Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ladies Night Out in the Field

As a busy Mom of four I'm always looking for a good excuse for a Ladies Night Out, and that was part of the inspiration behind CommonGround Iowa's inaugural Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field.

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy
I am a volunteer with the national CommonGround program, which brings together women farmers from across the United States, to share about the food we grow and how we produce it.  Our goal is to have conversations to help consumers sort through the myths and misinformation surrounding food and farming.  There are twelve volunteers in the state of Iowa.  Last year after harvest we got together and decided we wanted to create an event where we could foster relationships with other women in Iowa and talk about food, farming and family.  One of our volunteers, Kellie Blair, volunteered to host the event, and from there the event that brought together 40 women from Central Iowa (and four men - all with the last name Blair and our photographer 😉) got its roots.

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family
Our host Kellie Blair and one of the Blair men 😉
welcoming guests to their family's farm
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy
The evening started off with appetizers and small chat over wine.  It was great to meet a wide variety of women - teachers, legislators, marketing professionals, business owners, pastors, etc.

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family
Des Moines Moms Blog Co-Owners Andrea Cooley and Kara Knaack
having a conversation with CommonGround Volunteer Sara Ross and myself
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy
After everyone arrived and had their fill of appetizers, Kellie welcomed everyone to their corn, soybean, pig and cattle farm.  Kellie and her husband AJ took the group around to checkout some of their equipment and cattle, as well as answer questions about some of their farming practices and technologies used.

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family
AJ sharing about their beef cattle calving season,
while many got their perfect cow photo and cow selfies
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy
Then it was time for supper to be served.  The menu included amazing smoked beef tri tip, roasted pork tenderloin, marinated garden vegetables with edamame, and dauphinoise potatoes.  I have to specifically name the menu because it was delicious and perfect for a ladies night out!

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy
Following supper there was a short program which included AE Dairy President & CEO Miriam Erickson Brown.  It was great to catch up with both her and AE Dairy Director of Marketing Kim Peter that evening, and for Miriam to share the AE Dairy story with all of the attendees.  AE Dairy has made changes over the decades to reflect trends but one thing remains the same, their passion for quality and that starts with the cows on the Iowa dairy farms they source their milk from.  I also loved that she shared about being a third generation family business owner.

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family, Miriam Erickson Brown keynote speaker
Miriam Erickson Brown, President & CEO of AE Dairy
sharing with the women about her family's dairy business
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy
But you want to know what my favorite part of the evening was???  It was the dessert!  And not just because the warm apple crisp and vanilla ice cream were once again delicious; it was because of the conversations held sitting at the tables or standing in line to get more ice cream.  After a couple hours of dinning and hearing about all of the volunteers' farms, the women in attendance had lots of questions and were interested in learning more.  Our intimate setting was the perfect spot for everyone to feel comfortable to ask any question and have discussions about food and farming.  There were so many connections made that evening.

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family
Blair Farm
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy
Thank you to Kellie and AJ for being our gracious hosts.  You both were great at sharing about your farm with everyone.  Thanks to my fellow CommonGround Iowa volunteers for working on everything from the invite list, to bringing flowers from their personal gardens to use as table decorations.  Thank you to our CommonGround staff for making arrangements for things like a tent, tables and chairs, and for taking our ideas and transforming them into something tangible.  And lastly, thanks to all of the women who shared their Friday night with us.  I hope you had a great Ladies Night Out and I can't wait for the 2nd Annual event next year!

Have you ever been to a Ladies Night Out on a farm?  Have you ever been to a Banquet in a Field?  Share about your experiences in the comments section.  And if you haven't been to an event like this and would like to, let me know that as well!  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

CommonGround Iowa's Ladies Night Out: Banquet in the Field, bring women together to talk food, farming and family

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Steak Skillet Supper #foodbloggers4tx

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas at the end of August it was almost overwhelming to know how to help or where to start.  I had empathy for everyone that was in the storm's destructive path.  And I wasn't the only one.  Soon a group of food bloggers that I work with regularly and I started talking and brainstorming what we could do to help and bring awareness to the relief needs and efforts.  We decided to all come together by creating Texas inspired recipes and sharing them today.

