I laughed so hard, I cried

There is something very wrong with the product advertised below...or something very wrong with a society that would actually support the existence of such a product. Morgan was quite intrigued by the side/rear zip feature, though - as close as one can get to a butt flap, I guess!

Nutmeg Doughnut Muffins

Who doesn't love a powdered sugar doughnut? I remember reading a book as a kid where the main character dipped his powdered sugar doughnuts in coffee. Naturally, this sounded like an awesome combination, so one day my 12-year-old self snagged some of Mom's morning coffee and dipped away. HUGE disappointment - because what I didn't know then was that black coffee is gross, or that dipping doughnuts in coffee would be an epic fail until I was old enough to recognize that coffee tastes better - on its own or with doughnut dippers - with a little cream and sugar.

Anyway, adulthood has left me consuming fewer doughnuts than my tastebuds would prefer - no thanks to mid-thirties metabolism. So when I stumbled upon this recipe at www.orangette.com, I was intrigued by the prospect of creating a (somewhat) healthier version of the classic powdered sugar doughnut. Yes, yes, the butter-flour-sugar combo in these muffins is naughty, but if nothing else, at least the fried food element has been eliminated! End result? Deeeeeeelicious, and highly reminiscent of the powdered sugar doughnut...and they're great dipped in coffee. :)

I did make a few adjustments: used white whole wheat flour, doubled the nutmeg, and created mini-muffins out of the batter. Also tried a glaze on a few, instead of the powdered sugar roll - a move successful enough for me to think that these babies would be great with a cinnamon-sugar coating or dipped in chocolate glaze.

Nutmeg Doughnut Muffins Recipe from www.orangette.com
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
Scant 1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
¾ cup plus 1 Tbs whole milk
2 Tbs buttermilk
1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup plus 2 Tbs granulated sugar
2 large eggs
4 - 6 Tbs unsalted butter
1 ½ - 2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a rack to the middle position. Spray a standard-size muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg, and whisk to mix them thoroughly. Set aside. Combine the milk and the buttermilk in a measuring cup, and set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or, alternatively, in a large mixing bowl with electric beaters nearby), and beat on medium speed for a few seconds, until the butter is soft and creamy. With the motor running, add the sugar in a steady stream. Continue beating, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice, until the mixture increases in volume and lightens to pale yellow. It should look light, fluffy, and wonderfully creamy, like frosting. This could take a couple of minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until they are just combined.

With a wooden spoon, mix ¼ of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Add 1/3 of the milk mixture. Continue to add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, ending with the dries. Mix until the dough is smooth and well combined, but do not overmix.

Divide the batter between the cups of the muffin tin. Bake until the muffins are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-32 minutes.

*Note: My mini versions only took 12-15 minutes in the oven. After they were cool, I packaged them in threes and stored in the freezer for a quick breakfast grab.


"Get him a body bag, yeaaaah!!"

Hahaha - this scene never gets old. Morgan and I quote it to each other often, which results in hysterical laughter, every time. Just thought you all should join in the fun...


Wedding Photoblog 1 - Engagement, shower, bachelorette party

A year is a long time to be engaged, but in some ways, it's awesome to have so much time to plan and celebrate. I'm a BIG planner, so though we've already knocked out some of the most important details (venues, hotels, date, dress, etc.), there are tons of little things to work on whenever there's time. A goal for me during this year is to plan because it's fun, and to do so in a way that will ultimately allow for a stress-free event. I really want to enjoy the planning process - and upon thinking of this today, I realized how many awesome wedding things have already happened. Not wanting to let them slip away so quickly, I've posted some pics below that capture the highlights. I think I'll keep doing this throughout the year, too - sort of like an online scrapbook. Enjoy!

Morgan proposed at a scenic overlook of the Dallas Divide, which is
en route to Telluride. Truly, a most beautiful place!

The ring has its own tales to tell; all of the diamonds
are from Morgan's paternal grandmother.
In August, I met my mom and sister in CA to spend a weekend
with Tete Bonnie, Uncle Paul, and cousins Annie and Rosie.
On night one, they all surprised me with a shower! 
Tete Bonnie makes a KILLER shower cake! Even better  eaten
cold, for breakfast!

