Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's not a bomb, it's bread!

This little package is headed for a new home owner sister-in-law I happen to have who just bought her first home in Nevada. I can only imagine the scrutiny this thing will receive as it's a. a barely wrapped beer box and b. going to freakin' Las Vegas. Despite it's sketchiness, what is inside is in fact a loaf of Oatmeal Bread courtesy of me and Kim Boyce's book Good the Grain. Despite all odds, this recipe has become a weekly staple in my household excepting one week we lived through Mark Bittman's Rich Molasses Bread (he's not kidding - this is like a swamp of molasses) from How to Cook Everything.
The number of wholesome things sent to Las Vegas in dubious packages is probably quite slim, so I'm going to count my lucky stars if this arrives intact and delicious. In fact, should I get confirmation it was not a crumbly mess I'm going to immediately buy a lottery ticket and enough books of stamps to keep our postal workers employed until their salaries and pensions are raided to pay for another tax cut or war.

Digressions aside, I've come to decide that a good gift for new home owners might be a nice home baked loaf of bread. This doesn't except you from a more permanent purchase, of course, but it is a nice way to share some coziness with someone going through the horrid experience of moving, not to mention working with mortgage brokers. Hindsight is 20/20, but I clearly was remiss in not including a bottle of whiskey as well. At least we know that you can get in Vegas.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I am THAT Christmas jerk

I put on the Christmas station the day after Thanksgiving. That's a lie. I put it on before but I hide it because my husband hates it so.

I have been thinking about my Christmas Eve menu for weeks. Also a lie. I decided in August it would be German this year. A platter of sausages, Black Forest cake, red cabbage and probably a failed attempt at spaetzle. And some vegan stuff. I've become obsessed with the idea of making vegan recipes, just because, and including them with other meaty dishes. Probably further evidence of my jerkiness as I am basically offending everyone.

The garden is not yet fully harvested (CHARD is still in the house) and Halloween parties are all this week. Despite all this I can't shake my raging desire to revel in sparkles, pine-y displays and fake angels.

So, in order to maintain harmony in my house and the appearance of sanity to the world I am going to fulfill my hearts desire to live in the Christmas spirit for, like, 1 3/4 months by calling it organization. Yessir!! I'm going to be spending my time making lists, thinking of presents, checking it twice and organizing my house so that when the festivities actually begin (November 25 with Kristkindl Market in Chi FTW!!!) I'll be locked and loaded for fun and not last minute running around.

There is of course Martha Stewart and Etsy to fulfill your decor daydreaming and money spending. I also found Organized Christmas, a site that gives you a tip each day on how to get a hold of your crazy self and prepare for what many consider an ultimately unpleasant onslaught. Yesterday's tip was to plan out your calendar now to get the lay of the land. It also urged a reminder to not overbook yourself.

You know the idea that you should "pay yourself first" (that's a Madonna quote, I am sure.)? Well, do that with time as well. Block out days with your partners or just for yourself. For example, Sundays are days I am basically busy indefinately because it is a day allocated to chillaxing with my spouse. Having had 2 such weekends consecutively I cannot advocate this idea enough. And for all his scolding on becoming "that crazy Christmas person" come holiday time I'm sure he'll appreciate my efforts.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where has the summer gone and what have I been doing?

Over the long 4th of July weekend, I headed to Mount Whitney in California with John and Dave to summit the highest peak in the United State's lower 48. Located just outside of a bunch of little towns (e.g., Lone Pine, Independence, Bishop) hardly anyone's heard of but in an area I love, I could easily see the still snow-packed peaks rising above the forests and drier salt desert shrub valleys further below.

Knowing I would be arriving from Las Vegas and acclimated to elevations between 3000-4500 feet, I was kind of worried about being above 10000 feet. I've never experienced altitude sickness but have seen friends struggle and knew it was one experience I wanted to avoid. With that in mind, we decided to spend a few nights at the lower elevations (8500 feet) of the Whitney Portal area before putting our packs on and heading up. Don't you love that name, the Whitney Portal?? I've heard John talk about it since I've know him, and a sort of mystique has been built up in my brain about it, like we were going to be transported somewhere once we entered. What I imagined was pretty vague. As it turns out the Whitney Portal consists of campgrounds for car and RV campers, parking lots for folks hitting the trails, including the Whitney Peak trailhead, creeks, a pond, which was surprisingly packed with avid fisherfolk and fish (hardly seemed like fair sport for the fish: imagine a big, couple-feet deep swimming pond that the fish can't escape and that tantalizing foods keep getting tossed into; we were a little worried there was one pair that appeared to be catching enough to serve at a restaurant ruh-ruh), and a shop that contains mostly souvenir-type stuff but also a cafe, an amazing and wonderful cafe. Check out that cinnamony pancake!!That'll get you ready for a backpack trip. Although the day I consumed at least half of that monster (plus bacon and eggs), I mostly sat around camp trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay. That's tough work too.

