Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Soul Warming

I just spent a week in Lebanon, Oregon for a friend's wedding. Right before I left, temperatures here in California were crazy high - as in over 100°. I love summer, and I love warm days, but at some point I just start craving the next season. I was a little excited to discover that up in Lebanon, days would be nice, but evening through morning would be on the cold side. I got to bring my boots, and pack scarves. But while I was there, boots and scarves and tea still weren't enough. I craved winter comfort food. Something warm and stew-like and meaty. Something that warms your soul. Something like...

Turkey-Habanero & Butternut Squash Chili
2-3 tbsp. of fat of choice – olive oil, coconut oil, butter, lard, etc.
1½ cups diced onions
1½ cups diced butternut squash
2 habaneros, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups turkey or chicken stock
2 cups diced cooked turkey or chicken
1 palmfull Alton Brown’s Chili Powder, adjust to taste
¾ palmfull smoked paprika, adjust to taste
½ palmfull cumin, adjust to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped (optional, but highly recommended; adds an unexpected meatiness to the chili)

Melt the fat in a Dutch oven or other large pot.  Add diced onion and sauté until golden.  Add butternut squash and sauté a few minutes more.  Add habanero and garlic and sauté a minute more.  Add stock, diced meat, chili powder, paprika and cumin.  Bring to simmer and maintain until vegetables are tender.  Salt & pepper to taste.   Add chopped chard and continue to simmer until soft but still green (about 4 minutes). Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A New Venture

This summer, Bobby and I decided to take our lives in a new direction. The last few months have been spent planning and training and getting our paperwork in order, and soon we will be hiring and looking to launch. We are excited to announce that we are opening a FirstLight HomeCare franchise!

FirstLight provides non-medical in home care to seniors, the chronically ill and disabled, new mothers and people recovering from recent surgery, including companion care, personal care, dementia care and respite care. It is a way to help people stay in their homes and out of nursing or rehab facilities while alleviating the burden on family members. This is a service we both believe in, and feel really good about being able to provide.

Our location will serve the areas of West LA, Santa Monica, Century City, Westwood, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, Bel Air and everywhere in between. If you know anyone with a kind and caring demeanor in the area looking for work, or anyone that might benefit from our services, please send them our way!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Things I learned on my honeymoon

How to figure out where we are on the map using the instruments on the plane and a scale.
That I shouldn't expect a steakhouse to be a really swanky joint just because I'm told they have the most amazing steaks ever.
That it pays to have a bro/sis that are wine club members at the places you go tasting - sometimes the winery will give you their discount.
That brewers up in the Santa Ynez Valley have heard of and are impressed by Bootlegger's Brewery (yes, I brag about my bros, can you blame me?).
That if we stay at the Radisson when we fly in to Santa Maria airport, we can call the concierge as soon as we turn off the engine and have them send someone directly to the plane with a luggage cart.  Transient parking is directly out their back door.  And they offer a AAA discount.

It seems like everyone in Santa Maria has some connection to Orange County.  As least everyone we talked to.
That I love Linguicia.  Not too surprising; I'm a nut for sausage.
That AT&T's coverage sucks in Los Olivos.  And by sucks, I mean it's non-existent. 
That if you tell people you are on your honeymoon, they'll get excited and sometimes give you stuff.  Or at least get really cheery (I find this often works with birthdays too).
That you have to do more than use that steering wheel to make a turn in a plane.  Or even maintain straight and level flight.
That I actually like Danish mustard (even though I HATE mustard), especially on Danish sausages (I told you I like sausage).
That I'm super glad we didn't buy a Sleep Number bed when we chose our mattress (We already have an air mattress, thank you).
That "Santa Maria-style BBQ" means steak, beans, and salsa.  Sometimes with saltine crackers.
That Hearst Castle has its own runway, but we aren't allowed to land on it.
That I actually like beets, especially on a salad with ranch dressing (no, I never ate a beet before - adventurous as I am, I still sometimes fear the unknown).
That Capt. G. Allan Hancock was an accomplished dude: http://www.hancockcollege.edu/Default.asp?Page=687
That I need to go back to Santa Maria again soon.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I'm Marching for Babies

On April 24th I will be walking 6 miles around Riverside with Da Gavinators team in the March for Babies.  I'd really like to raise $500 this year, and any contribution you can make would be greatly appreciated.

