Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

I was 37 years old before I conquered my fear of pies.  My mother was an AMAZING pie baker.  Apple, coconut cream, lemon meringue, pecan . . . She made them all with ease.  My very favorite was her annual pear pie, when our small pear tree would have enough fruit to merit the best pie of the year.  I never wanted to compete with her outstanding talent, and always figured that "someday" I would have her teach me to bake a pie.  Unfortunately, I never took advantage of that opportunity.

My dear friend Emma is a gifted pie baker just like my mother was.  When she visited me last year, she took the time to show me how she made a crust.  Eventually -- thanks to a desire to impress my new boyfriend, the continued prodding of my step-dad, and an inherent hope I could live up to my mother -- I began to try pie making.  I hope my mother started out with as rough a skill set as I had before she mastered great pies.  Alas, my greatest limitation is my lack of patience . . . Which has led to regular Katherine Pie Crisis situations!

My favorite pie so far is a Bourbon Chocolate Pecan, adapted from a Southern Living Cookbook.  I use my mother's crust recipe, although I think a pre-made crust would not detract from the robust flavors.  Tonight's Pie Crisis involved my realization that I neglected to purchase light corn syrup.  Fortunately, Matt intervened to avoid catastrophe by creating a "structurally similar compound".  Apparently cooking is an art AND a science!

Whisk together:
4 large eggs (preferably from Harrison Farm!)
1 cup light corn syrup (or other scientist approved sucrose compound)
6 tablespoons melted butter
Half cup sugar
Quarter cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon (I prefer Maker's Mark or Buffalo Trace for cooking)
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon vanilla

Add 1 cup coarse chopped pecans & 1 cup chocolate morsels.  Pour into pie crust, then bake at 350 for one hour.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream (or, in Matt's case, serve with both).

The great thing about this recipe is that it has such robust flavors that the bourbon & chocolate cover up any mistake . . . Even a notorious Pie Crisis!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Great Man

It seems that some of the greatest men in our world live lives of quiet nobility.  They love their spouse, raise their children, provide for their family, and walk humbly with their God.  While it is hard to conceive of a funeral as uplifting, I cannot imagine that a person could have attended my neighbor's funeral without feeling immensely better about the world that it could have created a man such as Eric Howlett.  

Nearly everyone who knows me has either met or heard about my neighbor kids, Joseph & Eliza.  Their family moved into the next door property adjacent to our north pasture several years ago, and initially I just knew them as pleasant neighbors with several kids.  A few years ago, Joseph developed an interest in animals and would often visit when I was working in the barn.  His younger sister Eliza was his constant companion at that point, and I came to enjoy & appreciate the company of these two children.  Joseph is a steady, quiet, hardworking young man.  Eliza has more sass than any child I have ever met.  Most of our visits follow a similar agenda: Joseph quietly helps me feed & care for the animals, while Eliza updates me on the daily adventures of being the youngest of five kids, quizzes me on my life decisions, pontificates on why I am still single, and then suggests flavors of ice cream I should keep in stock for her.  These two young people hold a prime spot in my heart, and I know that they have done more for me than I could ever do for them.

Remarkable young people do not exist without influential parents.  Eliza & Joseph are blessed with a wonderful set of parents.  Their mother Chris is a gracious, hardworking woman -- exactly the kind of woman I hope to be if I ever grow up.  Their father's intelligence & dedication is obvious in Joseph, and his love for others can be seen in Eliza's giving spirit.  Many times Eric would stop by to say hello when he saw me working outside, and he never failed to pitch in and help if he could be of assistance on a job.  As Joseph began to develop his own herd of goats, I often interfaced with his parents to provide support to Joseph on this endeavor.  I was continually amazed that Joseph's parents encouraged his interest in being a farmer -- even if it was not their particular interest and despite the fact that he eventually took over much of their front yard for his goat operation.  What was even more inspiring to me was the way in which these parents showed the same wholehearted support for all five of their children, and never failed to model to them how to live life helping others.

Just as they supported their children's dreams, Eric & Chris supported each other's goals.  Eric recently was hired as a commercial pilot, the culmination of a youthful dream & many years of hard work.  When I heard of his death, it shook me to the core.  I immediately drove down to hug Joseph & Eliza. I eventually learned that their father was flying solo from Chicago and had experienced engine failure.  He was attempting to return to Midway airport when his plane crashed in a residential neighborhood.  It hit a house -- even leaving debris as close as 8 inches from the bed where the couple was sleeping who lived there -- yet no one else was hurt.  The crash was all over the national media, even on the inside cover of my Wall Street Journal.  

Eric's memorial service took place over the weekend.  There was standing room only for the service.  It was truly a testament to the impact which Eric had on people and the love which others have for his family.  Two of Eric's brothers read beautiful eulogies written by his mother and by his wife.  The one which his mother wrote was full of love, and helped me to appreciate the experiences which formed Eric into the generous individual which I knew.  I was absolutely amazed by the strength and grace exhibited by Chris in the words which she wrote about her husband.  They truly had a great love story, and that love was evident in the respect & affection with which she described her husband.  Chris shared that the remarkable nature of the crash -- a pilot goes down in a residential area and yet he is the only one hurt -- brought her the understanding that he was being very specifically called to God.  

