Monday, November 15, 2010

Cheese Explosion

So funny story: over 2 weeks ago, I walked in to volunteer at the East End Food Coop for my usual Tuesday afternoon shift, when I noticed that all of the cheese coolers were empty.  Apparently some pipes had some leaks in them, and so they had to take everything out.  Even though the merchandise was still good, they couldn't sell any of it.  But they could give it away to employees and loyal volunteers (aka me).  After my shift is done, and I've been told by at least 5 different people about the free cheese and tofu products they have, I make my way back to the veggie cooler to find the holy grail of cheese: an entire cart full of local artisan cheeses, from Monterrey Jack to Cheddar to Swiss to Colby to Mozzarella to Provolone to Smoked Gouda to Sage Jack.  They encouraged me to take as much as I wanted and to not forget my friends who might like some too.  I walked out of there with well over 20 bricks of cheese.

Needless to say, we've been working through the cheese bit by bit, but we still have a lot left.  Tonight, I braved my fears and made homemade macaroni and cheese.  My fear lies in the fact that I grew up on the blue box stuff, so my view of Mac n Cheese is rather narrowly limited to that.  My fear is that I don't know what real Mac n Cheese should taste like.  But fear no more, I say.  I found out tonight!

I adapted a recipe from allrecipes.com.  Here's what I did:

Preheated the oven to 400 degrees.  Greased a 9X13 casserole pan.  Boiled for 8 minutes in a pot too small (note to self for next time) 1 pound (16 oz.) wheat elbow macaroni.  Drained pasta.


While that was boiling, I combined the following in a large bowl, almost too small for the end product (note to self for next time):
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded provolone
1 1/2 cup shredded colby
1 cup shredded swiss
1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda
1 cup shredded monterrey jack
Mmmm....cheese explosion....
Next I made the sauce:
3/4 cup plain yogurt (subbed for sour cream which I didn't have)
3/4 cup heavy cream (arteries began to clog at this point in the night)
1/4 cup chicken broth (the recipe's reviews said it was a little dry, so I added this)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. Jamaican jerk seasoning (probably could've used more)
Wait...there's nothing in here!  Because Alyssa forgot to take the picture when it was full :-(
Finally, I combined the drained pasta and cream/yogurt sauce with the cheese.  Stirred thoroughly, popped it in the pan, and topped with a little bit of cheese I reserved and bread crumbs. 
Popped it in the oven for 10 minutes, until the cheese was melted.  Then put it under the broiler for about 3-5 minutes, and voila!
Cheese explosion turned yummy goodness, topped with fresh parsley.
The only thing that slightly redeemed the health factor for this meal was serving it alongside steamed broccoli and sliced tomatoes.

But take my advice: don't go back for seconds (note for next time).  Your tummy (and arteries) will thank me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Common Sense Kindness

Whew.  I've been meaning to get on here for the last week.  It was even on my to do list last weekend.  Clearly that didn't happen!  Life has been a little crazy as of late, primarily because of work.  I was at all four of my schools within the last week, coordinated a professional development workshop, am conducting two professional development workshops this week, and am traveling up to Pitt-Bradford to work with student teachers for three days in between.  Whew.

Which is why my encounter at the grocery store yesterday really made me stop and think.  Jake and I had been invited to a neighbor's for an early Thanksgiving dinner, and I was running to pick up last minute supplies at the Giant Eagle Market District in Shadyside.  Now, if you've ever been there, you know that it's madness whenever you go there, be it 7 am, 2 pm, or 10 pm.  So many people!  I go in and by the end I literally had 4 things in my hand: a can of butter beans, a can of baked beans, bacon (all of these for Calico beans, or 3-bean hotdish--delicious!), and some pumpkin eggnog.  The last item was a splurge, but it's become something of a tradition for Jake and I to get around this time of year. I walk up to the self-checkout lanes.  The express lanes are of course long and filled with people who have 12 or MORE items.  Read the signs people!  But right next to it was a gentleman who had about 6 items in his cart, and an older lady who didn't have that much.  I took my chances and figured that they'd be done before the express lane. 

Then, much to my surprise, the older lady turns around, sees what I have in my arms, and says, "You don't have that many things.  Would you like to go in front of me?"  I stood there astonished for a moment, mouth gaping open.  I at first was going to politely decline until I remembered that I did in fact have to go home and immediately start making things for the dinner.  I replied, "That is so nice of you!  Yes, if you wouldn't mind."  Then, to my even greater surprise, she turns to the guy behind me, who also had 4 items, and said, "You don't have many things either.  Go on ahead in front of me."  Who does that nowadays???

And it just got me thinking about common sense kindness.  She could've been wrapped up in her own little world, not noticing anyone around her.  She could've not even cared in the slightest how she might hold other people up.  But she didn't.  She used common sense, a little mathematical reasoning, and deduced that the few extra minutes she would spend there were worth having people not have to wait for her (and her half-full cart). I've seen people with carts brimming and overflowing with goods not bat an eye when you have a minuscule basket behind them.  But I was able to walk out of Giant Eagle with a huge grin on my face when normally I leave scowling and cursing the masses of people. 

So, I'm going to try to take this approach more often when I'm dealing with strangers and friends alike.  When it makes common sense, show a little kindness.  It's really not that hard.  And you might just make someone's day. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Every election day always gets me thinking about politics.  And not just the big questions--which party is going to control the House?  Which races are going to be big upsets?--but also the littler and ultimately more important question about my own politics--What is most important to me about our democratic process?  What do I want my vote to stand for?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

When life hands you unbaked cake, make a truffle!

First, HAPPY HALLOWEEN everyone!  To treat Jake and I, I decided to make a most delicious looking cake that I saw in the October issue of Better Homes and Garden, a "Walnut Cake with Caramel Whipped Cream."
Right?  Doesn't it just make your mouth water?!!?

But I should have followed one of my most basic life principles: if you go into something with low expectations, you'll always be pleasantly surprised!  Now, on first glance, this defeatist tenet seems absolutely at odds with my generally positive optimism.  However, I look at it the other way around: I always want my outcomes to be better than I would have thought.  Hence, no or low expectations = happiness!

Yet I did not follow this rule this time.  From the recipe, it was going to be one of the most involved cake making efforts of my life.  And I was psyched.  I wanted my cake to look just like the picture.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My work at Prime Stage Theatre

As most of you know, I'm a theatre arts educator.  I'm a freelancer and work at many different organizations, but the main gig I have going right now is as Education Director for Prime Stage Theatre here in Pittsburgh.


Check out our website here!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting my creativity ON!

I've been holed up in my house recently working on getting my props and displays reading for my early childhood story-times and mini residencies with Gateway to the Arts.  I had my first story-time today on Fletcher The Fox and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke.

