Entries from blogs tagged with “Sarah Henning”

Dead meat: The New York Times’ terrible take on vegetarianism in Kansas City

Strawberry Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing is a simple combination
of romaine lettuce, strawberry slices and almond slivers.

Strawberry Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing is a simple combination of romaine lettuce, strawberry slices and almond slivers. by AP Photo

Earlier this week, I was somewhat livid. I'm not the type to get angry, and the source of my anger was kind of surprising, I suppose, if you know how journalists are: The New York Times.

More specifically, a story posted on Tuesday entitled "Meatless in the Midwest: A Tale of Survival."

In it, we read the story of A.G. Sulzberger, who in the year that he had been assigned to the Times' Kansas City bureau, had been, well, hungry.

And no wonder, by the sound of it, he'd spent a lot of time checking out the region's famed barbecue joints with colleagues and friends, all the while doing some really terrific coverage of the tornado in Joplin and the Iowa Caucus.

In reading his tale of "survival" at first I was really upset. Seething, I described it as not so much a tale of survival as a dated, elitist tongue-in-cheek painting of how the Midwest is still the frontier, devoid of culture. (See, I was MAD!).

His sources included a restaurateur who knows better (“The mentality of the Midwest is, green is garnish,” explained Heidi Van Pelt-Belle, who runs Füd.) and a guy who turned vegetarian in Omaha and then moved to New York, where, presumably, he could be with his kind.

I thought, "How could they print this?" Then, "Who is this article for?" When I thought about it, all I could come up with were New Yorkers who have never been west of the Mississippi, or possibly ex-Midwesterners (like the Brooklynite) who would relish the fact that they were smart to leave in the first place.

As someone born and raised in Kansas City, I went from upset to outright offended. I thought of all the eyes who'd seen that article before publication — editors, designers, web producers — and thought, "Really? No one thought, 'Hey maybe this is a bad idea?'"

Someone had to have thought about the fact that people in the Midwest read The New York Times. In fact, they had to have known we read the Times because they opened a bureau here. And there's no more sure-fire way to piss off your neighbors than by making fun of them and thinking they're too dumb to know about it.

And pissed off they were. Twitter blew up, Facebook, too, all with angry Midwesterners going on the defense.

So, I did something I never do. I emailed another journalist about the article he wrote. And not just any journalist — the SON of the publisher of the most powerful paper in the country. Yes, A.G. is Arthur, son of the publisher and, thus, the heir to the Times.

I was very cordial about it, introduced myself, told him I cover food and that I grew up vegetarian in Kansas City and told him that it was a crime that he hadn't seemed to have found Eden Alley or Mudpie Bakery. Both of which are completely vegetarian (in Mudpie's case, vegan) and hugely popular (Eden Alley has been my favorite restaurant for more than half my life). He had hinted that Kansas City had two fully vegetarian restaurants, meaning Füd and Eden Alley, but because he'd only talked to the owner of Füd, I figured maybe he wasn't in the know.

After I sent that message, I started to feel bad for Arthur. I know what it's like to be a vegetarian journalist in a strange place with weird hours, lots of stress and coworkers who'd rather power through lunch in an effort to save money and calories for later sustenance over pints and darts.

I also knew that though my message was in good taste and cheerful, his inbox was probably brimming with hate mail. Emails spewing rage and probably calling him out for being just another East Coast snob. Or picking on him for being born into power. Or chastising him for going against his people — how could he turn his back on other vegetarians? How?!

That night, I received a response from Arthur. Simple, professional and shocking, because I totally expected to be skirted away with the inbox riptide.

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the note. I have actually been to Eden Alley a few times. As for the restaurant in Omaha, thats great news and I'll look forward to checking it out.

Best, Arthur

It's a nice note — short, to the point, and proves that he read my message and thought about it. (I had mentioned that Isa is opening a vegan restaurant in Omaha).

So, look, though I'm late to the party, I was asked by several people to write about the "tale" that upset both vegetarians and omnivores alike.

But I'm not going to go on about how it's all an elitist conspiracy from rich people on the coasts to look down upon the Midwest.

Because that's just as big a stereotype as saying that vegetarians are as rare four-leaf clovers once you land in the pastures past the Mississippi.