When I think Texas, I think beef - afterall, Texas raises the most cattle in the United States.  There were so many ranchers that we affected by Hurricane Harvey.  In fact, the counties that sustained damage from the hurricane were home to 1.2 million cattle.  Ranchers worked tirelessly to drive the cattle to higher ground but they couldn't get to them all immediately.  They are still working day in and day out to move cattle, but despite their resilience, Texas agriculture officials fear thousands of cattle have died in the aftermath of Harvey.

So to support those ranchers and share their pride in Texas and their ranches, I decided to make a Steak Skillet Supper for Two.  Break out your cast iron and get ready for a delicious, simple and quick meal for two.

Steak Skillet Supper - great for date night or a quick weeknight meal #foodbloggers4tx

Steak Skillet Supper for Two

2 - Steaks of your choice (I used T-Bones since I thought they represented Texas well and I had some in my deep freezer)
Garlic Salt 
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 heaping cups Zucchini, sliced in 1/2 inch circles and quartered
1 Onion, sliced
1 Green Pepper, sliced and cut in half
1 Jalapeno Pepper, sliced and cut in fourths
8 oz Whole Button Mushrooms, sliced in half

Season your steaks with garlic salt and pepper and let sit out at room temperature while you get the cast iron skillet ready.  Warm up the skillet over medium-high heat, then add the butter and oil.  Once the butter has melted add the steaks.  Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side depending on the thickness of your steak and your preference for doneness.  I prefer my steaks medium rare so I aim for an internal temperature of 130°.

After steaks are cooked, take out of the skillet and let rest on plate.  Turn down heat on skillet to medium and start adding your vegetables.  Saute the zucchini, onion, peppers and mushrooms for 8-10 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender.  Add your steaks back to the skillet and serve.

Steak Skillet Supper - great for date night or a quick weeknight meal #foodbloggers4tx

Usually I feel like steak should be paired with some good, hearty potatoes, but you won't miss them with this vegetable medley.  The combination of flavors from the onion and peppers, along with the generous portion of zuchinni and mushrooms will fill that spot.  My favorite parts of this skillet supper are probably that you only use one pan and that you can make it in 20 minutes.

Food Bloggers for Texas Hurricane Harvey Relief - a collection of recipes and resources on how you can help with relief efforts #foodblogger4TX

Now, how you can help!  First, there are several organizations that are needing everyone's help in order to take care of ongoing relief needs.  I have chose to support the Houston Food Pantry this month through Comments for a Cause, but any of these organizations would be great:

Second, you can join me and the over 30 other bloggers today by sharing your favorite Texas inspired recipes, along with links to relief organizations:

Please consider donating today and remember to Comment for a Cause!  Also be sure to check in next Thursday, September 21st as we share Florida inspired recipes to bring awareness to Hurricane Irma Relief.
Steak Skillet Supper - great for date night or a quick weeknight meal #foodbloggers4tx

Friday, September 1, 2017

Comments for a Cause - Houston Food Bank

Comments for a Cause - Houston Food Bank
Happy September 1st!  As Labor Day Weekend starts it is time to unofficially say good-bye to summer and get ready for fall.  And I have to admit, that kind of makes me happy!  Fall is my favorite season.  I love harvest time, tailgating, college football, excuses to eat fall foods, everything apple and everything pumpkin!

But before I get ahead of myself with celebrating fall, let's recap last month's Comments for a Cause efforts for the CAL School Supply Closet.  Last month I had 73 comments, creating a $36.50 donation to help families in my local community get ready and prepared for school.

In the month of September I'm proud to be supporting the Houston Food Bank.  I will donate $0.50 for every comment made on my blog to help with their Harvey Disaster Relief.

Comments for a Cause - Houston Food Bank

My heart is with everyone in Texas and Louisiana that was hit by Hurricane Harvey.  It is almost overwhelming to know how to help or where to start.  After seeing photos of ranchers moving cattle to higher ground through flooded plains in Southeast Texas and families being rescued by boat out of their homes in Houston, the one thing I knew tied everyone together and that was going to be affected greatly was food.  After doing some research I decided the best location to send money would be the Houston Food Bank.