The March of Dimes March for Babies mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.  (You can click here to see the March for Babies video.) The money raised for March for Babies will help:
  • support all-important research offering preventions and solutions for babies born too soon or with birth defects
  • educate women on things they can do to increase their chances of having a healthy baby
  • provide comfort and information to families with a newborn in intensive care
  • push for newborn screening and health insurance for all pregnant women and children
Contributing to my walk online is fast, easy and secure. You can donate directly from my personal webpage with a credit card or PayPal. My personal Web page address for donations is... http://www.marchforbabies.org/ABarkenhagen
Or just click the image on the right!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Corn, Corn, Corn

I dreamt last night that everything was corn.  I was eating corn, and the ingredients list on the boxes I was looking at read: "Corn, Corn, Corn, Corn, ..."  It was kind of like that scene in Being John Malcovich, when John Malcovich goes down his own portal and winds up in some alternate reality when everyone (and all anyone says or can read) is John Malcovich.  (If you haven't seen that movie, please watch it as soon as possible).

I know exactly why I was dreaming of corn - I've spent most of the day yesterday reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  I'm now through the first section, which is basically telling me that most of what I'm eating is corn (or some by-product of corn), and part way through the second section, which is telling me that most of the "organic," "range-fed," and other natural foods buzzwords are misleading and not really indicative of food that is any better.  I'm starting to wonder what the heck I should be eating.

And I'm getting mad at the government.  It seems like they keep trying to fix things, and it just makes everything worse off.  I've long been frustrated with the ongoing subsidies to farmers, but apparently I didn't even grasp the extent of the damage.  To both our economy and our health.  The depressing part is I can't see a way to reverse the damage that doesn't involve a very difficult transition.

The health crisis is particularly interesting to me.  Not the healthcare crisis, although I find that interesting too, but the rise in obesity and the general lack of good health observed nationwide.  I am convinced the cause of this is rooted in what we eat and how much we eat, and that until we make a conscious effort to improve our diets, we will only continue getting fatter, our health will continue to decline, and our nation's spending on healthcare will continue to spiral out of control.

I found this passage particularly damning: "Since 1985, an American's annual consumption of [high fructose corn syrup] has gone from forty-five pounds to sixty-six pounds.  You might think that this growth would have been offset by a decline in sugar consumption, since HFCS often replaces sugar, but that didn't happen: During the same period our consumption of refined sugar actually went up by five pounds....  It fact, since 1985 our consumption of all added sugars - cane, beet, HFCS, glucose, honey, maple syrup, whatever - has climbed from 128 pounds to 158 pounds per person."

For the last few years, I've been really trying to eat better.  Not diet, per se, but to eat healthy.  But what that means seems to vary so wildly depending on who you ask.  I've never really accepted any of the recent dieting trends, such as the low-carb plan, but I did seek out ideas about food that made sense to me.

Some things are easy - I've never heard anyone argue that sodas, junk food or fast food are healthy, or that vegetables are unhealthy.  These are pretty much given.  Some very simple logic/research indicates that vegetables are normally lower in calories than meats, dairy or grains, and that whole grains have more nutritional value than refined grains.  And that I really don't need to eat nearly as much meat as I do, especially if I consume as much dairy as I do.

Dig a little deeper, and you learn that animals that have been raised/caught in a more traditional way tend to have higher nutritional value than their industrially raised/farmed counterparts: grass fed beef, eggs from chickens fed grass and insects, and wild salmon just have more of the good stuff.

So... more veggies, smaller and less frequent portions of the right kind of meat, smaller portions of grains, and less sugar overall.  But that's harder than it seems.  First of all, I don't usually eat alone - I'm cooking for Bobby and myself, and sometimes Emma and Erica too.  Bobby fancy's himself a carnivore, and though he'll eat the vegetables I make, he has this need to eat mostly meat in every meal.  Emma doesn't particularly care for any vegetables - she'd live on bread and cheese if you let her.

Then, there's the fact that grass fed beef and free range eggs and wild salmon not only cost more, but are more difficult to find.  My only option seems like Whole Foods, but it takes 30 minutes just to get there, not to mention the idea that I can't really tell if the free range chicken actually spent its days outside, or just the last 2 weeks of its life.

So I'm frustrated.  More so now than I was before I began reading this book.  In some respects I feel used and lied to by the food industry, including the organic food industry.  But the really frustrating part is that I don't really know what I can do about it.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taking (most of) the day off

I'm tired. Tired of working, tired of cleaning, tired of driving all over, tired of stressing. I really enjoyed spending time with family over the holiday, but I'm even tired of all the commotion involved with that.