And it also feeds into another stereotype: That vegetarians are back-biters, eager to look down on everyone, even their own kind, for silly reasons like a personal preference for honey or subsisting on vegetarian (but not so healthy) deep-dish pizza.

So, I'm not going to do that.

Instead, I'm going to take my friend Christine's suggestion and make a list of some wonderful vegetarian options in Lawrence, should Arthur or any visiting vegetarian need to know.

In no certain order:

Honestly, this list could go on and on. Lawrence is rife with vegetarian options, and they're all wonderful.

I am aware this isn't the case everywhere in the Midwest. And, like Arthur, I have dined on what amounts to being iceberg lettuce salad. But we do have options ... and it would be nice to have more.

What's your favorite veggie meal in Lawrence?

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Reaping the benefits of Monday night “planning”

There. See? I had my leftovers. The kale salad for lunch, the squash for dinner, along with some homemade pizza.

And it was tasty ... almost like I planned it.

P.S. On that pizza, in case you're wondering, is pizza sauce, roasted garlic, marinated mushrooms, avocado and some cashew cheese. Put the cheese on the squash too — yum!

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Weeknight dinner: Healthy, and worth the “work”

Monday nights usually are not my most shining moments in the kitchen. They tend to involve dishing out whatever we made Sunday night, or if one of us ate the remainder of Sunday's dinner for lunch on Monday ... rushing around trying to throw something suitable together.

Yes, I'm horrible at meal planning. When I shop, I know exactly what I want to eat that week, but it always seems that I misjudge how much each dish will make, and how long that dish will really stick around. Sometimes, I make things and realize that we ate the whole thing, leftovers be darned. Other times, we make something and it lurks in the fridge for days, uneaten in favor of something more exciting than leftovers ... until it dies a moldy death in the trashcan.

So, I'm trying to improve on this. And, thus, this Monday, I was determined to make something healthy and tasty from scratch — and have enough left over for lunch and dinner today. Complicating the fact, was that the kiddo and I went to play with a school friend after work while the hubby went running. We finally got home around 7, with the kiddo famished and the hubby on his way back, STARVING.

My solution? Doing two things at once. As soon as I got the kiddo settled with his requested dinner (baby carrots, provolone and a leftover smoothie), I decided make a double batch of my favorite kale salad recipe plus a roasted dumpling squash recipe I learned during my cooking class with Isa.

It ended up timing out perfectly so that the squash and the salad were done within seconds of each other. I started the squash first, then set to washing and chopping all my salad ingredients. By the time the squash needed to come out of the oven to be seasoned, the salad was combined, the kiddo was ready for bed and the hubby was home and ready to eat. I pulled the squash out to cool, put the kiddo to bed and then we chowed down.

Simple. On a Monday. Who knew?

You already have the salad recipe, so here's how to make the squash. Feel free to sub in acorn squash, though know you can't eat the skin on acorn like you can on dumpling squash.

Simple Roasted Dumpling Squash

4 sweet dumpling squash (similar in size)

Olive oil (in a mister, if you have one)

Cinnamon

Salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut squash in half, along the equator (don't try to cut through the stem!). Scoop out and discard the seeds.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet. Spray or rub a tiny bit of olive oil on the parchment paper. Place the squash, cut side down, on the oiled parchment. Bake 40 to 45 minutes.

When done, pull it out of the oven and use a hot pad or spatula to flip over the squash, so that they cool with the flesh "up." Once you have them facing upward, sprinkle with salt and dust with cinnamon. Let cool and enjoy.

P.S.: I had enough salad left over for a honkin' lunch today and saved the leftover squash for dinner tonight. Yay for planning (sort of).

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What books are on your to-read list this year?

Anna Luna, clerk at The Dusty Bookshelf, 708 Mass., sorts through the children's section of the store. The bookstore was voted best bookstore in the 2011 Best of Lawrence competition.

Anna Luna, clerk at The Dusty Bookshelf, 708 Mass., sorts through the children's section of the store. The bookstore was voted best bookstore in the 2011 Best of Lawrence competition. by Kevin Anderson

This week, I talked to book specialists in town for their lists of must-read books for 2012. And, afterward, I must admit, my reading wish list received a few additional pages.

Basically, I want to read nearly every book they mentioned, plus the ones I'd already lined up on my "to-read" list.