The Houston Food Bank has set up a Harvey Disaster Relief program that is helping people in the greater Houston area affected by the flooding.  There is both a short term need, as they provide food and supplies to those distressed, and a long term need, as they will continue to help residents as they rebuild their lives.

So help me, help those in need after Hurricane Harvey and comment all month long to support the Houston Food Bank.  In addition to this month's Comments for a Cause, I am joining up with other food bloggers on September 12th to not only share recipes that celebrate Texas, but also to highlight how you can help, including donating to the Houston Food Bank and other reputable charities.  If you are a food blogger and are interested in participating in the #foodbloggers4tx outreach effort contact me and I'll get you lined up!

What are some other relief efforts you are aware of for those affected by Hurricane Harvey?  Remember to comment all month long and thank you for your continued support of Comments for a Cause.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Omaha Weekend Family Guide

If you've been following my blog and Facebook the last couple of weeks you know that my family and I went on a vacation to Omaha, Nebraska earlier this month.  So far on the blog I've highlighted a few places we went to, but that doesn't include everything.  So here are our recommendations on how to plan an Omaha Weekend Family Getaway.

Day 1

Omaha Children's Museum

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Omaha Children's Museum

The Omaha Children's Museum is a perfect way to start your family's Omaha Weekend.  Kids can explore, create and learn while venturing through the two levels of exhibits.  Be sure to check out the Super Gravitron Ball Machine and the Imagination Playground while you are there!  With activities for all ages, your family is guaranteed to have several hours of fun there.  Learn more about our visit here.

Watch a Baseball Game

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Go to a Baseball Game, Omaha Storm Chasers

Omaha is the perfect place to go to a baseball game.  Omaha is home to the minor league team, the Omaha Storm Chasers and is home to the College World Series.  When we were visiting earlier this month the Storm Chasers were in town and were actually playing the Iowa Cubs.  So we rooted for both teams 😉  We had a great time sitting in the McDonald's Berm section of Werner Park, and the night we went they had a special where the first 50 kids in the Berm got in for $1!  You can't beat that!  If you plan on sitting in the Berm (the lawn area behind the outfield) be sure to bring a blanket or two the watch the game, and if you are lucky like we were, fireworks afterwards!

Day 2

Durham Museum

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Durham Museum

Start Day 2 off with a stop at the Durham Museum.  This museum includes two levels of exhibits that will have you go back in time and discover the beginnings of Omaha, housed in the original Omaha Union Station.  From Native Americans, to trains, to Omaha native Warren Buffet - there is something unique to check out around every corner.  I will admit, my family and I enjoyed the Durham Museum more than I thought we were going go to.  They had a lot of interactive exhibits that the whole family enjoyed, and we all were in awe of how they restored the Great Hall of the Union Station.  Learn more about our visit here.

Old Market

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Old Market, Ted & Wally's Ice Cream

Then go next door, and walk the cobblestone streets of the Old Market area.  This historic business district is full of unique dinning and shopping locations, including Ted & Wally's Ice Cream as seen above.  Ted & Wally's eclectic decor and ice cream flavors is worth the stop to see and taste.  If you look in the bottom right side of the photo you can see two large ice cream makers that they make all of their homemade ice cream in.  I had the Roasted Street Corn ice cream when I was there and loved the creamy, unique flavor.

Gene Leahy Mall

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Gene Leahy Mall, Giant Slides

On the North side of Old Market is the Gene Leahy Mall.  This park includes waterfalls, unique outdoor art, and two giant slides.  Our family enjoyed walking along the pathway throughout the park that encompasses four blocks, and we all took a trip down the pair of huge slides, many, many times. 😊

Heartland of America Park

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Heartland of America Park

Continuing exploring this side of Omaha by then traveling East to Heartland of America Park.  We found a picnic table while we were here to have lunch on and enjoyed watching the 320 foot water fountain (that you can see behind us in the photo).  If you go in the evening they put on a light show in the water fountain!

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Bob Bridge

Lastly, head North to the Bob Bridge.  This pedestrian bridge links Omaha and Council Bluffs.  Be sure to take your photo standing in both Nebraska and Iowa while you visit!  The Bob is a curvy bridge representing the Missouri River, which it is over.  Our family enjoyed going "Bobbing" and earning our .9K badge.

