Saturday, October 19, 2013

Field Meal #2

Last night, I tried my hand again at cooking a second field meal for the farmers. I went with fajitas, my idea from last week’s post. Fajitas, chips and salsa, and mexican cheese bread was on the menu. I now know why I should have stuck with not cooking on a weeknight because by the time I drove out to the farm to prepare the meals at my mother-in-law’s house, I was exhausted! While farmers may be tired of late nights and longs days of harvest, now that we’re over a month into the season, I’m tired from the demands of my full-time job outside the house AND being a single-parent when I’m home. I say it every planting and harvest season, and I’m saying it once again, I don’t know how single-parents do it (or anyone that finds themselves as a single-parent due to their spouse being away from home for an extended amount of time).

Since I knew I’d be on a time crunch, I made sure to prepare for the meal starting on Wednesday night so that last night, as soon as I got home from work, I could put everything together in my “magic pot” (a Pampered Chef famous stone pot), and put it in the microwave for 15 minutes. At the same time, I made mexican cheese bread (using PC’s Beer Bread mix (so yummy!) and my new PC stone loaf pan) so that it would be fresh and warm when it got to the field. After cooking two pots of fajitas and getting the warm bread out of the oven, I loaded the car up with the food and kids, and headed to the farm.  When I arrived, my mother- and sister-in-law helped to put everything together in the Styrofoam boxes, and then we headed out to the field for dinner.

Last night, our dinner in the field was spent differently with every farmer: 
  • Alex (hired-man) was waiting in the semi-truck at a corner for us so he could grab his meal to go (total break time= 30 seconds). 
  • Kent (hired-man) got out of the other semi that was in the field waiting to be filled, sat down on a chair (that my sister-in-law conveniently keeps in the back of her van), and enjoyed his meal (total break time= 15 minutes)
  • Jeff (brother-in-law) got out of the combine and also sat down for a few minutes to eat and spend time with his wife and kids before jumping back into the combine to continue to pick beans (total break time= 10 minutes)
  • Grant (my hubby) jumped out of a tractor, gave us each a hug (since we haven’t seen him for a few days), grabbed his meal and his dad’s meal (who was in the other combine on the other side of the field), and hopped back in the tractor (total break time= less than 5 minutes).
  • Doug (father-in-law) was farming on the other side of the field and would eventually get his meal from Grant to eat as he drove the combine (total break time= no time)

The meal was once again tasty but a bit too messy to call it a perfect field meal (the fajitas were a bit too drippy to make it an easy meal for guys-on-the-go to eat without a mess). But hey, at least it tasted good, my mother-in-law got the night off from cooking, and we got to spend a few minutes with the guys. My sis-in-law and I ate our meals standing alongside the van as our kiddos played in the van with Grandma. After getting antsy, the kids got out to run around the van and watch the tractors fill the semi with beans in the dark, which is always a cool sight. (Total time for us in the field = 1 hour). 
Oh, and don’t worry, I didn’t forget to bring dessert. A club fundraiser at school was selling white chocolate covered popcorn, so I bought 10 baggies of it (the student’s looked at me like I was crazy). It’s one of my favorite fundraisers at school because the popcorn is delicious. However, I didn’t think that since there is now a popcorn machine in the grain bin facility for the guys to snack on throughout the day, that they’d be sick of popcorn by dinner time. Our kids loved it, but the guys, not so much. (Total assessment of last night’s field meal = acceptable, but not perfect.) Here’s to trying again sometime soon, but definitely not on a weeknight. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Visiting Daddy

This time of year, I consider myself lucky when my husband comes home during waking hours or is still around when our house wakes up. Rain, breakdowns, or extremely tired farmers that need a few hours extra sleep are the causes of such visits at home with my farmer husband. In order to catch an hour, thirty minutes, a couple minutes, or just a few seconds with my husband, we have to go visit him in the field. 

Sometimes our intended visits are shorter than planned: a field could be too difficult to have passengers riding along, the farmers may be too hard to get to, equipment may be broken down and all the men are busy working on it, the weather may not permit it, or curious toddlers can cut a tractor ride short. On the other hand, a visit can last the entire evening with tractor and combine rides along with the farmers stopping to enjoy dinner with the entire farm family and crew. 

