You light up my life, B.J. Raji

Yesterday this happened… and the heaviest man in the history of the NFL to score a touchdown in the playoffs was described as “prancing” around in the endzone. B.J. Raji, watching you run the football for a touchdown like a giant baby keeping candy away from a pesty kid on your block was one of the best moments of the season. And then you put your hands on your hips and shook your behind. And now the Packers are going to the Super Bowl. B.J. Raji, you light up my life.

In addition to lighting up my life, you and your ball club have been dominating my weekends lately, not that I’m complaining. But who’s got time to worry about a week’s worth of lunches when the Packers are playing in the NFC Championship? Not this fan. And so this is how I found myself in the predicament that I did today- no lunch for school and famished by the time I got home at 5:30. A stroke of desperation/ genius led me to a jar of peanut butter, a banana and a honey bear. I love this sandwich so much, but I often forget to make it for myself. In case you have forgotten how delicious it is, I wanted to remind you, too.

I bet B.J. Raji likes this sandwich

Take a couple of pieces of whole wheat bread, spread on some all-natural peanut butter, slice up half a banana and pour on the honey. Mmmmmm.

Luckily I had some leftover lentil soup in the fridge that Dan and I heated up for dinner that was made all the better by grating (Wisconsin) parmesan cheese on top. I served it with steamed kale that I doused in lemon juice and sriracha- this was a revelation. And a delicious loaf of country bread from the Madison Sourdough Company. Basking in the afterglow of the Packers’ victory, it was a fine winter dinner.

Go Pack Go.

Under the weather

At some point over the long weekend I had that sense of impending doom where you know that you are about to get clobbered over the head with a cold.

View from my chair at Mickey's Tavern

Before the cold hit I enjoyed a lovely Friday evening at Mickey’s Tavern with Dan (due to a rare Clovis Mann bye weekend) where I mowed a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing (minus the bacon) and macaroni and cheese (sans the kielbasa) and discussed politics and pets with our friend, Dr. Hotbody (who showed up part way through our meal). It was snowy outside and cozy and warm inside the bar- especially with the amount of cheese that I consumed.

Java Stout at Alchemy

After dinner we walked to Alchemy where we enjoyed Pearl Street Lava Java Stout and I amazed a new friend with the contents of my large bag (“Look, I even carry a cribbage board in here!”) and bequeathed him my green tea breath mints which I believe had been in there untouched since 2008.

Saturday belonged to the Packers. Dan and I performed our pre-game rituals and gathered, as tradition states it (unless we are at Lambeau), in front of my 13-inch television. We ate green olives and Wisconsin cheddar cheese, drank Hinterland Pale Ale from Green Bay (via Star Liquor on Willy Street) and cheered our Packers on to the NFC championship game. It’s going to be one hell of a game on Sunday.

By Monday I was in the thick of it. Ransacked with a cold I sat on the couch and stared out the window at the fat snowflakes. I wondered about the origin of the term “under the weather” and drank tea. I felt sorry for myself and listened to sad songs by Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons and Hank Williams. Finally, I baked banana bread. And you should, too.

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This recipe comes from the book, A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger

6 tablespoons butter

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon slat

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (from about 3 large ripe bananas)

1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9 by 5 inches) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.

Put the butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in the preheated oven. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crysatallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. The same fork works fine for this.) Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top.

Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick insered into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If the loaf seems to be browning to quickly, tent with aluminum foil. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip it out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing- unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, in which case, dig in.

Note: Fully cooled, this bread freezes beautifully. And it tastes delicious cold, straight from the freezer. To protect it from frost, wrap it in plastic wrap and then again in aluminum foil.

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I also added some chopped walnuts. It was delicious and is getting better with time. I think I will have a thick slice for breakfast with some medicinal tea. Here’s to getting back out into the weather.

From then on whenever I was a-going somewhere I was a-running-a

There is this great old story in our families’ mythology where my dad and his best friend were out at the Essen Haus in Madison and spied a couple who looked like they were less than thrilled to be there. Always quite gregarious, my dad’s friend approached the couple and asked them what was wrong. They replied that they had recently moved from Los Angeles and were having trouble adjusting. My dad’s friend exclaimed that they should get down on their knees and thank their lucky stars that they had gotten out of California and moved to Wisconsin. This is how I feel about having taken up running. Don’t get me wrong- there are days where I feel like I am running through mud, but tonight as I ran under a suspended pink sky over frozen Lake Wingra I felt like I could have kept running forever- much like Mr. Gump.

