Saturday, October 31, 2009

It's the Most Verbose Time of the Year

It's been two years, but I'm going for it once again. It will be my fourth insane year of participation in five, and my first attempt while holding a demanding full-time job. Yep, I'm going to try to write a [short] novel in 30 days, along with thousands of my fellow borderline cracked writers worldwide. National Novel Writing Month 2009 starts (here in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone, at least) in less than 27 minutes. Am I excited? You betcha! Am I nervous? More than a little. This web comic from Inkygirl pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter:

Wish me luck, but more importantly, wish me fun! I've "won" every one of the four NaNo's that I've attempted, meaning that I crossed the 50,000 word mark. I'd like to do the same this year, but more than that I'd like to truly enjoy myself. Even when I'm slogging through plot or arguing with my characters or just plain tired, my hope is that this NaNoWriMo would nourish me in a way that food alone cannot.

Are you NaNo-ing, or have you in the past? It's great fun, a good catalyst for creativity, and a way to meet new people both locally and across the globe who hold a common interest in writing. For myself, it's already been wonderful to reconnect with old NaNo friends as well as make some new ones. Three cheers for writers everywhere! You can watch my word count accumulate (or, if things should turn ugly, stall) via Kitchen Courage's sidebar widget, which will be up and running as soon as the NaNo site can support it. Of course, I will be whining/ranting/cooking throughout November right here, so you can bet that noveling will come up one or two times.

Only 17 minutes left until November 1 and NaNo go-time! I'd better go refresh my memory as to what I'll be writing about. Something with zombies, a reluctant heroine, and the end of the world, I believe . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Early 'Ween!

I know that Halloween is not until tomorrow, but since I work at an elementary school, we're celebrating today! The kids will be donning their costumes at the end of the day and then parading through the school. I can't wait! The best costume that I saw last year was a banana.

To create my own alter-ego, I put together a simple costume that is educational, warm, and comfortable. Can you guess who I am? I'll give you a few hints:
  • I'm a character from one of my favorite books
  • I have a passion for the written word
  • I sold my hair

Did you guess? The answer is . . .

Today I'm dressed as Jo March, a character from Louisa May Alcott's fantastic novel, Little Women. It will be interesting to see if any students will know who I am without me telling them. So far I've had to explain my costume to all of the adults I've come across, so I'm not feeling too optimistic. The school librarian hasn't seen me yet, so I'm still hopeful that somebody will know who I am! Whatever happens, though, it will be a great opportunity to open the door to some more fabulous young adult literature!

Are you dressing up for Halloween? Do you plan to give out treats? For the past few years the Best Husband Ever and I have hidden from trick-or-treaters at such places as Barnes and Noble and our in-laws' house. Now that we're really part of this neighborhood, being homeowners and all, we might stick around for this Halloween. I'm not sure what we'll pass out, since I'm not a big fan of circulating more refined sugar. At school I've got some fresh apples and Fiber One bars for my students. I think they're yummy, but the kids will probably think I'm a nerd. And you know what? I don't mind being the nutrition/book nerd in the least!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Holy Haroset, Batman!

In the course of researching a dish for a past Joust, I came across an intriguing Passover recipe. It was for a dish called haroset, which combines fruit, nuts, and often red wine in a spiced spread or dip. Haroset is a kosher food made for the Seder, a somber meal eaten during the Jewish Passover, and it is as full of symbolism as it is of fruit:
Haroset (also charoset or charoses), the blend of fruit and nuts symbolizing the mortar which our forefathers used to build pyramids in Egypt, is one of the most popular and discussed foods served at the Seder. The fruit and nuts found in almost all haroset recipes refer to two verses in the Song of Songs closely linked with the spring season: "Under the apple tree I awakened thee" (8:5) and "I went down into the garden of nuts" (6:11). The red wine recalls the Red Sea, which parted its waters for the Jews.

The real purpose of the haroset is to allay the bitterness of the maror (bitter herbs) required at the Seder. (Quoted from The Jewish Holiday Kitchen by Joan Nathan on
There are a number of fruit, nut, and spice combinations that can go into haroset. The most prevalent, at least for American Jews, tends toward the mixing of diced apples, walnuts, red wine, and cinnamon with a little brown sugar or honey. That is what I made my particular batch of haroset with, based off this recipe, substituting red vinegar for the wine (fruit-flavored vinegars work well, too). There are also other options, such as using dates, figs, pears, or apricots (or all of them!) as the fruit and almonds or pistachios for the nut.

My first taste of haroset was fabulous. Forget eating it as a matzoh sandwich or on anything at all -- I ate this straight up with a spoon! However, if you have enough restraint, I think it would also taste wonderful on yogurt, cereal, a baked apple, ice cream, or toast, to name a few possibilities. A word of warning, though -- the texture works best if you hand dice the apples and walnuts, and not "chop" them in your food processor like I did. I ended up with more of a puree than a chunky mixture. I made a second batch with hand-diced pears and a few dates instead of apples, and the consistency was perfect.

