Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Possible Link?

I just assigned my students a massive research paper, due in about a month. All they have to do for Monday is come up with the idea. This afternoon, my one student handed me a complete outline of his central idea plus his three pieces of supporting evidence, with detail. I goggled at it, deeply impressed because he's usually not this proactive, and he then told me,

"My TV was broken last night, so I did this instead."

After I laughed for about thirty seconds, I responded that I hoped it never got fixed and said, "See? See what can happen when you focus on other things???"

On that note, as I've tried to define situational irony for the kids, this little episode came up: I've decided to give up extraneous TV for Lent, the channel-surfing, time-wasting type that I too often succumb to. I figured I'd start this past Monday. My resolve would remain firm! Then I hurt my lower back so badly yesterday that all I did was lie on the floor with either a heating pad or an ice pack for the entire afternoon. And what was the easiest distraction? Right.

Hey, hey, I read for a little while BUT MY ARMS GOT TIRED. Go away. At least the kids now get the concept.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happy belated, Penny!

Although Penny was born on January 31 one year ago, I've just gotten around to blogging about it. Be thankful I don't blog about her as often as I'd like to, because I do not want you to think I'm one of those folks who lives solely for their pets and little else. However, I do have to write that she brings joy to our lives every day and seeing her little tail wag lowers my blood pressure and makes me smile. I could have had the crummiest day in a long time, and when I walk in the door and see that sweet face, everything seems better. I understand completely why rehabilitation programs in prison have waiting lists for inmates to work with and train dogs, because animals give such unconditional love. Imagine this hulking, tattooed criminal getting on the floor with a lab and cooing, "Who's my girl? Who's my sweetie?" I've read a little about the programs and they screen VERY carefully, and so many prisoners want to do it that they behave beautifully to show they can work with these animals. Seriously, who can resist this little face?

This was her in the car as we brought her home last March as a first anniversary gift to each other. She came straight from the breeder's and smelled like the eighteen dogs she lived with, but we loved her immediately. Weighing about seven pounds, she was so little I gave her a bath in the kitchen sink. She slowly learned how to go up the stairs, not to go into the basement, and that putting her paws on our legs and looking beseechingly at us while wagging her tail would melt us in about three seconds.

Now she's a bit bigger, a few shades lighter, and has so much personality that she makes us laugh all the time. We still have some work to do training her, but she's taught us so much as well, from remembering to close the gate EVERY SINGLE TIME to appreciating just lying in bed with a fuzzy little warm body on top of the covers, feeling the weight on our feet. Penny has woken me in the middle of the night to give me kisses and just when I was about to get annoyed, she suddenly plopped down with her head on my chest and all was forgiven.

She makes us happy and drives us crazy and we have to remind ourselves that she's a dog sometimes when we overworry, but I wouldn't trade her for anything. Happy first birthday, little Pen! We love you!

Home cookin'

I didn't mean to create another food-oriented blog, but I must toot my own horn a little. Because I've had the time this week, I tried a few new recipes, figuring that a combination of recipe reading, common sense, and luck would help me along. So far, I've had success and I want to see if I can get you to salivate.

The first one really came from necessity: We bought a bag of apples and realized that, after about ten days, we either had to eat them or chuck them. So I consulted The Joy of Cooking and with the help of the Cuisinart, T and I made applesauce. It doesn't exactly photograph well, but you can't beat apples, cinnamon, and a little brown sugar. It was so easy to do! I'm all about simple and healthy--we didn't even have to peel them. By the way, applesauce and Cool Whip make a surprisingly tasty dessert.

Next, we tried spinach and ricotta stuffed shells, compliments of Cooking Light. T does not always go for the meatless stuff as a red-blooded American male (I'm teasing, honey), but we took these down with no trouble. Again, the ease of using frozen spinach saved me from chopping anything. I didn't get a picture of them, but you can look at the one from the magazine:

That's about what they looked like, sans the side of asparagus.

