Labor Day: A day of thanks

It’s the first day of the academic year on campus.  I know for a lot of folks, it’s strange to start the year on Labor Day, and having grown up in Minnesota where the first day of school while growing up was always the day AFTER Labor Day, but for the last three years, this has been the norm.  In fact, since I finished graduate school, at the institutions I’ve worked, classes have been held on Labor Day.  It’s my norm.

Today I was lucky and able to take the afternoon away from my desk and head home.  The morning was spent delivering thank you gifts to the staff and faculty who help to make New Student Orientation go smoothly.  Giving each of them a bag of chips with a note that said “Thanks for chipping in during NSO!” was a way to say a quick thank you.

This year, I’m working on saying thank you and giving gratitude to folks.  A few years ago, I thought I was really good at this.  Almost each week I found myself giving thanks to those with whom I work.  Last year, I really slacked off on this.  This year, I’m finding myself wanting to make sure I thank those around me for making my job easier.

I’ve asked a few folks on campus to help watch me this year.  To make sure that as I go through the year, I don’t get grouchy about not having enough.  We can always use more staffing, more students, more budget, more time.  But, do we take time to be thankful for what we do have and recognize the ways we can move forward with what we have?  This is my time to do that.

A few thoughts on the ice bucket challenge…

Over the course of the past few weeks, as the Ice Bucket Challenge has spread across the country and throughout the world, I’ve had several folks ask my thoughts on it.  I was challenged by a friend across the country and while I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about different aspects of the challenge and reading people’s criticisms of the challenge, I have to admit that I’m mostly a little jealous I didn’t think of it myself.

As someone with a family member with a yet-to-be-cured rare genetic disorder, raising awareness is always a challenge.  When I share that my sister has Rett syndrome and someone vaguely says, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that,” I’m always skeptical.  Because chances are, if you don’t know someone who has it, you haven’t heard of it.  I know that 90% of the individuals who participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge are doing it because it’s a fad.  I have also read the stats on how this might hurt how people donate to other organizations.  I know this isn’t the case for me, and am equally convinced that some participants are those who might be donating to a cause for the first time.  Tempering the amount of water or source of water so as to not hurt the issues around water and drought are also important.

Regardless of who takes the next step and looks into ALS a little bit more and learns about how it impacts people’s lives, I generally believe that raising the awareness of even one person makes raising awareness worth it.  I applaud folks who are raising awareness about any issue about which they are passionate.  And I hope folks are participating in fundraisers in all kinds of ways.

Today is also the day on campus when we are doing service with our first year students.  Several years ago I attended a student leader training where students were lamenting not being able to financially support the organizations about which they felt passionate.  We spent a lot of time talking about the ways that one can give back – with time, money, and other resources.  As some folks say, sharing time, talents, and treasures.  Our campus encourages people to Act on Your Issue.  Do you know your issue?  And, isn’t part of your issue raising awareness?

When talking about issues of social justice, I tend to think of a progression from awareness to activism.  Recognizing where I have privilege (both in terms of the big eight and other areas of privilege) and giving back the ways that I can.  Sometimes that is educating myself, other times it is educating others.  Yet other times it’s taking other kinds of action around those issues.

So, in this time to support the ALS Foundation, I say go for it.  If you want to raise your own awareness and the awareness of others, or if you can make a small donation to help work on finding a cure, that’s phenomenal.  I hope that I am fortunate enough to not be touched by this devastating disorder, but I know that as someone who hopes that my friends, family, and acquaintances take a few minutes to learn about things about which I am passionate, this type of fundraiser can have a positive impact in so many ways.

And, in all honesty, I just wish I had thought of it first.  I’d love to be raising awareness around Rett syndrome in this way that will also help to find a cure for this disorder.  I hope folks will support me in exploring that in October.  And, I hope you work to find your own issue to raise awareness and work in ways that justice can become a part of the society in which we exist.

Black Bean, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

stuffed peppersI’ve been cooking a lot of vegetarian meals lately, as some of the students with whom I work are really passionate about food issues.  A couple of the students with whom I work are thoughtful about ethically raised and locally grown animals.  While I try to focus my meat purchases on that as well, I’m not beyond looking for a good deal – something I am hoping to continue to work on as I move into the next academic year.