My wonderful friend, Tina, created these amazing bachelorette party invites.
The party was actually a Hanson concert, and (I think) everyone had an
awesome time! The success of the evening can be attributed entirely to
Summer, Tina, and Kasey, who worked so hard to make it fun for everyone.
I just love those ladies.

We waited in line for several hours, killing time with food, drink, and games.
It was a blast!

Summer, Kasey, Katie

So close to the stage - with Tina and Janelle

Hanson  ♪ ♫ 
Tina, Janelle, Robynn, Elizabeth, Ryan
Such a great night - so lucky to have friends who are such incredible women! 

Scenes of Autumn Photoblog

Historic Golden

Golden Farmers Market

Mini Mines fan

Leaf peeping

Near Eldora, CO

Nederland, CO

Pumpkin patch

Pommer tots



Cincinnati Chili

In 2010, I had the great pleasure of visiting Madison, WI, on two separate occasions. Madison is probably one of the only cities in the Midwest to where I would wholeheartedly move – such liveliness and charm! There’s a restaurant downtown called The Old Fashioned, a place that ranks in my top 10 of favorite dining establishments. The beer cheese soup! The cheese curds! The cherry and blue cheese salad!

Ahh, anyway, my immense love for this restaurant will be left to a later blog, as this one is all about a dish I saw on The Old Fashioned’s menu: Cincinnati Chili. To sum up, it’s a giant bowl of chili with the works (onions, sour cream, cheese)…ON TOP OF SPAGHETTI. Yes, yes, you read that right – chili spaghetti. Apparently, Cincinnati Chili is a big deal – a quick Wikipedia search rendered multiple recipes, photos, and instructions for ordering the dish (bowl, 2-way, 5-way, etc.). I will admit that my original thoughts on chili spaghetti were strangely close-minded. Honestly, it just sounded weird.

A few months after my second visit to The Old Fashioned, I decided to taste test this Cincinnati Chili at home. I was admittedly nervous – how odd, too, for the ingredients add up to carb-and-comfort-food heaven, a place I like to visit often. In a bowl, I layered steaming spaghetti, shredded cheddar, piping hot chili, and topped it off with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of scallions. As the sour cream melted and oozed over the surface of the chili, I jabbed a fork into the mix and twirled. The cheese, trapped between tendrils of pasta and chunks of chili, had melted into a delightfully gooey sauce.

Oh, my.

One perfect bite and my mouth was filled with an amazing combination of textures and flavors. I cannot even accurately explain it other than to ask you to imagine all of the components of comfort food (soft, warm, cheesy, creamy, hearty) in one place at the same time. I’m not sure what is more unbelievable – that such deliciousness exists from such simple ingredients, or that I lived 33 years of my life without this dish.

Suffice to say, Cincinnati Chili is now a year-round staple in my kitchen, though I especially love it in the autumn and winter seasons. I made it for Morgan a few weeks ago, and he wasn’t quite as impressed…he prefers regular, tomatoe-y spaghetti. So now I just freeze single servings of chili, which make for a quick trip to carb-and-comfort-food heaven on any chilly eve. 

It should be noted that an authentic Cincinnati Chili recipe includes cinnamon, cloves, and chocolate, but I'm partial to my own chili recipe. Also, the picture above is not my own - I'll be sure to update with a photo of my version when I make it again. 

Cincinnati Chili

For the chili:
1½ lb. ground beef or turkey
2 pkg. chili seasoning (low sodium)
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
1 clove garlic
2 cans kidney beans
3  15 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 can sliced black olives
1 T. sugar

Dice all three peppers and mince the garlic. Brown meat in a large Dutch oven and drain fat. Add pepper and garlic to meat; cook on med-low for 5 minutes. Sprinkle chili seasoning in and stir to coat. Add beans, sugar, and tomato sauce. Simmer on low for 2-3 hours, adding water in small amounts if chili gets too thick. Add the olives in the last hour of cooking.

Now, layer the following items in a bowl, in this order:
- whole wheat spaghetti, cooked/drained
- shredded cheddar
- chili
- sour cream
- scallions

This dish is massively filling, so go easy on your portion sizes at first. Allow to cool just enough to eat without scalding one’s tongue, and enjoy! J


So, I broke up with Facebook...

