please and thank you!