I think I went close to seven miles tonight and the only reason why I stopped when I did was because I knew that there were warm molasses cookies waiting for me at home. These are pretty much my favorite cookies in the world. My mom made them last year to share with friends but I’m pretty sure that we ended up hoarding them all.

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This recipe is from the November 2006 issue of Bon Appetit

Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

A pinch of cracked ground black pepper

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)

1 large egg

About 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cracked pepper. Working with a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until it is smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat for 2 minutes or so to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry indgredients, mixing until the flour and spices disappear. If some of the flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, avoid overbeating the dough and mix in the last of the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. You’ll have a smooth, very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes or chill for at least 1 hour. (You can refrigerate the dough for up to 4 days). Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Working with one packet of dough at a time, break off 12 pieces and roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar, then place them on the baking sheet. Dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it to press down on the cookies until they are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes*, or until the tops of the cookies feel set to the touch. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, if the cookies have spread and are touching, use the edge of a metal spatula to separate them while they are hot. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

*We only baked them for about 8 minutes

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Mmmmmm

It’s taco night tonight and I plan on eating about three more cookies, at least. Let the festivities begin.

I won yoga

Things have been a little crazy here this week- they always seem to get like that around this time of year. But sometimes it’s important to get back to basics. I believe this was at the heart of the issue when my sister asked my mom today if we have any plans for tomorrow and my mom replied, “No… I just know that we will have to eat something.”

There have been about 84,000 trips to various grocery stores this week, however there is a rumor going around the house that there is nothing to eat. I believe that this rumor may have something to do with the fact that it is nearly impossible to find what you are looking for in the black hole that is our college dorm room-sized refrigerator (just keep looking behind the chocolate milk, soy milk, buttermilk, two half-gallons of skim milk and orange juice and you might find the pita bread). When several of us were looking for a snack this afternoon I did manage to find a couple of cans of garbanzo beans on the cupboard shelf and suggested the possibility of making hummus. Garlic? Check. Lemons? Check. Cumin? Check. Olive oil? Check. Tahini? Check. I decided to start with the tahini and immediately noticed that it appeared to have separated. I proceeded to “stir” the rock hard bottom layer into the oily top layer and mentioned the consistency to my mom who was busy making the best molasses cookies on the planet (I will post that recipe tomorrow). I remained vigilant until I “stirred” too ferociously and ended up with a spray of oil all over my down vest. At this point I took a break to soak my vest and my sister, after picking up the jar of tahini to examine it, discovered that it had expired in 2005. I’m impressed that we were apparently buying tahini sometime in 2004… Our snack seemed doomed until NPR and Nigella Lawson saved the day. My mom and sister both instantly remembered hearing on NPR that Nigella Lawson said that she likes to make her hummus with peanut butter. Luckily I can’t live without peanut butter and we were back in business. I have to admit that I was skeptical, but this hummus was, as my dad says about my sea salt that makes his humidifier steam like Old Faithful, “the bomb.”

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Peanut Butter Hummus

Ingredients

2 x 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1 garlic clove, peeled

3-5 tablespoons regular olive oil

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons lemon juice, or more as needed

2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoons table salt, or to taste

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 – 1/3 cup Greek yogurt*

2 tablespoons peanuts, finely chopped, to serve (optional)*

1 teaspoon smoked paprika, to serve (optional)

breadsticks, mini pitas, crackers, tortilla chips, to serve (optional)

Instructions

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put the garlic clove, chickpeas, 3 tablespoons oil, peanut butter, lemon juice, salt, and cumin into a food processor and blitz to a knobbly puree.**

Add 1/4 cup of the Greek yogurt and process again; if the hummus is still very thick, add another 1–2 tablespoons yogurt and the same of oil. (This will often depend on the chickpeas, as different sorts make the hummus thicker or not.)

Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice and salt if you feel it needs it.

On serving, mix the chopped peanuts with the paprika and sprinkle on top if you wish, and put an array of bits and pieces to eat with or dip in, as you see fit.

Makes enough for a party of 10***

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*I omitted the yogurt and the peanuts

**I just mashed up all of the ingredients with a fork

***Or a party of three….

I served up the hummus with some pita bread (I found it!) that I warmed in the oven, carrot sticks and a few olives. The leftovers were immediately eaten with pita chips.

