Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Glorious snow day!

Snow was predicted but I didn't believe it until early this morning when my phone buzzzzzed me awake. It was the robotronic woman informing that school was cancelled! Whoop.

I stayed in bed for as long as possible reading my book (I am J by Cris Beam) and playing WWF. Eventually I rose, through a wool shirt and yoga pants and headed downstairs. I whipped up some chocolate chip pancakes thanks to Katie Workman while my son snowblower'd the driveway so my husband could (why?!?)drive to work.

I've read more if I am J, great book, and listened to Groovy Girl read to me (Starry River of the Sky). I've watched some trashy tv with GG-it might shock you to know she does not have high brow tv standards. We watched an episode of "Say Yes to the dress" and an episode of "What not to wear" which was actually quite interesting for both my kids as the two snarky hosts helped a young woman shed her college super casual style to a career look.

We forced ourselves to turn it off and get some work done. I still have to organize how the Christmas decorations are put away and dinner to make and am happy that I've accomplished reading and yoga with kid-friendly fun.

Happy snow day to you-

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Curry and Chappati

We've been eating...lots of good stuff.  Last night I whipped up an easy batch of fettuccine (pasta, olive oil, hard Parmesan, cream, thinly sliced garlic, and loads of pepper)  after a crazy day with no heat in our house.  Lucky for us by 5:00 last night it was fixed otherwise my hands would probably be too cold to type.  But the recipe coup of the week was the curry dish I created last Sunday night for guests.  We ate the curry over brown rice, washed it down with a couple of ice cold Stella's, and popped edamame pods for something green.  

I cleaned my house early in the day so I'd have plenty of time to cook with out hurrying which leads to worrying that everything's not going to come out right.  It came out great with very little leftovers.  Because of the extra time I allowed I had time to whip up something special for the side that my husband loves; chappati. ( Indian Bread) As a 4th and 5th grader my husband spent two years in Malaysia and he loves most everything related to Indian and Asian cooking.  My mother-in-law who I adore and bragged about in this post wrote a short cookbook based on her experiences working with friends in Malaysia.  I've made a few recipes from her book but the chappati one is one of our favorites.  It is incredibly easy and they work perfectly as the tool to get more curry into your mouth.

The curry recipe is from Serious Eats.  This recipe called for lemongrass which smelled incredible as I chopped and whirred it together with fresh ginger.

And the chappati recipe:  

3 cups whole wheat flour, or atta flour
Water, enough to make it pie dough consistency

Knead the water and flour well, at least 30 minutes before you are ready to fry it.  Grease the top with ghee or corn oil, cover, and leave at room temperature until ready to use.  

Pull off small tangerine-sized hunks of dough and work in your hand until it is smooth and round.  Roll out into a flat, round circle about 1/4-inch thick.

Fry on a very hot griddle until golden brown on each side.  May brush on a small amount of ghee or oil while frying to make chappatis soft.  If they puff up while cooking, press the air out.  Continue making until all dough is used up.  Keep warm in oven or between layers of towels.  Makes 10-12.

Thank you Phyllis!

There is a curry puff recipe here that is on my list to attempt soon.

I also have all the ingredients to make this Mexican Tortilla Casserole that I first spotted at Beth Fish Read's interview with Katie Workman and now I have the book.  I hope all my peeps like it.

We won't be having it tonight though as Groovy Girl and I have tickets to the ballet...the Russian Ballet performance of Cinderella so we are donning our dresses and heavy winter coats and heading out, one foot in front of the other to the ballet!

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts.  

Enjoy your weekend...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Room by Emma Donoghue

I know many readers and bloggers have read this one already but I just have to reiterate what an awesome read this one was!  What a fresh and youthful voice Donoghue creates for Jack.  I love the relationship between the mother and son; that even in this horrific situation she has created this room of love and security.  Stolen at 17 by "Old Nick" she has been kept in a restructured and reinforced garden shed at the mercy of his 9:00 visits.  Jack is born from this awful relationship and she nurtures him, teaching him only about what exists in their small world.  They do have a television to watch but Jack thinks everything on it is pretend; nothing real beyond their walls except the nighttime visits of Old Nick. 

