Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On a cold winter's night...

... when everyone is fighting the sniffles and wants to hold a hot bowl of something in front of their face, you have to go with chicken soup.

Here's the 45 minute version, from start to finish, which includes 25 minutes of simmer time where you can work on something else. I like this one because you put the chicken breasts in whole, so you don't have to worry about cross-contamination with your knives or cutting boards. Just one less thing to worry about, and one step closer to sitting down to eat.

We also like the frozen egg noodles, which are a bit gummier than dried noodles and soak up the chicken flavor.

4-5 cups of chicken stock
1 medium onion (yellow or sweet)
3 celery ribs, sliced down the middle and then cut medium-fine
3 carrots or one bag of baby carrots, cut into 1/4 inch chunks or medium-fine slices
1 bay leaf if you have it

One package chicken breasts, 3-4 breasts, 1.5-2.5 pounds or so
2 teaspoons dried sage
1-2 teaspoons salt
.5-1 teaspoon black pepper (both to your taste)

1 pound frozen egg noodles.

2 Tablespoon each butter (slightly softened) and flour. You can get these two out at the beginning, and the butter should be soft enough by the time you need it.

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, simmer the chicken stock, onion, celery, carrots, and bay leaf for about 5-10 minutes. Add the whole chicken breasts, sage, and salt/pepper. Simmer for 25-30 minutes covered or partially covered. Flip the chicken a couple or three times to make sure it cooks evenly.

Once this is going, cook the frozen noodles according to its instructions. This usually takes about 15 minutes — 5-10 minutes to get the water boiling, then 10 minutes of cooking time.

At this point, you can opt to serve the chicken breasts whole, which means you'll need a knife, fork, and spoon. Or, you can take two forks and pull the chicken apart into bite sized pieces.

Mix the flour and butter until smooth. Push as much of the chicken and veggies as you can to the side of the pot and spoon the butter/flour into the liquid in the middle. Stir or whisk into the soup, and then add the noodles. Simmer for a couple more minutes so the noodles absorb some of the flavor and everything is evenly heated. Serve in soup bowls or shallow pasta bowls.

New Year's Resolutions: The One Mile Solution

In today's VeloNews, legal eagle Bob Mionske discusses Andy Cline's One Mile Solution.

  • The idea is simple: Find your home on a map...Draw a circle with a 1-mile radius around your home. Try to replace one car trip per week within that circle by riding a bicycle or walking. At an easy riding pace you can travel one mile on a bicycle in about seven minutes. Walking takes about 20 minutes at an easy pace.

The part that always messes folks up is that the One Mile Solution is a basic template that you need to adjust to your own local environs. If you have great bike paths and lots of stuff nearby, maybe yours should be a Five Mile Solution. If you live in the boonies like me, maybe running errands via LPCs or the two-wheeler is a stretch, but combining trips and parking once and walking in between stores serve the same purpose.

I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions. I try to practice New Life Resolutions. But to each his own. Do what works for you.

More here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Well: Healthy Food for under $1

Check out the NYT's Well today.

Healthy Foods for Under $1

I've never understood why folks will spend 20 minutes in line during the lunch rush for a "fast" food burger, when in the same amount of time they can run into the grocery store, grab an apple, a bottle of Odwalla, and a block of cheese or the like, for the same amount of money. It has to be the perceived convenience of not picking out the components and assembling them oneself, along with the perceived "value" of the dollar menu.

Maybe if the cost of a quad bypass was factored into the 99 cent burger, folks would figure it out.

There are some obvious things one can do to both save money and eat better. For under three bucks, you get a tub of oats that will make five to ten times the cereal that you would get in a three dollar box of Sugar Coated Choco Bombs. But the packaged cold cereal is much more convenient, and we've become the laziest consumers on the market. (For that matter, a three dollar tub of oats will make ten times the oatmeal as those individual packets of oatmeal from the same manufacturer that cost a little bit more — explain that one to me.)

