Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday on a Thursday: Three Veggies/three meals - variations on a theme

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

So, I'm still using up CSA produce and supplementing it with the last goodies from our Farmers Market, which is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking in terms of merchant participation, especially on Wednesdays.

I still have glorious onions and garlic (I'm not counting the garlic as one of the "three"), and I couldn't resist getting more gorgeous baby eggplants. To supplement all this, I decided to try Tantre Farm's oyster mushrooms, which may be the best mushrooms I've ever eaten. Here's a little pic of my "palette"

And that's the only pic you're going to get, other than one for my third variation - my camera just wasn't in the right place at the right time.

So here goes - Three Veggies/Three Meals - Variations on a Theme

Basic Method:

Very, very simple.

2 sliced garlic cloves (I minced these for the frittata.
1/2 chopped onion
2 baby eggplant, chopped
5 (but these are HUGE) oyster mushrooms, chopped
olive oil

Basically, I heated a little olive oil over medium heat, threw in the garlic for about 30 seconds, added the onion and the eggplant, turned the heat to medium low, cooked for about 2 minutes, added the mushrooms and returned the heat to medium. I cooked this mixture until the veggies were just barely soft.

Meal #1: Cavatappi with Pasta Sauce

You can't get much better than basic, in my book.

To the basic mix I added a little white wine and Trader Joe's pasta sauce starter (basically just tomatoes, onions and garlic), about a TBS of dried basil, a 1/2 TBS of kosher salt and lots of black pepper.

I simmered all this for about 10 minutes, cooked up the cavatappi, and tossed everything together, grating a little fresh parmigiano reggiano on top.

It was completely delicious, and probably our favorite of the three.

Meal #2: Roast Squash-Brown Rice casserole

I guess I was feeling nostalgic for the 70s on some level.

I roasted a delicata squash earlier in the day - just pierced it a few times and baked it at 400.

I seasoned the veggie mix with Montreal steak seasoning (probaby a 1/2 TBS) and lots of chili powder (that didn't have enough UMPH, as it turned out)

When I was ready to put things together, I cut open the delicata, scraped out the seeds, and scraped the flesh into a bowl. I added 1 cup of brown rice, the veggie mix and 1/4 cup of reduced fat shredded sharp cheddar. I mixed this together, put it in a small casserole dish and put another 1/4 cup of the cheddar on top. I baked it with foil for 10 minutes at 375, and without foil for 10 more.

Analysis - this was the loser. However, I think it *could* be a winner with the following changes:

Layer the casserole:

Put the veggie mixture first, then the squash pulp, mashed, and finally a mixture of the rice and cheese.

Skip the chili powder and use 1 tsp cumin and a chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce instead.

Use... um... good cheese. Real cheese? Use less, but use something that actually melts and has flavor.

I'm willing to try this again - it had potential.

Day number three was much more successful, and I even have a pic:

Meal #3: Autumn Frittata

Spice the basic veggie mix with lots of Montreal steak seasoning.

Beat 2 eggs and 4 egg whites with a 1/2 TBS kosher salt and LOTS of smoked paprika (maybe 2 tsp?).

Keep the veggies on medium as you finish sauteeing, and add the egg mixture. Stir the center of the frittata until somewhat set. Crumble 4 oz of Feta over the frittata. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes.

This was total yum.

All three meals were frugal, easy and at least two were delicious. Good deal!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Exciting News!

Well, the first bit of news is not that exciting.

What's Cooking Wednesday will be on a Thursday (ie. tomorrow) because I've been using up the last of my farm share stuff, and I want to finish one more recipe (and maybe even have a decent picture) before posting that. So that's not exciting at all. What probably WOULD be exciting is to go over to Shan's place to see the other What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Okay... now for the exciting news.

I have a very special guest coming on Monday. I even get to be the FIRST stop on a blog tour. And it's for an author I adore and a book I can't wait to read!

Karen E. Olson, author of the Annie Seymour mysteries and the upcoming "Ink" series (based on a Vegas tattoo artist - how much fun is THAT going to be?), is going to come here to talk about her new release, Shot Girl, the final book in the Annie series. (And I'm sniffling here because I love me some Annie!)

In honor of Karen's visit, I'm having my first bloggy giveaway! Yes, you can have your very own copy of Shot Girl just by visiting here on Monday and leaving a comment. And it's worth coming anyway, because Karen's always fun and you'll want to see what she has to say.