Here's what I made for it:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

P.J. Day

Today was another P.J. Day.  Which seems to be happening more frequently lately...I'll chalk it up to the luxury of working from home :-) 

Yet why oh why do I feel so guilty about it?  I was in fact quite productive today.  I made honey bran muffins; finished laundry; made granola; worked all day on my Fletcher and the Falling Leaves story panels (they look pretty cool--pics to follow) that I need for my first storytime on Tuesday; and made a robust traditional Sunday dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh green beans, and homemade European peasant bread.  Yet it doesn't feel like I've done anything because I am still in my P.J.'s.  And I feel like I should have put on real clothes at some point, but my snowflake lounge pants and fuzzy slippers just felt so nice.  If I'm in my own home and clearly not going anywhere, why am I finding it so hard to be at peace with my choice of remaining in my P.J.'s all day?

I need to remember that it's okay.  If, despite my productivity, I remain in my P.J.'s, so be it.  Because if I am still productive but feel more comfortable and relaxed because I'm in my P.J.'s, it's okay.  There are worse options...like wearing a corset, for instance, or sleeping all day.

I'm really just trying to justify myself right now...any other reasons would be greatly appreciated  :-)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Facial Toner and Clay Mask

It's been a while since I've posted anything on homemade face care products, so since I was nearly out of toner, I thought--why not?  And let's be adventurous and throw in a mask for fun!

First thing's first--toner.  What is it?  What is its purpose?  Typically, toner is used to clarify the skin, remove any residue left after cleansing the face, restore the skin's pH balance, and "tone" the face by shrinking pores.  Astringent is the strongest form of toner (over 20% alcohol), and although this toner has a small amount of alcohol in it from a bit of witch hazel I added, it's rather gentle overall.

pH balancer toner:
1 cup distilled water
3 Tbls. raw apple cider vinegar (AC)
1 Tbls. witch hazel
5 drops of essential oil (lavender, rose geranium, and tea tree are good for most types of skins)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gal Pals

I have amazing gal pals.  This past week, my husband was out of town for a conference.  Before he had even left, two friends contact me and invite me to various things, including dinner so I wouldn't have to eat alone.  How sweet and thoughtful is that?? 

Tuesday night I went over to Angie's new apartment for dinner--delicious chicken with cheese tortellini smothered in alfredo sauce, garlic bread, and amazing chocolate cake for dessert.  And wine!

Wednesday night I went over to Courtney's, hung with the kids, and was treated to very flavorful and scrumptious stuffed zucchini and bread.  And wine!

Thursday night I invited my new friend Meredith over to enjoy some homemade ham and lentil soup with bread.  And wine!

See a running theme at all? ;-) But seriously, over a meal and a glass of wine, I found myself conversing and catching up with three women who are all at different stages in their life, taking it day by day.  We talked and talked and laughed and laughed.  And the honest enjoyment of being in each other's company was unmistakable.  I've never been very "popular" with other women, probably due in large part to my extremely Type-A, extroverted personality.  But the friends I do have are priceless and I value them and our relationships more than they will every know, from those friends I've had since elementary school to the new friends I continue to make here in Pittsburgh.  Because there is something special about gal pals that no relationship with a man will ever come close to.  I pretend we're all part of this secret society, that only we "get" how life is, and how sometimes this secret knowledge is shared only through knowing glances, implicit innuendos, and large laughs because frankly--it really feels that way sometimes!

So really, how lucky am I?  Incredibly so!  Thanks, ladies--you're the best!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gonna brag...

I'm gonna brag.  Unabashedly.  Get over it.

I have the best husband.  So much so that even other husbands are jealous of him and his mad skills.  Our mutual friend, who shall remain nameless, joked with me one afternoon as I was over visiting with his wife, "So, what's Jake up to?  Building you another back deck this fine day?"  Turns out, he wasn't too far off.  He was building a bench in our back garden using a slab of stone and the chopped up parts of a tree that he ripped out of the ground the day before from our front garden (envision him standing on top of a 5 foot lopped off tree, rocking it back and forth to break the roots, making monkey noises, and you get the picture).  He's just that good.

So the big case in point: the aforementioned "back deck," which is apparently also an object of envy.  I've been promising pictures of the hard work he did all summer, so here they are!

What was a drab looking concrete area...


is now a gorgeously warm, wooded oasis, including a tressle picnic table he built one week from plans he downloaded off the internet...


replete with an outdoor bar/gardening station that we refurbished from Construction Junction.  The large tile on the left side pops out to create a potting station--the dirt goes through the grates underneath to the drawer, pop the drawer out, dump out the dirt, and easy breezy clean up!.  He even picked out the curtain AND hemmed it...


outdoor speakers with an ipod hookup, also installed by dear husband...


and a corner shelf to put our clothes pins and Beau's leash on, never to get soaking wet again because we left it on the ledge.  Genius.


Not to sell myself too short, I did help--a bit.  I spaced out the boards, did some staining, but really nothing compared to the wonders my husband did.

I'm incredibly lucky.  I now it.  Even if I don't always show it (like today--my PMS says sorry, honey!).

I love you, Jake!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A guilty indulgence

I like to consider myself an eco-conscious person.  Most of the blogs I follow have something to do with "wasting not, wanting not" and respecting our planet's finite resources.  I'm trying like many other people to make positive changes in the green direction: recycling (how obvious is that!?), composting, buying as many used clothes and shoes as possible (undergarments excluded), remaking/repurposing/reusing things in the house, buying local and organic food, collecting rain from our gutters for the garden, and making our own "green" ingredient household cleaners (have I ranted on the wonders of vinegar?  If not, there's a post coming, you can be sure of it!).

Yet I have a confession: I LOVE long, hot showers. Not just in the wintertime--all year round.  I often times stand underneath the shower head for eternities relishing the near burning sensation, feeling the relaxation take over. I remind myself nearly every time of the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer decides to live in his shower.  Trust me--if I could, I would.  Sounds great to me!!

I try to assuage the guilt that inevitably returns after my skin is bright red and as I begin contemplating whether to leave the shower or stay for just one more minute.  I try to tell myself that it hasn't really been that long.  I try to tell myself that it's cold outside--you don't want to open the curtain.  I try to tell myself that hey--you only wash your hair every 5-6 days, and then you don't always bathe every day, so you're just making time up from that.  I try to tell myself that I won't do it the next time--but I always do.  I try to tell myself that you'll pay the extra money on your gas and water bill--it's just too good to give up.

