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 (, a modified version of Finnish bread (Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves from Your Own Hands), and now english muffins ( Here's what I did...Sourdough English Muffins (from

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 (!

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.