So... let the countdown begin!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Settling In


From Webster's: The act of flowing; a continuous moving on or passing by, as of a flowing stream; constant succession; change.

The question always with flux is whether you move with the stream or against it.

I have many big changes coming down the pike. Priorities have changed. Sometimes the universe takes you by the shoulders and shakes you for all you're worth.

And you know? It's not always a bad thing.

Yes, like most Americans, I will be delighted when November 4th has come and gone. But while this date loomed the largest thing on my horizon a few weeks ago, at the moment it's just another blip (albeit an extremely important blip).

The changes were making me sick. Sick with worry, sick with anxiety, sick with pain. Like many women of my age and circumstances, I'm a victim of at least two, unspecified rheumatological disorders. And often the flare-ups that accompany them have to do with worry, anxiety and caregiving.

As of the last couple of weeks, however, I gave up fighting. Fighting my health, my tasks, my anxiety.

I opened my heart to the universe and just tried to see where life would lead me.

And suddenly, my health is back.

Suddenly, I can get back to projects long abandoned.

And none of the circumstances of change and worry have dissipated for me. But I guess my attitude has.

And swimming downstream, rather than trying to figure out how to swim upstream, has made all the difference.

Have you ever had a time in your life of great epiphany? Where God or cosmic forces (or whatever force you believe in that's bigger than you are) has entered your heart? Shown you just the right way to go?

Please share, if you have a mind to.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Blog Blast for Education: Geoffrey Canada and The Harlem Children's Zone

Please join April's wonderful project: Blog Blast for Education. For more Blog Blasters, please click here.

There's a great deal of talk about reform in education.

There's also a great deal of talk about if only this, this, or this were done in schools, then our students would perform better.

There's also, sadly, a lot of talk about the inadequacy of parents in certain racial/economic groups - assumptions made, decisions made by administrators that even IF they did X, the parents wouldn't follow through.

I've long believed that:

a. the educational process for a child always, always, ALWAYS needs to be a partnership between the school, the child and the family (parents, grandparents, guardian - whoever is raising that child).

b. that almost all parents/guardians want to be the best they can be in that capacity and that this crosses all "groups". The few exceptions are sick exceptions and those exceptions ALSO cross all "groups".

Well, apparently a genius, with far better resources and insight than I, agrees with me. Not only does he agree with me, but he was able to get big funding guns to agree with him and he's been creating a very successful educational experiment in Central Harlem in New York City.

I first found out about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone via This American Life, where Paul Tough, who is a regular contributor to This American Life as well as a reporter for The New York Times, put together a piece on Canada and his own, recently released, book about the project: Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America. You can listen to the podcast here.

Some of the points of the program I don't agree with from a purely philosophical standpoint - there's a lot of emphasis on testing, but then they also need (and are getting) big bucks to fund this program (over $100 million in private donations) and investors like to see quantifiable results.

This isn't a perfect program.

In all my years of being a teacher and a parent (27+) I've never seen a "perfect" educational environment.

Sad, but true.

This, however, is one of the most exciting experiments in educating underserved children that I've ever seen. So let's explore it:

Simply put, the the Harlem Children's Zone is available to the 10,000 children who live in Central Harlem, a neighborhood where virtually all children live in poverty and traditionally 2/3 of those children scored below grade level.

Geoffrey Canada has promised the parents/guardians who will commit to sending their children to his school and to working with him from the outset, that his program will get their children to college. Period. And he appears to be doing it. Here's what he has to say (from 60 minutes):

"He has made a bold promise to the parents who live in the zone.

'If your child comes to this school, we will guarantee that we will get your child into college. We will be with you with your child from the moment they enter our school till the moment they graduate from college," Canada vowed during a speech.

Canada’s ambitious experiment aims to prove that poor kids from the inner city can learn just as well as affluent kids from the other side of America. He has flooded the zone with social, medical and educational services that are available for free to all the children who live here.

"They get what middle-class and upper middle-class kids get," Canada explains. "They get safety. They get structure. They get academic enrichment. They get cultural activity. They get adults who love and them are prepared to do anything. And I mean, I’m prepared to do anything to keep these kids on the right track.'"

