Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring Break Pizza Party!

{photo credit: @sarah_burgart}

While I was in Indiana visiting my lovely friend Barbara, of Marilyn's Bakery fame, we had a discussion about friendship that inspired me to invite two friends to a pizza party once Groovy Girl and I returned home. Luckily the roads were clear after all the snow and we made it home safely and in good time.

My menu for the gathering:
homemade pizzas
homemade margaritas

In my message to both friends I requested they bring their top 2-4 pizza toppings. We generally don't make meat pies and we have had people unhappy with our veggie/creative toppings so it makes it easier if we can have a little help in the topping department. After we ate the pizzas the little ones made music and danced in Groovy's dance room.  We were able to sit back and sip.

{Alice, G.G., Macy, me, Mya, and Beth}
They brought:
feta cheese, pepperoni, spinach, pineapple, cheese curds, and shredded cheese.

We had: spinach, grated mozzarella cheese, whole mozzarella, basil, the dough, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and red sauce.  And the margaritas of course. Kids had juice and special water.

I have many different dough I've used over the years; this time I used the one inside Katie Workman's The Mom 100 Cookbook; 100 recipes every mom needs in her back pocket. It was very easy to put together. I tripled the recipe in three different bowls so we would have plenty of dough to share.


Katie Workman's Homemade Pizza Dough
(makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas or four 6-inch)

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsps) I appreciate when they add this in because I buy my yeast in bulk and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge.
1 tsp sugar (I omit this b/c why not?)
1 tsp course salt or kosher
2 T. olive oil, plus extra for coating the bowl
3 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour

1. Place yeast (and sugar, if you opt in) in a large bowl, add 1 cup of warm water, and let sit until small bubbles form, about 10 minutes. Mix in the salt and olive oil. Add flour gradually, mixing until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 4 minutes (she says, you can use a standing mixer for this part). Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover it with damp dish towel or plastic wrap.

2. Let the dough sit undisturbed in a warm place until it is doubled in size, 1-1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, divide into 2 balls, and roll out on floured surface.  I let it rest after I roll it out so it can rise a bit again. Place it on a pizza stone (hot or not, your choice) and add sauce, toppings, cheese, whatever your heart desires.

Bake at 500* until crust is a little brown. Let rest after you remove from the oven for a few minute before cutting it with a pizza wheel.

{@sarah_burgart; look at those smiles}
Now for the adult beverage part of the celebration. All three of us are hard-working teachers who needed Spring Break to whisk us away even for an afternoon of play. My margarita recipe is from @sjkane11 who added it to our Highland Elementary recipe book a few years back. I've made it ever since. I prefer to make things homemade and I like to make cocktails so it was great to say adios to super sweet mixes.  I'm sure I've shared this recipe before but here it is again in case you lost it.



Margaritas (without the pain)


12 oz. can of limeade (frozen)
12 oz. tequila
12 oz. water
2/3 can or 8 oz of triple sec
1 can domestic beer
Ice and limes as desired


Use the frozen limeade can to measure ingredients. Mix all ingredients well in a gallon pitcher.  Add ice and limes. Pour generously into salt-rimmed glass.  Enjoy.

Monday, March 6, 2017

March has blown in and surrounds me now.

I need a break. I'm tired. Spring Break is just around the corner.

Our Scholastic Book Fair for the spring is up and running. Lots of books, lots of excitement from kids and parents. This time I requested less crap. You know the stuff, pencils with fuzz on top, pens that have heads with tongues that stick out, weird stuff but kids are always enamored with it) I want them to see the books. We have less days for the fair but I hope we do really well on our two conference nights.

Anton is getting along. He's met a friend; the nephew of one of my friends and they've done a few things together. He misses having people his own age around all the time. He is getting more hours at his job which is a positive. He still has a difficult time getting up and going in the morning which reminds of so many mornings with my other son's high school years. Slow as molasses we said. Now I have a repeat performance. I have to keep reminding myself that a 22-yr-old still has a developing brain, teen-like emotions. Part of me just wants to shout "get the hell in the car!" I don't. Good or bad, I don't know.

I'm getting ready to take off for sunny Indiana over my break. Visiting my friend Barb and her family. Groovy Girl and I love to make this road trip together. We have a yoga workshop planned, kayak'ing out her back door, and maybe a pedicure. Otherwise we will just be relaxing together.  Old, close friends are like that.  Comfortable.


