Archive for August, 2013

What to Eat Wednesday: Taco Shells

The mom of one of my high school friends actually made up this recipe and won a contest in a magazine. It’s become one of our favorite meals. It takes a little time, but the end result is worth it!

You will need:

2 lb. ground beef (or ground pork or ground turkey)Ingredients

1 box jumbo pasta shells

1 jar salsa

1 jar taco sauce

8 oz. cream cheese

2 envelopes taco seasoning

1 pkg. shredded cheese (I like cheddar or Mexican blend)

Tortilla chips


Heat oven to 350°.

Cook ground beef until no longer pink; drain the fat. I usually cook mine in the microwave in my Tupperware Stack Cooker – the colander insert drains the fat perfectly. My mom found mine on a garage sale, it’s the older model. I also have to give a shout out to my Pampered Chef Mix ‘N Chop. I use it almost every single day, it is the best thing for breaking up ground meat for cooking. (I don’t sell either one of these products, and I wasn’t compensated to mention them – I just really, really like them!)

While you’re cooking the meat, cook the pasta shells in boiling water. I think the original recipe calls for 24, but I usually use the whole box (around 30-32). Drain and rinse, and toss with a little melted butter if you like.

Grease the bottom of a large casserole dish. Pour in the jar of salsa and spread it around evenly.

After the meat is cooked, add the taco seasoning and water as directed on the package. Stir together and let simmer for a few minutes.

Add the cream cheese (I usually cut it into chunks so it melts faster) and stir until melted.

Your meat mixture should turn out something like this:

The original recipe calls for the meat mixture to be placed in the refrigerator for an hour to cool down, to make it easier to handle. I never think that far ahead. You can stuff the shells when the mixture is warm just as easily! Put a spoonful or two in each shell.

Place the shells in the pan on top of the salsa.

When the pan is full, pour the taco sauce over the top.

Cover the casserole and bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly.

Remove from the oven and top with crushed tortilla chips, as many as you like.

Cover the chips with shredded cheese. Put back in the oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Here’s how it looks in the pan:

And on the plate! It’s not the most photogenic dish, but it’s very tasty! Serve with a side of sour cream, if you like.

You can stuff the shells and freeze them ahead of time. When you’re ready to cook them, just take the shells out of the freezer, and add the salsa, taco sauce, and toppings as directed.

Happy eating!


Whatever Happened to Agreeing to Disagree?

Today my family went to the Illinois State Fair. I hadn’t been there in several years, so it was fun to go back and see what had changed, and what hadn’t. One of my favorite things about the fair – the butter cow – was of course on my “must see” list.

The 2013 Illinois Butter Cow. She also had some butter friends - frogs, butterflies, and possums!

The 2013 Illinois Butter Cow. She also had some butter friends – frogs, butterflies, and possums!

So when I heard about the vandalism to Iowa’s butter cow earlier this week (I don’t want to post a link to the story because I don’t want the vandals to get any more attention than they’ve already received), I was upset. Upset that someone thought the best way to share their message was to break several laws to make a point. Upset because agriculture, which I am so passionate about, was once again being targeted . But most of all, I was upset because this is just one more example of how we can no longer seem to agree to disagree.

Opinions are important, and they are valid. I certainly have my own opinions on many topics that I will defend vehemently. But there comes a point, in most cases, where in order to preserve a relationship it’s vital to take a step back and look at things from the other person’s perspective, and maybe, just maybe, find a little common ground and agree to disagree on the rest.

So many aspects of food production – organic vs. conventional, free range vs. traditional animal housing, “factory farms” vs. family farms – have caused people to take up sides, and sometimes leads to extreme behavior as seen in Iowa. With the experiences I’ve had in my life, I often take for granted what I know about how our food is produced in this country, and sometimes forget that others don’t have that background to filter what they hear on television or read online through.

We all have the right to make choices when it comes to what we eat. When someone has a different opinion on what’s for lunch, that doesn’t make them wrong and me right. It just makes us different. I have friends who make very different food choices than I do, for various reasons that I don’t always agree with, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.

Before we resort to finger pointing, name calling, and worse, let’s try respectfully listening to each other, REALLY listening. Programs like Illinois Farm Families start by finding out what people want to know about the way their food is produced and sharing information in a way that speaks to their specific concerns. Even though that may not completely change people’s minds, at least it opens the door for more dialogue and builds a relationship.

After all, everyone has one thing in common – we all need to eat.

Thankful Tuesday: Give it Away

Last weekend, I had the privilege to help with our church’s 10th annual Giveaway Day. It’s exactly as the name suggests: we accept donations of household items, clothing, and school supplies, and turn our parking lot into a free garage sale on the first Saturday in August.

This year, we had gorgeous weather and a great crowd. And the stuff! I don’t know where it all comes from, but we never seem to have less than the year before. We should all be living in empty houses with the amount of good, useable items brought in each year.

Just a couple of the many tables of items!

Just a couple of the many tables of items!

And even as I’m amazed at the generosity of my fellow church members and others from the community, I’m also amazed at the people we’re able to help. It never fails that there are people each year who are extremely grateful for the things they are able to take home. Hearing their “thank you” makes getting up at sunrise that morning worth it!

James 2:14-17 says: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

I’m so very thankful that my church family is made up of people who are living their faith daily by the good works they seek to do.

The clothing tent was overflowing as usual!

The clothing tent was overflowing as usual!

And if you need something – anything – stop by on August 2, 2014. Chances are, we just might have it!

Farm Friday: Aerial Applicators

So I’ve been tossing the idea for this blog around in my head for a few months, and finally decided I just needed to jump right in.

And with that, I’m writing my first post on something I’ve seen a lot of lately: aerial applicators. Some may call them crop dusters. The little yellow airplanes flying over cornfields, piloted by people who have a lot more guts than I ever will.


It fascinates me to watch these planes do their work. Flying low over the fields, then rising up quickly to loop around and back down again. I’m not the only one… the guy driving the SUV at 40 mph in front of me on my way home from work today was a little distracted watching them, too.

The last few days the planes have been out in full force here in central Illinois, applying fungicide. A couple years ago, I was able to write a story for my day job about some of the new technology used in aerial application. GPS maps that show exact field boundaries and prescribed treatments, instant electronic notification of field completion, and the ability to schedule fields for application up to a year in advance have all made this a economic option. Plus, when fungicide is most beneficial for corn (at VT stage – when the corn is tasseled), it’s normally much too tall to move through with other application equipment.

According to the National Agricultural Aviation Association, just under 20 percent of all crop protection products in the United States are applied by airplane, covering 71 million acres (just over 17 percent). Most crops can and have been treated by aerial application, but the most common are corn, wheat, soybeans, pastureland, and alfalfa.

So the next time you see one of those little yellow planes doing their acrobatic work, give a wave of thanks for the crucial role they play in producing our crops! And be thankful your workplace is a little more roomy than this:

Inside the cockpit of an aerial applicator. Not much wiggle room!

Inside the cockpit of an aerial applicator. Not much wiggle room!

~ FarmWife04