TUESDAY INFOGRAPHIC: Home Gardening in a Nutshell

Pin It Today in good ol' Chi-town, we flirted with 60 degrees. It is the last day of January, and we had the warmest day since 78 years ago!

So, I have a Spring vibe going on. I know it won't last. I know Chicago is a cruel temptress when it comes to Winter weather. She will tease you with sunny love and then smack you upside the head with SNOWMAGEDDON...like last year's blizzard that landed ironically on the same day as today.

Well, I wanted to revel in spring for today in honor of our very nice day. So here is an infographic that breaks out the most popular vegetables to plant in the country and some other fun garden tidbits.

*Siiiigh. Makes me want to dust off the garden journal and start planning.

ENJOY!


And visit http://www.mnn.com where I found this, it has some great posts and articles!

RECIPE: Double Apple Crock Pot Breakfast Cake

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I have heard tell of being able to make cakes in a crock pot/slow cooker. I was always sceptical yet fascinated about making a cake this way. Would the center actually cook? Would it brown? Or would it be mushy? I also could see the benefit of being able to whip up a dessert for unexpected guests in a couple hours in a slow cooker while cleaning the house and preparing dinner. Anything to help a working mom to be a domestic diva is all right in my book! So when I found an abundance of apples in our crisper drawer that needed to be used immediately, yet it was a busy Sunday to do anything with them, I thought about letting the crock pot help me out. And I came up with this recipe. It has a healthier tact than most on account of the whole wheat flour, less oil and oats. I also think that the cake itself is not too sweet, perfect for breakfast! Give it a try! I want to play with this concept more, like try a chocolate or a vanilla cake.

Double Apple Crock Pot Breakfast Cake

Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup white flour
2/3 cup oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup applesauce
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Apple mix
About 2 1/2 cups peeled and sliced cooking apples
3 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 Tbsp. apple juice (can use lemon)


Streusel
1/4 cup flour
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 tsp. cinnamon




Mix apples with the ingredients under apple mix. Let macerate while making the rest of the cake.

Combine flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, brown sugar and oats in a small bowl.




In a large bowl, whisk the oil and eggs until foamy. Add the apple sauce, vanilla. Whisk well. Then mix the apples and the dry ingredients in with the eggs. Mix well with a spatula. Spray the inside of a crock pot with nonstick spray. Pour the batter evenly into the crock pot. Cover, and cook on high for 1 1/2 hours. Turn the crock pot to low. Sprinkle the streusel on top, and cook the cake on low (covered) for about 20-30 more minutes, or until the center is firm to the touch. When cooking is done, turn the cover side ways to let some of the steam out so the cake doesn't become too soggy. Cut triangle pieces and lift them out carefully to serve.

Mayor Emanuel, Keep your Hands off my Library. Thank You.

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originally posted on my sister site, mammaslibrary.com

Irony is when you are asked to become a brand ambassador for a worldwide literacy organization, and asked to plan an event for worldwide reading day...

and you find that literacy is soon to become a luxury in your own city!


A couple months ago I was asked by litworld.org to become Chicago's World Read Aloud Day brand ambassador. I was floored, honored and excited. I was tasked to plan a fundraising and awareness event, big or small, for March 7th.


One of my ideas involved a library, so I went to visit my regional public library, Sulzer. They have a great storytime room and my daughter and I just love milling around and filling our tote bags with treasured books. After talking to one of the librarians, I was sad and frustrated.


She told me that the Mayor, due to budget short falls, has cut staff and hours. She said they are now closed on Mondays and they have laid off about 20 people over the past two months. She said that basically, the way the hours are being handled, they have to work 6 days but are really only getting paid 5. Meanwhile, they don't even have enough bodies to keep up with getting books back on the shelf (I noticed carts and carts of books in aisles, waiting to get put back.), let alone doing any kind of community outreach which they always felt was important,  including children's story hour!



