A Farm to Fingers Food Challenge

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How many parents have told their children “don’t play with your food” over the years? You may have caught yourself uttering those very words as your kiddos listlessly pushed food around a plate or made props out of produce well past the age where that sort of thing is considered adorable.

Well, we’re here to tell you to go ahead and play! That’s right. We’re encouraging folks to get personal with their produce (and dairy and dough and meat). Channel your inner DaVinci and make masterpieces out of meals with our “farm to fingers” food challenge. 

Butter Sculpting

Like funnel cakes and pig races, butter sculptures remind us of the state fair. Giant renderings of cows are certainly a favorite, but creativity knows no bounds in this medium where fairy tales, historical figures and even Harry Potter have been featured as unexpected sculptures.

Tips on Working with Butter

Butter is greasy, making it slippery to work with and quite messy. Have plenty of dishwashing liquid and paper towels on hand or go with gloves to keep your hands clean.

A plastic knife is a go-to tool, but keep in mind the serration will show up as a pattern on your butter surface. Your fingerprints can, too, so be careful when shaping that you don’t end up with a rough surface (unless you wear gloves). In fact, if you lean into unusual tools, you just might find some fun creating unusual patterns. Items like wire, forks and straws can be used for carving and will add some interest to the texture.

You’ll probably have a love-hate relationship with heat when working with butter. Too hot and you’ll lose definition. Too cold and it will be difficult to work with. A bit cooler than room temperature should be just about right for a happy middle ground while working with butter. As you work with it, the butter will soften, so strategize accordingly. If your block gets too soft, set your masterpiece in the fridge for a bit to make sure it doesn’t become disfigured.

Butter Sculpture Ideas

We recommend starting small by working within the parameters of a single chunk of butter. Carving from one stick or a one-pound block will be easier because you’ll have a solid structure to start with. Combining more than one stick or slab can get tricky. Try creating:

  • A pet or other animal.
  • Jack-o-lantern: Lean into fall by making one food out of another.
  • Flowers: They’re small and as a bonus you can practice levelling-up your Thanksgiving table-setting game if you master decorative butter touches.

Five Fun Facts About Butter

  1. Butter sculptures have been a staple at the Kansas State Fair since 1983.
  2. The road to becoming a pro requires imagination and physical stamina because the sculptures can take more than 100 hours to make and use more than 1,000 pounds of butter.
  3. It takes about 2 ½ gallons of whole milk to make a pound of butter.
  4. Butter is usually pale yellow. It can vary from deeper yellow to white depending on the diet and breed of the dairy cows.
  5. Butter is rich in vitamins A, D, E, K and B12.

SPAM Sculpting

SPAM, Treet, potted meat — no matter what type of canned meat you fancy (or fear), this challenge is a great way to get to know it better. If you’ve ever prepped an emergency food supply, chances are canned meat may have made your kit. These products feature processed meat, spices and other ingredients which can be eaten straight from the can if need be, or cooked (frying is particularly popular). Canned meats also make for a fun medium to carve!

Tips on Working with Canned Meat

Measure twice and cut once because once you slice the SPAM, there’s no going back. Unlike butter, which can be melded back together in a pinch, cutting into canned meats can’t be undone without adhesives. (CheezWhiz, anyone?)

Like with butter, knives are a good tool, but the angles are blunt, making edges appear sharp. It can take a few passes to create rounded edges. Since canned meats are typically very soft, you can experiment with other carving tools here, too.

Canned Meat Sculpture Ideas

Like marble, sculpting in canned meat is all about subtraction. You have to find the negative space to make your sculpture pop. Keep to simpler shapes (at least to start) as you get to know this medium. Try creating:

  • Stonehenge: Perfect for beginners.
  • Letter blocks: Spell a name or other word with individual blocks or one slab.
  • House: The starting shape looks a bit like a building already. Once you get the basics down, you can add details like windows and roof shingles. Move over, gingerbread!

By all means level up once you feel comfortable with SPAM. And, when you’re done, fry up a bit for a family snack.

Five Fun Facts About Canned Meat

  1. Canned meats have a shelf life of two to five years.
  2. They can be made of pork or chicken and often include potato starches and grain byproducts.
  3. SPAM was created in 1937 and rose to global popularity during World War II, when there was a dire need for protein with a long shelf life that could be easily transported. It remains extremely popular in Southeast Asia and has sold more than 7 billion cans worldwide. A troupe of women called “The Hormel Girls” toured the United States in the 1940s to raise awareness of SPAM.
  4. Armour, which started as a meatpacking company in 1867, makes Treet brand potted meat. The company also produced the first deodorant soap, Dial.
  5. While nutritional values vary, canned meats are typically high in fat and protein. They may also contain high amounts of sodium.

