Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rocky Shots!

I almost forgot! Beth has requested Rocky shots twice now -- here are enough for a year. He is fine and snoring as I write this, even though yesterday I only have him one of the two scoops of food he is entitled to for breakfast before I left for work. I'm a bit distracted these days. He forgave me.

Rocky on a road trip:
Rocky in a hat:

Rocky asleep on a chair.

Artistic fuzzy cell phone Rocky shot in Brooklyn:
Rocky too lazy to right himself during a nap after sliding off a pillow and into the space between Jake and the pillow:
Rocky and The Baby:
Rocky at Thanksgiving on Staten Island:

Rocky looking alert and sporty:

Jake and Rocky watching TV:
Rocky showing he loves me more than Jake, and me and Rocky looking similar somehow, I think:

Granola and surveys

I am sitting here eating (a lot) of granola and trying to figure out what to do with the morning -- go to the gym, work on dissertation stuff, or just stare at the walls and watch Battlestar Galactica online. It has a hectic week, even with Monday's holiday (was that this week?)

I did manage to achieve my granola goal of last week and made a decent batch that I've been plowing through scary fast. Granola is the new Kettle Korn. I can't stop eating it, and it's not even that good. I mean, it's definitely good for what it is -- but at the end of the day it's just granola and I should be able to walk away.

Here's the recipe: I started with Martha's sister Sarah's version of the Eating Well Magazine recipe, but had to use what I had on hand and don't have coconut or maple syrup. So I used honey and molasses instead. This makes me realize that to get the clumpy, carmel-y texture that the store bought stuff probably involves lots and lots of sugar, butter and/or oil. You can definitely add more of that (or anything you like) to this and get away with it. But add anything soft like raisins after everything has cooled.


Dry ingredients:
  • 5+ cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup chopped raw almonds
  • 2/3 cup roasted and salted pepitas
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • big pinch of kosher salt
Wet ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2-3 tablespoons molasses
  • teaspoon vanilla
Post-cooking add-ins:
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apple
  • 1/2 cup banana chips
Preheat the oven to 275. Mix the dry ingredients in a big bowl and mix the wet in a bowl or a big measuring cup, and combine with the dry so that everything is coated. Spread the mixture into a baking sheet, and bake at 275 for about 45 minutes. Remove and stir the granola, and then bake for another 30 to 45 minutes. It will be nice and brown.

On the work front, I started surveying people in earnest yesterday. I'm not 100% sold on the survey, but don't really have any more time to waste fiddling with it and being done is more important than being perfect.

It went ok. People were willing to fill it out (and very happy about the $10 gift card -- I'm not sure I would get too many takers without it), but it is time consuming to have to hunt down folks in groups of 3 or four at a time. Folks come in for a big hour-long group meeting, and then at some point afterwards -- maybe immediately, maybe a few hours later, or maybe another day -- they have another small or one-on-one meeting where they clean up their application information, are given the voucher, and hear more specifics about the program. I need to catch them somewhere in between these appointments. The result being that I have to do a fair bit of leg work for ten surveys or something like that. I am trying to secure a bit of time after the big group presentation to try and grab everyone at once. I really have no idea how I could pull this off if I were not already at the office. Doing this at two other housing authorities will be a big challenge. Then again, if the other housing authorities don't issue any vouchers over the next few months, it's a moot point.

So I have no idea if I'll be able to get a decent sample size over the next few months. It looks like Jake and I will be in NYC for the summer as of sometime in June, and then the wedding is in late September ... I should ideally have the surveying done by the summer. Fat chance. Ideally, it should have been done already. But I am already trying to find funding for a follow-up study in the fall. I think I'll at least have enough of a sample for that, even if I don't hit a number to be representative for the city or county. The goal for the follow-up study would be to find out where folks ended up living, how they found or looked for housing, and their experience looking for housing. Now that I'm talking to people a little bit, I can see the things that a survey just isn't going to pick up. For example, the person who reeked of alcohol and was drunk enough that he forgot what the gift card was when I finally handed it to him. And the woman who says she is moving to Brooklyn but has never been there and has no friends or family there. Both are probably in for an uphill climb.

Ok -- granola and first of many coffees for the day are done. I think I will attempt the gym and running some stairs, since the Big Climb race is next month and I'd like to beat my time from last year. 69 flights of stairs up to the top of the Columbia Tower! More on that later.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pre-test, beet juice and carrot ginger soup.

My neighbor Sarah passed along this damn cute picture of Noah, who just turned three a couple of weeks ago--along with some of the homemade beet juice he's is pictured with (and under). I think Jake would have an anxiety attack if I brought yet another appliance home, but the juice is good enough to make the idea of owning a juicer really appealing. But I suspect Sarah has a talent for it. Noah apparently won't touch a vegetable but loves the juice. He seems to be a healthy eater to me, though. A few weeks ago we made raisin bran muffins (nice recipe from 101 cookbooks -- but they're sticky and meant to be eaten fast--so grease the pans well and eat up) and he told me raisin muffins were his favorite. Mine too.