Tonight we were able to visit with Daddy, but for just a few short minutes (or in my case, seconds). On our way home from having dinner with Granny and Gramps (my kids’ great-grandparents), we stopped at the grain bin facility where we waited for farmer Daddy to come by with a semi-truck to dump corn. He didn’t know we were going to be there, so I knew it would be a surprise. As he pulled up in the semi-truck, he waved and the kids both smiled and yelled, “Daddy! Daddy! It’s Daddy!” Gavin got out of the car to take a quick ride with him to dump the corn and Layla and I stayed in the car.

These days and night, farm women and children take what we can get when it comes to seeing our husbands and fathers. I make sure that I keep a stack of papers to grade and magazines I haven’t had the time to read in months in the passenger seat and plenty of DVD’s and snacks to keep the kids happy in the back seat. 

The twenty seconds I got to see my husband tonight was worth it. Gavin’s five minute ride with Daddy was worth it (he talked about it all night). Layla smiling and waving at him through the car window was worth it. And the sunset to end the beautiful fall night was definitely worth it!

Here we are waiting (you can see my vehicle to the far right)
 The kids stay occupied watching The Lorax in the backseat (what a great movie, by the way)
The last 30 of 90 papers I've graded in the car this past week
Daddy arrives!!! And he takes Gavin for a quick trip to dump the corn 
Farmer Daddy and Gavin

 Our visit with Daddy was complete with this awesome sunset

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Playing with Tractors

For the past few days and nights, Gavin has been farming. He takes his combine and tractor and moves them along side one another, imitating what takes place during harvest. I’ve even heard him say things like, “I’m coming to get the corn,” “I’m all full,” “Gotta go get the beans.” I’m proud of his imagination and his ability to take what he sees when he visits Daddy and Papa in the field and apply it to his playtime at home. 

Earlier this week, we went to eat dinner in the field with Grant and we all crowded in the tractor with him. Our tractor ride didn’t last long because Layla likes to touch every button, honk the horn, and try to manipulate the steering wheel. Layla and I got out to wait in the car so Gavin could continue his ride in the tractor while they harvested soy beans.

That same night, Gavin refused to go to sleep because he wanted to farm. I let him stay up a bit so he could farm in the house. I took a picture and text it to Grant with the caption, “Farmin’ before bed!” I can only assume he had a proud Daddy moment upon receiving that picture. That night, he brought home an ear of corn for Gavin. I had been careful to keep it up high, for fear that Gavin would discover that the corn kernels actually come off the ear. While I knew the corn kernels would complete his tractor playing, I knew it would be a mess (and choking hazard). 

I should have known that it was only time until he discovered it himself. This morning, I walked into the kitchen and he had the corn cob in his hand and corn kernels in the back of his tractor. He looked up at me with the biggest smile, and said, “Mommy, look! It’s corn!” I knew I couldn’t keep him from this treat any longer, so I showed him how he could use the kernels to go on the ground, drive over them like he’s harvesting corn, pick up the kernels and put them in the back of the combine, and then drive the tractor alongside the combine to then put the corn into the tractor wagon. (If you aren’t familiar with farming, you may now be confused, but that’s okay.)

Gavin is two hours into his morning of harvest and only about half way down the ear of corn as he continues to pick off the kernels to use for his own farming operation. Layla is also enjoying the corn kernels, but for different purposes: throwing them around the house, finding toys to put the kernels in, trying to eat them, etc. What fun it is to play with tractors with real corn to harvest!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Field Meals

Saturday at 4:30pm: 

Watermelon is cut. Brownies are ready to go in the oven. Lasagna mixture is prepared and ready for me to assemble. And my nerves are high. All week, I’ve been excited, and now nervous, for cooking dinner for the guys in the field. I brought them dinner last week from my son’s preschool fundraiser, but all I had to do was scoop the food into Styrofoam boxes and deliver them, not actually cook the food. Tonight’s mission was a new one for this city-gone-country girl. 