But none of these excuses ever fully works.  I still stay in, and I still feel guilty because this is my guilty indulgence.  And I'm sure it's not my only one, as I fully realize that compared to many around the world, I live a privileged existence where I don't ever have to worry about having hot water or even water at all.  And perhaps an indulgence every once in a while is a good thing, but I really do want to try and cut back on this guilty pleasure of mine  As my mother-in-law would say, moderation!  I know we wasted more water than I would care to admit doing all of our gardening and preserving this year, and water is not in everlasting supply.  So I'm hoping by writing about it that you, o faithful blog and readers, will keep me honest and on track--and out of the shower in a reasonable amount of time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Hotdish

Where I come from, we don't have casseroles.  We don't have goulash.  We have hotdish.  Hotdish is exactly as its name suggests--a hot dish full of goodness and comfort.  The ubiquitous "Tator Tot Hotdish" remains perhaps the most well known of all hotdishes, but any variety of hotdish can exist because--and here's the best part--there's really no recipe for hotdish.  You can make it out of anything you have on hand, although typically one of the following is needed:
  • large baking dish
  • grain or substantive vegetable (potato, rice, wild rice, zucchini, eggplant, bread)
  • meat or beans
  • "sauce", most typically one or more cans of condensed soup (cream of mushroom and tomato being the old standards)
 Now sure, there are plenty of church cookbooks with hotdish recipes in them, and certainly I have used these recipes before.  But these "recipes" are nothing more than "guidelines" as its pretty hard to mess up hotdish, as evidenced by my improvisation of hotdish for last night's dinner.  I'll call it (ready for my stunning originality) "South of the Border Hotdish."  It was my attempt to use up end-of-season peppers and tomatoes from our garden, potatoes that were starting to get soft, the bottom-of-the-bag tortilla chips, and dehydrated black bean dip that has been sitting in our pantry for years.

I started out by slicing 5 potatoes very thinly and layering on the bottom of a greased baking dish.


Then I spread one can of Campbell's cheddar cheese soup mixed with a tablespoon of milk (to thin it out--it could have used a bit more) over the potatoes.  I popped this in a 350 degree oven while I prepared the rest.


Chopped lots of onion and pepper and tomato.  Fried that up with two links of chorizo.  Set aside.


Made the black bean dip by mixing it with some water and popping it in the microwave for a minute or so.  Then I mixed in a can of drained black beans.   I took out the potatoes from the oven, then spread the black bean mixture over the potatoes.


Then I put the chorizo/pepper mixture over that and topped it all with shredded cheddar cheese and the crushed up bits of tortilla chips left at the bottom of our near empty bag in the pantry.  Popped it in for another 20 minutes, and success!

Another hotdish proudly made for consumption by hearty Midwesterners everywhere.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I love fall...

I love fall because
  • the leaves on the ground have this deliciously sweet-smelling rotting fragrance that Yankee Candle will never be able to match
  • the cloudy days that make the colors on the trees "pop" against the sky are just as great as the days filled with streaming sunlight and cloud shadows that pass over the wooded hillsides
  • thick, sugary apple cider is local, homemade, and fresh
  • candles can be burnt again because they provide that little bit of extra warmth to the room that the crisp air necessitates
  • pumpkin and squash are acceptable main/side/appetizer/soup/dessert dishes 
  • soup becomes hearty with grains and root vegetables and actually fills up my husband
  • the sun on my back is just enough to keep me toasty while sitting on my front porch knitting in mid-afternoon
  • the weight of the blanket(s) at night provides the same comfort as a mother tucking in her child--all warm and cozy
  • my senses are on overload...but in all the best possible ways!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Domestic Goddess

I am proud to say that over the last few weeks, I've been a bit of a Domestic Goddess.  I had the loftiest of intentions back in August, looking forward fondly to the days when I could work at home--both for my "jobs" and for general homemaking--and then frankly failing miserably at my goals in September (see previous post for why the failure happened--too much going on!). 

But now, I feel like I can breathe.  I'm starting to get into a groove, and while I know there will be hectic times in the (unfortunately all too near) future, I've at least begun somewhere.

So what does it mean to be a Domestic Goddess (DG),  you wonder?  I suspect that DG's are homebodies.  DG's take pride in doing things around the house, as menial as they sometimes are.  DG's probably have a to do list that they relish ticking off items from as the day progresses.  DG's find ways to save money, to maximum time, and to take a deep breath all in the matter of a moment.  They prioritize.  They create.  They feel joy.

And thus, given that I fit this description to a T (surprise surprise--I created it!), I really love my life right now.  My real jobs are going great, but being a DG is enlightening.  Here's a few things of what I've been up to:

1. Making homemade yogurt (next time when my camera doesn't decide to die on me I promise to document the whole process and post about it).  I used the directions on this page, www.makeyourownyogurt.com/.  They have a wonderful pdf with pictures that explain how to make yogurt with a HEATING PAD!  How cool is that?  And it works!

Heat milk to 185 degrees, preferably in a double boiler to prevent scorching.  Stir often!

Put the pot of milk into an ice bath, cooling to 110 degrees.  At this temperature, "pitch" your yogurt by adding your starter--2-3 Tbls. of PLAIN yogurt.

Plug in your heating pad on medium, cover it with a towel, and set on a cutting board.

Place your pot of milk on the heating pad, cover with towels, and wait 7 hours. At that time, spoon into containers (it will be runnier than store bought yogurt) and put in the refrigerator to cool and set up.  




2. Baking pumpkin and roasting pumpkin seeds
Baked pumpkin for a Pumpkin, Barley, and Sage Soup (it was DELICIOUS!). You can find the recipe in the October edition of Better Home and Gardens magazine, or on their website at www.bhg.com.
But I couldn't let those seeds go to waste!  I found a new recipe at Simply Recipes, and it was the best recipe I've ever used for pumpkin seeds!  Definitely recommend it.
3. Made a reusable grocery bag out of recycled jeans and the leather backing from a belt that came off recently.  I love having scrap fabric and a sewing machine :-)

Sorry for the pictures being sideways, but you get the idea.

4. Baking bread--and failing.  Not quite sure why.  I'm following the directions in the book.  I'm "cloaking the loaf" for a good minute (and no, it's not nearly as dirty as it sounds).  But then it always blows out the bottom (seriously, get your mind out of the gutter).  I think I *gasp* need my husband's help on this one.  He really is the baker in this household.  Perhaps someday my bread won't look like this...




Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A month...and a day or two...

I've been waiting to write in the blog for a while now.  It seemed fitting that I would update it exactly one month since my last post back home...and then I missed that.  Surprise, surprise.  But anyways--here's been my life during that last month...and a day or two:

4 Jobs: Education Director for Prime Stage Theatre, Dramaturg for Young Playwrights Festival at City Theatre, Teaching Artist with Gateway to the Arts, and Teacher Workshop Coordinator for Shakespeare-in-the-Schools.  I have been to observe classrooms, taught in classrooms, and gotten lost several times on my way to said classrooms.  And I haven't even begun drinking more than one cup of coffee a day (Mom, be proud!).