Usually I like to post what I read in a month but February was a terrible reading time for me. I guess my husband's desire to see all the Oscar movies took a toll. I read one book; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I thought it was lovely but s-l-o-w going.  I got confused with the many quirky characters and I just could not pick up the pace.  I finished it though and moved on to my book club choice, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain. I didn't finish it by our meeting date but I have finished it now. I liked it and am interested in many of the other stories like Out of Africa that go with this book.


I'm on to The Mothers by Brit Bennett which I am actually already half way through. It's exciting and I love Nadia.  I'll have more time to read this month.

I've also been cooking a lot but my cooking has changed with Anton in our house. I have lots of work to do to encourage him to eat healthier choices. Upward battle. He is used to eating processed foods, things that are quick and easy, microwavable. I try to balance a few good home cooked meals with some of his favorites. Suffice it to say he is NOT a fan of tofu.  He has eaten sweet potato burritos, fish, turkey lasagna, chicken cutlets, and he was quite happy the day I made fried chicken.  We are a work in progress. I try not to be grossed out as he gulps a bright blue or red "juice"-type soda.

I try and remember right now there are bigger worries than processed food.

Enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscars


We love to watch the Oscars. We try to watch as many of the nominated movies so we have an opinion. Before any of the bigger awards are given out I want to share my favorites.

Hidden Figures: A brilliant story with excellent actors. How have we missed these historical women's stories!  I thought this one was really well done. I need to read the book now and am thrilled to have this up for best picture; a great ensemble piece.

Lion: I saw this yesterday morning here. I specifically knew this would be great to see on the big screen. I loved especially the train moving through the mountains.  I loved this story of loss, survival, instinct, and a boy's love for his mother.  I thought everyone in this film did an amazing job as well.

Arrival: I believe this movie spoke to us about how we communicate; how deep are you really willing to go?  And I love that the story was not cyclical making the viewer question when exactly certain events took place.  I thought the back story of her life (Amy Adams) was an important element.

Hacksaw Ridge: I had a really hard time with parts of this movie (war = blood/guts) but the incredible tale of pacifist Desmond Doss. As a peace activist myself I respected his deep commitment to not carry a gun. I'm not a fan of Mel Gibson but I thought this was a very well-done movie.

Loving: Like Hidden Figures this is a story that people need to know. Love is love no matter who you are and who you choose to love. This film highlights the Loving family who took their right to marry all the way to the Supreme Court. We are all grateful for their difficult journey to change this law.

Captain Fantastic: This is a delightful tale of a family living off the ground in Washington state. He's teaching his 6 kids how to survive but it's a hippy thing instead of a religious thing which, of course, made it much more interesting to me. He's kids are unique, brilliant and free thinkers. The best part is the end when Viggo shows he can adapt. I especially loved the kid's costumes.

Florence Foster Jenkins: Funny! Meryl is just so talented. I loved the joy she shares through her love of the arts. Her husband adores her and that is magical. The costumes and the supporting roles were also very good.

Do you watch or care about the Oscars? As a political person, an eco-friendly person, a concerned citizen I am worried about our world right now. The Oscars to me is an escape but also an inside look at our world. Will the Oscars choose diverse or a more white-centric view?

Whether you watch or not the above films are above and beyond amazing stories to be enjoyed for more than just their artistic value. They share something about our human story. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life is filled with surprises


Here is my life changing moment.  

One day last Spring I received a message on FB's messenger, it just happened to pop up on my phone while I was sitting at my desk. The message stunned me and I cried right there at my desk.  
It said: "Hey Mrs Holt! Do you remember me?" 

Anton was a student of mine in North Little Rock, AR at Seventh Street Elementary.  He'd been searching online for 6 years for me. 10 years ago we left Little Rock and moved back to Iowa. It's not much to go on when you've only ever called someone "Mrs. Holt" but eventually I showed up on FB for him. Miracle.

We communicated for over a year back and forth from Iowa to Texas and eventually his situation changed and we made the family decision to bring him here to Iowa-on the bus. It took 3 days.  He'd never travelled that far on his own. He was so proud of himself for being willing to go far from home.