Dough Sculpting

Dough sculpting can include simpler shaping techniques like twisting or combining smaller items like rolls into a larger tear-and-share design. It can also involve more intricate designs and structural elements. Fans of The National Festival of Breads have seen some incredible examples of all these techniques in entries over the years. (The festival has a helpful bread-shaping guide you can consult as you take on this challenge.)

Tips on Working with Dough

In addition to shaping dough, you can use different varieties to play with color and contrast. If you want to eat your creation (and who wouldn’t?) make sure your dough is fully cooked. This can be tricky as different thicknesses and types of dough will have different cook temperatures and times.

Get playful with tools. A pizza cutter will work better than a knife for precision cutting, but using a knife to slice the top before baking can yield some interesting shapes in the final product.

Branch out and add elements like seeds or egg glazes to create different textures and finishes.

Dough Sculpture Ideas

This challenge is all about molding and building versus carving. Since the shape will change as you bake the dough (some will rise, some will fall), don’t stress about the details. Focus on the overall form. Try making:

  • Animals and insects
  • Plants
  • Abstract rosettes

You can also combine bread baking with mixed media and use fruits and vegetables to create vibrant color (and flavor). You can mix them in or create a design on the surface of your loaf before you bake it.

Five Fun Facts About Dough

  1. We often think of baking dough to make bread, but it can also be fried, steamed or boiled.
  2. Americans eat an average of 53 pounds of bread per year.
  3. When you let dough rise, the process is actually fermentation. Yeast breaks down sugar and creates gas bubbles within the dough.
  4. Yeast is a fungus.
  5. Wonder Bread was created in 1921. It was one of the first sliced breads, but loaves were not sliced during World War II.

Mixed-Media Masterpieces

Have you ever played with uneaten parts of a meal, shuffling pieces around until you’ve made a shape? No? Just us? Well, that’s a great starting point for this challenge. What can you make from what’s on your plate? What about preparing a special snack or meal with this challenge in mind?

Depending on what types of food you decide to use, these creations could be three- or two-dimensional.

Tips on Working with Mixed-Media

Really, the sky’s the limit as you create a canvas with your plate. One advantage here is you can have fun with color. You also aren’t limited to the edible portions. Rinds and stems can add decorative touches.

This challenge may also inspire you to create festive theme dinners around certain holidays.

Mixed-Media Sculpture Ideas

You can use elements for a sparse “painting” or create a masterpiece with your entire meal. Try:

  • Doing a self-portrait or a portrait on someone else (cartoon characters count!).
  • Recreating a work of art.
  • Using produce to make a scene from nature.

Post and Share

Don’t forget to share your masterpieces with us on social media. Follow and use the hashtags #farmtofingers #fingerfood #snacksculpture #ksfarmfood to join the fun.

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Fish made of bread dough
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Cooking Under Pressure: A Pressure Cooker Recipe Ebook

Get Great Pressure Cooker Recipes: Sign Up for Our Ebook

It’s busy out there. Between work and school and soccer practice or maybe being cooped up at home and cleaning the kitchen and matching socks and all of the other little things that pile up throughout your day, getting dinner on the table can sometimes be overwhelming. We created Cooking Under Pressure to add some peace to your routine. The recipes you’ll find inside are quick, easy, full of flavor and will have you done with your weekly meals in no time.

The Best Plants to Grow Indoors

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During the cold, drizzly months, it’s hard not to long for warmer days. And even after winter is technically over, the Kansas weather can remain dreary and chilled for months to come.

To add a little brightness in your home without relying on Mother Nature, try growing indoor plants. While they aren’t quite as powerful as the sun, houseplants may be able to boost your mood and reduce stress. 

If your thumb is less than green, don’t worry! Even the most forgetful gardener will be able to care for these plants.

1. Chinese Evergreen (aglaonema)

First on our list for a reason, the Chinese evergreen is perfect for beginners. Able to grow in any room regardless of sunlight levels, this plant is difficult to kill. You won’t need to worry about watering much, since the Chinese evergreen only requires a sip every few weeks. 

Starting small enough to live in a pot on your desk or on the kitchen counter, your plant friend will slowly grow to be a larger decor piece. 