3 Steelers Games: And they've won them all.  Rothlisberger, who?  All spent with lovely company, delicious food, and lots of beer.

2 Season Premieres: House (who's now happy?  It's a shock to the system) and Glee.

One of the following: wedding (Tiff and Ryan's), baby shower (Meredith and Ryan's), 1st Birthday party (Grace's), Pens game (first pre-season and inaugural game in the new Consol Energy Center in suite seats), trip to Moraine State Park replete with bicycles and grilled food on Labor Day, Gala for Prime Stage Theatre aboard the lovely Gateway Clipper Empress on a beautiful autumnal evening along Pittsburgh's 3 Rivers, Professional Development workshop for my Adopt-A-School teachers with Prime Stage, job interview for a full time job that would have been great on the pocketbooks but potentially detrimental on my much-needed family time, demonstration of my mad wacky theatre skills (at Tbogen's Creative Drama in the Classroom class), pep talk to incoming Literacy*AmeriCorps members, finally successful experience changing my name on my driver's license to "Alyssa Herzog Melby," and homemade yogurt (it's really not that hard!)

Too many to count: coffee dates, lunch dates,volunteering at the East End Food Co-op, loads of laundry, tomato jars canned, and  meetings, meetings, and more meetings.

And always: a wonderful husband, a "Beau"dacious dog, and a helluva lot to be thankful :-)

Up next: deep breaths. tea. sleep.  And attempting to relish every second of the madness!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Slowing Down: Picking Grapes

I realize that I write enormously long posts.  To help off-set that, I'm going to start a series of posts called "Slowing Down" that will be interspersed with my more verbose writings.

Picking Grapes on the Melby farm


From the windmill, vines high and low



Into the egg basket



For some homemade wine!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Greatest Generation

Yesterday Jake and I visited his grandparents, Rollie and Lorraine.  We're back home in MN visiting family and gearing up for my cousin's wedding this weekend.  We knew that we'd make it up to Madison at some point to see them, and the visit gave me a lot to ponder about marriage and what I value in my life. 


I first met his grandparents in the summer of 2006 after we started dating.  I remember the first time walking into their house, getting blasted back to past from the smell of it.  Strangely enough, their basement smelled exactly like my own Grandma Lorraine's house, who passed away in 2003.  Even then, I knew it was a good sign that Jake and I were meant to be!  At this point, Rollie was already diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, but he was still living at home being cared for by Lorraine. Jake used to tell me all sorts of stories about things he would do with his Grandpa, the bottling company Rollie ran for many years and that Jake worked for as a teenager, and all the work around his grandparents' house that he would help with.  Jake used to say "I wish you could have met my Grandpa before he got sick," but even now I can still see the twinkling in his eye of the perpetual joker that everyone tells me he used to be, and that's all I need to see to love him dearly!  Eventually the disease's progression became too overwhelming, and Rollie was moved into the nursing home a block away from their home. Lorraine hasn't slowed down one bit, though, since I met her.  She visits Rollie numerous times each day, still does his laundry, and even just washed her car by hand this past week!  She's going to be 89 this year, but with the way she still moves around and how sharp her mind still is you'd never know it! 

Lorraine met Jake and I at the nursing home yesterday afternoon around 4 o'clock.  Rollie was listening to some oldies on his Ipod, and besides being a little tired, seemed to be in good spirits.  We sat down with them both, chatted about what was new, and showed them pictures of our garden and from our honeymoon in Jamaica.  Jake and his Grandpa shared a beer together, and we took some pictures.  They were just amazed at the technology of the digital camera, being able to see the picture right away!
Jake and Rollie sharing a Hub City Brown Ale.
Two hours flew by, and by then Rollie was ready to head off to supper.  Lorraine said, "Goodbye honey," and leaned in and gave her husband of 60+ years a big smooch on the lips.  It took everything in my power not to start crying from the bittersweet moment, and even thinking back on it now brings tears to my eyes.  How hard it must be for her to say goodbye to him every day, for both of them to be alone at night, when for so long they had always been together.  But also how wonderfully sweet it is to see such love, dedication, and devotion after so many years, especially when no one seems to take marriage vows all that seriously anymore.  I'm sure that they have had their bad times just like anyone in any marriage, but to witness the love that years have built up was something quite special.  Both Jake and I remarked upon later that it's at this point in someone's life--when adults become children again and need to be taken care of--that it suddenly becomes so clear why having a partner, children, and family are so important.  I don't think anyone ever wants to be alone, but when you start to think forward to your later years, the need to keep your family close and strong becomes so much more apparent. 

Tom Brokaw rightly called their generation "The Greatest Generation" for their sense of duty, love, and practicality.  I lament that my own generation doesn't have more of those three things, three things still so evident in his grandparents today.  We talked with his grandparents about all the hard work they had to do, raising their families, working without technology, through the Great Depression and numerous wars.  But it was that kiss between two people who had made it through tough times and good that spoke volumes.  I hope that someday Jake and I can live up to their standards of duty, love, and practicality.  Because if it ends with a kiss like that, it'll all have been worth it. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Morning-time Stretches

I have always liked the idea of yoga.  As a longtime dancer, anything that gets my body stretching, bending, and twisting feels amazing.  I distinctly remember my first introduction to yoga.  I was at my neighbor Barb's house.  Her husband at the time had a book about yoga.  I must have been 7 or 8, and I tried to read all the words--including the Sanskrit names--but really the pictures were what floored me.  I tried to contort my body into the positions, try them out in any order that I like, but more often than not, it hurt and didn't really feel that good at all!

Only later in life, after many a theatre warmup with sun salutations and an official yoga class here and there, have I begun to understand the philosophical and physiological underpinnings to yoga that make it what it is.  I don't practice a particular style of yoga (more out of ignorance than anything), although what I do is probably most akin to Hatha Yoga.  First and foremost, it's about breath.  This was obviously one aspect that went right over my head when I was younger.  Second, it's about slowing down and going deeper.  Each breath brings you deeper into the pose.  Third, yoga shouldn't hurt.  Even now as I push my body further I have to remind myself to pull back and listen to the signals my body is telling me.

I've begun to practice yoga every morning on our newly finished back porch.  There is something magical about doing sun salutations as the sun is peeking over the rooftop.  Although you can't see it in this picture below, you can imagine how cool it would be.  And I even saw a rainbow this morning!  Beautiful...


I get to listen to the sound of birds chirping delightfully (and the occasional chainsaw from a neighbor who is up and at it far too early).  If the wind is blowing just right, the chimes blow and add their own soft mellow music to the mix.
Pentatonic-scaled wind chimes.  Ethereal...

