Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend Cooking; The breakfast meal that requires no cooking!

Everybody has their favorite bowls

Cereal.  We love it at our house.  Big huge crunchy bowls of it.  We eat ours a bit differently than others do.  This odd practice of ours has even raised eyebrows from friends and family members from afar.

We mix our cereal-Lord, yes, we do!  In one bowl, we add a base such as Cheerios, Corn or Rice Chex (gluten-free) and then we build up from there.  A touch of granola or flax to the top, a generous sprinkle of raisins or dried cranberries to the top, pour Hansen's healthy milk over the top and it is one big bowl of happiness.

We are also pretty particular about what boxes are welcomed into the cereal cupboard.  This was the first food our children learned to read the label on. My husband only let them choose cereals with a sugar content  no higher than 10-12 grams per one cup.   Not the 3/4 cup size even.

We're not the cereal police, really-we just wanted them to have a healthy breakfast.  My husband is the one who masterminded the cereal mix and all of our children stick to it.  They've been reading cereal labels since they were little-it comes naturally.

Our favorite brands:

1. Mom's Best Naturals; Sweetened Wheat-fuls, Mallow Oats are the favorites. (there is that pseudo word "natural" but from everything I can tell this brand is true to it)

2. Cascadian Farms; Chocolate O's, Cinnamon Crunch

3. Kashi; Go Lean Crunch.  My husband and I love this sprinkled on top.  It is similar to granola and adds a good crunch.

Other brands we eat:
Cheerios, Chex, Wheaties, Rice Krispies, Kix, and Life.  Cereal is expensive and this mix-it-up method makes the expensive organic brands last longer because you're just using a sprinkle of it ever day.

We generally buy organic raisins from the bins.

How do you like your cereal?  What is your favorite brand?
This post is loosely linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme-where many people write about their cooking experiences for the week.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gordon Korman author visit

He's here for our very own Cedar Valley's Youth Read.  He signed Schooled for me and I spoke with him for about one minute.  I generally get tongue-tied but I managed to tell him that my school book club students loved hearing his story about how he sent his first book in to the Scholastic Book Order address-he was in 7th grade at the time!   This story made him very human and less celebrity-like.

What I wanted to tell Mr. Korman was how much I love his book Schooled.  I admire the main character Capricorn  and wonder how Korman created such a wonderful hippie boy.  The story has such great themes about bullying, friendship, and being yourself that I want to share the book with everyone.  I think many of his other books are interesting also but Schooled has a very special place in my reader's heart.  Perhaps because I think Capricorn would appreciate a blog like mine just as much as I appreciate his unique upbringing on the commune.  I'm so happy Korman agreed to do this year's student workshops.  It was great to shake his hand.

Check out Gordon Korman's website and blog.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cooking the French Way


(Neighbor friend and Groovy Girl 
with finished Chocolate Mousse)

Groovy Girl picked up this skinny little cookbook from the local library.  In fact she picked out two cookbooks.  Wonder who she gets this cooking thing from?

She had a friend over the other night for a cooking "play date."  For real.  They asked if they could get together to cook something and obviously Groovy Girl had this in mind.  They read down the list of ingredients to see if
I had them all.  It was a blissful pantry moment for me when I could say "yes" to the list of ingredients. I think the packets of gelatin were pretty old and I'm not sure when I would have bought something like this-I think maybe it was a jam-making experiment.  There must be a healthier, more kind option than these packets-but I had them!

After browsing the book I liked many of the recipes (yes, several crepe recipes) and information is included on French regions, traditions, and holidays.  There is also a great beginner's prep guide of ingredients, tools, and vocabulary for the young wanna-be chef.

Chocolate Mousse (56)

1 envelope unsweetened gelatin powder
1/4 cold water
2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
1 square semisweet baking chocolate
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 pt. heavy cream

1. In a medium bowl, combine gelatin with water and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine milk and chocolate.  Over low heat, stir until the chocolate is completely melted.  Add the sugar.  Stir until it dissolves completely.
3. In a  medium bowl, use and electric mixer to beat the heavy cream until it thickens and forms soft peaks.
4. Pour the chocolate mixture into a large mixing bowl.  Use a spoon to combine the gelatin mixture with the chocolate.
5. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-third of the cream into the chocolate.  Fold in remaining cream.
6. Pour into an attractive serving bowl or into individual serving dishes and cover with a lid.
7. Cool in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Decorate with whipped cream or grated sweet chocolate before serving.