One such student came over for dinner over a month ago as a thank you for watching my house while I was out of town earlier this year.  Because I’ve been focused on writing my comprehensive exams (woohoo—I’ve turned them in!), I haven’t been writing on the blog when it’s been the height of new recipes and fresh vegetables.  As a result, I’m playing catch up at the moment.

When this student came over, I made a vegetarian-friendly meal.  I’ve done a similar stuffed pepper in the past, like the Lentil Stuffed Pepper I made a couple of summers ago.  Knowing I wanted to do some cooking that involved a stuffed pepper, I went looking.  On the Ambitious Kitchen web site, I found a recipe for Black Bean, Sweet Potato, and Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers that I used as my inspiration for cooking.  Then, I looked to see what was in my CSA for the week and went for it.


 

Stuffed Peppers Before BakingBlack Bean, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

1 tsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ large onion (we had fresh white onions, so I used one of those)

½ jalapeno, seeded and diced

¾ c uncooked quinoa

2 c vegetable broth

15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and finely diced

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped (I used one large garden tomato)

1 Tbsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp dried oregano (I used 1 tsp fresh oregano)

½ c chopped cilantro

1 tsp red pepper flakes, if desired

1/8 tsp pepper

1/8 tsp salt

3 large bell peppers, seeds removed and cut vertically

¾ c shredded Colby jack cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a sauté pan over medium high, heat olive oil.  Add onions, jalapeno, and garlic and sauté until the unions begin to soften and turn translucent, about 4-5 minutes.  Place into a large bowl and set aside.

To cook quinoa: Rinse quinoa with cold water in mesh strainer.  In a medium saucepan, bring 1 ½ c of vegetable broth to a boil.  Add in quinoa and bring mixture to a boil again.  Cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed all of the water.  Remove from heat and fluff quinoa with fork; place in large bowl.

While quinoa is cooking, place a medium pot over high heat and fill with water, bring water to a boil and add in diced sweet potato.  Reduce heat to medium, cover, and continue cooking for about 6 minute or until sweet potatoes are fork tender.  This might take more or less time depending on how small you cut your sweet potatoes.  Once tender, drain water from sweet potatoes and place into bowl with quinoa and onion mixture.  Gently stir in black beans, tomatoes, remaining ½ c of vegetable broth, and spices.

Arrange bell peppers in a large skillet or baking pan and stuff with heaping ½ c of quinoa mixture.  Cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes until peppers are tender.  Uncover and sprinkle each with 2 Tbsp cheese.  Place in oven for 5 minutes longer or until cheese melts.  Remove and serve immediately with toppings such as sour cream, your favorite hot sauce or guacamole.

Lemon Cake with Raspberries

lemon cake with raspberriesContinuing with my theme of recipes I have cooked recently, today I’m posting about the dessert I made the other day when the orientation staff came for dinner.  After the Creamy Gorgonzola Pasta and Bread with Raspberry Rosemary Honey Butter, we continued with the raspberries which are in season right now and tasty everywhere I’ve had them.  They might be entering my list of favorite foods.  Can I also just mention how much I’m liking cooking right now?  But that might be an avoidance of my comps.  They’re due on Thursday and I’m making the progress I want to be making…so we won’t worry too much about that.

For dessert, I made Lemon Cake with Raspberries and Pistachios, which I found on epicurious.  I do promise, however, that there will be a few recipes coming up from cookbooks soon, because I’m making an effort to cook out of those again as well.  Mostly I was looking for a dessert I hadn’t made with raspberries in it.  I didn’t want to can or freeze my raspberries, so I’ve been trying to cook with them and find different ways to use them.  This was a pretty effective way to do so.

I will note, however, that more and more I am recognizing how poor the lighting is in my kitchen.  I need to figure out how to improve that moving forward.

