Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Three Unique Picture Books You'll Enjoy!

In between chapter books Groovy Girl and I have had the chance to explore three very cool books.  She is fascinated with Russia and chose to do a report on the country for school.  She brought this book home from her school library:

Russian Girl; Life in an Old Russian Town (1994) by Russ Kendall.  Meet 9-year-old Olga Surikovain in this nonfiction picture book and share a little of what her day is like.  Her family lives in the small town of Suzdal-150 miles east of Moscow.  The photos are lovely and Groovy Girl poured over them, trying to fully understand Olga's life. Even though this title is "older" the information is worthwhile and shares a time in Russia's history.  My paternal grandfather came from a small town on the Russian/Polish border and I love to see my girl explore these interesting roots.  The back of the book includes two recipes, an alphabet of Russian letters,and  a good list of Russian words and names.

Running with the Horses (2009) by Alison Lester.  This is a fictionalized version of an event that occurred during WWII; the rescue of the Lipizzaner stallions from the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  Nina, a fictional young girl, works with her father, the stable master.  The academy has closed and the war comes closer every day.  Eventually her father and another stable hand, Karl, decide to take the horses across the border to her deceased mother's parent's farm.  The story is beautifully told and the illustrations are a gorgeous mix of pencil drawings and what look like photographs but may actually be paintings.

An Edible Alphabet; 26 Reasons to Love the Farm (2011) by Carol Watterson and Michela Sorrentino.  I LOVE this book.  Every page stands for something I believe in with all my heart.  It is a kid-friendly manifest of why we need to be eating locally from farms and our own backyards. It has snippets of healthy information swirled into beautiful illustrations.  I've already ordered it for my school library collection. On a personal note  I have an organic kid's book on my computer with this same title-no kidding.  Guess I better get busy and finish it before some else writes the book.

happy reading!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Cooking Love

I live a rich life although I am far from wealthy and I've recently realized how much joy I get from participating in Weekend Cooking, the one meme I participate in all week.  Sometimes on busy weeks it is the ONLY post I make.  Like this week.  I've had many inspirations for posts but no spare time.

I love the community of Weekend Cooking~I love trying out their recipes, I love reading their cookbook recommendations, their inspirations and menu plans.  I've learned a lot about cooking and baking and I've had fun experimenting with recipes I might not have tried otherwise.  It's like going to church for me.  I can find God everywhere in my life but the community of people I have a church is support network for me.  I feel that way about weekend cooking and blogging in general because it makes my life richer.  I like being part of a community of readers and eaters.

We had a church Christmas bazaar today and I made 6 loaves of bread and 12 peppermint whoopie pies.  Yum.  I've made the bread many times but the whoopie pies was a new attempt.  I know, risky, right to try something new for an event but seriously I can't have 12 whoopie pies sitting around my house-I would eat them.  This way I got to share one with my family-yes, we split it three ways (Groovy Girl was at a sleep over and thus was excluded from the tasting).  I got the recipe from So Sweet! a cookbook from Sur La Table I discovered from a Bermuda Onion's Weekend Cooking post.  Of course.  I bought the cookbook as a Christmas present for Groovy Girl.  It's been tucked away for a few weeks and luckily she was at that sleepover so she didn't notice me using it last night.  This compact cookbook is adorable with delectable pies, doughnuts, cookies, and cupcakes.

Here's the recipe.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies
makes about 20 pies (It only made 12 for me; maybe I made the cookie part two big.)

Cake Ingredients
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 425* F and position an oven rack in the center.  Lay 1 nonstick silicone baking mat or a piece of parchment each baking sheet.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
3. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.  (Or leave it in the measuring cup like I did)
4. Cream the butter with the shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed until completely mixed.  Scrape the sides of the bowl well with a rubber spatula.  Add the brown sugar and continue mixing on high speed for about 3 minutes until mixture is light brown and fluffy.  Add the egg and mix.  Scrape the sides of the bowl again.
5. Turn the mixer on low and begin adding the flour mixture and buttermilk in two alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
6. Scoop the batter into tablespoon-sized balls using a spring-loaded cookie scoop or a spoon and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared pan.  Bake the cakes one sheet at a time for 8 minutes, until cakes are puffed.  Transfer to a cooking rack and let cool completely.