Serves 4.
(We added  some crumbled brownies that were a little dry and
a dollop of whipped cream made it perfect.)
They wanted it served in fancy glasses.  I said your pudding will be ready in two hours.  Groovy Girl's response was "It's chocolate mousse, Mom.  NOT pudding."  Well, okay, then.  Enjoy.  I cut down on how much sugar we used because I already had freshly whipped cream with a hint of sugar from a recent pancake morning breakfast, by adding that cream in we didn't need the other sugar.  We also tightened up the cooling time because it was an after dinner play date and bedtimes were calling.  Our beer fridge in the basement is super chill so we covered them in glass pyrex dishes and crossed our fingers.  After a walk/dog chase across the street we came back to cold mousse.  The girls tried to lick the glasses clean!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Library Loot

I had a great weekend and one of the highlights was buzzing into the library to return two books so as not to incur a fine and then finding a whole stack that had to come home with me.  It was also canned goods week; when the library will let your fines drop for a donation.  Love this win-win idea.

The two bottom titles, The Time Life Encyclopedia of Gardening; Perennials and Annuals, were purchased of the discarded library carts.  Both titles set me back one dollar.  The are circa 1972 but I'm not sure how much this category would have changed.  The photos alone are beautiful.

The next one is from the new nonfiction section; Edible; a celebration of local foods by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian.  I'm sure I can find a few great recipes to try for a weekend cooking post.

The Annotated Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame with an intro by Brian Jacques seemed like something I should read with Groovy Girl.  I loved this story when I was her age and remember that I was in a book club at my little small town Minnesota library and this book was one of our summer reads.  I think the annotated version will be interesting to explore.

Footprints on the Roof; poems about the earth by Marilyn Singer; ill. by Meilo So and Peaceful Pieces; Poems and Quilts about Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines were from the library's display of April Poetry.   Out of the many books on display these two appealed to me and I don't have either at my school library.

And I happened to be in the library aisle looking at The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, which I just recently finished and I spotted the sequal, The Game of Silence.  I'm interested to see where Erdrich takes the story of Omakayas.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Random

It's been a good week for cooking at my house.  I had minimal after school meetings or obligations and actually made it home in the 4-5:00 range every day. Teenage Boy's soccer game (usually on Thursdays) was too far away making it possible for me to pick up Groovy Girl Thursday afternoon because I knew she'd be lugging her violin home.

Monday after school I whipped up a stir fry using these ramen noodles and a bunch of random veggies (orange pepper, celery, carrots, spinach) I picked up for under $7 at this Co-op plus onion and garlic.  Once the noodles were in hot water and the veggies were steaming in my wok I whipped up this peanut sauce:

Quick Peanut Sauce

3 T. unsweetened peanut butter
2 T. rice wine vinegar
1 T. chopped cilantro 
1 plump garlic clove, minced 
2 tsp. soy sauce or to taste
1 tsp. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. chili oil

Combine all the ingredients except the salt, adding 2-4 T. warm water to make it the consistency you wish.  Add 1/4 tsp salt and then taste. 

I didn't have any cilantro on hand but I have a potted basil plant on my kitchen table-I used that instead and it worked fine.  I also substituted chili paste for oil and added some drops of olive oil to it.  Once I combined the noodles with the veggies in the wok I poured about 1/2 the peanut mixture on top and tossed like a salad.  I saved the other half to add to my husband's and my plates.  

Groovy Girl ate three bowls but some of her veggies were left at the bottom.  Oh, well.  This was my first experience using these noodles and I thought they were wonderful, hearty and firm, and nothing like the bland noodles that come with a pkg of the quick ramen we think of in those tiny square packages.

My baking with out sugar experiment:

 I tried these honey cookies which turned into bars and the kids turned their noses up at them.  My husband, my stepfather, my mom and I loved them!  I probably won't make them again but it was nice to try something different.  I also tried to use less sugar in every day cooking this week, like when I made pancakes Wed. morning, I added honey instead of the tablespoon of sugar the recipe called for.  

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking.  Click the link to read many other food-related posts.  Happy Eating!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Green Bible Stories for Children by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

Green Bible Stories for Children
Beautifully Durga Yael Bernahard

This gem was on display the last time I visited our public library.  As a person of Christian beliefs as well as an environmentalist it was an easy decision to snap up the book and tuck it in my canvas, reusable library bag (the one I purchased at the William F. Laman Public Library because I was sure it would be where I was living always).

This book lives up to its name and would be perfect to use for home-school groups, Sunday School classes and church libraries.  There are nine chapter titles varying from "In the Beginning" to "Solar Power".

The first chapter shares how God planned a perfect planet yet things didn't work out as he expected.  People didn't listen and went about their business with out paying attention to the beautiful world around them.  Just like today...

