Saturday, August 11, 2018

Slow August Day in Fertile

{Cloth napkins-YES!}
We had an lovely vacation getaway in Northern Minnesota the past long week. It was spectacular and I have many stories to tell but on the way home, we stopped at an amazing restaurant, Cafe Mir, in the small town of Fertile, IA. Honestly, I'd never heard of Fertile before today. Now I'm a fan and I will be back. I was impressed that they have their own small public library.

My mom's garden provides swiss chard to the chef and they use sustainable, local ingredients when possible. Not hard to do when you're in Iowa; we have so much produce and organic farmers raising sustainable meat. While many restaurants are on this bandwagon not always is the food as amazing as the concept. Everything we ordered was delicious. There were 5 of us and we ordered a sauteed eggplant dish as a starter, and as meals, we had a pork and beef lasagna, a braised leg of lamb, Hrbek's ribeye steak, and a wood-fired Margherita pizza for Groovy Girl. I had a "cornucopia salad for dinner, the lighter eater that I am, which is roasted sweet corn, feta, mixed hot and sweet peppers, cilantro, and lime.  It was such a refreshing combination and a perfect amount. We had rhubarb pie for dessert and they make their own fresh bread as well. 

{rhubarb pie}
The table was interesting with a lot of mismatched glasses, plates, and bowls giving it an authentic old farmhouse appeal. Also, they used real cotton napkins which just warmed my heart. I don't know when I'm going to take the time to drive an hour and a half north to dine again at Cafe Mir but I know there are other treats on the menu I want to try. Road trip anyone...?  I'm also curious to see what they will change seasonally. 

{unassuming front of Cafe Mir}
After being on vacation I am realizing that my need for real food, homecooked, slow-cooked grub plus my natural inclination to eat small meals is often confounding to people. I just like to know where my food comes from and I've purposely spoiled myself. I like real greens not iceberg lettuce in a salad. Why bother? I'm not a meat eater and I prefer small batches of food compared to large platefuls. I'm not trying to be a pain; I just like what I like.   

Monday, July 30, 2018

Highlights of summer

I finished all the assignments for one of my grad classes and am on the homestretch for the last class, Creative Schools. My major goal is to finish before my birthday which is just around the corner! I've done some deep learning and am excited to implement changes in my library this next year based on the two books I read.

(Source)
My stepsister, Robin, and her family came to town for a weekend.  I made these delicious dairy-free rhubarb-pecan muffins for breakfast one morning. I liked that the recipe had orange juice and orange zest as ingredients and I substituted lemon zest because that's what I had. They were really easy to pull together and came out nice and soft. Diana, my niece was my assistant baker and took care of all the mixing and measuring. I found lots of great rhubarb recipes and these muffins at Thyme and Love look really good to try too.

I'm on the last legs of a major summer cold, luckily it's lasted just about a week. We've gone through a major amount of kleenex between G.G., husband and myself. Which by the way he finished RAGBRAI on Saturday in good spirits. I'm happy to drop him off for his start and I'm happy to pick him back up again, safe and sound. Ragbrai is his happy place.

Yesterday I hosted my 2nd annual Croquet & Cocktails game and it was perfect weather for it. We had snacks and margaritas and hit the balls around with heavy mallets in thick grass. It was a perfect summer break with teacher friends especially because that morning I'd finished the 3rd module of this last class. Today I started on module 4 and should be able to finish in the next few days. I'm school obsessed right now.

What have I been reading other than Creative Schools and Formative Five you ask? I finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.  Thanks to Verda and Sela for the push to read it. Now I have to find time with Groovy Girl to watch the movie. She was dubious about the story; she liked it, read it just a few days, but was like, that wouldn't really happen. Maybe she is more of a nonfiction, biography reader?  I loved the story and yes, it is somewhat unbelievable but that's what fiction is! 
If you haven't read it please pick it up from your local library. 


Quick review: Madeline is sick and she cannot handle outside germs so she has been inside her (fancy) house for years. One day a new family moves in next door and she meets a boy, Olly, through the window. Her house nurse, Carla, conspires with her so the two can meet inside her airtight, vacuum sealed house.  Young love-it can't be beat. What would you do for love and how do you protect those you love? 


I'm now reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Until I finish the very last homework assignment I only have a few minutes to read at night. This one is very good though and I'll read more by both Ng and Yoon.

What are you reading? What have you filled your summer up with so far? 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Summer classes

I have two grad classes this summer and they are not easy; lots of homework, and projects. The good thing is I am learning quite a bit and the two books assigned are both very good.


The Formative five: fostering grit, empathy, and other success skills every student needs by Thomas R. Hoerr

This book explains how schools need to get back to the "basics" of teaching a deeper thought process so our students will be better achievers in the job market.  Grit, embracing diversity, integrity, empathy, and self-control encompass the skills they need to be successful. The book breaks down each skill and shares methods to integrate into every day. This was an easy read and I will use the new ideas with students. I've already compiled lists of picture books to use with students that highlight each essential word. 


Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, Ph. D.

I've watched Ken Robinson's Ted Talk "Do schools kill creativity?" and the book extends that thinking. The book shares many examples of schools and programs that are reaching beyond the normal school day.  Like Thomas Hoerr, Ken Robinson is looking for a different type of education for all of our students.  His ideas are radical and very interesting to me.  The book makes me want to set my classes up differently and not sweat the small or big stuff; students need to enjoy school more to keep their creativity and the joy of learning alive! 


Outside of my summer studies, I read The tea girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See for book club. See does an amazing amount of research for her books and this one is no exception. This one has great characters, lots of information about the Ahka hill tribe in China, and the tea industry. If you are looking for a good, thrilling read-give this one a try.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Inspired food

(Fuji Mama 1-hour bread)
Last week I offered to make a meal for a theatre set designer and old friend who traveled from St. Paul, MN to come and help put his design into action and work with my husband.  Because we haven't seen this old friend for awhile I offered to make him dinner so we could relax and talk together. I made a pasta sauce from one of my Giada cookbooks, a simple salad and this bread from Fuji Mama -Simple One Hour Homemade Bread

You see I'd forgotten to pick up a baguette to round out this Italian-inspired meal and I knew I needed bread or the meal would feel incomplete to our guest.  When I shared my concern with Groovy Girl, she said: "just make some bread!" What!? but of course, I know how to make bread and have many recipes to follow for wonderful crispy loaves yet they all take at least a couple of hours to create. I had less than 2 hours.  Her answer to this: "just Google it". So simple!

After a quick search for fast homemade bread, I found Fuji Mama's easy recipe and we loved it. It makes 2 peasant loaves that cook in 25 minutes. They were crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, the perfect combo. 

Here is Giada's Bolognese Sauce that I tossed over fettuccine noodles. The meal was delicious, the conversation lively, and ended with another mutual friend's treat of cookies. 

I'm short on time for everything I do this summer.  Two grad classes are keeping me seriously hopping.  The two books I'm reading to go along with each class are interesting, The Formative Five by Thomas R. Hoerr and Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, but the assignments cause me to think HARD for hours at a time-not my favorite summer activity.  I just want to be reading chapter books for school, hanging in my hammock, or cooking.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy 4th of July

(cool image via Etsy)

I am grateful to live in this country, a country where I have the freedom to write what I want.  We still have the ability to dissent, protest, and resist although there have been recent repercussions which are reminiscent of older repercussions. We still have the opportunity to be ourselves. One can even easily "converse" or respond back to the very man who sits in the White House via his Twitter account. But don't let this fool you into thinking we live in a perfect country-we do not. Not if you are black, brown, gay, female, poor, or an immigrant...many are the downtrodden. It's not perfect but at one time I felt (under a different administration) that we were moving forward and now we are moving backwards in time and all I hope is that we are able to recover from the mess being made today.

Everything matters now; choosing a new supreme court justice is proof of how much change one person will make and the overwhelming waterfall effect that will have on our America. Destruction at the EPA, climate change/weather-related issues not being taken seriously, and Yellowstone Grizzlies removed from the endangered list and perhaps hunted once again for sport. This issues alone worry me a great deal.

For today be appreciative of this country but also be aware; if you've been lazy about politics in the past, now is the time to step it up. I have only to look to The Handmaid's Tale to know our beautiful America can look very different with a solid Christian, right-wing Supreme Court, presidency puppet, and Congress.  This November we need to vote for change once again.  We need to be "fired up and ready to go"...and go and go and go.

I think about young women like 28-yr-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from Queens elected because of her left-leaning ideas. This gives me hope.  And I need that.  Celebrate today.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Cooking with L-O-V-E

On Father's Day - way back on June 16th - I made some delicious flaky biscuits to serve as the base for my husband's favorite Southern breakfast.  I cooked the whole meal in about an hour that Sunday morning so both of these recipes are worth it and they tasted delicious according to him.
(My very own flaky biscuits)
Grandma's Flaky Buttermilk Biscuit recipe came from Ann at Cooking Maniac.  She talks a lot about how wonderfully flaky these biscuits are and they did not disappoint. They were very easy to split open and serve with our favorite toppings; Groovy Girl and I had ours with vegan butter and jam; he had homemade sausage gravy. I would definitely go back to her website when looking for authentic homemade recipes. I searched and searched for a good homemade gravy recipe and I found the perfect one on the Food Network from (not a surprise) Ree Drummond.  My husband enjoyed several helpings and there was enough for leftovers for him to eat two other mornings.

