Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weekend Cooking; The holiday recipes

Ohhh, we had a lovely Thanksgiving Day, filled with good food and a visit from dear friends.  I made a simple roast chicken, baked potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, and fresh cranberries.  Everything was easy to put together and I didn't spend much time in the kitchen.  The highlight was putting together 2 desserts; a sweet potato pie (which we much prefer over pumpkin) and bread pudding with bourbon sauce.

Bread Pudding recipe (adapted from an old Vegetarian Times recipe):
Oven at 350*

3 large eggs + 2 egg whites
1 cup skim milk
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
5 cups, cubed day old whole wheat bread (1/2 cubes/I say bite-sized)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Whiskey Sauce:
1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup bourbon

To assemble:

Whisk together first 7 ingredients.  Fold in cubed bread, raisins, & cranberries.  Let stand for 5 minutes or so to allow the custard to absorb into the bread.
Coat 9-in square pan with spray and spread mixture in pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes until no egg mixture is bubbling up.  
While it is baking make the sauce:  In a small saucepan heat the water and brown sugar together. Boil on medium heat for two minutes.  Remove from heat and add in bourbon.  Boil two more minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a small pitcher and allow to cool just a bit.  Serve warm over bread pudding.  Serve in bowls with homemade whipped cream on top.  Yum!

We also started our day with a quick brunch that included homemade Bloody Mary's.  It was a trial run for another Christmas event that we always host that includes family friends and a hunt for an evergreen tree.  Instead of buying Bloody Mary mix I wanted to try  my own and found a keeper in this recipe. If you love Mary's as we do, this recipe will make you smile and it was very easy.

One year I made fresh cranberries and I had a perfect recipe that used less sugar adding orange juice for flavor~I didn't save the recipe (pre-Pinterest) and can't find it but I did find this recipe and I just squeezed in a whole orange from my counter.  I love, love the bright taste of this fruit and wonder why we don't eat this all year long!  I saved this recipe and will make it again at Christmas time for teenage boy who loves this crisp red berry as well.

Happy Weekend cooking!  It's just one short sleigh ride into Christmas...

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme where she gathers together many other food-related posts.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Reviews for You!

I've been reading steadily between book club choices and friends' recommendations.  I love having extra days off from work just to read.

M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans:  Read this for book club.  Loved it.  Set in western Australia Isabel and Tom find each other after the war making the lighthouse at Janus Rock their home.  It's not an easy life but one that Tom, in particular, takes to quite easily.  You just know when the bad thing happens that things are not going to end well for anyone so while it is a well-written story be prepared for frustration.  Learning more about lighthouses was a bonus.   Did you know that each light has its own light code that it blinks to?  Yes!  If you haven't picked this one up yet put it on your Christmas list.

A sample:  "Isabel had managed to sit up a little against the wall, and she sobbed at the sight of the diminutive form, which she had dared to imagine as bigger, as stronger-a child of this world.  'My baby, my baby my baby my baby,' she whispered like a magic incantation that might resuscitate him.  The face of the creature was solemn, a monk in deep prayer, eyes closed, mouth sealed shut; already back in that world from which he had apparently been reluctant to stray." {90}

Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train:  My friend Teri lent this to me and I thought it was very interesting.  I liked the two stories merged together and the information relayed about the children forced to travel and auctioned off across the Midwest.  

A sample:  "I try to forget the horror of what happened.  Or-perhaps forget is the wrong word. how can I forget?  And yet how can I move forward even a step without tamping down the despair I feel?  When I close my eyes, I hear Maisie's cries and Mam's screams, smell the acrid smoke, feel the heat of the fire on my skin, and heave upright on my pallet in the Schatzmans' parlor soaked in a cold sweat." {74}

Kline did an incredible amount of research to make this a rich reading experience.  Reading this made me want to go back and investigate the Orphan Train kid's series.  Maybe this is a series I need to recommend more to my students.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blessings counted.

What a beautiful day it is!  I have a farm fresh chicken, nice golden bakers, brussel sprouts, and fresh cranberries all waiting to be cooked.  A simple meal that won't take me all day in the kitchen.  I made a sweet potato pie last night which looks amazing.  I'm going to throw together my lovely bread pudding recipe with bourbon sauce this morning as I watch the parade.  Excessive on the desserts as we are having good family friends come to share them with us and play a game. Perfect day all played out in my jammies. I slept until 8:30 this morning.  Amazing!

I am forever thankful for my husband, my three creative children, my mom, my step mom,  my in-laws, my two sisters, my six brothers, my school family, my friends Barb, Verda, Jennifer, Tina, Diane, Rita, and my new friend Gabbi.  You all bring so much to my life.  Life is rich and full with good food, excellent and bountiful books, and happy memories.  I feel blessed.

