Tab Set: What I'm Reading

When I'm online I make heavy use of the CTRL-Click feature. If you hold the CTRL key when you click on a link, that link opens in its own tab rather than taking you away from the page you're on. This inevitably means that in any given day I spawn a lot of open tabs of articles I mean to get around to reading.

Given my varied interests and the kinds of things my friends and other contacts share in social media, that leaves me with quite the eclectic mix. I share today's tabs in hopes that you'll find something to amuse, stimulate, or inspire in some way.

  • How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent: I've been meaning to do this for years. In fact, I bought the ingredients in Spokane before we moved--18 months ago. So it's high time and the fact that we're almost out of laundry detergent prompted me to go look this up. Did you know that gallon for gallon, liquid detergent costs more than gasoline? I'm on it.
  • Everyday Rider: Riding Out Your Period: On the Bicycling Magazine blog by my friend Elly Blue.
  • You're Not as Visible On a Bike at Night as You Think, New Study Shows: From BikePortland, a piece I looked up to share with Elly (although she lives there so I imagine she's seen it) for a discussion on Facebook about things she could write about in her column for Bicycling.
  • The Anthropology of Walking: Has me thinking about how my bike-riding patterns might fit into the findings of a study of foragers and reflecting on my reading of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
  • This Is Love: A very sweet cartoon strip on overcoming hurts to your heart and loving again, which someone shared on Facebook and I reshared. This illustrates what my Sweet Hubs did for me.
  • Which Musical Should You Star In? I don't take every quiz that crosses my path, but with Second Daughter now a sophomore majoring in musical theater I had to take this one. ("Rent," for the record. Also, if I were a Star Wars character I'd be Yoda, and I scored 87 out of 100 on "Are You a Millennial?")
  • Tsunami House by Designs Northwest Architects Stands Strong in the Face of Tidal Waves: I'd move into this gorgeous Camano Island house in a heartbeat--never mind the tsunamis. Sweet Hubs and I have agreed that we like a bit of the industrial (despite the fact that I've picked older/historic houses for the last two purchased) and want a certain Zen minimalism when we finally settle somewhere other than a rental. Since moving to Seattle we've lived in downtown and in Northeast Seattle and I'd like to check out more neighborhoods before deciding.
  • The Nonprofit Weekly Roundup: Secrets, Emals, and Tips for Better Donor Retention in 2014: I work at a nonprofit. 'Nuff said.
  • The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector: Since we changed our name November 2013 to Washington Bikes (formerly Bicycle Alliance of Washington) I think about this a lot. This piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review popped up in social media somewhere.
  • Demystifying Scaling, Part I: Another piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review I'm reading because as a statewide organization with a small staff, Washington Bikes has to be smart in how we scale our work for maximum impact and effectiveness. We'll be adding a new staff position in Spokane soon (geographical scaling) and are exploring some technology innovations that could help us reach more people.
That should represent sufficient randomness. And now, off to ride my bike. The sun is shining and the birds at the feeders look pretty happy.

Morrocan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash

Morrocan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash
Packed and ready to take for lunch.

This recipe is a modification of a much fancier dish with a beautiful presentation found on the BBC site, Moroccan Spiced Pie, which they credit to Good Food magazine, Vegetarian Christmas 2006. I modified it for several reasons:
  1. The first time I made it following the recipe it looked nothing like the picture. I appreciate the BBC's description of wrapping it up in "voluptuous folds" of filo dough, but baby, there was nothing voluptuous about those folds when I did this--more like skimpy and unconvincing. Maybe filo sheets are bigger in the UK. This was a lot of work for not enough return, as the filo layers mostly just fell off once you started cutting into the dish.
  2. Filo dough is a pain in the patootie to work with. I love the flaky layers but I can stand to wait for my next piece of baklava to experience them. That's also a very time-consuming step and if that's stopping you from experiencing the flavors in this dish, it shouldn't.
  3. By leaving off the whole filo step I also eliminate a lot of butter, making this a healthier recipe.
  4. Leaving off the filo leaves me free to serve this over a bed of any type of cooked grain I choose. It becomes a gluten-free recipe without the filo and you can keep it that way. So far I've served it over brown rice, quinoa, and farro, and all of these were delicious.
  5. I made it a lot faster and eliminated some of the clean-up by dropping the hummus-making step and just throwing in all the ingredients of the hummus. The hummus didn't really work well for me anyway in the elaborate layering plan--you're spreading something smooth over something lumpy and then it's all wrapped up and doesn't show, so what's the point?
  6. Once I dropped the filo step I also eliminated an additional baking step, making for a faster prep. Note that I had to cook the squash longer and at a higher temperature than the original version in order to cook it enough.
Herewith, my corner-cutting version, which makes approximately 12 cups:

Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash
  • 2 t. each coriander and cumin seeds (Out of the actual seeds? Toast the ground spices briefly in a dry pan.)
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 4 T olive oil 
  • 900g squash, peeled, seeded,* and cut into small chunks (about 2cm) (this is a butternut squash on the smallish side)
Dry fry the seeds briefly in a small pan over a medium heat until toasty--don't let them burn. Grind coarsely using a pestle and mortar (or a bowl and the end of a rolling pin), then mix in the paprika, cinnamon, salt and oil. Tip the squash into a roasting tin, pour over the spiced oil and toss. Roast for 30 minutes in a 400-degree oven (or longer in a 350-degree oven), until the squash is soft when you poke it with a fork.
  • 2 T olive oil (I've toyed with the idea of using coconut oil here for flavor, although it would increase the saturated fat. If you do, tell me how it turns out.)
  • 12 shallots, quartered (~12 oz.—roughly equivalent to one onion, which I use since I usually don't have shallots on hand. Red onion would be especially nice.)
  • 4cm/1½ in piece root ginger, finely chopped (~15-16g, or around 1-1/2 T)
  • 140g whole blanched almonds (1 cup)
  • 140g shelled pistachios (1 cup)
  • 75g dried cranberries (2/3 cup)
  • 2 T clear honey or maple syrup (which would make it vegan)
  • 225g fresh spinach, preferably baby spinach (one of those plastic boxes of spinach has 170 grams so get lots; you could always serve this over fresh spinach instead of a grain)
  • Can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (425g)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1 t. ground cumin (If you like things pretty spicy and you're not adding the Yogurt Harissa Sauce, increase cumin by 1/2 to 1 t.)
While the squash is baking, heat 2 T olive oil in a frying pan, add the shallots or onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. Add the crushed garlic and cumin and stir a couple of minutes, then stir in the ginger, almonds and pistachios.When brown, toss in the cranberries, honey, and the spinach so it wilts. Take off the heat and stir into the squash when it comes out of the oven. 

Stir in at the last minute before serving so flavors are fresh:
  • 3 T lemon juice, or zest and juice of one fresh lemon
  • 4 T chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 T chopped fresh mint
Cooked this way, 1 cup of this has 328 calories with 19 grams of fat (nutritiondata.com analysis)--far less than the 978 calories with 66 grams of fat the BBC version has. Even if one of their servings is 2 cups, this is a healthier version by far.

The step I haven't followed that I will one of these days--Harissa Yogurt Sauce to top it:
  • 200g carton Greek yogurt (1 cup)
  • 6 T milk
  • 3 large sprigs mint, leaves chopped
  • 2-3 T harissa paste
Mix the yogurt and milk together to make a thin sauce, stir in the herbs and season. Swirl in harissa to taste. Drizzle over the top. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.

Flavor note: This is a savory-sweet and fairly mild dish when made without the Yogurt Harissa Sauce. You can oomph up the flavors with the addition of more cumin, as noted, and you might want to add 1/2 to 1 t. ground black pepper. Increasing the lemon would also zing it up. I've considered drizzling a fruity balsamic vinegar over the top; I have a bottle of fig balsamic that calls out to be used this way.