Peppermint Filling

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup marshmallow creme
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 T. peppermint schnapps
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies

1. Place the butter and vegetable shortening in a medium mixing bowl of a stand mixer, and beat on low speed with a paddle attachment.  Add the marshmallow cream and increase the speed to medium.  Beat for 3 minutes.
2. Add the powdered sugar and continue beating on medium speed for an additional 3 minutes.
3. Add the peppermint schnapps, beating on low speed for 1 minute.  Pipe the filling between two cakes as directed.
4. Place the crushed peppermint candies on a plate.  After assembling the pies, gently roll the edges along the crushed candies to coat.  Store as directed.

The array of whoopie pie flavors is spectacular.  Key lime, bananas foster, Kahlua and cream, black forest...Wow.  I would like to play with the filling to leave out the shortening which is a fake almost plastic flavor for me and I could taste it. I think if I added more butter and marshmallow cream it could even it out.

Thank you to Candace at Beth Fish Reads for linking together all our food-related posts.

In other cooking news I have an 11 pound locally raised turkey soaking in brine in my grandmother's extra large crock.  We are celebrating T.giving tomorrow as a family.  I've also spent the week trying to go gluten-free.  It makes me stop and read the labels even more than I used to and I'm becoming educated on gluten and wheat.  I'm gaining empathy for people who really have to avoid these two ingredients.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Happy the weekend is over (did I say that?!) with recipe

Little Women; The Musical was the play this
 weekend but keep reading for what I cooked...
It's been a busy week with a full rehearsal schedule and opening night was Friday.  I went to all three shows as I don't know when I'll have the pleasure to watch Teenage Boy on stage; he is an excellent actor but dislikes being in plays.

I cooked this week.  I think the zucchini pizza from last Sunday night kick started me off creatively and the rest of the week followed through.

I made this potato soup from Lynn's Cooking Adventures-I found it using the scientific method of googling "creamy potato soup" and then picking the 1 of 5 recipes that matched what I was dreaming of eating.  How many of you use this simple technique to find a recipe?

Someone at school left two Real Simple magazines in the lounge and I paged through one of them while waiting for my lunch to heat in the microwave.  I found this Broccoli-Quinoa Pilaf recipe-I did not make the cod but used it two days in a row for my lunch.  Heidi at 101 Cookbooks has lots of recipes listed for this power grain.  It is one of the grains I purchase from the bulk section of my local organic store, making it always available in my pantry.

I have more chickens and a turkey coming from Tim, my local farmer/meat man so I decided to make one of the last chickens from my freezer.  While I made this recipe I pondered just how I came to cook meat in my kitchen, which for years, had been vegetarian-but that's a whole 'nother post.  I wanted to make a BBQ chicken from homemade sauce someone gave me when I found this recipe instead as I paged through Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand and found Pot Chicken and Potatoes Baked in Cinnamon-Saffron Milk.   Her recipe is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.

To finish the weekend off we had a potluck at church today and I wanted to bring a side dish-this one is from Durand's casserole book.  The pan was cleaned out before I made it through the food line-I was toward the end after cleaning up the nursery-other people told me it was good though.  One grandmother even said it was her grandson's favorite dish.  A success at the church potluck does not always happen for me!!

I had to hunt down the chef's of two dishes that I loved (one of the great things about a potluck-trying new dishes)-one was a heavenly caramel brownie dessert served in a trifle bowl and the other was a 3-squash bake, this one was made by a friend and she shared some of the leftovers with me (hello, Monday lunch!) but the guy who made that amazing caramel dish did not share the leftover layer at the bottom.  I'm just sure he took that dish home and licked it clean!  I've asked for both recipes and will pass them on as I get them.

Luscious Oven Creamed Corn
casserole dish: 9 x 13-in baking dish
bake time: 45 minutes

2 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
4 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels (about 26 ozs), thawed
1 tsp salt
1 T. sugar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 T. all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  (I never do this step at the beginning to save energy unless I'm baking) Lightly grease the baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
2. In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat.  When it foams, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in the corn and cook just until the corn is hot.  Stir in the sugar, salt, and pepper.
3. Stir in the  milk and cream and bring to a simmer.  Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chives and cornmeal. Spread in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.  Casserole at this point could be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
4. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Click on all the recipe titles to find their links.  Happy cooking!
This post is linked to Weekend Cooking hosted by Candace at Beth Fish Reads.  Click her link to find many delicious food-related posts.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sufficiently Creepy; The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West

One day at work our lovely library volunteer was reading behind the desk.  If I didn't have to teach classes I'd be doing the same thing.  She had a book checked out from the public library from their "Just Arrived" shelf and she was fascinated.  It was elementary fiction and one that I hadn't heard of at that time.  It was The Shadows, the first book in West's new series. 


