Monday, December 11, 2017

Craving Chickpeas...

Happy December!
Last week I was craving spicy soup, which has nothing to do with Christmas or December but just my own odd taste buds.  I looked through recipes both online and in my massive stacks of books looking for just the right one. I found this one by Rachael Ray that looked interesting: Indian-spiced Chickpea, and this one, Morroccan Chickpea, from Good Foods, and then this, Chickpea Chili, from MyRecipes.  I ended up kind of making my own up loosely based on the last one except I did not have butternut squash on hand and I left out pimento-stuffed olives because seriously I couldn't imagine that flavor with the soup I was craving. Once I settled on a recipe I found some friends to invite over to be my tasters. 

I made a batch of brown rice, tossed up a fresh salad, and this rustic bread to break together. Oh and I had a couple of chicken breasts on hand and as other people love their protein I shredded it and left it as a topping to be tossed into the soup like the parsley and sour cream. They left quite full, smiling and with half a loaf of bread in their hands. Also they'd both done well at Spite and Malice and Taboo; games that we played.  It was a lovely winter night; cold outside, toasty on the inside.

I finished Maggie Stiefvater's new book, All the Crooked Saints, tonight. She is a very imaginative writer and I think she casts a spell on each of her stories. This one, set in Colorado in 1962, is about the Soria family and their ability to collect pilgrims looking for miracles and it's about radio waves, saints, and love.  I don't understand how she weaves that altogether but she does. My Maggie favorites are The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys series. Now I'm on to Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni and Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How lucky we are...library books are a treasure.

If I had to buy every book I wanted to read my bank balance would be zip, zilch, nada. All the time.

Praise Jesus for the invention of public libraries and hope to the future they last for all eternity. Over the past few weeks I've compiled a stack from 2 different visits.

I also finished an amazing book, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, a beautifully written story of Count Alexander Rostov.  He's under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in the heart of Moscow. He's lucky to be alive yet it's difficult to understand you may never take one step outside to do ordinary things.  He sets up routines to get through until young Nina, a visitor to the hotel engages him in conversation. His time is soon taken up with this precocious guest as they explore the inner workings of the hotel. Amor's language and the characters he breathes life into make this tale magical and believable. I would love to have been part of this story even as the seamstress who guides Alexander into parenting.  I returned this one back to the library only because it had a hold on it; otherwise I may have read it again. Instead I found Amor's first book, Rules of Civility (2011) and plan to read that soon.

Here is the rest of my stack:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) : excellent novel in verse about young Will retracing his life after his older brother is killed. (finished)

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (2017) : Magical tale of the Soria family in Colorado as they take care of pilgrims and each other. I'm on chapter 6 and as soon as I finish composing I plan to fly the sofa and read...I've loved Maggie's writing for a long time and once took a long drive through flood waters to hear her speak. She's pretty badass too.

What to say next by Julie Buxbaum (2017) : Recommended to me by my friend Tina, this one is an interesting tale of an unlikely friendship between Kit and David. (not yet read)

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (2017) : Carter Briggs is a happy young man until he sends one text to his friend Mars minutes before Mars, Eli, and Blake are killed in a car accident. Now the world seems to be coming down on Carter as everyone looks for someone to blame. (not yet read)

The Ties that Bind by Kent Haruf (1984) : I read Kent's "Our Souls at night" in the hammock this summer and was in love with the characters and the simple story line. I thought I'd start at the beginning of the Holt, Colorado stories with this one.

The Dry by Jane Harper (2016) : This title popped up on my mother-in-law's feed as a great new read while they were here which prompted both of us to put it on hold at our respective local libraries. After reading my last Cormoran Strike mystery (the 2nd in the series)-b/c I read them out of order-I could use another good thriller.

One of my 4th graders wandered around the library yesterday with a stack of books in her hand and a huge smile on her face and dreamily said "so many books, so little time..." 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Be Grateful Day

{Roger Williams on Smithsonian}
I have mixed emotions about this holiday. I don't have any trouble being thankful and realizing ALL that I have to be thankful for but the celebrating of this particular holiday just reminds me of the horrors we inflicted on Native people then and still. It also seems like a ticket for overeating.  Do I sound like a humbug?  Yes I probably do.  I just wish the holiday was simple and not followed by a crazy shopping frenzy. So today I challenge you to think about what you are truly grateful for and to realize our lives are built on the backs of others. Read here for another look at Thanksgiving. And this young person perspective.