In the first nine months of this year, the Chicago Public Library system offered 15,228 children's programs, serving 418,055 children of all ages, according to Dempsey. Librarians also made 740 visits to area schools to talk to teachers and students about what they can offer. But with fewer librarians, those programs will likely shrink. Reducing morning hours also closes the library at a time of day popular with young children, according to Lynn Elam, president of the Illinois Library Association. Elam said helping children get a jump-start on school through reading is a big part of what libraries do. (Chicago Tribune, 10-25-2011)

"Emanuel's budget also includes funding cuts that would slash full-time public library staff by 32 percent--and that comes on top of a 10 percent staff cut in 2010. The mayor's proposal would also cut eight hours a week from the branches' hours of operation. Such cuts would have far-reaching effects: Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey pointed out, for example, that library branches had over 8.3 million visitors--and that 60 percent of people using library computers were using them to search for jobs." (Chicago Tribune, 10-25-2011)

Ok. I get it. The economy stinks. All cities have had to make cuts to balance budgets that never can seem to be balanced. But what I take issue with is Mayor Emmanuel giving breaks where they arguably are not needed and would actually fund the city. But a social program that citizens count on, such as the local library, is getting screwed.

"For example, according to NBC Chicago blog "Ward Room," "When the General Assembly's fall veto session begins...Mayor Rahm Emanuel's legislative priority will be securing a tax cut for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME)." Emanuel is seeking $120 million in tax breaks for the CME and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. Emanuel is also pressing for an ordinance that would cut taxes for 2,700 Chicago-based companies at a cost to the city of $23 million. Companies with more than 50 workers are taxed $4 per worker per month, and Emanuel is aiming to abolish the tax completely by 2014". (socialistworker.org, 2011-11-10)

So here I am, trying to plan an event to help children globally with literacy and reading. And it seems that even though children in Africa need books and resources, there will soon be many children in my own city that I love, in the United States of America, that are going to need this event as much as any child across the globe.

I will let you know what event(s) gets solidified, but sadly, it won't be at a Chicago Public Library.


If you wish to write the mayor's office, here is the form:
http://webapps.cityofchicago.org/eforms/org/cityofchicago/eforms/controller/contactUsForm/preFeedbackForm.do



Sources:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/8156275-418/emanuel-to-cut-chicago-libraries-hours.html
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2012/0112/Rahm-Emanuel-and-public-sector-union-play-hardball-over-Chicago-library-hours
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-10-25/news/ct-met-library-cuts-focus-20111025_1_chicago-public-library-library-employees-library-services

RECIPE: Cuatro Leches with Pineapple Cake

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We had a recent dinner party with my 'n laws that thematically involved a lot of Latin cuisine and flavors. I opted for dessert (of course) , yet became concerned when all I could find were flan, fried ice cream and chocolate filled empanadas. I was looking for a cake of some sort, and I found this cuatro leches cake on kitchn.com. I changed up quite as few things, but the essence of the cake-a light yellow cake soaked in a 4-milk glaze overnight-stayed the same. I made a richer, creamier frosting for it, and added a pineapple jelly to the layers. All in all, its a creamy, tropical fiesta in your mouth!

Cuatro Leches with Pineapple Cake

Ingredients:

Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla


Milk Glaze:
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract


Frosting:
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla


For assembly:
1 cup pineapple jelly
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

Directions:








Preheat oven to 350˚.  Spray 3  9"x2" round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Cut parchment paper in 3 circles to fit at  the bottom of each cake pan. Place them there and spray again. Set them aside.

In a small bowl, mix the cake flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl. whip the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the evaporated milk, then add the yolks, whipping until thick and lemon colored. Add the vanilla and whip some more. Set the butter mixture aside. Clean your beater attachment very well, and use a fresh clean bowl. Put the egg whites in this bowl, and whip whites until soft peaks form. While still beating, add the last 1/4 cup sugar until whites are glossy and stiffer peaks form.

Now pour 1/3 of the egg whites into the butter mixture, gently folding them into the mixture. Next, pour 1/3 of the flour mixture and fold gently until combined. Keep alternating 2 more times until all the flour and egg whites are gently combined. Try very hard not to overwork the whites (fold versus mix/whip).

Pour the cake batter evenly into each prepared pan and bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes. The cake will spring back to the touch and a toothpick will come out clean, and there will be a very light, golden color to your top and edges. Let cool on wire racks, inverting them out their pans and peeling off the parchment after about 10 min.




While cake is baking it is time to make the milk glaze. This is what makes this cake special. In a medium size saucepan, mix all the milks and vanilla. Cook on medium hat until bubbling. Let it simmer and bubble for about 10 minutes. you want to cook the milk until it gets to be as thick as the consistency of evaporated milk. Set aside and let cool to room temp.



In 3 large pie pans and/or Pyrex pans, pour a thin layer of the milk glaze. With a toothpick, poke holes gently on both sides of the yellow cake layers. This will help the cake absorb the glaze. Place each cake in each pan, right on the milk glaze. Now pour and even amount over the top of each. Cover with plastic wrap and chill over night (or at least 8 hours).