I have an idea about using this as a mix-in for oatmeal. Hot spiced apples with the soft crunch of walnuts and the stick-to-your-ribs thickness of cooked oats? I can't think of a more kosher way to start an autumn morning. (Also, a garnish of pumpkin spice candy corn is in no way amiss with this dish!)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Coffee Queen: A Connoisseur's Review

This year I took on a new challenge in my professional life. I landed a sweet job work as a family outreach coordinator for a local elementary school. Not only do I get to teach small groups of children, but I also reach out to families and connect them with the school, parenting classes, any services they might need (food, health, insurance, counseling, etc.), and plan fun educational activities for families. How's it going at the two-month mark? I'll put it this way -- I love my job.

I also love coffee. Perhaps not quite as much as the job, my husband, God, and so forth. Still, I am a coffee fan. One might even say a coffee fanatic. But I do enjoy my java. Since part of my job as family outreach coordinator involves providing a safe, friendly place for parents to visit, I provide coffee and hot water. However, I don't use just any old coffee pot. Instead, I used a plush coupon to purchase a Keurig single cup coffee maker. It makes a single cup of coffee at a time, but keeps several cups' worth of hot water ready at all times. It's perfect for a small office where visitors (and myself) want small quantities of fresh coffee.

Plus, the little pods of coffee come in the most wonderful varieties. There are standard coffee options as well as half-caf, decaf, and teas. Flavored coffees are also available. Can you guess my favorite flavor? Yep, it's pumpkin spice. I just tried it for the first time (in fact, I'm sipping it as I type this!), and of course I think it's great. Again, maybe not as great as God, the Best Husband Ever, hooping, and hiking with dogs, but still pretty darn great.

Was the Keurig coffee maker worth the somewhat spicy price? I think so. But then, I got a pretty huge discount thanks to a generous Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupon that found its way into our mailbox. Also, if I was purchasing a Keurig brewer just for my home kitchen, I would not have gone with the more expensive 48 oz. capacity that I did. Instead I might have chosen a mini brewer, which heats and brews just 8 oz. at a time. Still, I love the convenience of having hot water ready for coffee or tea consumption at a moment's notice. The Keurig is low maintenance and easy to clean, which gets two thumbs up from me. Plus the fact that it's swanky looking as well as a conversation starter to boot are shiny bonuses.
So here's my bottom line. I like coffee (and tea). The Keurig provides both in a clean, easy, and aesthetically pleasing manner. The Keurig is a fabulous invention in my book, and he will be happily spending the summer vacation in my kitchen when it's not hard at work making coffee for the masses.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Grocery Spoils

Happy Saturday, blogosphere! What does your day look like so far? If you're anything like the Best Husband Ever and I, weekends are prime grocery shopping days. True to form, we hit Costco and then Albertsons to load up. Costco carries great fresh fruits and veggies, as well as good options for their other bulk items at [often] unbeatable prices. However, parking and shopping there can sometimes feel like a battle. I get so frustrated with rampaging children, slow cart-wielders, and unthinking pedestrians. In fact, I think I have shopping cart rage! Still, despite the crowds we picked up a load of what turned out to be mostly fresh produce. I think we get bonus points for that!

We bought:
  • Jongalode apples (my favorite kind -- so crispy!)
  • Bosc pears
  • bananas
  • persimmons (for the first time ever)
  • spinach
  • brussels sprouts (which I roasted immediately)
  • butternut squash (which also got roasted)
  • carrots
  • dried fruit mix (blueberries, strawberries, mangoes)
  • Medjool dates
  • walnuts (these and some dates and apples turned into haroset)
  • pumpkin puree
  • cream cheese
  • Silk eggnog (cross your fingers that it's good!)
  • pumpkin Silk (I tried this last week and loved it)
  • salsa
  • a lone spaghetti squash
Quite the load, eh? But also quite a healthy load. Unfortunately, my roasting and haroset-making filled my stomach up a little too much, so I guess we're not golden on the health-o-meter yet. Oops.

You may notice the vat of [very yummy] salsa from Costco. I really enjoy this kind as well as Costco's mango peach salsa. However, I'm not sure why I bought salsa this week in the first place. I was the lucky winner of four tasty-looking jars of Pepper Dog salsa that Amanda of RunToTheFinish was giving away.

