Monday, April 16, 2012

Reaching the masses while breaking bread together.

I just got back from a "Chrysalis" retreat. I got to serve as prayer chapel coordinator on the team of women that lead the retreat for teenaged girls. Chrysalis is a non-denominational, worldwide Christian organization that uses retreats, small groups, and gatherings to help youth grow in their Christian faith. Our local Chrysalis community is called the Delmarva Chrysalis & Walk to Emmaus Community. A couple times a year, the community holds retreats at Camp Pecometh, a local United Methodist camp facility. Much of the property is surrounded by farm fields. Adjacent to the bunkhouses where we were staying were green fields of winter wheat. At this stage, the wheat looks like a lush, green, soft carpet across the field.

While sharing three meals a day with about 30 high school and college aged girls, I heard some pretty interesting conversations. But one conversation that kept repeating itself at various meals was: "What was that field of grass growing across from the bunkhouse and why hadn't anyone mowed it since it was getting pretty tall?"

Being the farm advocate that I am, I took the opportunity to explain to those eating at my table that the crop was in fact wheat. That wheat was in many of the food items the kitchen crew was serving us throughout the weekend such as the french toast we had for breakfast, the pasta salad we had for lunch, the lasagna we had for dinner, and particularly the bread we broke for communion. I explained that the wheat had been planted last fall, it had germinated and then stopped growing when the cold weather of winter came (however limited that was this year). Now that the days had turned warm, the wheat was growing and would be producing heads full of seeds very soon. Once the wheat seeds were ripe, the wheat would be harvested in July, possibly June since the season is so early this year.

One girl commented that she was surprised how "scratchy" the wheat was when she went to lay down in it! It looks lush and soft, but has a stiff stalk to support the entire plant and the ripening of the wheat seed. She was surprised when I told her that wheat stalk was what made straw for animal bedding and while it wasn't that big of a deal to walk around the field out of curiosity, all 30 of them on the retreat should not do so or it would do a lot of damage. Sort of like a herd of cattle getting loose and trampling it. It just wouldn't be a good thing. "That crop after all, I said, will be a farmer's income."

"Wow, they didn't know that...", was the response. Amazing but not surprising. People appreciate the beauty that agriculture provides to the landscape but don't consider that the crops grown are the income of a farm family for the entire year.  

Although the weekend had many more signficant highlights for me than this wheat field, it really did dawn on me how much we farmers need to do to teach people about their food and how it is produced. These were not "city" girls but girls from the local Delmarva region, much of which is still very rural. But just because people live in rural areas, does not mean they know or understand agriculture. And although our dinner conversations went onto much more significant topics about faith, I do know that the opportunity to teach about agriculture can be at hand any time, any place.

Who knows besides the seeds of faith that were planted on this Chrysalis girls weekend, I planted a few seeds of agricultural knowledge with the girls I broke bread with. What better way to share knowledge about farming than by breaking bread, made from wheat, with teenagers blessed by God's creation on a Chrysalis retreat?

On that note, I thought I would include a recipe for the first time in my blog. Its a recipe that uses wheat products so I figured that fit well with the topic. I received the recipe from the U.S. Wheat Foods Council, to which I have been newly appointed as a representative of the Maryland Grain Producers Association.  They called the recipe "Devilish Chicken", but since I just wrote about going on a spiritual retreat, I'm changing the name to "Angelically Delish Chicken!"   

 The “secret” ingredient is the seasoned croutons, which are mixed with sautéed onion, garlic, bacon and low-sodium chicken broth, then tucked into a pocket in the chicken breast and baked to a tender perfection.  The recipe calls for pre-made croutons for ease of preparation but feel free to substitute homemade if desired. This recipe can dress up or down – from a special occasion, to a healthy and easy week night meal.  Pair it with a crisp salad and some grilled asparagus and savor the flavor!

Serves 6

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, divided into 6 halves
3 cups seasoned croutons (1 5-ounce bag), divided
4 strips bacon, diced
½ medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces fresh or canned mushrooms (white, wild, or mixed), diced
2 cups low sodium chicken broth, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Set a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat and add the bacon, onion and garlic. Cook until the bacon is crispy and the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Break 1 ½ cups croutons into smaller pieces and stir them into the mushroom mixture. Add 1 ½ cups broth, fold it in and remove from stove. Season generously with pepper.

Crush the remaining 1 ½ cups croutons into crumbs in the food processor or blender, or by putting them into a zipper-seal bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.

Cut a wide slit crosswise in the side of each chicken breast to make a big pocket, being careful not to slice the breasts in half. Divide the crouton mixture among the chicken breasts, pushing it into the pockets.

Brush the chicken breasts with mustard. Set the chicken breasts in the (unwashed) skillet and sprinkle them with the crumbs. Roast in the oven for 16-18 minutes (depending on thickness), until they are cooked through.

Set each of the chicken breasts on a plate. Add the remaining ½ cup chicken broth and the butter to the skillet. Warm over medium heat, stirring. Spoon a little of the pan mixture around each chicken breast, sprinkle with chopped parsley, if using, and serve.



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