Sitting pouring myself another cup from my new teapot, I have decided that after I finish a few basic tasks, I'm going to try to take it easy today. So far my plan for the day involves taking Abbey to the farmers' market, and teaching Emma how to make spaghetti. Not just noodles and a jar of sauce, but from scratch. It's easy enough, and she loves spaghetti. She's shown a lot of interest in learning how to cook, and we've started with stuff that she likes that is easy. I've noticed she's been more willing to try new foods the last few months, which is really encouraging. I think seeing how it's made and helping make food has helped that a lot.

Christmas really was lovely. We spent lots of time with both my family and Bobby's, and time with friends. Had visits from family we hadn't seen in much too long, and even met family we had never met before. Went to see Avatar together (great movie - a tad predictable, but beautiful and very entertaining. we all enjoyed it very much, and Emma left the theater wishing she had an avatar).

Instead of a big Christmas dinner, we had a big Christmas brunch: Belgian buttermilk waffles with whipped cream, bacon, sausage, eggs scrambled with mushrooms & leeks, chorizo & eggs. And I made my grandmother's Pecan Rolls.

Pecan Rolls
Can takes up to 5-1/2 - 6 hours when you have a stand mixer doing the kneading for you.

1/2 cup hot mashed potatoes
1/2 cup warm water from boiling the potatoes
1/2 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup flour
1 pkg. or 2-1/4 tsp. yeast

Mix the mashed potatoes, potato water, milk, and flour. When temperature drops to between 100 and 110 degrees, stir in yeast. Let rise 45 min - 1 hour.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
Approximately 3-1/2 cups flour

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add salt, and beat in eggs, then starter. Add flour in 1/2 cupfuls until a good doughy consistency. Knead by hand or with dough hook until dough is smooth. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise at least 1 hour.

Melted Butter (1/2 stick or so)
Brown Sugar (1/2 lb. or so)
Cinnamon (just sprinkle it around)

Flour your working space, and roll out the dough into a large rectangle, so that it is only 1/4" thick. Brush entire rectangle with a generous amount of butter. Spread with a layer of brown sugar - not a thin layer, it should be a solid layer so that you can't see the dough underneath. Sprinkle with cinnamon and raisins to taste. Roll up dough and pinch edges. Slice roll into slices approximately 1" thick.

Butter (1/2 stick or so)
Brown Sugar (1 to 1-1/2 cups or so)
Raisins (1 to 1-1/2 cups or so)
Pecans (1/2 lb. or so)
Cinnamon (a sprinkling)

Combine topping ingredients and mix well. Grease two 8"x8" or 9"x9" pans with butter and spread topping around bottom of the pans. (If you try to use a larger pan, you'll wind up with a center that isn't cooked through and edges that are too browned.) Arrange roll slices among pans - they will swell quite a bit when they rise, so give them plenty of wiggle room. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.

Bake at 375 degrees until they brown on top and look cooked through in the center. These rolls leak, especially when crowded in the pan, so you probably want to put a large sheet pan underneath to catch dripping brown sugar/butter. Start checking after 20 minutes. When finished, remove from oven and immediately turn out onto foil. Wrap up in foil until ready to eat.

Best eaten when still warm from the oven - the edges toughen a little when reheated (reheats much better in the oven or toaster oven than in the microwave). They will stay warm longer if you put them in a long flat basket lined with a kitchen towel and cover with another kitchen towel. And if your rolls don't swell enough to catch all the topping, there will be people picking the leftover topping directly out of the foil.

I'm sure we received too much stuff altogether, and I only wish we could have given as much as we received. We got a Wii, and a Wii Fit Plus, which I'm really excited about, but my guilty pleasure the last few evenings has been Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. I think I'm about 20% finished with the game already.

When my mom's family got together for Christmas in early December, we did what we often do - everyone brought a dish that my grandmother used to make often. Some people have one recipe, other people have others. But they are scattered. I brought Pecan Rolls, Lisa made lasagna, Kevin made coleslaw, etc. We decided that we needed to assemble the recipes and distribute them so that we all had a copy. Jessica decided that would be her Christmas present to the family - she would assemble family recipes, not just Gma's but as many as we could send her, and make binders for everyone with them inside.

As we were emailing recipes around, I confessed that I'm looking for the perfect Mac & Cheese recipe. My favorite mac & cheese is the creamy kind, not the baked. I hate to say it, because I'm really trying to eat less processed foods, but my guilty pleasure is in those blue boxes. Lucille's has an excellent mac & cheese, and I really want to figure out how to make something like that from scratch, using real ingredients. Keith recommended I try the recipe in Cook's Illustrated The Best New Recipe, but it turns out his older edition has a much different recipe than my version. He's a little too far away for me to swing by and borrow it, but he did send me pictures of the pages.

