Archive | October, 2011

Pumpkin bread from scratch | Recipe of the week

26 Oct

Pumpkin bread

Tonight, I made pumpkin bread from scratch. Though, to be fair, I started on the pumpkin puree on Sunday. We went to Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch in Half Moon Bay on Sunday to pick up some carving pumpkins, as well as a Cinderella and a Fairytale pumpkin for eatin’. Mrs. Farmer John told me that the Cinderellas were good for baking and the Fairytale was better for grilling, since it had less water.

I was thinking of roasting the pumpkins, like I often do with winter squash, but D wanted to use the pumpkins to make pumpkin bread. Good ol’ Cook’s Illustrated helped out here, with simple (though time-intensive) instructions for making pumpkin puree. We used the Cinderella for the puree and CI’s recipe for pumpkin-nut bread (leaving out the nuts). And voila! Pumpkin bread from scratch. We ate it with vanilla ice cream, after it cooled down a bit but was still warm from the oven. It was definitely a subtler taste than with canned pumpkin, but it was pretty darn tasty. Next time, I’d add a tiny bit more sugar and more spices.

Recipes: Pumpkin-Nut Bread (Cook’s Illlustrated). Although Mrs. Farmer John’s recipe (and pumpkin prep technique) is here.

Technique: Pureeing pumpkins (Cook’s Illustrated)


The secret to a great hug: just breathe

25 Oct
Stormtrooper hug

On The Happiness Project blog, this week’s resolution is to “hug more, kiss more, touch more.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot today.

Last night, ignoring my friend Jenn’s very smart advice that you should never work late on a Monday night (it sets the whole week off on the wrong foot), I stayed up until midnight finishing up some work. And of course, I burned myself out. By 2 pm (since I had also skipped lunch), my mind was a mess. I came home early, as my neighbor Pat was out back having a smoke.

Pat, a former hospice nurse, is a great neighbor and human being — he’s amazingly empathetic and very much in tune with the people around him. As we wrapped up the conversation, he gave me a big hug. We talked about hugs, and he said, “What I like to do is not hug too tight, but just to wrap your arms around someone” — he wrapped his arms around me — “And just breathe. I used to do that to my patients.” We took three deep breaths, then let go.

His hug reminded me of Fr. Andy, a Jesuit who worked at a retreat house along the Oregon coast and who was the best hugger I have ever met. Fr. Andy was tall, and his arms would encircle you. He’d hold you close and safe but not too tight — and then just breathe.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Kalexanderson

My happiness apps: Month 1 – Boost energy

4 Oct

The Happiness Project by Gretchen RubinA few years ago, while doing research for a story, I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog. When her book came out, I thought, “This is perfect.” I needed to jump-start some things in my life, and her “theme of the month” approach seemed perfect.

I’ve tried to start a Happiness Project a couple of times and failed utterly. Rubin talks a bit about having a tracking system for your various goals, but none of the ones I tried — those on her site, Google Docs spreadsheet (which kept me honest on my New Year’s Resolutions for a number of years), etc. — seemed to fit.

Finding the right tool for the job

And then I thought: Apps! This eclat coincided perfectly with a better reason to start the Happiness Project. Like Rubin when she embarked on the year-long self-study, I’m not unhappy. In fact, I’m really happy. So happy that I realize how important it is to stay happy.

So why apps? The best tool, ultimately, is the one that’s with you when you need it. The Happiness Project Toolkit required me to turn on my computer when I went home, go to the site, log in, and use its tools. Google Docs was more convenient (I could get to my resolution tracker within a few clicks of my home screen), but I still had to get on my computer.

My iPhone is the one thing I bring with me everywhere I go. I use Mint to track my spending (and before a recent update, I used CashTrails). I started using LoseIt to count calories and take off a few pounds. When I went back home, I used Nike Training to fit in a strength workout or two when it was too humid to run outside.

Apps for boosting energy

So, for the first month, I’m going to work on boosting my energy. Specifically, these are my goals, and the apps I’m going to use to keep me honest:

If all goes well, I’ll recount my experiences here, both with the apps and with the Happiness Project. We’ll see how it goes…