Thursday, August 6, 2009

Two Happiness Tools

I love handouts and tools for self-improvement. I think my clients love them too. I have found two tools, not invented by myself that make an ecology of happiness easier. One is designed by Gretchen Rubin, called The Happiness Project Toolbox. She makes it easy to follow eight happiness interventions including a Daily One-Sentence Journal,Resolutions, Group Resolutions, Lists, Happiness Hacks, Secrets of Adulthood, Inspiration Board, and Personal Commandments. My first one to use was the Daily One-Sentence Journal. You can share your happiness endeavors with others that use her ToolBox or keep them to yourself.

Another useful happiness application for fellow iPhone fanatics, is the Live Happy App. There is a free version, or one that costs $4.99. The only difference that I can see between the two, is that the free one expires and then you have to buy it to continue to use the App. This App is interactive with the camera on your iPhone and also has a FaceBook link. there are videos and quotations about the art of happiness. I enjoy the Gratitude List, Replaying Happy Days, and Keeping a Savoring Album, though there are several other useful interventions which encourage one to maintain adherance to a happy lifestyle. This application is based on Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky's happiness research and book.

Pecan Pie Cake

This recipe is a family favorite, especially at Thanksgiving at our home. My son requested that it be served at the groom's table at his upcomming wedding.

3 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted and divided
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 dark corn syrup
1 recipe pecan pie filling

Sprinkle 2 cups toasted pecans evenly into 3 buttered 9-in round cake pans; shake to coat bottoms and sides of pans.

Beat 1/2 cup butter and shortening until fluffy; gradually add sugar, beating well with mixer. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating until blended. Stir in Vanilla.
Add flour and baking soda to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk beginning and ending with flour. Beat at low speed on mixer until blended. Stir in 1 cup finely chopped pecans.

Beat egg whites at medium speed until stiff peaks form; fold one-third of egg whites into batter. Fold in remaining egg whites. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 350o for 25 minutes or until done. Cool pans on wire rack 10 minutes. Invert layers onto wax paper and brush tops and sides with corn syrup and cool.

Pecan Pie Filling: 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar; 3/4 cup dark corn syrup; 1/3 cup cornstarch; 4 egg yolks; 1-1/2 cups half-and-half cream; 1/8 teaspoon salt; 3 tablespoons butter or margarine; 1 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk together first 6 ingredients in a 3-qt saucepan until smooth. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly; boil one minute or until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Place sheet of wax paper on top of mixture to prevent film. Chill for 4 hours.

Assemble cake: Spread half of filling on 1 layer, pecan side up. Place second layer pecan side up, on filling; spread with remaining filling. Top with remaining 3rd layer, pecan side up.
Serves 10.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cookies, cookies, cookies!!!

On Saturday I helped host a bridal shower for my future sister-in-law, Sarah. One of my duties was to bring the cookies. Well usually I would probably just go and buy some cookies, but since I am currently at liberty I decided to bake and decorate them myself. I figured this was a creative endeavor since it involved decorating. Since my last post also involved a product out of the kitchen, I think I am going to have to make more of an effort to share something that isn't edible with you idea farmers next time.

I made wedding cake and wedding dress cookies:
I also made hearts and musick note cookies (the musick notes I made since Sarah will be joining our family and our last name is Musick)...

And I also made mini chocolate chip and lemon wedding cookies...

If you would like the recipes for these cookies I don't have them. I just looked up cookie recipes online and then forgot to save the ones I used.
I would also like to give an official, "THANK YOU" to McKay's bakery for the wonderful lessons I received in cookie decorating during my 5 years of on-and-off employment there. Actually I should probably be thanking those that taught me to decorate cookies; Dianne, Fran, Amanda, hmmm who else...well I can't remember everyone's name but you know who you are and probably don't read this blog anyway so, whatevs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

like bees to flowers

I'm in my third quarter for an MA in "Environment and Community" at Anioch U. in Seattle. One of my courses this quarter, "Ecological Sustainability" is striving to push us to find the connection between the way we relate to nature and the way we relate to each other. Three times in the quarter they pose the same questions to us, helping us observe our growing ideas. Below is my second installment. Not an new idea for certain, but a relatively new one to me, an "environmentalist" for my entire adult life.
(Note: the Duwamish people's are native people's of the Pacific Northwest.)

1)What do you currently believe are the important cultural patterns and social structures that need to change in order for us to become more sustainable in our relationships to the earth and with each other?