My mother-in-law prepares two meals for the guys almost daily: she sends them off with a cold lunch and cooler full of drinks to last them throughout the day, and then she delivers a hot meal to the fields at night along with a restock of drinks. Oh, and there’s almost always a yummy dessert. Usually there’s a pizza night thrown in there as well. How she does it, I don’t know. My sister-in-law also pitches in throughout harvest preparing meals, but my mother-in-law does the majority of the cooking. 

Knowing how time consuming cooking is, and cooking for five to six grown men that have labored all day, I figured I’d take the stress off of her by cooking a meal this weekend. Since I’m a full-time teacher with two toddlers at home, and currently without a husband at home to help with the kids, I knew that bringing a meal during the week was out of the question. Now it’s Saturday, and I’ve been dreading cooking all day. The excitement has turned to dread...What if it doesn’t turn out? What if they don’t like it? What if I don’t have enough? I called my husband this morning when he was already in the tractor and said that if it didn’t work out, I’d be stopping by the gas station to pick up pizza on my way to the fields. They’d just have to deal. 

I planned to make a new Buffalo Chicken Lasagna recipe I just discovered and serve it with a small salad, fruit, and a bread roll. But then I realized that I’d have to make dessert because they’ve been used to it every night. Let me tell you, they are WELL fed! 

My first, and only, time cooking a field meal for my husband was my first harvest on the farm after we were married. I decided to make a linguini with peppers dish: one of my family favorites. I was so excited to cook for my hard-working husband that I hadn’t seen for a few days, that I didn’t even think about the logistics of brining a fancy pasta dish to the field. By the time I was able to get to him in the tractor, the pasta and peppers were cold, the oil was runny, and  he was still hungry. It was a disaster. I never realized that field meals had to be prepared a certain way and could only include certain foods. The meals have to stay warm, still be good if they get cold, be easy for them to eat while they drive equipment, and be filling enough to last them into the long hours of the night. Hmmm...this was much more difficult than I had ever imagined. Again, I’m baffled by how my mother-in-law does it daily.

So now it’s six years later, and I’m trying again. And for the past six years, whenever a field meal has been delivered to me while I’m taking a tractor ride with my husband, I’ve been taking notes on what works for food items. But tonight, I’m not just cooking for him, I’m cooking for all of the farmers and my mother and sister-in-law. My mother-in-law knows exactly who likes what, who will eat what, and each of their favorites. I, however, do not. But I’m thinking, ‘What guy wouldn’t like Buffalo Chicken Lasagna on a beautiful fall evening?!’ I’ll have to let you know.... and if it fails, at least there’s gas station pizza I can pick up on my way. Oh, and warm brownies straight out of the oven.


Mission dinner-in-the-field was a success! Everyone loved the meal. Instead of the typical drive-by-and-pick-up-my-food night, the guys were leaving one field and headed to another, so they took some time to get out of the tractors, combines, and trucks to stand and eat around the back of a pick-up truck. Since tonight was a success, I’m trying to think of the next meal I can take to them: how about fajitas?!...oh, and some type of dessert!

Here are pictures to document the assembly. I cooked the food at my house but then took it to my in-law's house so that I could use their Styrofoam boxes and utensils (they buy them in bulk). Plus, my lasagna needed 20 minutes to sit before serving, so the 30 minute drive to the farm was perfect. 

 Food is ready to dish out
 I felt like I was cooking for a dinner party- look at all those boxes!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pumpkin Picking

Today I picked my own pumpkins. From a pumpkin patch. On the edge of a cornfield. With no one else around. That’s country life for you! 

While I was with my kids in the car on my way to visit the guys in the field, Grant called me and said that his high school friend offered us pumpkins out on his property. Since I was near, Grant gave me the directions: go down the gravel road, take a left at the t, go around a bunch of curves and look for a green and white shed. (That’s usually how directions go when it comes to telling me where to drive among the corn and bean fields.) Sure enough, I couldn’t miss the shed, drove around it and looked for a bunch of pumpkins laying around for me to take home. There were no pumpkins in sight. I called Grant asking if I had to actually find a pumpkin patch and go out into the field and pick them. Sure enough, as I rounded the corner, I spotted pumpkins that looked like they were out of “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”! They were huge and still attached to their vines. 

