Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Who doesn't love cake? A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff offers cake.

Groovy Girl recently had a very big birthday.  She turned 12 on the 12th of September.  She's growing up...I dislike it, I love it-it depends on the day.  She's taking 7th grade in stride, a few bumps along the way.  For example, she forgot her phone at school, in a classroom.  Couldn't get a hold of her for about 35 minutes after school.  So frustrating yet we joked about it on our way home. We walked home from school hand in hand and then shared a cupcake when we got home.  Much of life is grand.

Back to the major birthday party.  For two years she's been awaiting this golden birthday and she'd requested a hotel sleepover party for this illustrious event.  We went hotel shopping in early August to check out their lobbies, their pools, and how they made us feel.  The Hilton Garden Inn won hands down as the pool was warm and they had a lovely outdoor area with twinkling lights and fire pits.  The deal was sealed.  I made two reservations.  The price was pretty reasonable.

I asked her if she wanted cupcakes from our local cupcakery that is so popular.  She said "NO" flat out. "We always make my cake, mama!" she said.  I asked her to look for a recipe.  Weeks went by and then as I was reading an Iowa Children's Choice possible title A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff I found the cake!  It spoke to me because it combined some of her favorite things...chocolate and more chocolate and she loves s'mores! I rushed upstairs to share my discovery and she was like "mm-maybe-" followed by a "maybe" and a little shoulder shrug.  Hmmm.  I stuck with it though and we gave it a try.

Will's S'more Cake
-a cake that always disappears quickly-

For the cake:
small spoonful of flour, for preparing the cake pans
14-oz package of graham crackers (about 26 crackers)
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter (2 sticks) **always use unsalted as it is fresher** at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp good vanilla
1 cup milk, at room temperature

For the frosting:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks) room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
pinch of salt

For the filling:
1 large cup marshmallow fluff
(I did NOT say this cake was healthy in anyway)

For the topping:
extra graham crackers and/or mini-marshmallows **she opted for studding it with chocolate chips**

1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Lightly grease the bottoms of two 8-in. round cake pans with butter.  Using the cake pans as a template, trace two circles onto wax paper (I used parchment paper) and cut them out, placing once circle inside each pan.  Sprinkle the inside of the pans lightly with flour, and tap the pans to distribute it evenly.

2. Place graham crackers in a blender or food processor, and grind until crushed to a fine powder.  (Alternatively, place the graham crackers in a plastic ziplock bag and crush them with a rolling pin which is exactly what Groovy Girl did as it sounded more fun!)  Measure out 3 cups of the cracker powder into a medium bowl, and mix with the baking powder.  Set aside.  Reserve the remaining graham cracker powder to decorate the top of the cake, if desired.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer, starting on low speed then increasing to medium-high, until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla.

4. Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, add about a third of the graham racker mixture to the batter, combining well.  Add about half of the milk and combine.  Then add another third of the graham cracker mixture, the last of the milk, and then the last of the cracker mix, combining well each time.

5. Pour the batter into the two pans, smoothing the surface.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.

6. While the cakes are baking, make the frosting; In a double boiler or a heatproof boil fitted into a saucepan of simmering water, carefully melt the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring often.  Remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10-15 minutes.

7. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer fitted with clean beaters on medium speed until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth, another 2-3 minutes.  Add the cooled chocolate, sour cream, and pinch of salt, and beat to combine.

8.  When the cakes are completely cooled, place one cake layer on a plate and spread marshmallow fluff on top.  If fluff is difficult to spread, microwave it in a glass bowl first for 10-20 seconds and stir.)  Place the second cake layer on top and frost the whole cake with the chocolate frosting.  Decorate with graham cracker crumbs or mini marshmallows.   (44-46)

Almost everyone at the party loved the cake, the flavor was great and it was nice and dense.  I would make this one again with some minor adjustments.  We brought part of the cake home and we've all been sneaking bites here and there and we've also shared a few pieces Grandpa Roger style; in a bowl with some milk.  The best. Thanks Dad.  Miss you.