Currently, while the services for health care and other opportunities via the Harlem Children's Zone are available to all the children in Central Harlem, those who get into Promise Academy, the school that is the cornerstone of the entire project, is run by lottery. Canada's current focus is to open many more schools.

The incentives he uses are similar to the KIPP schools - structure, longer school days, inclusivity at all levels, material bribes as the children get older as they complete challenges in attendance or workload.

Baby classes are also an important part of the total program for the Central Harlem area, and these are used to help parents learn new ways of communicating with their young children and stress the importance of reading to their children, early and often.

For those who don't get into Promise Academy, they can still attend the after-school enrichment programs, that will ensure that work gets done and that the children (and teens) have a loving, structured environment to come to during the hours that their parents may be working.

I could probably fill several posts with all of the innovations that Mr. Canada has enacted through this project, but I'll let some links fill you in if you're interested in learning further:

the Harlem Children's Zone website - you can also donate here, if you're so moved

CBS News


NPR's podcast on the Harlem Children's Zone - It's 36 minutes long, but worth every. single. minute. if you're interested in education issues.

Now, go learn about other education issues through Blog Blast for Education.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blogger comment issues

The comments function seems to be broken on blogger - at least for me and for several other friends.

I can not post comments to my own blog nor to many of yours - I'm reading, and e-mailing when possible. I've reported this to blogger, but... we'll see.

Blogger folks - if you're having similar problems PLEASE report it!

UPDATE: There's something on blogger about changing the commenting format and if you go to settings and save things as "embed" then it will work.

It didn't for me, even following directions.

Here's what DID work.

I went to settings, changed my comments preference to the "pop-up window" option, and now everything's hunky dory, except for the fact that I now have to use the pop-up window option. But I can live with that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Silliness - Foux de Fa Fa - Flight of the Conchords

Okay, so some of you found Soko a little, um, dark.

Truly, she didn't mean any of it. I swear.

But there is nothing dark about this one.

I just need some silliness this week. This has been my other ear worm.

Thanks to Mae for finally showing me the error of my ways in terms of youtube.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Great Reminder

What I have over my desk:

“To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in glorious fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.

I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.

May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories – science fiction and otherwise.

Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And, out of that love, remake a world.”

- Ray Bradbury

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Week

My desk:

a stack of unread essays and creative writing pieces
food journal
3 Obama buttons
pictures of my Swedish and German daughters, sent as a surprise (they pretended they didn't meet when S was in Stockholm)
Kohl's cash certificate (I think I only go shopping when one of the "girls" is in town)
two portable phones - one removed from another part of the house when my mother called
cell phone (in case my mother calls while someone else is on the landline)
a recipe for S's favorite meringue cookies
notes for the Blog Action Day entry I wasn't able to write due to other crises that day
calendar for tech week for C - 1940s Radio Hour
unfilled prescription for sulfasalazine that I'm afraid to start. D-Day is Wednesday.

My browser:

AOL Mail
info on a broken coccyx
half-written e-mails to students
google reader (hah!)
yahoo news
C's e-mail account since he's too busy (with tech week) to check his e-mails and he's waiting for an e-mail from a teacher

My kitchen:

most surfaces covered
apples on the counter from this morning's trip to the farmers market
meringues in oven
huge, fresh chicken in the fridge, awaiting roasting later for S's last supper before she flies back to Germany tomorrow night

Dining room table:

math, math, math, math
a calculator
a textbook
Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours from the library and due too soon (and now on my Christmas list)
Heartless by Allison Gaylin (now all I need is the time to read it)

Living room couch area:

two issues of The Week that inexplicably arrived at the same time
mail that isn't bills
papers left over from parent/teacher conferences
notes from a presentation on study skills for high school students
another copy of C's tech schedule
money S owed us for shopping
Haribo Color Rado licorice
various fantasy books on the floor by where C hangs out
Twilight which S is reading now
the checkbook I was looking for earlier


four separate piles of laundry

It's been a long week.

Hope you all are having a good weekend. I'll be back when I'm out from under.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

World Hunger Day, pt. 2 - How you can help

Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste had a wonderful idea: put together a blogging event that would honor World Food Day, October 16, 2008.

The basics of the event are the following:

*Create a dish that would serve 6 and have it represent your country.
*Send your creations (virtually, via photo) back to Val and Ivy and see how far our dishes will spread back to back. Maybe we can feed the world, eh?

To get the full details for participation in this worthy event, please go here.