Plus a snazzy hat (which I of course have already tried on). Thank you, Pepper Dog and Amanda! I'm sure I will enjoy this spicy, bloggy treat.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, October

One of the realities of working at an elementary school is that there is always food around, begging to be nibbled. Of course there is the stream of student birthdays, with parents sending in cupcakes, cookies, and other sweets to celebrate. Many of the surplus goodies from these events often find their way into the staff lounge. There they meet up with other treats left by the PTO, staff members, and the like. Adding in staff birthday celebrations starts to get a little over the top.

The school I'm working at right now doesn't celebrate individual staff birthdays, but instead groups a month's worth together for a single treat-alicious occasion. Four people are responsible for bringing food on a designated day. As you might imagine, this food usually consists of bread, cake, cookies, and (if we're lucky) fresh fruit. While yummy and delicious, the march of sugar gets a little tiresome after a while. How many birthday cookies can a girl resist (or eat, for that matter)?

To celebrate our staff's October-born, the four of us charged with bringing food this month decided to go a defferent route. Instead of sweets we brought soups! There were a number of chilis, including my own peanut butter chili (soooo delicious, and the sole vegetarian option on the menu). Also in attendance was some clam chowder, spinach baba ghanoush with crackers (by me as well!), tortilla soup, five bean chili, chocolate chip pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars with cream cheese icing, and candy corn. So we got the sweet along with some heat from four simmering crock-pots. I guess my idea for last school year's birthday responsiblities wasn't half bad!

Happy birthday, Octobers, and happy Friday to boot!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Smoothie Saves the Day

It's chilly and cold here in western Montana. For some reason, though, that hasn't stopped me from blending up a green breakfast to nurse at school for the past two days. That's right, green monsters have returned! Unseasonable, maybe, but always tasty, healthy, and energizing. And yesterday I definitely needed energy. I had slept a grand total of two hours -- on the couch.

Insomnia has been keeping the zzzz's away for the past few nights, and when I do finally get tired, it's so late (or early, depending on the perspective) that I feel bad disturbing the Best Husband Ever's snoozing. As a result, I felt like the living dead as I dragged myself into work yesterday. I had made a breakfast green smoothie comprised of blended pear, chocolate Amazing Grass (my first time trying this -- yum!), possibly some banana (I can't remember fully -- blame exhaustion), pumpkin soy (double yum!), cinnamon, and frozen spinach. I was [pleasantly and gratefully] shocked to find myself noticably more alert and excited about the day after only a few sips of the monster. Who knew that blended green could be so powerful? Spinach saved the day!

So after yesterday's performance, I naturally had to make another smoothie for today's breakfast. The combo? A few chunks of frozen banana, a cup of frozen mixed fruit, skim milk, lots of frozen spinach, and a homemade cream cheese blend with fresh apples and cinnamon. Good? Oh, yeah.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Got Shot...

. . . flu shot, that is! Happy Wordless Wednesday!

What the Flax?

I enjoyed delicious lunch today. Last night I mixed the remainder of my frozen fruit mix (it thawed by the time I ate it), plain organic yogurt, a bit of dried fruit for chew factor, Heart to Heart cereal, and a new cereal that I recently discovered, Yogi's Mountain Blueberry Flax granola crisps. I spied them in the organic section of Safeway and grabbed a bag. I really enjoy blueberry flax granola, so I figured that the crisps were a sure thing.

They did not disappoint. Sweet and extra crunchy, with a nice blueberry tang to them, this cereal made my taste buds happy. It's great to sprinkle in with other cereal for added flavor and texture, although I don't think it's a super nutritious cereal all on its own.

This afternoon I was happily crunching my way through this bowl o' goodness at my desk when I realized -- there's flax in this food!

I know, I know -- the name of the granola crisps has the word "flax" in it. It doesn't take a genius to understand that that probably indicates the presence of flax inside the bag. But still, I think I deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, a whole flaxseed, while being super cute , isn't worth much nutritionally speaking. A whole flaxseed passes through the digestive system mostly untouched and unused. So I think I get a little credit for being surprised at the sight of unground flax swimming in my yogurt.

Don't believe me? The Mayo Clinic backs me up. Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against whole flaxseed. But if you go through the trouble of using it, don't you want to make sure your body can get something out of it? If not, why bother? Ground flaxseed has such awesome health benefits that it seems silly not to get as much out of these little buggers as possible.

Give me flax-laced cereal any day, just make sure that my eyes can't see it so my intestines can. Or something. Plus, I don't really like shelling out extra money for useless flax. I'm just saying.

On a side note -- I just wanted to say thank you. The past few days have been relatively rotten (at least in terms of self-image, health, and body stuff), and I've been rather candid on the blog, perhaps even more so than usual. But you, my plucky bunch of readers, have been wonderful. I have received encouraging notes and comments that have truly encouraged me. Like one lovely reader shared, it's so good to know that I'm not alone in my struggles. Thank you for reading, and thank you even more for caring. I appreciate both far more than I can express. Your words have touched my heart. Thank you!

