Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Five Fabulous Finds

For whatever reason, during this month I have been introduced to several things that I have though were just really cool. Most of them are not new to anyone but me. That’s OK. I thought it would be fun to share my fabulous finds here. Maybe some of you have also led a sheltered life and will find some of these things new and exciting as well.

My original title for this post was “Five Fabulous February Finds”. As I thought about that, I decided that perhaps my fabulous finds should be an ongoing theme. So, on the last day of each month I will post my fabulous finds from that month. For that reason, I had to drop “February” from the title. I deference to this already slighted month, The least I could do was make the first thing on the fabulous finds list alliteration.

Here are February 2012‘s Five Fabulous Finds

Alliteration Alliteration is just fun. It’s fun to read it. It’s fun to write it. And it’s fun to spea. In case its been a while since you have tried your tongue at a tongue twister, here’s one with which to start practicing.

A fly and flea flew into a flue,
said the fly to the flea 'what shall we do?'
'let us fly' said the flea

Fly said the fly 'shall we flee'
so they flew through a flaw in the flue.

(I advise that you not try this under the influence of alcohol or drugs - including cold medicine which is my drug of choice today. Despite my love of alliteration, the combination of all these “f’s” and the dreadfully debilitating cold or flu that I have right now are making it horrendously hard for me to feel the fun.

Currants During February I have developed a fondness for currants. I like raisins, but I don’t like to be surprised by them in baked goods or salads. At the beginning of the month I was trying a new recipe for corn scones that called for currants as the last ingredient to be added. My instinct was to leave them out. What can currants possibly add to this already perfectly good scone? As part of my new found discipline to expand my palette, I used the currants. Much to my surprise, they were really good! Because currants are so much smaller than raisins, they are much less intrusive. I did not hesitate at all to put them in the Zesty Cabbage Salad that I made the other night.

Erasable highlighters I was teaching a fair isle knitting class the other day. The woman seated next to me was using a highlighter to mark off her pattern rows. She turned to me and said, “These are the neatest things! Erasable Highlighters.” I was leery. I took one in my own hand and wrote “skeptical” across my pattern. I flipped the pen over and erased both the skepticism on the page and the skepticism in my mind. This has become my current favorite cooking blog. Heidi Swanson creates tasty recipes using wholesome natural ingredients. She is also the author of the cookbook, Super Natural Every Day that I mentioned a few posts back. Many of the new recipes that I have tried in the last month have been hers. I have not yet been disappointed.

Judge Tonya Parker Tonya Parker is a judge in the 116th Civil Court in Dallas. Last week, she told the media that she will not perform any marriages until same-sex couples in Texas are afforded the same choices. The thing that makes Tonya Parker different from most people that take such a stand is that she does not make it impossible for heterosexual couples who come into her court to be married, it is simply that she will not perform the ceremony. She escorts them to the courtroom of a colleague who will happily marry the couple. If only all people with strong moral convictions would use them as a compass for their own lives rather than trying to legislate their morality for all of us. As far as I am concerned, Mit Romney and Rick Santorum never have to have or perform an abortion. That is certainly within their rights. It is not however within their rights to deny abortions to any woman who feels that that is the choice she needs to make for her own mental and or physical health. It is also not their right, or any politician’s right for that matter, to deny any woman access to contraception. It just proves their ignorance and gender bias to assume that woman only take contraceptives so that they can have carefree sex. You guys are clueless! I wish that all those running for public office would learn from the actions and attitudes of Judge Tonya Parker.

"I do not, and would never, impede any person's right to get married. In fact, when people wander into my courtroom, usually while I am presiding over other matters, I direct them to the Judges in the courthouse who do perform marriage ceremonies. If my deputy is not busy, I will even ask him to escort or help these individuals find another Judge who performs the ceremonies. I do this because I believe in the right of people to marry and pursue happiness." - Tonya Parker

Thank you for your service and your example Tonya Parker!

With that, farewell February!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Iris" the Purple Cow

This is a cow.
This is a purple cow.
This is Iris the purple cow.
She lives in my from yard.
It is possible that she has some unicorn in her gene pool.

This is a purple iris but not a cow.

I suspect that seeing purple cows in your front yard comes from eating mushrooms.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Seasonal Saturday

Saturday is usually the day when we don’t have to set an alarm. For that reason alone, Saturday is my favorite day of the week. Today we had to set an alarm but this Saturday is still my favorite day of the week. We had to be up reasonably early to run an important errand.

Last Saturday, when we did not set an alarm and were not up and out of the house early and were still in our PJ’s drinking coffee at noon, we decided to surf the Internet because that didn’t require us to get dressed or to stop drinking coffee. In our wanderings through cyberspace we did a google search for CSA’s, Community Supported Agriculture, in our area. Our hope was to find a co-op to join through which we could buy locally grown organic produce. Surprisingly, many opportunities exist. After discussing all of the options (over a few more cups of coffee), we signed up for a half-share with Urban Acres. All of their produce is organic but not all is locally grown. Supplementing the shares with some imported items allows for a little more variety than is otherwise available here in North Texas.