Out of two nights camping at the Portal, we did hear neighbor campers whistling and ringing bells like there was a gypsy wedding going on or something. Turns out they were "scaring" off a bear. I think Pepper-dog had the right idea for where the safest place in camp is should a bear of come by... Hey, isn't that box supposed to be used for keeping bears from our food, Pepper-dog?!?!?Anyway, to make a long story short, the Whitney Trail is pretty and long and kicked our butts. All along the trail, we kept running into folks who said there was still a lot of snow above Trail Camp (12000 feet), the highest campground and still 5 miles from the Summit, and that crampons and ice axes would be necessary. We had been planning a pretty mellow walk up the mountain and really weren't prepared with that kind of equipment, so we quickly scrapped the idea of summiting. With that change of plans, we ended up camping at the lower camp and just day hiked up to Trail Camp. Yes indeedy, there was still a lot of snow above Trial Camp, and I'm sure even more above that. Wowza, going down is faster than going up. Check out Dave's quick downhill descent. This was much steeper and scarier looking in person than in film.

This is what we saw as we bailed off the mountain around 5 p.m. on day two. Because we were all trying to save weight in our packs, none of us brought rainflys for our tents. This was unfortunate for us as we watched thunder clouds build all afternoon before we made the decision it would be in our best interest to be in dry hotel beds instead of soggy sleeping bags that night. This is one of those 'where's Waldo' pictures. Can you find the rainbow or lamebow as John called it? It really was bright and vivid in person but uncaptureable on film. And here is the really pretty Mirror Lake, which is an easy day hike, along the Whitney Trail.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Haze and laze

By Michelle

Summer has not been a bummer. There has been swimming, grilling, chillin' in the backyard with many a good book and gardening. Oh the gardening. It's mostly hopeful until the first tomatoes, peppers and squash erupt but at least the herb garden is super productive.

In fact, the herb garden is bigger and better than ever. On the left (foreground) I have dill, which I didn't even plant (though I may have absent minded-ly scattered seeds last year), apparently perennial oregano and sage explosion and some new additions including thyme and mint.

I'm on my second planting of arugula already, but really the first batch went to seed too quick for me to get much of it. I hear that technically you can eat it, but it will be bitter. I took a pass and let the compost heap have it.

In the background are perpendicular raised beds which were once located where the garage now stands. They house tomatoes galore as well as chard, cucumber (first time!) and summer squash (another first time plant). I'm debating taking a canning class, which should be mandatory since I'll be helping to host a class on preserving the harvest (eek!). At least I know how to freeze and can impart this wonderful wisdom to others.

I'm figuring out garlic still, and it certainly looks cool, but there's more to learn. It did make its debut in pizza sauce.

It lacked the paper skins outside the cloves and the bulb itself. I think there's some next step I should be taking that I'll probably figure out very soon, hopefully before the garlic rots in the ground.

The hops are doing well despite my neglect. We are compensating by building them their own custom trellis (because it's dead simple and much cheaper than purchasing a ready made one). Still, they are not going to be brew-ready this year so my plan is to get a kit for the first batch. And since my office has switched to "summer hours" for Friday I'll have a little extra time to - finally - stop talking about it and actually brew some beer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mummy Spring

I had a bunch of reasons for getting out of Las Vegas to hike today... 1) the 98 degree high I saw forecasted for today, 2) endless hiking opportunities near the city - Spring Mountains, Sheep Mountains, Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, Lake Mead - just to name a few, 3) new shoes (Montrail Masochist) arrived on Friday (love them), and 4) getting used to hiking at altitude for the upcoming Mount Whitney summit over the 4th of July.

