Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Taking November by storm...

{Scene from Mn Ballet-The Nutcracker}
I feel terrible when I look at this blog that I love so much and see that a month is half over and I haven't posted books or recipes or even what my life is like.  If I review blog posts many of them share a common theme of crazy busy happy life.  The month of November has been like that + more, like us amped up on lots Halloween candy.

Groovy Girl is in rehearsal for The Nutcracker with the Minnesota Ballet through her local dance studio.  She is excited to use her dramatic and dancer skills in such a favorite production.  We've gone several times to this show as she was growing up and I remember the first time like it was yesterday. She had on a magical deep blue dress and she couldn't sit still. Luckily we were sitting on the aisle in a front balcony and I could let her dance next to me as the dancers on stage made her want to dance with them.  The performance is soon and I will be happy to watch her perform and then happy to cross it off my schedule.

While she has been busy with that I decided at the end of October that this was the perfect time to try my hand at National Novel Writing 2015 so every spare moment between her rehearsals for Nutcracker and regular dance classes (5) and cheerleading activities I've been piecing together a story.  I'm at about 21,000 words and I need to write double time to finish by November 30th. I don't know if what I am writing is good but it feels fantastic to write it out.  Several pieces of the story are real events that I've always wanted to incorporate into something real.

I also threw in two weekend trips because they were already scheduled and I wasn't going to give them up.  My husband whisked me away to Iowa City for a night away-I was able to do some writing there.  I also had a date with two college friends in St. Paul and that provided research as that is the setting for my story.  It all works out. That's my mantra.

Work is also crazy right now even though about a week ago I felt caught up-in that one moment because now I'm racing to get things finished up for conferences and our Scholastic book fair which occur very quickly after Thanksgiving.  Oh and I am really looking forward to that lovely day of relaxation with my family.  We are eating very unconventionally and then have a playdate with freinds for board games and cocktails at our house. Hopefully by then I will have really caught up in my daily word counts for nanowrimo2015 and I won't feel a bit of guilt as I hang out with friends.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

End-of-the-month dead end

Happy Halloween everyone.  I stayed up past my bedtime last Tuesday to write a 3-month review of books from August-October. I spent a fair amount of time cross referencing my GoodReads account.  It had the makings of a fantastic post.  I got on today to finish it and send it out to all of you but it disappeared into the vast unknown. I must not have saved it properly or the internet just royally messed with me.  I've looked all through my history. Nothing, nada.  I can find every single other page I was on around that time but no sign of that post.  *&&%$#@!  Time wasted. I will have to go back and recreate the entire thing.

I will do it but my point in working on it last Tuesday was that I wanted it done before the end of the month.  November I dive into November Novel writing.  Never tried it and for some reason feel compelled to do it now. I admit to being scared even terrified but that's okay.  I have grit.

In other family news this is the first Halloween we are not out there trick or treating with a child.  Our 13-year-old is trick or treating with a friend but really only to take her 2-yr-old sister around the neighborhood.  The other two are long out of the tradition and I noticed on older daughter's tumblr page that she's off drinking holiday brew with friends.  It is spooky how they grow up and live their own lives independent of you.  We had fun reminiscing about costumes and other Halloween celebrations together.  If I had a redo I would have taken one picture for every Halloween and kept a book so I could remember all the costumes and the places we were. Highlights: Tristan as a fish he created and painted himself, a cowboy, Mr Monopoly, Yoda, and Groovy Girl as a small lion our first year in Chicago, Ladybug Girl, The Mad Hatter, a bumblebee, Cruella DeVille, and Kaylee as a pink flamingo and an Indian princess. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Exotic spices from afar

I tried to make a curry dish from Jaime Oliver's book a few weeks ago and I could not track down all the spices. My family said they would love to try the curry again with all the right ingredients.  The spices arrived last week from Amazon.  Curry leaves, lime leaves, and fenegreek.