In a manner disturbingly similar to how breakups often work with real people, I simply cut myself off – cold turkey. Sure, I gave out a warning for a few hours, just in case one of my “friends” needed it, and I emailed this blog address to my actual friends, just in case they wanted to keep up with it in the future. But otherwise, with the click of a button, it was over. Ouch.

If I could explain why in a single statement, “I don’t think this relationship is working for me anymore,” should cover it. Over the past few days, I’ve mentally tracked the pros and cons to my relationship with Facebook, and eventually concluded that said relationship was unhealthy – toxic, really. For example:

-       simple photo sharing
-       keeping up with long-distance friends and relatives easily
-       knowing others’ business (yes, this was a pro – I’m nosy)

-    others’ annoying posts (i.e. political/religious slants, braggy, TMI, etc.)
-    wasting time stalking people I barely know anymore
-    general clique-y-ness formed when show-offs get together and blab their combined awesomeness all over cyberspace
-    knowing there are people on my “friend” list who are not friends and should not know about my daily doings – yet feeling trapped in this “friendship” because de-friending is way too harsh
-    feeling like a bitch because I wouldn’t accept friend requests from everyone
-    finding myself irritated/frustrated DAILY by what other people were doing and saying on FB
-    feeling like a fraud/creeper when I knew personal information (i.e. pregnancies, deaths, drug addictions, break-ups) about people who I haven’t spoken to face-to-face in years
-    realizing that these same people knew/shared personal things about me, too
-    constantly de-tagging myself in photos because I looked like an a-hole in said photos and didn’t want to world to see that (when, in fact, they did, regardless of the de-tagging)
-    knowing that I couldn’t just minimize my time on FB, that I didn’t have the self-control to just leave it alone for a few days; in a sense, I was “addicted”

If the above lists were representative of a real relationship with another person, the immense outweighing of hate over love would certainly inspired me to end it, and the situation was no different with FB. Realizing that there were so many things I wanted to do but couldn’t find time – and then seeing that I was spending hours a day on Facebook – really got me thinking.

For some people, Facebook is an awesome thing. These are people who have figured out how to manage the connection, how to keep Facebook from taking over their lives. I am not one of these people, and the only way for me to take back my life was to stop –


Quitting has been sad…and I am embarrassed to admit it. I’ve felt a bit like there’s a hole in my soul; like there’s a big party happening somewhere and I’m not invited.

But on the flip side, there are so many great things I will have time for now; things that have been horribly neglected during the course of my five-year relationship with Facebook.  Things like blogging, reading, trying new recipes, working out, spending quality time with Morgan, planning our wedding, answering emails, visiting friends – in person. And though my most popular cyberspace outlet is now gone, there are still millions of online distractions with which to engage: Pinterest, Hanson videos, friends’ blogs, cooking websites, NPR, Netflix streaming. And, now when I see an old friend or long-distance acquaintance, the experience will be genuine because that element of mystery will have returned. Maybe my high school reunions will actually feel special now! I’m excited to move on; I’m excited to be free.

Goodbye, Facebook – it really wasn’t you, it was me. But in the end, it was for the best!


Dear Hanson (a love letter)

I was 19 in '97, when your first song made it big, far too old to possibly enjoy a bubblegum hit sung by a bunch of kids. But something about the sound drew me in. It was different - the arrangement, the vocals, the beat. My sister was 15 then, and in a time when we had nothing in common, suddenly, we had your music. We spent hours upon hours that summer dancing and lip synching to the Middle of Nowhere album, plastering our bedroom walls with your Teen Beat photos, trying time and again to make our parents REALLY listen and appreciate your talent. We squealed with glee when your videos appeared on MTV and dissected each and every shot on film, hoping to demystify your creative brains. It was a wonderful summer.