Instead of big box cereals, buy these items in bulk and try this out.

High Plains Notes

Windy day today. Can't complain about the temps (low 50s) but the wind we get around here starts in the Yukon, heads downhill the whole way, and doesn't hit anything to slow it down until it knocks over my garbage cans and sometimes the Weber. In Korea we called this wind the Hawk. It didn't matter what the temperature was or the relative humidity or the barometric pressure or anything — when the Hawk came roaring down off the mountains, you were going to get cold, cold down to the bone, down to the marrow.

I've heard from more than one person who noted that when their east coast friends and relatives visit, the tumble weed garners more attention than the mountains. After a while, you take the mountains for granted, I guess, but you hit a 4 foot diameter tumbleweed at 75 mph, and then watch it disappear in a puff of smoke, and for some reason that gets folks' attention.

Programming note: If Z. will let me have a couple of minutes off tonight, I really want to catch Bettye LaVette on the Kennedy Center Honors tonight. All reports are that she stole the show.

It's a Dog's Life

Molly told me to tell y'all that everyone out there is working too hard and not taking enough time to recharge the batteries.

Monday, December 29, 2008

One for the grandparents

A kid learning to walk... nuff said.

Pretty good at going straight... turns, not so much.

If we hadn't named our cat Crash, Zebb might have gotten the handle.

Fake Baking

This weekend's The Splendid Table featured Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, who explained how everyone can enjoy homemade artisan bread in just five minutes a day. Really.

I'm still trying to find five free minutes. Make it "artisan bread in just three minutes a day," and you might have me.

While I wait for their three minute update, I've been playing around with fake bread. Beer bread, that is.

There really is nothing easier. Mix up the flour, pour in a beer. Bake. Eat.

"Ahhh, but you're missing the point. There is nothing easier than bread," you say. Au contraire, my friends. Baking in general and bread in particular can be easy, if you're the type to follow directions. But you're talking to the guy who put Old Bay Seasoning in his chicken noodle soup the other day, just to see what would happen.

Baking is all about precision and attention to detail and following directions. And if I could do that... well, let's just say my military career would have turned out a bit differently.

Cooking is like jazz or mountain biking. You go with the flow, improvise, pick a line and see what happens. Baking is like surgery or carpentry. You need to know the steps, do everything according to the directions, and the results are dictated by science, chemistry, math and engineering.

Beer bread gives you a chance to put a wee bit of jazz into the chemistry mix. The ingredients remain the same: 3 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 3 Tablespoons sugar (or honey, agave nectar, or other sweetener), 1.5 teaspoons of salt, and one beer. Mix the dry, add the beer, pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake for an hour at 375º.

But there's room for improvising by picking the beer. Go with a wiessen or wheat beer and you can get clove or banana flavors from the German yeast strains. Lb Brewer's American Wheat, American Hefeweizen, or Flying Bison Rye are all good choices, but only available in western Kansas; so is Breckenridge's Agave Wheat, which is available all over the Front Range and High Prairie. Or go with a heavier beer for a bread with more body. My favorite so far has been Left Hand Brewing Company's Milk Stout, which gave the bread a malty, coffee flavor.

Yeah, I know... beer bread is cheating. Three minutes to mix, an hour to bake, and you're done. You're getting the flavor out of a bottle, not from the chemistry or artisanry. Okay, guilty as charged. So maybe if someone will send me ARTISAN BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY for my birthday, I'll come around to the other side.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Question #2

Question #2 has been: "Has Z-Dog tried to eat Z-Man yet?"

Those of you who know Zo know that he's... well... let's be charitable and call him a "one family dog." Loyal as the day is long, would do anything for M. and me, but everyone else had better be careful around him. He requires very careful handling from strangers. If you show one ounce of fear, it's game over, and you're on his watch list forever. But if you've been around big dogs before and assume he's just a lap dog on steroids who's only concern is who is going to scratch his butt, then you'll do okay, but only after you've proven yourself.