I got out, took a look around, and discovered beautiful pumpkins scattered among vines throughout a large patch next to the corn field. I found a few that looked to be the right size for carving, stepped through some vines and went down to reach for a pumpkin. Who knew that pumpkin vines and stalks were sooo prickly! It was the same discovery six years ago when I went to pull my very first zucchini in my own vegetable garden: I came into the house with a bag full of zucchini but an arm full of itchy scratches form their vines. But these pumpkins were different. The only place I could touch without getting stuck in the arm or hand was the pumpkin itself. I had no gloves or my strong farmer husband to help me. Just me, corn fields, a bunch of pumpkins still in the field, and my two toddlers in the car watching a movie (thank goodness for dvd systems). 

My pumpkins!
If I was going home with pumpkins, I had to find a spot where I could step into without getting too scratched up on my legs and bend down to take hold of a pumpkin while pulling it from its vine. After managing some athletic moves and crushing vines to the side with my shoes, I found a few good sized pumpkins to take home for fall decorations and Halloween carving. In order to get them free and load them into the car, I had to roll them over on their sides until they broke from their vines. There was no way I was touching those stalks with bare hands. 

This was a country experience at its finest. I was alone in a pumpkin patch, my hands and pants were dirty, I was sweaty from all the work of pulling the pumpkins loose, there was a beautiful red barn in the background, and I was surrounded by the sweet sound of silence. I even used the opportunity to get the kids out of the car to see the Charlie Brown sized pumpkins and take a few pictures. 

My pumpkins this year aren’t bought from a local pumpkin patch or road stand, but I picked them myself. And this afternoon, they adorn my front steps waiting for Grant to bring home straw bales and corn stalks from our family farm. 

*And a special thanks to Luke for letting me experience my very own pumpkin picking from his farm! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Red Tractors

Okay, so I keep telling myself that I need to post to this blog more often. Life just doesn't seem to give me much time for writing (for fun). But I just HAD to write a blog post today because I came across something definitely "Farm Notes Worthy"! I still can't believe it.

Grant came home from the IL Farm Show last month with a flyer about a new Red Tractor book that details all the red tractors (Case IH) from 1958-2013. He said it would be a great idea for his dad's birthday present in October, and I agreed.

Since I'm spending some time at home today due to a sick child, I started cleaning off my desk and came across the flyer that was buried under magazines that I have yet to read from this summer. Good thing I found it because October will be here before I know it and I'll need that birthday present!

I went online to the website advertised on the flyer, browsed through the different Red Tractor books available, and stumbled upon a video link that had "Burr Ridge" in the title. Why is this significant? Well, I spend most of my middle school, high school, and college days at home in the Burr Ridge/ Willowbrook/ Darien/ Hinsdale area. I drove past the CaseIH water tower almost everyday, I played softball and watched my brothers play baseball in Harvester Park next to the CaseIH headquarters, but yet I never knew what exactly went on in there. I remember when my mom got remarried that a family friend from Switzerland flew in for the wedding and her husband went to the CaseIH building during their time in town because he was in the "tractor business". Then, when I married Grant, I remember my parents mentioning to him that CaseIH had a plant near by--the same tractor company that he used on his farm.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I clicked on the video link that I found today and found footage of the Burr Ridge CaseIH site and what Burr Ridge used to look like long before the suburban sprawl. Growing up, I didn't realize the significance that location played for famers around the world that use CaseIH equipment or for other industries that use their technology.

Little did I know, while playing softball games as red tractors drove by in the distance in a plot of land outside of the CaseIH building, that I'd marry a farmer that drove those same red tractors. And, it just hit me today that duh, "Harvester" Park is named after the location of where they tested tractors for harvest time. Wow, am I a quick one, or what?!

After 6+ years of marriage to a farmer husband, I'm still amazed at the connections I find in my background to farming. However isolated I was from the importance of agriculture in my life, it was still all around me. It took me marrying a farmer to understand just HOW important agriculture is to all of us and how it is EVERYWHERE we may find ourselves, even if we are living in big cities or suburbs.

