Wednesday, January 18, 2012

29 gifts:day twelve

Today's gift was two items from the kitchen.  I made cookies for my husband to take to work and granola for a friend who was asking about our recipe.  These are two of my all-time favorites - one an old classic and the other a new find.  Enjoy!
Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Makes a 9x13-inch pan of bars

2 1/8 cups (10 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1/2 (3 1/2 ounces) cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips (use your preference)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to lower-middle position. Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with foil, letting the excess hang over the edges of the pan by about 1 inch so you can grab those edges and pull the brownies from the pan after they have baked. Spray the foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk the melted butter and sugars in a large bowl until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in the chocolate chips and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula.

Bake until the top of the bars is light golden brown, slightly firm to the touch, and edges start pulling away from sides of pan, 24-28 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Remove the bars from the pan by lifting the foil overhang and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
 Recipe Source: adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated

Low Fat Granola Recipe

Makes 15 servings

3cups old fashioned oats
1cup wheat bran
1cup wheat germ
1/2cup almonds (or pecans or walnuts)
1/2cup pumpkin seeds
1/2cup sunflower seeds
1/4cup honey
1/4cup brown sugar
1/3cup orange juice
2tbsp melted butter
1tsp cinnamon 
Mix oats, wheat bran, wheat germ, nuts, and seeds in large bowl. In small bowl mix honey, brown sugar, orange juice, butter, and cinnamon. Pour honey mixture onto oats mixture and stir well. Bake in a 275ยบ oven for 1 hour, stirring every fifteen minutes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When pigs fly...

On my drive home tonight, I had a chance (albeit distant) encounter with one of my favorite Kansas artists - Eric Abraham.

I was cruising down Highway 24 and I see this blue minivan ahead of me.  I think, "that van has clouds painted on it."  Then, I see the personalized license tag and realize it is Eric!

Eric's work first caught my eye at the Columbian Theatre, Museum and Art Center in Wamego.  I was in college and too poor to buy anything, yet totally fell in love with his ceramic art.

Years later, I was taking a weekend excursion while my husband was coaching at a track meet and found Eric's studio in Lucas, Kansas.  (If you have never been to Lucas, you have to go!  Stop by The Grassroots Art Center and be wowed by their hospitality. )  Eric was so gracious.  He gave me a tour of his studio and home in the old car dealership in town.  He was kind and generous and a real delight.  His van was parked out front and I had to take a picture...I mean how many minivans have flying pigs and clouds?  A true custom paint job.

When I see Eric's art, it is dream-like, fantastic, like a fairy tale.  I adore it.  He also does these great little ceramic flying pigs with outrageous accessories - I have one at my office near my computer.

I have always been partial to the phrase, "when pigs fly."  I love nay-sayers.  They kind of motivate me.  So, the flying pig is my adopted symbol for persistence and for believing in yourself.  You will find flying pigs in different forms and fashions around my office.

Seeing Eric behind the wheel of his van tonight was a perfect way to end my work day.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

29 gifts: day eleven

Today's gift (ok, several days ago...I'm a little behind) is alpaca roving to a friend who is adding spinning to her fiber art skills.

What is roving?  Roving is fiber that has been cleaned and carded.  When our roving returns from the mill, it is fiber that has been taken through all the stages up to the point where it spun into yarn.  It is beautiful and soft and our batches combine fiber from different animals to have a blend of colors.

We usually consign it at a local shop, The Wicked Stitch, or sell it to our fiber friends.  We had some on hand and I learned our friend was into spinning.  We thought it was a perfect way to thank her for her friendship and support her fiber habit.  Happy spinning, Tanya!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

29 gifts: day ten

Today's gift is a donation to Kid Flicks.  This donation is really a win-win!

I sent several DVDs to this organization to be distributed to hospitals as an effort to have movies available for children and their families who are being treated at the hospital.  The flip-side of this donation was that I was able to give away movies we had at the house that we never watch...even as much as we loved the movie, we just never watched it!  I think this qualifies as clutter.

Started by a group of sisters in California, the organization collects kid-friendly movies and when they have 100 movies, they find a new hospital to receive the donation.  Their website read that as of January 4, 2012, Kid Flicks has donated 61,000 movies to 610 different hospitals in the United State and South Africa. You can read their story and learn about ways to donate at their website.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

29 gifts: day nine

 Today's gift is a donation to Nothing But Nets, an organization that provides nets to help prevent malaria.  For as little as $10, a person in Africa can receive a bed net and education to protect against malaria.

Here are some facts from the Nothing But Nets website:
  • Malaria is the leading cause of death among children in Africa.
  • Every 45 seconds, a child in Africa dies from a malaria infection.
  • More then 200 million people each year are infected, and nearly 1 million of those die.
  • Nothing But Nets uses 100 percent of every $10 contribution to cover the cost of purchasing a long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed net, distributing it, and educating communities on its use.