On a separate note, I finally did a pre-test of the dissertation survey yesterday, officially kicking off the data-collection phase once and for all! whew.

It was uneventful, which is good... none of my big concerns seem to be problems. I was worried it would be 1) too long (50 questions), too 2) confusing and/or 3) poorly worded so that questions and response options meant different things to different people. But all seemed well, aside from a couple of surprise points. For example, when I say "do you have transportation to visit housing" I mean to ask Do you have a way to get to apartments you are interested in possibly renting? But three of five people thought I wanted to know if they had transportation to get the the Housing Authority office we were sitting in and were confused because, well, there we were sitting in it. Good to know. I also found that in my effort not to bait people into responses, I was beating around the bush and not getting to the point. Hmmm. Rings true for my personal life, not surprisingly.

Between work, the consulting project and the pre-test, the week was pretty draining. So when Martha N came over for dinner last night she found me still in the sweaty clothes I biked home from work in (big hill between home and work) and half-assing dinner prep. I accidentally added a cup less flour that I needed for rosemary feta focaccia, and overcooked the chard and veggies I was adding to pasta. It was fine, but all a bit off. And soft. Not that she's holding it against me. At some point I remembered that there was leftover carrot ginger soup in the fridge, so at least that made up for the mediocre showing. I used pureed leftover rice in it, which made it creamy and thick without having to resort to actual cream. I don't really like the taste (aftertaste?) of cream in soups and savory things. And I f-ing love to use that immersion blender.

It turned out a bit sweet but with a bit of a kick to it from the ginger. Nothing too much for MN, who can't deal with spicy at all. Not even strong mints. Here's a picture of the last of the soup--today's lunch--with the weird under-floured feta rosemary focaccia.

And here's the soup recipe, more or less. I'm guessing at measurements:

Carrot soup
2 lbs carrots (two weeks from the CSA -- more or less woudl be fine)
1 bunch of small white turnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
About 1 inch or so of ginger
1 chopped onion
1-2 tablespoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
salt & pepper
About 3/4 cup cooked rice (I had jasmine from trader joe's)
6-8 cups chicken and/or vegetable stock

Slice the turnips and carrots and set aside. Sautee the onion until soft, add the diced ginger, and then the tomato paste, cumin and paprika, and salt. Add the stock. Let it come to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the carrots and turnips are really soft. Add some more salt and pepper if you want it. keep about a cup of the broth to add to the rice, and then use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Mix the rice and broth, and do the same. Add the rice mixture to the soup.

It was definitely better the next day, and with some feta cheese and parsley on top.

Happy president's weekend! My goal for the weekend, aside from getting work done, is to try making granola, which I hear is easy. Until then, I'm off to the coffee shop to re-word some survey questions.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The stimulus bill.

I've spent a lot of time over the past day or two reading about the stimulus bill compromise and trying to dig up details. And I'm kind of burnt out on it, and just about everything else, for the moment.

But for those of you who may be interested in a belated update to the Man the Phones post, the stimulus bill, according to the information that has been trickling in, has a very decent amount of money in it for affordable housing. Folks are quibbling about how it will be distributed, who will benefit most, and how fast it will (or can) be spent -- but at the end of the day there is a lot in there. Here's a link to the senate finance committee's summary of the general provisions, and a link from the National Low Income Housing Coalition that focuses on housing.

Also going on is a great conference on housing and community development issues hosted by NYU's Furman Center in collaboration with the MacArthur and Rockefeller foundations. There is live blogging at the Next American City website.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Contact your senators!

Or your congresspeople.

I bet you know that congress and the president are hot and heavy over the new stimulus package and the Senate will be voting on it this week -- maybe as soon as Monday or Tuesday. And that the "moderates" are attacking the big price tag attached to the House's plan. At risk are some programs that serve low-income people and would be a critical boost to cities and housing service providers who have been running on fumes through the Bush administration. With pretty dire budget situations on the state and local sides, they really need the federal help to keep up with growing demand for services.

The foreclosure bailouts and homeownership packages get the most press, but there are other programs in the mix: public housing, emergency shelter assistance, programs to facilitate affordable housing production.

Here's a link to the National Low Income Housing Coalition's info on the stimulus bill and the housing funds that are on the table -- with a handy zip code search function to get you your representatives' contact info. Here's another link to find and reach your senators, and one for your congresspeople.