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff has some memorable moments but the plot was a bit scattered for me. The cakes and Cady's story were the very best part though and I wanted Cady to find a good permanent home with Miss Mallory.  Cady has a knack for baking and it was fun to read about how she created cakes for those around her.  Thank you Ms. Graff for giving us a wonderful birthday recipe!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a young woman who literally is out of chances yet somehow she manages to positively affect change in all the people around her.  In the very first chapter her adoptive parents are killed in a car accident and she is left completely alone. No family friends, no long lost rich aunt, no scheming mad uncle to claim her.  Instead she finds herself with a sad excuse for a school counselor and a brother and sister she never met before but who happen to be visiting the same counselor when she finds out that her parents have died.

The misfit male counselor, Dell Duke, is lost as to how to even take action in this situation even though others are turning to him for help.  Mai and Quang-ha, sister and brother who live with their mother in a garage behind their mother's nail salon and it is Mai who comes to the aid of Willow when it is obvious that she has nowhere to go.  With this blanket of sadness over everyone it would seem this book would spill tears right out of it's pages but there is something magical about Willow Chance.  Her parents were high-spirited happy people who loved her deeply for all her unusual quirkiness and she has thrived in that love.  Now without that love from the two most important people she has to find a way to survive.

I loved I'll Be There Holly Goldberg Sloan's first novel and find that the two books have a similarity in that she takes oddball characters throws them into tough situations and makes us love them.


Jamison Children's Center is the county facility that provides emergency foster care.
Lenore Cole gives me a pamphlet.
I read it, but get the distinct feeling that the place is probably for kids who have parents who hit them or don't feed them real food because they are too busy taking drugs or stealing something.  
As we drive up to the building, I put my index and middle fingers on my carotid artery just behind my ear to take my pulse.
I know for a fact that my heart rate is in some kind of danger zone." (139)

Willow is a genius and knows things that most people don't and she's not afraid to share. Through her interactions with others she pushes them forward even though she herself cannot get past her grief.  This is an amazing realistic fiction book but with such unusual characters that one can only make sure to push it into the hands of many young 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students to see what they take from it.  I can't imagine anyone not cheering for Willow.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Prairie picture book shares great knowledge.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
Phyllis Root and Betsy Bowen
University of Minnesota Press

This is  a gorgeous book.  Every elementary school needs a copy of this bright and colorful work of art.  It begins...

"Once prairie stretched for thousands of miles an ocean of flowers and grasses, a sea of sky, home for bison and elk, prairie chickens, burrowing owls, five-lined skinks, Plains garter snakes, and Ottoe skipper butterflies." 

The book challenges us to think about prairie and its disappearance in our world and challenges us the reader to plant a prairie be it big or small and if we were to cultivate a prairie, what would come and share in that bit of space?  A ruby-throated hummingbird, monarch butterfly, or Dakota skippers might show up...


The last four pages give full descriptions of prairie history, how to actually plant one, and animals that thrive in a prairie eco-system.  This book can be used as a read-aloud or a starting point for research or the beginning of a major project.  Use it, read it, love it.  Betsy Bowen and Phyllis Root: can you add to this title and make it an ecosystem series?

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's a new month! I liked August.

I wasn't even really ready for August to end.  For me August could be a double month.  I've had one major project to accomplish today and it is to clean off our antique blue bench which holds our mail.  Right now it is holding a large basket of unread magazines, a stack of books THREE stacks of books, and a mass of mail.  Mostly the mail we don't open.

I easily went through the mail basket and filled up the paper recycling bin.  Going through the magazine basket was a lot harder.  Old Martha Stewart's called my name, last year's Bon Appetit''s beckoned me to the pages within, and a couple of catalogs caught my eye as well.  It takes much longer to get things into the recycling bin when you page through everything.  It takes even longer when you decide to stop and write about some of what you find.

In an article about Russ and Daughters, a longstanding deli in New York City's Lower East Side, a few recipes were shared.  It doesn't matter that the MSL is circa Sept. 2012.  I'm sure the deli is still there (it is) and these recipes will still be fabulous. Now I need to get myself back to NYC so I can give Russ and Daughters a try.