Only a 30 minute drive into the Spring Mountains, and I was at the trailhead for the North Loop, with my destination of Mummy Spring along the trail. The thermometer on my car said 60 degrees, and it felt like it - chilly and refreshing. I was really glad to have packed a long-sleeved shirt. Quite a few vehicles parked at the trailhead, but my hike up was fairly quiet besides the birds and the wind. The trail switchbacks through forest of ponderosa pine, white fir, mountain mahogany, and the oldest living thing on earth, bristlecone pine, but there are plenty of openings with great views of the valleys below, including North Las Vegas. I really liked being able to see the change landscape and habitat types.Bristlecone pines may be my new favorite tree. They're stout and sturdy looking and really gnarly, with twisty branches. There's a really neat section of the hike where the trail crests a pass, and the hiker gets her first glimpse of Mummy Peak, very impressive, but even better, the trail drops a little bit and runs right through this "gate" of bristlecone pines. I loved it.Doing some reading, the trail continues to Kyle Canyon and access to summit Mount Charleston. Figure I'll save that 20-mile roundtrip hike for a weekend backpack trip. So here was my final destination, which I'm guessing was running better than normal because of the extra snow during late winter storms.Hike summary... Round trip = ~6 miles Elevation range = 8401-9983 feet

Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm back, and it's time to make pizza.

I've been absent. No excuses, no good reasons, just been a little bit busy with work, travel, and life. I need to get back to the blogging habit, especially since this may be my last entry from the Country of northern Nevada. This upcoming weekend, I'm moving to the big city, Las Vegas. Yikes! One of the last places I ever thought I'd live, but I'm excited that I'll be in an area with more people that like to the same things in the outdoors that I do... hiking, running, climbing... Can't wait. But in the meantime, here's a little recipe that I make OFTEN, and I like that it is versatile and delicious. Today I added 2 T ground flax seeds, 1/2 tsp whole flax seeds, 1/2 tsp sesame seeds, and 2 T spelt flour and omitted all spices, just because I wanted to, but below is the basic recipe.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough Crust

  • 1 (1/4 oz) package yeast

  • 1 cup warm water (110-120 degrees F)

  • 1 tsp sugar

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purposed flour

  • 2 tsp olive oil

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp honey (optional)

  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder (optional)

  • 1/2 tsp oregano (optional)

  • 1/2 tsp thyme (optional)

  1. Combine yeast, water and sugar, stir until dissolved. Let proof, ~10 minutes.

  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in another bowl.

  3. Once yeast mixture is proofed, add to dry ingredients

  4. Mix using dough hook or knead, ~10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary.

  5. Let rest until doubled in size, ~1 hour.

  6. Preheat baking stone in oven at 425 degrees F.

  7. Roll out dough to desired thickness/size/shape. Lightly dust baking stone with cornmeal.

  8. Partially bake crust ~2 minutes, then add sauce (see below), cheese, and toppings.

My Favorite Pizza Sauce

  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes

  • 1 tsp sugar

  • 1 tsp olive oil

  • 1/4 tsp lemon juice

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp oregano

  • 1/8 tsp basil

  • 1/8 tsp thyme

  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder or 1-2 cloves minced/smashed garlic

  1. Add tomatoes, including juice, to a medium saucepan. Use immersion blender to blend diced tomatoes.

  2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

  3. Bring to a boil.

  4. Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes.

  5. Let cool before topping your pizza crust.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gueuze for a game day

There is something resembling a stockpile of Belgian beer at my house. Mostly I forget about it because its in the basement, and I only go down there to contemplate the mess leftover from the flood and work out to the movies of Woody Allen and Kevin Costner. But yesterday was a big day - we had playoff tickets for Bulls vs. Cavs - as well as a ride to the game. In other words: time for some beer.

We selected a couple gueuzes, a sour beer from Belgium that has it's fair share of fans as well as haters. We happen to love the tart, sour taste as well as the funky / barnyard-y smell. However plenty of folks SERIOUSLY hate them, not just because the beer is funky and strange but because the bacteria used in production has messed with beers not meant to be sour.

Initially I thought that Petrus Aged Ale was not gueuze, but it clearly was. It had that barnyard smell that some soft cheeses have, and the flavor was light but definitely sour. I had started with a very hoppy (non-Belgian) beer, and this was a great contrast. Gueuze can be very effervescent and almost light despite the strange flavor. Germany has something similar - gose - which is not only sour, but also saline. It's actually not as strange as it sounds, but its not something I'd have every day or even as often as I might want a gueuze.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hopefully Hop Rhizome Planting

With the first legitimately warm weekend of the year came the urgency to dig in the dirt. And I had good cause as just this week my hope rhizomes arrived by mail! This is my second year growing hops, having failed at it last year. But I have reason to believe that this year will be better due both to the condition of the hops I received as well as the quality of my garden skills.

The varieties I chose are Mt. Hood, Fuggle and Chinook. Interested gardeners can order them online from various reputable retailers, and I got mine from www.freshhops.com. You can plant from seeds, though everything I've read suggests the way to go is to start from rhizomes, which are cuttings from the root of the plant.