At first my goal was to do 20 minutes of yoga every morning.  I managed to do that and much more as time seems to whiz by.  Although I had to stop during my recent illness, I just jumped back into my routine, and I feel great.  I start with breathing and centering, then gentle warmup twists and forward bends (usually seated).  I move into cat and cow pose to warm up my back, then child's pose for a rest.  Next I do sun salutations--12 simple flowing moves that get my body all warmed up and aligned.  I typically do between 3-6 sets of sun salutations (a set is two times through, one on each side of the body).  Sometimes I stop here.  Other times, I go through more pose sequences.  And I always always always end in relaxation pose.  Even if I can't stay there for very long, going forth into my day relaxed and calm is the best feeling in the world.
A face-down view from my yoga mat.
To find out more about the poses (and their Sanskrit names), go to www.yogajournal.com.  They even have a cool "build your own sequence" application!

And after yoga?  I enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee.  I start the coffeemaker before I go out to the porch each morning.  It's my treat to myself for morning-time stretches done well :-)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Value of Value

Frugal, green, thrifty, "locavore," coupon-clipping, shop the sales--while all of these ideas are something I aspire for, I feel that often these ideals conflict with one another.  What to do when your values are odds with the value of a dollar?

Take my recent food shopping for example.  Yesterday, in preparation for a "trailer trash" party we were hosting (classy, I know), I went shopping for food at our local Giant Eagle.  For a mere $20 and shopping strictly on the generic value brands (except the Oreos, which were one sale 2/$6), I bought:
  • (2) 8-ct. bags of hamburger buns, 
  • (2) packages of Oreos, 
  • (2) small cans of mandarin oranges, 
  • (1) container cool-whip, 
  • (3) 2-liters of soda, 
  • (1) half-gallon buttermilk, 
  • (2) boxes of instant vanilla pudding, 
  • (1) bag of potato chips, 
  • (1) frozen orange juice concentrate, and 
  • (1) box of Lean Cuisine pockets.
As it turns out, this is quite a bit of food for only $20!

Then this morning I went shopping at our local food co-op, the East End Co-op.  We just recently joined in an effort to support a smaller, locally run operation which has lots of local and organic food.  We had been going to Trader Joe's throughout the past year and really like that as well, although there's something about the lack of transparency with where they get their food that sometimes irks me.  I will likely continue to go there to stock up on stuff as they have good organic and green products (we love their toothpaste!), but we're trying to spend our money more wisely these days.  So with our 10% member discount on "member day" at the co-op, I spent $70 and bought:
  • 5 lbs. of bulk rolled oats (on sale)
  • 3 lbs. of bulk yellow popcorn (on sale)
  • 3.2 lbs. of bulk garbanzo beans (on sale)
  • 1.6 lbs. of bulk raisins (on sale)
  • 2 lbs. of pearled barley (on sale)
  • .25 lb. of bulk ground cumin
  • (1) 12 oz. package of Bike Fuel Coffee (on sale)
  • (1) 32 oz. blueberry blend juice (on sale and used coupon)
  • (1) jar of organic peanut butter (on sale)
  • (4) boxes of Annie's Mac and Cheese (on sale)
  • (2) lbs. of bananas
  • (1) 32 oz. bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (on sale)
  • (1) 8 oz. frozen blueberries (on sale and used coupon)
  • (1) Seventh Generation dish soap (used coupon)
  • (1) 1/2 lb. block of pepper jack cheese
  • (1) 32 oz. container of plain yogurt
  • (1) loaf of wheat bread from a local bakery
You'll notice I shopped the sales and used what coupons I could find, but even then--it's kind of expensive to eat healthy, green, and local!  We routinely pay an extra 20 cents for a gallon of local milk, $1 more for local eggs, and the list goes on for local things, which is so ironic because if it's local, it should cost less because there's no shipping involved!   

We've also been going to the Farmer's Market in East Liberty every Monday since the beginning of the summer.  Each week we bring $20 and hope to try new things, but frankly, once we buy peaches, half our budget is blown (but they are oh so sweet and juicy and absolutely worth it!).  So even shopping at the Farmer's Market, too, has put me into more than one conundrum.  Pay a little more for something we know is organic, or go to one of the bigger producers that is selling cabbage 2/$1?  Now that we have our garden, it's been easier to make those decisions, but they are decisions nonetheless that reflect what I as a consumer feel is important. 

Over time, I've noticed our move towards local and organic food start to add up.  So what am I supposed to do?  It's hard to put a price on the importance of eating local, supporting local business, attempting to buy bulk, and being more green, and at this point, I am willing to pay extra for making what I feel are more ethical spending choices.   On the other hand, it's amazing all the food--albeit nutritionally bad food--that you can buy for just $20!  It's really no wonder that our country has such a weird relationship with food once you begin to crunch the numbers.  And while Jake and I have both lost weight because of our consumption of more vegetables and less food overall, man those oreos are delicious! 

Jake reminded me the other day that although we're making this move towards more local, more organic, we still shouldn't forget to look in the sales ads that overtake our mailbox every Monday.  With our freezer and dehydrator, we can stock up on veggies and fruits while they're in season, and take advantage of other sales for things we use every day.  He's got a good point.  And certainly the least I can do is at least look at all the paper the ads waste each week.

I am certain this debate will not end soon.  I'm going to continue to struggle with this as I make more of a concerted effort to manage our finances, structure the meals of our house, and stay true to our values.  So in the meantime, I'm going to go enjoy those Oreos while they're around and before Jake gets to them :-)  Oreos with local milk, anyone?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bring on the Apron

I couldn't believe when I took my students to the library on Tuesday how many large brown leaves from the 100+ year old oak and maple trees there were scattered all over the sidewalk.  The cicadas have started their nightly humming, a drone that almost lulls you to sleep, until you remember the old folk wisdom that once you hear them, only 6 weeks til the first frost.  Some would say this the sad part--summer coming to an end--but I welcome the fall with open arms.  The warm days and cool nights, the color of a different hue and deeper lushness, the smell of crispness, and all the wonderful comfort foods that come with it.

But it's not just the change to fall I am excited for; this year, fall is bringing changes to me.  Next week I start my foray into the freelance teaching artist world with my part-time job as Education Director with Prime Stage Theatre holding me somewhat steady.  I'm excited for what this next year will bring--and terrified at the same time.  But if I wasn't, I'd be worried.

I am also bursting with anticipation at the thought of being able to be home more.  I am undeniably a homebody.  I will take a movie on the couch or a fire out out on our back porch before a night out on the town any day.  When we first moved into the house 3 years ago, I was all into "keeping a good house" for my first "real" home--keeping up with cleaning, cooking, etc.--that I thought I was "supposed" to do.  And then graduate school came and that all went right out the window.