In the meantime I will satisfy my craving with these two recipes:

{From MSL}

Bagel Pudding with prunes and raisins
serves 6-8

3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup sugar
1 T. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
4 or 5-day-old bagels, crusts removed and cut into 1/2-in cubes (8 cups)
unsalted butter, for baking dish
3/4 cups halved pitted prunes
3.4 cup seedless raisins
vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Whisk together eggs, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl until smooth.  Whisk in half-and-half and milk.  Add bagel cubes, and toss to coat.  Let mixture sit, stirring occasionally, until bread absorbs some of the liquid, about 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 325*. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish (2 inches deep). Stir prunes and raisins into bagel mixture, and transfer to baking dish.  Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour (if top browns too quickly, tent with foil).  Let cool completely on a wire rack.  Cut into squares, and serve with ice cream.

and then this fantastic beet recipe:

makes 6 1/2 cups

5 cups water, divided
2 T. white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh beet juice (from 1 1/2 lbs of beets) (use a juicer)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (5-6 lemons)

1. Whisk together 3/4 cup water, the vinegar, and sugar until sugar dissolves.
2. Combine remaining water, the beet juice, and lemon juice, and mix well.  Stir in vinegar mixture.  Refrigerate 48 hours before using.

Use that mix in this:

{From MSL}

Beet-and-Lemon-Shrub Cocktail

6 1/2 cups Beet-and-Lemon Shrub recipe
12 ounces of vodka
24 ounces of seltzer water
12 wedges of pickled green tomato, for garnish

1. Mix together shrub and vodka.
2. Fill 12 8-ozs glasses with ice; add shrub mixture.  Top off with seltzer, and garnish with pickled green tomatoes.  (I might think to garnish with lemon wedges as an alternative)

What I'm reading other than this pile of magazines is River of Ghosts by Robert F. Gish (father of the ever lovely and talented Annabeth) for my Sept. book club.  I'm going to finish it even though he is

I'm going to link this to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme even though technically the beautifully long weekend is over. Candace has a peach galette on her site.  I'd trade her a piece of my bagel pudding for a sliver of peach galette-we could have a cup of cappuccino and share.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New library space!

When I switched districts and schools I knew that more than likely I wasn't going to have a library space to start off the year.  My start has been great none the less.  I've met with kids in classrooms and have really enjoyed their energy!  My space is slowly coming around though and I thought I would share some pictures.

New Circulation Desk

What is all this stuff?

Teaching area; will have comfy chairs

Teaching area with tables and chairs

Computer station for Destiny

Back room work area

Windows that will eventually have screens also.
Great windowsills for plants!

Pretty door area

The walls look bland in the photos (except for the big blue one) but they are actually a nice dark cream color. It is soothing and lots of color exists in the space. The ceiling is multi-layered and there are four skylights. Now we just need lots of bookcases and furniture!  And of course all the books need to be unpacked.  Kids here have lived a long time without a large library so this is going to be very exciting for them (and me!)

Birthday gifts that keep on giving!

My birthday is way past (still in the same month at least!) and I wanted to (share) brag about two fantastic gifts I received.

My husband and Groovy Girl gave me a NutriBullet  because I'd been pricing them myself.  I've had a Juiceman juicer for years and years but lost interest because it was a mess to clean up and all the fiber ended up in bucket.  The juice was good but not enough to keep me interested and so it was collecting dust.  I recently gave it away in a flurry of cleansing.  Oh it felt so good.  The NutriBullet is the answer to the lost fiber and I love it.  I'm trying to take off the 10 lbs I've added to my small frame over the last few menopausal years and juicing jump starts my morning.  I've followed a few recipes but mainly just throw a few slices of fruit, leafy greens, nuts, Chia seeds, and a dollop of yogurt or water.  Yum.  It's not always pretty but they taste great.

The second cool gift I received is a FitBit Flex from my amazing in-laws.  I love them and they always get me something wonderful.  I didn't know much about FitBits before but I'm addicted now.  I love logging my food, water, and workouts. I like the sleep part also but can't get that to always work.  I am freaking amazed at how many steps I take in one day plus it makes me walk more than I normally would just by sitting on my wrist.  It is the extra thing that pushes me onward.  Thank you Phyllis and Allen!