Years passed, and my sister and I phased through different paths of life, all the while keeping up with your music. We've seen every show we could - The Orpheum Phoenix (2000), Nita's Hideaway Tempe (2003), The Marquee Tempe (2005), The Ogden Denver (2009), TLA Philly (2010), The Fox Boulder (2010), Cain's Ballroom (2011), The Fox Boulder (2011). We've watched as you guys grew up - got married, had kids, became masters of your own independent label universe, and used your talents to give back to others. We've been on this road with you, made possible through your music and your incredible communication to fans through the newest age of online streaming. We've joined your crusade against poverty in Africa, worn TOMS and then removed them for a walk. As if your music wasn't inspiring enough on its own, your philanthropic hearts take it to the next level.

Last May, I journeyed to your hometown for a Members Only Event. Your hometown is just as charming and genuine as you all are, and the MOE, not surprisingly, was an incredible gift of music and friendship. It seems funny to reference "friendship" with people I've not known as friends in the traditional sense - but that's how you guys present yourselves. You invite your fans into your lives. There's an obvious level of trust you've established with your fans, and it fosters an authentic sense of respect in return. Never in my life have I seen such a gesture of kindness from a band to its fans.

So all in all, thank you. Thank you for your philanthropic goals; they inspire so much compassion in the world. What you started with your walks has begun to trickle into the world. There's a frozen yogurt shop that just opened near my home this past spring, and its owners donate money to local schools each week. Inside the shop, there's a big poster stating the owners' inspiration: Blake Mycosksie of TOMS shoes. I thought it was so cool to see others catching onto that "giving circle" philosophy - something that I've learned about from you guys.

Thank you for your camaraderie with your fans - for the late-night gas station streaming events, the MOE photo sessions, the funny website blog updates, the 2+ hour long concert sets. These things only begin to explain why we all love you! And, for forever and a day - thank you for your music. It's been a beacon in the night, a shoulder to cry on, a source of comfort in high and low points in life, a definition of heart and soul.


Sunday Soup

I just love soup. Warm, hearty, and served in a bowl - it's the ultimate comfort food. During the school year, I typically make a batch of soup each weekend to eat for lunch that week. Any leftovers beyond that are frozen for a quick, last-minute dinner option.

Last fall, I posted soup recipes each week, and I hope to continue that practice this year. Here's a new one that highlights one of Colorado's greatest seasonal crops: Olathe sweet corn.

Sweet Corn Chowder
1 1/2 T. butter
2 slices bacon, diced
2 shallots, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 t. dried basil
1 bay leaf
6 ears sweet corn (Olathe is best)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
2 c. chicken stock
1 c. milk
2 T. scallions, sliced thin 
Fresh grated Parmesan

Remove husks from corn and slice corn kernels from the cob. Cut cobs in half and place to the side. 

Melt butter in a heavy pot over medium. Add bacon and cook for 4 minutes. Add shallots, onion, basil, and bay leaf; cook 5 minutes. 

Add corn kernels, salt, and pepper; cook 1 minute. Add stock, milk, and corn cobs (about 6 halves) to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. 

Remove corn cobs and bay leaf from the pot. Using an immersion blender, partially puree the soup. Season and serve, sprinkling with scallions and Parmesan. 

Serves 4-6.


Summertime Pasta

I just love pasta, pretty much any day of the year. However, as pasta typically serves to be a comfort food for me, so I have many warm and cheesy recipes for cold winter nights. In the summertime, I struggle to find pasta recipes beyond the typical antipasto or macaroni salad - delicious, yes, but so boring. So if you're looking to add some pizazz to your summer pasta options, here are a few creative options.

Matchless Macaroni Salad
An old standby of my mother's - from the Colorado Cache cookbook 
1/2 cups seedless green grapes
8 oz shell macaroni or bowties
8 oz pitted ripe black olives, drained + halved
3/4 cup chopped green onions
3 oz blue cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 t. garlic powder
3 T. lemon juice
1 cup mayonnaise

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain. Combine hot macaroni with grapes, olives, onion, cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Mix together lemon juice and mayonnaise until smooth. Combine macaroni and mayonnaise until evenly mixed. Refrigerate covered several hours or overnight. Add more mayonnaise if desired, before serving. Serves 8-12.