Finally, my proudest accomplishment: Using the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I slowly but surely gathered my tools and finally attempted my first loaves of crusty peasant bread last night. The step that took the longest involved actually locating yeast in the grocery store. Did you know it's in the refrigerated aisle? I did not. I stumbled upon the brilliant idea to call my friend H after a good 20 minutes of wandering up and down the baking aisle, muttering to myself and looking for an employee who didn't have something else to do. (In all fairness, the employees at Wegman's do rank above the average in terms of helpfulness; mostly I remained too stubborn to bug one. And did you know they have phones in the store you can use to ask questions such as, "Where do you keep the yeast?" Again, I did not.) H and her mother told me exactly where to look; five minutes later I sailed blithely to the checkout, two packages of yeast in my cart. I assembled the dough last night, letting it rise for three hours:

That's it unrisen; it actually went over the top
of the container. Apparently I need a larger one.

It's easier to work with when refrigerated, so this morning, after waking and actually thinking, "I'm baking bread today!!!!!", I took a stab at it. A little sticky, but honestly, it took less than ten minutes to form the loaves free-form; the rest involved waiting for it to rise or cook.

This is them going into the oven.

A scant 30 minutes later, look what came out! Look!

Aren't they just bee-yew-tee-ful? The book said to wait until they cool to try, but after ten minutes I had to cut off a sliver. It tastes just as bread should, crusty and yeasty and, frankly, just as good as any I've tasted in a restaurant. I'm telling you, you all can do this. It was EASY. Next I'll try a whole wheat batch so we can have that instead of buying it. Oh, BTW: These were about the size of grapefruit when I put them in, so they're a bit bigger than that now. Like giant, mutant, crusty grapefruit.

I found something intensely satisfying in creating something I buy so often. I'd like to make this part of my regular routine, and the recipe I use allows you to refrigerate or even freeze the dough for later use, so you can just cut off a chunk and throw it in the oven as needed. I want my kids to one day come home and say, "Why do my friends' moms not make bread?" or, more realistically, "Why are we such weirdos that we don't use store-bought bread?" There are so many recipes to use, too: Rolls, pita, naan, challah (M, I'll give you the recipe so you can try it for appropriate holidays if you want), rye, pumpernickel.... I find all this very, very cool. I think I'm going to go right now and cut off a piece and simply enjoy. Ok, now I'm salivating a little. How Pavlovian.

This is all part of my quest to live a healthier life and become less dependent on outside sources for my food. How cool will it be this summer if I can serve a lunch of bread and gazpacho, with bread made in my own kitchen and veggies from my own garden? It makes me smile. It's all about the simple joys, and this rates way up there.

Friday, February 13, 2009


In this cold, will-we-see-spring again time of year, I turn to that best of all delicacies, comfort food. As per a definition of comfort food, I'd consider it to have several factors:

1) Easy to make
2) Extremely tasty and not necessarily calorie-light
3) Possibly reminiscent of pleasant childhood memory
4) Often something hot and possibly melty, definitely filling

I've had a few tasty comfort foods of late, and some were actually Weight Watcher-savvy. I'll just list a few here. What are yours? And do yours primarily occur in winter? I think that's when we need the most comforting, when it's dark and cold and [here, at least] snowy and....snowy....

- tater tots (had 'em for lunch today!)
- chicken pot pie a la my friend H (Wednesday)
- pasta or Israeli couscous with sausage, cheese, and pasta sauce (last night!)
- plain elbow macaroni
- wax beans out of the can (I'm weird. I know this.)
- Heavenly Hash ice cream
- hot chocolate
- gazpacho (summer comfort food)
- Goldfish crackers
- chocolate-covered peanut clusters
- beef stew
- my stepdad's chili, any variety

That's not a complete list, but it gets the ball rolling. Any thoughts? Salivating yet?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Something I feel strongly about

Sorry--it's been a crazy busy week and I will post all sorts of whimsical and amazing posts soon...or at least pictures of Penny because she turned 1 last weekend.

I just received this video from the Courage Campaign regarding Prop 8, and I can't stay quiet when bigotry threatens lives of others. If you don't feel the gay community has the right to marry, you don't want to watch this video. I warn you, supporters, that I needed a tissue about halfway through. Especially after listening to two of my GSA students talk about how their parents do not support their lifestyle, this sort of hatred and lack of understanding galls me. I hope Prop 8 stands, and I hope campaigns such as this one actually make something happen.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

So let's hear it for love, people! Go hug someone you care about!