The book opens as Jack is turning 5 and his curiosity grows as his "Ma" begins to unveal more than just the existence of their room.  She shares with him bits and pieces of her life before "Room" became her world.  As Jack struggles with this new information and they plot a course to escape both Ma and Jack struggle with what lays before them.  Jack wishes to go back in time to just those few days before he turned 5 when his world was simple and his mother can't bear living in their prison for another moment.  It is heart-breaking as the two of them struggle over what is real and what is not and Jack cannot understand why his mother can't just be happy in room with him as she has been for the last five years.

Janssen's review of Room inspired me to keep it high on my radar even though it took me 2 years to actually check it out from the library.  Such is my crazy busy life but I'm happy to have read it and will continue to recommend it to friends and family.  If you haven't already read this one, give it a try.  Jack will inspire you.  Donoghue has several other novels and want to read down her list.  I would love to know if others were as striking as this one was?  Any suggestions?

Monday, January 21, 2013

What an amazing day.

I spent two hours at a local church surrounded by volunteers, kids, and parents all wanting to do something to celebrate Dr. King's memory. Groovy Girl wanted to spend the day playing with a friend and I wanted to check out the service day event so we compromised peacefully.  We picked her friend up and attended the event together. They tied fleece blankets for a local women't shelter, they frosted cookies for  another organization, and they wrote letters, and drew pictures for the  military.  It was a joint effort between the Extension office, a volunteer group, and the church. 

I heard many kids and adults ask if this event would happen again next year and the answer was yes although looking to the closer future the director for the voluteer group said she would like to do a few activities over the summer.  Groovy Girl was not too happy to leave the house for the event as it is FREEZING here but she had fun with her friend and she ran into several other kids she knew.  She is the soical butterfly of our family and easily moves from activity to activity with out a worry as to where I am. 

There were more kids there than they expected so the activities went faster than they had planned.  The girls thought they would be actually making cookies not just frosting them and think that making cookies at home would be just the perfect way to end their playdate.  I love that Groovy Girl considers cookie baking a fun activity and is a bit snooty about the store bought variety; not that she'd turn either down but she appreciates a good homemade version.  For now though they are happily upstairs surrounded by American Girl doll clothes having a peaceful day indeed. 

Watch Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech hear and read this interesting Wikepedia article about the struggle to make his birthday into a national holiday.  I know that I carry out King's dream every day at school as I work to help students through education as well as a personal relationship with students that need a little (or a lot) extra kindness in their day.  Let freedom ring...

I haven't even focused on the inaugaration of President Obama today and I will later when my writing time is over.  Maybe we can watch the event as we make cookies.

And how have you spent your day...?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Winter Garden

Basil and Rosemary

These two beautiful plants are making my winter much more thrilling in the kitchen. Last night we had lasagna and it was fabulous just to clip a stem and add the fresh basil. I've used the rosemary several times over the holidays for my chicken recipes. At our local co-op I bought some delicious rosemary bread and we LOVED it! So I'm thinking I should be able to recreate that myself.

All our snow has disappeared which I hadn't really thought about until Candace from Beth Fish Reads tweeted photos of the fresh powder they received in PA overnight.  Here in Iowa we are snow-less and I am wishing for Spring.  I want to be digging in the soil and planting some seeds.  To be craving Spring so early is quite a downfall-it's only mid-January and winter in the Midwest can be most brutal through February and March.  Hopefully these two herb plants will help me through.  I'll have to pick a more modest goal to look forward to, like Valentine's Day!  Enjoy the snow or the sunshine where ever you are today!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Katie Workman's Lazy Oven French Toast

As she points out though it's the cook that's lazy not the oven.  I love this recipe.  French toast is easier to make than waffles or pancakes truly and this recipe makes it easier to enjoy all together at the table, especially if you have guests.  It is assembled the night before so the bread soaks up all the egg while you are sleeping. I served it for breakfast for the five of us on New Year's Day and it would be excellent and easy for a brunch.