But now I find myself with another opportunity to reconnect with my home, all the changes it has gone through since we moved here three years ago.  Physically, the kitchen and back porch remodel, the switching of the rooms upstairs, and all those added details we've brought in piece by piece.  Emotionally, our connection to our dog, Beau, and to each other as married partners.  I am learning to value my home in an entirely new way.  It is not just that I feel as if I am supposed to keep a good home, but now I genuinely want to and am looking forward to having the luxury of time to be able to do things my way.  I want to get on a routine of homemaking activities, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, baking my own bread (oh I can't tell you how excited I am to endeavor down this road!), organizing paperwork, and other little projects around the house, like fiddling with the sewing machine, working in the garden, making natural products, etc.

Underneath it all seems to be a strong desire to be self-reliant.  I remember looking at this old Reader's Digest guide to Homesteading (or something like that) which my Dad had lying around his house.  In it was every kind of activity you could imagine, from dying your own yarn, to building a smoker, to raising livestock, to home preservation, to maple syruping.  And even then I remember thinking--how cool would it be to be able to do everything for yourself.  Cool and unbelievably hard.  I don't know how those pioneers did it, but dang--I want to give it a try. Couple my desire for self-reliance with how much I like to be thrifty and green, and I'm feeling really good about my potential success at this whole "homemaking" adventure.  On a tangentially related note, a friend asked us a while back if we wanted to "go off the grid."  No, not entirely, but wouldn't it be cool if in 2010 you really could?  Think about out society today--consumer-driven, lacking in hard-skills, disconnected from food and energy sources--and to know there's some people who are actually doing it?  It amazes me.  While I don't think I would want to distance myself from mainstream society that much, I definitely empathize with their motivations. 

Perhaps all this makes me sound like I want to be a 50s housewife (or a hippie radical--take your pick).  While I do not want to have the inequality that went along with the 1950s (Jake will still be expected to do his share of dishes!), I do want that sense of deep connectedness to the place I call my home (and the pearls, if possible).  I will admit--I am proud of all we've done with our home and all we continue to do with it.  Just like Home Improvements are never done, neither is Homemaking--there's always things to do and things to improve.  And if saying this makes me sound like a 50s housewife, then bring on the apron (and if it be of the tie-died variety, I shall not complain).  I'm not ashamed to admit that I am choosing to make my home and everything I do to make it a home a top priority.  Because as it changes and grows, so do I :-)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Attack of the Zucchini, Part 4

Oh, it feels so good to be back blogging! I took a few days off, or rather my days took off to the point where I had no free time, but the joys of a relaxing Sunday at home in my p.j.'s--ah!!  So I'll now be taking this time posting yet again, and perhaps even later again today if something pops up.

The Zucchini are still coming in droves.  I froze some more grated zucchini on Friday, but saved part of it for some delicious stuff Zucchini pancakes:


We found the base recipe on Food Network for a Goat Cheese Stuffed Zucchini Pancakes with Tomato Sauce.  We didn't have goat cheese, so we substituted Feta instead.  And the Tomato Sauce looked a little to time intensive for our tastes, so instead, we served them on thick slices of an heirloom tomato from our garden, the Pineapple Tomato.  Sprinkled with Parmesan, it was delicious.   The only thing that I would do differently next time is make the pancakes as thin as I could in order to get them to cook all the way through--not that they were not done, but I would have liked them a bit more done if that makes any sense.

Also, I want to say a special and huge "CONGRATULATIONS!" to my dear friend Emily (or Awillix on the blog) who just had a beautiful baby girl, Lily.  While you likely won't be on the blog for a while now that you've got your hands full, know that I'm thinking of you and wishing I could send you some of the zucchini :-)

Honey honey!

No, this post is not about my personal honey (Jake), nor is it about the deliciousness of honey, although certainly I would never dispute this fact.  This post is instead on the wonders of "honey honey" for the body.

The health benefits of honey: honey is a rich anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and has been used for centuries as a natural first-aid treatment.  People who eat local honey are less likely to develop allergies as their body ingests local pollen, thus building a tolerance for local plants.  Honey acts as a natural diuretic, is easy for the body to digest as it contains an equal amount of fructose and glucose in it, and is often used to treat throat and chest ailments in combination with other herbs.  Honey is also a great skin softener when used in conjunction with milk.  (*caution: while honey is great for children and adults alike, it should not be given to infants under the age of 1 due to the potential for infant botulism, while rare and can also be found in dirt and dust spores, can be debilitating*).

For these many reasons, I have tried to incorporate more honey into my life.  For over a year now, I've been making my own face wash made from honey.

3 simple ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup vegetable-based glycerin (a natural humectant and skin softener)
  • 1/8 cup castille soap (I use Dr. Bronner's unscented "baby" soap)
Honey, Castille Soap (in a reusable bottle), and Vegetable Glycerin

With 3 simple materials:
  • Measuring cup
  • Small rubber spatula
  • Pump container (I used an old Neutrogena face wash bottle)
  • funnel (optional)
Pump container, funnel (optional) measuring cup, and rubber spatula.

Combine all ingredients in measuring cup, stir well with spatula, pour into pump container, and that's a wrap.

The gunk on the outside is from the old label.  Boo for glues that won't come off!
Another use of honey that I just recently tried was as a first-aid treatment.  On Thursday night, I burnt my hand.  Sheer stupidity on my part--I reached for a plate that was sitting on the stove, next to a hot burner, thinking that there couldn't possibly be that much residual heat.  Wrong!  It stung and hurt like a you know what!  I immediately ran it under cold water, and for 10 minutes held an ice cube wrapped in a washcloth in my hand--all the while trying to complete dinner!  Then, I put on 3 drops of lavender essential oil.  Lavender has been used for centuries to treat burns and in general it is very soothing to all skin types.  It is one of only two essential oils (the other is tea tree) that can be used undiluted on the skin without trouble for most people; otherwise, essential oils should also be diluted in "carrier oils" or in a water-based solution.

After the lavender, what did I put on next?  You guessed it--honey!  I slathered it on, licked the stuff of my fingers that ran away from my palm (an added bonus amidst the pain) and then wrapped it in gauze.  Perhaps my burn wasn't as bad as I thought it was, but this burn healed almost overnight with no problem.  I also believe that the honey helped to soften the skin that had been burned, making it more pliable and not so stiff.  If you've ever burned your hand before you'll know it's not always easy to move your fingers and such with a burn!  I will definitely be using this again for the next time I get burned, which is ultimately more often than I would like to admit.  You think I would learn :-)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Attack of the Zucchini, pt. 3--getting creative!

I'm taking creative license here. I'm including yellow squash in this post.  Please forgive the culinary transgression.