He has mellowed over the years, and lately he's been a lot quicker to get used to folks.

But still... a hairless ape crawling all over his domain has got to look a lot more like The Other White Meat than Dog's Best Friend, right?

Well, they're not snuggling up together in front of the fireplace quite yet, but the two seem to be heading in the right direction. For the first two days, Zo would bark at the little munchkin whenever he heard him banging away. But Z's failure to acknowledge that he was in fact the target of said barking moved him from "Potential Domestic Terrorist" to "Too Dumb to be Much of a Threat" in short order. Now Zo just stares at the little booger, wondering why this newbie isn't sleeping the garage or going outside to poop or any of the other things that a proper new animal should be doing in this family.

Meanwhile, Molly just thinks Z. is the most interesting smelling thing she's ever found. No nook or crany of his is safe from her inspection. If I could train her to stomp a foot when he needs a diaper change (one stomp for wet, two stomps for #2 would be nice), then we'd be in business.

Grace (aka the Graceless One, Fatty, Momma Cass, the Lump, the Tubby Tabby) seems to think Z. has potential as a buddy. She's checking him out, letting him chase her, staying just an arm's length out of reach. Crash doesn't care much for anyone who doesn't provide extra body heat for her apres-dinner nap, so she's ambivalent to the whole thing.

I know this next part is going to reveal my ignorance of the infant species, but I'll say it anyway, since that point has been made time and time again in the last week. I am simply amazed by Z's reaction to the animals. He's fascinated by all of them, and all of them equally. The big dogs are awesome, in the true sense of the word — he will just stare at them when they are sleeping, playing, walking, or whatever, without a trace of fear or concern. And the cats amaze him. They're here, and then they're there, so quietly and quickly... how did they do that? No electronic device of flashing lights, buzzes, and animation can compete with a cat that walks in view. He'll fling a full bottle over his shoulder and squirm to get out of my arms to go see what the cat is doing.

But why? Why is a real dog so intriguing to him, in a way that a person or stuffed animal or toy is not?

Now, for folks who have had kids for a while now, the answer is simple: because kids love dogs and cats. That why they ask for pets, that's why they like stuffed animals. Just because. But I don't get it. Why? Why would a kid like a big, hairy, potentially scary animal who is capable of chowing him down like a handful of so many beernuts? Has evolution wired us for some sort of domestic care-taking duty that plays out in an affection for critters of all shapes and sizes? Wouldn't it be smarter for Caveman Baby to be afraid of everything on four legs until he's big enough to sharpen his own spear?

What does a baby's affection for a 165 pound dog with big pointy teeth tell us about our humanity?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Reason #297 why Christmas (and Thanksgiving) rocks.

You all know the big reasons: family, friends, that hearty meal of turkey and stuffing...

But after the last prezzie has been unwrapped and the dishes have been washed and put away, there's still a lot to look forward to and be thankful for.

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is the leftovers. And while simply recreating the meal you just finished has it's merits, there are a lot of other ways to rearrange things and put them back together again.

One of the easiest: the Turkey Gobbler Sandwich.

Whole wheat bread
A smear of cream cheese, on one side, and a smear of cranberry chutney on the other
(see Great Tastes for the chutney recipe... to be published shortly)
A sprinkle of sunflower seeds on the cream cheese side
Sliced left-over turkey
Mixed greens, baby romaine, or arugula

It's so hard to go back to deli-counter lunch meat after one of these.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas on the Farm

I think we've mentioned that Z. measures up in the top 90th percentile for height but in the bottom 15th percentile for weight. Well, there's no better place to put some meat on your bones than Nebraska over the holidays. Too bad Two-Tooth Z-Man couldn't partake in the turkey, ham, stuffing, and dozens of boxes of cookies (although he did do some damage to the smashed potatoes and gravy). Wait until next year... the rest of us are going to be fighting for scraps after he makes his run on the buffet.

All of the pix from Christmas day are here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Tao of Z

Finish every day with a bath, a bottle, and then to bed. Not a bad philosophy.