Chris is a resilient, beautiful woman, and I have no doubt that she will be a great strength for her children to rely upon.  A fund has been set up to benefit the family, and if you were so moved, donations would be sincerely appreciated.  They can be directed to the Eric Howlett Family Fund, in care of the Canal Banking Center at 6360 Prentiss School Drive, Canal Winchester OH 43110.  

I have been extremely touched by my friends who have reached out to offers prayers & support for my two young friends.  In reflecting how I can help Joseph & Eliza, I want to assist in making sure that they can both continue to carry out their dreams.  I know that there is great support from an amazing extended family and a fantastic church family, but I also know from my experience of losing parents that when funds are limited they are directed to basic necessities.  Knowing the promise that Joseph shows as a farmer, I want to do all I can to ensure that he has the resources needed to carry on with his livestock enterprise.  He has a birthday coming up, and I hope to get him a nice gift certificate to our local feed store.  If you know me personally, and are able to contribute to help this young farmer, I would be very grateful.  

We need more men like Eric Howlett.  We need more people who live in such a way that their life serves as an inspiration to others.  We need more parents who are completely dedicated to their families.  Eliza & Joseph were blessed to have such a man for a father, and I was incredibly fortunate to know him.  Eric took the picture of Eliza and Joseph and me at my farm in 2013, and gave it to me as a Christmas gift last year.  It hangs in my kitchen, and it is a beautiful reminder of a very happy occasion.  Eric was a wonderful neighbor and a good friend, who leaves a remarkable legacy in his five awesome children.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cowgirl Chic v. Wardrobe Fail

Lately, I have had several reminders that what constitutes normal attire for me (Stetson jeans, cowboy boots, Western jewelry), is not normal attire for mainstream society.  This was hit home on the evening of 10/31 when I was complimented on my Halloween cowgirl costume -- which was just me in my standard clothes!

Matt enjoys & tolerates my standard attire.  That being said, we do have different opinions on fashion (he basically owns three summer outfits, and three winter outfits).  A recent conversation between us only highlighted our different thoughts on clothing . . .

Matt: "I was looking at those pictures in the dining room of you on the Wagon Train."

I was surprised by this comment.  Not the wagon train part (my step-sisters and I were forced to participate in an annual wagon train re-enactment in the Dakotas as children -- if you ever want to hear scarring childhood stories about bathing in ponds full of leeches, riding miles in a wagon under the hot prairie sun, and wearing uncomfortable pioneer clothes, you can read Laura Ingalls Wilder books or just have a conversation with me!), what Matt said that made me pause was that there were no pictures from the Wagon Train in the Dining Room.

Matt: "You know, those pictures of you in all your pioneer dresses.  From all the different wagon trains."

I was still baffled.  "No.  There is a picture of me in the kitchen with Heather, and Alison, and Jen.  And there is a picture in my office of me & Mother from the wagon train.  But there are not any in the dining room."

Matt was insistent.  "Yes, there are.  Those pictures all in a row on the wall between the dining room and the kitchen."

Suddenly, I understood what Matt was referencing.  "No, Matt, those are not pictures from the wagon train.  Those are my school pictures."

Lesson learned: the modern American male does not appreciate the Little House on the Prairie-inspired fashions for girls of the late 1970s and early 1980s!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Antibiotics & Farm Animals

This morning there was an article on the cover of the Wall Street Journal (the only newspaper worth reading) that focused on the evolution of antibiotic use in farm animals.  The essential point of the article was that as consumers showed more buying preference for animals raised without the use of antibiotics to promote growth, that this was leading to more farmers choosing to raise animals in this way to tap into this particular market.

I am an advocate for farmers being able to choose the production methods that are best for them, and consumers being able to choose the foods that fit the needs of their family best.  Last night I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel that answered questions on agriculture for claims agents through Nationwide insurance.  The panel followed table discussions on farming, and a delicious meal by the chefs at Northpointe Conference Center.  For each course, information was shared on where each ingredient originated, how far it travelled, and the cost of each item.  The most interesting item for me: a dinner which cost approximately $29 to make and could retail for $85 at a restaurant, brought less than $10 total to all the farmers who helped to raise it.

I always enjoy talking to people about farming, so the opportunity to answer questions on the panel was a great deal of fun for me.  There was questions on such diverse topics as organic versus conventional, the role of the FDA, and how GMOs can assist in feeding a growing world population. Conversations like this always highlight for me that people like to talk about food & farming -- and there is a definite lack of educated, fact-based knowledge on farming.

This was on my mind as I read the article this morning on antibiotic use.  As with most scenarios, perception can be everything.  The statistics shared in the article illustrated that the American public is very concerned about antibiotic use in farm animals -- and yet largely uneducated on facts when reaching this perception.  Just as with antibiotic use in humans, prudent & reasonable amounts can be of huge benefit.  Overuse in any animal (whether human or goat) is unnecessary.  What is necessary is that farmers have the ability to prudently treat animals who do need antibiotics.  I believe that consumers should have the freedom to support a variety of farming practices through their purchasing power.  If an antibiotic-free product can benefit a consumer & a farmer, then I am a definite advocate for this option!  I am also an advocate that farmers should have the ability to treat their animals in the best way possible for their situation.  Doody the Goat received antibiotics when he was little -- and this helped save his life!  He also received a course of medicated feed along with his fellow goats, when this was needed for them to grow in a healthy way.  Freedom of food choice is very good for consumers -- just as the freedom to farm in the best way possible is very good for farmers!