Saturday, July 26, 2014

Weekend Cooking; Recipes of the week

{The Kitchn}
I made this wonderful pasta dish: Lemony Ricotta Pasta with basil.  I will definitely make this recipe again as it was easy and tasted great.  Groovy Girl's comment, "too cheesy," didn't even bother me one bit as I took another bite. I've got a lot of basil to use and am going to make a pared down pesto to freeze to use up my bounty.

I did make these healthy (and delicious!) swiss chard rolls.  It's a little like eating a sushi roll and the lemony flavor makes my mouth sing. They were very easy to make and it was my first time cooking with bulgar.

I plan to make this swiss chard risotto this week because I've acquired another huge bunch.  Candace at Beth Fish Reads suggested risotto.  I love risotto so it's perfect.

I made a blueberry pie as my grocery store had USA blueberries on sale.  And my husband LOVES pie.  He left for RAGRAI yesterday and I wanted him to leave with a belly full of pie.

I also made him my mother-in-law's famous chicken salad.  It's so easy (and worth it) to compliment someone on the food they make simply by asking for the recipe.  I found myself in Target thinking about making the chicken salad and so I called Phyllis to ask for a run-down of the ingredients.  As we were chatting about the recipe she relayed that Kaylee, my 22-year-old step-daughter, had called her and also asked for the recipe recently.  That's how simple it is to compliment someone on their cooking.
{the start of good chicken salad}

Curried Chicken Salad

Combine in a large bowl:

1 1/2 cups cooked (locally sourced or at least organic) chicken*, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 2-3 breasts) 
1/2 cups seedless grapes, green or red (I always use red as my preference)
1 can water chestnuts, sliced and drained
1 can mandarin oranges or pineapple, drained (look for low-sugar content)

Mix together 1/2 cup olive oil-based mayonnaise or healthy egg-free substitute, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, and 1 tsp curry powder (I always use extra curry powder).  Combine dressing with chicken mixture.  I serve this on top of a bed of salad greens.  It is delicious and a perfect meal for summer.  Thanks Phyllis for all your inspiration!  


This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme hosted by Candace.  Click to her link to find many other food-related posts.  Have a healthy weekend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Goldfinch


When we vacationed in Yellowstone with my family this book was on everybody's list; either they'd read it, reading it (me), or were soon to read it.  Or like my husband who bragged about reading all of Tartt's books and basically discovering her for the national treasure that she is.  He's quite proud of his author finds.

The Goldfinch 
Donna Tartt
(2013)

Theo Decker is a 13-year-old boy and he's in trouble.  He and his mother set off for a meeting at school and when they have trouble in the cab and it begins to rain they stop at the museum for a quick look around.  It's the stop that changes his life.  As he wanders away from his mother and begins to follow a young girl and her grandfather a blast destroys much of the building, leaving many dead including Theo's mother.  He spends the next few hours and days bewildered and in shock.

His mother is a gorgeous character that once you meet you don't want to let go.  Told in Theo's voice he flatters his mother and lucky for us later reminisces about her.  Tartt makes sure that each character is fully fleshed out and real to us including Theo's mother or we wouldn't know what he was missing.

"She looked startled, as if she'd forgotten I was there.  The white coat-flapping in the wind-added to her long-legged ibis quality, as if she were about to unfurl her wings and sail away over the park." (16)

"Lalloping?" So much of her talk was exotic to my ear, and lollop sounded like some horse term from her childhood: a lazy gallop maybe, some equine gait between a canter and a trot. (17)

After the blast he is sent to live with a very wealthy childhood friend because his father had taken off and his grandparents are really not interested.  He lives for awhile with his friends on Park Avenue for awhile until his dad and his new wife show up to claim him.  His dad's true interest lies in whatever money or belongings his mother may have left but he'll take the kid if it will help his cause.  Theo reluctantly packs up and is whisked off to Vegas with his dad and Xandra.  A completely different way of life awaits Theo.