He wants to go to school, he wants to work, and live life like others do. He just needs a leg up. He is the first in his family to graduate from high school and he wants more out of life than what he has seen. I knew he was worth it way back in 5th grade when I helped him frequently at home and at school. He is adjusting to Iowa, the cold, and being part of our family again.  

Every day teachers make connections with students. We are teaching young human beings how to be human; how to think, create, and navigate the bigger world around them. It is seriously important work.

Most often we make a daily brief impression (make it kind) but every once in a while you make a life-changing affect on a person and that is monumental for both.  It might make you cry at your desk at some point. That Anton would look for me for 6 years brings me such joy; knowing that as a 5th grader he was paying attention to everything we did together.  I wish he could have found me sooner but it worked out when it did. I'm grateful for our time together now. 



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Stranger Things


What a big fat hassle! I've been locked out of my blog for about 2 weeks now. When I recently renewed my domain name I was forced to do it through G-Suite, which is technically for business purposes but somehow all of blogger is shoved there now as well. Blech. It was a huge pain to renew and then I kept getting messages that I didn't have a blog registered to that account.

Anyway I hope I'm now up and running again. We shall see when I try to post this. I have a few major posts I've been saving up but want to make sure this works first.  So stay tuned for a major life story worth of Lifetime Television coming up on the next post. As long as I don't get cut out again. If this continues to be a problem I want to know how hard it is to move the contents of my blog out of google entirely. It seems they don't play well together.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Happy February! Here's my January book list...

I am so good at making lists and checking them off. I learned to make small lists a few years back (3 items about) which is helpful but it also means I make a new list every couple of hours. I looked at my January books on GoodReads and thought it made a pretty good list of interesting titles.


1. I survived the Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis (2015) This is an early elementary fiction book so pretty easy to read and in fact I read it over my lunch hour one day. It is on the list for our Iowa state awards and I wanted to get it back out there circulating so I just sat down and read it. It was an exciting story and I can see why kids keep coming back to this series created by Tarshis to bring history to young readers. It works; I learned and was captured by the excitement.


2. Girl waits with gun by Amy Stewart (2015) This was our January pick for book club and I really enjoyed this charming mystery. Three eccentric sisters live out in the country and have problems with a rich factory owner who hassles them with a group of thugs. This book has a few interesting twists and is a quick read.


3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) I have a love/hate relationship with this book. Most of it is so real, brutally real, make-you-cry-and-put-the-book-down cry. I loved the actual train and train stations created by Whitehead. The characters are vivid and were real to me. It is an incredible read and should be read by many Americans. Especially now. I'd like to send a copy to @potus so he could brush up on some black history.

4. Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016) This is an amazingly sweet tale by Pennypacker about a boy and his pet fox. Reading the back of the book I didn't quite know about how the story was going to work but it did-it won my heart. Peter rescues this small kit and the two have been inseparable until bad things begin to happen in his young life.  This has an unknown setting with a bit of a dystopian feel to it; a war is happening over water but it is subtle and well-done. This is a wonderful story of friendship on many different levels.

5. Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2013) Sugar is a captivating main character born into a life of sugarcane. She hates almost all of her life but she has a sense of simple joy about her. Her mother has passed on and she is left on her own during this time of Reconstruction in the South. She wants her life to be bigger and bolder, she has dreams, and they don't include working for the man for pennies. One of her dreams is to be friends with the plantation owner's son Billy.  Rhodes created a very spunky character in Sugar; one that can teach us more about ourselves.

Put any of these on your reading list. And then check them off!


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cooking keeps me sane

Recently I've made some amazing recipes that I should share. It's been a wild last couple of days. My brother visited last week. Inauguration. My husband's performance of Rocky Horror opened on Friday night. And our son came back from school for the weekend to see last night's show.

I'm much like my grandmother in that I cook for people when they come to my home although I was caught a little unprepared when my brother and his family hung out with us last Sunday morning. I didn't let the same thing happen for this morning's brunch. The show was very late last night so Tristan and Heather slept in which was perfect. It gave me the time to do some morning yoga and then prepare food without a rush. Heather's vegan and my son follows suit when they are together. I found several new recipes that I was happy to try.