I was very impressed with the quality of the hops I received! These byoot
s were moist in the plastic bag they came in and (!) already had shoots and pretty pink buds. I seem to recall that the hop rhizomes I received last year were not so fresh. Or it could be that I let them dry out before planting. them. I have been known to cripple myself with indecision!

But onward and upward! This is a new day...

To the right is the close-up of the Mt. Hood hop rhizome. It looks fairly gnarly, like a creation from a Guillermo Del Toro movie. Here's hoping that what comes of soaking this bad boy in water is not this, but some lovely decorative and (someday) useful vines.

I am starting the hops in plants in containers though eventually they will probably be
planted in the ground.
The planting medium is 1/3 each compost, soil, and peat moss. Peat moss is controversial because of how it is extracted from bogs, which are a finite resource. However I didn't know this when I bought the stuff way back a couple years ago, so I'm going to continue to use it. So there!

There was some disagreement about the proper way to orient the hops in the ground / container. Some say vertical, others horizontal. I kind of split the difference and planted them lopsided which probably is the worst of all worlds. HOWEVER I checked today: and there are buds popping out. Not new buds, but the buds have grown an eensy bit. And I'll take it.

Hops need full sun and plenty of water, both of which I should be able to provide. Them's the basics, right?

In other planting news I managed to get some arugula and bok choy planted (direct) as well as some tomatoes started in containers. The tomato varieties are quite spectacularly named: Arkansas Traveller, Oregon Spring Bush and, for the grand finale, Bloody Butcher. Oh my, do I have high expectations for those Bloody Butchers!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pretzel Nuggets

Yummy. Big soft pretzels are one of the (many) foods I look forward to when I'm heading to see a baseball game, but I've been disappointed recently so have had to take matters into my own hands. Here's the latest attempt.

Pretzel Nuggets

Makes 36 nuggets

1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)

1 tsp sugar 2 1/4 tsp yeast

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, as needed to form dough

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

1 cup water

Coarse salt

2 T melted butter

Dissolve sugar in warm water in a glass. Using a thermometer (this is the best no-fail way to proof yeast), wait until water temperature reaches approximately 105-110 degrees F, then add the yeast. Allow to proof until bubbles form about an inch above surface water.

In large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of flour and all of the salt. Once your yeast is proofed, add the proof mixture to the flour mixture and combine to form a dough. Continue to add flour until dough is formed and just barely sticky to the touch. Continue to knead/mix for 5-10 minutes.

Lightly oil a bowl and place dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in warm spot to rise for about an hour.

Once dough is risen, preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Prepare 2 baking sheets with Silpats, parchment paper, or light grease. Set aside for now. Divide dough into four equal pieces and "snake" out to 8-10 inches long. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Cut each "snake" into 8 equal pieces. Meanwhile warm water in a pot on the stove, dissolving baking soda in the water. Dip each pretzel nugget into baking soda water then place on prepped baking sheets. Lightly sprinkle each nugget with coarse salt to taste. Once all nuggets are prepped, bake in oven for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

While nuggets are in the oven, melt 2 T butter. Once the nuggets are baked and out of the oven, brush the nuggets with the butter for a little extra flavor. To maximize your enjoyment of these delicious nuggets, dip in con queso while watching a Cubs game.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My constructive use of a Sunday night

This was the scene in my house tonight when I finally cracked open Good to the Grain in hopes of finding a muffin recipe that would relieve me of my abundance of blueberries. I am trying gallantly to work through the pounds of frozen blueberries that I picked along with my fiance's family in northern Michigan. At the time I was adamant that I bring home enough berries to last me through winter which, to me, meant frantically dumping my purse for additional blueberry receptacles. It was a scene that I think finally drove home to the fam what kind of maniac I can be about certain things.

In the best possible way, of course!

The recipe is found in the book and I mostly did not stray. Lacking butter and milk I used vegetable oil and powdered milk, respectively. Not to mention I made my own oat flour but sending some quick cook oats through the blender and using blueberries instead of peaches and ginger.

These muffins are amazing. I keep reading about how great the recipes from this book are, and keep thinking "yeah right". Yet here I am extolling the goodness of this book and the wheaty, oaty, sweet and amazing muffins it just produced for me.

OH! And I further strayed by topping them with slivered almonds. Which was genius and I highly recommend it. So: thank you Kim Boyce! You've just helped me secure awesome and healthy breakfast for my household for this week.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The joy of strange grocery stores

The wonderful thing about living in a big city is access to large and unwieldy multi-ethnic supermarkets. I live in Forest Park, something like 9 miles west of Chicago, but I have access to some great shops. The one I'm thinking of today is Tony's, a giant of a store which offers an array of middle eastern, Indian, eastern European and Mexican goodies in their produce and pantry aisles.