I did get many other amazing gift - these two are just the ones that are helping me health-wise.  Oh and the sound recording of my friend Barb's yoga guru who is both meditative and thrilling.  My mom got me a colorful bag and a lovely scarf that I wear a lot and my friend Verda sent me Flair pens to start off my school year right.

I'm blessed ten times over and am personally thrilled every time I have a new birthday.  As my stepfather says "it's better than the alternative."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What a great week, kid-style.

My son sent me this photo last night.  He is fishing in Gunnison, Colorado with his grandparents.  They always catch and release so no fish was harmed in the taking of this photo.  He was thrilled though because this is one of the biggest trout he's ever caught.  His smile says it all.

On the other end of the spectrum Groovy Girl tried a little modeling at a Dillard's promotion and was picked for her style and her photograph.  One of her photos will be blown up and used for in-store promotion in the children's section and her photo will be sent to corporate offices for another chance to win.  She was thrilled to be chosen and almost as thrilled that her prize bank was filled with candy and little trinkets like Hello Kitty tattoos.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Recent Reads-Amazing!

I'm a pre-reader for our state award committee and our list is always long.  I only read enough to get me by and I generally pick ones that I think are worth it because I just don't have time to read each and every one of them  This year the first three that I picked up made me so happy as a reader and a librarian.

Doll Bones (2013) by Holly Black:  Creepy middle grade book done so well by the amazing Holly Black.  I loved that this one will appeal to boys and girls alike even though the word "doll" appears on the cover.  Poppy, Zachary, and Alice are close friends that have been playing "the game" for a long time and even though Zach feels a bit embarrassed he loves to play.  The three of them have a collection of odd ball dolls, action figures, and animal figurines and they build a story around their adventures.  It sounds amazing and creative to me.  Zach's dad unfortunately sees the toys a little differently and chucks the bag carrying his son's "toys" away.  Zach is crushed but instead of wanting to admit that to Alice and Poppy he pretends he isn't interested in playing anymore.  One of Poppy's dolls has a bit of history and the three of them are compelled to go on a journey to save her.  I will have a very easy time selling this book to students this year.

The Mark of the Dragonfly (2014) by Jaleigh Johnson:  What an incredible world Jaleigh created in  "The World of Solace."  Piper is an incredible character trying to make do as a scrapper in a scrap town on her own.  She ventures out of her routine when she finds Anna in a wagon after a meteor shower rains down on their village.  Her instinct is to protect her and she does even though she ends up far from home on a train bound for the capital.  I really enjoyed Anna's and Piper's journey and thought the addition of Gee, Trimble, and Jeyne added to the incredible story of escape and what it means to be a misfit in an already strange land.  Is there another one coming out? I hope to hear more about The World of Solace.

Winterling (2012) by Sarah Prineas: Fer has always had trouble fitting in and doesn't really understand what happened to her parents or why her grandmother keeps her under such a close watch.  When she meets a boy by the pond trying to protect himself from a couple of wolves she saves him and takes him back to her Gran-Jane to be healed.  As the young Rook meets Grand-Jane mysteries spill out that Fer doesn't understand and eventually her grandmother is forced to share her heritage with her granddaughter.  Fer's mother was The Lady of the Land on the other side of the Way and Grand-Jane's son fell in love with her and left. Now both are dead and the land on the other side needs Fer's help to be rid of the Mor who has a grip on the land and the people.  I love strong female characters and Fer is that.  She stands up for what she believes in and is more interested in having fun than grabbing power.  I liked this one so much I'm reading the 2nd in the series, Summerkin.

One not on the list but recommended by Tina Says: The Secret Hum of a Daisy (2014) by Tracy Holczer.  This one is realistic fiction which was a nice change of pace after all those magical lands swept me away.  Grace and her mother have spent all of their year together moving from one small town to the next in search of something they never truly find.  When Grace's mother dies unexpectedly Grace must go live with the grandmother that pushed her mother out of the house years ago.  Grace has to work hard to reconcile her feelings for her mother and what happened between mother and daughter before she was alive.  This novel explores so many excellent themes of parenting, grief, family, and home that it should be a read-aloud in many 5th-7th grade classrooms.  I will promote it as such and will recommend it for next year's list of could-be award winners.

If you are looking for a great read any one of these will do!