And that list is a long one and getting longer, as I've been moving slowly through the five published books of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series (which begins with "A Game of Thrones"). I've finished the first three and am now taking a break to read three books I received for Christmas: "Aftertaste" by Meredeth Mileti, "Double Dexter" by Jeff Lindsay and "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot. Then, it'll be back to books four and five of Martin's series before moving on to the laundry list of other books I can't wait to sink my teeth into.

What books are you looking forward to curling up to this winter?

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Spanish omelets and biceps — you’re welcome

Hey, remember the other day when I shared this video and mentioned that Kilian Jornet was my second-favorite Spanish athlete? Well, I think I also said that Rafael Nadal was very favorite Spanish athlete (and probably favorite current athlete in general).

Well, Rafa's ears must have been burning because yesterday I got this in the mail:

It's a brochure for the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla. I went twice when I was working on the sports desk at The Palm Beach Post. It's a fabulous event with really great food (Crepes! Sushi! Focaccia sandwiches!), but besides the good eats, it's a bunch of fun. The world's best players all attend (the reason it's referred to as the "fifth major") and if you sit in the cheap seats of the main stadium, you can look out on the crisp blue waters of Biscayne Bay while watching world-class tennis and eating said crepes (with Nutella, natch).

I know this isn't a sports blog, more of a space dedicated to food and the arts, but I hope you'll agree there's a lot of artistry and food related to sports. There is most definitely a creative streak in nearly any top athlete and what they do is art, no matter the sport. And the food — who doesn't love to eat while watching a good game, match or tournament? Some of the most impressive spreads of the year come during the Super Bowl or March Madness. Plus, athletes and food often make an appearance in many an artwork (Have you seen some of our great photos on KUSports.com? It's ART, I tell you.). You see — really, it's all interconnected.

The Sony Ericsson Open doesn't start until March 19, but my Rafa-bedecked brochure is a good reminder that The Australian Open is right around the corner, beginning Monday, Jan. 16. Despite the funky timezone conversion, it's easy to check it out — just watch a match or two with your breakfast (Spanish omelet, perhaps?). You'll be happy you did.

P.S.: What's my deal with Spanish athletes? Well, I studied abroad in Spain in college and have a soft spot for pretty much any Spaniard. So, yeah.

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A sweet treat for tonight’s KU-KSU game

Tonight is the first KU-K-State basketball game of the year. Totally exciting, right? If you're feeling like you might want to show your KU spirit with more than just some fancy chips, I've got a sweet option for you. Something that shows your love of the crimson and the blue, while tasting oh-so-good after some salty pizza or other game-time meal: this Simple Berry Crisp.

It's easy, tasty and showcases the red and the blue well if you use a mix of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. The crimson and the blue, right there and ready to eat.

And if you're a K-state fan living in Lawrence? I'm sure if you use only blueberries, you'll get the effect you want. Not that that's what I'll be doing...

Simple Berry Crisp

6 cups frozen berries

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

2 cups granola

2 tablespoons melted butter

Vanilla yogurt or ice cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, gently toss together berries, sugar and flour then transfer to an ungreased (8-inch) baking dish; set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss together granola and butter then scatter over berries in dish. Bake until top is golden brown and berries and their juices are bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool then spoon into dishes and serve with yogurt or ice cream on top.

— Recipe from www.wholefoodsmarket.com

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A healthy start to the new year

Have you resolved to be healthier in the new year? Maybe to start working out or sneak in a few more fruits and vegetables into your diet?

Well, I've got a two-part inspiration kick-starter this morning for those of you trying to go for health in the New Year.

The first is a really inspiring video from my second favorite Spanish athlete, Kilian Jornet. (My very favorite is Rafael Nadal — I've been following him since he was 16, so don't give my guff about just liking him for the biceps.) Kilian is an ultrarunner/super athlete who is as likely to run 100 miles as he is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or ski down some of the world's steepest slopes. He made this joyful video to welcome in 2012, and it's a pretty inspiring 3 minutes.

The second bit of inspiration is something for those of you looking to eat more fruits and veggies in 2012. As you can tell from this blog, I'm a huge fan of fruits and veggies, and I'm about as likely to eat them in a salad as I am in a liquid form.

