Monday, January 27, 2014

Cold, Cold, Cold Days...turn the oven on high and bake.

I've had an exciting day.  Too cold for school.  I don't think the blizzard was as bad as predicted but I am not one to complain about a 3-day weekend. I had some time to myself while Groovy Girl went bowling with friends. I cleaned the house.  I watched an episode of Parenthood.  I read more of Cuckoo's Calling-love it!  I would have read more of Insurgent except my Kindle is acting up; I'm 52% finished and bada charge.  Good thing I have plenty of "real" books around my house.

I made chocolate chip cookies with G.G. late in the day.  And while the oven was on I whipped up this amazing dish with a butternut squash from my garden; it's been in my basement pantry waiting for the perfect dish. One of my NY's resolutions is to clean out my stacks of magazines and I found this recipe in an old November 2008 Cooking Light.

Savory Butternut Squash

2 medium peeled and cubed butternut squash
1 T olive oil
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 T. honey
1/2 tsp Madras curry powder
2 T minced fresh cilantro

Directions:  Preheat oven to 500*. Toss squash cubes in oil, and season with sea salt and pepper.  Place squash in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan.  Bake at 500* for 10 minutes or until tender.  Remove from oven; toss squash with remaining ingredients.  Serve immediately.  Yield: 5 cups.

My squash was smaller so I used less ingredients and after snapping a few key photos I tumbled it into a to-go container for my lunch tomorrow.  Tomorrow we have a late start (so far) and already I'm looking forward to lunchtime.  Last week I finished my lunchtime book, Palace Beautiful (review soon), and can't think of what book is next on my pile.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Weekend Cooking...a little curry dish.

I listened to my daughter and her friend swoon about the chicken curry at our local Indian restaurant and ever since then I've had a craving for curry.  Naturally I wanted to make my own though so I pulled out Six Spices; A simple concept of Indian cooking by Neeta Saluja.  My stepbrother Sean recommended this book to me as we both love Indian food and the author is his ex-girlfriend yet-still-friend's mother~always nice to have a family connection!

I pulled the book out to see what type of curry recipe I could make with what I already had at home and decided the mixed vegetable curry would be perfect on this very chilly early evening.  I had 90% of the ingredients and would have to make due and my husband was impressed as he walked through the door an hour later as I was elbow-deep in spices.

Mixed-Vegetable Curry
{Rase wali Mili-Juli Subji}


6 cups assorted vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, or peas
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 tsp ginger, chopped
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
7 T cooking oil, divided
6 T + 2 cups water
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped


1. Peel and cut all the vegetables into somewhat large size pieces.
2. Place onions, garlic, and ginger in a blender.  Add a small amount of water and run blender intermittently until it makes a smooth paste.
3. Add chili, turmeric, and coriander powders.  Run blender again to mix the spices into the paste.
4. In a medium saucepan, heat 4 T cooking oil on medium high heat.  When oil is hot, add the onion mixture.  Cover pan to avoid spattering.
5. Reduce heat to medium.  Stir mixture continuously to avoid burning and scorching.  Add 6 T of water, one tablespoon at a time, to prevent burning.  Cook until most of the moisture evaporates.  At this time the oil will separate from the onion paste, and the raw smell of onion and spices will change to a more roasted and flavorful smell.
6. Add tomatoes and a little of of the salt.  Cover the pan.  Cook, stirring the mixture occasionally, until mixture forms a smooth paste and oil is separated.  
7. Heat remaining oil in  a large skillet.  When hot, add cumin seeds.  Stir in all chopped vegetables and fry for 6-8 minutes.
8. Add fried vegetables, and the rest of the salt to masala (curry paste).  Stir the  mixture.
9. Stir in 2 cups of water and let the vegetables simmer on medium heat until potatoes are cooked.
10. Garnish curry with cilantro and serve hot.  

After the holidays I haven't felt much like whipping up multi-step recipes as I think I wore myself out cooking (joyously) for the two older kids and other friends and family.  This recipe brought me back to life.

The two substitutions I had to make; I did not have nor do I usually buy tomatoes in the winter so I used a little canned tomato juice from my pantry, which has tomatoes from my mom's garden plus I somehow ran out of cumin seeds over the holidays and forgot to replace them so I added the veggies (potatoes, carrots, and peas) to the oil and then I added some garam marsala just to add something to the potatoes as they cooked.