Top Ten Holiday Beers

Story at NPR:

Top Ten Seasonal Beers.

Morning Edition, December 24, 2008 · Consider the libations of the season: Spiked eggnog. Mulled wine. What about a nice frosty Christmas beer?

Their list is okay... but how did they leave off Odell's Isolation Ale?

Tried Breckenridge Beer's Christmas Ale for the first time, which surprised me. It has cola notes but without the sweetness. With a porter or stout, I've never been fond of sweet additives... your vanilla porters or chocolate stouts don't do it for me. But BB's Christmas Ale is a completely different animal. Heavy but not thick, a bit of caramel but not syrupy or sweet.

To find seasonal beers in your part of the country, check out Season Beers dot org.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Welcome Z-Man!

Just wanted to get some pix published.

Will fill y'all in on the details when we catch our breath.

Z's first photo album is here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Parenting 101

We're so not ready for this. This is the only reading material we had in the house. To his credit, he seemed to enjoy it, although he told me that he found it a bit derivative of the work of Oates and Lowell.

File under "Stuff No One Tells You": Baby formula packaged at sea level and then shipped to the Mile High City will explode in your face, like a bad Nickolodian prank, when you open it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving Musings

Jambo, y'all,

Sitting here feeling very thankful — appropriate for the weekend following the fourth Thursday in November or any other weekend in which one has been surrounded by friends, family, and good food — so it seemed right to knock out a few words to the folks I haven't seen or talked to in far too long.

It's been a hectic summer and fall, and while I'm not crazy about the thought of scraping ice off of car windows and cleaning and drying dogs' paws after every trip outside, I am so ready for winter and it's slower days, longer nights, more time sitting by the fireplace, reading a good book and listening to Van Morrison, leisurely dinners over a hearty soup or stew and fresh bread, and in general a slower, more deliberate pace.

The big news is that Michele and I are officially certified as foster parents and have completed our training, inspections, home visits and home studies, and the various pokes and prods from government officials to make sure we're not just doing this because we need help with the dishes, vacuuming, and dog walking. It’s kind of crazy that just anyone can go and have a baby and the government doesn’t get involved one lick, and yet if you volunteer to help out where there most definitely is a need, then you get treated like an extra-terrestrial in a lab at Area 51. Financial disclosures, medical records checks and a full physical, police checks and finger-printing and references, and a home inspection to make sure that our water heater is set to 118.5º and that our kitchen does not contain any sharp objects (like knives), our medicine cabinet does not contain anything toxic (like medicine), and our home is generally free of those dangerous things like stairs and hard floors and gravity. I laughed when I realized that our wine rack contained both intoxicants and heavy, blunt objects that could pose a hazard to the industrious and inquisitive non-ambulatory infant.

The whole process could be a bit silly at times, but I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t worth it. Having watched kids from afar for so many years, the whole process of child-rearing seems like one of those things you’ve always taken for granted yet never seriously pondered (right up there with, “why isn’t a toothbrush called a teethbrush?”) With the perspective of a visitor to another planet, I kept finding that the list of known unknowns and unknown unknowns was a lot longer than the list of stuff I did in fact know. We were maybe three weeks into the training, and Michele and I were talking about attachment issues, trying to understand Medicaid benefits for foster kids, and other Big Picture items when all of a sudden I screamed out, “I don’t know where the school bus stop is!! They’ll never give us a kid, because I can’t get him / her / it to the bus stop!!”

But that part of the problem is over, fini, put to bed, so now we’re just sitting by the phone, waiting on the call for us to come down to the fire station or hospital or the county family services department to pick up a screaming bag of joy. I think it was Eleanore Roosevelt who said you should do something that scares you every day. This should cover me for the next 18 years, I imagine. Forty-four years old and about to be a first-time father, probably on a temporary basis at least once but quite likely for keeps. So, we’ll see what happens, and we’ll keep you posted.

