Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Solution for Surplus Corn Flakes and Snickers Bars

My darling husband agreed to pick the recipe for yesterday's dinner and to order the groceries from Amazon Fresh. He chose corn-flake crusted chicken. When the grocery order arrived, I discovered that we had a corn flake surplus situation on our hands. Check out the size of the box:
I started to explore corn flake recipes and settled on the Crispy Chocolate Bars recipe on the side of the box. Basically, you melt 1 c chocolate chips, 1 c butterscotch chips and 1/2 c peanut butter over low heat. Remove from heat, mix in 5c corn flakes and press into 9x9 pan. The resulting bar is very sweet and takes me back to my childhood in the Midwest.

My Facebook post about the corn flake surplus inspired my friend, Sara Jones, to share her Snickers bar surplus. She bought full-size Snickers bars for Halloween and still had a dozen left over. We jokingly searched for a recipe using Snickers bars. When the same recipe came up seven times, we decided we had to try it. Here are the ingredients (plus 3/4 c melted butter):

I'm ordinarily suspicious of any recipe involving cake mix, but these brownies are delicious. They are chewy and not too sweet. For the full recipe on All Recipes, click here or Bing Snickers bar brownies.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pumpkin Muffins. Pass it on.

My daughter tells me that she loves to play the game, Telephone, at lunchtime. I can imagine a table of boisterous kindergartners sitting around the table whispering, "Pass it on," and breaking into peals of laughter.

This week, I've been involved in my own game of Telephone. You see, a while back, the author of Smitten Kitchen made pumpkin muffins. Last week, Lecia, author of A Day That Is Dessert, made the same recipe and blogged about it. I printed the recipe and couldn't get it out of my mind. Today, I finally remembered to buy pumpkin and made the muffins.

Now I'm passing it on to you. I can't promise unstoppable giggling, but I can guarantee that your kitchen will smell delicious!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Curse of the Rosh Hashanah cake?

The synagogue I attended growing up publishes a Jewish cookbook and the book includes a tasty, honey cake that is easy to make. Yet, for the last couple years, I've decide to make fancier, more sophisticated cakes.

As you may remember, the Dorie Greenspan apple cake that I made in 2008 was a flop. The entire top of the cake stuck to the pan. You can see pictures and my open letter to Dorie Greenspan by clicking here.

For Rosh Hashanah this year, I decided to make a honey cake called the "Majestic and Moist New Year's Honey Cake." I found the recipe here on Epicurious. The recipe was published originally in Marcy Goldman's book, The Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.

Perhaps lulled by the title of the cake, I expected great results. When I opened the oven for the moment of truth, this is what I saw:

Check out the giant valley in the cake. Was my Rosh Hashanah cake baking cursed? Is this like a variation of the book of life? The book of competent bakers?

Luckily, when I flipped the cake over, it looked much better.

Hope you have a sweet new year and all your cakes turn out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Misplaced Limitations and the Return to a Hodge-Podge Blog

As I've discussed in the past, my goal for last year was to explore "what I want to be when I grow up" and to develop a life plan. The one thing I knew for sure, to borrow Oprah's phrase, was that I did not want to practice law. I had spent years proclaiming myself a "recovering lawyer" and discouraging people from attending law school.

During my year of exploration I spent time reading about developing life plans, talking with people in different roles and a various stages of life, and journaling and blogging about various ideas. Eventually, I had a Eureka! moment and decided on a new direction. Then a couple months later, I found a better direction. And a while later, an even better direction.

After a number of false starts it struck me that I really did want to use my law degree and move in a direction related to law. The limitation I had placed on myself -- no law -- seemed helpful when I made it, but really was preventing me from getting to where I wanted to be.

Similarly, placing a restricted focus on my blog -- community volunteering -- has prevented me from posting. Focusing the blog on a particular area seemed like a good idea, but the focus wasn't interesting enough for me to inspire new posts. Instead of launching a new direction, the limitation drained me of passion for blogging.

So, is going back to a hodge-podge blog. I'll post about thing that inspire, interest and entertain me. Hopefully you'll find them inspiring, interesting and entertaining too.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Guest Post: The Case for Charging for Volunteer Services

Sara Jones was my first nonprofit board mentor. She excels in helping those in the nonprofit sector think about the financial and strategic consequences of their decisions. When I told her I was investigating nonprofit consulting and thinking of doing some projects for free, she made her case for always charging something for professional services. The organization will treat you more professionally, and you will act in a more professional manner, she argued. But I'll let her speak for herself:

Okay so I was asked to be a guest blogger and to speak about theories around the value of contribution and what is an appropriate “billable rate.” At first I was stumped as to what to write and was then advised if all else failed, talk about how to rent a flat bed and drive a truck that goes psshhhh when you step on the brakes. Personally, if you ever get the opportunity to drive a big rig its worth it and I guarantee you will never quickly pull in front of any truck ever again in your life. Lets get back on track with the original idea: your personal billable rate and how do you derive that number.

