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A souper bowl of chili

Get a winning recipe for chili, just in time for the Super Bowl.
If it's Super Bowl time (and it is on Sunday, Feb. 1, when the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots clash for the National Football League championship), it's also time for a "Souper Bowl."

A souper bowl of chili, that is.

Question is, which recipe to prepare? Well, the Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program to the rescue.

Every year the Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day includes a Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff. Teams sign up, prepare their chili in advance, and transport it in a crockpot or slow cooker to the venue (this year it was the C. A. Jacobs Middle School in Dixon). They field questions from the judges, who sample it, score it and select the winning team.

This year's winner was a pepper-loving  team that used four different kinds of peppers and the secret ingredient — love.

The group, all members of the Dixon Ridge 4-H Club and enrolled in the countywide Outdoor Cooking Project, chose Pasilla, Serrano, Anaheim and green bell peppers and also displayed "specimens" in front of their crockpot.

Team members Quincy and Fallon Decious and Shaley and Braydon Gish said they plan to make the chili for their families on Super Bowl Sunday. “It's really good,” they all agreed. 

While preparing the peppers, they said they wore “doctor gloves” to prevent the potent pepper oils from reaching their skin. 

The judges praised the flavor and texture, the display and their enthusiasm. Judges were Cutter Hicks, reporter with the Dixon Tribune; Jim  Nessen of Dixon, who works for a data company in Sacramento, and Kathy Keatley Garvey, a University of California, Davis employee and a longtime 4-H volunteer and food columnist. 

Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H Program representative, said the cookoff competition teaches the participants public speaking as well as cooking and presentation skills.

“Public speaking has been a cornerstone of the 4-H Youth Development Program,” she said. “Public speaking skills are ranked No. 1 among the skill sets of professionals.” Youths participating in the Project Skills Day “develop many life skills, including public speaking, organizing ideas, and creating and using graphics, resulting in increased self-esteem and confidence.” 

Four teams competed in the annual cookoff. Others were:

  • Los Chileros, Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, comprised of Gracie O'Dell, Randy Marley and Justin Means
  • Chuck and the Three Frijolitos of Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, comprised of -Anna and Charlotte Kent and Sheridan Parks
  • The Chili Dogs, Suisun Valley 4-H Club, comprised of Xavier Copeland, Christopher Lang, and Robert and Clairese Wright.

The Los Chileros used both pork and beef and fire-roasted peppers. Another addition was corn, for a southwestern-style chili.

Chuck and the Three Frijolitos' recipe opted for beef stew meat and three different kinds of beans: pinto, black and kidney.

The Chili Dogs' key ingredients were hot dogs and carrots. Each wore a t-shirt with an image and name of their family dog. They made biscuit-shaped rolls to accompany their chili.

The winning recipe:
Outdoor Cooking Project
By Fallon and Quincy Decious, and Brayden and Shaley Gish
Dixon Ridge 4-H Club, Countywide Outdoor Cooking Project  

2 pounds of pork shoulder, cut in 1/2-inch chunks
2 pounds ground beef
Olive oil (as needed to brown meat)
2 cans of tomatoes, chopped or diced
2 cans of beans, one kidney and one pinto, drained
2 Pasilla peppers
2 Serrano peppers
2 Anaheim peppers
2 green bell peppers
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
Water, approximately 1 cup
Cornstarch
Seasonings to taste: Beef boullion, chili powder, ground cumin, garlic salt, black pepper, paprika

In a large stock pot, brown pork in the olive oil. Add the ground beef and continue cooking over high heat until beef is browned, about 30 minutes. Add the water and seasons. Cook an additional 30 minutes. Add tomatoes and beans. Turn down beef and simmer for 30 minutes. While mixture is simmering, coarsely chop onions and peppers and finely copped garlic. Add these to the pot and continue cooking until pork is tender, about another 30 to 45 minutes. Check flavor and add seasonings to taste. If needed, thicken chili with cornstarch.

Here's another recipe to try that the judges favored for the flavor:

Los Chileros
By Randy Marley, Justin Means and Gracie O'Dell
Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville

Three 15-ounce cans of tomatoes
One 15-ounce can of corn
One 15-ounce can of black beans
One 15-ounce can of kidney beans
One six-ounce can of tomato paste
2 green bell peppers
2 Pasilla peppers
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, depending on taste
2 Anaheim peppers
2 onions
1 to 4 stems of cilantro
3 pounds steak
A half pound of pork sausage
2 tablespoons chicken stock powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon garlic
4-ounce package of chili spices
Salt and pepper to taste

The ingredients "can be adjusted to suit your taste," they said.