So, we had to be up this morning to go pick up our first bin of veggies and fruit. The pick-up point is very close to our house, closer even than the grocery store where we regularly shop. By 9:45 we were on our way home with 2 heads of green cabbage, 3 oranges, 2 crowns of broccoli, 2 bunches of spinach, a mango, 5 sweet potatoes, 3 beets with greens, a pound of strawberries, a head of romaine lettuce, and a container of shitake mushrooms. Unpacking the bin of produce was akin to opening your stocking on Christmas morning! Both are full of surprises. The one thing that was not a surprise was the dozen eggs that we knowingly added to our order.

The top layer of goodies
The oranges that were hiding underneath
This picture is here because orange is my favorite color. (Green and red are OK too.)

I never knew that sweet potatoes could be so photogenic.

The next task for today was to decide what we were going to do with all of these things. I poured over my favorite cookbooks looking for some new and different recipes. One of the reasons that we decided to buy our produce from Urban Farms is that there is a great deal of creativity in figuring out how to use what we get. It was not too difficult this week.

We eat fruit as part of almost every meal so the oranges and strawberries won’t last long. The mango may find its way into some sorbet. And broccoli, spinach and lettuce are staples around our house. I made a scrumptious cabbage salad tonight. It was sort of a cross between cole slaw and that carrot-raisin salad that makes an appearance at every church pot-luck. I know that sounds a little strange but it is really good!

I am a little stumped on what to do with the beets and the mushrooms - mostly because I don’t like beets or mushrooms. Well, that’s not exactly true; I like beet greens. I just don’t care for the beets themselves. And mushrooms . . .they are fungus. All I can think of is those gross pictures that they show in the ads for whatever that drug is that treats toenail fungus. In my mind fungus is fungus. I know, this is a seriously immature attitude.

Because it is Lent and because Lent is a time of self-denial, I am denying myself the choice of not eating the mushrooms. I am also denying myself the opportunity to prepare them. I found a recipe for a brown rice and mushroom casserole that sounds like a good way to ingest mushrooms if you are denying yourself the choice of not eating mushrooms. My mushroom-loving husband has agreed to prepare them. I’ll let you know how the fungus and I get along.

The beets are another story. Neither of us either likes beets or knows what to do with them to make them palatable. Weber did find a recipe for a romaine and beet salad with a tasty sounding dressing. It is the only promising prospect at this time. We are open to suggestions if any of you have a recipe that makes beets taste good.

We pick up another bin of produce in two weeks. I am looking forward to watching the seasons change through not only the trees and flowers as they bud and bloom but also through the changing harvest of fruits and vegetables that make their way home with us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Word of the Day

We have come to that time of the semester where I am forced to give tests. I don’t really like giving tests. In fact, I hate giving tests. It seems to me that they never really adequately measure a student's grasp of the material over which they are being tested. Tests merely give a somewhat accurate reading of how well students holds up under the pressure of a testing environment. That said, I have to give tests. The powers that be really don’t like it if at the end of the semester I turn in a blank grade sheet!

So, I reluctantly give tests. My tests and I have a reputation. The specific details of that reputation depend on to whom you are speaking. Those students that have had classes with me for several semesters will tell you that my tests are f#@&!ing hard. (They may or may not be correct in their assessment.) To those for whom this is our first semester together, that first test day is soiree into the great unknown. Most of these fledgling music theory students, however, don’t worry too much about this first test because I tell them, like I tell all of my students before all of their tests, that the test will be open notes. They all breathe a huge sigh of relief and immediately scratch studying for their upcoming music theory test off of their “to-do” lists. If my students learn nothing else in my classes, they do learn that not pulling their notes together and studying is a big mistake!

Here are the guidelines for my open-note tests:

  • You may use only your notes ion test day. Though the Care Bears teach that “sharing is caring”, there is an exception to every rule. If you are sure that the cute girl beside you takes better notes than you do then take her out for a cookie and cup of coffee a night or two before the test and ask nicely to copy her notes. If she declines, you have that much more time to beef up your own notes.

  • All accessible notes on test day must be on paper. Translation: No phones, computers, or other electronic devices may be used in class on the day of the test.

  • You are allowed no lifelines. You may not talk to any other person during the test - not the person next to you, in front of you, in back of you or across the room from you - for any reason. Any communication, other than silent prayer, makes grading your test quite simple - no mathematical operations will be invoked in the calculating of your test grade.

Having iterated and reiterated these conditions for the past three class periods leading up to today’s test, I had a student, for whom this is our first semester together, show up for our first test together without his notes. After a sigh of frustration at having failed to bring his notebook, he resigned himself to the fact that he would have to rely on the “notes in his head.”