Nouveau Macaroni Salad
From www.101cookbooks.com, one of my favorite healthy cooking sites. 
Unique and refreshing!
1 pound elbow macaroni
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced green onions
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
salt/pepper to taste
zest and juice of one lemon
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
4 big handfuls arugula (or spinach)
1 large apple, diced

Cook the macaroni in a large pot of well-salted water per package instructions. Set aside at least 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Then drain pasta and set aside.  In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large skillet until hot. Add most of the green onions, all of the garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions soften, and the garlic begins to take on some color, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a couple minutes.

Use a hand blender or food processor to puree the green onion mixture along with 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, zest of the lemon, half the lemon juice, and the reserved pasta water. Puree and taste. The green onion flavor should be assertive. Stir in the Parmesan.

Combine the macaroni with the green onion sauce in a large bowl. Toss well. Add the arugula and most of the apple and toss again. Taste, and add more pepper, salt, or lemon juice if needed. Serve topped with the remaining apple and green onion. Makes enough for a crowd or potluck.

Fresh Corn, Zucchini, and Cream Pasta
I threw all of these ingredients together one night and discovered a quick and delicious summertime dish. Other add-ins would be great with this, too - like spinach, asparagus, or cherry tomatoes. 
2 cups cooked pasta (fettuccine or penne would be great; or cheese ravioli for added decadence)
1 T. olive oil
1 cup fresh summer corn
1 cup diced zucchini or summer squash
1/4 cup real bacon bits (or just real bacon, cooked and crumbled)
1 T. fresh basil, chopped
1/3 cup sliced green onion
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup half and half
shredded Parmesan for sprinkling

Place a large saute pan over medium high heat and add oil. Toss in corn, zucchini, and bacon bits and saute for several minutes until vegetables are lightly browned. Add basil, onion, and salt/pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook for a few more minutes. Finish off with half and half, allowing the liquid to bubble and coat the vegetable mixture. Toss in pasta and split into bowls. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese. Serves 2.


Identity crisis averted, [no] thanks to a sans-pants bear

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I dislike Winnie the Pooh. I never really got into the cartoon as a kid; something about Pooh's slow voice and obsession with honey was really annoying. Not to mention the weirdness of his name altogether. And really, let's think about this: Pooh doesn't wear pants...and he plays with little boys. It's all very wrong. 

So this evening, my sister and I were discussing personality traits and their relation to the Pooh characters. Summer is very intelligent and aware of the trends in pop culture, and I will admit I was intrigued. Which Pooh character was I? The only characters we could remember were Eeyore (depressed), Piglet (follower), Tigger (hyperactive), and, of course, Pooh (obsessed/perverted). Surely there must be other character traits to choose from in life! 

I went online and googled "Which Winnie the Pooh Character Are You?" and found a plethora to choose from. This one seemed reputable, if only for its name: "The Deep and Meaningful Winnie the Pooh Character Test" (http://www.okcupid.com/tests/7755608336260521742/Deep-and-Meaningful- Winnie-The-Pooh-Character). After answering about 30 interesting and semi-thought-provoking questions, I clicked the "finish" button and waited apprehensively. Who would I be? Strange little Piglet? Surely not Tigger - he's too wild. Please, please, please...not Pooh. I can't be Pooh! 

My result: Rabbit. Well, hey there! Here's a character I didn't even know about...and what do you know, the description seems fairly accurate:
ABOUT RABBIT: Rabbit is generally considered clever by his many friends and relations. He is actually a much better reader and writer than Owl, but he doesn't consider it worth mentioning. Instead, Rabbit's real talent lies in organizing plans. He organizes rescue parties, makes schemes to reduce Tigger's bounciness, and goes on missions to find out what Christopher Robin does when he's not at the Hundred Acre Woods. Sometimes, however, his plans do not always go as planned.
WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are smart, practical and you plan ahead. People sometimes think that you don't stress or worry, but this is not the case. You are the kind of person who worries in a practical way. You think a) What are my anxieties about and b)what can be done about them? No useless fretting for you. You don't see the point in sitting around and waiting for things to work out, when you could actually work them out today and save yourself a lot of time and worry. Your friends tend to rely on you, because they know that they can trust you help them work things out. You sometimes tend to be impatient with people who are less practical in their ways. You don't have much patience for idiots who moan about things but never actually DO anything about them. You have high expectations of everyone, including yourself. When you don't succeed at something, or when something goes wrong despite your best efforts to prevent it, you can get quite hard on yourself. You need to cut yourself some slack and accept that everyone has their faults, even you. Let yourself be faulty, every now and then, for the sake of your own sanity.
So there you have it...I'm a Rabbit. I suppose I'll sleep better tonight with this knowledge :) But in all seriousness, I did read an article recently on how the longevity of these Winnie the Pooh characters can be attributed to the fact that they are realistic and representative of most personalities in life. Think about it - I'm sure you know a Tigger, an Eeyore, or an Owl. And I'm sure some of us can even think of a few Poohs in our lives. So, who are you?