But before I could try that one out, I was watching Jamie at Home on the Food Network, and at the end of this segment, I had to make this pasta right away.

Of course, I had to make crème fraîche first, and that took awhile by itself. But I finally got around to it, and oh-my-goodness it was delicious. I'm now eager to try it using cheddar and fontina. Cannot wait.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Quiet Morning

I convinced Bobby to sleep in this morning. Dad was here at 6:30ish to drop off the cement mixer and pick up the pipe threader. I went to bed at midnight, but Bobby didn't get to bed until 3am. This is his third night in a row with little sleep. Once I'm up, I'm up, but I've slept enough. So the house is quiet. Even Abbey is asleep. It's a nice morning, too. Not cold, but not yet hot... just a nice ambient temperature.

We've been really busy the last two and a half months, which is great. Business slowed to a near stop the first half of this year - just because construction in general slowed way down. But Bobby spent the time bidding his butt off, and it started to pay off mid June. Since then, I'm not sure where the time has gone.

Abbey completed all her basic training - the beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes at PetSmart. I really need to be working with her more, but it seems we've been so busy, and when I can stop, I just want to drop. It means I'm lagging in a couple areas.

My vegetable garden this year was basically non-existent. Some of that was Abbey's fault, since she kept digging in it, but it's my fault too - I didn't water nearly often enough. Even the grass in the back yard has a brown tinge to it. But I started over last week - planted a cooler weather tomato, some broccoli and cauliflower, poblano chili, orange bell, crookneck squash, snow peas, beets, carrots, more thyme... Abbey hasn't dug anything up yet, and I find she's less likely to do so when I actually water it. Something about soggy dirt isn't as pleasing to her paws, I suppose.

Bobby and I spent a couple Sundays ago reclaiming our courtyard from the overgrown vines and tree/bushes. It looks tons better, but it needs to grow back some more to be just right. After that I went on a sort of pruning binge, and decided to tackle the Pride of Madeira in the front yard. Turns out that meant I was standing on an ant hill... and they weren't too pleased with me. I escaped with only a couple bites, but I still complained about it quite loudly I'm sure.

It's still quite warm, and supposed to be in the 90s today, but I'm really looking forward to the weather cooling off soon. It seems I'm always looking forward to the seasons changing. Fall gives me an excuse to make soups and bake bread and wear boots and scarves. And since Abbey just ate my last pair of flip flops (okay, she only ate one of them), I'm glad that soon I'll be in socks and sneakers or boots. I know that in 6 months I'll be daydreaming of sundresses and sandals and the beach, but for now, bring on the cold weather and rain.

For a week now, I've been wanting to make my Butternut Squash Zucchini Bread. Emma has been wanting me to show her how to cook some things, so maybe we'll make some tonight or tomorrow. When I was making pancakes the other morning, I set my recipe book, the one I write down recipes I really like in, and the page with this recipe stuck to the counter and ripped so it is now unreadable. So I looked up the base recipe (I remember how I changed it), and wouldn't you know, I posted it exactly one year ago today! Seems it was already cooling down this time last year.

I love spice breads - banana, pumpkin, zucchini. Last year I had butternut squash for the first time, and thought it tasted similar enough to pumpkin for baking purposes. I find I actually prefer it. I'd started with a recipe for Pumpkin Walnut Bread, but found that I wished for a more moist bread. Zucchini Bread is really moist, so I thought I would add some zucchini. Then, to make up for the fact that it's more like cake than it is bread, I decided to replace half the flour with whole wheat flour. And replace a little more with some wheat germ. I don't love walnuts, so I added some hazelnut flour instead.

To make butternut squash puree - halve a butternut squash lengthwise and peel it, then slice it crosswise into thirds. (You may only want to slice off the amount you need to make the 3/4 cup, or you may want to roast the whole thing, depending on what you want to do with the rest.) Lay out the sections. Add a half cup or so of water into the bottom of the dish for moisture. Bake in the oven at 350 or so for about an hour, or until the squash can be easily mashed with a fork (because this is how you'll probably mash it). Smaller sections will cook through faster. Let cool at least enough to handle, then mash it up.

Butternut Squash Zucchini Bread
1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup (2 3/4 ounces) water
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
3/4 cup butternut squash puree
3/4 cup grated zucchini
1/2 cup neutral-flavor vegetable oil (such as canola)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup hazelnut flour (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter or high-heat canola-oil spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper that extends 1 inch beyond the edge of both sides of the pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, wheat germ, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and salt until thoroughly blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and blend well. Add the butternut squash puree, grated zucchini, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract and blend well.