So, for any of you who might have a juicer stored away somewhere, get it out, dust it off and check out this juicy recipe we made on New Year's Day (pictured above). It's not the prettiest juice out there (Is it green? Is it red?), but it's tasty, healthy and packed full of some really beneficial fruits and veggies.

Green Juice Glass of Red

1 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 large pomegranate)

4 stems kale (I used dinosaur kale)

1 head celery

2 small apples, cored

Run all through the juicer. Serves 1. Enjoy!

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Dear diary: An attempt to resolve

I've made a resolution.

It seems a bit silly, but it's a habit I want to start and why not start it in 2012?

What do I want to do? To journal daily.

The reason I think this sounds silly is because I'm paid to write and blog and typically DO write daily. But, I don't really record what happened that day in my life, or that of my husband or kiddo. Of course, I post daily on a number of sites — Twitter, Facebook, DailyMile, this one — but I consider those to be snippets more than actual records of happenings. Rather, I feel like I've already forgotten so much in the young life of my son and there are things I'd like to record there, but haven't.

So, I'm going to try to write something in one place every day. If possible. And hopefully, it'll turn out to be useful and fun to read later. Silly? Maybe. But I've got to try.

Any grand resolutions out there? Silly ones? Ones you're sure you'll totally nail in 2012? And if you're not resolving, why not?

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I’m not a stalker, I promise … I just like to eat.

So, we all have our own personal little celebrities, right? The people we just adore and think to be totally incredible ... even if half the population has no freaking clue who they are.

Right? Right.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to meet one of my very favorite cookbook authors/personal celebrities: Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

If you've followed this blog, you've probably noticed I reference a lot of Isa's recipes and books. I've been a big fan of hers for years (as is my husband, who claims he'll try ANY of her recipes at least once), but of course, I never thought I'd get to meet her. I mean, because who gets to meet a famous cookbook author in the flesh?

Well, me, that's who. Along with my friend Coleen (that's her in the pink hair — she's dyed it pink to support our friend Shelley, who you can read about here), I met Isa Dec. 17 in Omaha of all places.

Here's the story: Isa is from Brooklyn (which she references a lot in her books), but a few years ago she moved to Portland, Ore. In Portland, she met a guy, who ended up moving to Omaha. After doing the whole long distance thing, this punk-rock Brooklynite author moved to Omaha in the name of love. Cool, huh? (And we got to meet her boyfriend too, he was awesome).

And the move is a good thing for crazy people like me and Coleen, who decided to drive up to Omaha and back in a single day to attend Isa's first Omaha cooking class. I got up at 4 in the morning to make it there and didn't get home until nearly 8 that night, but you know what? It was totally worth it.

And I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Scratch that: I will do it again — Isa's opening a restaurant and we definitely want to check that out!

But you know what's funny? Even though the class was $35 — about double the member price of most Merc classes — there were some people at the class who had no idea who Isa was. Maybe they just thought the class would be something fun to go to on a Saturday morning. I don't know, but what I do know was that it was kind of cute that they didn't know that Isa's quite the celebrity to some folks (like "the travelers" as Isa called us). One lady suggested Isa try out for "The Next Food Network Star" (Isa got her start with her own show in Brooklyn) and that was even with Isa's books right there all lined up for purchase (and they clearly weren't self-published). I had to laugh, but I was impressed all the same — it takes quite a person to attract both the crazies (hello!) and the uninitiated.

Have you ever got a chance to meet your own "personal" celebrity? Who was it and how'd it happen?

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Recipe: Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie

Sometimes, I just have to ask myself, "WHY must you love foods that STAIN so?"

Blueberry season is one of those times. My kiddo likes the little berries about as much as I do, and between the two of us, we're constantly spotted black-and-blue all summer long.

Same goes, in truth, for pomegranate season. Though, I have learned the best way for seeding a pomegranate to avoid a kitchen that looks like a murder scene (seeding it underwater is the trick — the seeds won't detonate on your backsplash and the pith floats to the top while the seeds sink), I still seem to stain my clothes, counter or kid with pomegranate juice.

That said, it's TOTALLY worth it. Both these fruits are super high in antioxidants because of their dark color, and are foods you should devour whenever you get the chance. Their antioxidants fight damage-causing free radicals and may even protect you from the possibility of cancer. Reason enough to sacrifice a few stained pieces of clothing, right?