An idea that has fascinated me just prior to commencing Ecological Sustainability is the idea that we humans can be as beneficial to the environment as, to quote Dr. Rudy Ryser, “a bee to a flower.” Having come from a tradition that distinctly separated humans from Nature, and having seen the devastating effects of such a view, I have felt filled with shame and guilt, bowing to nature, claiming “We are not worthy! We are not worthy!” I quickly adopted the common environmentalists' doctrine to leave Nature alone. Dear god, fence her off from us so that she has a chance at survival. This whole idea does not bode well for our relationship with Nature. It continues to pit us against her. We are in a partnership with Nature, either for her destruction or for her health. If we are ever to live in a healthy partnership we must accept the notion that we can give as much to her as she to us.
Our symbiotic relationship with Nature surfaced for me during the break between Winter and Spring quarters. I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” While once a vegetarian, I had never full accepted the idea that killing an animal was wrong. When I became more interested in the idea of local eating I realized how destructive processed soy products can be despite how vegan diets were touted as having the “lightest footprint.” Barabara Kingsolver maintained a similar view. Her writings on the relationship between humans and animals forecasted the lessons in Ecological Sustainability.
In shock, with guilt and shame at the state of the meat industry, many vegans and vegetarians have swung to the same end that many environmentalists have, severing our relationships with animals to protect them from us. As Kingsolver points out in her book, the relationship was not always, and need not be the tragedy it is on the majority today. Horses, goats, cows, fowl and more have developed intricate symbiotic relationships with humans. As we depend on them for their products they equally depend on us to survive and flourish. Animal husbandry an art practiced over centuries encouraged diversity among breeds. Without us the breeds of animals that have adapted with us over thousands of years would not survive. In fact, with the advent of the one breed meat industry, many breeds have been lost.
In the history of the the Duwamish peoples I saw demonstrated the possibility of human bees to Nature's flowers. Their work burning and gardening the plains actually encouraged biodiversity. It strengthened ecosystems. Where nature would have overwhelmed the land with a monocrop of douglas fir forests, humans broke the monotony bringing with them not less life but more.
Awareness of this partnership is essential to healing the gaping wound between us and Nature. Understanding this context, I see myself within Nature's web, not outside of it. The separation that has been the dominant theme of our relationship fades into the a complexity, where I am both Nature's child, her sustainer and her creator. As are all the creatures and elements that fill in the web, so are we.

2)Further, what connections do you see, if any, between changes in our relationships with each other and with nature? Label this file “Sustainability 2”

One Darwinian concept that pervades our culture and therefore our relationship with each other and nature, is the idea of the “survival of the fittest.” “Dog eat dog,” and “eat or be eaten,” also demonstrate the worldview that we are all pitted against one another for our own survival. It seems we have been racing to prove to Nature that we can survive better than she, only to realize how desperately we need her. We just as equally strive to rise above other human beings, driving to the top at any expense of those around us, only to realize how much we depend on the prosperity of all citizens of the world. Globalization, with all of it's horrifying destructiveness, has also inadvertently shown us how interdependent we really are. One example lies in the countries and communities of the southern tropical rainforests. In order to compete and survive the rainforests are hastily destroyed for their resources. In this destruction more CO2 is released than all of the world's transport combined. This is coupled with a devastating loss of biodiversity, of CO2 absorption and disturbance of rainfall.
Darwin's notion, taken out of context, continues the concept of disconnection and mutual independence. Looking further into evolutionary theory, we find that is actually the survival of the most adaptive and creative. Just as much as our view of our relationship with Nature must change to partnership, so must we also view our relationships with the citizens of the whole world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tonight for Dinner: Burgandy Salad with Poached Egg!

Tonight for dinner I made a (rather) impromptu dish that I thought I would share. It was easy, new (to me in method and in taste), and really healthy and fun.

I wanted to learn to poach eggs so I thought I would incorporate this into a salad with some of the ingredients we had lying around the house. I googled "poached egg salads" and one of the results rendered was the Burgandy Salad with Poached Egg. I also made a sweet potato mash as a side dish. As seen here:

First I boiled water with a little white vinegar and then brought it down to a simmer. Then I cracked an egg in a ramekin (a small bowl would work). I gently poured the egg into the simmering water where I left it for just about two minutes. Then a fished out the egg gently with one of those wire strainers that are on a handle. I then gently put my poached egg in ice water (since I was making 6 of them and since dinner wouldn't be served for another hour).

Here are the rest of the ingredients for this yummy (and did I mention healthy?) salad:

Mustard Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

7 ounces smoked bacon

Diced 10 to 12 ounces mushrooms, washed, dried, and sliced

10 ounces of mixed greens

1 small finely chopped red onion

4 medium-size tomatoes, sliced

Okay, well I realize now I didn't use onion. I'll have to try that next time. Also I just used Romaine lettuce since that's what we had. We also had some leftover cooked bacon so I just put it on a cookie sheet so it crisped up a bit more and crumbled it after that.