Flaxseed on Foodista

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oh, Sugar

I love to blend. Hummus, smoothies, ice cream bases, it's all good. Recently I discovered a new blendable food item -- cream cheese. On Friday I made up a few batches of spreads using fat free cream cheese. One was cream cheese with chocolate almond butter (SO good with dates), my favorite was pumpkin spice cream cheese, and I also made a fruity spread using sugar free blueberry syrup. All were delightful, and I used the blueberry on my toast the next morning.

However, all was not well with my cream cheese processing. As I blended and taste-tested, I noticed that I got very full very fast. Soon I was bloated and feeling awful, and also confused. I was fairly certain that I had not eaten enough to stuff my stomach to such a size, but I could not deny its very obvious voluminous discomfort. I tried to shake it off, even though I felt frustrated, and some exercise therapy at the gym worked wonders.

After yesterday's Costco trip, I stocked up on some more cream cheese. I like savory spreads, but I was excited to try some more fruity flavors. I used sugar-free raspberry coffee flavoring to create a sweet pink cream, revisited one of my previous concoctions with the slight variation of chocolate peanut butter, tried out some ginger pumpkin cream cheese with dubious results, and finished up by making an autumnal spread with cinnamon and sugar-free maple.

Once again, all my spreads were tasty (although I'm still a bit uncertain about the ginger one). But, to my horror, something else reoccurred from my first cream cheese blending night. That's right -- my stomach bloated and ballooned, only far worse. My abdomen cramped terribly, and I felt like I had overdosed on laxatives. Only I hadn't. What the heck was going on with my body?? Again, just like Friday, I spent another uncomfortable and sleepless night worrying this question while I puttered around the internet.

Then I realized -- the two cream cheese creating episodes shared one more common element. Both times I had relied heavily on the use of sugar-free products that make use of artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. In the wee hours of the morning, I wondered and then I Googled. Sure enough, the FDA is out to lunch on if these fake sweeteners are actually okay to ingest. Sucralose is better than aspartame, but both are not good. Apparently many people claim to suffer from aspartame poisoning, and symptoms can include gastrointestinal pain, bloatingm and cramping, depression, and insomnia. Not only that, but artificial sweeteners may actually lead to weight gain rather than support weight loss. Ouch. Check out some of these scary but informative excerpts from professional nutrition and health sites:

The list of side effects from artificial sweeteners is vast, but common reports include headaches, dizziness, mood changes, abdominal pain and cramps, memory changes, fatigue and physical weakness. . . . If the sweetener is consumed by itself as part of a low-calorie beverage, then the body is trying to store glucose that isn’t there, so hunger for sugar is stimulated. That hunger triggers a stress response in the body that is most likely the cause of some heart palpitations, headaches, and muscle cramps. So, for a moment of simulated sweetness, the metabolism switches off, the body is put into storage mode and hunger for sugar is stimulated.

. . . Doctors compared two groups of rats: One consuming yogurt sweetened with glucose and the other with artificial sweetener. The rats consuming the artificial sweetener were unable to regulate their intake, leading to greater weight gain and more body fat as they had a greater overall consumption of calories. It appears that by avoiding sugar and using the fake stuff, the body is not able to regulate hunger and appetite, which leads to increased consumption.

The presence of chlorine is thought to be the most dangerous component of sucralose. Chlorine is considered a carcinogen and has been used in poisonous gas, disinfectants, pesticides, and plastics. The digestion and absorption of sucralose is not clear due to a lack of long-term studies on humans. The majority of studies were done on animals for short lengths of time. The alleged symptoms associated with sucralose are gastrointestinal problems (bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea), skin irritations (rash, hives, redness, itching, swelling), wheezing, cough, runny nose, chest pains, palpitations, anxiety, anger, moods swings, depression, and itchy eyes. The only way to be sure of the safety of sucralose is to have long-term studies on humans done.

Thankfully, perhaps in answer to Kovacs' (and others') call for further studies on the effects of artificial sweeteners, Britain's FSA is investigating sweetener users' claims. Their study will look into if and how exactly fake sugars affect the human body. Given the list of symptoms collected by the FDA in 1995 related to aspartame consumption, the results of that study and many additional efforts can't come soon enough.

As for me, you can bet that I'll be removing as many artificial sweeteners from my diet as possible. No more (or maybe a limit on) sugar-free coffee flavors. The rest of my Splenda packets are going in the trash. And all that sugar-free cream cheese I just whipped up? That's landfill-bound as well, I'm afraid. It feels rather wasteful, but I'm still feeling bloated and all-around yucky, even though it's been almost a full twenty-four hours since the original abdominal inflation. From now on, it will be natural sugars or nothing at all for me. (Which, I'm sure, will be much more difficult in practice than in theory.)