Usually it's jam packed with people, but I've found a good rhythm to going that steers me clear of the crush of people trying to get at the deli counter. My last visit was on a Monday night and, while still crowded it was much more manageable to pick up the ingredients for the salmon Nicoise I made for my mother's birthday.

Anyway... in addition to the healthy salad ingredients I picked up a couple bottles of Estonian beer! I've tried many a beer, but never an Estonian beer and I was very curious to see what they had to offer. Especially nice was the fact it was not labeled "dark" and sported 6.7% ABV.

It was an interesting beer. Very sweet and malty, it somewhat resembled
a barleywine in both flavor and appearance (though obviously at 6.7% it was less strong than those bad boys). Bonus points for the fact the full name (Saku Tume) sounds like Sock-It-To-Me. At something around $4 for a size between a bomber and a 12 oz I'd probably buy it again, possibly even for use in a braise of some sort. I braised short ribs in Belgian beer several winters ago and I think this would work similarly


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Last snow??

We met up with John's friend, David, and went snowshoeing a couple of weeks ago in Lamoille Canyon outside of Elko. After a slow start of avoiding getting David's car stuck on a snowy road, we hit the trail. I loved it! And I had plans to spend the rest of the winter's weekends stomping around northern Nevada, but two weeks later and the temperatures are in the 50-60s, and I think most of my snow sports may be done for this winter. Here's John, David, and a straggler we picked up along the way breaking trail...

Pepper was in over her head at times and managed to accumulate LOTS of snowballs on her fur.
And Maggie found she loves any form of water, even the snow version.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Serving guests on the fly

This past Tuesday I hosted a get together for people interested in discussing our local upcoming election. It was a small group - no more than 15 total - but my instinct to find something for them to nibble on caused some consternation on my part. I was also grappling with a recent work trip that would get me home the night before I was to have people over, the day of being a work day. Thankfully my brother stepped up to help clean the house while I made some game time decisions that would make my life less hectic.

See, I initially thought that, it being Fat Tuesday, I should serve something seasonally appropriate: vegan muffaletta. First, there's no such thing that I can find. Second, I've never really had a muffaletta. This is all beside the fact that I wouldn't have the time to roast the veg and make the olive salad let alone buy the ingredients.

I found refuge where I often do as a first class compromiser: Trader Joes. I picked up dates, weirdo potato-lentil curls and some cashel blue cheese (seasonal for St. Patty's!) and parmesan to stuff the dates with and called it a day.

My guests were somewhat fed and my genetic calling to never let someone into my house without feeding them was satisfied. Most importantly, everyone had a chance to ask questions about the local issues they are most concerned with. Food is a back-drop to this kind of event, but I find that a little bit of hospitality goes a long way.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Everybody's doing it: the ex-urban seed swap!

This past Sunday Forest Park Community Garden hosted it's second ever - and first public - seed swap. As a board member I was able to see the planning process unfold, not to mention a sneaky peak at some of the seeds that would be available for swapping.

Over 50 people showed up at the Park District building to swap seeds and learn gardening tips from our Master Gardener-in-Training Debbie and her precocious daughter Kara. They demonstrated how to make planters out of newspaper and aluminum cans as well as discuss winter sowing. In addition to offering up some Detroit Red Beets and Pole Beans, I was able to contribute some materials in the form of the NY Times Sunday and five Mountain Dew Code Red cans, thankyouverymuch.

Click here to see a video of Debbie and Kara demonstrating winter sowing and some DIY garden projects.

Although Illinois (Zone 5 represent!) is still wracked with icy coldness, this seed swap reminded us that spring is not so far away. I came away with some interesting seeds: bok choy, Bloody Butcher tomatoes (!), Arkansas Traveler tomatoes, pepperoncini and much more, as well as inspiration about how to arrange my yard to maximize growing space while creating an appealing setting for hanging out. Unfortunately this means diagramming and mapping and doing all sorts of things that have nothing to do with watching wedding shows or planning months off holiday meals, my strong suits.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Who doesn't like brussel sprouts?