The dressing was SUPER easy and really makes the salad. It wouldn't have been the same with bottled vinaigrette:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

A little hot water

Coarse salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves

Just put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.

I also did a sweet potato mash. A lot of people think you have to add brown sugar or a ton of butter to sweet potatoes, NOT TRUE! I just baked four sweet potatoes on a rack in the oven at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. I pulled them out of the oven, let them sit for a couple of minutes and then slit them open. They just fell out of their skins when I opened them up into a bowl. After mashing them all together in a casserole dish I added a little over 1 tablespoon of butter and about 1/4 cup of skim milk. Since I was waiting for the rest of the family to show up I just threw the casserole dish back in the oven (now turned off) to keep warm.

I had plated everything else except for the mushrooms and the poached egg. This is because I wasn't sure when everyone would arrive and also because cold mushrooms and cold eggs are GROSS.

Once my party was together I just pulled the mushrooms off the very light heat I had had them over and then gently put the poached eggs back in simmering water.

I let the eggs warm up in the simmering water for about a minute and a half. I picked them up with my strainer on a handle thingy (what DO you call those?) and placed them on top of a paper towel. I then plated the poached eggs and drizzled on a little dressing.

I pulled the sweet potatoes out of the oven, plated those as well and voila! It was a beautiful dinner that didn't really take much effort and was fun to make since it involved a new method and a new recipe.

Has anyone else tried any new cooking styles recently? I would LOVE to hear about it :)

Á la votre!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Playing with the Tablet

I am posting this on behalf of Travis one of our loyal idea farm readers who has never posted before...

To try and employ his interest in art and all things geeky and tech-y he has used a tablet. Here is his first try for a finished piece here:

Here is his second attempt (my personal favorite of the two it shows more of an abstract look):

The tablet he used can be seen here:

As you can see it is quite affordable and is a fun and unique way to try your hand at some artsy skills without spending a whole lot (and without getting messy art supplies all over your house).

Thank you Travis for submitting this post! To our other Idea Farm readers who haven't posted yet you can always send me something you would like me to post on your behalf if you don't feel "blog-savvy". We would love for everyone to share something :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Faces of Deer

(I first posted this on my personal blog, but I decided to share it with all you Idea Farmers as well.) 

Deer are and have always been very special to me.  They appear at times I need them most, when I need to be a witness to Grace and Beauty, to be reminded of Mystery and Freedom, to be led across the bridge from Fear to Love, or to learn the simple pleasure of communicating Peace to another Being. I have stood in woods for eternal moments in the silence of trees staring deer in their bewildered eyes, basking in their essence, asking for their Wisdom. Each time I walk away feeling Beloved. The day after my Grandmother passed, when I was overcome with grief, I stood in wonder in the backyard of the house where I work as several deer convened in the grass. This was a rare occasion to begin with, but what was even rarer was the way they stayed when we came near. So, there we stood, me and my three year-old sidekick and his mother, probably ten feet from the nearest deer and up to our ears in amazement.  These were young deer, perhaps too young to know the danger of coming so close, though I like to think they were just feeling adventurous that morning. I was reminded of the last conversation I had with my Grandmother. It was my wedding day, and just hours before the fall that finally broke her. And as we talked about the wedding and my upcoming move to Australia she said to me: "I've had my adventures. Now it's your time." How can I tell you then what it was like for me to see these young deer, so free and fearless, stopping and staring at us with such fierceness of spirit?  My soul was at its knees. And what those deer communicated to my soul in that moment of connection, I lack the perception to say. All I know, is in that moment, healing began. All I know, is whether you are a three year-old just learning to say hello to life, an eighty year-old learning to say goodbye, or somewhere in between, whether or not you have ever looked into the eyes of another Being and asked for them to teach you something, you are Beloved. 
When for too long I don't go deep enough
into the woods to see them, they begin to
enter my dreams. Yes, there they are, in the
pinewoods of my inner life. I want to live a life
full of modesty and praise. Each hoof of each
animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches
then lifts away from the ground. Unless you
believe that heaven is very near, how will you
find it? Their eyes are pools in which one
would be content, on any summer afternoon,
to swim away through the door of the world.
Then, love and its blessing. Then: heaven.
-Mary Oliver

(The picture was taken at Shenandoah National Park last summer on Yuki's first camping trip. You can click to enlarge.)