I haven't had a chance to do anything with them except smell their aromas.  This morning before school I noticed a leaf turning brown in the lime leaf bag and knew I needed to start preserving before they all turn brown-which in my life-seriously could happen and then I'd be out of luck the next time I'm in the mood for good stinkin' curry.

While researching I found a cool curry blog, Show me the curry, and they have a segment, Tip Tuesday, and they discuss preserving curry leaves. Just what I needed. I now have curry leaves drying in my refrigerator.

And for the Kafir Lime leaves I found this Thai blog post with recipe ideas. After reading several how-to ideas on line it seems the best idea for lime leaves is to freeze them and then run under warm water to use them although if you are just adding them to soups/curries they could be added still frozen I would think.  I'm going to lay them out to freeze and then add to a bag so they don't all clump together.  Tomorrow's project.  Have you experimented with either of these spice leaves?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Weekly Recipes {8}

I have a foodie crush on Jamie Oliver and I found this book at a sale and had to have it. Friday I took this book to dance class and browsed while Groovy Girl did her thing.  I found many recipes I wanted to try but this curry recipe was the one. Our family loves curry and it was a special night as the 20-year-old was joining us for dinner so I made a special stop at our international store for roti bread and spices.

My Favorite Curry Sauce
(p. 32) serves 4

5 T vegetable oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (couldn't find these on short notice)
3 fresh green chillies, deseeded and thinly sliced.  (I used only one)
1 handful of curry leaves
2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 onions, peeled and chopped
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp tumeric
6 tomatoes, chopped
1 14-oz can of coconut milk

He has three seperate variations; fish, chicken, and veggie.  I had a good piece of chicken so I used that, cutting the chicken in to bite-sized pieces and adding 1 T coriander seeds, crushed to the skillet.

Heat the oil in a pan, and when hot add the mustard seeds.  Wait for them to pop, then add the fenegreek seeds, fresh green chillies, curry leaves and ginger.  Stir and fry for a few minutes.  Using a food processor, chop the onions and add to the same pan.  Continue to cook for 5 minutes until the onion is light brown and soft, then add the chilli powder and turmeric.  Using the same food processor, pulse the tomatoes and add these to the pan.  Cook for a couple of minutes, then add 1 or 2 wineglasses of water and the coconut milk to the pan.  Simmer for about 5 minutes until it has the consistency of heavy cream, then season carefully with salt.

Take this sauce as the base and add in whatever meat, veggies or tofu you would like. Be sure to stir fry your meat in a skillet and then add it into the sauce.

I served it with jasmine rice and Indian bread.  It was good, and well worth it but I was missing key ingredients; the fenegreek seeds and curry leaves. I wasn't happy that our small ethnic grocery store didn't have either of these and the sales person offered me a bag of bay leaves instead. (what?!) I don't have any trips planned to Minneapolis or Chicago so I did what I had to do but don't like to do; I ordered them from Amazon. I love my small town but it is hard when I'm looking for unusual ingredients.

I want to make the dish again when these unusual spices arrive and see the difference. Also I will add all three chillies in! I worried it would be too spicy but it wasn't spicy enough.  The flavor was good and the bread was a huge hit so it was a win. My husband and son had multiple large helpings and there was still leftovers for lunch the next day.

Because I was making a special dinner I thought I would do a dessert as well and I was drawn to Jaime's fancy pudding recipe.

Cheeky Chocolate Mousse

(p. 278) serves 4
8 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate, bashed up
5 T butter, cut into pieces
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
2 large eggs, pref. organic
1 T. Amaretto
2 T. good quality honey
In a bowl over some gently simmering water, slowly melt the chocolate and the butter together then remove from the heat.  In a separate bowl, semi-whip the cream (until it forms soft peaks, not too stiff).  In a 3rd bowl, whisk the eggs and honey until light and fluffy then fold in the Amaretto, melted chocolate mixture and cream-gently-so you don't lose too much air.  Pour into some small wineglasses, martini glasses, or dessert dishes and leave to chill for about an hour before serving.  I served it topped with a little extra cinnamon-infused whipped cream. Both kids really disliked the dessert because it was a strong chocolate favor but not sweet enough for them.  Ha!  That left more for me.  I've had a tiny dish of it every night this week to finish off my dinner.  I love the strong flavor.