Right. And thanks to the miracle of frozen fruit, I've been enjoying these two powerhouses together this winter. Fresh pomegranate seeds (or arils) mixed with frozen blueberries and other goodies have been the basis of more than a few smoothies recently. I seeded about seven pomegranates this weekend (I like to do several at once), and I've been alternating eating them out of hand as well as blended.

If you like pomegranate juice, but hate the price (it IS very expensive, no?), I totally recommend trying your hand at a pomegranate-tinged smoothie. Because they're in season right now, whole pomegranates cost about $1.50 a pop, and you'll get maybe a cup's worth of seeds with each one. That's a lot of cancer-fighting power, right there.

So, here's a truly tasty, healthy, power-packed recipe for your new year. The pic above shows about two-thirds of the recipe — my son drinks the rest in his own cup (and then begs for more). Bonus: He's less likely to make a mess with a smoothie than eating fresh berries and arils out of hand.

Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie

1 cup blueberries (frozen or thawed)

1 handful (or more!) pomegranate seeds

1 banana

1 scoop protein powder (optional)

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 tablespoon hemp seed (optional, but good for Omega-3s)

2 teaspoons chia seed (optional, to sprinkle on top, good for Omega-3s)

1.5 to 2 cups water

Blend everything but chia seeds in a blender until smooth. To serve, sprinkle chia seed on top. Serves 1-2.

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Be sure to tune for the final episode of “Opera is my Hobby”

Every week since Sept. 19, 1952, Jim Seaver has shared his love of opera with Kansas Public Radio listeners. But this week, that will come to an end.

At 7 p.m. Friday, KPR will air the final episode of "Opera is my Hobby," which will, fittingly, cover Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" which is often associated with the New Year.

"Opera" is the longest-running show on KPR and one of the longest continuously running radio programs ever. Seaver died in March at the age of 92 and, ever since, KPR has been presenting encore programs with help from the Seaver family.

For more than 40 years, Seaver taught at Kansas University, teaching thousands of students Western Civilization and Ancient History. He retired from academia in the late 1980s but kept producing his radio show until the month of his death. Until his death, Seaver's show was the second-longest-running public radio show with its original host.

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Are these cookies or rabbits? Sheesh.

This week it seems I can't twirl in place without stepping on a tray of holiday sweets.

They're everywhere — in my fridge, in the office, even on a group run (What's a group training session without a giant cookie for a post-run snack?).

OK, so I'm partially to blame. I made a ton of cookies for a photo shoot or two. And even though I keep sending those cookies away ("To the trough with you!"), they always seem to pop up somewhere.

And, of course, I'm not the only one producing sweet treats. Above, I've pictured our trough, full of goodies like rum cake, spritz, white-chocolate-dipped pretzels and more.

So, I ask you: How do you handle a never-ending array of sweets?

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Crazy, Stupid, Running: My two favorite movies of the year — what were yours?

Because I'm a boring mom and have no life, I hardly got to see any movies this year. I mean, it's just a hard thing to shell out $40 to a baby sitter for a night out. Add in dinner and a movie and a night out can run between $80 and $100.

That's pretty steep, but that's the way it goes.

So, I hardly got to see any movies in actual sit-down theaters this year. Sure, there were many I wanted to see, but the only movie I can recall shelling out babysitter funds for was "Bridesmaids." Which, was, perhaps, my favorite movie of the year ... until iTunes gave us a chance to watch "Crazy, Stupid, Love." I absolutely loved that movie. And not just because of shirtless Ryan Gosling (above). It was funny, heartfelt and cringe-inducing. Even my husband, who will only watch "romantic comedies" if I swear our next movie is something where they blow up cars, loved it. That's seriously saying something.

Another movie I loved? One I saw just this week. If you follow me on Twitter (@shhenning), you may know that I'm an ultramarathoner. I love running even more than I love Ryan Gosling's abs (have you LOOKED at that picture?)

And, believe it or not, there are different levels of crazy when it comes to ultrarunning. The longest distance I've run is 50 miles, though I have several friends who are 100-milers. Of those, I have four friends who have completed what amounts to the Boston Marathon of ultrarunning: The Western States 100.

