Tuesday, January 7, 2014

January

It shall warm up again. Someday... Happy 2014!



Friday, June 7, 2013

Carolyn

Phil and Carolyn (Burlington, VT, August 2006)

Back in the early 1990's my father received a phone call from a woman in Vermont who was researching her family genealogy. It didn't take her and my dad long to establish a common relative and a friendship between families quickly followed.

I first remember visiting Carolyn and her husband Phil at their home in eastern Vermont during the summer of 1995. While many teenagers may have found a vacation to a rather remote area to visit adults boring there was nothing boring about visiting Carolyn and Phil, and my siblings and I looked forward to what would become our annual summer vacation to Vermont to visit Carolyn and Phil. Whether we were camping with them along the shores of Lake Champlain, visiting them at their then home in Taftsville or at their more recent home in Burlington each visit was memorable. A gracious host, Carolyn was always more than willing to open their home to us and was an amazing chef be it in the kitchen or preparing something over the grill. While our days were full of relaxation, exploration of the local area and just hanging out there were always many laughs to be had throughout the day and into the evenings.

When I decided I was going to bike across the country with the Illini 4000 in the summer of 2007, Carolyn and Phil jumped to support me and the cause for which I was riding. Additionally they then had the patience to sit and look through my hundreds of photographs listening and asking questions about my summer when my family visited them shortly after I completed the ride. When I decided to ride again in the summer of 2008 they showed the same support.

A week ago, my mother received an message stating that Carolyn had passed away and today my family traveled to Vermont to pay our respects to Carolyn and support Phil and their family. A four-hour car ride each way left me with plenty of time to think and reflect. Looking back I find many parallels between my time with the Illini 4000 and my visits with Carolyn and Phil each summer. During my two summers with the Illini 4000 we were constantly meet with open arms by complete strangers willing to open their homes and lives to us. Carolyn was very much this kind of person, going out of her way to show hospitality toward others. I have no doubt that had I4K ever rode through her neck of the woods she would have been one of the first people to try and invite the entire team into her home regardless of the teams size.

One of the first hosts the Illini 4000 team ever had was a woman from Hawley, Pennsylvania named Florence Brown in the summer of 2007. In just our second day on the road our plans for the night fell through and we were left without a place to stay. While out looking for other possible options Jon met Florance, who after hearing what we were doing offered to cook us dinner and let us camp in her backyard. Carolyn's compassion for others very much reminds me of Florance and the many others I meet each day through I4K.

Carolyn was a women with many talents, a great sense of humor and the ability to make everyone that surrounded her feel like they were important and appreciated. While she may no longer be here physically she will never be forgotten as the memories that those that knew her have will live on in them for years to come. Rest in Peace Carolyn.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Maple Cream Chocolate Eggs

Another nostalgic recipe from my childhood. I was surprised by the lack of recipes for chocolate covered maple cream eggs on the internet. The following is one I found posted on a forum that came out of Women's Day magazine many years ago. Not exactly like the ones I remember from my childhood but close. Happy Easter!


Chocolate Covered Maple Cream Eggs

Ingredients
6 Tbs. Butter
3 oz. Cream Cheese
1 lb. Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp. Maple Extract
1/3 cup Walnuts (finely chopped)
12 oz. Semi-Sweet Chocolate
1 tsp. Solid Vegetable Shortening

Directions
Line a cookie sheet with wax paper.
Beat butter, cream cheese and maple in a medium bowl with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Gradually add confectioners (powered) sugar and walnuts beating until smooth. Mixture will be stiff.
With your hands roll mixture into egg shapes. Place on was paper and refrigerate for one hour or until cold and very firm.
Melt chocolate in saucepan on low heat stirring frequently. Stir in shortening until well blended. Let the melted chocolate sit at room temperature for about 15-minutes.
With egg on fork use a spoon or spatula to coat the maple centers with chocolate. Use the spatula to push the egg off of the fork and back onto the wax paper lined cookie sheet. (Reheat chocolate if it gets too thick.)
I found it hard to coat the entire egg while on the fork. I had extra chocolate so after coating the tops and sides of the eggs I put the cookie sheet with chocolate coated eggs in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes until the chocolate had hardened. I then took and dipped the bottom of the eggs in the remaining chocolate so that the entire egg was coated in chocolate. I then refrigerated them for another 15-minutes before boxing them up.
Refrigerate when storing.
(The recipe says it makes 6 eggs but I made 20+ so I guess it depends on how big you want them.)
Maple cream centers before adding the chocolate coating.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pumpkin Soup

A few years ago I attended a lunch at the college where I was working at the time. The lunch was put on by students in the Human Ecology department as a requirement of one of their courses. One of the items on the menu that day was Pumpkin Soup. I remember it having a very distinct taste, one that I've been trying to replicate ever since trying recipe after recipe with little luck. I recently came across this recipe from Land O'Lakes and was pleasantly surprised with the result. The mix of spices give it a southwestern taste without overpowering the dish like some recipes that I've tried in the past. A great way to warm up on a chilly winter day!