"Noah is the first of several "green" Bible stories that illustrate the book's concern with the environment.  In tale after tale, the Bible gives us a blueprint for how to preserve planet earth.  As you read these stories and discover how you can make your world more eco-friendly, you'll understand how the Bible planted the seeds of environmental concern." (6)

It goes on to share Noah's story in "Variety is the Spice of Life", with very down-to-earth, kid-friendly language, and adds two inquiry challenges for readers to "Become a Biodiversity Detective" in your own back yard and at the zoo.  Each vignette matches a Bible story and is followed by activities to try.  At the end of the book several stand-alone sections cover topics of urban planning, vegetarian diets and blessings for nature.

We just redid the "Friendship Room" which houses our library and I've already recommended this book to be added to the children's section.  This is a welcome addition to many stagnant religious texts for children.  If you have other religious recommendations that fit a more modern outlook let me know.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Hillary Jordan

The Good Spirits book club I'm a member of chose this for our April read based on a glowing recommendation from one of our favorite and trusted local librarians.  We haven't met yet to talk about it but I've chatted with a few from our group and it seems like a unanimous winner.

Synopsis (from Jordan's website):

In the winter of 1946, Henry McAllen moves his city-bred wife, Laura, from their comfortable home in Memphis to a remote cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta — a place she finds both foreign and frightening. While Henry works the land he loves, Laura struggles to raise their two young children in a rude shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity, under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding the family in a sea of mud.

As the McAllans are being tested in every way, two celebrated soldiers of World War II return home to the Delta. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not: charming, handsome, and sensitive to Laura’s plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black tenant farmers who live on the McAllan farm, comes home from fighting the Nazis with the shine of a war hero, only to face far more personal — and dangerous — battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. It is the unlikely friendship of these two brothers-in-arms, and the passions they arouse in others, that drive this powerful debut novel.

Mudbound is told in riveting personal narratives by the individual members of the McAllan and Jackson families. As they strive for love and honor in a brutal time and place, they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale and find redemption where they least expect it.

I enjoyed the changing point-of-view chapters, which allowed me get to know all the characters.  The female characters were especially poignant and had a much richer story to tell.  I don't want to give away any of the amazing twists Jordan's story holds so if you haven't read this book-hop to it.  

Two quotes:


"I was bewitched by both of them, and by the beauty of ordinary life, which went on despite the war and seemed all the more precious for it.  When I wasn't changing diapers and weeding my victory garden, I was rolling bandages and sewing for the Red Cross.  My sisters, cousins and I organized drives for scrap metal and for silk and nylon stockings, which the army turned into powder bags.  It was a frightening and sorrowful time, but it was also exhilarating.  For the first time in our lives, we had a purpose greater than ourselves."  (50)

and from Florence~

"First time I laid eyes on Laura McAllen she was out of her head with mama worry.  When that mama worry takes ahold of a woman you can't expect no sense from her.  she'll do or say anything at all and you just better hope you ain't in her way.  That's the Lord's doing right there.  He made mothers to be like that on account of children need protecting and the men ain't around to do it most of the time." (80)

Take a chance and read this tale~

Other reviews:

Donna Jean at The Compulsive Reader

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunrise Service

(Groovy Girl and Teenage boy share a quiet moment)

My alarm went off this morning at 5:30 am as it has for the last 5 Easter mornings.  I got dressed in my overalls and a warm sweater and woke my two children up to do the same.  I went down and warmed up the car, made sure we had blankets and a pile of hats and mittens.  My husband and his merry band of teens lead the service so he's been up since 4 am getting ready for early risers to arrive at this beautiful spot at a nearby state park. 

The fellowship (the doughnuts and hot chocolate) makes the early morning bearable for the teenagers.

Happy Easter, everyone!  

Especially to the man who gets up early to get it all organized:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Weekend Cooking; My favorite cookbooks.

My mom is going to be here tomorrow for Easter dinner.  I'm Spring cleaning today.  Deep down cleaning.  Dusting, rearranging, organizing, dispelling clutter.  Soon I'm going to vacuum all the pet hair.  A natural offshoot of cleaning is to cull some of the old and this idea brought me to my cookbook cabinets.  I blew a fine layer of dust about and took a long look.

I know I get many recipes from the internet; blogs and Pinterest and I do have several magazine subscriptions, thanks to my mom, but my cookbooks are somewhat sacred. Something my mother taught me.  I don't get rid of them easily and I don't buy them very often.  As I reorganized this cupboard (I tend to stuff printed recipes in randomly even though I have folders to put them in)  I reflected on my top 5 favorites.

