Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shaky NCAA bracket picks barely holding up

As we enter the Sweet 16 in the college hoops tournament, my bracket still looks pretty good. Three of the four teams I picked for the Final Four are still alive, where I have Baylor beating Syracuse for the title in what's only a bit of a homer pick. I didn't think Duke or Kentucky would hold up as well as they have, though - both look stronger than I anticipated - and I've been surprised at how, besides Baylor, the Big 12 teams seemed to all crumble. (I had Texas as a first-round loss, but was surprised Texas A&M didn't get through to the Sweet 16.

Anyway, since they're still alive I'll stand by my pre-tournament pick: Baylor over Syracuse in the national championship game. Somebody's got to win the thing; it may as well be the Bears.

Sic 'em.

UPDATE: Thanks to the Bears' collapse in the final five minutes of their game with Duke in the quarterfinals (the "Elite Eight"), not one of my picks made it into the Final Four this year. The lesson from this: Don't come to me for your sports betting tips.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cedar Waxwings

For the past week or so we've had a flock of several hundred Cedar Waxwings in and around our neighborhood. Both yesterday and this morning I had a pleasant time sitting on my back deck watching them swoop in a huge mass from tree to tree, hovering briefly almost like a hummingbird to peck at their food and then lighting momentarily on seemingly every available branch and twig. They tend to all arrive and leave together in a furious, fluttering whirlwind of activity.

They're quite pretty, colorful birds when they sit still long enough to observe them closely. These are probably the final weeks we'll see them before they head northward to summer in the midwest and Canada. They're really quite lovely, colorful birds and the sight of them swooping in a chaotic mass from tree to tree is really neat to watch.

UPDATE: I should also mention that hundreds of birds leave massive amounts of bird poop, which I've been dutifully cleaning off of Ty's treehouse deck every few days. There are pros and cons to this whole nature thing.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Dessert staples: Banana bread and brownies

In part for the benefit of my goddaughter Mikel, who God help her never quite learned to cook while she was living with us as a teen, I'm going to begin putting on this blog some of my staple household family recipes. Lets start with sweets, since she would. ;) Here are two recipes I've used a long time and that Mikel grew up on.

The first is a simple banana bread recipe my mother scrawled onto an index card when I first go my own apartment at college.
Shirley Henson’s Banana Bread Recipe

1 stick of butter
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 mashed ripe bananas
1¼ cup flour
¾ tsp soda
½ tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in mashed banana.

In another bowl, mix together flour, soda and salt. Add to banana mixture. Mix well. Pour into greased loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool for 45 minutes before serving.
Add a half cup or so of chopped nuts if you like. Her instructions envision using a hand mixer, but in my large stand-up mixer I do it in one bowl.

I usually double this recipe and make two loaves because inevitably at our house the first loaf gets eaten within 24 hours and it keeps well wrapped lightly in plastic or foil for several days.

Another standard recipe in the Henson household is a brownie recipe I got from a cooking magazine, probably Cook's Illustrated, at some point in the mid-'90s. I've long ago lost the original text of the magazine article, but have made the recipe many dozens of times from memory. They're incredibly quick, easy and delicious. Here's the gist:
Chocolate Brownies

One stick of butter
8 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate
1-1/4 cups of sugar
3 eggs
1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of cocoa

Put butter in small bowl. Break up chocoloate on top. Microwave for 2 minutes on high. In bowl, beat together sugar and eggs. Add in butter/chocolate mixture. Mix in flour and cocoa until texture and color are consistent. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 38-40 minutes.
This was adjusted slightly from the original recipe, as I recall, which substituted a small amount of unsweentened chocolate for a portion of the semi-sweet. In my experience, this made the already-rich brownies just a little too bitter and intense for children's tastes, but if you want to try it, use 7 oz of semisweet and one oz of unsweetened chocolate instead of 8 oz semisweet.