I love them!!!!! And luckily for me, I live with another person who loves them too. And to put the cherry on top of the ice cream, brussel sprouts are actually a vegetable I can find at my local grocery store in-the-middle-of-nowhere. For me, boiling and then sprinkling with salt and pepper will suffice in tempting me to consume TOO many of these sprouts, but because I was making macaroni and cheese for the first time from scratch, I had to dress the brussel sprouts accordingly. Check it out...
Dressed-up Brussel Sprouts

1/2 pound brussel sprouts
1 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced/smashed/pressed
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Squeeze of lemon

1) Bring pot of water to boil. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2) Prepare ice bath for after boiling brussel sprouts. Cut the flat end off the brussel sprouts. Halve the sprouts, then slice the halves into small chunks. Drop into boiling water. Boil for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately drop into ice bath to stop boiling and shock green. Drain brussel sprouts.

3) In medium bowl, mix brussel sprouts with 2 T olive oil, 2 smashed garlic cloves, pecans, and 1/4 t kosher salt and 1/8 t black pepper or to taste. Roast until tender, 10-15 minutes. Squeeze a bit of lemon over the top and add salt if needed. Stir and serve.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fund raising

I am probably biased because I work for a non-profit, but I think the non-profit sector is the most fascinating sector of the economy today. Non-profits have become a multi-billion dollar industry in the same time frame that the distance between rich and poor has grown. Clearly there are many non-profits in the world that have nothing much to do with poverty. However, if poverty is a persistent issue it begs the question of whether or not demand for services always begets supply and whether our current model for funding social change is effective.

There are a bunch of cliches involving babies and bathwater and apple carts that belong <---- here, mostly to say that I don't think non-profits should be funded less or given fewer considerations by the public and private sector in terms of reporting and discounts. I do still wonder whether there isn't something to what guys like Grassley are doing in picking at non-profits, dissecting their operating budgets and calling into question their ties to industry related to their mission.

I was reminded of this ongoing debate when I got an invitation today for a benefit for a Native American tribe looking to raise some money to pay heating bills. It struck me instantly as so very different from the "asks" we do and that I see in general from different non-profits. It was so direct, so lacking the lofty language found in proper requests, that it honestly shook me up a little. It sounded like a modern incarnation of the rent parties I've heard tales of; where people get together to just help each other out. A personal network is needed to do this, but that isn't so hard these days with the wide reach of social media. And of course, there is an underlying reason for the increased professionalism of the non-profit sector: the ability to verify they are doing what they say they are. With smaller groups like this you truly are taking a risk that your money isn't going to be spent how you want.

But what worthwhile thing isn't risky, eh?

Bottom line: we need big non-profits in their pseudo corporate incarnations, somewhat generous compensation packages and all. We also need these smaller instances of people just getting together and doing this one relatively small thing for a neighbor. It's an opportunity for the most direct service possible, whether or not a tax deductible receipt is in your future. And since I can't even link to a donation page (unheard of in major npo land!) you'll just have to go out and see what needs doing in our very own neck of the woods.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sourdough English Muffins

I've been on the quest for the perfect english muffin recipe for about a year now. My dad is always asking my mom to make them from scratch, and this has been incentive to find the best, most pocketed muffin a recipe can produce. I've gone through about 5 different versions, and I'm learning that Thomas and Bays had a talent for making muffins with nooks and crannies, and that it is not an easy achievement. At least in my failures to make nooks and crannies, I tend to end up with something still tasty but more like an Australian toaster muffin.

Anyway, I bought Sourdough Starter about a month ago and have been trying all sorts of recipes with it, including pizza dough (http://www.breadtopia.com), a modified version of Finnish bread (Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves from Your Own Hands), and now english muffins (http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/09/11/sourdough-english-muffins/). Here's what I did...Sourdough English Muffins (from wildyeastblog.com)

Sponge Ingredients:
110 g sourdough starter
160 g all-purpose unbleached flour
100 g whole wheat flour
276 g milk

Final Dough Ingredients:
75 g all-purpose unbleached flour, plus more as needed for mixing
3/4 t salt
1 t baking soda
1.5 t honey
all of the sponge

1) In medium bowl, mix the sponge ingredients until just combined. Cover and let rest for 8 hours.

2) Add the final dough ingredients in stand mixer and mix roughly to combine. Let mixer go on low for 7-8 minutes, adding flour as needed. Note: this is where my mistake happened. I think I should have continued to add flour until a firmer dough occurred. Because I had read "to resist the urge to add more flour," my dough was super sticky and unmanageable, and I ended up letting it rest in this wet state, instead of forming into dough balls as instructed in the wildyeastblog. My theory is that if the dough is able to rest in the dough ball form, it will likely form more nooks and crannies during this rising period, so I would even suggest flattening the dough balls into english muffin-like discs before this last rise. Cover and allow dough to rest 45-60 minutes.