Lazy Oven French Toast
Serves 6-8

Butter or oil spray
4 cups milk
6 large eggs
2 T granulated sugar
2 T maple syrup, plus more for serving (optional)(to which I say really, optional?, I don't think so)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher or coarse salt
1 large loaf challah bread, preferably slightly stale, sliced 3/4 to 1 inch thick
3/4 cup whole raisins, chopped dried fruit, or chopped nuts (optional)

Fresh fruit such as berries, sliced peaches or pears, and/or confectioner's sugar, for serving.

1. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with butter or spray.
2. Place the milk, eggs, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and whisk to mix well.  Set aside.
3. Arrange half of the bread slices in the prepared baking dish, cutting the bread so that it fits in a solid layer. Pour half of the milk mixture over the top, then evenly distribute half the dried fruit or nuts, if using, over the top.
4. Repeat, creating a second layer of bread and then pouring the rest of the milk mixture on top and distributing rest of the fruit or nuts over the bread.  Lightly press the bread down into the liquid.

5. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap (luckily my pan has a cover so I'm able to skip this step) and refrigerate over night.  The bread will have absorbed almost all of the milk mixture.  Uncover the baking dish and if there are dryer looking pieces on top, take them off and carefully tuck them underneath the bread on the bottom so that the more milk-soaked pieces are now on top (this is messy but it all works out in the baking).  Note that any dried fruit sitting on top of the French toast will get pretty chewy when baked and nuts on top will get toasty; the fruit and nuts tucked into the French toast will be softer, so disperse the fruit and nuts as you see fit.

6. Preheat the oven to 425*F.
7. Bake the French toast, uncovered, until it is puffed and golden, 30 to 35 minutes.
8. Let the French toast sit for 5 minutes to firm up a bit, then cut into squares and serve it hot with your choice of maple syrup, fresh fruit, and/or a dusting of confectioner's sugar.

On the side notes Katie adds perfectly helpful hints as to what the kids can do to help but since I created this at about 11:00 on New Year's Eve Groovy Girl was too busy being silly with her older siblings to help me pour and squish.  It was her first late night NY's Eve and I can't blame her.

I made this exactly as the recipe states EXCEPT since my kids are not fans of either nuts or dried fruit I did a cranberry twist.  I made a compote out of one bag of cranberries, a little orange juice, local honey, and some lemon zest and let it simmer on medium heat while I prepared the French toast.  I poured this in-between layers and on top.  The cranberries were a pretty addition against the yellow/white bread/egg mixture plus they were tart and perfect with our real maple syrup.

This post is connected to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts.  Happy Saturday.  I know have to cart Groovy Girl to a drama class and an art class.  I plan to take my laptop so I can do some writing and a book-I am just about finished with Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Party treats

(cranberry salsa)

Over the last few weeks I've done a lot of cooking.  When I cook I like to cook with love, with feeling, with happy thoughts in my head which takes me beyond the mundane of just cooking a meal, if that makes sense. It's more than that or I might as well stop and go buy a take-out pizza!

We had guests to entertain a few nights before New Year's Eve and I wanted to prepare a few special recipes.  I had already made this hummus recipe because Eldest daughter likes it so I planned to serve that with crisp celery and a variety of crackers including these snappy little rice crackers from Blue Diamond that I love.  I planned on serving quesadillas cut into thin wedges for an appetizer and served some of our own famous salsa with that.  I wanted something just a little bit more and found it in this cranberry salsa recipe that I served with those little scoop chips that are perfect for well, scooping dips.