Brown meat in a skillet and then put in crock pot. Cut vegetables and add to crock pot. Add spices and canned tomatoes and paste. Cook on high for six hours. Add the corn and beans the last 30 to 45 minutes.  

The winning chili team at the 2015 Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff is this group of Dixon Ridge 4-H Club members who are enrolled in the countywide Outdoor Cooking Project. From left are Quincy Decious, Fallon Decious, Shayley Gish and Braydon Gish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The winning chili team at the 2015 Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff is this group of Dixon Ridge 4-H Club members who are enrolled in the countywide Outdoor Cooking Project. From left are Quincy Decious, Fallon Decious, Shayley Gish and Braydon Gish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The winning chili team at the 2015 Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff is this group of Dixon Ridge 4-H Club members who are enrolled in the countywide Outdoor Cooking Project. From left are Quincy Decious, Fallon Decious, Shayley Gish and Braydon Gish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Los Chilerios team from Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, made a very good chili at the Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, the judges agreed. From left are Justin Means, Randy Marley and Gracie O’Dell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Los Chilerios team from Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, made a very good chili at the Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, the judges agreed. From left are Justin Means, Randy Marley and Gracie O’Dell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Los Chilerios team from Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, made a very good chili at the Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, the judges agreed. From left are Justin Means, Randy Marley and Gracie O’Dell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 3:05 PM

UCCE advisor's new book featured in San Francisco Book Review

Valley of Fire
UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Rachael Freeman Long wove her scientific knowledge into a book series for children, reported the San Francisco Book Review in conjunction with the release of the second book in the trilogy. Valley of Fire details protagonist Jack's adventures in the Black Rock Desert with his animal friends, Sonny the coyote and Pinta the bat.

The Book Review's Susan Roberts conducted an interview with Long, exploring her inspiration for the series, writing challenges, research and more.

Long said her young son inspired her to create the characters in the book. During long drives, she would tell him stories.

"After 12 years of storytelling, I had this collection of unique adventures," Long said.

One of the challenges she encountered was turning off her bent for science and letting creativity flow.

"I'm a science writer and facts come easy for me, but describing what feeling sad or happy looks like takes work," Long said. "I love my creativity in figuring out the plotting, but writing in all the descriptive details is still challenging."

During the interview, Long told the SF Book Review about a research project she conducted in her UC Cooperative Extension work to determine what bats eat at night and their value to farmers. She and her staff collected guano, which revealed which insects they were eating.

"One farmer has a 300-acre walnut orchard and he estimates he has bout 15,000 bats," Long said. "The study we worked on showed each bat provided $6 of pest control services. The farmer received about $90,000 worth of services."

Long's book is available in paperback and digital download on the Tate Publishing website and in Kindle edition on Amazon.com.

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 10:21 AM

Fast and easy rangeland monitoring using repeat photography

Pictures of smaller plots record vegetation and soil surface detail changes.
Larger views provide information about landscape level changes.

Statements such as: "This year is the best (or worst) grass year of my adult life" or "We started seeing this weed on our property about 10 years ago and now it is all over" are commonly used to describe rangeland condition. Although such statements are most likely correct, what is lacking in most cases is rangeland monitoring data to support these statements.

What is rangeland monitoring? Rangeland monitoring is observing, collecting and analyzing data to document change over time and how these changes may relate to management and environmental factors such as climate and soil.

Landowners need monitoring programs to detect:

  • Rangeland improvement so they know to continue the good management
  • Negative changes in order to take corrective measures
  • Weed infestation in order to start weed control
  • Effects of an extreme event, e.g. drought.

Although most ranchers and rangeland scientists agree that rangeland monitoring data is critical for landowners to make informed management decisions and to better understand rangeland ecosystems, the problem is that most monitoring protocols can be time consuming and data too complex to analyze and interpret. This is especially true for rangeland managers and landowners who are busy with all the day-to-day land, animal and infrastructure management. As a result most find it difficult to add consistent rangeland monitoring to their schedules.