I just finished my breakfast - a bagel and coffee. I'm incredibly blessed because neither I, nor any of my loved ones, have ever experienced a period of real hunger in our lives.

Many of us take this for granted. We take it as a right to get our three squares a day - to be creative with cooking, to choose the best ingredients, to serve the planet and ourselves through food.

The reality, however, is that millions of people are starving every. single. day.

As horrifying as the thought of our being hungry might be, for those of us who are parents or work with children or are those who care for children in some way, the real terror would be to here our children's hungry cries. Knowing they need food and knowing we have no power to get it to them.

This is a time of incredible difficulty globally. Our world financial markets are in a downward spiral. Military actions are taking place on most continents. The effects of global warming are beginning to have a huge impact on our daily lives.

It's hard to think of giving to others. We want to hoard. We want to protect what's ours.

But think... think of those who truly have nothing. Who don't know if they'll wake to another day. And if you can, reach out. Please.

I was originally planning to include links to local hunger projects, and I'm going to do that, but I decided that I want to include global and national links, as well. These links are pretty random. These are organizations I know and that I've worked with/given to. There are many, many other organizations out there just waiting for your help and/or currency. If you can help, choose one that makes your heart sing.


CROP walks take place all over during mid-fall. Support one of my favorite bloggers, Sister Sassy of Sisters of a Different Order, in her efforts to raise money for hunger both in Michigan and Africa, by going here.

Locally, we have a wonderful organization called Food Gatherers. Food Gatherers is a food rescue agency that gathers food from area restaurants, stores, and residents and then redistributes that food to people who need it. If you're local to the Ann Arbor area, clear your shelves of that food you really aren't going to get to and bring it to the Food Gatherers site on Carrot Way, off Pontiac Trail. Directions are on the website.


Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest): Feeding America has been working as Second Harvest for 30 years distributing food to hungry Americans. It works in a similar manner to Food Gatherers. It's recent name change is an effort to promote more awareness of its mission.

Meals on Wheels: Meals on Wheels provides daily meals to those who are housebound. There are local chapters throughout the nation. If you don't have money to give, maybe you can volunteer to deliver meals a couple of times per month.

Angel Food Ministries: No matter your religious orientation, Angel Food Ministries provides good, quality food for all. This is the place to go if you need to stretch your food dollar. They operate on the "what goes around comes around" principle, and if you take advantage of their program, they'd like you to help in some way, although it's not a requirement. Their mission is unique - they provide enough quality food to feed a family of four for a week for around $40 - $45 (not counting breakfasts, and some lunch additions). These packages are ordered monthly and there are add on packs for more meat or for more fruits and vegetables. This is good, basic food and can really help to get healthy food on the table for families or individuals.


Heifer International - this is based on the "if you give a man a fish" principle - communities propose an agricultural or husbandry project, and Heifer International provides the start up materials or animals. Once the new project is properly running, each family is asked to pass on an animal, seeds, knowledge, etc., to help another family in the community. All projects must be ecologically sound, as well.

UNICEF - while the main mission is fighting poverty,
UNICEF has always made hunger a priority. For those who don't know, this project specifically focuses on children and is through the United Nations. Again, if you don't have money, maybe you can "trick or treat for UNICEF" this year.

Save the Children - Again, a children's organization. While this focuses on community projects for the most part, it also runs massive campaigns to help areas in times of crisis and getting food, water, etc. to areas that need it. The "latest news" section on the main web page will generally let you know about current emergency initiatives.

So now I have a question for you: as I said, these are random links and a very small selection - what hunger organizations do YOU support? What should I have included here?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: World Food Day Entry - Apple Maple Corn Muffins

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste had a wonderful idea: put together a blogging event that would honor World Food Day, October 16, 2008.

The basics of the event are the following:

*Create a dish that would serve 6 and have it represent your country.
*Send your creations (virtually, via photo) back to Val and Ivy and see how far our dishes will spread back to back. Maybe we can feed the world, eh?

To get the full details for participation in this worthy event, please go here.

When I think of the world's food needs, I immediately think of sustainable agriculture. I also think about world as a basic need, not a luxury. The areas I feel are most important as we try to solve the world's hunger issues are encapsulated in a very important document: The Food Declaration. If you agree with the principles listed, you can sign this document and help to make it a reality.

