Sunday, April 19, 2015

Colorado Teen Literature Conference, 2015 + Hamburger/Hot Dog Buns Recipe & Shepard's Pie Recipe

Last weekend I helped put on the 2015 Colorado Teen Literature Conference. My life has been a ride on the crazy train for a while, but I am sure glad that I made going to the conference a priority.

We had two really wonderful Key Note, featured authors. Wendelin Van Draanen, who has written a ton of books, some of them for middle schoolers, and some of them a bit more serious. My current favorite of her books is The Running Dream. However, I have several titles, including Flipped and Swear to Howdy, that I want to read. Her keynote was funny, serious and uplifting.
Wendelin, her husband and two young boys started out living in a tiny, moldy house in a bad neighborhood where homeless people slept on her porch. For ten years she taught math and computer science while raising her family and writing in the wee hours of the morning. For many of those ten years she received many rejection letters. Eventually, a publisher gave her a contract and that book that so many other publishing houses turned down, won a few rewards. She continues to work like this for some number of years, until she was getting enough from writing that she could do that full time. the son of Rob Reiner had to read Flipped for school, and so Rob read along with him. He loved the novel enough to make it into a movie.

One of the things that I love about Wendelin was that, in addition to being kind, understanding and very real, she was also very funny. Sometimes she sang a little when she was speaking. I love this about her. She was also so kind and attentive to the teens at the conference.
We are going to exchange some fun stuff in the mail. She is going to send me a few books on disc for my struggling readers. I am going to make her a small piece of art.

Our other notable speaker was Andrew Smith. I love his books because they are so daring and really put what I think it must be like to be a teenage boy onto the page. I loved his book, Winger. I was thrilled when he talked about the sequel coming out in September.
I thought Grasshopper Jungle was great, too. It was very daring, indeed.

Andrew and his family live in the mountains of California. He is very dedicated to supporting his children and helping them be who they want to be. I loved the stories about how he empowers both of his kids. He, too, writes early in the morning. He gets up at 3:00 so that he can write before he is off to teach a full day of high school English. I admire and am amazed at his drive, his motivation. The teens at our conference loved him, too.
We had lots of other wonderful sessions, too many to list. One of our new types of sessions this year was one about "No More Bored Games." It was a very big hit.

After the conference we dined at Lower 48. The food was hand-made, but the portions were a bit small. The restaurant is really lovely.
My favorite food was the onion chips. They are made from pureed onion that is mixed with tapioca pearls, made into a foam that is put on parchment, dried and fried. They were very, very yummy!

In a few weeks we will gather to look at the evaluations, and then we will take a break and reconvene in the fall.


This weekend we had a fun family dinner with all of us, Kohlton, James and Uncle Doug. I made hamburgers, hamburger buns and served fruit. I also made a nice Shepard's Pie for Larr's lunch this week.

Hamburger or Hot Dog Buns
via: King Arthur Flour (recipe is half of the original amount)
This made 9 good size buns.

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 tea active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
2 cups warm milk (105°F to 115°F)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
3 - 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
e<i>gg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
sesame, poppy or caraway seeds or coarse salt (optional)

I made the dough in my bread maker and it worked out great! Here are the directions for doing it by hand:

*We give you this fairly wide variation for a couple of reasons. First, you'll find in the summer that you'll need a bit more flour to absorb a given amount of liquid than you will in the winter. This is because it's humid and flour acts somewhat like a slightly dampened sponge as a result.

Second, this particular dough should be quite slack, i.e., very relaxed in order to make soft and tender buns. So you want to add only enough more flour, past the 6-cup point, to make the dough just kneadable; sprinkling only enough more to keep it from sticking to you or the board.

Mixing: In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar and then the yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, oil, salt and 3 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

Gradually add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.

Kneading: Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Because this dough is so slack, you may find that a bowl scraper or bench knife can be helpful in scooping up the dough and folding it over on itself.

Rising: Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly-woven dampened towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Shaping: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide into 18 equal pieces. This is done most easily by dividing the dough first into thirds, then those thirds into halves, then the halves into thirds.

Shape each piece into a ball. For hamburger buns, flatten the balls into 3 1/2-inch disks. For hot-dog buns, roll the balls into cylinders, 4 1/2-inches in length. Flatten the cylinders slightly; dough rises more in the center so this will give a gently rounded top versus a high top.

For soft-sided buns, place them on a well-seasoned baking sheet a half inch apart so they'll grow together when they rise. For crisper buns, place them three inches apart.

Second Rising: Cover with a towel and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

Baking: Fifteen minutes before you want to bake your buns, preheat your oven to 400°F. Just before baking, lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with whatever seeds strike your fancy.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190°F. (A dough thermometer takes the guesswork out of this.)

When the buns are done, remove them from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. This will prevent the crust from becoming soggy.

Nutrition information per serving (1 bun, 93 g): 206 cal, 3 g fat, 7 g protein, 37 g complex carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 1 g dietary fiber, 17 mg cholesterol, 255 mg sodium, 119 mg potassium, 2 mg iron, 120 mg calcium, 83 mg phosphorus.

Shepard's Pie

4 cups mashed potatoes
1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 can (14.5oz) Beef broth
2 cups frozen vegetable medley (I used bags of peas, carrots and green beans, instead of the medley)
2 cups Cheddar Cheese, shredded
salt & pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Brown ground beef, onions and garlic in a large skillet on med-high heat. When meat is completely cooked, stir in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and beef broth. Simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until sauce is thick. Turn the heat off and stir in frozen vegetables and salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour beef mixture into a large, oven-proof casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of mashed potatoes.
Place casserole dish on a large sheet pan (in case the sauce overflows) and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Ladle and serve!

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