Assembly:







For the frosting, heat the milk, cream and flour in a small sauce pan, whisking constantly. Cook the milk until it becomes a thick "custard". Set aside to cool to room temp. (if this is too warm it will cause the butter to melt and separate.) Whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the milk custard and the vanilla, whipping until light and fluffy. Chill lightly until ready to use. If the frosting gets too stiff in the fridge, let it sit out at room temp until you can work with it.

Also, in a small sauce pan (or microwave) heat up the pineapple jelly until it is spreadable as well. Set aside.




Now it is time to build. Using your serving platter, place one glaze-soaked cake on the bottom. (I used spatulas to help me lift them out of the moisture so they did not tear off the pan or break. Be gentle and don't rush.) Spread half the jelly evenly on top. Then spread a layer of vanilla frosting over the jelly, careful not to disturb the jelly layer. The jelly stiffens up as it sits on the chilled cake, so it won't give you too much trouble. Layer a second cake layer on top. Cover it with the last of the jelly and some more frosting. Add the 3rd cake layer. Now spread a thin crumb layer of frosting over the whole outer of the cake. Wipe your frosting spatula clean, then thoroughly frost the cake. Sprinkle the top with the coconut. Wipe the edge of your serving platter clean with a wet paper towel and VOILA! Time for a fiesta!

TUESDAY INFOGRAPHIC: Who is your TV Valentine?

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So in honor of impending chocolates, flowers and (hopefully) jewelry...this is a fun Valentine infographic. Take your path and see what TV hunk should be your valentine! It's kind of like the dating game, but with more cheesy celebrity.

It seems that I should be with Don Draper. Big surprise (sarcasm). Heck, I am in advertising. I like vodka as much as the next gal. He's hot. Works for me.

Who is your TV valentine?

(Thanks to TV squad who developed the graphic. Way fun! Nice job!)

WOMANHOOD: What is a wife really?

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My dear friend and writer, Kathleen, refers herself to her husband as a V.P. of Operations in her household. And I have come to use that term myself around my house. It makes my husband laugh, and we can all use a chuckle now and then.

But,  it is true. After all,  who...

finds mittens
finds the lost sock
finds addresses
finds that pickle jar that is staring right at you right behind the mayo (just move a jar over, a whole world awaits you on the refrigerator shelf!)
coordinates 5+ schedules
sews buttons and hems pants
coordinates buying gifts and wrapping them on behalf of the family
writes cards and thank yous (especially to n-laws so husbands HAVE a relationship with their family)
cleans
cares for pets
cooks & bakes for pot lucks and activity events
volunteers
contacts the schools and teachers to discuss anything of concern
helps with homework and coordinates purchasing or getting any materials needed for homework

If I go on. I will get tired. Hell, I am the V.P. of Operations in my household. I already AM tired!


*disclaimer: I love my husband. He is a doll and helps me A LOT. If it were not for him helping all the time, I would not even have time to have this blog. I will have to give him a title as well. Let me think on it.

RECIPE: Easy Roasted Parmesan Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon

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I often get bored with the "vegetable side". Oftentimes, weeknight meals at our house need to be quick. That usually allows for a steamed vegetable tossed with butter. YAWN.

Last Sunday, I was in charge of dinner. We had broccoli planned for the week's menu. Ugh. Broccoli tossed with butter again?! YAWN.

So I tried something new! We have tossed greens with lemon and garlic before...and cheese is always great with broccoli. And I wanted it very low maintenance. So I roasted the broccoli with lots of olive oil. I love when the oven does the work.

Give it a try tonight. This makes 4 small side portions. Double for a family of 5+ or a really hungry family of four.

Easy Roasted Parmesan Broccoli
With Lemon and Garlic

2 large heads of broccoli, cut into florets, rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400˚. Move rack to the upper middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil. Layer the broccoli on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with your hands until all is well coated. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic. Toss again. Layer evenly again. Roast in the oven for about 10-15 minutes. Things will be starting to get tender and begin to brown on edges. Take sheet out and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese evenly over broccoli. Roast for about 10 more minutes, or until cheese is melted and starting to brown on edges. Take out of the oven and squeeze the half lemon over broccoli, drizzling juice evenly.  Serve warm.