In school Theo makes friends with Boris, a young Russian who also loves to get Theo into trouble.  Boris an amazingly funny character, lovable as the ruffian.  He's Huck Finn to Theo's Tom Sawyer. Boris and Theo embark on a drug-crazed odyssey filling their days with drunken conversations about life that center on how bad they have it, how awful their father's are, and how hot Xandra looks in her work clothes.

Donna Tartt's wordy yet wonderful novel takes us on quite a journey with Theo as he eventually escapes back to New York and tries to make his way on his own terms.  Yet his past keeps bumping back into him and old ways are hard to slough off. And the painting, The Goldfinch, is present throughout the story as an interesting twist that continually gives both pain and pleasure to poor Theo.

There comes a point in the book where you must just sit and read without answering your phone,  your email, or even eating just so you can help Theo move toward a very shaky but present future.  I finished it now several weeks ago and when I think of Theo and Boris, Hobie and  Pippa all make me smile as I think about how we are all connected.

New York Times review by Stephen King

Huffington Post's thought by Maddie Crum

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells (Andrew Sean Greer)


My friend Teri and I trade novels back and forth.  She's a bookie like me and we share a similar taste in stories.  She gives them to me with notes that say things like "I need this one back" or "pass it on".

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells (2013) by Andrew Sean Greer is one she wants back and I think its because she wants to reread it!  It's confusing and while I enjoyed Greer's writing I don't think rereading is going to help me.

Told in alternating chapters the story starts in 1985 and transporting us back to 1941 and 1918.  In 1985 Greta suffers from depression after her twin brother Felix's death, and her lover Nathan leaves her for another woman. She tries a radical treatment under the supervision of her doctor that sends her back in time and she experiences her life from that angle.  In the other two lives her brother Felix is still alive but soon to marry or married to the wrong person and Nathan is there also.  It is very interesting to see what occurs in the alternating years with each year having a glimpse into aids, WWII, and the flu epidemic.  Greta thinks this is a way for her to be able to fix things, help her brother be comfortable in his sexuality mostly, and eventually she realizes that while she is working one angle there are 2 other Gretas making other plans.  Because each is working on their own ideas every once in awhile they get stuck in a time period and it isn't until she realizes ultimately she can't make changes no matter how she attempts to bend the rules.  Life has its own plan.

While I don't want to go through psycho-therapy I would love the chance to wake up in another time period to experience what life has to offer.  How interesting to see the same friends and lovers just as they say we do in past lives.  Trippy.  

I enjoyed reading this review in the NYT by David Leavitt explaining the in's and out's of Greta's time travel psycho-therapy.  I've heard Greer's book The Confessions of Max Tivoli also looks at time from an interesting perspective as Max ages backwards.  I would love to give it a try.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Swiss Chard Jamboree!


I have a huge bunch of swiss chard thanks to my mom. What do you do with swiss chard? That's what I asked.  I google and checked Pinterest for suggestions.  I found bunches of recipe to help me out.  One discovery was that I could use the brightly colored stems as well.  I made this egg dish and it was delicious (Groovy Girl would not eat it though) but husband and I loved it.  I could have added other veggies as well and I like that flexibility.
{From Martha's website}

Swiss Chard Frittata (Martha Stewart)

1 large egg
10 large egg whites
1/3 cup fresh part-skim ricotta, pressed through a fine sieve
1/2 tsp course sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 leaves of swiss chard, thin slices of stems and leaves
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly

Preheat oven to 375*.  Whisk together egg, whites, ricotta, 1 tsp of salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large oven proof 10-inch skillet over medium high heat.  Add swiss chard stalks and onion and cook until onion is tender.  Add swiss chard leaves and cook about 2 minutes until leaves are soft.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tsp of salt.  Add egg mixture and stir once or twice to disperse vegetables evenly.  Place skillet in oven and bake until eggs are set about 13 minutes.  Serve immediately.  

Okay, I choose not to run to the grocery store so I did a little substituting.  I didn't do the egg white ratio-I used our delicious farm brown eggs with glee.  I did not happen to have ricotta so I used sour cream-close enough, right?  Also I did not have an onion (we were just back from vacation) but I did have a red pepper which I used and it added nice matching color with the red stems of swiss chard.  Done.  I could make it again correctly-I would like to see how the ricotta cheese would taste but no big deal.