(See link below)
I created another special meal for longtime friends of ours. Tim is retiring and moving to their cabin home in Maine while his wife, Lynne will remain here and teach for another year or two at UNI. We wanted to have them for dinner before the major move. I made this perfectly summery Lasagna with spinach and roasted zucchini; a recipe I found using my NYT food app.  It was light with minimal cheese and fresh sauce and it didn't feel wintery heavy.  I had a fresh pea shoot salad and fresh baguettes for everyone. I love to cook and browse recipes so much that this app is better than Instagram for me.
(See link below)
Last night we had a Cedar Falls Food Co-op potluck at 2nd State Brewery downtown and Groovy Girl and I made a really delicious pot of Quinoa and Wild Rice Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing.  This was a last minute recipe and I did not want to run to the grocery store during a perfectly good lazy summer day and after all, I had most of the ingredients. I did not have cilantro, or fresh lime, spring onions/scallions, or Asian sesame oil. I substituted fresh basil from my porch pot, Rose's Lime Juice (hey, it worked), left out onions and sesame oil.  Our dressing instead was a spicy ginger-lime with a little cayenne and curry compliments of Groovy Girl. She can't help herself with the spices - she just goes to town with our well-stocked spice cabinet. I would definitely make this recipe again and we had lots of wild rice and quinoa left over to repurpose.

Have a delicious rest of your week!

Monday, June 25, 2018

June; thank you so much.


Wow - this month has flown by.  Groovy Girl and I started the summer off with a road trip to Denver, Co.  We stayed with family and just had a lovely time. We hiked in the area and saw deer, bison + baby bison, and pronghorns. From Iowa, it is about an 11-hour drive and we did it in 2 days.

Our favorite things were Sushi Ronin, Little Man ice cream both in the Highland area of Denver and I loved the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse and we both loved hiking at Chautauqua in Boulder, walking the 16th Street Mall, and dipping our feet into Boulder Creek. We also had a great afternoon hanging out in Washington Park just enjoying.

We had dinner with friends and family we have not seen for years and it felt great to reconnect.  It is very important to keep lines of communication open in friendships and family circles. If not nurtured in some way they can easily wither away. Sometimes that can even mean a place and I definitely enjoyed connecting with Denver/Boulder again and I'm happy my daughter loved our experiences as well. I wished on the trip that I'd had the foresight to take each child on a high school road trip. There are a lot of skills learned on a road trip that you don't get if you take a 4-hour flight to the same destination. Different lessons.  The talking and the navigation were the best parts; I'm trying to teach her to put down the phone as we drive so she can look out the window and daydream, think or just unwind.  Unplugging is a huge challenge for all of us with smartphones.


This trip was also a challenge to myself. I used to make this trek back and forth frequently when my son was younger and the trip was longer because I was often driving back to Minneapolis/St. Paul or Rochester area.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could still make it happen and get myself around. And I did it. Bravo to me. My life can now continue!


I've been lucky enough to call a variety of states home but Colorado will always hold a very special place in my heart. As we drove into the state and you can see your first glimpses of the mountains in the distance; my daughter said "hello mountains; its been too long". I agree. Our souls are better now.

And then I'm just as happy when my little black Prius pulls us back into our little corner of Iowa and we are home; happy to sleep in our own beds and kiss the ground with happiness for a safe trip.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Hello June

There are some people in our lovely little house making a movie, creating art. About 7 people and my husband, shooting, holding a boom mike, and going over lines. Groovy Girl and I have sequestered ourselves on the second floor, in our rooms, doing homework and reading. Not what I expected to do with my day, ALL day, but such is this life.

It is a fairly gorgeous day out and I did take the dog for a long walk. It seems like it would be a perfect hammock day but I cannot for the life of me find where I stashed them over winter. I always keep them in one particular place for safekeeping and they are not there. I think the husband must have taken them down and stored them and he needs to find them. We are missing precious hammock lazy moments.


So with lots of time on my hands, I finished Anne Tyler's A spool of blue thread, a good solid story that tells the tale of the Whitshank family of Baltimore. It doesn't have a major plot upheaval and yet generally that is how family stories often are in life. Just a straight line with many zigs and zags up and down. This was my first Anne Tyler and I would read another. With that one done I've started Tangerine; a novel by Christine Mangan plus reading more of Cleo Wade's Heart Talk, a very inspirational book of wisdom.


I love it when a friend orders a book based on my recommendation. It happened this morning; I raved about a book, News of the world, to my friend Tim at our church picnic and sent him a photo of it when I returned home. He responded back a few minutes later with "Just ordered it from Amazon!"

We have just 2 1/2 days left of school!  The year has flown by and in a few short days, it will truly be summer. Groovy Girl and I are taking to the road, headed to Denver, CO to stay with family for about a week. It's been quite a few years since I've made this road trip myself and while G.G. will keep me awake, she isn't able to drive just yet so it will be all me. Generally, my husband does most of the driving (while I read) but I used to make this trek at least once a year when I lived there before there was a husband so it's a challenge for myself. Bring on the Red Vines and blue chips, the loud music and the laughs.