Saturday, February 26, 2011

Homemade Granola

I trudge down the stairs, kicking my backpack out of my path when I turn the corner. Another long day come and gone, and I am exhausted.
My bare feet hit the hardwood and I am surrounded by the smell of cinnamon, sugar and honey. I take a deep breath and inhale as I smile at one of life's simple pleasures: freshly baked anything.
While upstairs in my room, I am a slave to George Mason University, spending countless hours flipping pages and squinting at my laptop into the wee hours of the morning.
Downstairs in my kitchen, I decompress. My usually-very-structured self lets her hair down and I breathe. If you knew me, you would know if I have twelve hours in a day I fill eleven of them to the brim. When I cook, though I do enjoy the company of a friend or my mother, I do it for me.
While we all know I adore a monstrous brownie or three tier cake, there are also moments where my body needs something earthy. Something that will fuel me instead of just fill me.
And for that, I present you this granola. What starts as a lonley two cups of old fashioned oats evolves into a crunchy, sweet and salty combination sure to become a star on top of your yogurt, sprinkled on your cereal or grabbed in full handfuls straight from the container. The good thing about this recipe, adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, is that you can change things here and there to fit your taste.
I happen to be on a major sea salt kick, so with every bite of sweet honey and spicy cinnamon, you have the contrast of big salty crystals. Divine!

Homemade Granola
2 cups regular rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 cup dried fruit (we used golden and regular raisins and cranberries)
2 tsp sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Grease a cookie sheet and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, flax seeds and sesame seeds. In another bowl, combine honey and oil. Stir into oats mixture, making sure entire mixture is saturated.
2. Spread entire mixture evenly in the prepared pan and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes or until light brown, stirring at 20 minutes. Remove from oven after cooked and stir in dried fruit.
3. Spread on a large piece of foil to cool and store in an airtight container for up to one week.

I am off to a Mary Kay makeup party, oh sheesh. Happy weekend!

Friday, February 25, 2011

GW 10K... My First Road Race

I am in class right now. I'm listening to my teacher repeatedly say "a cup is a cup is a cup" but not in Kenya. Oh no. In Kenya, a banana is not a banana is not a banana, and fruit is not a food. I am so far gone. Ahhhh am I really in class on a Friday night?!
I'm in nutrition assessment, and needless to say, Friday night classes are not for me. I cannot wait to go home and go to bed. By 9:00 pm. Don't hate the playa, hate the game.
I meant to post this a while ago, but last weekend, I ran my first 10K (so did my friend Lily, from the gym!) and my knees and hips still feel like I'm an arthritic 80-year-old. Despite my 23-year-old self stuck in a feeble old lady body, I actually placed for my age group, and I'm proud because I haven't run a race since I was 16.
The 10K was just a little appetizer for the National Half Marathon in DC in March and eventually the Chicago Marathon October. Yikes!
The plan is to run with this lil’ QTπ, my friend and former roommate and fellow grocery store enthusiast, Diz.
She is a running machine. In fact, I’m a little nervous about running with her because she’s already ran a marathon (and qualified for Boston cause she's a machine) and a handful of halfs and she’s one of those people who can run and run and run and be cool as a cuke.
So, I ran it in 45:17 and felt pretty good about it. I think I was 68th out of almost 600, and 13th for women. The 12 girls/women ahead of me were unreal. Jealllousss!
And Susie and Dick were excited to see me competing again, because it's been oh-so-long.
And I was excited to be done and eat a big breakfast in La Madeleine. Because the post-game/race/competition meal is always a wonderful experience!
But this weekend, I get to pick up my prize! HOO-rah! Well, I should probably get back to paying attention. Cheers to Friday! 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Penn State THON...FTK!!!

I wrote this February 2008. It still holds true today and it's the best thing I've ever written about. Please read this story and open your eyes to the most important weekend of the year for scores of families at the best place on earth....