Add the squash-zucchini mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Add the hazelnut flour and stir until evenly distributed. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and level the top. (I sometimes sprinkle some more wheat germ on top hereto give the top some texture)

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices by sawing gently with a serrated knife. Any leftovers should be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Makes one loaf

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Our Little Graduate

Today was Abbey's final day of Beginner Obedience Training - and she passed her test with flying colors. She's really improved her performance in class in the last few weeks. She even got to wear a ridiculous little hat!

In truth, she does better in class than she does at home. When I have the treat bag and clicker in my hand, then she listens when I say "Leave It." But if I don't have that treat bag in hand and she sees the cat wandering around the room, "Leave It" is really just a noise she ignores. More work to do.

We'd like to sign her up for the intermediate class soon, and continue with the advanced class and maybe even the click-a-trick class. And then, one day, maybe we'll sign her up for a tracking class - put that nose of hers to work....

With every dog I've had in the past, the alarm going off in the morning has been their signal that it's okay to lick your face until you get up and play with them. And food in the bowl meant they ate immediately and until it was gone. Not with our little girl. She's very like Bobby in this way - not a morning doggie, and not ready to eat until a few hours after she's been up. When I get out of bed to start the coffee pot and tea kettle, she doesn't follow me - she takes my spot and cuddles up to Bobby.

Reading a little about a relative dog breed on Wikipedia, I came across this statement:
"They love to nest and cuddle. Getting a walker hound out of your bed,off your couch or away from your fireplace will be a feat in itself. They love to sleep after a long day and are the perfect dogs for watching television."

That so sounds like her!

We've been to the dog beach with her a few times now. The first time we let her off the leash she bolted about a quarter mile out of pure excitement, but she mostly stays close now, and gets better each time we go. She wants so badly to play with all of the other dogs, and is often quite vocal. We clearly have some training that needs reinforcement.

Leaving the house is really exciting for her, because it means we are going someplace fun. Sometimes it's PetSmart, sometimes it's the dog beach, and at least once a weeks it's Bobby's parents' house where she can wrestle around with his brother's labrador, Jaeger, for at least a few hours. Everytime she sees us getting ready to leave, she gets really excited and camps out in front of the nearest exit, and jumps into the car as soon as we open it. And after a long day playing with Jaeger or on the beach, she sleeps - all the way home and once we're there.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Wild Women of Wine Country

Today was the Wild Women of Wine Country 5K Run/Walk, so Mom and I woke up extra early this morning and drove down to South Coast Winery in Temecula, CA to meet up with Freida and her other recruits.

I was surprised by how many women (and a few men) showed up to participate. It looked like it could have been more than participated in the March for Babies in Riverside last weekend, but that could also be because there was less open space in this parking lot.

When I checked the weather last night, it said something like 67 degrees with a 65% chance of rain, but once again the sun came out for our walk. It was still a little on the cool side that early in the morning, but that was appreciated after we'd been huffing along for a bit.

I particularly enjoyed walking so close to (and sometimes between) the vines. With my home vines in mind, it was interesting to analyze the way they grow the vines.

The walk was fairly brief - once we got started it took less than an hour, so we were done by 8:30am. When we decided to stay and have breakfast, I realized just how brilliant it is for South Coast Winery to host this walk - not only is it good PR, it brings in a huge amount of business pretty early in the morning. At 9am, there was an hour wait for a table for breakfast. Women were everywhere - eating and shopping... and having mimosas at the bar.

Mom and I received coupons for 2-for-1 wine tasting, but decided to save them for a day when Dad and Bobby can join us. We'd had some mimosas, but felt it was a tad early to drink any more than that...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Food Network

I came across this article a couple weeks ago, and it made me think about the value of cooking shows. I watch the Food Network a lot. In fact, Bobby has complained that's all I watch. And it is, mostly.

I like cooking, but that didn't really start until I was in college. My mom taught me how to make a few things - scrambled eggs, pancakes, spaghetti, boxed mac-and-cheese and rice-a-roni. Were I out on my own, I could feed myself, no problem. But I actually learned about how to cook via the Food Network.

The shows may make everything look easy, and that may be false representation, but it also makes you a little more willing to try it out. And then there's the fact that they are often showing a technique that you can use when cooking similar foods - Rachael Ray tought me what a roux is, and I learned about tempering from Alton Brown. It's that kind of knowledge that allows me to better understand what's happening when I watch people cook now.