Have a grateful day!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Weekend Cooking; The weather outside is too cold

I know it's November and Thanksgiving is just next week BUT I was not expecting this freezing weather yet!  I'm not a big fan of the arctic temps the Midwest ushers in and yet, lucky for me, I love, love, love soup.

In preparation for this very busy weekend of our church Christmas bazaar, the opening night of Junie B., Jingle Bells, Batman smells that features the amazing Groovy Girl as none other than the main character, which is the same weekend that family and friends would descend upon us to experience this starring role I decided to make soup during the week so we could enjoy it for lunch and/or dinner.  And we did.

Of course it was made in a crock pot from a recipe book that my mother-in-law gave me quite awhile ago and it is delicious.

Adapted from Better and Homes and Gardens' The Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes:

Indian-Style Curry Soup

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-in cubes (5-6 cups)
1 pound red potatoes, cut into -1-in. pieces (3 cups)
2 cups chopped tomatoes or one 14 1/2-oz can low sodium tomatoes, cut up
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
2 T snipped fresh cilantro

In a 4- or 6-quart slow cooker combine eggplant, undrained tomatoes, and garbanzo beans.
Sprinkle the ginger, mustard seeds, coriander, curry powder, and pepper over vegetables. Pour vegetable broth over all.
Cover and cook over low setting for 8-10 hours. 0r on high for 4-5 hours.  Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

My modifications: I only used part of an eggplant and I diced it into tiny cubes as I didn't want the children to see the eggplant. I already had yellow organic potatoes so I used those an cubed them into bite-sized chunks.  I had dry garbanzo beans in my dry storage so I prepared those with an easy recipe so they were soft before I toppled them into the crock pot.  

The soup hit the spot as the temperature continued to drop here yesterday.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme. Click to there to find many other food-related posts.  Stay warm out there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Working it all in.

We are still consumed with Junie B. rehearsals with only a week to go before opening night.  In order to try to fit so much into the week we've actually eaten out twice.  My tribe loves Jimmy John's and on Thursday we ate there and another night we ate at the deli at our local grocery store so I could fit in a little grocery shopping. I love Jimmy John's but am overwhelmed by the loaf of french bread it is served on until I discovered their lettuce wraps; now I just get a #6 (vegetarian) as a wrap and am happy.

I'm not a fan of the deli food either so I got a small package of sushi from the cooler + a cup of broccoli soup and again I was happy.  Two times of eating out for us though is a lot so Saturday I took the time to really make a meal again.  Six sweet potatoes resting on my counter inspired me to recreate the black bean and sweet potatoes burritos I've made in the past except I already had a refried bean mixture from earlier in the week when I made a quick meal of quesadillas.  I reused that instead of the black bean mixture and it worked just fine.  Served with a fresh green salad it was a perfect meal for the three of us.

This past week my husband made pudding for dessert and Groovy Girl loved it and wanted more. He'd made his from a box but I wanted to make it from scratch (typical me).  I used the recipe below and it went together nice and easy but then it did not set up. Arghh. It's still in the refrigerator like chocolate milk in fancy parfait glasses.  Hmmmm.  What went wrong?

Chocolate pudding recipe.
Sweet potato burritos.

Groovy Girl loves calzones and wants to take them in her school lunch.  We are going to experiment with making them this week (probably next). Does anyone have a great recipe?  I found a few but she doesn't want it to fancy; just tomatoes, sauce, and black olives.  I might be able to sneak a little spinach into the sauce.  Calzone recipe; they all have meat in them and many start with purchased dough.  We want to make the dough.  I think I will just experiment with my pizza dough recipe and stuff it with what she likes.  I also want them to be medium sized as I think that's all she has time to finish.

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

In reading news I just finished The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (enjoyed it!) and I'm trying to think of what to take to our book club buffet that would be Australian-inspired food. The book doesn't mention much about food to help me out.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

For the LOVE of reading.