She sits tall and vivacious on the shoulders of a student, and from the electric grin on her face to the sparkle of her big blue eyes, she looks as if she has just unwrapped her dream doll house on Christmas morning. But no, it is not Christmas, a birthday, or even the perfect present making this child so elated. She is at Penn State’s THON for the fifth time, and this weekend’s 46-hour dance marathon meant so much more to the State College family than it ever has before.
Isabella Messina, the 6-year old daughter of Pat and Renee, and sister to little brother Jack, is the reason why.
This weekend marked the 36th anniversary of THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world that strives to assist the Four Diamonds families who have children receiving treatment for pediatric cancer at the Penn State Medical Center in Hershey. THON weekend is the culmination of a year of work toward helping these families. All that work paid off when a record $6,615,318.04 was unveiled yesterday afternoon to more than 700 dancers, 200 families, and a Bryce Jordan Center littered with students.
The Messinas are just one of the 2000 families that have been helped by the fund since 1972, and their involvement started five years ago.
On March 27, 2003, when Isabella was only 20 months old, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She was treated in the Hershey Medical Center for eight months, and received an early remission, meaning all signs and symptoms of her leukemia disappeared, and there were no abnormal cells in her blood. Despite this, and her positive attitude, her mother never felt like she could be off of her guard.
“It never goes away. Not a day went by that I didn't look over her skin for bruising or question fatigue or aches and pains in depth,” Messina said. “Isabella grew very tired of it and used to try to reassure me that she was fine and could explain any bruises she had.”
All throughout this time, Isabella was continually seeing doctors to have her blood counts checked and things started to look up as she entered her fourth year of remission. A fifth year would classify her as cured. Last November, however, at a routine checkup, her pathologist was weary of some atypical cells in her blood counts, and urged the family to get the labs redone.
The family planned to have the labs redone within two weeks but “didn’t make it that far.”
Two days after the check up, Isabella complained of pain in her legs at night, a symptom of Leukemia. She was rushed to Hershey where she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.
“It was our worst fear,” Messina said.
Because of everything that has happened in the last four months, the THON experience this year has been a little different for the family.
Annual THON activities include a family picnic in Hershey in September, Harvest Day at Harner’s Farm in October, the THON 5K in November, the family carnival in December and the THON Hoops basketball game in January. Usually, the Messinas never miss any activities, but, “with the current circumstances, we only made it to Harvest Day this year,” Messina said.
The big event, as everyone knows however, is THON weekend.
“We were fearful that we might not be able to attend THON this year due to her bone marrow transplant, but we just found out it is scheduled in March.”
The bone marrow transplant will impact more than Isabella. Despite the odds of one and four, her little brother Jack is a perfect match for her. She will have to be hospitalized for a month after her transplant, and for the next three months she is required to stay within 15 minutes of the hospital.
Because the family lives in State College, and they want to maintain “as much normalcy as possible,” one of the parents will live in Hershey with Isabella, while the other will stay in the area with Jack.
“I am not sure how it is going to work out,” Messina said, “but we will make do as best we can.”
The Messinas receive a lot of help from the Four Diamonds Fund. They have been given medications that insurance was not able to cover, assistance with meal passes at the hospital while Isabella was inpatient and scores of gas vouchers for the 200-mile round trips to the Hershey Medical Center. Also a blessing for the family was a clinic that opened in State College, which helped cut down on the trips. During Isabella’s four years of remission almost all of her appointments were able to be held locally.
As every THON passes, the two children begin to grasp a little bit more about their situation.
“It is very different this time around,” Messina said. “We have Jack now to worry about too. More importantly though, is that Isabella is now 6, and everything required some explanation. The hospitalizations, medicines, hair loss, and why she could no longer attend school.”
It is a lot for a child to comprehend.
“She has been incredible,” Messina said. “She now understands much of what is going on and why. I try to explain what I can, and feel she needs to know in terms that she can understand.”
The organization that dances for Isabella is the Student Athlete Advisory Board, and every year, the dancers cannot get enough her.

“She is such a sweet kid,” said David Gray, an alumni and one of the SAAB dancers from last year. “She was so active herself, that it was hard for me to ever feel tired.”

The Messinas got ready for the big weekend with a pre-THON “Thanksgiving” dinner, which happened two weeks ago. It is a chance for them to get acquainted with the dancers, and for the dancers to get acquainted with the children.

Zoey Bouchelle, a senior and one of the five dancers from SAAB developed a quick bond with Isabella.

“She hung onto me all weekend,” Bouchelle said. “Looking down at her during the last few hours was the only thing keeping me on my feet… It was pretty amazing.”

The inspiration that the children and their families give the dancers is most definitely a two-way street, however.

“It is such a special weekend for us,” Messina said. “It is quite possibly one of the best times of the year.”

To all the THONers (especially Deece, Jackie, Kristie and Dtones), KEEP ON DANCING! Together Without Limits. I am so so proud to be a Penn Stater this weekend.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Desserts. Love It Or Hate It.

Valentine’s Day is an interesting day. To many of the male race, it is an imaginary holiday made up solely for the women in their lives. It is a waste of time, money and energy. It is a threat to their masculinity. It is an opportunity to make a major error. It is a risk of getting shut down.

To females, it is dreaded or anxiously anticipated. Whether you’re that girl who is showered with gifts and attention year after year or the one who shacks up with the Notebook and a tub of ice cream, this holiday goes hand in hand with emotionally charged feelings.

I’ve had my share of uneventful Valentine’s. Apart from elementary school when I specifically remember getting a white teddy bear, a heart holding gorilla and a ring from three different stud muffins (you know who you are, fellas), the best one I can remember is getting take-out Chinese food with my high school boyfriend only because the wait at Outback Steakhouse was too long.

The worst one I can remember was a lonely Wednesday at Penn State where my professor scheduled a mandatory night class video showing and because I was single and maybe depressed, the only thing that got me through the evening was that I knew after the movie I was going straight to Fraser Street Deli to drown my pathetic ill will with the most fantastic Panini known to man. I walked into Fraser Street at 8:31. They closed at 8:30 and wouldn’t let me come in. To any male restaurant owners out there, never turn away a lonely girl on Valentine’s Day. She needs that Panini more than you know.