TUESDAY INFOGRAPHIC: New Year's Resolutions

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I loved this infographic. I loved some of the resolutions on it. I also am a sucker for the color peach/coral. I love beautiful typesetting.

A couple things jumped out at me.

I think I do sweat once a day, but its not from working out. LOL! Its usually "Oh crap, I left the milk out all day" or "What do you mean the client wanted to see three more ideas by tomorrow and I agreed to it?" kind of sweat. So does that mean I am covered there?

I can't move somewhere interesting. I am pretty much chained to my house until my child goes to college. But I do think Chicago is pretty darn interesting. It's the 2nd city, baby!

So, here are the ones I am going to focus on based on this infographic:
Adopt a normal sleep schedule.
Get out of debt.
Make more things fun.
Save money.
Get ride of useless things.

The whole lose-weight thing...Geesh. I am always trying to do that, I'm a girl! New year's isn't going to magically change that.

What about you?

PARENTING: When you stop yelling, you stop the yelling

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The transition into 4th grade for us has not been an easy one. Our daughter has been forced to grow leaps and bounds to keep up with her older classmates. It seems there is such a difference between 9 and 10 year olds. My daughter is one of the younger 4th graders. Her challenges have run the gamut from resolving social conflicts with the gaggle of girls that she has never been able to connect with to all the new pressures of the advanced academics that our school imparts. For 6 weeks before Christmas, we were at our wits end. It seemed that our daughter was having some real alienation issues with the girls, well...one in particular (isn't it always really just one?). It seemed that she became the brunt of "fat jokes" in the locker room, and was singled out to be ignored during basketball practice and recess (and these are just the highlights). She would be in tears every time I picked her up from practice.

As things escalated as I tried to alert the coaches and teachers as to what was going on, I received some disturbing feedback about our daughter's behavior as well. All the growing conflict began to make her feel victimized, blowing everything out of proportion and becoming defensive and disruptive. It turned out, she was yelling a lot; at the teachers, her classmates, even us. I understood, she was angry and hurt. But all this was causing her to be very difficult at school and at home as well. She was lacking focus. She was talking back to us as, which caused us to just yell louder over her to be heard. We had been seeing an escalation of tempers and conflict, and it was not pretty. So two things happened.

One, our homeroom teacher decided to help Carla deal with how she reacts to situations. She created a journal for her to carry to each classroom. Each teacher would write down her behavior, good or bad, to bring home and share with us. Then we all could discuss how better she could have reacted to situations. She wanted Carla to be more self aware, and realize she can control her reactions to things, even if she couldn't control the other children and how they behaved towards her. But as she regained control of herself, she may turn around some of her relationships at school. Of course, the first entry was abysmal. But what jumped out at me out of all her behavior that day was more of the yelling. And as I was reading it, she and my husband started to yell at each other about something in the other room...I don't even remember what. And it dawned on me, she is learning it here! She is learning how to deal with conflicts by just yelling more, like we seem to be doing.

So this leads me to the second thing we did. I walked into the dining room and said, "This family is starting a yelling jar. Each time someone loses their temper and yells, 25¢ goes into the jar." Carla seemed fine with it. My husband said to me, "I don't yell." Well, hello irony! He owed the jar 75¢ within the hour. Of course, his response was "Well, she MAKES me yell."

(men. *snort.)

Within the first day, we had quite a bit of change in the jar. Each day, however, there has been less and less. The jar made us all self aware of our own behavior. I think it was quite eye-opening, especially "Mr. I don't yell" husband. And we found that if we kept our cool, and dealt with our conflicts in different, better ways, our daughter would learn the same. And it seems she has.

Since school has started back up again, the journal has been a lot more positive. Even my husband said Tuesday night that we have turned a corner during homework time. She seems more in control, more focused and more positive. Even the basketball coach wrote me a note saying that our daughter was one of the more focused and determined players at practice this week. I almost fell out of my chair! When working through things at home, I calmly talk to her and if she gets upset and begins to speak disrespectfully, I try not to do the same back. I take a deep breath to help swallow my frustration and firmly and calmly talk to her. I tell her she owes money to the jar and ask to repeat what she wanted to say in a more productive way. Now even as I say this, I know it isn't easy. A spirited 9 year old can try anyone's patience. In fact, in the middle of writing this post, I lost it in the kitchen as she was wandering around the kitchen slowly making herself late to her game. I swear she has no sense of urgency! As she walked out the door, she sheepishly said to me, "We both owe 25¢". Well, at least she is paying attention. Before, she would not have thought twice about it.