I'm mad -- at the makers of fake sugars for letting so many of us believe that their products are safe and healthy. Plus, aspartame and its brethren are hidden in so many foods that are perceived as healthy (or healthier alternatives) -- yogurt, low- or no-sugar-added ice cream, chewing gum, breath mints, and more. It seems so diabolical, especially given my current abdominal situation. I'm also a bit angry at myself, for buying into this sugar-free trend, for believing that I could get something for nothing.

What's your sweetener story? Do you use artificial sweeteners or the real thing? If you use mostly the first, what have your experiences been? Am I alone in the blogosphere in this?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hooping My Cares Away

This helped dispel some of yesterday's blues:

The snow has melted, the leaves are fallen, the sky is crisp and clear. Autumn is officially here!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Size Isn't Everything

This has been a short and odd kind of week for me. I am enjoying a four-day weekend because school is out for professional development opportunities. Since my requirements are all finished for the year, this means that I'm on vacation. But just because it's been a short week doesn't mean nothing has happened.

Take Lio, our chihuahua pup, for instance. He's just a small little guy, but in the space of one week he's graduated from puppy school and gotten neutered. A big week for a tiny creature? You betcha! Thankfully, Lio is recovering nicely. He did not let his chihuahua-sized graduation cap inflate his little ego, and yesterday's surgery went off without a hitch. He hasn't even been licking his sutures! Smart man. I've moved his crate upstairs (the basement is rather chilly), padded it with a fleecy blanket, and inundated him with fun toys to occupy him during his recovery. Mostly, though, he just enjoys chilling out in the midst of all the action.

We might have to leave his crate upstairs -- he's so happy with its new location! Lio can produce the most mournful wail when he wants to, and that usually is when he is crated all by his lonesome downstairs. With this new spot, though, he only howled after the hubby and I went to bed. The Best Husband Ever skillfully solved this problem by shutting the bedroom door.

Our big dogs, Jackson and Cody, are being relatively gentle with the newly snipped pup. For the most part. Mostly because they have gotten many opportunities. But Jackson has had other things on his mind. He also recently graduated from puppy school -- the beginner class for him -- and this week he began his intermediate class. He really enjoys the mental challenge of dog school, in addition to the canine schmoozing opportunities it offers. He met a sweet golden retriever puppy the first night who happens to belong to one of the hubby's old college acquaintances. Jackson also had fun getting distracted with one of his old beginner class compatriots. While he's not working hard, though, he and Cody are lounging in the backyard with healthy treats (carrots! good for the teeth and mind without introducing too much rawhide to their systems). Crunch crunch!

Like I said, it's been a big week, even though my week has been short in terms of work to weekend ratios. But enough about the dogs. It's been a rather roller coaster-ish week for me as well. I don't know if I can really cover all of the ups and downs in a single post, but I'll try to give you the bare bones.

Life has been rather . . . weird for me lately. I don't know how else to put it. And it's not just because of last week's depressingly unseasonal first snow. Part of the weirdness was introduced a few weeks back. In the process of training for my first triathlon, I somehow tweaked my left hip. Even after taking time off, scaling my activity back to low-impact exercise, and going easy on my body, my hip refused to stop twinging. I finally consulted my doc, who told me to do only swimming and yoga for my exercise. For a month. If the pain was still present, then I'd get an x-ray and get back to him.

A month. A month of waking up at four o'clock in the morning to drive to a shiver-inducing swim class, teamed up with some odd yoga classes thrown in. Even though my triathlon training has helped me to enjoy swimming more, it's still not my favorite thing. I find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to exercise if said exercise involves getting nearly naked and wet. It's just not my cuppa. Pair this up with the fact that I'm a recovering anorexic with a history of random bulimic tendencies. Now incorporate the additional facts that I'm in a new and stressful (even as much as I love it!) job and that my relationships with both God and the Best Husband Ever are rocky at best, and you have a [very long] equation for an unhappy, unbalanced me.

I have not been dealing well with the exercise restrictions, with the lack of balance that seems to be swallowing me whole. I've gained weight. I feel terrible physically, mentally, and in terms of self-confidence. My diet and eating have become erratic and lazy, I've stopped attempting to engage the hubby, and (worst of all, maybe) I feel icy tendrils of self-doubt and fear slithering back around my soul. I'm losing touch with who I am, with where my value lies.

This week, and especially yesterday, all this came to a head. I did not sleep a wink on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, but as the morning trickled over the mountains I felt a surge of energy. After dropping Lio off at the vet, I went to the gym. And I ran. Not a lot, and not very intense, but I did it. And it felt great. My hip didn't hurt (although it did later -- darn!), and I remembered what it is I love about running, about moving my body. Those thirty minutes of run-walk intervals on the springy track were glorious. And somehow that time centered me a little. I still feel off and odd, but better. Maybe it wasn't smart to run with a gimpy hip, and maybe it's a sign that my anorexia isn't in remission quite as much as I'd like to believe. But honestly, I really don't care. Running was a sweet balm when everything, everything hurt.