3) Lightly oil frying pan or griddle over med-low heat. I tried to use muffin rings (Fox Run Set of Four English Muffin Rings) on the first batch because my dough was so soft and sticky. This was unsuccessful, so I then oiled my hands to form balls, which I flattened. I then covered the frying pan with a cookie sheet to get a baking effect. Allow to cook for 7-9 minutes, flipping periodically until lightly browned and cooked through (firm to touch).

The end result tasted good, but once again, more like an Australian toaster muffin than an English muffin. In any case, I will be trying this recipe again and applying what I've learned this first go around. Stay tuned for an update on the outcome of my next attempt.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The day after Pizza Hut...

Where I live (aka the-middle-of-nowhere), the nearest Pizza Hut is an hour away. The nearest movie theater is an hour away. The nearest Wal-Mart is an hour away. Not the worst thing in the world, especially if you don't want to support big box stores and all that comes with them. But John and I do like to get our Pizza Hut fix, which we did yesterday, and today we followed with our own healthy version, Pita Hut! Sorry, that's terrible, and I wish I could say it wasn't my idea.

In the quest to use up hummus and to buy feta cheese, I made pitas for the first time. I followed the recipe found here. My only changes were to halve the recipe and use 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 all-purpose. I was very pleased with how they puffed up, but next time I need to get them out of the oven a wee bit sooner. Over all, not bad for my first attempt.

And then we filled them with chopped tomatoes, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, feta, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and lemon juice. Deeeeelious!

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 14th : Cream filled chocolate day

Because what else would it be, right? Rather than just "chocolate day" or "flourless chocolate cake day" (which all exist, BTW) Valentine's Day is National Cream Filled Chocolate Day. Today is Easter for adults who delight in cellophane and junk candy but are too old for Easter baskets.

The charms of the heart-shaped box are many, but high quality chocolate is not among them.
Somehow the heart-shaped boxes I remember from my youth were much more elaborate than what you can get nowadays. The denim heart-shaped box notwithstanding, I remember my very popular aunt's closet teeming with hearts adorned with lace, poufs and glitter. In my eight year old mind this was the height of displays of affection. It certainly was up there with whatever Beau would say to She-Ra once she got his heart pumping.

I bought the above heart for myself to ensure this day was celebrated properly and because I know from experience my Valentine doesn't deal in the silliness of the drugstore candy box. Buying it for myself also ensure me the awkwardness of unwrapping it in my office, hoping I wouldn't have to lie and say it was from Andrew if caught.
Bonus: Not sharing allowed me to bust up the chocolates in such a rude, crude manner. From clockwise, we have coconut, caramel, vanilla cream, chocolate cream x2 (lame) then finally solid milk chocolate (cop out). I tried both the chocolate cream filled and the coconut filled and was pleasantly surprised by how palatable they actually were. Plus I have these smooshed remnants to nosh on for the rest of the week should I chose to go the Liz Lemon approved route and keep them stashed rather than toss them.

In terms of execution, I think I've finally done OK with a National Food Holiday. Probably because it didn't require me to cook and hold a camera at the same time. My betrothed wants to hook up cameras all over the house, ostensibly to "watch birds" but maybe we can merge his desire to record with my desire to be like Ina Garten and recreate the Barefoot Contessa kitchen. It's still Valentine's Day and I've yet to receive a present, so I guess we shall see...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Death Valley in February

The weather has been unpredictable recently in northern Nevada, and I've been eluding the winter blues for weeks. Warmth, sun, and a change of scenery are what I needed. So, we (me, John, and Sheryl) headed down south last weekend to get away from the temperamental temperatures in northern Nevada, and to do a little running and exploring in one of our country's most desolate National Parks, Death Valley.

John was a trooper and ready to go for his half-marathon pretty early on Saturday. I was a pooper. But after a lot of hemming and hawing and declaring that "I just didn't feel like it, so I'm not going to run," it seemed silly to go back to camp to just drink coffee. So I shuffled into the registration area in my pajamas and finally picked up my race number, hurried back to camp to change out of my pajamas where I could not for the life of me find my running bra and resorted to doubling up 2 other bras instead (sorry for all the gory details, but this is not an ideal situation at all. later I did find the offending bra zipped between two tent doors, which is ridiculous). John and I then left Sheryl sleeping to go to the race start. Envirosports, the race organizers, did a great job with everything. The runs were all below sea level, but much hillier than we expected. John did great and finished feeling good, although he looked less than spry in the days following, and I did better than I expected with a January-lag in training (http://results.us.eventdirector.net/List.asp?EventID=4538&RaceID=10K)!

