Sunday, February 27, 2011

Updates + Granola Bars

January's warm and sunny weather is but a distant memory. The last two weeks have been filled with rainy days. At the same time that those of you in Washington were having dumpings of snow this last week, we even got a little down here. The rainy weather has hampered my outdoor activities, and I usually plan my walks to and from campus around downpours.

I recently started taking an extended education course at HSU called Practical Beekeeping. I took Honey Bee Biology while at WSU, but it lacked in a lot of the information about actually handling bees and keeping a hive. So, once a week until May I'll be spending two hours learning about beekeeping. There's also a great opportunity to purchase beekeeping equipment at prices only about 10% above cost, which could mean a huge savings, but I'll have to pass this year. A majority of people taking the class are landowners from the surrounding cities; there are maybe 2 college students in our group of 40.

Last weekend my roommate and I made a batch of homemade granola bars, something I think everyone should try their hand at--they are fantastic! We used the basic Kitchen Sink Granola Bar recipe from Kath Eats Real Food. Our recipe looked like this:

Granola Mix:
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup peanuts
1 cup sliced almonds

Fruit Mix:
1/2 cup toasted flax seed meal
1.5 cups dried fruit (raisins and cranberries)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Wet Mix:
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbl butter
1/4 cup almond butter
1 Tbl vanilla
1 Tbl cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

The granola mix must be assembled first, and baked in a 350 degree oven until it's a toasted brown.
In the meantime, combine the ingredients for the fruit mix, and create the wet mix in a saucepan on the stove.
When the granola is finished, mix it together with the fruit mix. Then add the wet mix to the bowl, and stir until everything is coated. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish that has been lined with oiled aluminum foil. This will allow you to take them out of the dish after baking and cut without much difficulty. Press the mixture so that it is even in the pan, and to get rid of any air pockets. Bake for about 20 minutes.
Our batch turned out wonderfully. The orange marmalade was a last-minute substitution when we found we didn't have enough honey, but I think it totally made the bars. The cinnamon adds a great flavor, too.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Potato Cakes

I've had some notable culinary triumphs as of late: potato cakes and granola bars.
The potato cakes are my favorite. It all began with the five pound bag of potatoes sprouting in my cabinet. I knew they needed to be used, but wanted to do something other than just bake them. A bit of thinking, pulling random ingredients out of the fridge, and mixing it all together, and there were my potato cakes!

The basic recipe:
Lauren's Potato Cakes
3-4 mushrooms, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
handful fresh baby spinach
5 medium potatoes
1-2 cups mozzarella cheese
sour cream (to top)

Begin by baking the potatoes until tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. While the potatoes cool, I start the mushroom mixture. In a saute pan, combine mushrooms, garlic, and a little bit of olive oil. When the mushrooms have cooked down to my satisfaction, I add the spinach and put a lid on the pan to wilt it.
Once the potatoes are cool they must be shredded. The first time I made these guys I ran the potatoes through my cheese grater, and didn't include the skins. The second time, I carefully chopped the potatoes into small pieces, including skin in the mixture.
Put the potatoes in a large bowl and add the cooked mushroom mixture, stir well to incorporate. Add cheese, and mix well. Form small patties from the potato mixture, giving each a light dusting of flour. Heat some oil in a your saute pan, and add the potato cakes when it is hot. Brown on each side (4-6 min each). You can then transfer the cooked cakes to a paper towel to get rid of some of the excess oil, or just eat them right away! I found that as my technique improved there was less oil that soaked into the cakes while cooking. I top them with a little bit of sour cream and chow down. Very good.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Busy Saturday

This morning I went to a service day at the Manila Dunes, hosted by Friends of the Dunes. Our task today was to remove invasive yellow lupine from the dunes. A huge group of volunteers came out to help, so we accomplished what the coordinator had expected, and a lot more! The lupines have a strong taproot that is difficult to pull out, even in loose sand.
The dreaded lupine! There is a species that is native, but this one, which flowers yellow, is invasive.