p.s. This post is a result of too much free time, neither of which is a bad thing.

p.p.s. If you happen to take this quiz and score a Pooh, I won't hate you (or question your motives around children). Promise.


Meatball Trick

For most of my childhood, my parents made spaghetti & meatballs once a week during football season. That's right - every single week. Nope, we're not Italian...just football people. You see, it was my dad's tradition as a coach to invite the top four players of the week to our house for dinner, and spaghetti was the natural choice. Mom would make the sauce, and Dad would make the meatballs. He taught me how to make them without a recipe - add the egg and breadcrumbs, then the milk; add the spices - and you'd know you'd added enough oregano if the meat smelled right. Next, he'd fry the meatballs in a covered frying pan, which he usually placed on our deck outside to keep the house from smelling like smoke and grease. The finished product was delectable - fragrant, chubby balls of meat with a crispy, crunchy exterior. Add 'em to a bowl of Mom's amazing sauce and voila! A most memorable meal.

It's been a long time since I've had Mom and Dad's famous spaghetti, and I'll admit that I miss it enough to make a big batch once a year. The sauce is no problem - just let it simmer on a stovetop all day. But the meatballs have long been problematic in my kitchen because I don't have one of those covered frying pans. Reluctant to panfry on the stove (eww, too messy), past attempts to bake them have left me with so-so meatballs only because they're missing that crunchy crust. 

Last week, I discovered a solution. Bake the meatballs in a metal pan, and then leave them undisturbed for about 10-15 minutes so a crust can form on one side. Next, turn them and repeat the process. When two sides are darkened, wiggle the pan so that the meatballs spin in all directions. Then leave them in the oven awhile longer so that crust may continue to cook and brown. The end result is something quite similar to Dad's - though only a close second :) Oh, and only the inside of my oven gets spattered in oil (and that's a part of the kitchen no one sees)!  I'm sure many cooks of the world have known about this trick for years, but if you haven't...try immediately, and enjoy! 


Seriously, people...if you're not eating these yet, you need to be!

Last summer at the Longmont Farmers Market, I stumbled across this random little stand selling pupusas, a traditional food rooted in El Salvador. Curious, I purchased a single pupusa and proceeded to consume the thing within minutes.
Holy delicious! It resembled a thick, stuffed pita, but the dough is made from corn masa, so it tasted more like a tamale. In the center was a tasty chicken and cheese combo. The stand had lots of flavors - bean + cheese, green chile + cheese, sweet corn + black bean, mushroom + leek, etc., and pupusas could also be purchased frozen, in packs of four.

I bought a couple packs, took them home, and made a few important discoveries:

1) Pupusas are sold completely cooked, so they really just need reheating. At the food stand, pupusas were pan-fried, but at home I cook them on a dry griddle (like a grilled cheese).

2) The chicken + cheese flavor is by far my favorite, but green chile + cheese and bean + cheese come in as close seconds. During the winter months, pupusas can be purchased at Whole Foods but the meat varieties aren't available, so it's good to have "second favorites"!

3) Pupusas are so versatile! I actually prefer them for breakfast, either plain or with an egg on top. Last summer, I even tried a fancy egg stack - pupusa on the bottom, fresh chopped greens and veggies in the middle, fried egg, and a cumin-sour cream drizzle on top. A- freaking-mazing.