I’m not going to write much here because I need to get back to my comps manuscript, so here’s the recipe:


 

Lemon Cake with Raspberries and Pistachios

Lemon Cake with RaspberriesNonstick spray

1 ¾ c flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp kosher salt

4 large eggs

1 ¼ c plus 2 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp lemon zest

1 Tbsp plus ¼ c lemon juice

¾ c olive oil

1 c fresh raspberries

3 Tbsp chopped unsalted, raw pistachios

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9” diameter cake pan with nonstick spray.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  With mixer running, add vanilla and 1 Tbsp lemon juice, then gradually add oil, mixing until combined.  Fold in lemon zest and dry ingredients.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.  Scatter berries over cake, then pistachios and 2 Tbsp sugar.  Bake cake until a tester comes out clean, 45-55 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring remaining ¼ c sugar and remaining ¼ c lemon juice to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar; let lemon syrup cool.

Transfer hot cake (still in pan) to a wire rack and immediately brush with lemon syrup (use all of it).  Let cake cool completely in pan.

Can be made up to 2 days ahead.  Store wrapped tightly at room temperature.

Rhubarb Mustard

I love rhubarb.  It’s absolutely one of my favorite things to eat.  It might be because in 5th grade my science experiment looked at how quickly salt water, sugar water, and regular water traveled up the veins in a celery stick and rhubarb looks a lot like celery.  But, probably not.  I probably just like rhubarb.  My usual go-to with rhubarb are Rhubarb Bars.  I’ve also made a Rhubarb Torte.  In fact, it’s a little bit interesting that for a vegetable with such a short season in the spring, I’ve blogged about this ingredient more than most.

And, today, I write about rhubarb again.

Rhubarb Mustard FinalOver the fourth of July, I met up with a couple of friends at a new-ish restaurant in Solon, Iowa, which is also a brewery.  We headed to Big Grove Brewery.  I’m slowly making my way through their craft beer list and food.  While we were there, we ate dinner and with our charcuterie plate came some Rhubarb Mustard.  It was pretty tasty.

With my love of rhubarb, I set out for a way to make this at home.  So, I started looking on google for a recipe for rhubarb mustard and found this recipe on Mason Jars to Muffin Tins.  It’s a modified recipe from a Gourmet magazine recipe, and while I didn’t try the original, this tasted about how I wanted it to taste.  I’m looking forward to serving it next week when I have some folks over as a thank you for helping with a photo shoot a couple weeks ago.
I think it would be kind of good with the grilled cheese I was making all last week, but then again, I love honey mustard and use it almost all of the time.

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe:


 

Rhubarb Mustard Begin
Rhubarb Mustard

¾ cup yellow mustard seeds

½ c brown mustard seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

3 ½ c rhubarb, cut into ½ inch pieces

½ c sugar

½ c honey

¼ c brown sugar

1 ¾ c cider vinegar

½ tsp kosher salt

Grind the mustard and fenugreek into a fine powder.  Similar to the folks at Mason Jars to Muffin Tins, I use a coffee grinder that is used for grinding spices.  I also reserved 2 Tbsp of each kind of mustard seeds to help make it a more coarse mustard.  Put everything into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is soft and unrecognizable.  It will get a little stringy and then help facilitate that by helping to mash it.  If you’d like a more smooth mustard, you can use an immersion blender to make a smooth mixture.  Add in extra mustard seeds.  Pour mustard into hot sterilized jars, seal, and process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.


 

I can’t wait to take this home to share with my family in a few days.  In fact, I hear the cans popping behind me as they cool right now.

Raspberry Rosemary Honey Butter

Last week I had a group of students and a colleague over for dinner.  As we prepare to adjust to some changes at work, I thought it was important for us to get to know each other and begin to form some new relationships.  I’ve enjoyed starting to work more closely with the Admissions staff, who are a great group of professionals and folks who have really helped to make the summer go more smoothly for us, somewhat by necessity (sharing space together in the building) and somewhat out of the kindness and collegiality that a small campus seeks and needs in order to function more smoothly.

Anyhoo, when some of the orientation staff came over for dinner, along with the admissions staff member who will be working with me on orientation,  I made a few new dishes, which I’ll continue to share in the upcoming weeks.  The main dish was the Gorgonzola Pasta that has become a favorite way to use summer vegetables in the meal.  But one of these things is something I keep eating all week because I don’t want it to go bad.  I put together a compound butter, if you will.  I don’t have a clever name for it, except one that states all of the different ingredients in the butter.  It was: Raspberry Rosemary Honey Butter.