Other swiss chard recipes to try:

Swiss Chard pesto from Jeannette's Healthy living blog
Swiss Chard Vegan rolls from Meet the Shannon's blog (I am making these this week!)
Gemelli with sausage, swiss chard, and pine nuts from Martha (again)
and a great demonstration from Cooking Light on how to prep swiss chard.


Also I discovered this little doozy of a summer cocktail  at Nutmeg Nanny and I love it as much as my rhubarb-basil treat.  Yum!  Perfect for sipping on the patio at oh, about 5 pm.  Lemons and cucumbers are easy ingredients.


This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Take a look over there and see many other food-related posts.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Meeting Maggie.


I drove 1 1/2 hours last night because Maggie Stiefvater, author of Scorpio Races, Wolves of Mercy Falls and The Raven Boys series, would be speaking at Prairie Lights bookstore.  I am a huge fan (already pre-ordered the next in the Raven series) and I thought it would be worth the drive even though I couldn't get anyone to go with me. What a shame as they missed a very good show.

She was far more entertaining than I've ever seen an author be in a funny, grease monkey kind of way. I did not take notes but just enjoyed listening to her variety of stories that she transforms into mini-skits.  This is what I remember:

1. She is fascinated with folklore and likes wolves over werewolves.
2. I think she wears black tank tops and black Doc Martens a lot.
3. She is rail thin but mighty.
4. She advised against the age old writer's wisdom of "write what you know" and was eloquent in her idea that you can research and write way beyond what exists around you.
5. She's learned to write anywhere now as she travels so much (even on airplanes).
6. She claims not to be a good writer so much as a good thief; stealing bits or parts from life.
7. Her purpose in writing Shiver was to make people cry, to write something that would be poignant like The Time-Traveler's Wife.
8. She read Watership Down as a young person and then rewrote it with dogs instead of rabbits.
9.  I shook hands with her and we had to shake twice, according to her, it needs to be done in equal amounts.
10. She lived for a short time in Hartley, IA but does not have good memories of the experience.

As people got their books and posters signed by her she chatted easily with each person.  There were people there that had written her letters and received responses, tweeted, emailed, tumbler'ed her and all received responses.  One young man had a brand new Raven Boys tattoo to share with her.  The love was big and real all around.  She asked many what books they were reading that were great and when it was my turn we chatted about folklore and what a great avenue this was to look at wolves over werewolves and so she didn't ask me but if she had I would have told her to read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch as it is filled with struggling, badly-behaving characters that are still somehow likable, something I think she would appreciate.

It goes so quickly those brief moments of greeting someone that you admire that I wanted to say "Can we meet at the pub for a Guinness after all these other people leave?"

My cache of signed goods:




{Posters Maggie created herself for fans}

If you haven't read her yet you should...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Literary list from Groovy Girl

Today is a little like the first day of summer for the two of us.  The first real part of summer was all about cleaning up Highland Library, planning our trip out west, and summer arts camp that now we are truly in the state of RELAXING.  I read in bed for 45 minutes before emerging from my bedroom.  We lazily watched two shows on her favorite HG-TV.  I've folded a little laundry and we cleaned out the dirty pond that needs a new pump but it has been essentially a lazy day.

So she pops this question off to me as she is eating her noodle lunch:

"Mama, what's your favorite kid books-
chapter books only-like books that people my age read?"

She asked me for my top three which quickly became five.

The quick list off the top of my head was

1. From the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
2. The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo
3. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
5. Wonder by R.J. Polaccio

I quickly added Maggie Steifvater's The Raven Boys series even though it is YA.  Too old for now she says.  Just books I would have read.

And once I listened to her list I wanted to add some of hers on as well such as The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle-I had to really push her to read that book which was a school assignment and then once she got into it she couldn't stop.