Day 3

Henry Doorly Zoo

Omaha Weekend Family Guide - Henry Doorly Zoo

Because you can't see all of Omaha in just two days, make it a long weekend and dedicate an entire day visiting the "World's Best Zoo", the Henry Doorly Zoo.  With over 17,000 animals from around the world over 130 acres, you are guaranteed to see something new and exciting for every member of your family.  And there is a chance that even with one full day at the Zoo that you won't be able to see it all!  With both indoor and outdoor exhibits, the Zoo is the perfect place to visit anytime of the year.  Check out the highlights from our visit here.

We thought Omaha was a fun place for the whole family and that it was very family friendly.  Have you ever been to Omaha before?  What would you add?  What spot on our Weekend Family Guide makes you want to plan a trip to Omaha?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Make your #OmahaWeekend plans for your Family with this 3 Day Guide

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Back to School Ranch Party Snack Mix

It is official - school has begun for our family!  This year Mr. K is in 1st grade and Miss A is in PreK.  Both kids were very excited for today and I'm so proud to see both of them growing up to be such caring, independent, creative, young kids.  To celebrate this special day, we started off the morning with our traditional celebratory waffles and for after-school I made a batch of my Ranch Party Snack Mix with some of their favorite mix-ins.

1st day of school - Back to School Ranch Party Snack Mix

1st day of school - Back to School Ranch Party Snack Mix

How lucky am I?!  A super hero and a mommy.  (Mr. K did clarify for me that he could still be a farmer too but that he would be a super hero first.) Sounds good to me 😉

Now onto the Ranch Party Snack Mix.  The kids helped me create this specific mix and we do variations of it throughout the year.  We actually love making snack mixes together as you can see here, and here, and here.

This snack mix is perfect for the whole family as it combines the ranch flavor with favorite snacks such as Bugles, Goldfish and popcorn.  The popcorn is all for my kids.  They love popcorn and could eat popcorn everyday if I let them.  Now, My Farmer prefers this mix with puffcorn instead but since it was for the kids after-school snack we stuck with regular popcorn.

Ranch Party Snack Mix - family friendly snack for all ages for your next party, tailgate, holiday or back to school celebration

Ranch Party Snack Mix

8 cups microwave popcorn, butter flavored, popped (you can just eat what is left in the bag while putting together the mix 😉)
2 cups Bugles, original
1 cup Dot's Homestyle Pretzels (Now usually I don't get too much into brands but if you haven't had Dot's Pretzels yet then you are missing out!  And I'm not paid by Dot's to say that - they are that good!)
1 cup Goldfish, cheddar
1 cup Ritz-Bits, cheese cracker sandwiches
1/2 cup butter
4 tsp. Ranch seasoning mix (1/2 of a 1 oz packet)

In a small bowl melt the butter in the microwave and stir in the ranch seasoning until mixed thoroughly.

Mix popcorn, Bugles, pretzels, Goldfish and Ritz-Bits in a large bowl and evenly coat with ranch butter.  Spread mixture on parchment paper lined baking sheets and bake at 300°F for 20 minutes, stirring half-way through.

Let cool 5-10 minutes and serve immediately.  Leftovers can be stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.

Ranch Party Snack Mix - family friendly snack for all ages for your next party, tailgate, holiday or back to school celebration

Do you have any special first day of school traditions?  Any special breakfasts or after-school snacks?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Ranch Party Snack Mix - family friendly snack for all ages for your next party, tailgate, holiday or back to school celebration

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

13 Back to School Breakfasts

School starts up on Thursday for our oldest two, Mr. K and Miss A, and one thing I like to do on the first day of school is make a special breakfast.  Quite often my go to dish are waffles, as they are our normal "celebration" breakfast food, but after checking out all of the great recipes linked up to the Back to School #Celebrate365 Blog Party, I'm inspired to try out one of these delicious 13 breakfast items to start off their school day on a good note.

