Sunday, September 30, 2012

One last "pumpkin" recipe: Creamy Orzo Risotto with Butternut Squash

Mark and I are still enjoying a few leftovers from Pumpkin Week at our house. During the week I slipped in one of our favorite Weight Watchers recipes. It uses butternut squash, which is almost pumpkin, right?

Here you go!

Creamy Orzo Risotto with Butternut Squash

The recipe is here.

I don't know about y'all out there in blogland, but before I made this recipe I had never cooked with orzo before. It looks like it wants to be a cousin to rice, but it's actually a very small pasta. I bought mine in a little box on the pasta aisle in the grocery store. Orzo and I are good friends now.

If you try this recipe, you will have to roast the chunks of butternut squash ahead of time. Don't be put off by that--it's not difficult, and it makes the squash taste super yummy.

I have often substituted chunks of spaghetti squash in this recipe, because we grow a lot of spaghetti squash in our garden. I think I actually like it just a little bit better than the butternut here. It has a lighter flavor, and by chunking it first and then roasting it, it doesn't turn into strands of "spaghetti" after it's been cooked.

One last thing--since it's a Weight Watchers recipe, of course it calls for lower-calorie ingredients. One of those is nonfat half-and-half. Never knew such a thing existed! But there it is, just waiting for me to pick it up from the dairy case. Mark likes to put it on his cereal when we have a little left over in the carton. Mmmmm...naughty boy!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pumpkin Week: Pumpkin-Bacon Pancakes

This recipe looked too good to pass up! Yum...I love breakfast for dinner. The pumpkin makes the pancakes extra moist and filling.

You can find the recipe here.

I doubled the recipe so we could freeze some for after-school snacks to pop into the toaster.

The recipe calls for buttermilk, so I made sure to pick some up at the store. Buttermilk has a chemical reaction with the baking soda in recipes to help bread(ish) recipes rise. Makes for some fluffy pancakes!

If you want to make the pancakes, but you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can always fall back on milk + vinegar as a buttermilk substitute:

For every cup of buttermilk in the recipe, use 1 Tablespoon of vinegar. White vinegar is the most neutral, but you could also use apple-cider vinegar. Red wine vinegar might add a little too much flavor. Put the vinegar in the bottom of your measuring cup. Add milk to the level of the amount needed in the recipe. Let the milk + vinegar sit for 5 minutes, then use it in your recipe. The vinegar adds the right amount of acidity to the milk so that it will chemically react with the baking soda in the same way that buttermilk does.

The pumpkin-bacon pancakes were delicious and filling. This recipe is a keeper! I served some melon and strawberries with it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pumpkin Week: Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

What to take to school tomorrow as refreshments for an after-school meeting?

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread, of course!

Healthy (it's from Prevention magazine) and perfect for an autumn afternoon.
You can find the recipe here.

Here are some of the things I like about this recipe:

Half of the flour in the recipe is whole wheat.
No walnuts (one of the teachers is allergic).

The recipe calls for orange juice...I didn't have any on I substituted a mixture of (mostly) lemon juice and (a little) lime juice, and it worked fine.

The recipe was easy to double so we could make a loaf to eat or freeze here at home.

And for a perfect "go-with," I made a quick batch of...

Homemade Coconut Macaroons

Quick, delicious, lo-cal! What more could you ask for? The recipe is here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pumpkin Week: Curried Apple-Pumpkin Soup

I found a yummy-looking collection of pumpkin recipes in the latest issue Prevention magazine. Menu-planning is always kind of a drag around here, so I decided we'd try a healthy week of pumpkin-based dinners. I'll share the recipes and let you know how they fared here at the Haynies'.

First up: Curried Apple-Pumpkin Soup.

You can find the recipe here.

Quick, easy, tasty. We liked this soup! Ours came out a lighter color, probably because we used some pumpkin puree that Julia and I made a couple of years ago for the freezer. I added less water to the recipe because the homemade pumpkin puree is runnier than the kind you buy in the store. I also left out the curry because Mark is not so fond...also because I don't have any curry in the spice drawer...probably because Mark is not so fond...

The recipe says to add honey to taste when serving, but it was plenty sweet and tasty without any added sweetener. It only took a few minutes to put the soup together, and then I let it simmer while I pan-fried some frozen chicken tenderloins.