My Grateful 11:

My family; 5 of us make up a unique team of weirdness filled w/ humor.
My brother Jason; he is my family rock and pushes me to be more.
The elders in my life; mom, my in-laws, my stepmom and my dad in spirit.
Nature; thank heavens for parks of all kinds, places to hike and breathe.
Public education; may they one day be truly equal.
Public libraries; free books to borrow is a wonder.
Books and reading; I love to be transported.
Delicious food; well cooked, unusual ingredients and flavors.
My health; which is often rocky but I'm very lucky to be alive.
My lovely house; I can see a layer of dust over the floor but ehh-
Friends that bring me quiet times, good times, and laughter.

What brings you joy?  Celebrate that today. Fill your plate with the stories that are told around the table and find happiness in the people you are sitting with around the proverbial table. Reach out and think of the many marginalized people in your community.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween

We spent a whirlwind two days in La Crosse, WI exploring and then my husband ran a trail race on Sunday morning. We loved La Crosse and found many cool things to do there.

{very windy at the top of the cliff}
We loved Old Crow, The Charmant Hotel, Skeleton Crew Brew, Grandad's Bluff, Stacked Turtle Brewery (named for Yertle the Turtle) and Duluth Trading Co. The sights of the bluffs around town were amazing even with much of the foliage stolen by cold weather and rain. We would not go back to Two Beagles Brewery; the service was good-the beer was tasteless. We had trouble finishing our flight and left the Oktoberfest with most left in the glass. 

{Charmant Hotel Bloody Mary}
We stopped in La Crescent, MN on our way home; who knew they were the apple capital of the Minnesota?  We pulled in at a farm stand and bought three bags of beauties and an apple fritter to share.

The beautiful Halloween photo at the top is courtesy of my friend Sarah and her 3 adorable children. We love their pumpkin glow! My girl carved a pumpkin of her own but with friends and I have yet to see photos. Happiest of Halloweens to you and stay safe out there.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fall Recipes

My brother Jason introduced me to the fine art of making risotto. He makes a pea risotto that I adore. My daughter is not a major fan of peas though so she asked me to find a different special ingredient to add to this dish. She suggested sautéed carrots.

(source : Food network)
I had a beautiful butternut squash on my counter and as I browsed through Giada's Kitchen; new Italian favorites by Giada de Laurentis I found the perfect recipe. Groovy Girl didn't really love the butternut squash but I thought it was a perfect fall pairing.

Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto
Giada (123)

4 cups vegetable broth
1 large vanilla bean
3 cups butternut squash, cut in 1-in pieces
3 T. unsalted butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion (one small onion)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or med.-grain rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 T. finely chopped fresh chives

In a medium saucepan, warm the broth over medium high heat. cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds and add them and the bean to the broth.  When the broth comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low. Add the butternut squash to the simmering broth and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer squash to a side dish. Turn the heat on the broth down to very low and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan, melt 2 T. of the butter over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes.  Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter.  Add the wine and simmer until the wine has completely absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of broth and stir until almost absorbed. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth one cup at a time, making sure liquid absorbs each time, about 20 minutes total. discard the vanilla bean.

Turn off the heat under the risotto (and the remaining broth, if any). Gently stir in the butternut squash, Parmesan cheese, 1 T of butter, and the salt.  Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.

Really delicious. Perfect fall recipe. I also made these zucchini fritters-they were so-so but I'd like to play with the recipe a bit the next time.  

Saturday, October 21, 2017

October books

I read two excellent books this month; Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing and LaRose by Louise Erdrich.  Both are family sagas retelling the stories of several generations. 

Homegoing traces two half-sisters born into two different villages at a difficult time in Ghana's history. Tribes are busy waging war against each other and collecting slaves to make money and win favor from the white Europeans. 

Effia is forced to marry an Englishman and goes to live in the Cape Coast Castle. The marriage is a business deal arranged by Effia's mother to bring fortune to the village and to push her daughter away from the village and her intended husband, the chief Abeeku so that she may have a more profitable life.

Abeeku stood up so that he was facing her. He ran his fingers along the full landscape of her face, the hills of her cheeks, the caves of her nostrils. "A more beautiful woman has never been born," he said finally. He turned to Baaba. "But I see that you are right. If the white man wants her, he may have her. All the better for the village." (15)

Effia's half sister Esi is also promised in marriage to a man in her village. Her father is is a brave warrior, a Big Man, and she's grown up in being adored by her family and community. One night warriors come to her village and she is told to run into the woods where she sits in a tree but is still found and with pelting rocks hitting her she falls to the ground.