Sustainability comes with treating our environment well, taking care of our local agriculture, buying locally, and supporting those who follow sustainable agriculture principles.

For that reason, I wanted to come up with a dish that not only reflects my country, but also reflects my own principles in terms of hunger. So I wanted to create something that reflects local products and can be made with food stuffs produced within Michigan, preferably, within a 50-mile radius and by farmers who follow sustainable agriculture practices.

Now... the tough part - what on earth would represent the United States? Native American foods are traditional, but they certainly don't represent the United States, since the U.S. took away the lands and lives of the original inhabitants.

Okay, so scratch that.

So now the choice is "just" narrowed down to.... oh, I don't know... every culture in the world? Okay, and we have the regional issue, cultural issues, ethnic backgrounds... hmmm.

This brought me back to the original sustainability issue. Thinking seasonally, I began to put together ingredients. For my final dish, I used Apples from Nemeth Orchards, eggs from Ernst Farm, buttermilk from Guernsey Dairy, whole wheat flour and cornmeal from the Ernsts again, Michigan maple syrup and Clabber Girl products. With the exception of salt and vanilla, everything is local. Not too bad.

I decided to make a breakfast dish because a good breakfast is solidly tied to a stronger ability to learn, a subject near and dear to my heart (learning, that is, not breakfast).

My final result was a batch of muffins that taste like pancakes - and at two muffins a serving, local ingredients, all the important food groups, and a frugal breakfast, I was pretty happy. Here are:

Apple Maple Corn Muffins


2 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
2 eggs
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatbran
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Grease 12 muffin tin with spray.
3. Beat eggs. Add buttermilk, vanilla and syrup - beat well.
4. Mix dry ingredients, except for the apples.
5. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk until well blended.
6. Stir in chopped apples.
7. Using an cookie scoop or equivalent, fill the muffin cups with batter.
8. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
9. Remove to cooling rack.
10. Cool muffins in tin for 2 minutes, then remove and leave to cool on rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

Number of Servings: 6

Nutritional Info

Fat: 3g
Carbohydrates: 38.0g
Calories: 193
Protein: 6.2g

Nutritional info provided by

Sunday, October 5, 2008

URGENT - Voter Registration in Michigan!!!

Michigan - tomorrow is the voter registration deadline.

If you are not registered to vote by tomorrow, you will not be allowed to vote in this Presidential election.

It is very easy to get registered. If you are reading this entry, you can be registered, from the same computer you're reading this on, and that same desk chair you're sitting in now. You can be registered within ten minutes.

Go to

They'll hook you up.

It's that simple.

Do it now, unless you just don't care about:

the economy
the war in Iraq
the war in Afghanistan
the costs of health care
access to health care
decent education for our children
veteran's benefits
social security benefits

And I know you do.



It's that simple.

Even if you're not from Michigan.

Just do it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Cinnamon-Apple Coffeecake

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

There's nothing like apple season.

Okay, so there's nothing like fall. Fall is my favorite season - chilly air, beautiful leaves crunching under foot, tantalizing smells of cider and fresh donuts.

Except the donut thing can really get to you. So can the cider. Both are delicious, but if you're trying to be health conscious, both can add up pretty quickly.

We managed to get some fabulous apples at our farmers market, and I wanted to make something delicious but not too sinful. I wanted a good, moist, apple-filled coffee cake. I wanted it lowfat and lower calorie, but not to taste low fat or lower calorie. I *think* I succeeded. This is what I came up with:

Jen's Cinnamon-Apple (lowfat) Coffeecake


2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 TBS canola oil
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
4 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced

For topping:
3 TBS brown sugar
2 TBS whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 TBS butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 and spray a 7X11 baking pan or equivalent.
2. Cream eggs, sugar, vanilla and buttermilk until well blended.
3. Mix dry ingredients, except for apples and topping ingredients, in a bowl.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and blend well.
5. Beat with a mixture on high for 2 minutes.
6. Stir in apples by hand. Pour batter into baking dish.
7. In a food processor, blend the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter for the topping. Process until mixture is crumbly.
8. Sprinkle the topping over the batter.
9. Bake for 45 minutes.

Cut into 18 pieces.

Number of Servings: 18

Nutritional Info (per serving):

Fat: 2.8g
Carbohydrates: 34.3g
Protein: 3.0g

Nutrition information provided by