Tell them to invest in the national housing trust fund to support affordable housing production (here's a NY Times editorial on that), as well as long-needed and terribly under-funded upgrades and repairs to public housing and other subsidized housing for low-income people. Tell them to protect the funding included in the House bill for public housing, low income renters, and homelessness prevention. The calls and emails and letters do matter, don't take much time, and don't require much detail. Might as well do what you can.

Ok, I'm done with the pitch -- Go team!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Work work work. And pretzels for poker.

It's been a full week since I was last able to post, so I have a bit of a backlog happening. I started writing a couple of times, but my day job is in busy season--which is the legislative session--and my consulting gig is finally getting some traction. And I'm perpetually cleaning up the survey to get ready for a pre-test next week (assuming there are people to survey). I have been trying to figure out how to post a copy of it, but it looks like I need to upload to a separate website and then link to it here ... too much work for the moment. Baby steps.

Last night we hosted a poker party with some new friends we connected with through my friend Russell, who has been sending his friends in Seattle on blind dates with each other. Thus far very successfully, I think. I am very excited about them, but skeptical of complicated card games. I have trouble simultaneously remembering both the rules and the whole betting thing, and then lose patience for paying attention. So my expectations for the game were low and I figured I'd concentrate on the snacks and general hanging out. Turns out the game was fun. I didn't win a single hand (I split one pot with Jay, but I don't think that counts), but we weren't playing for real money.

Specifcially, I wanted to try making soft pretzels after seeing them on the Food Network's Good Eats. The cutesy tone on that show can be really annoying, but the actual content tends to be good and the cooking steps are de-mystified and simple. I knew you boil bagels and pretzels, for example, but didn't know why and it seemed hard. Now I do (sort of), and know it isn't hard.

I tried them out for the poker folks, and was very excited that they came out well. The poker folks gave some pretty positive feedback. I made a bunch of smaller pretzels instead of 8 large ones the recipe calls for, and used sea salt ($4.99 at Trader Joe's) instead of pretzel salt (who knows where you can get that, anyway). They were particularly good warm, but held up well and would freeze well, I think. I used a slotted spatula to fish them out of the boiling water and it was way less awkward than I thought it would be.

The pretzels were be labor-intensive so the other stuff was not: a chocolate peanut butter bar cookie thing, and then some tamari almonds.

The almonds are quick and easy but might be ruining my cast iron pan:
  • Heat a dray pan and add raw almonds, stirring them for a minute or so.
  • Add a generous pour of tamari or soy sauce, and stir while the liquid evaporates and the almonds are dark and coated with the soy sauce.
  • Taste one to see if they are strong enough for you, and either add more tamari and repeat, or spread them on a cookie sheet or parchment paper to dry and cool a bit.
  • Add some coarse salt to taste.
The whole thing takes about 10 minutes. The only down side is that the are a bit sticky. Spreading them out before putting them in a bowl helps them from sticking together a bit, but I haven't figured out how to avoid it completely. I've made these a couple of times now and no one seems to care. I tried once with blanched almonds and they came out chewy, so I'd stick to raw. I'd like to try it with wasabi sometime soon but am not sure how to pull that off yet.

The chocolate peanut butter bars were from a Cookography recipe. They were delicious, particularly after they sat for a couple of hours, but I don't even want to think about how many calories might be in there (I'm afraid to take a picture because I might be tempted to eat more). Peanut butter, butter, chocolate and condensed milk, with more peanuts on top? The recipe says you can get away with a cup of crushed peanuts -- I think you can cut that down to half or even skip them entirely. I have leftovers to distribute ASAP before I get too attached to them, and will definitely bust these out for the next work function (there are a lot of food-related activities at work--I have to do a brown bag lunch presentation in a couple of weeks, and will bring these along, i think).

I ate almost exclusively bread, fat, sugar and booze yesterday, with a red bell pepper and an apple thrown in to make myself feel better. I have some detox gym and stair-running planned in a couple of hours, with a friend who is a trainer and kicks ass. So she will probably kick my ass. Which reminds me: next post will be about the Big Climb: the race to the top of the Columbia Tower. 69 stories and about 1,300 stairs. I did it last year and am hoping to beat my time -- but can't quite remember what it was so need to figure that out, i guess.

Ok -- I'm off to make yet more edits and have more coffee before heading to the gym. Enjoy the day!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lard bread.

Jake is in Brooklyn this weekend, and I hope he leaves some clothes behind so he can fit baked goods in his carry-on bag. Fat chance. But it reminds me I never posted the lard bread recipe.

I had to hunt for it, and found out I'm not the only one pining for Caputos in Carroll Gardens. Multiple people posted on baking websites looking for the Caputo's lard bread recipe, or one from a place on the Lower East Side that apparently no longer exists. Caputos also has an amazing olive bread with whole calamata olives that makes me miss my friend Amy. I'm going to try making olive bread as a reward for getting through the next dissertation milestone, which will be completing the pre-test of the survey (maybe as soon as next week).