2. Spider Plant (chlorophytum comosum)

Named for the many green “legs” jutting in every direction, the spider plant’s leaves hang in a nice arch shape. 

Another great choice for newbies, it only needs to be watered once a week. Consider putting this choice in a room with a window or two, as it thrives in natural light.

Bonus: Occasional offshoots can be replanted and make lovely hostess gifts!

3. Jade Plant (crassula ovata)

Looking like a miniature tree, the jade plant grows a trunk with thick, round leaves sprouting from top to bottom. 

If overwatered, jade plants can rot, so it’s better to err on the side of (what seems to be) not enough water. To be safe, check the top couple of inches of soil — if they’re dry, go ahead and give the plant a splash. Rooms with plenty of natural light will make this succulent happiest.

4. Chinese Money Plant (pilea peperomioides)

The award for most nicknames goes to this plant! Known as the pancake plant, UFO plant, mirror plant and more, this option is a little harder to find than the others. Many nurseries don’t offer the Chinese money plant because its slow growth means it isn’t as profitable as other species. Your best bet will be to order one online or try repotting a clipping from a friend. 

Once you have your hands on it, keep the Chinese money plant in a bright room, but don’t expose it to direct sunlight. Only worry about watering your many-named friend once every couple of weeks — if the plant’s leaves start to droop, you’ll know it needs a drink.

5. Green Heartleaf Philodendron (philodendron hederaceum)

As you probably guessed, this plant has green, heart-shaped leaves that drape nicely once they’re long enough. Hanging vines make it a great candidate to be suspended from the ceiling or a wall. 

This plant will tolerate any level of light, but direct sunlight may burn its leaves. For watering needs, use the same soil test as for the jade plant, and only give it more when dry.

6. Aloe

Did you notice aloe doesn’t have a scientific name listed in parentheses? Good catch, smarty pants! This is because aloe itself isn’t a specific plant, but a classification with over 500 varieties under its umbrella. 

From the well-known aloe vera to the quirkily named aloe cha cha, care for all aloe types is about the same. Keep your aloe in a bright place, and don’t worry about watering it often. These plants typically won’t require pruning, but if you spot any brown leaves, simply remove them.

7. Rex Begonia (begonia rex)

With touches of purple, red and other colors, rex begonia is a nice way to bring something other than green into your home. Since it won’t grow very tall, consider placing it on a desk or dinner table. 

Medium light is the key here, so don’t lock rex begonia in the basement or put it right on the windowsill. Find a nice middle ground. Water this plant about once a week, but try to avoid soaking its leaves, which could lead to rotting. 

8. Crown of Thorns (euphorbia milii)

Another colorful friend, crown of thorns boasts a variety of flowers. Be careful, though, “thorns” is in its name for a reason! 

For the most blooms possible, place crown of thorns in bright light. While it will survive in medium light, the flowers will only appear if it has enough sun. You only need to water this gem once every few months, since overwatering will cause it to lose its leaves. 

9. Mother-in-Law’s Tongue/Snake Plant (sansevieria trifasciata)

Although its name is less than inviting, this plant is actually very pleasing to the eye with large, thin leaves sticking straight up. Adding to the appeal, mother-in-law’s tongue can adapt to almost any indoor condition. 

This plant will grow in any lighting, but prefers brighter areas. You’ll be hard pressed to underwater a snake plant — just give it a drink every month or so. 

10. Edible Options

If you’re looking to add something aesthetically pleasing and practical, try growing herbs to use in your cooking! A few easy choices are:

  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Basil

These options are all small enough to grow in the kitchen without taking too much of your precious counter space.

The perfect pick-me-up to stave off the winter blues as well as being a trendy decoration, your new houseplant will be a welcome addition to your home or office. Happy growing!

Get Growing

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Indoor spider plant
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Hudson Cream: The Flour Without Fault

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Gleaming elevators tower above the wheat fields at Stafford County Flour Mills. The silos are the same luxurious white color as the mill’s flour. The mill specializes in producing premium-quality flour for home bakers.

Located in the village of Hudson — population 100, counting dogs, cats and tumbleweeds — Stafford County Flour Mills may be the only remaining independently owned mill in the country.

Why Does a Flour Brand Have a Cow for a Logo?

Hudson Cream flour logo
It’s easy to spot the distinctive sack design of Hudson Cream Flour at the grocery. The logo features a golden Jersey cow standing in a green meadow by a bright blue stream. Why did they pick a cow?

As former president of the mill Al Brensing explained, “Many people believed the Jersey cow gave the richest milk and cream, so the Jersey cow was selected for the logo.”