Cranberry Salsa

12 oz. cranberries
1 granny smith apple
1 red or orange pepper
3 T. cilantro
3 T. pickled jalapenos
1/2 of a red onion, diced
1/3 cup apple juice
3/4 cup sugar

Chop first six ingredients.  Mix apple juice with sugar in a small saucepan and heat until dissolved.  Mix juice mixture with chopped ingredients and stir thoroughly.  Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

My modifications:  I didn't chop up the cranberries because I like whole berries so I added the berries to the cooking apple juice (I used cider)  and let them pop, pop, pop.  I replaced the sugar with honey because why not?  

This dip is tangy and wonderful on a tortilla!  Our friends wanted some to take home with them (and they took a container of hummus as well!).  I took a small container of it with me to work on Thursday and Friday and ate if with blue chips for lunch and I still have a little leftover for a sometime soon treat. 

hummus plate mid-preparation
The original recipe is published in a school cookbook our staff put together a year or two ago. I found that recipe while I was looking for my friend Stephanie's margarita recipe.  Two recipe hits just pages from each other.  The margaritas were a perfect balance for the spicy appetizers on our table.

I used Katie Workman's The Mom 100 Cookbook to pre-make our New Year's Day brunch menu.  My mother-in-law made a french toast dish like this for us one year at the beach but dang if I could not find that recipe.  It is such an annoyance when I know I've had a recipe but I've lost it in the midst of my recipe chaos.  Katie saved me though as I paged through a few books looking for something similar.  This one is it exactly I believe.  It was so delicious served with warmed maple syrup and a dap of real whipped cream.  I'll save that one for next week's post.  

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads where many other fabulous food-related posts are waiting for you to check them out.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reading Recap. Say goodbye 2012.

I read a grand total of 62 books this year.  I count chapter books not picture books but I'm seriously thinking about changing that up and counting new picture books that I read.  Of course, job wise if I counted every picture book I read to kids everyday my numbers would appreciatively sky-rocket.  I noticed Mr Schu at Watch. Connect. Read counts the picture books he reads.  I think this may be an idea to embrace.

As the new year has quietly ushered in 2013 I've been reading lists at Mr. Schu's, The Brain Lair's and the many Cybil's list that came out just a few days ago.  I love to browse through and see how many I've finished and new ones that intrigue me.

I also compiled some of my own stats and arranged them into categories. They are lined up in the order that I read them.  Trying to pick my top favorite in each category would take way more brain strength than I have right now as I'm exhausted after my first day back and I'm battling this dang old Dell computer which keeps stalling and timing out as I flip from tab to tab.  I need a new baby and by that I really  mean a new computer.  Wish I could blog and pin from my Kindle Fire.

Adult Top Reads:

Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock
Claire Marvel by Jonathon Burnham Schwartz
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
The Wild Girl by Jim Fergus
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Round House by Louise Erdrich (review to come)

YA Top Reads:

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
What Happens Next? by Colleen Clayton


Breadcrumbs by Anna Ursu
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby
Something to Hold Katherine Schlick Noe
Abarat by Clive Barker (review to come)

Elementary Fiction:

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Rules by Cynthia Lord

Favorite Picture books/2012:

Boy + Boy by Ame Dyckeman/Dan Yaccarino
Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop
All the Awake Animals are almost asleep by Crescent Dagonwagon/David McPhail
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett/Jon Klassen

My top choices in all categories would be a tie between Ask the Passengers and What Happens Next? with Breadcrumbs and The Lions of Little Rock right behind them. As I peruse the list again I have to give a shout out to Neverwhere as it is begging to be noticed.  Gaiman is a genius.  Louise Erdrich would be my author pick of the year with one old one and one new one making my list.  I feel like I could make a whole 'nuther list that would have to do with fiesty girl characters and The Land of Elyon's Alexa and Kelly Barnhill's Iron Hearted Violet would show up there.

Happy 2013!  It's going to be a fantastic year.  Change is in the air.