It's a race done in the mountains of California and it's incredibly elite. You have to qualify, and then the qualifiers must enter a lottery to get in. It's a huge deal in our weird little sport to make it in, and the people who complete the WS 100 are amazing athletes.

And now those athletes have their own movie: "Unbreakable: The Western States 100." It's a documentary covering the 2010 race, which is considered to be the most competitive one ever. The movie isn't in theaters (our running group had a special screening), but I highly recommend you check out the trailer, below. I'm sure it'll be up on Netflix or iTunes soon, if you like what you see.

Honestly, I think "Unbreakable" might be my favorite "indy" movie of the year, though I am aware it's a pretty strange choice.

What was your favorite movie this year?

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Would a brownie by another name be as sweet?

So, I finally made the black bean brownies I blogged about the other week. The story is that I found a recipe for black bean-based fudge and when Tweeting about that, found out that there's this underground community of people who enjoy and make brownies with black beans. From there, a friend Tweeted this recipe.

Of course, as I am a food writer, the call of black bean brownies was too great. I figured I had to make them — and then use the folks here at Lawrence.com and the Lawrence Journal-World as guinea pigs. Because journalists will eat ANYTHING, right? We're like the vacuum cleaners of the professional world (me included, to be sure). Every paper I'm ever worked at has had its "trough" — a table where sweets and salty snacks live. I'm aware that many companies have their own troughs, but because of the long hours, deadlines and crazy schedules of journalists, I must say ours are very highly regarded.

So, I thought, I'll make the brownies, put them on the trough table and let the News Center masses at them. Then blog about it, because, you know, I report things.

There were a few kinks in my plan, however.

First was the timing. I decided to bring the brownies in on the day of our company-wide holiday feast. Everyone lines up to get turkey with all the trimmings and we sit and enjoy a big lunch together. It's a great tradition, and one I'm very thankful for, but also one for which I totally didn't plan. Whoops.

Secondly was that I TOLD everyone there were black beans in the brownies. I told them for two reasons:

  1. I'm not about to lie because I value honesty as a journalist.
  2. These people are very smart and read my blog and probably would've been pretty suspicious if I brought in "normal" brownies less than a week after blogging about brownies based upon black beans.

So, instead of playing coy, I just brought them in, kept them in the fridge (as per the directions) and pulled them out after everyone was stuffed on turkey and sides. Before they even exited the fridge, my cubicle neighbor, Shaun Hittle, had already put the brownies up on his jokey "LJW NewsCenter Trending Topics" white board.

I think they should've been higher, for all the anxiety about them. They sat unbidden in the trough for about an hour until Lawrence.com editor Trevan McGee, online editor Alex Parker and KUSports producer extraordinaire Nick Nelson decided they'd be brave enough to try them.

And you know what? They didn't die after the first swallow. In fact, they all said the flavor was good, if the texture was a bit too soft.

To sweeten the deal, I had brought in copious amounts of spritz cookies, and Trevan's brownie was so soft that he decided to use it as the cream center of a spritz sandwich, shown below.

Look, I even have proof that he ate it. (Though, the guy once ate a "ghost Chili" in front of a camera, so he's pretty brave.)

Throughout the afternoon, the comments came in from other News Center members.

Cops reporter George Diepenbrock was pretty complementary: “I thought they tasted like a normal brownie, although not as sweet. They also felt more moist than a normal brownie, but I'm not sure if that had anything to do with the beans or not. The one I had fell apart easily. Overall, I did like them and would eat them again.”

And assistant community editor Kim Callahan also thought they were pretty tasty, “Great flavor in the brownies. Couldn't detect the beans. Texture is a bit gooey, but they're really good.”

But KU reporter Andy Hyland wasn't so sure. He ate one after lots of (annoying) nudging from me and basically said, "If you had called them something else, I would've eaten another one."

I guess I could have accurately called them "Flourless Fudgy Chocolate Brownies," and they probably would've been flying out of the trough as fast as the spritz cookies...

That said, judging by the near empty* plate I found this morning, I think they did OK.

*There are four brownies left under the plastic wrap.

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Deck the halls with tinsel and tomatoes

Last week, it was suggested to me that rather that decking the halls with traditional poinsettias, it might be just as easy and more beneficial to decorate for the holidays with the king of summer fruit — the tomato.