With the runs done, we headed out to explore. Number one on my list and a well-known attraction was the Racetrack where rocks, water, and wind work together on a playa to make some pretty amazing impressions. It looked like it had been a while since the playa had seen water, but we did manage to find some good trails.

On the way out, we also stopped to look at the brilliant colors on the Ubehebe crater wall.

Of course, no trip to Death Valley is complete without visiting Badwater, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below seal level. And here's a tip, it is A LOT more enjoyable in February than in July when temperatures hover around 120 degrees F during the day. That's Sheryl and me doing our duty as tourists...

On the way home to northern Nevada in good old Big Smoky Valley.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Next year, I'm heading to the store...

By Susan

I realized this weekend why some food is simply bought at the store and not made-from-scratch at home.

Saturday was National Corn Chip Day. No, not my favorite chip, but I forgot about this in my excitement to try to recreate the ultimate corn chip, the Frito (http://www.fritolay.com/our-snacks/fritos.html). Step one, google "corn chip recipe." In the results, I found what looked like a doable, solid and very Frito-like corn chip recipe. Yay!!! Got the ingredients together; couldn't believe I had them all on-hand. Was thinking, it was a sure sign of good things to come. So, here they are just before I popped them in the oven, and this is pretty much what they looked like when they came out of the oven. After one little nibble, straight into the trash. Not good.

Luckily, Sunday was National Croissant Day. No better time or recipe than chocolate croissants to try to redeem myself from the disaster of National Corn Chip Day. Perfect, I have a cook book with just the recipe. Of course, I didn't really read through the recipe before heading to the store for all the important ingredients, aka BUTTER. Really wish now that I was still ignorant to just how much butter is in a croissant but oh well. Got home at 11 a.m. and dove right into the mixing.....

Butter "massaging." Yes, that is 3 whole sticks of butter.

Folding the butter from pic 2 into the butter dough from pic 1.....

Then rolling and folding and chilling and rolling and folding and chilling the butter/dough block again and again and again.....

Hours later (6 to be exact), I was finally able to roll out the final dough layer, cut them, fill them with chocolate, and fold them up to be baked.....

Here they are. Look delicious, right?

WRONG! After all that, they were certainly edible, but seriously, for all the work, I expected amazing. End result, next time I'm going to get on the internet and buy these (http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/chocolate-croissant/?pkey=e%7Ccroissant%7C8%7Cbest%7C0%7C1%7C24%7C%7C3&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCHNoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-Feature_Recipe_Rule-_-) Williams-Sonoma's chocolate croissants, or run to the store and buy these (http://www.fritolay.com/our-snacks/fritos-chili-cheese-corn-chips.html) Frito's chili cheese fritos. Sometimes it's best just to let someone else do the work for you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Who plans gardens now?

By Michelle

People who tend to be better at gardening than me. Truly, though, with a goal of putting to shame last year's epic (seriously - 30 plants) tomato harvest I'm only competing against myself. Shouldn't be all that hard to do, especially if I get over my slovenly ways and stake the tomatoes properly.

But tomatoes are boring. Everyone grows them. I want to grow things that look cool and/or I can eat. Since I've been gardening for 3 years now, I have at least some idea of my capabilities and access to the various components that make a mildly successful garden. I've already laid in the foundation for gardening which I've built on each year. And for the first time ever I'm actually on schedule with the purchase of seeds.

There's a great little shop called Botanical Interests which has lovely organic, heirloom and conventional seeds for all varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers and other miscellaneous growable things. For my garden this year I'm going to be experimenting with the following:

Forget-Me-Not Victoria Blue Seed
Beet Detroit Dark Red Seed
Bean Pole Blue Lake Organic Seed
Arugula Rocket Salad Seed
Bok Choy White Stem Seed
Swiss Chard Bright Lights Blend Seed

Most of these will be new to the scene. In addition I will have some returning guests that have done me good in years past:

Strawberry Popcorn (real live seeds saved by me!)
Thai Basil
Genovese Basil
Greek Oregano (will necessitate pulling out old raggedy shrub) Tomatoes of very many shapes, varieties, sizes and uses

The really great thing about all this gardening is that it is so, so low investment. Seed packets are cheap - less than $4 a pop for the most part, and at least with veggies and herbs you get a monetary return on investment by not having to buy as much of it out in the world.

This is all beside the point that a particular satisfaction is earned by working in the dirt. It's a primal exercise that is unlike other activities. Though there are worms and slugs and mud, in the end a Wii garden game would not suffice. Embarrassing to admit, but I do feel a kind of link to by forbears who probably did these things too. Though likely they would have given anything to just buy this stuff and have more time to put their feet up, playing garden Wii.