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Raspberry Rosemary ButterRaspberry Rosemary Honey Butter

1 c butter, softened

2 sprigs rosemary

2 Tbsp honey

Handful of raspberries

Whip all ingredients except raspberries together until well mixed.  Add raspberries at the end, and only until just mixed, so as to not completely crush the raspberries.

—————————————————————————————–

It was super-easy.  I read online a bit about compound butters, but then just took food that looked like it would taste good together and hoped for the best.  We ate it on fresh bread the first day when my guests were here, but since then I’ve been using it mostly for making grilled cheese.

grilled cheeseI bought some grain-filled bread and muenster cheese and have been eating these most nights this week.  It’s such a great combination with the gooey cheese and fruitiness of the raspberries.  I don’t think I could ask for a better flavor combination.  And, just when I can’t taste the rosemary, some of it sneaks through and I find myself having a sweet-savory-creamy combination of flavors in my mouth.  What could be more satisfying?

Try it yourself!  I hope you find it as tasty as I did!

The week my house flooded

On a brief writing break from my comps at the moment.  Did I mention that comps started 5 days ago?  I’m needing a little free-writing to get back into the swing of things.  This turning 25 pages into 3 pages and adding 25 more pages is a little cumbersome.

Timer, books, writing. Comps.

Timer, books, writing. Comps.

Comps/pre-lims/whatever other institutions call them is the next step to my moving forward in my dissertation process.  I’m not officially allowed to discuss anything related to them for this month, suffice it to say that I have 30 days to write a journal article and submit it to the grad department at my institution.  And, having not been in writing-intensive courses for a little while, my writing game has been thrown off.  I have a stack of books in front of me, my dual monitor, a case of diet mountain dew, and I am doing what I can to keep writing on this.

The week leading up to the start of comps was a bit challenging for a few reasons.  Last Sunday night, Mount Vernon had the storm to end all storms.  For a variety of reasons, we had rain starting as the sun was setting and that rain continued throughout the entire night.  My split level house is located in just the wrong part of town so that when this section of town flooded in ways that haven’t been seen for years.  My neighbors were apparently all up in the middle of the night and a friend sent a text message at midnight asking about water in the basement.  I slept through it all.

Monday morning, I woke up and stepped into water.  My master bedroom is in the basement and so when I stepped out of bed I noticed the water which continued as I walked throughout the basement.  So, at 5:00 in the morning, I found myself figuring out how to get water out of the basement.  I found myself thankful for the shop vac that helped suck the water up.  I was happy the previous home owners had tile or cement throughout the basement.  I emailed my parents and asked them to call me when they woke up.  It was a mess, but one I was able to clean up overall.  By the time I left for work at 7:30 I had a lot of the water cleaned up.

That afternoon I came home from work, started washing all the towels that I was using to dry up the corners I couldn’t quite wet vac when the tornado sirens in town sounded and power began flickering.  We were getting more rain.  That night, the power went out as the rain continued, with warnings of it being out for 24-48 hours.  I found myself sleeping in my jeans in my guest room.  Luckily, I was woken up in the middle of the night last night because the power came back on.  The sump pump started working and I needed to do a little more clean up with the wet vac and the towels Tuesday morning and evening.  I didn’t need to have a grill out with my frozen meat nor did I get to eat ice cream for breakfast.

In addition to what happened inside, the water swept throughout the neighborhood.  I was pretty lucky overall in terms of the water in my house.  Some neighbors had over a foot of rain and a faculty member from campus had four feet of water in his basement.

Needless to say, I now have a dehumidifier.  I’m considering getting a bigger wet vac.  I have more confidence in my homemaking abilities and know I can do a lot on my own and that my instincts are often pretty darn good.  My container garden has been reduced by half because all but two pots of Brussels sprouts have disappeared in the flood waters.  Someone in Mount Vernon has my Brussels sprouts and will hopefully enjoy them.

But we make it through.  I’ve started writing my comps.  I’ve just proven to myself that I can write about a page of non-academic writing in ten minutes.