Anyway, at first I could only find a recipe from the Italian Trade Commission (seriously) that was for a traditional Easter bread with six whole eggs baked onto the top. Overkill. The recipe I finally found is from the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, who also wrote the Cake Bible--which is massive and in its like 764th re-printing. I have the Cake Bible, and was initially bummed that Beranbaum's recipe seemed to be my only shot at lard bread. I bought the Cake book years ago in a flurry of enthusiasm about something or other, but was in over my head and found it impossible to make any of the recipes in my mini-kitchen that was equipped with two bowls and a ladel.

I figured I'd have to buy the bread book and then need to find some tool or special mail-order only ingredient to pull it off. So I picked the book up at Borders with every intention of returning it immediately after jotting down the recipe (yeah, I know -- but both money and shelf space are scarce and I didn't even open it all the way). Turns out I was only half right. I did end up unsuccessfully searching for malt powder, whatever that is, and bought a silicone baking mat. But I'd been eyeing the mat for a while and it was only $12. If I bought all the stuff Beranbaum mentions, I'd be out thousands. Otherwise, I'm really happy with the Bread Bible. She is seriously in love with bread and a bit over the top (here's a line from the intro to her "Heart of Wheat" recipe: "The thought of making this bread inspires me to sing 'America the Beautiful' while picturing vast prairies of golden waves of wheat. But eating it inspires absolute reverence and silence!"), and she really, really wants you to love bread too. There tends to be a lot of stuff involved for even simple recipes, but if you sift through the prose you can find a scenario that matches your tools and time and interest.

I did return the book to Borders, however. Amazon had it for 15 bucks cheaper (subsidizing the mat) and Jake gets free shipping, so I returned and re-bought.

In the end, the lard bread was a hit. Not Caputo's caliber, but Jake's Grandma Irma et el. gave the thumbs up and I'll play with the recipe it a bit. It needed more meat and a bit more pepper, I think, and maybe some cheese. I may try it with a bit more lard. This is not an everyday meal kind of a thing.

A warning: The recipe (and several others in the book) calls for a tray placed on the bottom of the stove as it pre-heats that you throw ice in to produce steam for a better crust. Here's a picture of a really funny-looking gadget that injects steam into your oven for you (not mentioned in the Bread Bible).

My steam was lame. Whatever. I tried, but my electric oven sucks. The crust was fine, though, and next time I'll give it an egg wash or brush it with butter. Ice throwing notwithstanding, this is easy. It is not hard, so don't be put off. Her recipe called for shaping the dough into a ring. I kept it a loaf because that's how I'm used to it.

Ok, sorry for all the narrative -- Beranbaum is getting to me.

Here's what I did, adapted from the Bread Bible and using a standing mixer:

Bread Bible Lard Bread

  • Bread flour: 2 cups+2 tablespoons/12oz/340 grams (Or 2.25 + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour)
  • Sugar: 1 tablespoon/.3 oz/9.3 grams (she called for malt powder, sugar or honey)
  • Instant yeast: ¾ tablespoon
  • Coarse pepper: ½ teaspoon
  • Salt : 1 teasp
  • Lard : 2 tablespoons
  • Water: 1 cup / 8.3 oz./ 236 grams
  • Meat: ¾ cup meat in ¼ to ½ inch pieces (mix of prosciutto and spicy soppresata)

Whisk flour, sugar, yeast, and pepper. Then whisk in salt.

Add the water and lard for about 1 minute at #2 speed, until flour is moistened.

Mix at #4 speed for 7 minutes.

Add meat on #2 for 1 minute or so until evenly incorporated

It will be very elastic dough that is somewhat sticky but won’t cling to fingers. Dust lightly with flour and cover for 20 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and roll it into a log about 12 inches long. Put the loaf on parchment paper or the silicon baking mat and let it rise for 1 hour, covered with lightly oiled plastic wrap or a big bowl.

Preheat the oven to 450 for one hour, with the rack and a baking sheet at lowest level and a pan or skillet below on the bottom of the oven. When the bread is ready to bake, put it (still on parchment paper or a mat) on the hot baking sheet.

Put 1/2 cup ice cubes in the skillet or pan to make steam. Quickly close the door to trap the steam and cook 20 minutes at 450. Then turn the oven down to 400 for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Beranbaum says to turn the loaf halfway through the baking, pulling it off the parchment or liner and directly on the baking sheet. I'm not sure why this step exists, but I did it. When it's done, the bread should be golden brown. Turn off the oven and prop the door open slightly for for 5 minutes before taking the bread out and putting it on a cooling rack.

There you go. I hope someone tries it.