Last year my Valentine’s Day was spent at Chevy’s with Amie where I’m pretty sure the waitress thought we were lesbians.

The year before I waited until 10:00 to have dinner with Alex who was returning from an away game for lacrosse. “Happy Saturday,” he says.

So to me, this day is just another Monday, but Mondays -- and Valentine’s Day, for that matter -- can always get a little bit better. And whether you’re sharing these with your special someone, your friends, or maybe just closing up shack in your bedroom alone, here are my ten favorite desserts (in no particular order) that I’ve made here at The Messie Kitchen.
Rolo Surprise Cookies. I mean, it's not April Fools but a little trickery is cool any time of year.
Creme Brulee Cheesecake Bars. You will not be able to stop at one. These were absolutely fabulous, and even though I made them at Christmas, they are totally appropriate for today.
Creme de Menthe Brownies. If you're one of those people who doesn't know the meaning of "too rich" or "too chocolatey," these are for you. Mind-blowing.
Dark Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies. Because a humble little cookie is the difference between a boring night and a sweet one. And c'mon, we all know peanut butter and chocolate are the ultimate couple.
Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches. Not only were these easy to make, but they are red! That's basically screaming Valentine's Day, obviously.
Red Velvet Cake Truffles, or in laymen's terms, Cake Balls. If you're lamenting the holiday, find solace in digging your hands into a giant bowl of cake and frosting with this recipe. A little more time consuming, but well worth the effort.
Devil's Food Peanut Butter Cookies. I've never had a chewier cookie. These are perfect. I had to give them away before I ate all of them. Unfortunately, I gave them to my friend who is allergic to peanut butter. Damn. Hey, if you have any ex-boyfriend allergic to peanut butter, go ahead and send them a tin of these bad boys! Valentine's Day revenge is neat!
Butterscotch Apple Cake. If a non-chocolate cake can make it onto The Messie Kitchen, you have to believe it is out of this world. If you want a significant other, go ahead and make this for that person. They will melt in your sugar glazed hands.
Tres Leches Cake. Throwing a fiesta? Make this. Just like every happy relationship, this cake gets better and better with each passing day.
Reverse Peanut Butter Cup Cake. You can simultaneously make this cake and eat peanut butter out of the jar. If that doesn't spell out lonely on Valentine's Day, I don't know what does.

All of my clever banter aside, I hope you have a marvelous Valentine's Day. If you're spending this one solo, buck up, because it's just some stupid holiday made up for the popular girls to get chocolate and roses. If you're spending it with someone you love, don't be too obnoxious, but do at least tell each other that you care.

That's all I've got tonight, folks. Hugs and Kisses.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vegetarian Pasta al Forno

I am at Penn State for the weekend. For Valentine's Day maybe? But most likely no, because Alex and I don't celebrate V-Day. We're too cool. Or he is. I would totally celebrate it.
I love Penn State. It's the best place on earth, don't get me wrong, but, I can tell I am no longer in college. Right now, Alex's upstairs neighbors are blasting music. Horrible awful music. But it doesn't bother me because it's 9:30 at night. You know when it does bother me?
When they played it last night from 1:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the morning, took a two hour break, and then played it from 5:00 to 7:00. In the morning. I about lost it. So, as much as I love Penn State and college and my friends and my boyfriends, this ain't the place for me.
And though I love Waffle Shop (not Waffle House), Panda Express at the Hub and the outstanding tomato, basil and mozzarella panini in the dining hall, sometimes good old suburban cooking is the way to go, so when you have a little more time, whip up this creamy vegetarian pasta dish, from Wegmans.
You'll see the recipe calls for basting oil. Well, basting oil can be expensive, so I whipped together my own version with equal parts olive oil and canola oil and a sprinkle of parsley, garlic powder and thyme. Feel free to play around with those flavors, and Happy Valentine's Day Eve!

Vegetarian Pasta al Forno
1 box (14.5 oz) Penne Rigate cooked per pkg directions
2 pkgs (8 oz each) Food You Feel Good About Sliced Baby Bella Mushrooms
1 head cauliflower, cut into flouretts
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp Basting Oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Italian Classics Parmesan Cream Sauce (available in most grocery stores)
2 cups Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Zest of 1 lemon (1-2 tsp)
1 pkg (.25 oz) Fresh Thyme, stripped, leaves rough chopped
3/4 cup Shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
2 tbsp Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Panko Bread Crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Toss mushrooms, cauliflower, and 1/4 cup basting oil in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread on baking sheet in single layer. Roast 25-30 min until mushrooms are lightly browned. Remove from oven; set aside. Reduce oven temp to 375 degrees.
2. Rinse cooked pasta with cool water; transfer to large mixing bowl. Add mushroom and cauliflower mixture, cream sauce, mushroom soup, peas, lemon zest, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, and olive oil. Stir together to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Add panko, remaining 2 Tbsp basting oil, and remaining 1/2 cup cheese to small bowl; stir to combine. Set aside.
4. Spray braising pan with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer pasta mixture to pan; top with panko mixture.
5. Bake about 1 hour until thoroughly heated and top is golden brown.