Southwestern Pumpkin Soup 
(I usually double the recipe so I have plenty leftover to warm up throughout the week)

Ingredients
2 Tbs. Butter
1 Medium Onion Chopped
1 tsp. Freshly Pressed Garlic (2 small cloves)
1 tsp. Chili Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Pepper
1/2 tsp. Ground Cumin
2 1/2 cups Vegetable Broth (or Chicken Broth)
15 oz. Pumpkin (I use pumpkin I've frozen from the garden but you can use canned)
1/2 cup Whipping Cream

Directions
Melt butter in a large saucepan until sizzling; add onion, garlic, chili powder, salt, pepper and cumin. Cook over medium-high heat 3-5 minutes or until onion is softened.
Add broth; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.
Stir in pumpkin until well mixed; cook 5 minutes. Stir in whipping cream; continue cooking 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to food processor bowl fitted with metal blade or a blender (with a double batch I run it through my blender half at a time.) Cover; process until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan; cook over low heat until heated through. Feel free to garnish however you would like.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Taste of Summer: Brownie S'mores

I'm not a huge fan of plain chocolate, but when you take chocolate and mix it with other flavors my taste buds approve. I love brownies and s'mores so one could only imagine my excitement when I came across a combination of the two. Though they can be a bit sticky they have become a favorite among family and friends.

Graduation Party Dessert

Made in basically three simple steps the recipe is pretty easy to follow.

Crust:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch fine salt
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F. Use the wrapper from the butter that you are using for the crust to grease an 11x7 (or similar size) pan.

To make the crust: Stir the butter together with the crumbs, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. You can mix the brownie batter while the crust is baking.

Brownies:
  • Box of "Family Size" Brownies
If your feeling ambitious you could make the brownies from scratch however I normally use a box of the family size mix and follow the directions on the back of the box in regard to mixing and baking. Mix the brownie batter in a bowl and have it ready for when your crust is done baking.

When your crust is ready remove it from the oven and pour the brownie batter on top of it. Place the pan back in the oven for however long it takes the brownies to bake (follow the directions on the back of your box in regard to time/temperature for the size of pan your using). You can usually tell that they are done when you can insert a toothpick into the brownies and remove it cleanly without batter sticking to it.

Marshmallow Top:
  • 1 Bag of Marshmallows (you will probably use about 3/4 of the bag)
While the brownies are baking you can start cutting the marshmallows in half. I find that using a 10oz. bag I usually use about 3/4 of the bag and then cut more if needed later.

When your brownies are done baking remove the pan from the over and let it sit for about 5-minutes. I find this helps cut down on the stickiness when I'm putting the marshmallows on as they don't melt immediately. Position a rack about 6 inches from the broiler and preheat on low. Layer the marshmallows on top of the brownies (sticky side down) and toast a minute or two under the broiler until golden. Keep your eye on them while doing this as they turn gold fast! (Make sure your broiler is on LOW too as I made the mistake of leaving it on high and my marshmallows caught fire!) When your marshmallows are golden brown remove the pan from the over and let it cool. If you lined your pan you can remove your brownies from the pan and let them cool on a rack. I usually just let them cool in the pan on the counter for an hour or so. Once they are cool separate them from the edge of the pan with a knife and cut them. I've found that once they are cool enough to remove from the pan without falling apart it is easier to cut them with large scissors due to the marshmallow topping. Enjoy!



Friday, May 25, 2012

Five Years Ago - Reflecting

Today marks five years since the Illini 4000 departed on it's first journey across America. Saturday the sixth team will depart New York on their own journey toward the west coast. I had the opportunity to help set up a stay over for this years team with hosts that the team had stayed with a few years ago. The excitement I sensed when they heard that the team was coming back to their area was simply awesome. Despite having spent two summers as a rider myself I am still taken aback by the stories of generosity I read about and the full circle of hope I sense reading about each summers ride. Godspeed to this years team! Here's to an amazing summer that you will never forget!

Five years ago... oh the memories!