Things are not quite so dire as I might imagine at times. Today is crisp, sunny, and autumn all over -- no more of that early winter, thank you! The hubby and I are in the process of organizing some marital counseling to supplement my ED-recovery counseling. And, speaking of eating disorders, I'm in maintenance mode, which is great! Now my therapist and I are focusing on finding balance, on finding what's right for me in my life, in this body. And that's just what I need. Plus, I have a job I love, I live in a lovely house in an amazing, mountain-ringed city, and I have family and friends that I love and who love me back in spite of all my crazy foibles. I can read. I can walk. I can dance, and hoop! Besides, even if our communication hasn't been as rich as I would like, I'm still loving laughing with the Best Husband Ever over our silly dogs, over The Office, over the oddness of life.

I am reading the daily devotional Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman. Here's an excerpt from today's selection. It was ridiculously timely. I love it when God does that.
It is very easy to fall into the habit of doubting, fretting, and wondering if God has forsaken us and if after all our hopes are to end in failure. Let us refuse to be discouraged. Let us refuse to be unhappy. . . .

The devil has two master tricks. One is to get us discouraged; then for a time at least we can be of no service to others, and so are defeated. The other is to make us doubt, thus breaking the faith link by which we are bound to our Father. Lookout! Do not be tricked either way. . . .

Gladness! I like to cultivate the spirit of gladness! It puts the soul so in tune again, and keeps it in tune, so that Satan is shy of touching it -- the chords of the soul become too warm, or too full of heavenly electricity, for his infernal fingers. . . .

I don't have an easy answer for how I'm going to deal with all this stuff. But that's okay. God is faithful, and healing comes with time. I just have to be patient. No problem, right? Right . . . .

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm All A-Glo!

Look at what I picked up at the post office yesterday. It's one of the first American shipments from Glo Bakery! The baker/blogger/runner mastermind of the business, Angela, whips up nutritious yummies in her Canadian bakery, but up until now you could only get them north of the border. Thankfully, they've made it stateside at long last.

My package of Glo-ing goodness had an inspirational quote tucked inside. Apparently Angela included these for Operation Beautiful.

Of course I had to take a few bites of one of the Glo Bars. Just to make sure that it was okay. You understand. (It was, incidentally, delicious.) I enjoyed my second Glo Bar just before writing this post. I went for the Renew Glo Bar, which is a protein-laden post-workout bar. Not as yummy as the chocolate peppermint (or should I say "peppymint," like Angela?), but it tasted good and felt even better, if that makes sense.

You should try one. Now, if possible. I'm most excited to try the Heaven Glo Bar. Chocolate, coconut, and peanut butter? Yes, please! Which Glo Bar flavor makes your mouth water most?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Coffee Club

I served this homemade pair up for my Wednesday morning family coffee club/open office hour. No one came . . . so what do you think I ate for breakfast? (The rest went in the teachers' lounge!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cheery, Beery Jouster

The ingredients for this month's Royal Foodie Joust were both alluring and a little daunting for me. Kat of A Good Appetite won last month's Joust with her Brie Stuffed Maple Burger with Spicy Apple Bacon Compote (yeah, doesn't that sound amazing?). Her choices for the next round's ingredients were inspired by the Halloween season: orange (pumpkin or other orange-fleshed squash), black (beer or cola), and sugar. Intriguing to be sure, but I'm not well-versed in the use of alcohol in cooking. Still, I wanted to give it a try, especially since I'm a pumpkin fanatic.

After some thinking and Googling, I decided on a pair of recipes that incorporates the three ingredients. One is for my favorite spread, which I seem to be creating batches of weekly these days: hummus! The other is a new adventure in baking, beer bread, inspired by this recipe.

I'm not a big drinker. In fact, I'm barely an alcohol imbiber at all. I have a beer about once a year, and that's usually with a special dinner out on the town. I like what I call froofy drinks, or what others might term girlie drinks. Anything sweet (white wines, champagne) is up my alley if I'm going to get a little tipsy (and I really do mean a little -- I can't take much alcohol, and frankly, I don't want to). I also like a light beer to go with a well-grilled burger. But, like I said, that's a rare event. This is the first time that I've had beer in our fridge ever, and it's been solely for cooking purposes (drunken crock-pot chicken, anyone?).