We also had some of my famous bran muffins. If you haven't tried them yet, the recipe is here. Even if you don't want to make bran muffins, it's fun to click over to The Skinny, the weight-loss blog Katie and I co-authored a couple of years ago. If you're looking for some healthy recipe ideas, the left-hand bar on The Skinny is full of links to healthy recipes.

Stay tuned for more pumpkin recipes, and have a great week!

Friday, September 14, 2012

My honey is a biker dude

Hoo boy, it's been a crazy-busy week at the Haynies'. Our first week back to school was a shock to our systems. You mean we really have to get up at 5:15 am? Why do I have to grade these papers? Wait, I want to go to bed but my lesson still isn't pulled together.

We could have used a little cheese with our whine.

Thank goodness we had something fun already planned on yesterday's calendar! Even though we felt a little guilty about slipping away for a pleasurable evening, we had to follow through. After all, Ken and Dorothy were counting on us!

So, right after work yesterday, we hurried home to change into play clothes, pack a picnic supper, and load the bikes into our snazzy little trailer. Then we headed for SE Portland to experience the Springwater Bike Trail for the first time!

It's an old trolley line that has been paved. It runs all the way from downtown Portland out to Boring, Oregon. We rode the section from SE Portland to Gresham - about 7.5 miles out, 15 miles for the round trip. The entire ride took about 2 hours.

Me and my hunk. I'm riding my "vintage" 5-speed green Schwinn bike. My parents gave it to me on my 17th birthday...over 40 years ago! Do you like the sweet basket? I do.

Of course Dorothy snapped some photos. (She's always the "group photographer" on our adventures. She gets the camera all set up with the timer, and we save a spot so she can run and get into the group shot in time. You should have seen her the time she was doing that in snowshoes! Ahh...that's another story...)

Our manly men - Mark and Ken.

All four of us - me, Mark, Ken, Dorothy (she made it into the photo in time!)
By this time, we are almost back to the cars. Our thighs are burning a little, and our bums are a little "saddle sore," but we sure had fun.

(All of the photos were taken by Dorothy...except for the one I took of her setting up her camera. Thanks for sharing, Dorothy! She posted about our outing here.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

More World Peace with Fabric Balls

A while ago I wrote about my theory that my fabric ball tutorial was quietly uniting families all around the world.

This week I received a delightful email from Nadja in Germany. She wrote:


I'm Nadja from Leipzig, Germany.
Your tutorial is fantastic, all of my girlfriends want a baby right now, so I sew them a ball... ;-)

This darling photo accompanied her email. Love the mix-and-match fabrics throughout. I'm getting ready to make a new ball for grandson Hunter's 1st birthday, and I may borrow some of Nadja's style for my next project!

(I need need to point out that the bells sewn on the outside of the ball, although darling, do not meet US guidelines for safety with baby toys.)

Truly, that fabric ball tutorial is the gift that keeps on giving. Every day I receive multiple hits--from around the world--on that post.

It makes my grandma-heart happy happy happy to think of babies playing with soft, cuddly, bright-colored balls. Thanks, Nadja, for your email!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I'm Still an Expert

Today was the first day back to work for the teachers in my school district. It was wonderful to see dear colleagues and friends after our summer vacations.

Ever since I started teaching in this district in 1995, the first day back has always been a full "work day" for the teachers. WE get to decide what we do, without the administrators requiring us to attend meetings, trainings, etc. It's always a highly productive day, where dive into lesson planning and classroom preparation. We value the in-service training we get during the week, too, but we treasure our work day.

Enter the 2012-13 budget cuts. The district closed two elementary schools, eliminated positions, cut back on building budgets, and cut school days. Including the work day.

So today, our first day back, was a full morning of training, and then an afternoon to work in our classrooms. A FULL MORNING OF TRAINING. First thing, on the first day back.

And guess who the trainer was? Moi. Facing a crowd of 100 teachers, teachers who weren't getting their work day.

Not only that, but I was training them about new literacy standards that are more challenging than what they've used in the past. Yup, that was my assignment: ask teachers to do more with less.

I presented 3 hours of training this morning. I have one more hour to present on Friday afternoon. And I have spent most of the last week doing nothing but prepare for these sessions.