She was tied to others; how many, she didn't know. She didn't see anyone from her compound. Not her stepmothers or half siblings. Not her mother. the rope around her wrists held her palms out in supplication. Esi studied the lines on those palms. They led nowhere. She had never felt so hopeless in her life. (43)

And thus both sisters' fortunes are changed even as both are sold as product. Esi is chained up in the basement dungeon of Cape Coast Castle while her sister lives above. Eventually Esi is shipped off to work the American slave trade. Each chapter relays the tale of a descendent of each sister and in this way you are awarded this amazingly rich historical yet very personal account.

The New Yorker review (I liked it more than they liked it but it does a beautiful job of describing the era)

In LaRose Louise Erdrich gives the reader many parallels to Homegoing's history. American English did their best to negate both cultures. LaRose, told mostly through the present, tells the story of Landreaux and Emmeline's grief after a tragic accident kills their friend and neighbor's son, Dusty. Through back and forth chapters we understand the depth of the grief felt by both couples and through side stories Erdrich interjects the history of Emmeline's family and how tragedy and wisdom often walk together. The characters Erdrich brings to life are interesting and multidimensional. 

Outside the circle of warmth, the snow squeaked and the stars pulsed in the impenetrable heavens. The girl sat between them, not drinking. She thought her own burdensome thought. From time to time, both of the men looked at her profile in the firelight. her dirty face was brushed with raw gold. As the wine was drunk, the bread was baked. Reverently, they removed the loaves and put them, hot, inside their coats.  The girl opened her blanket to accept a loaf from Wolfred. As he gave it to her, he realized that her dress was torn down the middle. He looked into her eyes and her eyes slid to Mackinnon. The she ducked her head and held the dress together with her elbow while she accepted the loaf. (99)

Both novels illustrate the simple fact that women have been battling men for centuries. How brave and bold it is that we hope to raise our children to accept a different norm.  I know I expect my daughter to be strong and resourceful and I expect my son to treat all women with due respect.

We read LaRose for book club this month and I celebrated by making this Wild Rice Salad. It was delicious and I would make it again. I'll read anything with Erdrich's name on it-I love her young reader's Birchbark House series-and read it with my school book club every year. One of my life goals is to read all of Erdrich's stories and to make it to her Minneapolis book store.

New York Times review for LaRose.

Happy October!!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Listening to Garth Stein

Our local library has a list of featured authors that speak throughout the year and mostly they are local authors but tonight Garth Stein was in the house!  I remember reading The Art of Racing in the Rain (2008) soon after it came out in paperback.  I believe everyone in the house read it at one point or another and our one loved copy obviously travelled off on its own journey as I could not find it anywhere in my book (over) loaded home. I thought it would be easy to find it and get that one signed...
Enzo is a lovely canine narrator, a deep thinking dog and the book should appeal to all dog lovers, want-to-be dog owners, or any human with a heart. I remember crying and writing quotes from the book onto scraps of paper.

Garth was eloquent and humorous to listen to and he told story after story of his family, his wife, the struggle of being a writer and how the book came into being and how his agent would not accept it. If I ever actually publish any one of my stories this is the part that I fear. I'm an awful public speaker (unless my audience is made up of elementary kids) and could maybe speak extemporaneously for about 10 minutes. We'd have to go to questions pretty quickly. I could handle the signing part though, one on one interactions, but I don't like getting my picture snapped so that might be an issue. We will cross that bridge when we get to it.

After the event he signed books near a table where his books were on sale through our local university bookstore. During part of the q and a session I spent some time on my trusty Goodreads app and looked up several of his other books.  His latest one, A Sudden Light, about a timber families fortunes and misfortunes had a few negative reviews so I stayed away from that one. My friends Rich and Kay did buy it though and so I'll wait to hear what they think.  Two of his earlier books had more interesting reviews, to me, so I went with these (yes, I bought them both and had them signed).

Raven stole the moon (1998) is part magical realism and Native American folklore-right up my reading alley. How Evan broke his head and other secrets (2005) tells the tale of a young rock and roller who meets his long lost son at the age of 14. I'm excited to read both of them after I finish the three other books by my bedside and La Rose by Louise Erdrich, our Good Spirits book club choice for October. It is wonderful to live in such a literature-rich household-I never, ever, ever even think the word "bored".

I was completely unaware that he has a young reader's version of The Art of racing in the rain and several picture books devoted to Enzo.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October is...

changing colors
swirling leaves
a chill in the air
holding back on the coats
pumpkins and skeletons
apples and ghosts
summer's last days of warmth
give way to crackling fires
hot cider in cups
crisp and crackling
life turns