The smallest bushes could be pulled, but the big ones had to be chopped down with a brush axe. I brought home a few of the ones that had been pulled because they have huge nodules on their roots and I want to show them to my students as part of our nitrogen lessons. Hiking up and down the dunes definitely made my legs sore, but it felt so good to be out in the fresh air doing something! It's still kind of amazing to me that the weather is nice enough that I was at the beach in February. I'd never dare to step in the water, but it was warm and sunny enough to play in the sand!

Facing west over the dunes.
After the beach I went to the Humboldt Poultry Fanciers show at the Redwood Acres Fairgrounds. I expected it to be a little dinky--maybe 50 chickens in cages--but it was actually pretty impressive! Along with the anticipated chickens, there were ducks, geese, turkey, and pigeons! Normally I find ducks to be kind of gross and stinky, but there were some little ones that looked like they'd be so much more manageable. They were East Indie and Call ducks, the photo below is a white call duck. The East Indies were a beautiful black with a green sheen, but they didn't photograph well.

And there were so many beautiful chickens! I'm definitely a fan of the smaller breeds. If I was to start a flock, I'd go with Seabright, Old English, and Nankin. Some other ones that might be interesting are Norwegian Jaerhon, Buttercup, and Hamburg.



Old English, crele coloring

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Week In Review

Well, I've been doing my best to stay busy!

On Monday and Tuesday I made a focused effort to have material ready for when I met with my students in lab on Tuesday afternoon. I took a new approach and put together a slideshow with material that I thought was important from the last 3 lectures and gave them a quick refresher on it. From what I could see, that was well received, so I'll continue to do it in the future.

I'm trying to get involved with a horse rescue here in town and went to their monthly meeting on Tuesday evening. I'm still being screened--they have to check my references and train me--but the meeting provided some good insight into what they do. Spurred by the want to get working with horses again, on Thursday and Friday mornings I drove south of here to the fairgrounds in Ferndale to watch a horsemanship clinic. I spent a few hours watching each day and remembering what I used to do so I can get back in the swing of things! The first day was more interesting because the trainer was taking participants horses and working them individually in the round pen, talking about what issues were happening, and how he was communicating with the horse. Day 2 was a bit less exciting, because all the participants were working with their horses, so there wasn't a specific lesson to focus on. I actually became a bit frustrated because I could see people doing things incorrectly, but couldn't do anything about it!

You know what's funny? I've spent more time on the beach in Northern California in just the past month than I did in all three summers I lived in San Diego. On Wednesday the sun was shining and Michael's roommate, Frank, thought we needed to get out and enjoy it. I heartily agreed! So we drove north to Trinidad and poked around on one of its beaches.
It was a steep hike down to the beach on narrow wooden steps. It made me nervous going down, and wore me out going up!

The beach! 

We found this in the sand... I strongly asserted it was a creature (its name lies in the back of my mind, I just can't remember it!), and Frank was telling us it was a seed pod. The argument was only solved by breaking in open--it was a creature. Name still unknown! 
There was this great rock that was just begging the guys to climb it. Shortly after I took this picture of Frank at its apex I climbed up to the top myself! It was steep, and the footholds up and down not very wide, but what's life if you don't live on the edge every now and then!?

Also... the red mushroom photos from last week. They're not much, but at least you get the general idea.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Spring is Coming

I'm still here, I've just become a bit neglectful. For some reason I'm still not in a good routine, though I think part of that is the fact that I've been sick all week. We had a big bonfire on the beach last Friday night, and since then nearly everyone seems to have come down with some version of a cold/flu, myself included.

I've finally gotten over the worst of it, and now I just have a terrible cough that will probably linger on for a week or more. In an attempt to keep some air moving in my lungs, and enjoy today's sunny weather, I went for a drive and found a new place to hike. It's called Azalea State Reserve. Not much is green or blooming yet, but I still found a few things worth photographing. Like the buds above, and the lichen below. I also found one of the most fantastic trees ever, and a couple of crazy bright red mushrooms. It seems weird to say spring is here when it's only February, but it sure seems like it already is!