The rich quality of the cow’s cream is symbolic of the rich quality of the mill’s flour. Hudson Cream is known as “the flour without a fault.”

Kansas Grown

The mill uses a minimum of 1.5 million bushels of wheat annually. More than 95 percent of the wheat milled there comes from approximately 80 farm families in Stafford County. Many of these same farm families have supplied Hudson Cream with wheat for generations.

In addition to the wheat suppliers, many of the employees at the mill live within a 12-mile radius. Like the early founders of the company, some of these employees have worked for the company for years and are proud of its rich milling heritage.

"The strength of the company remains its people," says Reuel Foote, the company’s current general manager and president. "From the beginning, everyone who's worked here believes in Hudson Cream Flour."

To make their signature flour, the mill typically uses a heavy-test-weight wheat — 60 pounds or more. The protein level must also test high — at least 12.5 percent. They use a “short-patent” milling process, which results in a more refined flour, with all of the lower quality flour removed in the milling process. What’s left is the very finest flour that comes from the wheat berry.

“The result is a flour that is smoother in texture and produces cookies, breads, pie crusts and other baked products that are consistently light and fluffy,” Reuel says.

Focus on Customers

Creating a quality product and selling it at a fair price has been the not-so-secret to the mill’s success for more than a century.

To address the trend toward healthier diets, Stafford County Flour Mills added whole-wheat flour to their product line more than 20 years ago. This line was added to fill a niche market of customers who wanted more fiber in their diets. A certified organic product is also available in grocery stores.

The mill is also unveiling two-pound bags to better serve home bakers around the country. Today’s hectic schedules — shuttling children everywhere, balancing work, and tending to numerous details — leaves little for baking from scratch. Having the two-pound bags will be more convenient.

“We’re banking on shoppers buying smaller quantities knowing they don’t bake as often, but when they do, they may use less flour and have less left over,” Reuel says. “And they can buy fresh product as needed.”

Environmentally Friendly

Two years ago, Stafford County Flour Mills erected an 850-kilowatt wind turbine south of the site in Hudson.

“As far as we know, we’re the only flour mill that has the physical capability to run on 100 percent sustainable energy,” Reuel says. “We strive to be good stewards of our resources just like the farmers who supply us and the customers who buy our flour.”

Hudson Cream flour turbine
As Stafford County Flour Mills continues to evolve and grow, this privately owned company remains committed to customers, employees and producing high-quality flour.

“We take no one for granted,” Reuel says. Every customer is important and every sack of Hudson Cream Flour is the same as the next.”

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Summer Fun for Kids

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Ah, summer. Backpacks and books make way for swimsuits and summer camp. It’s a great time of year. Unless you’re trying to figure out how to keep the kiddos entertained and their brains (at least somewhat) engaged. After all, we want them to relax and have fun, but we don’t want their minds to turn to mush. (Sheesh! When did I become my mother?!) 

With harvests in full swing, summer can be a great time to introduce kids to agriculture. There are some really fun ways to get them involved and teach them healthy habits, without turning it into a character-building chore. (Not that there’s anything wrong with character. We approve.) 

How? Enter My American Farm. 

This initiative from American Farm Bureau has great ideas for families to bond over hands-on activities, as well as games to keep the information fresh and fun. 

Here are just a few of their family-friendly activities: 

  • Make a flower pen: Great for younger kids, this activity teaches them the parts of the flower while they make a festive pen in the process. (How about a sunflower?) 
  • Create a rubber glove window box: This simple activity will give your little offshoots a front-row seat to watching seeds start their own shoots. Unlike planting in soil, this unique project will let them see the actual seed as it sprouts. 
  • Make a necklace with a live plant inside: Geared toward older kids, this activity uses the same principle as the window box, only kids can wear their sprouting seeds as jewelry—so cool! 

The website also features recipes the whole family can make—and enjoy—together.   

Bonus—there’s a technology element. Sure, we’ve all felt a little guilty handing our kiddos a tablet to try to keep them engaged (or at least quiet!). We’re not bad parents—we swear! But if they’re playing educational games for a little while? See ya, techno-guilt. 

From a farmer’s market challenge to a STEM-related game focused on farm equipment, there’s plenty to keep your kids occupied and learning. Best of all, when used with the hands-on activities, the games really help the information sink in. You can play online, or on their tablet app, available on the App store, Google Play and Amazon. 

Get the App

 

MY AMERICAN FARM

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