In fact, it's already being done by some folks in New Hampshire, a place not known for copious amounts of winter sun.

The idea? Pick up a super dwarf variety (like the "Red Robin" plant above) or two, put the plants in pretty pots and use them to decorate the sunnier windows in your home. You'll have the same festive "red and green" color scheme as a poinsettia, but, obviously, because you'll be getting fruit off of it, a tomato plant is a bonus buy.

If my house had better light (I'm super short on south-facing windows), I would totally try it (tomatoes would go nicely with my fruit tree). Would you?

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My favorite way to showcase fruit during the holiday season

It's festive, it's easy, it's healthy: It's the fruit tree!

And it's one of my favorite Christmas directions. All you need to do is take a cupcake tree and fill it with various fruits. Stick it on a table, counter or mantle and you'll have a reminder to eat your fruit, and get give your fruit bowl a break.

I haven't tried this, but if you'd like to do a healthy version of an advent calendar, you could probably do so easily with a 24-space cupcake holder like mine. Just a thought.

And while I like the one I made this year (above) featuring clementines, apples and a pomegranate, my favorite one so far was the monochromatic all-clementine one I did last year.

Of course, the best thing about a fruit tree, is it's easily changeable, so the second there are bald spots on my current "tree," I can just fill it in until I have all clementines, or maybe all apples. Pretty!

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What was your favorite book of 2011?

My favorite book of the year was easily "The Hunger Games" (and its sequels). Couldn't put it down.

My favorite book of the year was easily "The Hunger Games" (and its sequels). Couldn't put it down. by Sarah Henning

So, early last year I wrote this story about 11 must-reads for 2011. The other day, I checked the list and realized that I had a horrible literary batting average when it came to the must-reads of the year.

I read two of the 11. Hmmm, not so good. Though I loved the two I read — "The Tiger's Wife" and "The Hunger Games" — and I did read a ton of books I absolutely loved this year that weren't on our list (but that's something for another blog).

Here's a list of the original 11:

  • “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson
  • “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness
  • “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart
  • “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obrecht
  • “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen
  • “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
  • “Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford
  • “The Middle Place” by Kelly Corrigan
  • “Bonhoeffer: A Biography” by Eric Metaxas
  • “Same Kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • “Lawrence: Survivors of Quantrill’s Raid” by Katie Armitage

Did you read any of these books? What did you think? And what was your favorite book of the year — on our list or not?

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Brownies made with WHAT?

I've had quite the Twitter and Facebook conversation this morning about what constitutes a brownie.

It started when I found this recipe last night for fudge made with BLACK BEANS. That got a discussion going and I found out there's a whole underground world that includes many a recipe for brownies made with black beans. This recipe came highly recommended via Twitter on that front.

And, honestly, I might try both these recipes. Though, as it stands today, my fave brownie recipe is the one with zucchini in it.

So, are these recipes abominations? I know my friend Megan Stuke wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole. But I might...

What do you think constitutes a "brownie" or "fudge"?

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Buy?! I’ll make you an ornament wreath!

Honestly, this holiday ornament wreath was much easier to make than it appears.

Honestly, this holiday ornament wreath was much easier to make than it appears. by Mike Yoder

I have never been a crafty person. And by crafty, I mean in the Etsy sense, not the Tyrion Lannister sense.

Sure, I can sew, but it's never more than to fix a missing button. I don't paint, unless you count basic walls and trim. And whenever my son asks me to draw for him, the requested animal/shape/choo-choo train comes out looking like it has been forged by a Mack truck.

No, my "art" is most definitely in my writing (I hope). Though if you ever asked me to handwrite anything you'll wonder both how I escaped being drafted into medical school based on scrawl alone and how I finished school at all writing test papers by hand.

And yet, I do like the idea of being crafty. My mother is quite the crafter, though as a college professor, she barely has time to sit down at her pottery wheel (yes, she has one). When she does have time, she likes to paint, stamp, decoupage, sew and, yes, do pottery. She even had a loom in the ’80s. Cool, huh? She's also the first to admit that I have NONE of her skill despite my genes and my love of Pinterest.