My initial inspiration came from this post, 30 Vegan Breakfast Recipes, by Sam at It doesn't taste like chicken.  Breakfast is one of our favorite meals and it was great to have so many wonderful choices all in one spot. There are several more on this list that I plan to try like the breakfast sandwich but for today's breakfast I picked the biscuits and gravy and potato hash. I served those two with grits, grapes, sliced oranges, and fresh orange juice. I'm terrible about snapping pictures of my plated food; trust me that the food looked delicious.

{Source}
Simple Vegan Breakfast Hash-This recipe was very filled with flavor. Peeling the potatoes and cutting them into bite-sized chunks took some time but they roasted to such hot perfection that I was pulling the crusty parts right off the pan. Mine had a more prominent mixture of sweet potato!
{Minimalist Baker}
Best Damn Vegan Biscuits- I thought I'd get ahead of the game by preparing these last night before I went to bed.  I must have been overtired as I mixed up the measurements for baking soda and baking powder.  They baked up beautifully and it was lucky that I tried one hot out of the oven. They were H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E!  Really heavy flavor of soda. So I redid the recipe this morning and they turned out just right. This is a very easy recipe to follow with minimal ingredients.
{Minimalist Baker}
If you're going to have biscuits then you should probably whip up some vegan gravy. I've made vegetarian gravy many times but had no clue how to make a vegan recipe that would taste good. Again I turned to Dana's recipe at the Minimalist Baker.  Her gravy is packed full of mushrooms giving it a hearty quality. I even wonder if I could pass this recipe off on my husband instead of that jarred gravy he sometimes uses in a pinch. Give it a try: Vegan Breakfast Gravy


I didn't get to march yesterday but was there in spirit. I did manage to slip in some reading; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and Pax by Sara Pennypacker, both interesting stories of friendship.


I host book club on Monday night and I've made another great recipe for that: Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Soup, a very easy and flavorful recipe. I love soups and this one has a nice kick to it. 

Happy Week! February is truly just around the corner. We are at the halfway mark for winter. One step closer to spring is what I think.



Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King; what would he say now?


What a mess we are in and yet I see hope everyday-we've got to stick together and make a difference. Children today have spent the last 8 years with a black president-a graceful, well-spoken, thoughtful, intelligent, and well-educated president. I know, for the most part, this is my "opinion"-stating things like this can start a small twitter war with all kinds of hateful comments. I will miss the Obama family in the WH.

I am not looking forward to a Trump presidency; he has no backbone, is only focused on his own opinion, uses bluster and smoke instead of facts and clear thinking, and lives in opposite land with a silver spoon clutched in his fist. His nickname should be Puff Daddy but that insults the actual Sean Combs. A rooster, maybe. With the flurry over comments made by Congressman John Lewis about the legitimacy of Trump's presidency based on Russian hacking (which I agree with btw) and DT's response all during Dr. King's weekend. It's hard to see how we are moving forward cuz we some days we aren't. We are moving ten to 1,000 steps backwards and that is scary folks.


Generally we are a family that does something to commemorate this holiday, even if it is just a discussion about Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. I had a planned volunteer opportunity this year, packing food boxes, at The University of Northern Iowa.  It was cancelled due to extreme icy weather. We took that open time to see "Hidden Figures" to enlighten ourselves. We did slide down our driveway in our little Prius but the roads were okay. Groovy Girl and our second "daughter", her best friend, came with us. The movie is well-done and we came out filled with discussion. What if we'd known their story in the 60's/70's; it could have changed the playing field a long time ago for women and POC in stem. Reading this NPR article confirmed my thoughts-we should have known their stories years ago but at least we have them now. Frankly we can use the inspiration right now!

From the article:

Johnson, who became a high school freshman at age 10, says she always liked learning. She's concerned about today's youth relying so heavily on the Internet for information. "They're hurt and don't know it," she says quietly. "They're not using their brain. ... And you've got to use your brain for it to grow and for things to be learned."

As a teacher/librarian I couldn't agree more with this thought shared by Johnson, a 98-year old mathematician. We need kids to realize the damage they are doing by staring at screens nonstop and expecting Siri and Alexa to answer the questions.  

Go see this movie, keep an open mind, educate yourself, be kind and thoughtful, do not take the bait, be ready to speak up, and remember, always remember, the peaceful path Dr. King took even while he was jailed and mocked. What would his tweets look like today?

I just finished Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (excellent elementary fiction about Reconstruction era) and am now reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (harsh but  a very gripping tale).