If I had the opportunity to sit and have a meal with a chef I would pick Jaime.  His casual style appeals to me, we could have a cold beer and chat about spices, and he makes even a difficult dish sound doable.

Monday, September 28, 2015

ThinkIn15 with Mr Schu

On Saturday I participated in a ThinkIn at an elementary school about 45 minutes away. Even though it was gorgeous weather on Saturday and I live to be outside when it is so lovely out, I went.  I could have rolled over at 7:30 am and gone right back to sleep as the other peeps at my house did but I didn't. I had a strong conviction to go because Mr. Schu (John Schumacher) was the guest speaker and I love to follow his lovely blog posts and tweets.  He's created quite a community of readers, authors, bloggers, librarians, and teachers.  I gave up my Saturday morning for him and it was well worth it.

He had a plethora of slides about connecting students with books to start the day off and we didn't even get to half of his slides. He says he has OCD when it comes to making slide shows.  That OCD is exactly what makes him entertaining to see in person.  He flits from story to story, sharing funny anecdotes about authors he's met, and his own quirkiness. He has a smell test for all new books. Yes, I said smell test as in "doesn't this book smell a-m-a-z-i-n-g!"

I had many things I wanted to say to him but I'm nervous and weird and can never get the right sentence out at the right time so I nodded my head a lot in the two conversations we had.  One of the things I wanted to say was that I loved Matthew Baker's book, If you find this, which when Mr Schu shared about this book everyone else looked at it like they'd never heard of it and he said he couldn't find a copy of it in the book stores he stopped in on his way through Iowa.  Hmmm.  I loved the book and we need to start a buzz about If you find this. 

His second presentation shared lots of new books with us and he gave away lots of books.  He talked about authors he loves like Kate DiCamillo, Ame Dykeman, and Katherine Applegate and he likes funny books which made me wonder if he likes Emily Gravett books.  Her books are unusual and kids like her sense of humor.

I was the lucky winner of TWO books from Mr. Schu (thank you, thank you!); A passion for elephants; the real life adventure of field scientist Cynthia Moss by Toni Buzzeo and Holly Berry and Ivan; the remarkable true story of the shopping mall gorilla by Katherine Applegate and G. Brian Karas.  I loved The one and only Ivan also by Applegate and many teachers use it for a read aloud so this book will make a great addition to our library.  And did I mention that it's signed by K. Applegate!

I think it is interesting that I got two books with super long titles and both about animals.  I had to sit on my hands for the rest of his giveaways and it was very difficult; he had so many great books to give away.  My friend Nancy was the lucky winner of Brian Selznick's new book The Marvels.

You can find Mr Schu's wonderful blog posts at Watch. Connect. Read. I love reading his posts, his book recommendations make my lists long on Titlewave, and he entertains using Vine and lots of book trailers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Craft Cocktails for the end of summer

Summer Cocktails 

I've had this checked out from our public library for a few weeks...and have yet to take the necessary time to make any of the recipes. 

I love craft cocktails especially made from garden ingredients; think cucumber or rhubarb. 

I wanted to make quite a few recipes from this book-that would have been a lot of cocktailing through September...I tried to pick a few of my top favorites-there were so many delicious choices though.

Bee Sting

2 ounces Barenjager honey liqueur
Champagne, prosecco, or sparking wine

Pour honey liqueur into a champagne glass or flute. Top with champagne. Serve.

This is an easy one but I love bees and this would be a great celebration cocktail!

There is a delicious recipe for Long Island Iced Tea that I would love to try because it would be far superior to the cocktail I drank in college on crazy nights. I'm interested in the homemade sour mix.

Also she talks about a Dark and Stormy and her recipe includes actual ginger slices with ginger beer-that would take it up a notch so, of course, I'm going to give that a try.