Olive and her parents move into a creepy old house on Linden Street.  The house has some history as the previous elderly owner died while living there and all the household stuff stayed right there.  Olive, a curiuos girl, finds  a pair of old fashioned glasses that help her enter the oil paintings stuck to the wall all around the house.  She meets the people in the paintings, she meets three cats who belonged to the previous owners and life gets downright creepy as she tries to solve one little boy's mysterious existence inside a painting of Linden Street.  As per adventure stories her parents are busy with their own lives, leaving Olive plenty of free time to explore. 

It begins like this:
Mrs. McMartin was definitely dead.  It had taken some time for the neighbors to grow suspicious, since no one ever went in or came out of the old stone house on Linden Street anyway.  However, there were several notable clues that things in the McMartin house were not as they should have been.  (1)
Great first sentence.  Perfect hook for young readers. 

The second book in the series, Spellbound, has Olive drifting around the house aimlessly, trying to think of ways to rescue Morton, the trapped young boy.  She meets another young boy, Rutherford, who is visiting his grandmother right down the street.  He gets her thinking about a spellbook-a grimoire-as he puts it.  Olive now has a purpose as she tries to find a way to release Morton and she thinks the spellbook might be the answer. 

A little further on:
There was another reason Olive didn't tell anybody about the cats or the paintings or the McMartins.  She always put this reason second, even in her own head, but the truth was that her secrets would be a lot less fun if she shared them with anyone.  Sure, a candy bar tasted good if you ate one half and let your dad have the other, but it was much, much nicer to eat the whole candy bar by yourself.  (5)
Perfect thoughts for an eleven-year-old girl to have.  There is so much mystery and excitement in both these books.  I hope West is hard at work on the third-I think we've only touched the surface of this new amazing Elsewhere! 

Wonderully illustrated by Poly Bernatene.  I've easily been able to read these and book talk them as we have them in our library collection now.  It's wonderful to have someone here helping me everyday who likes to read and shares that with me and students.

Find Jacqueline West at her great website.

Other reviews:
Kimberly at Cool Kids Read
Jennifer at Jean Little Library

*Not to be read late at night or by yourself*

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Shaking things up with a new pizza recipe

(Our zucchini pizza straight out of the oven)

My husband has been very tied up this week both at work and directing a high school production of Little Women; The Musical.  He was called in to save the play when the directer originally hired for the position up and quit.  She deserted right after she'd picked the play and cast it!  Then zip, gone!  Our son is a student at the school and they've asked handsome husband to direct before but it's never worked out.  This time he said yes.

What does all that have to do with my cooking week?  Our schedule has been off.  He and my son, who he sweet talked into playing an old man,  have been busy with rehearsals making this week an easy cooking week, filled with leftovers and warmed up pasta.  I did make patty melts one night with some brat burgers I found at Hansen's, my around-the-corner dairy/local food selling utopia.   Last night we had a classic go-to comfort food dinner of refried bean burritos adding in  roasted cubed eggplant to spice it up.

Earlier in the week I'd clicked on one of Janssen's posts at Everyday Reading to see her menu line-up and found a recipe for zucchini pizza she shared from Perry's Plate.  I love making pizza and find it far superior to any pie purchased over the counter.  Yes, I am a pizza snob, even shredding my own mozzarella.   I have two round stones, a great pizza wheel and a recipe for dough from an old Rodale cookbook that I've used for years.

After reading the zucchini recipe I knew I had to try it. It is my new favorite!  My husband and I ate all of it-I saved out one square to share with my amazing library volunteer.  She and I love trading recipes and this will be good for her to try.  My kids hated it though so it is not necessarily kid-friendly.  Luckily the dough makes two pies and the second one I just tossed sauce and cheese on top and they ate it and smiled big pizza-smiles.  What they did love though was smell of the kitchen during the pie-making and baking process!  What a great tradition to pass on.