Yesterday the house looked like this:

 Rows of handouts lined up across the dining room floor...

More handouts organized all over the living room floor...

 Stacks of resource notebooks that turned into more piles on the floor...

At the point when I snapped this photo of my computer screen, I had 21 separate windows open - various websites, the different presentations I was creating, videos I planned to use...crazy. Me, that is. I was going a little nutso, trying to pull together the presentations on the new Common Core State Standards, worrying about how my colleagues were going to feel about sitting through three hours of training instead of working in their rooms, making many many decisions about what to include and what to leave out (for now) in the presentations.

I logged--no exaggeration--36.5 hours of presentation-preparation time last week. I'm allowed to "flex" those hours during the school year, but in reality, I will probably never use them all.

So. Today. Was. Fabulous. Amazing. The best inservice day ever. Just fine. I work with the nicest people. I mean, it's not like it's my fault that they lost their work day. (I lost mine, too!) And I think they could tell that I had tried hard to prepare some training for them that would be useful, engaging, and worth their time.

 Can you see me? I'm up by the screen, pointing at something. This is about 1/2 of the crowd I was presenting to.

 At one point I had everyone take a stretch break with their colored file folders. "Hold them up high over your heads!" "Lean to the right!" "Touch your toes!" I think this photo was snapped just as they were about to sit down.

A slightly closer photo of me. I'm pointing to something on the screen for emphasis, but it looks like I'm waving. Or about to spank someone. You can't see it, but I'm holding a microphone in my left hand. Did you know that a mic can get really sweaty if you've been clenching it for a long time?

Anyway, my colleagues liked the training. (As much as teachers ever like training, which is about as much as they like grading papers. Part of the job.) And I can breathe a whole lot easier now that the mega-first-day-three-hours-in-a-row session is behind me. I have one more piddly little session on Friday afternoon.

And then, at least for now, I'm done with being an expert.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I'm an Expert

Are Oregon high school students able to write well enough to pass the state writing test? Do writing skills even matter in the era of texting and tweeting? Oregon will require high school graduates to demonstrate their writing skills as part of the diploma requirements, starting with the class of 2013.

I was quoted several times in this article on the front page of today's Oregonian newspaper. Guess that makes me an expert!

It has been interesting to follow the comment thread below the article.

  • Some readers are shocked that writing skills haven't been part of the graduation requirements all along.
  • Some are scornful of the article and/or the author
  • Many voice the importance of being able to express oneself clearly through writing.

My favorite comment so far was this one:
"...I am a geologist. I apply math, chemistry, structural geology, stratigraphy, statistics, petrology, hydraulics, physics, and even microbiology (among other fields) to my work. But without the ability to clearly, effectively, and convincingly communicate my findings and opinions in writing, it would all be pointless. At the end of a project, it is my written report that documents what I have done, what I have found, and what it means to my client or to the population generally. 
"After more than 30 years in this field, if there is one thing I can point to that helped differentiate my work from that of less successful geologists, other scientists, or engineers with whom I have worked, it is the ability to write. Sure, you can be a weak writer and still find work in technical fields. You just won't be as successful at it. You won't be as sought out as your colleagues who can communicate more effectively in writing. And, over time, you won't be valued or compensated as highly.  
"Writing is a key skill. Learn it well, in combination with subject matter knowledge in any number of fields, and you will increase your chances of success by a substantial factor. 
"Alternatively, trying to navigate through a career with the handicap of poor writing ability is much like running a marathon while wearing a pair of ankle weights."

Finally, I just ran across this article the other day. The author, Kyle Wiens, is a business owner based in San Luis Obispo, the small-ish central California city where I grew up. He makes no apologies for requiring all of his employees to pass a grammar test before he will even interview them. I plan to share the article with my (remedial) senior writing students this fall.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Adventures in Home Ownership

Monday morning, Mark said, "I think I'll fix that leak around the skylight."

Dangerous words, my friends.

"I think I can have it done in two days," he said.

Always double your estimate.

I told him to just take out the skylight. It's a cumbersome thing, installed by a previous homeowner in the 70s. It's always leaked from time to time. It's over a small bathroom (downstairs). It's nice to have the extra light, but not worth the pain of dealing with links.