Monday, January 9, 2012

29 gifts: day eight

Today's gift was giving a ride from campus to home for two international students.  Tonight when I left work it was beginning to get dark and two students were standing near our campus chapels with some papers and a phone.  They looked lost.  I recognized this look because I often look exactly the same way when we are traveling and just land in a new city.  It is also right before our spring semester begins, so we welcome a lot of new students during this time.

I pulled my car over and jumped out to help with the thought that they just needed to find a building on campus.  They said they were looking for Brookville which is the name of a small town around an hour west of where we were standing.  Uh-oh.

After a few more questions and the male student pulling up a text on his phone, we figured out that they were looking for a street in our same town named Brookville.  Ok - that is do-able.

Without knowing where the street was located, I was at a loss.  I suggested we jump in my car and use my GPS to find the street.  They agreed.  I must have looked friendly and non-threatening.

The GPS did not recognize the street.  We decided to use my phone to find the address and it worked!  They agreed to let me drive them to their house and along the way, I got more of their story.

The students were mother and son - she a Ph.D. student and he was just getting started as a college freshman.  She had two other children at her house.  They had just arrived in Kansas City and a shuttle dropped them off on campus.  I am still a little fuzzy on how they planned to get from campus to their house, but I think they planned to walk the three or four miles.

While I don't recommend offering rides to complete strangers, I do recommend helping wherever you can.  Tonight, I hope, two new members of our community had things made just a little easier by a crazy lady who pulled over her car and jumped out to introduce herself.

P.S.  After I dropped them off, I was so HAPPY!  I called my husband to tell him my story and he was so kind...and modest.  When I got home, he told me that he helped a former student find his father that he hasn't seen in years.  He let me have my moment.  I am so lucky.  And, so proud that he's a man who cares about other people.  And, apparently a closet detective.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

29 gifts: an update

I began the year on a mission to give more and in new ways.  Discouraged by feeling flat after the Christmas giving season and inspired by an entire issue of Ode magazine dedicated to the subject of giving, I thought that a personal giving challenge may be just what I needed to get back in the spirit.

Writer Cami Walker, who developed and chronicled 29 gifts in 29 days, IS inspiring.  I love her story.  I love that she talks about how giving to others helped them, but also helped her improve her health and live a better life.  I love that she reinforces the ideas that if you give a little each day, you can make a big impact.  I love that she talks about ways to give that cost zero dollars. I  totally subscribe to her model and think it is a great fit for what I need.

My own pursuit of 29 gifts began in good fashion.  I felt good about my progress.  Then, my schedule returned to my non-break/non-vacation routine and I fell off track.  I still approached each day looking for ways to give.  I felt more generous, but guilty for not having given something that seemed worthy each day.  I recognized that even little things mattered - kind words, simple gestures (like returning shopping carts to the store for someone), smiling.  Finding a daily gift that "counted" (whatever that means) just didn't seem to work out some days.

Here is an example.  I ran to the grocery store and had every intention of finding a "gift" moment.  The check outs were full, so I was ushered to the floral area for check out and was out the door quickly.  In the parking lot, I had an inadvertent stand off with a lady who was trying to turn into the same row of cars in the parking lot.  There were some near misses and start/stop moves to get out of the parking lot.  It was all part of the post-five o'clock rush.  After escaping, I did not feel generous or in a giving frame of mind, just lucky to not have a fender bender. Disappointed.

And, another example is Saturday.  I woke up early and made cookies for a person we planned to see that morning.  We had some scheduling challenges and ended up not seeing him.  Not easily discouraged, we put the cookies in the car with us as we took off for our Saturday plans thinking we would find an opportunity to gift the cookies.  We did not give away the cookies...they returned home with us. Disappointed.

Yet, if I were keeping score, the number of moments in the giving column would be more than I am giving myself "credit" for.  Things are good.  I might not have a perfect "worthy" (still working on that definition) gift each day, but there are plenty of moments when kindness and generosity have been present.  Progress is being made; others are being helped.

Back to Cami Walker.  What I love the most is that she gives permission for people to be imperfect in their giving and in the 29 gifts and 29 days effort.  

The mission continues!

Baby card

A colleague at work had her baby and sending a card has been on my list all week.  I pass several stores that carry cards on my daily commute and could even run to the Union on campus to find cards.  But, I had this nagging thought that making a card would be easy, thoughtful, cost-effective, and helpful in using the supplies I have on hand.  (Yes, I am still on my cleaning and organizing the house kick.)

Great intentions.  I subscribe to the theory that handmade is better and using what you have instead of buying something makes sense.  I just sometimes get lazy or too worried about getting something off the list to slow down and make a card or gift.

But this time, I actually did it!