13 Back to School Breakfasts

Peaches and Cream Overnight Oatmeal, Tip Garden
Baked Vanilla Buttermilk Donuts with Maple Glaze, Kelly Lynn's Sweets & Treats
Cherry Chip Sourdough Muffins, Cooking with Carlee
Breakfast Banana Split, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

13 Back to School Breakfasts

Breakfast Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Tip Garden
Cheesy Taco Muffins, The Pajama Chef
Six Week Muffins, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids
Low Fat Granola Bars with Bananas, Cranberries & Pecans, Best of Long Island and Central Florida
Banana Chocolate Chip Bran Muffins, Books and Cooks

13 Back to School Breakfasts

Whole Milk Yogurt Banana Custard Muffins, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids
Baked Peanut Butter Oatmeal, Savory Moments
Chewy Coconut Oil Granola Bars, The Pajama Chef
Quick Peanut Butter & Apple Breakfast Wrap, Tip Garden

13 Back to School Breakfasts

Be sure to checkout not only great back to school breakfast ideas, but other recipes for snacks and quick weeknight suppers, as well as planners, school supply tips and other ideas on how to get prepared for school by checking out the latest Celebrate 365 Blog Party.  Which breakfast looks good to you?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

13 Back to School Breakfasts to help your family to get a good start for the school day from #Celebrate365 bloggers

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Have a Wild Time at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

*I received complimentary admission to facilitate this review.  
All views and opinions shared are my own.*

A trip to Omaha isn't complete without a visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo.  With over 17,000 animals from around the world over 130 acres, it is no wonder it is the top attraction in Omaha and is also known as the "World's Best Zoo".

Have a Wild Time at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo #OmahaWeekend

After stepping through the entrance it can almost be a little overwhelming on how to start.  For our family the easiest thing to do was decide which animals we wanted to see and go from there.  First up were monkeys.

Monkeys at the Lied Jungle at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

There are several species of monkeys at the Lied Jungle, North America's largest indoor rainforest.  A one-way trail brings you through the entire exhibit that showcases animals from three continents.  Our family loved seeing all the monkeys, birds and hippos freely roaming and swinging through the rainforest.  It was a favorite location at the zoo for the entire family, especially our daughter Miss L, our monkey fan.

Have a Wild Time at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo
Miss L in amazement and awe
watching the monkeys at the Lied Jungle
The next animal on the must-see list were penguins requested by our son Mr. K, so we headed to the Scott Aquarium, the largest zoo aquarium in the country.  Our family enjoyed seeing the wide variety of fish and ocean-life, including the different species of penguins.  The highlight of the aquarium was the 70 foot shark tunnel, where you literally walked through an aquarium with fish, sea turtles and sharks swimming all-around and above you.

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo Scott Aquarium Shark Tunnel
Walking through the Shark Tunnel in the Scott Aquarium
The final animal we had to see were elephants.  We visited the African Grasslands to not only check out Miss A's request of elephants, but also to see giraffes, rhinos, and wild cats.  We also hopped on the zoo train in this area, which was the perfect way for our family to see even more places we wanted to see, as well as kick up our feet and sit down.

Elephants in the African Grasslands at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

While on the zoo train one area that the kids added to the must see list after glancing at it from the train was the Alaskan Adventure splashgrounds.  This was the perfect way to cool down at the end of the day.  I have never seen such a large splashpad before.  In the splash area is an 18 foot high humpback whale, orcas, sea lions, puffins, salmon and brown bears, all animals that the zoo doesn't currently have, but allows the kids to learn about some animals in Alaska.  Our kids had a blast.  Be sure to bring your swimsuit!

Bring your swimsuit for the Alaskan Adventure splashgrounds at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo
Mr K posing next to some puffins in the Alaskan Adventure splashgrounds
There was literally so much to see and do at the zoo that our family wasn't able to see it all in one day!  I guess that just means we'll have to make a return visit! 😉 What are your must-sees on a zoo visit?  Have you ever been to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo before?  Make sure to plan a visit and Comment for a Cause!

Also, be sure to check out my other Omaha Weekend posts:

Have a Wild Time at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo the "World's Best Zoo" - a great family vacation destination and a must for any #OmahaWeekend trip