Holiday hummus with a mystery ingredient

In other news, I went to my first yoga class this morning in several years.  I wish that I could write that I loved it and felt rejuvinated but I had a hard time not focusing on all of the snuffy nasal breathing and coughing that I heard going on in the very cozy room. I also found myself doing a head count at one point and figuring out how much cash that meant for the instructor (and then wondering how much of that cash she gets to keep). My proudest moment came when I stayed standing on one leg longer than a woman who looked like she knew what she was doing. I thought to myself, “I won,” which then reminded me of the time that I was an archery instructor at summer camp (it’s a long story how I ended up in that position) and a young man named LaTroy declared that he had won archery after hitting a straw target. I’m pretty sure that all of this mind wandering and self-imposed balance competitions with unknowing participants is not the point of yoga. I suppose I’ll have to give it another go….

Tonight Dan and I took a walk to my favorite tree that I have been admiring on my evening jogs so that I could take a picture.

It’s a somewhat calm evening for now (I’m actually home alone for a few minutes with a snoring dog) so I am taking it all in. Happy solstice, everyone- the earth is now tilting ever so slightly back toward the sun (at least in Wisconsin).

On the road again

I love this man. And I truly love being on the road. What sparked this love of the open road may have been a road trip that my family took to Maine and back in a lime green Ford Pinto when I was five-years-old. On that trip we experienced many adventures, including one night at a hotel in Buffalo Port Jervis, New York where, at least as I recall, the swimming pool was the color and consistency of pea soup and, according to my dad, contained barracudas- we all swam despite these conditions. Or it could have started much earlier with countless car trips to Iowa to visit my grandparents (often with my sister and I fighting over the ubiquitous line in the backseat). I have memories of spilling my chocolate milk all over my grilled cheese at a chain-type restaurant in Canada or Michigan and an image in my mind of a drawing (done while driving through Pennsylvania?) where a family of octupi are eating Pizza Hut (I believe this was a subtle hint). I remember being woken up by my parents at 5 a.m. in a motel in Indiana where they declared, “Let’s flee,” because some loud truck had been parked outside of our room all night and another time fleeing our reservation at a place on Cape Cod because it was found to be less than desirable. At the age of 10 or 11, I once cried upon arriving at our hotel in St. Augustine, Florida (after 16 hours in the car with my mom, 16-year-old sister, and our two friends) when I discovered that the doors weren’t as blue as the Atlantic Ocean as our guidebook had promised. I’ve been driven through Washington D.C. and Boston (without stopping), counted my mosquito bites under a tree in Ithica, New York  Burlington, Vermont while my sister was on a whirlwind college campus tour, and gotten car sick along the windy highways of California. I suppose it could have gone the other way, but a wanderlust for traveling the country via the highway began and I have had it ever since.

Last spring Dan and I took a two-week road trip with stops in Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. This trip was full of family, good friends, and many magical moments including this dessert (inhaled at the Lincoln Cafe in Mt. Vernon, Iowa);

Dessert at the Lincoln Cafe, Mt. Vernon, Iowa

finding my new favorite dress at this store in Norman, Oklahoma;

Birdie in Norman, Oklahoma

finding a road sign in New Mexico for the town named in one of my all-time favorite songs (Willin’ by Little Feat) ;

So that’s where they were talking about…

getting snowed on in Arizona on April Fool’s Day;

April Fool’s!

and realizing that my dear relatives from Montana were ordering mochas in the same cafe in Moab, Utah where Dan and I had decided to eat breakfast. What a serendipitous meeting that was that morning.

Eklectica, Moab, Utah: The cafe (with delicious vegetarian breakfasts) where I randomly ran into my relatives from Montana
Running into my mom’s cousin in Moab led to our first trip to Arches- she told us that we had to visit the park and even gave us the money for admission!

On that trip we played Scrabble with my mom while listening to a cd of bird calls; met multiple different groups of people with connections to Wisconsin; attended a 3-day wedding in Scottsdale bringing together people from Green Bay and Germany (a perfect match) where we taught our German friends how to play bags and our Arizonian bartender how to make old fashioneds; got our tent blown away by torrential winds outside of Moab; and listened to our first Brewers game of the season because they were playing the Rockies as we drove through the mountains of Colorado on our way to Denver. I didn’t want the trip to end- it’s one of the only times that I can remember that I wasn’t ready to walk in the door of my house, drop my bags and sleep in my own bed. I wanted to keep going. In fact, I cried as I drove my car down the empty streets of Madison at 5 a.m. on the last morning of our trip.

Along the way Dan played six shows- we called it his “Lake Effect” tour.

Tour poster in Moab

Traveling the country with a musician can be one of the most fun ways to travel. You figure out where and when the shows are and then you get to connect the dots in between, which allows you plenty of freedom and adventure along the way. We lucked out and were able to book Dan shows pretty easily. For an entertaining review of Dan’s show in Flagstaff, click here and scroll down. I like the title at the top about “Midwestern weirdness…” I’m not sure how they knew about the accent….