4) At one low point last winter (when my pupusa stash had run out), I became desperate enough to try to making my own. Big mistake - a messy, frustrating experience that resulted in a really lame homemade version. Note to self: buy enough pupusa four packs in the fall to last ALL winter long!

5) Pupusas are relatively healthy, especially if you avoid frying them at home and stick with a griddling method. Tres Pupusas makes theirs gluten free, and with all-natural ingredients.

For those of you living in the Denver area, keep an eye out at your local farmers market for these little suckers. Tres Pupusas also sells their goods at Whole Foods, and I recently spied them at the Arvada Vitamin Cottage, too. http://trespupusas.com/



Another school year, over and done. Time to wave goodbye to another class of 8th graders; time to reflect on the successes and disasters and try to learn from them. If I'm going to be honest, this was a rough year. It was a year where even a great group of students couldn't keep the bubble from bursting; it was a year that, in some ways, I'd soon like to forget...and in other ways, I'm glad I never will. It was the year of JW, and despite the ending, he was the highlight of 2010-2011. It seems strange to consider his battle and our walk on that road with him as a "highlight," but if you were a part of it, you know what I mean.

There are early, dark memories: the pain and disbelief in the first few weeks of his diagnosis, tears rolling down parents' cheeks at Back to School Night, the shock on our students' faces, his final Friday of teaching and one last FAC. Back then, we were fueled with the need to help our friend. We raised funds, we walked and ran to cure cancer, we bombarded JW and his family with emails and dinners, we tried to be strong for our students. We thrived on the hope that he - WE - would beat this thing. I know this energy helped him through what I'm sure he knew (even then) was a ridiculously long shot.

There was a quiet day in November when Ryan and I were discussing the incredible amount of money the WWA community had raised for JW, and how awesome it was to see people come together in such a way. And then we agreed that it probably still wouldn't change the outcome...because we knew that all the money and support in the world wouldn't save our friend. How is it possible to have known this? I think it was partly my own fatalistic mentality, and partly the fear of hoping beyond reality and logic.

But the hope crept in. It kept all of us afloat, and buoyed our spirits when John was approved and found a match for a transplant. Hope was ever present as we made plans - to hang out with him, to get him back in the classroom, to count on him to be around for a long time now. It was this hope that blocked the inevitable; it's what allowed us all to be blindsided by cruel fate.

I never saw it coming. That sounds ridiculous now - I mean, I'd convinced myself that this was a possibility was back in the beginning - how could I not have expected it? How did I not notice that his hospital stay was abnormally long and that this was problematic? How did I not realize that the sporadic updates meant he wasn't doing well? And on the day that I sent the poems our students had written, how did I not recognize my internal urgency to get those poems to him as a very clear sign that he didn't have much time left to read them?

My regrets aren't about his final hours; I didn't get to say goodbye personally and hold his hand, but I don't regret that. Kasey delivered my message and made him smile, and it warms my heart to know this. But I do regret not writing him more often, and not visiting him on the other 17 straight days he was in the hospital. I regret that we never had that Monty Python night. Mostly, I regret not telling him how much he inspired me and how much I learned from him. I regret that he never knew how much I appreciated his friendship and that I thought he was an incredible person.

We are left now to fill a raw, gaping hole in our school, and in our hearts. Yes, life goes on, but the puzzle is missing a key piece. We talked today about who will fill that hole, and how s/he won't ever quite fit because it won't be JW. I know I have to give this person a chance, but it feels like I just woke up without my thumbs or something. How is life ever going to feel normal again when I don't have my thumbs?!?!?!

JW was the glue that filled the cracks in our middle school team. He led by example; his calm strength served to balance our team dynamic. It's funny because I think we all learned from him and relied on him in ways that we didn't even recognize until he was gone. I miss his laugh and his classroom light illuminating a dark hallway at 6:00 a.m. I miss the advice he would give in a way where it just felt like a great philosophy. I miss his enthusiasm for teaching and how it radiated off of his face each day. I miss his surprise visits, and his monthly emails - always a message to the kids and one small one for me. I read through them all again last week, and found one where he had written, "You are amazing and I am happy to call you my friend."

JW, the feeling is mutual. I miss you, buddy - now and always.