*Save the squash seeds. I drop them into a small bowl with water to cover because someone once told me to--I have no idea if this affects the way they bake up. After you take the squash out of the roasting pan and mix it with the chickpea/spinach step, separate the seeds from the stringy squash guts and spread them in the pan, tossing with what remains of the seasoned oil. Roast around 9-11 minutes or so. When you hear them start to pop like popcorn, take them out. Crunchy goodness that you might even want to sprinkle on top of this recipe.
Layered with quinoa and farro.

One Word for 2014: Purpose

This is my third run for today at thinking about just one word for the year that lies ahead:

"Purpose" created by Barb Chamberlain from bike part images sourced from Google.
Why one word? As biking friend Claire said when she shared this approach on Facebook (inspiring all three of today's blog posts), "Unlike typical resolutions, like 'lose 10 pounds,' these resolutions are not a task to be accomplished. Instead, they are mottoes, mantras, watchwords for the year. You cannot fail at your one-word resolution. You can only have picked the one that didn't fit as well as another one would have." 

I haven't made New Year's resolutions in several years, although in 2012 I tried the three-word approach for my bicycling. Since as a writer I tend to be pretty wordy, getting down to just one is good discipline. (In my post on one word for bicycling I ended up with three possibilities, so you can see this is a serious challenge.)

Why this word? A couple of reasons, really.

1) It fits with my general commitment to living a mindful life. Mindfulness for me means both "paying attention" and "being conscious." 

You can be very mindful in a moment that has no particular purpose, and that's fine. But it would be tough to be purposeful without a certain amount of mindfulness so you notice when you've strayed from your purpose.

2) I have a lot going on and using a "purpose" filter seems like a good way to whack some of the underbrush in a simple way. (Warning: Entering into the confessional portion of this post.)

I'm not going all-out into the GTD (Getting Things Done) world, and I could never finish The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People because it required too much homework that took more time than just being effective.

A couple of years ago, though, I read an article that stuck with me on the difference between having a strategic plan complete with SMART goals, details, timelines, checkboxes, and all the rest, and a strategic direction. Or, put another way--an overall purpose.

I'm paraphrasing and my memory isn't what it used to be, but the way I internalized it was that with a strategic direction you stay nimble and take advantage of new or unanticipated opportunities that keep you moving forward toward being what you intend to be. You drop things that aren't paying off or that appear to have less potential than you had thought they would. (Note to consultants: You need not touch base to see if I will pay you to sort this out and get it right at great expense and in exhausting, exhaustive detail.)

With a strategic direction you still have measurable goals and all the rest that you've determined lies within your context--the what based on the why. The how might adjust a bit as one how becomes more achievable, relevant, or important than another. But it's always a how that moves you in your--you guessed it--strategic direction.

If I had to say what my life's overall strategic direction is, I guess it's heading in the general "save the world" direction. I feel most fulfilled--most purposeful--when I'm doing things I think make the world a better place. Some of the things on my personal list for doing this:
  • raising my children to be responsible and contributing citizens
  • spending time with my Sweet Hubs to reinforce, deepen, enjoy, and appreciate a wonderful loving partnership
  • cooking a hearty soup and cornbread like I did today because I love to feed my family with good homemade food
  • getting more people to ride bicycles because it's good for them, it's good for the planet, it's good for local businesses, and it makes them happy.
Some of the things not on my personal list for making the world a better place that nonetheless have crept into the crevices of my time allocation, in the process elbowing aside other things I would rather give my time to if I really stopped to think about it:
  • Playing Super Bubble Shooter on my cell phone while I wait for the bus (and, okay, while I ride the bus). (Be honest, you have some equivalent mindless pastime. Freecell? Spider Solitaire? God forbid, Farmville? I excuse this with the justification that I spend a lot of time doing brain work so it's okay to do something mindless once in a while, but I just wander off into the app without really making a conscious choice to do so as a relief from said intellectual effort.)
  • Staying up really late watching movies so my sleep cycle is off and I'm not at my best the next morning
  • Getting sucked into Facebook, then Twitter, on a Saturday afternoon and finding myself bopping back and forth between those tabs and reading the links suggested in each without any particular reason until I realize I'm off into the Interwebz somewhere, it's starting to get dark outside, and I haven't gone for a walk or a bike ride. If I had said to myself, "Self, do you want to allocate a full two hours to social media with no particular purpose?" the answer would pretty much always be no, no matter how much of a Twitter queen I am.
  • Letting a whole weekend go by without tackling one of the chores I know will give me a great sense of accomplishment once it's done, like reconciling my Quicken records or sorting out one of the many memory boxes I want to go through to get rid of old memorabilia that I no longer think is worth the storage space. Granted, in any given weekend I probably did some cooking, read some great books on my Kindle, and spent time with Sweet Hubs so it's not as if the weekend is a total dead zone, but they do flash by. See point above about meaningless online social time.
So, purpose. If that were the filter on how I spend my time, I'm pretty sure I'd prune some of the things that act as time sucks. I don't need a list of things to do--that list populates every day. I just need to be more purposeful about how I spend the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else gets.