Last night I was sitting on the quiet side of the dance studio where my daughter gracefully dances and I was reading a book. I'd brought two books with me; The Light between oceans by M.L. Stedman and Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer. I've been trying to read Miller's book for the last two years as I've had many people recommend it to me. I've even had one friend tell me that the book sounds just like me! With that said and after only reading the first few pages I came upon this quote which DOES describe me to a T!
"I am a reader, a flashlight-under-the-covers, carries-a-book-everywhere-I-go, don't-look-at-my-Amazon-bill reader. I choose purses based on whether I can cram a paperback into them, and my books are the first items I pack into a suitcase. I am the person whom family and friends call when they need a book recommendation or cannot remember who wrote Heidi. (It was Johanna Spyri.) 
My identity as a person is so entwined with my love of reading and books that I cannot separate the two. I am as much a composite of all the book characters I have loved as of the people I have met. I will never climb Mount Everest, but I have seen its terrifying majestic summit through the eyes of Jon Krakauer and Peak Marcello. Going to New York City for the first time, at forty, was like visiting an old friend I knew from E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. I wanted to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hide in the bathroom until it closed, and look for angels. I know from personal experience that readers lead richer lives, more lives, than those who don't read."(10-11)
I'll stop there but I could even go into the next paragraph which furthers her (and my) LOVE of reading! I was crushed when we visited this summer and never made it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art but in fairness I was there years ago as a teenager. I ask my children to take a book with them wherever we go-you never know when you might be stuck in the car or an elevator or in line and have just a few minutes to read a page or two. I can't wait to finish typing this post so I can read my school lunchtime book, Ungifted by Gordan Korman. What has you inspired?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Weekend warrior.

Woe is me! I have to spend half my day sitting around Barnes and Noble today, browsing through books.  My daughter is in the local production of Junie B., Jingle bells, Batman smells! and they are performing from 1-3 to happy book shoppers.  I'm sure I won't leave empty handed and I wish I could take a handful of book bloggers with me! I can think of much worse places to wile away my afternoon.

  A concentration camp would be top on that list after spending several hours in the middle of the night reading the end of Elizabeth Wein's finely crafted historical fiction Rose under fire.  Brutal, well-written, but brutal, brutal, brutal.  The bonds she made in the women's concentration camp carry you through the most horrible descriptions.  I loved Code Name Verity and this is a companion novel, making use of the same war, different setting with kick-ass female characters/heroines and a few carry over characters.  Both Wein's novels and Junie B. have nothing in common except they all feature powerful young women.

A sample:

Rose explains to her boyfriend Nick her aspirations and frustrations:

Finally Nick said sympathetically, “What’s made you so bloodthirsty?”

“I’m not bloodthirsty.  There’s no blood in a pilotless plane, is there? I’m a good pilot.  I’ve probably been flying five years longer than half the boys in 150 Wing.  I flew with Daddy from coast to coast across America when I was fifteen and I did all the navigation.  You’ve never flown a Tempest, or a Mustang, or a Mark Fourteen Spitfire-I’ve flown them all, dozens of times.  They’re wasting me just because I’m a girl!  They won’t even let us fly to France-they’re prepping men for supply and taxi to the front lines, guys with hundreds’ fewer hours than me, but they’re just passing over the women pilots.  It isn’t fair.” (14)

Have a happy Saturday.  Here in Iowa it is a gorgeous day outside and I have to finish cleaning up my garden.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

I picked this book up from Scholastic about a year ago.  Published in 2010, it is on an award list for Iowa this year and the premise had me intrigued. Also I was fascinated by the fact that the author wrote it as part of her doctoral program.

It proved to be as interesting as it's synopsis led me to believe.  Written as a letter to her captor Gemma pulls us directly into her story.  Frustrated with her parents as they prepare for an international flight,  Gemma takes off to buy herself a cup of coffee and gather her thoughts.  While searching for the right change to hand the barista a stranger comes to her rescue offering to pay for the coffee with the right currency and fixes her cup up with a packet of sugar.  By taking charge of the situation he wins her over with a few soft words and a drug in her drink.  She is swept literally off her feet by Ty to a lone cabin in a remote Australian location.  Gemma attempts to escape several times only to be brought back by Ty because nothing is near.  He has the cabin stocked up with food and he plans to hide away from the world with Gemma by his side.

She's never had a boyfriend and is not real close to the few friends she had back in London so Ty is able to pull her in because she's not sure of her own emotions.  There are parts of him that she is attracted to and yet she never fully forgets that he is her captor.  I thought Lucy Christopher did an amazing job of portraying this precarious relationship with glimmers of kindness mixed with Gemma's true reality of being stolen from her life; bad or good it was still her own life.

"So I followed you.  I don't know why really.  I could say it was because I had nothing else to do except stare at four walls, or that I wanted to try escaping again, but I think there was more to it than that.  When I was trapped in the house, it felt like I'd already died.  At least when I was with you, it felt like my life mattered somehow...No, that's not really it; it felt like my life was being noticed.  It sounds weird, I know, but I could tell that you liked having me around.  And that was better than the alternative, that feeling of emptiness that threatened to drown me every hour of being in that house." (96)

The cover for this book and even the few inside illustrations that lead into the story are really well designed and make perfect sense once you turn the last page. My copy of Stolen has a nice award sticker on the front for the Michael L. Printz ALA honor book. If you haven't picked this one up yet I recommend it.  At 299 pages it won't take you long...

Click her name to find her website:  Lucy Christopher and see news about her new title, The Killing Fields.