This would be perfect for a gathering of friends even in late fall:
La Dolce Vita

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into cubes
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 T granulated sugar
2 cups brandy
1 t lemon juice
2 bottles of Asti Spimante, chilled
2 cups fresh tangerine juice, strained and chilled
2 cups dry lemon soda, such as San Pellegrino, chilled
1 cup homemade sour mix
Ice chunks
1 cup red/green grapes, thinly sliced
Fresh thyme and rosemary twigs for garnish

Place apples in a large bowl. Rub lemon zest into sugar until no strands remain and sprinkle onto apples. Add brandy and lemon juice. Let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
Stir together wine, tangerine juice, lemon soda, and sour mix in a punch or other serving bowl. Add several large pieces of ice, the apple brandy mixture, and grapes. Stir. Serve drink in ice-filled cups, adding a scoop of fruit to each. Garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme and/or rosemary and serve immediately.

Salty Lime Soda (I love limes about as much as I love lemons)

6 fresh curry leaves
2 kafir lime leaves, cut into thin ribbons
2 T granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 ozs white rum
Ice cubes
1/4 cup club soda, chilled

Toast curry leaves in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and dry, shaking pan often, about 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a shaker.  Add lime leaves, sugar, and salt and muddle.  Add lime juice, rum, and ice and shake vigorously.  Strain into an ice-filled glass and top with club soda.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to find curry or kafir lime leaves but it will be totally worth it.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

{Jennifer Richard Jacobson}
Ari and Gage experience their mother's death and are taken in by her old friend, Janna, someone they hardly know, and raised in a very different way. It becomes too much for Gage as the older brother to be not trusted and unloved.  His mother's wishes were for the two of them to stay together so when he feels like it is time to leave he takes Ari with him, even though it means lying to Janna.

He does not have an apartment arranged or a job for himself.  He and Ari take turns staying at shelters and friend's apartments.  Hiking their way around the city and trying to get Ari to school everyday is difficult for both of them. Ari lies to her teachers, her classmates, and her best friend about how she is living.  Her teachers watch her slip behind, coming in with her unclean and stinky clothes and hair. She struggles to get homework turned in and her friends make fun of her.  As an educator I wanted to stop her in the hall and ask if all was okay, how can I help?

This well-written realistic fiction shows the difficulty of homeless children. How do you keep your stuff together, how do you take a shower, how do you keep your life from falling all apart and still love and trust the brother who put you into this situation?  This story should help anyone gain more empathy and compassion for students in this situation.

Jennifer Richard Jacobson is an eduator as well and I've heard great things about Small as an Elephant.  I'll have to get that one at the library as well. Thank you, Tina, for the recommendation.

Monday, September 14, 2015


Groovy Girl turned 13 over the weekend. We celebrated in style and had fun on Friday afternoon with a camping-themed sleepover.

We put up our Coleman tent, ordered pizzas, set out pink lemonade, and most importantly cleaned up after the dogs all over the backyard.  Fun stuff.
{Camp site}
Four girls arrived sleeping bags and pillows in hand. Groovy Girl and I had mapped out a tentative schedule and she requested that we basically stay away.  Funny.

So I ordered and retrieved the pizza from our favorite $5 pizza joint down the hill.  I took three pizzas to the backyard for the girls and took one inside for the adults (me and two friends).  And then really they didn't ever need me again.  At one point they used some manly help from dad to set up a projector but beyond that we had our own little happy birthday celebration inside.

After all the birthday parties we've hosted for that girl over the years it is funny to be asked to step aside.  I get it though; she wants to be able to relax with her friends and talk about stuff.  And the stuff they talk about is going to get deeper.  I'm cool with it as long as she continues to talk to me about the big stuff.

They slept all the way through the night in the tent, fairly cuddled together to keep warm.  We had cinnamon rolls and watermelon for breakfast.  As I wandered into the backyard in the morning before they know I was there I overheard them talking about hashtags-what was that hashtag we made up last night?  These are mine: #successfulbirthday #13yearsold and #biglove