I quipped, “Oh, you’ll be using noggin-notes.” I the added that perhaps they should be called “my-noggin-notes.” Or should it be “monogginotes?” Both have validity.

Mynogginotes is fairly straight forward. My noggin notes are the notes in my head.

Monogginotes uses the prefix “mono” referring to the one set of notes that reside in one head.

I have spent way too much time today pondering this linguistic conundrum. If only that student had remembered to bring his notes both of our noggins would have been much less burdened.

Which word do you think is most appropriate - mynogginotes or monogginotes? This is not a test so lifelines are allowed!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Play Date

My friend Debra and I had a Play Date today. She and I see each other at least once a week because we are in a book group together. Though that is a fun thing, it is not a Play Date. We are there to study a book with four other women, not to play. Sometimes we even see each other twice a week because we attend the same church. All that really means is that on Sunday mornings we are in close proximity to one another. There is no guarantee that we will even have the opportunity to speak to each other on Sunday mornings. This is a sad commentary on our church community; but that is a whole other story and I won’t go there right now!

During one of our Tuesday book group meetings I made reference to my blog. A day or two later I got an email from Debra saying that she had taken time to read some of my posts. Seeing that recently I have done much writing about food, she sent me a soup recipe. I replied by saying that I thought that the soup we be especially awesome with homemade bread. Debra responded by saying that she had never made bread. That made me sad. So, the planning of our play-date began. We agreed that we would spend a day together making soup and bread together.

We had planned to play in the kitchen a few weeks ago but adult life intervened and we had to postpone our adventure until today. That was not entirely a bad thing. One of the questions that we discussed in our Tuesday book-group-not-a-play-group was, “What is something that makes you eager?” The group came to the realization that as adults, eagerness is a feeling that we don’t experience much. On the contrary, we are often overcome by feelings on the other end of the eagerness continuum - apathy and dread - but it seems that eagerness, with its anticipation and excitement, mostly eludes us. By having to postpone our play-date for a couple of weeks, I realized that I was eager for today. I was eager to try a new soup recipe. I was eager to spend a day with my friend especially since we were going to experience “the first time” together. (Remember I said that she has never made bread before!)

Another first for both of us was cooking with Borlotti beans; they were an integral ingredient in the soup we made. Not only had I never cooked with these beans, I had not even heard of them. I consulted with my tried and true food professional, Brooke, and got the low down on these unfamiliar legumes. They look like this:

And are also known as Cranberry beans.

I mail ordered them because I was not sure where to find them locally. As it turns out, they are readily available in the bulk food aisle at Central Market.

Debra got to my house at 9:30. We quickly began our fun by making the bread, oatmeal bread, because we figured we could cut and chop the veggies for the soup while the bread was proofing. I had gathered all the ingredients on the kitchen counter before Debra arrived so she was able to dive right in to the process. With the necessary bread ingredients in the bowl, she began mixing by hand and then lifted the dough onto the counter for the 10 minute kneading process. A few minutes in I offered to take over but in that short time a new bread maker had been born. There is nothing like the feeling of that soft sticky dough moving between your fingers. Kneading bread has an amazing therapeutic effect!

With the bread tucked in a warm corner for its first rise, we then chopped onions and peppers. We began the soup by sautéing these veggies, adding the spices, and then some vegetable broth. Voila! We had our stock. As it simmered, we took a few moments to just talk. We conversed about more food, books, kids, church, cats, dogs, music, and probably several other things that I have overlooked.

Then it came time to add beans to the simmering broth - the Borlotti beans that I had soaked last night and cooked this morning, garbanzos from a can and some lentils. Then it was time for more simmering and punching down and shaping the bread for its second rise.

The next step in our meal preparation was to put the bread in the oven to bake and to also add some noodles to the soup. You gotta love those carbohydrates!

In final preparation for landing (in our mouths), we added spinach, cilantro and dill to the soup and we caramelized onions for a garnish. Finally, the moment we had been waiting for . . . time to take the bread from the oven! With a 180 degree turn, the perfectly browned, hollow sounding loaf released from the pan. As it sat cooling on the cutting board, it dawned on us that we should take a picture. It then dawned on me, several hours too late, that we should have been taking pictures all along.

I am a person who is truly interested more in process rather than product;yet, I neglect to document the process of what I am doing 9 times out of 10. Maybe that is because I am so involved in that process that I don’t want to interrupt its flow to take pictures. Or maybe I just don’t even think about taking pictures until it is too late. Whatever the reason, these are the only pictures I have.

So, here is the product.

The result of Debra’s “first time”.

Slathering it with homemade butter took it to the next level. And we didn’t even know there was a next level.

And then she took a knife to it!

Oh yeah, the soup . . .isn’t it beautiful!

We had a lot of fun on our Play Date. How can you go wrong with fresh bread, Borlotti beans, and a good friend?