Then I asked her for her choices:

1. 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
2. Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
4. Wonder by R.J. Polaccio
5. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
6. Crash by Jerry Spinelli
7. Pegasus series by Kate O'Hearn
8. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
10. The Quirks by Erin Soderberg
11. Runaway Twin by Peg Kehret
12. The Land of Elyon series by Patrick Carman

And her 13th title is one we cannot remember title or author.  It involves a troupe of traveling actors, a crow as her spirit animal and when she cannot kill her spirit animal she is banned from her community.  For some reason I do not have it listed on my Goodreads account.  If this synopsis rings a bell to you please let me know!

Happy reading and maybe our lists will inspire you to read one of our favorites.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Montana holiday

{Beautiful bison}
Our trip was amazing.  We loved the trip out as we crossed through Sioux Falls, SD (ate at Minerva's) all the way to Bozeman, MT and headed even further to Big Sky.  We stayed at the wonderfully rustic 320 Guest Ranch right outside Big Sky.  The large cabin was set up into the woods and we hiked down the small hill to the dining hall for a breakfast buffet and over to the fire pit to roast marshmallows at night.  We took several hikes, went on a 2-hour trail ride on horseback, and played a lot of frisbee with the cousins.  I am so excited to be home and I'm shocked that I stayed so busy on our trip that I didn't post once.  I always think there will be tons of time to laze around to read and write-not the case though so I have to make up for it with a few key photos.

{Horseback sitting at 320 Guest Ranch}
{Yellowstone Lake}

{Teenage moose}


I will share more of our adventure in the days to come as well as a few book reviews of what I finished as we drove.  

For now happy 4th of July!  I am happy for our freedom-hard fought as it was and is every day still in many different ways.  I wish freedom could come to all people whether it be out of bondage, out of economical trials, or educational access.  We have many battles still to fight.




Friday, June 27, 2014

My latest summer reads

They've been less than thrilling but I like having them off my to-read list.  I like making check marks on my lists be they real or imagined.  I've had three books on my reading pile and now they are finished.


Reached by Allie Condie (2012);  This is the third and final installment in the Matched trilogy.  The first one was interesting with an unusual look at a future ordered society.  The second one was about pushing the limits outside of said ordered society.  Reached was an insider's look at rebellion and how it felt a lot like trading in one list of rules for other nicer rules.  The Rising is what everyone's been waiting for to bring about major change but when it happens we quickly see that no matter who you follow or who is in charge there will be rules and problems.  I do enjoy the triangle between Cassia, Ky, and Xander.  I thought the most important lesson from Reached was follow your own pilot...


Ashfall by Mike Mullins (2011);  I heard a buzz about this book when it was first published.  I ordered it from Amazon and then let it sit on my pile.  I picked it up again when I knew we were headed to Yellowstone for a summer trip.  I had forgotten that part of the buzz I'd heard was that the setting is Iowa and specifically my town, Cedar Falls.  Even though the writing was aimed more at middle/high school I enjoyed Alex's adventure after the super Volcano erupts and leaves the Midwest covered in ash.  I plan to read the second in the series sometime soon.   I planned to take this copy to my nephew, Jasper, as he is a big reader and I think he would like the thrill and adventure of it.  I can't bring it to him now though as I've lost the book somewhere in my house.  Really.  I've cleaned several times now and it is just missing!  

If I have a wicked stepmother, Where's my prince? by Melissa Kantor (2005); I've had this book on my desk at Highland for a few years.  The cover is adorable and I love a good fairy tale.  This one is a light but good read with of course many comparisons to Cinderella.  Lucy Norton's mother died when she was little and her life has revolved around hanging out with her dad in San Francisco.  He remarries (Mara) and they move to the other side of the country (New York) her world is turned upside down and her father isn't there for her at all.  He stays for most of the week back in CA to finish up some big court case leaving Lucy to fend for herself at a new school with a new family.  The plot seems a bit farfetched but it works with the idea that magic is in the air and I'm happy that the conclusion pushes Lucy in a new direction. She also reasons with her father about his absence and it is positive to see her state her opinion to her father and Mara.  

And now we are off on our own summer adventure to Yellowstone.  Our summer art camp is done and we are ready to relax.  I've packed clothes, bug spray, and food boxes.  I have margarita and rhubarb cocktail ingredients and my cowboy boots (no I did not pay THAT price for them).  I hope to post photos along the way.