Other baking news:

Perry's Plate (at the Tasty Kitchen) has a gluten-free apple, ginger, and spice scones which uses almond flour.  I'm going to make these soon just to experiment with gluten-free.

I signed up to bake whoopie pies for our church bazaar-something Christmas-y.  Maybe a peppermint/chocolate combo.

Weekend Cooking is a weekly meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  Click there for many more food-related posts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lists and Life-Crossing off my to-do list

(Not an exact image of me)
I have a mental picture of myself, the librarian, juggling a variety of tasks every day.  I wish I could draw so I could make that image appear on paper-it must be so cool to make that happen.  I got so much accomplished at work in the last two days.  I love it when I can cross off all the way down the list-items that have been hanging over my head for a week, maybe two.

1. Mandatory Training-took all of it in one day-the day before the deadline!
2. Extra Pay form for Intensive After School teaching filled in and handed to principal
3. Three Little Pig versions to Pre-K
4. Next to Love review (seriously attempted to write it all week long...)-at home project
5. November lesson plans-fun ones-better to entertain me as well as students
6. Book Fair financials called in to Scholastic and money handed to Sandy, our school secretary
7. Book Fair new books cataloged, bar coded and out on the shelves for new week's classes

I know, whew!  It feels great even though I know my list come Monday will be long again but for this weekend I can focus on my house which needs a deep clean, go to lunch with a friend,  read and do some minor tweaking to lesson plans for next week.  Oh, and I must remember to skype with my brother tomorrow night-add that to the list.  See how easily it grows!

I finished the second of the Books of Elsewhere, Spellbound, and will write a review soon of both books.  I hope your weekend is peaceful whether you have a to-do list or not.  Peace.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

War is not the answer; Ellen Feldman's Next to Love

Next to Love; A Novel 
289 pages

I read 2 adult fiction books in October-rare for me. Both were outstanding!   Next to Love focuses on three young women, all childhood friends, and the men in their lives during World War II and after.   Each woman's story captivated me.  Grace, Babe, and Millie experience the beginning of the war through the departure of the men they love and the end of the war with what they are left with and, as a reader, we are privvy to what direction their lives take, and how they get on with the business of living.

Grace, already married with a daughter, is mad at her husband, Charlie:
Talk to me, she wants to throw open the window and shout.  Tell me.  Are you afraid?  Are you secretly thrilled, a little boy with a stick playing at being a soldier, a man going off on a great adventure, leaving us behind, breaking my heart?  No, that isn't fair.  He is not enjoying this either. (27)
Babe and Claude are a mismatched pair who meet accidentally at the Carnegie library .  Claude checks out books for her in an act of  kindness, demonstrating his rebellious nature to her early on:
Three years later, they began going together.  By then he was teaching at the high school, and she was selling ribbons at Diamond's.  His mother, sensing a rebellious nature as well as an inferior bloodline, was brokenhearted; his father merely disapproved.  The town was full of nice girls from good families.  Why did  their son have to get mixed up with one whose father worked in the hat factory and who had to work herself? (20)
Millie and Pete are newlyweds, adjusting to life, when he enlists. His last night in town they've had cocktails and dinner with their friends all at Grace and Charlie's home.  Later, Pete sleeps while Millie lies awake worrying.
She looks at the clock.  It is four-thirty.  She gets out of bed and goes down the hall to the bathroom.  By the time she comes back, he is awake.  And she is bathed and dressed and wearing a big perfectly lipsticked smile. Nobody likes a gloomy Gertie. (37)
Millie, Babe, and Grace have very different journeys to travel throughout the story yet each leads to the same conclusion-war is a miserable way to solve conflict.  Feldman's story takes the reader deep into how WWII affected the lives of these women but on a greater whole how men and women were torn apart.  Marriages and families were destroyed. The children of soldiers were forever changed because their father came back and struggled or didn't come back at all.  I don't know if the author is a peace activist but she makes the point very clear:  War is not the answer.

Think of the soldiers of today and what they've seen and what they've been ordered to do in the name of freedom.  Fighting against any enemy causes irreparable damage to a person's psyche, making it extremely traumatic to re-enter civilian life.  I hope many read this book and take it's message to heart.  It is simply an excellent historical fiction.  I plan to read more by Ellen Feldman. -click to check out her website. 

Other reviews:
Charlotte's Web of Books
Diane at Bookchickdi
Alyce from At Home with Books