"I think I'll put in one of those SolaTubes," he said.


So his brother Greg came over, and they ripped into the skylight. In the photo below, you can see the skylight frame behind Greg. The black triangle leading up to the skylight frame is called a "cricket." The cricket is supposed to funnel water away from the skylight, so it won't build up behind it and leak. Operative phrase here: supposed to.

 See how Greg is standing on a part of the roof that tilts to a lower level? The roof over the kitchen (behind him) is actually higher than the roof over the bathroom (under his feet). The roof was designed with a slant down from the kitchen to the bathroom area. Bad idea. It funnels even more water to back up behind the skylight. Mark decided the slant was going to have to come out, which was going to mean structurally rebuilding that section.

 Here's the room minus the cricket. A bunch of the shingles have been removed. And the tarpaper. And what was beneath the tarpaper? Uh-oh. Dry rot.

Mark spent all day Tuesday uncovering dry rot. And more dry rot. Amid all the bad dry-rot news, he did uncover one piece of good news. The problem with the slant? No rebuilding required. The proper roof pitches were already in place under the tarpaper. He just had to take out some triangle supports someone had put between the two levels years ago, to create the stupid unnecessary slant area.

By Tuesday afternoon, we were feeling a little anxious. It was taking waaaay too long to take everything apart. Mark had a commitment to be gone all day Wednesday, and there was a 20% chance of rain in the forecast.

Phil May to the rescue! That's him--the blur--in the orange shirt in the photo above. He came over after he got off work and stayed till dark. He and Mark were able to get the new particle board down (Mark's sitting on it), and cover it with new tarpaper. You can see some of the nasty dry-rot area in the roof above the kitchen in the foreground of the photo. Ewww...

After a fun all-day fishing trip on Wednesday, Mark spent all day Thursday (again) on the roof. It's starting to look better here. The dry rot has all been removed, and the particle board is down in all the sections. The old skylight is completely gone and the hole is covered over. The 2x4 in the middle of the photo is where the roof level changes; Mark is getting that area ready to install a new flashing.

Thursday evening Phil May (center) and Mike Forkner (right) came over to help again. Phil works in a lumber yard and Mike used to do remodeling as his full-time work, so they brought some great skills with them. Not only that, but they brought fresh energy and comaraderie to a project that was beginning to feel never-ending. In the photo above, all three of them are checking out the new SolaTube they just installed.

 Friday: steady progress. Getting ready to install the flashing between the two roof levels...

...and the SolaTube (round thing in the left of the photo) is installed. There were also two vent pipes that had to be dealt with. One of them had to be changed to a different location. That work is finished by this time.

We had some other commitments this morning, but Mike Forkner came back over this afternoon and helped Mark get almost all the shingles nailed in place. Now the big thing left to do is install the flashing between the siding (side of the upstairs) and the roof. It's hard to tell in the photo because Mark is standing in the shade (thank goodness for the maple tree in the back yard - made the roof project bearable), but Mark is grinning ear to ear.

Come to find out, the cause of the skylight leak and all the dry rot was the piece of flashing that butts up to the siding of the house. When we had our new roof installed by a contractor about 10 years ago, that flashing was installed incorrectly. (Too bad we didn't know about it then.) For years, instead of guiding the rain water out over the shingles, it has been funneling water underneath the shingles. Some years the leaking is worse than others because more water backs up behind the skylight all at once during heavy rains. Other years it's not so bad.

Unfortunately, the contractor has moved away and we don't have current info, so we're not able to have him come back and correct the problem.

Mark should be able to finish the project completely on Monday or Tuesday. He still needs a few more supplies, so it depends if the roofing store is open on Labor Day.

Ah, the joys of living in a farmhouse that is over 100 years old!

In other Laurel Lane news today...
 Kat and Sarah came over to pick blackberries in the back yard. Great idea! Every berry they pick means one less berry to try to grow and take over my yard.

They really wanted to make jam. That hadn't been on my "to do" list for the day, but why not? I sent them back out to pick more berries so we would have enough for the recipe.

They picked 6 cups of blackberries, all on their own. We cooked the berries and made 3 quarts of jam. They were so tickled. Thanks for coming over, Kat and Sarah!