However, repeat photography, which is a simple and fast monitoring method that produces easy to interpret information, can be the answer. Although repeat photography does not provide detailed information, it can show changes in plant growth, plant cover, species composition, residual biomass, litter and vegetation structure.

Establishing a good repeat photo monitoring protocol involves selecting the right 1) site to take photos, 2) plot size (small plot to landscape view), 3) timing (what season) and 4) frequency (how often) to take photos, based on the goals. When monitoring for trends at management unit level, it is best to select a site that is representative of a largest part of the management unit.

For more information, see the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources guideline for using photographs to monitor rangeland, Photo-Monitoring for Better Land Planning and Assessment.

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Sustainable food systems depend on healthy plants

Discolored leaves. Decaying roots. Dead wood. Mother Nature offers a fascinating and colorful backdrop of clues to track microscopic killers. Much like any medical mystery, experts are called in to diagnose or identify a disease from its symptoms and recommend management strategies to prevent further damage or loss of healthy plants.

In the world of crop science mysteries, plant pathology solves the crime. The usual suspects include bacteria, fungi and viruses.

An example of fire blight bacterium on an apple.

Humans and animals depend on plants for their food supply and ultimately for their survival. When diseases threaten crops, a high-quality, affordable food supply is placed at risk. For growers, plant diseases can reduce crop yields. For consumers, reduced crop yields can drive higher food prices. Plant pathology research holds enormous implications for a sustainable food supply.

Florent Trouillas, who was named UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis and the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center last year, explains the bottom line of most concern to growers.

"Once we identify a disease causal agent, a main question remains from growers. What growers really want to know is how to control the disease and prevent its spread to new healthy plants; they look to the University of California for solutions," Trouillas said.

A crisis in the food production system can impact other areas of society as well. In fact, history is filled with examples of how plant diseases influenced economies, environments and human societies.

Irish potato farmers faced starvation after a fungus attacked their crops.
Trouillas cites one of the most well-known examples in plant pathology: the Great Famine. Millions of Irish immigrants relocated to the United States in the mid-1800s after a terrible potato blight led to widespread starvation in Ireland. Experiments conducted in 1861 by Anton deBary, considered to be one of the founding fathers of plant pathology, proved the blight was caused by a fungus, which we now know is an oomycete. This plant disease had a direct impact on the Irish society with a subsequent Irish immigration wave into America.

Another historical illustration of plant pathology research occurred in the 1920s. The most common trees in the forests of the United States at the turn of the century were the majestic American chestnuts. The trees generated income for humans and the timber industry, served as a food source for people and animals, and provided habitat for wildlife. Then the trees started dying, until by the late 1920s, they had become the first tree in modern times on the brink of extinction. Plant pathologists were particularly adept at identifying plant diseases by this time and diagnosed the Cryphonectria parasitica fungus as the cause of the chestnut blight. By preventing the extinction of the pivotal species, plant pathology had a direct impact on the economy and the environment.

More recent major plant disease outbreaks in the United States involving plant pathology research have included Sudden Oak Death with devastating effects in California and Oregon forests, pitch canker killing California native pine species, and citrus canker in Florida, which has had a huge economic impact on the industry.

Veterinarians treat diseases in animals, physicians in humans. Trouillas describes the role of plant pathologists in similar terms. “We study the pathology of plant systems. Plant pathologists treat plants," he said.

Healthy plants ensure a sustainable food source and habitat for so many other organisms, including the human species.

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 9:25 AM

Mike Janes to head UC Agriculture and Natural Resources strategic communications

Mike Janes
Mike Janes, the public relations and communications officer at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, will become the strategic communications director for the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources on Feb. 2, reported Jeb Bing in the Pleasanton Weekly.

The article said Janes represented Sandia to the media for nearly 13 years. According to the Sandia website, the company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, is a science and engineering laboratory for national security and technology innovation.

In his new position, Janes will report directly to UC ANR vice president Barbara Allen-Diaz and will be responsible for overseeing a variety of functional communications areas. The article notes that the ANR division is located in Davis, but is not a part of UC Davis.

"It's been an honor and a pleasure working here at Sandia," Janes is quoted. "Though it's a cliché to say it's 'all about the people', it's really true in this case. I'll miss the people and the mission of Sandia but know the lab will continue to do important work in the national interest."

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 8:47 AM

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