The open road

But, being on the road with a musician can also mean late, late nights, unpredictable schedules, unpredictable bar patrons, and unpredictable meals. It can mean eating potato chips for dinner, no dinner, or tacos at 4 a.m. (albeit they were my favorite black bean tacos from Burrito Drive on Willy Street in Madison- the pickled red onions are a MUST). This is what happened on our latest road adventure this past weekend as we drove between Madison, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Concord (the suburbs of Sullivan/ Ixonia), Madison, Manitowoc, and Madison in a five-day stretch. And all of this leads me to lentil soup. On Friday I received a text message from my mom saying that she was making bean soup for dinner (my mom has taught me an enduring appreciation for the deliciousness and comfort that is soup) and it was practically all I could think about for the rest of the weekend. So last night I finally got my soup. And it made it all worthwhile.

This is a recipe that I have made a bunch of times, but I have to say that this was my best batch. The only thing that I really did differently was that instead of using 6 cups of water, I used one cup of old red wine and 5 cups of water. I also used all brown lentils and I really liked their texture. I served it at 9:30 p.m. with steamed broccoli with lemon and a sourdough baguette and it was oh so good to be home again (this time).

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This recipe is from the cookbook, “The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Soup.” (I received this cookbook from my mom for Christmas several years ago with the inscription, “For obvious reasons.”)

Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, thinly sliced

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic; minced

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons curry powder*

1 cup canned diced plum tomatoes, with juice

1 1/2 cups dried brown or pink lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained

6 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock or prepared broth**

1 lemon, sliced

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach

salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and bay leaf and saute until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes and their juice, lentils, stock*, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Discard the lemon slices and bay leaf.

Just before serving, stir in the spinach, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the spinach is wilted but still bright green. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls*** and serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings****

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*I think I add more than two teaspoons of curry powder and I also add chili pepper flakes.

**Since going veg I don’t use chicken or beef broth but I also don’t like the flavor of store-bought vegetable stock. I have used water every time (and now I will use a little wine too).

***Warming the bowls does sound like a nice touch- I have yet to do this.

****For once Dan and I did not eat all of the “4-6” servings and I am looking forward to the leftovers.

Enjoy this soup at home any time and revel in being in your own kitchen with a warming and wholesome meal. But when you are ready to be on the road again, fish out your atlas, grab the tent, pack up the car (don’t forget the healthy snacks), and blast this song as soon as you hit the highway. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

Yum Town called: They want their pizza back

I’ve got some super exciting news today to report: Metamorphic, the latest cd released this summer by Dan’s band, Clovis Mann, is featured on the cover of this week’s Isthmus, Madison’s weekly newspaper, as one of the top ten local albums of the year! 

On the cover of the Isthmus. Boosh!

Not nearly as important, but exciting to me, is that also means that my photo is on the cover of the Isthmus.

In other awesome news, tonight was pizza night. Sometimes you have those weeks substitute teaching where you spend part of your week bored into submission by the task of cutting out laminated math sheets for multiple hours and part of your week in awe of what is wrong with society when a first grader is hoisting his chair over his head to throw across the room and flipping desks over. There is something that makes these weeks better and that something, my friends, is pizza night.

I don’t remember exactly how it started or when (but I do know that it use to coincide with watching The Biggest Loser until Dan and I realized that we wanted to shoot the television, not unlike that gentleman from Black Earth who did shoot his television this week over a dancing Palin) but pizza night has become one of my favorite things that I look forward to all week long. While I like to do a lot of the cooking, there are a few things that I leave up to Dan because he does them very well: Tacos al pastor (we ate these before I quite meat- we’re still working on the veggie version), omelettes, pancakes and pizza. Dan starts his pizza with a Rustic Crust crust from the Willy Street Co-op and globs on Muir Glen pizza sauce (which to he adds chopped up hot chili peppers from the olive bar olives).

Pizza prep work

Next come the onions and the shredded Farmer John’s cheese. He tops it off with a sliced portabella mushroom cap, olives and tonight, a jalapeno pepper. YUM! We devoured it with a spinach salad with a  mustard vinagrette and some roasted broccoli with sea salt, pepper and lemon. And a nice, cheap red wine that I purchased tonight after my run at the local pharmacy- and that’s not slang for liquor store.

Oh delicious pizza pie

Back to first grade tomorrow. Fortified by pizza, I am ready.