And really, I'm not a fan of alcohol flavors in food. When I was growing up in New Jersey, my family liked to solicit the treats of a local Italian bakery. One of my favorite sweets that they offered was tiramisu. I adored the chocolate and light mocha flavors of the custard, but this yumminess was always ruined by the rum-soaked cake at the bottom of each serving cup. I tried to get as much of the custard up without taking any of the cake, but it never seemed to work out and I was always left with the unpleasant taste of alcohol-infused cake in my mouth.

So alcohol-flavored baked goods are not my cup of tea (or booze). Beer bread, though, is another story. I had my first taste of beer bread the summer following my freshman year of college. At that time I was a prospective archaeology major, so I took advantage of a six-week summer field school my alma mater offered. We trekked out to the middle of nowhere in Nevada, where this east coast girl had her first glorious taste of mountain country, pitched tents, and played in the dirt for a month and a half. In addition to finding over 800 bifaces (we stopped counting at that point), meeting a scorpion or two, and swimming in a natural hot pond, we all shared cooking and cleaning (and, of course, eating) duties. We used the kitchen of a ranch that was about four miles from our camp site, and one of the teaching assistants galvanized us into turning out delicious and hearty meals. One of my favorite dishes that we made was beer bread. I didn't think I would like it (see above tiramisu tale), but I was surprised to find it quite palatable. Dense yet moist, and very filling, this bread was good.

Today I made my first loaf of beer bread since that field school. It was even better than I remember. Plus, baking and then eating said baking products were the perfect activities for today's temperature. I rounded off the bread's amazingness with a hummus made with roasted chickpeas, butternut squash, apples, and garlic. Was it good? Words cannot describe.

Roasted Butternut Hummus

1 Gala (or red) apple, diced
2 cups butternut squash, cubed
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
Heaping spoonful garlic, minced
1 T plain yogurt
1 tsp ground ginger

brown sugar
chili powder
hot sauce

Prepare the first four ingredients, then stir together in a large bowl. Add cinnamon, brown sugar, and chili powder to taste. Mix well, then spread over a greased baking sheet. Roast for 35 minutes at 425*F, stirring at least once.

Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt, as well as cumin, hot sauce, and more chili powder to taste. Blend until smooth. Enjoy warm or chill.

Autumn Wheat Beer Bread

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
4.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 12 oz. bottle/can of beer (I used Belgian style)

Preheat the oven to 350*F, and grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

While the oven is warming, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the beer and stir until a nice thick batter is formed. You may have to use your hands to incorporate the last of the flour.

Scrape into the greased pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpicks comes out clean.

Cool slightly, then serve with roasted butter nut hummus, butter and honey, or straight up.

Makes 1 loaf.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shivery Sweet Day

Today was ccccccold! In case you missed it, we got hit with our first snow of the season yesterday. And by season, I'm not really sure what I mean. After all, snow is a winter-time event, and it's barely fall. Welcome to Montana, folks.

To beat the cold, we opted out of hanging around the farmer's market and watching our local university's homecoming parade. I hear that it was freezing, so I think we made the right choice. Instead, the Best Husband Ever and I hit a new location for Scrabble Saturday. Having made himself a big, eggalicious breakfast, the hubby drank some herbal tea. I sipped a nonfat sugar-free caramel latte and nibbled at this totally adorable cherry pistachio biscotti. Yum yum!

After lots of errand-running (I bought hoop-making supplies!) and in-law-visiting (we inherited some homegrown tomatoes and potatoes), we headed home. There, I took advantage of the wintry weather and did some roasting and baking for the Royal Foodie Joust. This month's ingredients are pumpkin (or orange squash), beer, and sugar. Want to know what I made? I'll let you guess . . .

Friday, October 9, 2009

Autumn Wonderland

Look at what I woke up to this morning:

It's like Christmas. In October.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Happy Fall, Y'all

Fall has officially arrived. Signs of the season are everywhere I turn -- trees are baring their limbs, kids walking to school are donning cozier clothing, and I've been crock-potting up a storm. Pumpkins are appearing on doorsteps, snow has fallen in the mountains (yep . . . snow), and Starbucks has brought back their fall latte lineup.

I'm a pumpkin fan. All things squash make me smile. Plain pumpkin puree, roasted acorn squash, pumpkin butter, spaghetti squash, squash pies, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin mixed with cottage cheese -- I just can't get enough! So of course I had to try Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte. Last year I had my first and last one on the same day. I tried in and immediately put the cup down. I thought it tasted awful! My pumpkin-hating husband probably chuckled to himself at that, since I'm a very active pumpkin proselytizer in our home.

When the pumpkin lattes returned this year, I felt rather sad as I read about other food bloggers enjoying their autumnal caffeine. I wanted in, but just didn't like the taste. Then I saw how a couple of bloggers modified their lattes from the standard version, ordering a pumpkin spice latte with only two pumps of flavor. I decided to give the latte another shot, and guess what -- it's so much more delicious with the lighter flavoring!