When I was first struggling with how much do I charge as a consultant, I was advised to do some research in my field and then charge a “number that made me a little uncomfortable.” To this day I still employ this formula. I continue to test and refine my theory but I think it works for most situations. Now, I am not saying price yourself so outside of reasonable that you seem ridiculous. It’s personal. Probably, there is a number that is comfortable and well within your ability to get paid such a number. Then there is the number that is just a touch higher. For example, if you are used to getting say $60 an hour, your next client go for $75-$100. Lets me just say this—even if you are just starting out never ever ever charge nothing or a cut rate. It says something about how you value yourself and how you value your work. Sure, inexperience is one thing so charge a rate that is still a little uncomfortable but it always will be north of zero.

Charging a rate that makes you feel uncomfortable also sends a message not only to your client (that you have value, worth and deserve and expect to be paid well), but also reinforces a message to yourself. For most, this uncomfortable feeling is just the sort of motivating force we need to step into and act the part. In other words, it creates a door that once you walk through you align yourself and your work product with this rate. Once you put it out there it becomes true. And pretty soon that rate will feel comfortable and then I say take it up again.

Let me know how it works for you. From my limited sample set so far my theory seems to hold---what do I know? I’m learning too.

Have fun,Sara Jones
Guest blogger, general contractor, wannabe truck driver and business consultant

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Crusade to Prevent People from Applying to Law School (And Why I Might Be Wrong)

While waiting in line for preschool registration, I heard one mom mention to another, "I had a dream last night that I applied to Stanford Law School."  "Don't do it!" I interrupted before it registered that I didn't know these women and that they weren't talking to me.

When someone asks my advice about attending law school or even mentions the idea within earshot, I immediately start thinking about the people I know who intended to have interesting jobs (writers, politicians, activists) and joined corporate law firms instead.

The people I talk to about law school are usually young and intent on changing the world or at least making it a little better.  It's too easy to take the path of least resistance and work for a law firm, I argue.  The debt burden will pressure you to take the highest paying job, not the one you're most passionate about, I cajole.  The horror of hours and hours of document review, I exclaim.

But, I think it might be time to revise my stance.  First, the easy and seductive path to a law firm - sign up for an on-campus interview, fly to an exciting city for an interview, wine and dine all summer at the firm's expense, accept a job with a six-figure salary - is disappearing, if not gone.  Second, my opinion of what lawyers do is overly influenced by my friends and my experience as junior and mid-level law firm associates.  Many lawyer friends have moved on from the positions to interesting government work at Department of Justice, US Trade Representative, and the FCC, meaningful work in the nonprofit sector, and some are even reinventing the idea of law firms.

The other argument that I sometimes undervalue is the extent to which a law degree, especially from an elite institution, serves as a certification or stamp of approval.  Everyone knows that Barack Obama went to Harvard Law School and served as President of the Harvard Law Review.  Closer to home, I've seen this stamp of approval substitute for close scrutiny or at least create a positive presumption many times in my volunteer experience: That board candidate, she went to Harvard Business School - Say no more!; That mom making root beer floats, she went to Yale Law school - a collective gasp!;  That job applicant that went to MIT - maybe we should look at her application more carefully.

If a person's goal is to change the world, maybe she should consider a law degree from an elite institution.  The credibility implied from that degree (deserved or not) could open doors and provide opportunities.  Careers are long and most career paths are not linear.  Starting off at a law firm to reduce your debt doesn't mean that you'll be there for the next 20 years.  At the very least, other parents might be a little more respectful as they ask for a second root beer float.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Can Volunteers Create the Greatest Amount of Social Change?

Before I was a Mom and a community volunteer, I was a public policy major.  As a public policy major, I spent lots of time assessing the costs and benefits of various actions and considering how to derive maximum impact from limited resources.  

Recently, I've been thinking about applying a cost-benefit analysis to my volunteer activities.  In other words, what volunteer activities will allow me to have the greatest possible effect?   Don't get me wrong.  I love community building events like neighborhood picnics and class socials.  These events bring people together, create a sense of connection and community, and set the groundwork for future cooperation.  But I'm thinking about activities that really move the needle forward on social issues.

Take the issue of K-12 education, for example.  Public education in Washington State faces many challenges.  Sometimes the problem seems too big for one person to make much of a difference. One solution is to concentrate on a small project.  Our neighbor's school recently held a hoop-a-thon to raise money to fund a PE and nutrition teacher for next year.  

Another solution is to advocate for change in larger systems and encourage others to do the same.  The results aren't as immediate, but they could have a much larger effect.  If I make cookies for a bake sale, the benefit (say, $1 per cookie) is seen almost immediately.  Advocating for school reform before the school district or the state legislature takes longer to show results, if at all.  Yet, a community mandate to make education funding a priority could result in millions of dollars in money for schools.

The idea of going to Olympia to talk to a legislator or even writing a letter to the editor can seem overwhelming to an individual.  Are there ways to provide smaller opportunities to be involved a la or MomsRising?  The work of the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children is a good start.