Applause and atta-girls are welcome.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gypsy Gewelz

 My friend Lori is really amazing.  She is a jewelry designer, crafter, ag advocate, and graduate student (just to name some of her responsibilities).

We met for lunch this week to celebrate the new year and her final semester in graduate school, which requires her to relocate to her campus in Oklahoma.  We also made a trade.

As part of my cleaning and organizing at the house, I got real about one of my aspirational hobbies.  My husband got a ton of scrapbooking, crafting and jewelry making supplies from a Craigslist buy.  I loved all of it!  I was especially excited to be able to try my hand at jewelry making.  After nearly TWO years of storing it and not one piece of jewelry made, I decided to see if Lori could use any of it.  Since it was a huge bag full of stuff and I thought she might resist if I just gave it to her, I proposed a trade.  You know, a win-win.

I think I definitely got the better deal!  She gave me the choice of two necklaces from her great collection.  I am so excited to wear and enjoy them.

Please check out her offerings at her blog or Etsy store.  She also consigns and exhibits at craft fairs in the Manhattan area, so watch for Gypsy Gewelz.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

29 gifts: day seven

Today's gift is a handwritten note to a mentor and friend to say thank you for all she invested in me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

29 gifts: day six

Today's gift was a house warming gift shipped to my friend.  I am pleased as punch because it was mailed before she had lived in the house for months ( errr....years) as has been the case in some instances.   She is getting a great new start in a beautiful new year and I am happy to celebrate with her.  Cheers!

Monday, January 2, 2012

29 gifts: day five

Today's gift - mailing a book to a friend in Kansas City...a long overdue gesture. I read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer and knew immediately my friend would love it.  We get together a couple of times a year (far too few) and I have been holding onto this book waiting for a time when schedules match.  She shouldn't have to wait any longer.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Black-eyed peas for good luck

My mom has subscribed to the idea that eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day brings good luck. I am a rather superstitious person, and have always thought that if you don't have any evidence that something doesn't work, proceed.

In theory, I want to eat black-eyed peas for good luck, but have not really found a way to make black-eyed peas tasty. This means that most years, I have just left my luck to chance...until this year!

Thanks to a new app and wonderful food bloggers everywhere, we found a great recipe. The great thing is that I think this would be good all year, just substitute in black beans.

Thank you, The Recipe Girl! Bring on the luck!

Tex mex black eyed pea casserole
Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 30 min Cook Time: 1 hr

1 1/2 cups dried black eyed peas, rinsed
5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (or more!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups rice (your preference)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
One 10-ounce can Ro-tel (tomatoes + green chilies)
3 cups fresh spinach, cut into strips
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
chopped cilantro, sour cream and sliced avocado (for serving)

1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add the dried peas and boil for 30 minutes, or until tender (as tender as a canned black bean would be). You don't want them to have much of a bite to them, but you don't want them mushy either. Drain the beans when you've got them where you want them.

2. In a deep medium skillet, heat the olive oil at medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic, then rice, broth, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for about 20 minutes (just until the rice has *almost* absorbed all of the liquid). Time will vary depending on the type of rice you choose to use (20 minutes for white rice, but longer for brown, etc).

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scrape the rice into a large bowl. Add peas, tomatoes, spinach, 1 cup of the cheese and bacon. Stir it all together and then scoop it into a 9x12-inch (or similarly sized) casserole dish. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake for an additional 10 minutes, just until cheese is melted.

4. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream, fresh cilantro and sliced avocado.

*Quick and Easy tips: You can certainly try substituting canned black eyed peas for the boiled dried beans in this recipe, and you can purchase the already cooked bacon too.

Source: (adapted loosely from Tex Mex Chicken & Rice Casserole and Food Network

29 gifts: day four

The first gift for today was to call a relative who lives out of state.  It was great to hear about her new year's resolutions and just catch up.

The second gift was to make a donation to our local food bank, The Flinthills Breadbasket. I was inspired by a story in the Ode issue on giving.  The 93 Dollar Club was born when a woman discovered she was without her wallet in the grocery story checkout.  The lady in line behind her paid for her groceries, all $207 worth.  When the woman paid back the debt, she included 93 extra dollars and encouraged the woman who helped her to get a massage.  Instead, the good Samaritan posted a message on Facebook that asked her friends to make suggestions on how she should spend the money.  Her friends suggested she donate the money.

And, she did with a matching gift of another $93.  This act started a rush of $93 donations to food banks, generating more than $82,000 to fight hunger.

I love this story of one act of kindness creating a chain reaction of kindness; a relatively small gesture growing to a larger impact.  A lovely thought for a new year.

If you feel compelled to give, and the financial gift is not possible for you right now, most food banks appreciate donations of time as a volunteer or food donations.  Call your local food bank or check out their website to see what food items are most needed or how you might contribute your time, talents, and treasures to help feed our neighbors.

Happy New Year!

Image courtesy of The Vintage Workshop.