I'm happy to report however that we have even more summer squash of both varieties.  So let me count the ways we've dealt with this lovely turn of events:

1. Freeze it--in slices and grated.  We are making Ziploc one very happy company this summer.
2. Pickle it--yummy zucchini pickles loaded with ginger--sounds delicious!  Can't wait to try them.
3. Pasta it--every kind of way you can imagine, including a surprisingly simple and easy linguine with zucchini, raisins, walnut, and Parmesan cheese.  Delicioso!
4. Grill it--oh, what a little extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper can do to bring out the flavor.
5. Load it--sadly I don't have picture for this one, but two weekends ago on our ill-fated trip to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Arts on the Allegheny (in Kittaning--it got stormed out...boo...), we had a great picnic before hand consisting of a pseudo Tex-Mex dish.  Use thick zucchini slices as your base, top with a black bean spread, avocado, tomato, pepper, and pepper-jack cheese.  Surprisingly, this was scrumptious, if messy.  The only thing missing was tequila in our lime juice.
6. Bake it--very tasty muffins and bread!

Put za zucchini in za batta and a stir stir stir (until just moistened).
Final product: 6 muffins and 1 small loaf.


7. Stuff it--finally cool enough to turn on the oven, we decided to give the stuffed thing a try.  So glad we did!  I sort of mashed a bunch of recipes together, and here's what I got:

3 zucchini or yellow squash
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup quinoa, cooked
1 medium red onion, diced
3 small peppers, diced
3 large roma tomatoes, deseeded and diced
Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Fresh cut 1/4 cup basil and 1/8 cup oregano
Salt, pepper, and other seasonings to taste
Broth if the mix seems too dry. 

Slice open the squash (if using yellow, will have to deseed).  Scoop out pulp onto a cutting board until you have a 1/4-1/2'' left int he shell.  Roughly chop up the pulp and put into bowl.  Cook the zucchini halves in the microwave for 3-4 minutes.  Place in a greased pan that tightly fits the halves in it (you don't want the stuffed halves to be rolling all over the place, do ya?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bring 1 cup quinoa mixed with 2 cups of water to a boil; cover and simmer on low for 15 minutes.  Brown hamburger together with onion and peppers; drain if desired (I didn't--it was pretty lean and added good moisture to the dish).  Mix quinoa, hamburger mixture, pulp, herbs, tomatoes, and seasonings in a bowl.  Mix thoroughly. 

Scoop your filling into your halves.  Press down firmly to fill as full as possible.  Sprinkle liberally with parm cheese.  Bake for 20-30 minutes until "crispy" and the cheese is browning on top.

Finished product:

I like to think all the fresh veggies cancels out the burger and cheese.


Oh, and did we forget to mention the double zucchini?

Please share below what you think this looks like ;-)


Don't see this every day! 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Worries

Reflection is key for the growth of knowledge.  I firmly believe this, yet for one reason or another, often times find myself avoiding it at all costs.  Probably because reflection hurts sometimes, be it the very literal reflection in the mirror after a long night of various and sundry activities or the figurative examination of the soul under a harsh white light.

So here I am after a long Monday. A very long Monday filled with fires to put out left and right, challenges to overcome every five minutes, and spills to clean up.  And that's just with my classroom of 5-8 year olds!  I'm feeling filled with worries right now, about my past actions and how they will affect people, about my current situation, and for things far off into the future. 

1. I worry that I am too selfish.  I know that sometimes I don't give my husband enough of my attention, I don't call my friends often enough, and I don't think outside of my immediate circle of life very often.  Part of the reason I joined AmeriCorps was to get outside of myself a bit, but I still don't feel that I've done enough.  I berate my husband sometimes for not congratulating me on a wonderful dinner or for not understanding how hard I work at my 2 jobs  (or 3, or 4, or 5 jobs, depending upon the time of year).  But I do the same thing to him all the time.  I am a hypocrite in this matter and I don't like it.  There have been so many times recently when I've caught myself ready to say "you have a good day too" when someone has said the same to me only to stop short.  Why don't I say it?  Because deep down I feel that I'm owed a "good day" and this person is not?  Because I don't say it right away and then think the person will think it stupid if I say it later? Certainly this is an awful position to hold either way you look at it.  I just need to say it.  Better late than never. 

2. I worry that I don't have enough gratitude.  Caveat: I'm not a religious person.  I explain this because I feel that--perhaps rightly so--religion demands of its followers gratitude for the things that God provides.  So I don't have this ready made structure in my life that elicits gratitude from me.  Even so, I am thankful for all I have--my family, friends, home, job, nature--but I know I don't show it enough.  I hardly ever send thank you cards for ordinary gifts, except under certain circumstances which dictate they be sent (weddings, showers, etc.)  I hardly ever take a moment in my day to think about all I have, to wonder at how I've gotten to the point in my life, and to ponder on the mysteries of nature's cycle, an idea I keep coming back to for its simple beauty.  And then there's the difference between real gratitude and "fake" gratitude.  Like when I tell my students "thank you" for behaving the right way.  Yes, it's helpful when they do start behaving, but all the while I'm thinking "well you should have been behaving in the first place, punk!"  So my heart's not in it as much as it can or should be. 

3. I worry that I'm not going to be a good parent someday, if my present performance in the classroom today is any indication. I had one student who defied every word I said, every action I took.  All he was looking for, I realize, was attention.  And what did I do?  I gave it to him every step of the way.  I gave him exactly what he wanted and what he didn't need.  I couldn't ignore his behavior and instead tried to control it, or rather get him to control it.  And this whole exchange between him and I backfired.  And it sucks knowing that I failed him today.  Frankly, my inability to ignore him showed a lack of self-control on my part, something I'm not very happy admitting. 

I feel ugly inside right now.  Like I have turned into this giant monster with four heads and creeping snake hair, part-ogre and part-Medusa.  Surely, this is how my students must see me on a regular basis. 

Now comes the hard part--changing my own behavior to act upon my worries.  Perhaps I can start with one very small but worthwhile step:

"Thank you for reading this.  It means a lot to me to know that you are listening."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Homemade Laundry Detergent

On our move towards more green, more healthful, more simple living, we decided to start making stuff.  Lots of stuff.  From beauty products, to cleaners, to food preservation, we're trying to do our part little by little.  What I've been amazed about in my research into natural products is how a few key staples--vinegar, honey, olive oil, baking soda, borax, glycerin, castille soap (like Dr. Bronner's)--can provide so much of what we need and use everyday.  And the best part--if you make it, you know what goes into it.  As I make new batches, I'll post the products along with their recipes. 

I started making homemade laundry detergent last year.  Even Jake can't say that it doesn't get the clothes as clean as any commercial cleaners!  Occasionally I've gone back to Trader Joe's for some of their laundry detergent (phosphate-free, of course; phosphates are very harsh on the water supply), but what I love about this recipe is the sheer simpleness of it.