Here's the link to the video...the information and footage is very cool!

Take a look at the red tractors from our life on the farm...

June 2007: A CaseIH combine out for display during our Farm Wedding Reception

Harvest 2010: Dinner in the field when Gavin was a baby
February 2011: Doug plows us out of our house during the Blizzard!

Spring 2011: Gavin's 1st tractor ride of planting season
 September 2011: Sidney's birthday party in the field!
Harvest 2011: tractor and combine rides
Harvest 2011: Visitors love taking combine rides during harvest
Spring 2012: Planting with Daddy
Harvest 2012: Family picture after bringing pizza to the field
Harvest 2013: These days, there's a variety of colors in our fields

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Business Trip" Blog Post

Here's my IL Farm Families Blog Post from November. While I haven't had time to update my own Farm Notes Blog with fun farm stories, being a monthly blogger on the IFF Blog has given me deadlines, and I've learned that deadlines make me write. 

As an extension to the blog post below, I DID attend a business trip with Grant last weekend in Chicago. It was the IL Farm Bureau Annual Meeting where we stayed at the Palmer House, enjoyed a day of hanging out in the city without kids, and met up with friends. Grant mentioned that it was obviously a conference for farmers with our parking deck in the Chicago loop FULL of pickup trucks and Wranglers (jeans) and cow boots galore in the  Palmer House lobby and along the Magnificent Mile. Anytime he wants to take me to Chicago for a conference where I can shop, eat, and see friends, I'm game!

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Business Trip

Illinois Farm Families - Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Last night, my husband left on a “business trip”. Not the get-in-a-limo-wearing-a-suit type of trip, but a jump-in-his-pickup-truck-with-a-hog-trailer type of trip. My husband is a farmer and also raises and sells show pigs as a hobby. His “business trips” entail packing over night bags full of jeans and collared shirts, not suits and ties, and driving a trailer of pigs to a neighboring or far-off state for a hog show. 
Growing up, my dad and step-dad both left on business trips frequently throughout the year. They would wake up, dress in their suit and tie, and wait for their taxi or limousine to pick them up and take them to the airport before sun-rise. They’d be gone anywhere from just a full day (flying out early in the morning and back late at night), a few days, or even a week. They’d return exhausted carrying their briefcase and suitcase through the door wearing what seemed to be the same suit they left in. We’d greet them at the door with hugs and kisses to welcome them home. No sooner, they’d loosen their tie and get out of their suit and put on something more comfortable. 

Sometimes, I was lucky enough to accompany my dad on his business trips: Florida, San Diego, Hawaii, and Las Vegas were my favorites.  My first father-daughter trip was to Atlantic City when I was 7 years old. I have such special memories of being alone with my dad on that trip. Many years later, imagine my excitement when I was in college and my dad called to ask me if I wanted to join him in Las Vegas and we’d spend a few days hiking in Utah before his conference began.  I was beyond thrilled! Hawaii was pretty awesome too!

My husband has recently offered to take me to far-off lands of Oklahoma and Texas where I’d accompany him at pig shows, but I’ve respectfully declined. However, when we were dating (and I was eager to impress him), I did join him at the Illinois State Fair for two days where I hung out in a very hot hog barn in the middle of summer. I remember wearing cute jeans, a black tank top, and adorable sandals. I learned my lesson quickly as my blank top turned the color of saw dust, my jeans got all dirty from being sideswiped by pigs multiple times on their way to the ring, and my toes need protection from who-knows what on the concrete floor. When my kids are a bit older, we will go along with my husband to pig shows to experience the excitement of raising livestock. Although we won’t be going to Hawaii or Las Vegas anytime soon, the pride that comes from raising pigs from birth can be pretty awesome, and I want my children to experience that too. 

These days, I don’t welcome home a man in a suit and tie, but a husband who is still in his dirty show clothes from the early morning of selling and loading pigs. He too is exhausted from a long day and night of driving and many days away from home. And although he is eager to get out of his “business attire,” I always steal a kiss to welcome him home…even if he smells faintly of pigs.

Kristen Strom
Brimfield, IL