And I guess that is the whole idea. Just trying to make our whole family self aware, and in doing so, make our 9 year old more self aware of herself and her actions. And this is hard. A 9 year old is still very young and it takes maturity to be more self aware. I explained to her time and again during all this that at the end of the day, the only things you can control in life, is you. You can't control what another person says or does, but you can control how you react to that person. You can make it better, or you can make it worse. And yelling, we have found, makes it way worse.

Recipe: No Knead in No Time Multi Grain Artisan Bread

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We finally had our first snow to herald in the first Monday in 2012. And it wasn't just a fluffy snow, but a crisp, icy snow that likes to blow around. I have to admit, Chicago has had almost springlike temperatures. I was beginning to wonder if cranky-pants, old man Winter was going to forget about us. Well, wishful thinking. Being a seasoned chi-town girl, I should know better. So the blustery day made me want some crusty bread baking in the oven. The problem with craving bread is time. Usually when I want it, it's too late to do anything about it. But I remembered a no-knead recipe from Williams-Sonoma from many years ago. But just because it was no-knead did not mean it was less time. The recipe I recalled took 2 days. I began poking around the web, and I combined kitch'n.com's no time no knead bread with the traditional no knead bread recipe. Then I made up my concoction of whole grains to start the year off right and healthy. All in all, I think it turned out pretty good!

You can make this in an afternoon easily. Kitch'n even has a trick with the microwave to cut the time to a total of an hour (Imagine throwing down fresh bread right after work? You will make your significant other swoon with delight!). It does change the bread flavor and consistency. The crumb is more delicate as well as the artisan flavor. That is why I took the best of both worlds and allowed the bread to rise twice for a total of three hours...though you could probably just do two if you are pressed. The best way to make no-knead bread is in a Dutch oven. If you don't have one, visit Kitch'n.com for some Dutch oven substitutions. Also, flax seeds and the yeast amounts make the bread tangy and earthy. You can add a little honey to sweeten the bread a little and take down the tang.

Mmm. I can smell it right now. When will Google provide smell a vision?

No Knead in No Time Multi Grain Artisan Bread

Ingredients:

3 1/4 cups lukewarm water
4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 Tbsp. flax seeds
1/2 cup wheat germ (or cracked wheat, pumpkin seeds, steel cut oats or other grains and seeds)
1 Tbsp. honey (optional)

Plenty of nonstick cooking spray
A handful of cornmeal for dusting the pot


Directions:

In a mixing bowl sprinkle yeast and sugar over the water. Let sit for about 3 minutes, or until yeast is bubbling.

In a small food processor, pulse oats until roughly chopped.


With a paddle attachment on the mixer, mix in 2 cups whole wheat flour, regular flour, salt, oil, vinegar, flax seeds, pulsed oats and wheat germ into the yeast mixture. Move to a kneading hook (but I stayed with the paddle and it worked fine, fyi) and work the dough for about 7 more minutes while working in the last cup of whole wheat flour. The dough will pull away from the sides when ready in a workable ball (see above).


Grease a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray and plop the dough inside. Wet a lint-free towel until it is damp. Lay it over the bowl and place in a dark place. (I use the oven). Let it sit for 2 hours. The dough will have doubled in size. Take it out. Pull the dough from the sides and fold it over itself a few times. Cover with the towel again and let sit again for 1 more hour. It will rise again.

Heat oven to 425˚, placing the Dutch oven bottom in there while preheating. The Dutch oven will create a crisp crust if it is hot.

When the oven is at 425˚, pull out the Dutch oven and sprinkle the insides with a handful of corn meal. Pull your dough away from the sides of the bowl again, fold it over a few times on itself, then plop into prepared Dutch oven. You can hear it sizzle as you plop it in, which means you have your pot hot enough. With a sharp knife, cut 3 slits along the top of the dough and cover with the top, making sure it, too, is sprayed down with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another ten minutes, or until crust is crisp and golden. Flip bread onto a cooling rack before cutting. Serve warm.

Even faster?
Kitch'n says you can make the basic dough, then put it in a greased bowl and microwave on high for 25 seconds. Let it sit for 5, then microwave for another 25 seconds. Then let it rest for 15 minutes. Plop dough into prepared Dutch oven and bake! I am not sure how this would work. But I may give it a try one night I am pressed for time. I'll let you know.
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