Had our first real snow this weekend, which has me itching to get up into the mountains. Not enough of the cold frozen stuff yet for any fun, but enough to remind us that it’s just around the corner. And more than enough for the dogs, who ran around like puppies on their last walk, chasing the flakes and sticking their nose into it and then flipping it up into the air. That kind of stuff is good for the soul. When I lived in Korea, my best buddy used to say that everyone needed the occasional mental regression weekend, where you act like a kid and run around outside, getting muddy or playing in the snow and forgetting about grown-up worries and concerns. This place definitely has that in spades.

What’s funniest about the dogs running around like puppies is that one of them couldn’t run at all just a couple of years ago. Zo’s arthritis had him walking around like Freddie G. Sanford, and the “G” stands for “gimpy.” He’s been getting acupuncture for a couple of years now, and the difference is night and day. But still, he just turned nine, which is like 80-90 in Great Dane years. Watching him get old has been rough (was so tempted to type “ruff,” but I held back), but on the handful of occasions when the puppy in him comes out, it’s a healthy reminder that age is just a number and it’s our job to make the most out of every tick of the biological clock, since none of us know when that last alarm is going to go off, and hitting “snooze” isn’t an option.

So that’s our plan for the next several months: standing by the phone, and trying to get outside and soak up the daily dose of solar-delivered vitamin D. In between, I’m going to try to wear out our Dutch oven with stew and soup recipes and then struggle through my painful attempt at the Great American Novel (spoiler alert: it was the White House barber).

I hope 2008 has treated you well, and that 2009 brings nothing but wondrous new experiences, or at least a lot of the same old stuff that you have enjoyed from previous editions. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, give us a shout. And if you’re not, feel free to shout at us anyway.

Bon hiver, happy winter, mele kalikimaka and a hearty zum wohl to everyone.

Steve and Michele

Monday, December 1, 2008

First Snow

Quick "Happy Thanksgiving" to one and all! And an early "Bon Hiver" as well.

Say "hello" to the flakes — first real snow on the Front Range. Not enough for snowshoeing...but soon enough, soon enough.

Oh the snow, the beautiful snow, filling the sky and earth below. Over the house tops and over the streets, over the heads of people you meet. Dancing, flirting, skimming along. Oh the snow, the beautiful snow, how the flakes gather and laugh as they go. Whirling about in their maddening fun it plays in its glee with everyone. Chasing, laughing, hurrying by, it lights on the face and sparkles the eye. And even the dogs with a bark and a bound, snap at the crystals that eddy around. The town is alive and its heart in a glow to welcome the coming of beautiful snow.
Bon Hiver Cicely!

— Chris Stevens, "First Snow"

A Month-full of Muffins

The beauty of this batter is that it keeps for about a month, so you can whip up a batch on the weekend, and then make a couple or three muffins each morning. You get a freshly baked muffin each day for about the same amount of energy as putting a PopTart in the toaster. Slap some batter in the muffin pan, finish reading the paper or applying hair products or pack your lunch or have a cup of coffee, and then twenty minutes later, you have a muffin to take to work or pop in your kid’s lunch pail.

The recipe makes 4 dozen — cut it in half if that’s too many for your family for a month.

8 cups of Raisin Bran cereal (one 14 oz box)

5 cups flour

3 cups sugar

5 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

4 cups buttermilk

1 cup oil

4 eggs

1.5 cups dried cranberries

1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: the cereal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredient (buttermilk, oil, and eggs) and whisk until smooth and completely blended. Pour the buttermilk/eggs/oil mixture into the cereal/flour/sugar/baking soda/salt bowl and gently stir until just blended, and then fold in the cranberries.

2. Place in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate overnight. Important: do not stir the mixture again. When you need some batter, spoon from the top — do not remix the batter.

3. Preheat the oven to 400º. Grease muffin pan and spoon in the batter. Bake 18 minutes (check the first time with a toothpick). Cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then serve warm or throw ‘em in your lunch box.