So, she probably was surprised when I messaged her ahead of Thanksgiving, asking if she might be able to bring her glue gun with her while visiting for the holiday. I planned to make "the wreath" I told her.

"The wreath" is a project I'd had my eye on since last year. I'd seen on some site or another a picture of a holiday wreath made out of glass ball ornaments. It was unusual, cool, and if I wanted to buy one on Etsy, expensive as all get out. But with a simple search, I was able to find several different sets of directions on how to make my own out of shatter-proof ornaments. So, after the holidays last year, I bought some discount ornaments, with plans on making the wreath.

It never happened.

Problem No. 1: I couldn't decide on which method to use. You can make it with a foam wreath, string it on a bent hanger or cord of wire, or you could just buy an evergreen wreath and attach the ornaments to that. All the methods looked good, but they also yielded different types of wreaths. You could have a thin one made of wire (bent hanger or otherwise), you could have a slightly bigger one made with a foam wreath, or you could have a very "full" looking one by using the evergreen wreath method.

Problem No. 2: I was stuck with the hanger/cord method because I do not own a glue gun and I didn't want to buy one because, as I've said before, I'm not crafty at all. It would be a waste of money. I could've picked up a cheap one, I suppose, but I'm sure if that thing exploded and oozed hot glue all over me, I'd never attempt to craft again.

Problem No. 3: If I was going to attempt this wreath, I wanted it to look how it did in my brain. Which was full and big, gosh darn it. So, basically, I wanted to do something I couldn't do with a cord of wire or a hanger from the dry-cleaners.

So, I stowed the ornaments in the back of my guest closet and forgot about them ... until, I saw a cheap ornament wreath at Target in Novemeber. It was shiny and pretty, and exactly what I wanted, yet not at all. It was like one everyone could have. I didn't want that, I wanted the one I pictured in my head.

As I stood there, three feet from that pretty, easily obtainable wreath, I Googled the project I'd tossed aside last year. That search came up with this post, which featured the closest thing I could find to the wreath in my head.

Weeks later, when my mom arrived with her glue gun, we headed out to Michael's to look at more parts and pieces. We'd initially changed our minds and thought about using a foam wreath as the structure, but I still had that pretty wreath in my head, and decided in the end to go with an evergreen wreath as the base (bonus: the 18-inch evergreen was only $3.99, half of what a foam wreath would've cost). We bought some silver spray paint, too, and that night, I put on my husband's barbecue apron and stood in our garage, spray-painting the wreath on top of some flattened diaper boxes.

I let it air out for a day, and then, on Sunday morning, literally two hours before my parents had to leave for the airport, my mom and I warmed up the glue gun. At first, it was helpful to have two of us working on it — one to place glue on the ornaments and one to hold the glued ornament flush to the wreath — as we went around the outside edge with large ornaments. By the time we started around the inside (following the directions in this post), I was working alone, no help needed. My mom backed away to finish packing — the training wheels had officially come off.

In about an hour, I had a big, totally unique wreath exactly like I'd pictured in my head last year. It is fat, colorful and shiny and exactly what I wanted.

One project does not a crafter make, it's true. But this single project sure went a long way toward convincing me that I might have a crafty bone in my body after all. A bone that is absolutely terrified to actually hang my pretty ornament wreath for fear it might shatter like a pearl necklace. So, rather than hanging it in my dining room window as planned, I have it sitting sentry on my dining room table as a sort of holiday centerpiece.

And I kind of like it like that — just sitting there as a reminder of spending time with my mom, doing something she likes to do. Maybe next time I see her, we'll try another craft. Of course, I'm not going to start saving up for my own pottery wheel anytime soon, but at least I now own a (hand-me-down) glue gun.

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Holiday shopping this weekend? A couple of good handmade sales

If you haven't picked up all your gifts yet (or haven't started), you've got two good chances at getting handmade, local and indie items this weekend.

The first, as you can see above, is the Lola Giant sale, a two-day market featuring more than 25 local, handmade artists. The sale is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at Van Go Mobile Arts, 715 N.J.

Another place to find local handmade gifts is the annual Holiday Market put on by the Lawrence Farmers' Market. The Holiday Market runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Holiday Inn, 200 McDonald Drive. Regular farmers' market vendors and more will be there, selling foods, crafts, jewelry, personal care items and more.

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