In particular order with recipe titles linked to my posted recipe:

The Healthy Kitchen; Recipes for a better body, life, and spirit by Andrew Weil, M.D. and Rosie Daly. (2002).  This book has been so well loved it is coming apart at the binding.  It splits open right at the Vegetable Lasagna recipe I've made dozens of times in the last 10 years.  My other top recipes in this book include the Miso soup, Tomato, Corn, and Basil soup, Seared Salmon with orange glaze, and the Lemon cayenne tonic.  Filled with pages of healthy information about spices, eating mindfully, and tips from both Weil and Daley I've learned plenty.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. (1997).  This one looks used as the top is peppered with post-it notes sticking out like a yellow mohawk.  My favorites recipes include the page of peanut sauces, Thai tofu and Winter squash stew, and Sweet potato muffins with candied ginger.  My mother-in-law gave me this book for Christmas one year and the inside front cover still holds the sticky note she included telling me how much use she thought I would get from this book.  She was right.

Fresh from the vegetarian slow cooker by Robin Robertson. (2004). This one my mother-in-law also gave me when she gifted me with a new slow cooker.  I've made the Caponata for book club, the No-Hurry Vegetable Curry, the light and easy vegetable stock, the Pintos Picadillo, and the Lentil Soup with Kale.  Right now I have chili cooking in the same slow cooker and I'm excited for our chili and baked potatoes.

Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand.  (2004) This one I actually bought myself and it is newer than the other three.  The Baked Cheesy Chili Grits, the Simple Pot Bread, the Pot Chicken and Potatoes in Cinnamon-Saffron Milk, and the Baked Buttermilk Pancakes are all fantastic recipes from this book.

Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentis. (2005).  My kids could eat buttered pasta every day of the week, making this book a perfect match for us.  Now they love several of Giada's pasta dishes, making it easy to upgrade their taste buds just a notch.  I also started making my own pesto from her recipe and love it even more in the winter as a pull it out from the freezer.  The Checca sauce is an easy summer favorite, the white bean dip with pita chips is perfect for happy hour, and the Lemon Spaghetti is too die for because I have a thing for lemons.

Now that I've made myself hungry by paging through my favorite cookbooks I realize I need to explore them more, perhaps challenge myself to choosing a recipe from one of them on a regular basis.  I don't want them to get old and dusty.  Cookbooks are like friends, something I want my daughter to experience as well.

I happened upon an article in my Real Simple magazine and found this pie baker extraordinaire, Beth Howard of The World Needs More Pie.  She lives just down the "road", well, a few towns over but I'm thinking Summer ROAD TRIP.  I want to check out her pies, she has a new cookbook out, and she lives in the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa.  

Happy Cooking~
This post is linked to Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts from a wide variety of bloggers.

Friday, April 6, 2012

If I was Queen of the Lunchroom...

My district gives us the gift of Good Friday.  I've enjoyed this day with all of my heart.  I got up a little later than usual and made breakfast in my jammies,  The look on my son's face as he was preparing to leave and noticed I was still in plaid, flannel pants was priceless.   After much kissing of daughter she set off on her bike with my husband lagging behind.  Usually I walk with them but her riding the bike makes it much less fun.  I had a mission in mind anyway.  I crawled back between my aubergine sheets and read, The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker, and drifted between reading and sleep.  I love drowsy.

My husband brought me a bowl of cereal and cuddled with me for a few minutes before he left for work/church and I was able to read 5 more chapters (laughing out loud several times under the covers) before crawling out from the warm covers.  I dressed in Saturday clothes (Gap pants with side cargo pockets, Gap oatmeal long sleeve tee and a long cardigan) and took the straightener to my fat hair.  Off to the mall to gather some Easter basket treats.  I love picking pretty Spring items for my kids.  I don't even bother with the basket now that the kids are bigger.  I use baskets from around the house.  The Easter bunny has even been know to use clay pots for his treats.  I finished at the mall and headed home to grab a snack.

On the rare days I've had off and she doesn't Groovy Girl and I love to have lunch together in her cafeteria.  She's brings her lunch 98% of the time.  She's a picky eater and not much on the lunch menu appeals to her.  I'm not happy that she is such a picky eater but I'm glad she chooses our lunch over what the school has to offer.  Today sitting at the small round table with a gaggle of giggly girls I (again) am mortified as to what is served to our children.  Well, not my child, but most of the kids in the cafeteria were eating school lunch.