Yum slurp yum -- that's the sound of my enjoying the new and improved version of the pumpkin spice latte. Now I understand what my fellow bloggers see in this drink! Have you tried this version of the latte? What are your thoughts? And how is fall manifesting itself in your corner of the world?


Did you know that October 2009 is International Walk to School month? Each community's goal might be different -- lobbying safer pedestrian routes to school; promoting healthy activity and lifestyles; or cutting down on pollution created by driving to school -- but worldwide, students, families, and teachers are trying to walk or bike to school more. And the United States' day to celebrate biking and walking to school is October 7 -- today!

I work at an elementary school as a family outreach specialist, and today I teamed up with some awesome PTO parents to hold our Bike-Walk program's kick-off party. We encouraged all students who could to walk or bike to school. If the kids didn't have a choice and were bused or driven, then they could walk the perimeter of their playground twice during one of the recesses. If they continuing doing one of those things for 10 days, then they can earn a prize and a chance to win in a drawing for a larger one later this year. Today, we offered free hot cocoa in the morning before school. It was a great success! Lots of students and families showed up, and we had to shut the cocoa bar down in the end because school was starting.

Do you walk or bike to work or school? Our school's goal in having a Bike-Walk program is to encourage kids to get active. This will gear up into our running and walking clubs in the spring, where kids can rack up miles for a kids' marathon and a kids' 10K race. Last year the PTO established safe routes to school in the neighborhood. Plus, all this foot-powered commuting is earth-friendly. What's your goal in hoofing it to work or school?

I walk because it's a nice start to my day. Walking helps clear my head and get my brain in work mode. It is also a short enough distance to not be a hardship during rotten weather while remaining rather ridiculous to drive. I love it, even when I have to schlep through the early-morning darkness while snow falls on the neighboring mountains (and, apparently, even in town today!). Snow?! That's right -- snow. Happy fall, folks.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hello, October

Can you believe that it's already October? And if you live in western Montana like me, you know what that means -- snow on the mountains! Insane, right? And all too soon we're going to have snow down here in the valley as well. Brrr.

Thankfully, it's just chilly enough at the moment to make being snug inside nice and cozy. To my great sadness the Best Husband Ever has been away all week on a trip to the other side of the country for work. It feels rather like he's on the other side of the world, but the up side of his not being here is that I could light up the fireplace without guilt (he likes it coooold inside). I also made some dinners that don't exactly line up with his taste preferences, but that make me a happy chef and happy devourer.

Like these Jewish-inspired apple latkes, for example. I created them for the October round of the Royal Foodie Joust. The required ingredients were apples (crunch crunch!), maple, and cayenne. What would you make with those ingredients? I made latkes, and they were delightfully warm and delicious on these blustery, gray days.

Apple Latkes with Maple Cream Yogurt & Spiced Applesauce

For the latkes:
2 apples (I used Gala)*
1 egg
1/2 cup milk, plus 1/4 cup
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 cup sugar
1/8 cup applesauce
2+ T maple syrup
1/2 tsp cayenne

For the toppings (optional, although recommended!):
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 T maple syrup
pinch of cayenne

1/2 cup applesauce
big pinch of cayenne

You can prepare the apples one of two ways: either core, peel, and grate them, or core and chop the apples and mince them in a blender or food processor (I chose the latter). Use 1/4 cup of milk to process as needed.

Beat the egg in a bowl with the milk (I used liquid egg replacer and skim milk). Stir in the applesauce and maple syrup. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, oat bran, baking powder, sugar, and cayenne. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together until just combined.

Coat a skillet with non-stick cooking spray or your favorite oil and allow it to warm over high heat. While it is heating, prepare your toppings of choice. To make the maple cream, whip the yogurt with 1 Tablespoon maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne. To make the spiced applesauce, mix a big pinch of cayenne into 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce. (If you processed your apples with milk instead of grating, you can add a third apple and use the processed yield instead of store-bought applesauce for the topping.) Set the two bowls of toppings aside.

Return to the latkes. Plop a large spoonful of batter onto the heated skillet. Cook until the top just begins to bubble, then flip and cook the other side for a few more minutes. Be careful -- in using a higher heat, these latkes cook fast!

Remove the cooked latke from the skillet and place on a warm plate. If you used oil to cook the latkes, place the finished pancakes on a paper towel to absorb any excess.

Serve the apple latkes piping hot and topped with maple cream and/or spiced applesauce. If you wish, sprinkle lightly with additional cayenne or drizzle with maple syrup.

Serves 2-3.

*To add something truly special to these Jewish-inspired apple latkes, core, slice, and roast your apples for 30-40 minutes first. Allow to cool, then proceed with the recipe. Sprinkle the apple slices with cayenne before roasting to give them an extra zing.