Now, off to uninstall one or two apps....


Really Good Sour Cream Coffeecake with Serious Amounts of Crumb Topping

That's one descriptive title, isn't it?

I've loved coffeecake all my life, but only certain types. No berries, thanks. Yes to apple or rhubarb. Sour cream makes it so nice and moist. But always, always, it's really about the crumb topping.

A while back I found a great rhubarb coffee cake recipe that fully addressed the crumb topping issue. But I can't leave well enough alone so I tinkered with it a bit. When I went to make it today rhubarb wasn't in season and I couldn't find any frozen rhubarb. Hence, this amalgamation/refinement.

Inspiration #1: Big Crumb Coffee Cake on the Smitten Kitchen blog. Full endorsement of this recipe as-is if you don't have ingredients for my variation on her crumb topping. (She just uses flour--I added additional nutrition and flavor with ground flaxseed, walnuts, and oatmeal.)

Inspiration #2: Favorite Sour Cream Coffeecake from King Arthur Flour

Also--I don't understand why anyone ever makes a 9x9 coffeecake. Why go to all that trouble for just a couple of days of coffeecake? (At my house, at least, where my bike-racing husband runs a nuclear power plant he calls a metabolism, a 9x9 coffeecake doesn't last long.) So I always double coffeecake recipes. I've learned that this more than doubles baking time so keep an eye on this and test with a toothpick. The recipes linked above are for a 9x9 pan.

Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup canola oil or another bland vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
4 large eggs
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cream or yogurt**

* Whole wheat pastry flour is my preferred baking flour. It behaves like all-purpose white flour but gives you more nutritional bounce for the ounce.

** Feel free to use reduced-fat sour cream/yogurt, and vanilla yogurt would add a nice touch. If you like fruit in your coffeecake I suppose you could use fruit yogurt but I won't vouch for it.

Crumb Topping 

2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted (you need this much to make it clump deliciously)
1 c. ground flaxseed
1 c. walnuts, finely chopped or whizzed in blender
1 c. oatmeal (quick or regular--doesn't matter--can substitute oat bran too)
1/2 c. whole wheat flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

Cream together the butter and oil, sugar, and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the sour cream or yogurt, stirring after each addition.

(Honestly, if you're like me you just sprinkle the flour and leavening agents in rather than going to the whole separate-bowl trouble. Just don't dump the baking powder or soda all in a clump; you can end up with bitter white spots in your final product if it doesn't get mixed in. Sprinkle it over the surface of the batter.)

To make crumb topping, mix sugars, spices, and salt into melted butter, then stir in flaxseed, walnuts, oatmeal, and flour. Leave it pressed together into the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Grease and flour a 9x13 baking pan. Spread half the batter in the pan, and lay half the topping mixture over it with your fingers in chunks of 1/2"-3/4" (don't stress over the size--just go for chunks). Repeat with remaining batter and topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes, covering it halfway through with foil to prevent the topping from over-browning. Test with a toothpick. If it doesn't come out clean, bake another 10 minutes and test again. It may need another 10 minutes; oven temperatures do vary.