Monday, September 19, 2011

Fall Eats!

The summer garden crops are winding down and autumn is in the air. With a current abundance of apples (thanks to my neighbors) and frozen pumpkin still in the freezer from last year I have been on a baking spree. Here are two of my recently discovered favorites!

Baked Pumpkin Donuts

Ingredients

For the Donuts:
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup pumpkin puree

For the Buttermilk Glaze:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Donuts:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, spice and sugar. Whisk together all of the remaining ingredients in a second, medium bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir them around the bowl until the mixture is well combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, rolling the donut dough to approximately 3/4" thick, then cut with donut cutter. Transfer to a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or just until the donuts are cooked through. Dip immediately into buttermilk glaze. Eat warm or let cool.

Buttermilk Glaze:
Whisk together in a small bowl until smooth. Dip hot donuts in the glazed, then allow to dry on a cooling rack.

*Personally I find that the donut taste (rather than bread) is enhanced if you let them sit for a day before eating.

Homemade Apple Cider (Spiced)

Ingredients

10 apples, quartered
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground allspice

Directions


Place apples in a large stockpot and add enough water cover by at least 2 inches. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered, for 1 hour. Cover pot, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours.
Strain apple mixture though a fine mesh sieve (some sort of strainer). Discard solids. Drain cider again though a cheesecloth lined sieve. Refrigerate until cold or drink warm.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summer Scrapbook

The job search continues, the garden grows and the wheels on the bicycle go round and round...

Flowers along the road on a bike ride to Cooperstown

Vegetables Galore!

Dinner Pickings

Pickles!

Fresh Blueberries

Homemade Pesto on Triscuits

Homemade Currant Jelly on Toast

Saturday, May 14, 2011

With a Masters Degree in hand, now what?

When I finished my undergraduate degree program in December of 2003, I knew that I someday wanted to return to school for my Master's degree I just didn't know for what. I'd played around with the idea of returning to school for photography or design but to me these things were more hobbies than careers and I didn't want them to lose that aspect of 'fun'. After spending consecutive summers riding with the Illini 4000 bike team (2007 and 2008) this 'what' started to become much more clear and in the spring of 2009 I was accepted into both the Experiential Education master's program and the Nonprofit Leadership graduate certificate program at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota. Throughout my time with the I4K I quickly began to see the connections between education and experience and developed a great interest in John Dewey's educational philosophy that genuine education comes through experience. Having spent a combined 15+ years sitting in a classroom learning via traditional methods it only took a summer on a bicycle to show me that Dewey is indeed right and that there is much that can be learned on the open road through experiences. I graduated from Minnesota State on May 7th and am now actively perusing the job market while also considering the idea of starting my own program - which I created a 'Pilot Program' for as part of my graduate course work. Oddly I'm not stressed, more or less taking things one day at a time as I wait to discover what the future has in store.

I passed through Chicago on my way to and from graduation and got to stop and see Alex which was a treat as we always have a lot of catching up to do. I sent out an email to see if any of my other I4K teammates were going to be around but only got a couple of responses so I guess everyone else was busy - which is understandable as it was mother's day weekend. Alex ended up working just the morning shift on the Monday after graduation/mother's day so I actually stayed in Chicago an extra day and went to work with her, hanging out in the cafe while she worked. We then repaired her bicycles and went riding in and around the Chicago Botanic Garden that afternoon. It was fun to ride bicycles with her again and brought back many I4K memories from our time on the road during the summer of 2007!

Alex and I by the Skokie Lagoons before riding to the Botanic Gardens

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bottle Drive

Long story short and related to my prior post about my surgery, Bassett Healthcare and United Healthcare do not seem to be getting along regarding my bill and it looks like I may end up having to pay all of the bills related to my tumor removal as an out-of-network patient (despite the fact that I have documented proof that my doctors and hospital were listed as in-network when I checked prior to all of this - and still are). So as a starting point I think I'll start collecting the recyclables (bottles and cans) I find along the road when cycling to put toward my bill. If anyone knows where I can find 176,880 bottles or cans, or would like me to pick up their recyclables that would be lovely - unless of course I can get them to Michigan then I'd only need 88,440! If a Colorado college student can pay his tuition bill in pennies, I can pay my medical bill with nickels...

**Update** Based on my documented evidence my insurance company has agreed to cover the difference between in-network and out-of-network for surgeon and anesthesiologist charges - of course these are the smaller charges on my bill but somethings better than nothing! Only 125,098 more bottles/cans! :)