Today's fare was either a huge slice of greasy pizza or 2 huge cheese bread sticks and a cup of vanilla ice cream. The bread stick in the photo actually has more cheese than the ones I saw today and they truly didn't look done.   On several of the platters there was a large scoop of formerly frozen strawberries, which is at least a fruit or had been, but not one plate had any veggies.  The bread stick kids had a small container, fast food style, of marinara sauce for dunking-was that supposed to be a veggie?

Not only was the food not healthy but this is how the kids ate it:  the ice cream cup was opened and eaten first.  A few that had the strawberry mix added that to ice cream cup and stirred. Hurrah-they accidentally got one serving of a fruit that was also probably sugar-laced!  One girl at our table poured some of her chocolate milk into her ice cream.  All the 4th grade girls at our table had the bread sticks; not the pizza, and they ate some  of the heavily-breaded sticks after downing the ice cream.

If I was queen of the lunchroom I'd make a mandate that you'd have to bring up your almost empty tray to get an ice cream cup.  If I was queen of the lunchroom though they'd have a delicious tray of food, filled with veggies and bright colors.  While I can't blame the kids for eating the ice cream first-who am I too judge dessert first-but I find it appalling as to what the "experts" call nutritious for an afternoon of learning.

Not to brag but here's what Groovy Girl's frog lunch bag contained;  a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, a small container of grapes, a small container of baby carrots, a clementine, and an organic juice box.  I could tell she was a little green with envy as she watched her friends scarf down vanilla ice cream, or chocolate /strawberry-infused ice cream but she quickly turned her attention back to her own lunch.  We shared the clementine and the small handful of blue chips with flax that I love.  One bonus was that she (and the other "brown baggers") get to sit first while the other students wait in line for their lunch-her sandwich was mostly gone before the lunch trays were sliding across our table.  She only had to nibble at her other healthy food choices as she conversed with her friends.

I don't have a cool phone or I would have snapped an amazing photo of this lunch adventure instead I borrowed my photo from this blogger, Eat Hoboken, who wrote about school lunches back in 2010.  Click the link to check it out.  Too bad she's not still chronicling her journey.

I don't know if Groovy Girl's school and my school have the same lunches but I constantly look at what the kids at my school are eating (esp. book club days) and am sad that no vegetarian option is available.  Public schools need  to find funding for better food choices for our children.  Hyping them up on sugar and carbs is no way to learn. Have you ever read about what professional sports teams eat and now even college-level players?  They are working hard to make sure their players are eating well for best performances.  Why can't we get that for our youngest generation?

On reading; I finished and loved The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.  What took me so long to pick this book up, I'll never know but it was wonderful to read.

Blessing on this Good Friday.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday; Books to read in a day.

This weekly meme is featured at The Broke and the Bookish.  Click the link to read other blogger's lists.  This week the subject is books that kept you on the edge of your seat, read-the-whole-day kind of books.

1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.  I remember the first three books in this series kept me reading through the day.  I remember the excitement of the early delivery, the frenzy.  Pure joy.

2. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.  I loved this character's moodiness and enjoyed reaching back to the French  Revolutionary time period.

3. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier.  A retelling of the 12 Dancing Princesses, I felt transported and did read it in about 2 days.  Really should go back and read more by this author.

4. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.  Just finished this one and loved the changing perspective in each chapter.  Proves every story does have more than two sides.

5. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  Loved Death as a character.  Creepy, unique perspective of the Holocaust. 

6. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow.  Sad tale but her writing made me want to keep reading to find out what was happening. 

7. Shiver by Maggie Steifvater.  I loved how she created wolf characters who shifted~made me love wolves. 

8. The Luxe by Anna Gabbenstein.  The first one grabbed me, transported me, and piqued my interest, with all its twists and turns, until I turned the last page.

9. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  It was long and worth it.   The story was riviting and well-told.

10. I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  Tells the captivating story of two boys, abused by their homeless father, who make it despite the many roadblocks they struggle with. 

11. Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  Alzheimer's disease was unraveled right before my eyes and it made me sob.

12. Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  This was an amazing fantasy book.  I loved the world Cashore dreamed up and even like the second one, Fire.

13. Claire Marvel by John Burnham Schwartz.  My husband read it and I loved listening to him talk about it as he read it.  I read it right after and loved it just as much.  The story of missed opportunity and love.

14. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  Another great fantasy book-Gaiman created a marvelously creepy underground world.

15. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.  A fairy tale world lies right out there in that woods beyond your neighborhood-be careful where you tread. 

I'm not good at following directions and I couldn't stop at ten.  All 15 of these I highly recommend because they kept me on the edge of my seat or tucked down in my covers reading until late in the night.