  • 1 bar of Ivory soap (or Fels Napatha soap), finely grated
  • 2 cups Borax
  • 2 cups Washing Soda

Mix all together. 

 And done.  2 Tbs. to a warm or hot wash.   Stir it up in the water a bit to break up soap clumps before adding clothes. 

Frequently asked questions:

But why make your own laundry detergent?
1. Better for the environment.  Not only are you not using harsh petrochemicals, but you actually don't need as much as the commercial detergents call for (unless you have a very soiled or very large load).  So a little does in fact go a long way!
2. Cheaper--I haven't done the math precisely, but estimates on the internet are anywhere from $.05 to $.10 per load.  The average commercial detergent is approximately $.20 per load.  Not bad. 
3.  Time--It takes 5 minutes.  Think of all the time you can save by not figuring out what detergent is on sale, what detergent has the new hot scent, etc! 

What about the information that says that Borax and Washing Soda are toxic?
Well, yes--don't eat it.  You will get sick.  But they are certainly far better for you than the other chemicals in commercial detergents.  Some people have experienced skin irritation if it comes in contact with the skin.  Wear gloves if you'd like extra protection, otherwise just use a spoon to stir it up.

What about fabric softener? 
Guess what??  The answer is another staple--vinegar.  It does the trick.  Add a half cup per load during the rinse cycle and dry on the line or in the dryer as normal.  If it doesn't get soft enough, add 1/3 of a fabric dryer sheet to the dryer.  You don't need any more than that!

Where do I buy Borax and Washing Soda?
Borax can be found in most supermarkets, Target, Walmart, etc.  Washing Soda is a bit more difficult.  I can't find it anywhere in Pittsburgh except a very small chain, Kuhn's.  So check out at the smaller chains or independent grocers in your area.  If you can't find it there, though, washing soda is also called "soda ash," a chemical used in the pool business. 

Can I make liquid laundry detergent?
Absolutely.  I just personally the powder is easier to do.  But if you'd like more information, check out the following websites:
http://tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes/
http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/04/09/making-your-own-laundry-detergent-a-detailed-visual-guide/
http://www.domesticcents.com/saving-money/homemade-laundry-detergent/

Service

Today I ended my year of service with AmeriCorps.  It was a whirlwind year, mainly because I quite typically had to make things very very hard on myself by getting married and having a second (and third and fourth) job.  I gained so much experience in knowledge about working with young kids, working with difficult people, among others.

But most importantly, my year got me thinking about what this whole idea of "service" is.  I love the idea of volunteering and serving other people.  I am fully in support of anything that will help another human being, a community, or the planet.  But, sadly, there also seems to be some hidden assumptions to the idea of service that make me uneasy sometimes.  Service implies an already preexisting power structure, but one that can work both ways.  On the one end you have the lower serving the higher--a waiter serves his customers food, a butler serves the master of the house, etc.  On the other end you have the higher serving the lower--non-community volunteers taking trash out of rundown neighborhoods, volunteers bagging food at the food pantry, etc.  Most of the service from this past year could be classified under the second type, albeit without most of the sinister overtone of the "lower/higher" distinction.  I say "without most" because there were definitely times that, when not perhaps sinister, the intentions behind our service to a particular community with ignorant and ill-informed.  Certainly, intentions are good, but what of the results of said service?  What if (as I believe will happen with a few of our projects) the long-last effects are few or even non-existent? 

Another assumption seems to be that all service is created equal and all service is necessarily beneficial.   But that was simply not the case.  At times it was painfully evident--sitting around a project with nothing to do because the coordinators hadn't planned well enough or there were too many of us for the job, thus wasting precious wo/man power (not to mention time).  At other times, the disparity between the quality of service was not seen but felt.  Leaving one service project you might feel bored and apathetic about it all, others you left feeling rejuvenated about the prospect of the service you have put into action. 

I don't mean to sound so cynical about the whole thing.  The whole endeavor of service is absolutely worthwhile, but I at least in the future will be thinking a little more about what this means and the kind of service that I value performing, for whom, and to what end.  Perhaps this makes me even more of a service erudite with nothing better to do than think about how I can best change the world and further reinforces the very notion of "higher/lower" that I seek to dispel.  Yet maybe it will make my future service more meaningful, both to me and the areas I serve, to have some answers to these questions.  Without asking them, we seem to run the risk of alienating the motivation from the action of service, and in this day, with resources running thin, it's something that we just can't afford.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

We are Granola

If you are what you eat, we are granola.  We only recently began to eat a lot of it once we started making it ourselves.  And I think the only reason we started making it is because people were calling us "granola" and "modern day hippies" and the like and it seemed weird that while in many ways we aptly fit these descriptions, we did not in fact consume granola.  I had also been under the mistaken assumption that granola was somehow "bad" for you.  While being a high-calorie food, thanks to complex carbohydrates, honey, and nut fats, it's also chalk full of nutrients, protein, and fiber.  So the lesson here: moderation is key.

Well that's all been changed thanks to a wonderful foundation recipe that came in one of the Penzey Spice Catalogs.  The recipe has been used so many times there's oil blots on it.  It's very well loved.  And let me tell you: moderation is hard.  It's our morning staple cereal, and we top it off with yogurt and fresh berries if they're in a season.  Delicious.  But we also have a handful during the day if we need a pick me up.  Delicious.  Or as a little bedtime snack.  Delicious.  Frankly, it's hard not to eat it all the time.

This recipe is for a double batch.  Store half in the freezer.  Trust me--you'll need to make a double batch.  It goes that quickly.

  • 6 cups old-fashioned oats (not quick oats)
  • 2 cups oat bran
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 2 cups nuts (almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans, cashews, etc.
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups dried fruit (raisins, craisins, pineapple, apple, etc.)
First, mix together the oats, oat bran, flaxseed, wheat germ, and nuts in a large bowl.

Next, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then take a small saucepan and combine the honey, water, sugar, vanilla, and oil.  Cook over low heat until it just begins to bubble.


Pour the honey over the oats and mix thoroughly, scraping up the bits and pieces from the bottom of the bowl.

Divide the mixture between two large jelly rolls pans and spread out evenly.  Baking for approximately 20-30 minutes (depending on how well you like it done--I like mine crunchy!).  Stir every 8-10 minutes while baking.

Let the oat mixture cool completely.  Once cooled, add in your dried fruit and store in refrigerator or freeze. 

I've adapted this recipe to suit whatever I have on hand.  I love to add cinnamon to it.  I added steel cut oats (about 2 of the 6 cups) when I mistakenly bought them one time and then had no idea what to do with them.  And I even have put in quick oats on occasion when I'm just a bit short (gasp!).  And that's what I love about this recipe--it's versatility.  And if it means that we--like the granola that we eat--are versatile, I'm flattered.