I love everything about cumin so was sad not to have that smell and flavor.  I would absolutely make this dish again and I will try more from this book.  I get so used to "googling" for a recipe or searching Pinterest yet often what I need lies right in my own cabinet.  Yep.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads weekly cooking meme, Weekend Cooking, where many other foodies talk about food.  Click her link to find out what everyone's talking about today.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Club Book + Salad recipe

We recently gathered together on a snowy Monday night and discussed Flight Behavior (2012) by one of my favorite writers, Barbara Kingsolver.  Our book club was whittled down to just a hardy few as the weather had taken a turn for the worse mid-afternoon.  I braved the cold and the icy roads just to talk about this book but also because I'd made an amazing salad to share.  We go potluck at these gatherings and I hadn't been the only one thinking salad or healthy.  We shared a brussels sprout salad, a beet salad, a delicious spinach dip, and a light-tasting 5-flavor pound cake. Our plates were pretty as we sat to discuss the book.

Flight Behavior follows Dellarobia Turnbow as she picks her way through her unhappy marriage. One of the symptoms of her sadness is to seek out small-time crush-worthy men in her rural Tennessee community.  At the opening she is headed into the woods to meet up with her latest crush, the telephone man, to see if they want to take things one step further.  On the way up the mountain that sits right on her family's property to meet him she stops to breathe and is overwhelmed by a phenomena~she can't tell if it is fire but something strange has the mountain top trees all lit up.  This oddity gives her pause to change her mind and head back down the mountain away from the sin she was thinking of committing.

Dellarobia is a fascinating character that grows immensely during the course of her story.  Kingsolver truly is a master storyteller weaving an array of unique characters into a timely and thought-provoking event.  What Dellarobia glimpsed on the mountaintop was Monarch butterflies all come to roost on her husband's land.  The migration of this butterfly swoops through Mexico every year for thousands of years and this year they didn't make it there.

Today on this bitterly cold day I'm not going to make a crack about how global warming can't be true as it is freezing outside!  We are by our very existence altering the course of our earth by the products we use, clear-cutting whole mountaintops of trees, car emissions, food production, energy, and coal plants. It is taking a toll on our home; our world and this fact comes home to roost for Dellarobia as she watches and learns more about this magnificent butterfly.

I loved the climate conversation this book brings to light but on a more simple note Dellarobia's relationship with her children takes on a magical quality for me. She begins as a mother who is pained by her son Preston's constant questioning of the universe, making her slip out the back door for a "secret" smoke.  She loves her children at all stages throughout but her appreciation for their natural childish qualities readjusts Dellarobia's thinking.  As the butterflies transform her and remind her of what she can still be she emerges as a mother who stokes her own son's curiosity fueling it with thoughts, theories, and books to pour over.  Dellarobia looks at even the little Cordelia, still in diapers, with new and glowing eyes.  Hope has sprung and Dellarobia sees a future for her children and herself.

The book is breath-taking and yet I have other Kingsolver stories that I love more-that's how talented she is.   Read NPR's review.

The salad:
adapted from Yoga Journal (Feb. 2014)

Feel-Good Quinoa Pilaf

1 cup quinoa
1/2 head radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dried tart cherries (expensive-could substitute dried cranberries)
1/4 cup pistachios (shelled, of course)
3 T fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Put quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, and rinse well under cold water.  In a saucepan, bring two cups of water to a boil over high heat.  Add quinoa, and reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer until grains are tender and water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Transfer to a large bowl and fluff with a fork to separate grains.

2. Add radicchio, vinegar, olive oil, cherries, pistachios, and parsley to bowl, and stir to mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Delicious!

I made a double batch for book club because we have twelve members and since only half of them showed up I had half a bowl left for lunch during the week.  My husband tried it and loved it also.

from Yoga Journal "with melatonin-rich dried cherries, pistachios, which contain B-6, and protein-rich quinoa, this easy weeknight pilaf has nutreints to help you sleep soundly, keep your memory sharp, and maintain healthy muscles."

Book + Salad = healthy humans
Have a peaceful day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

{Fake} Chicken Soup soothes the soul.

The other day I came home from school and it was so blustery cold out I knew I needed some soup.  I have a special go-to soup recipe that my kids think of as chicken soup but it isn't really.  Everyone should have a few days in their week of meat-free meals if you want to be healthy.

My (fake) chicken soup:

I love to do all the chopping first so my mise en place is set and I'm not chopping and stirring at the same time.  In every instance I recommend  local or organic vegetables.

Smash and chop two garlic cloves, one white onion, two large carrots, and two-three celery stalks.  The celery and the onion I finely chop as my groovy girl is not a fan.  The smaller I can make them the better.  I had zucchini in the fridge so I diced that up as well.

Heat coconut oil to a stock pot.  I am in love with coconut oil's flavor.  I recently sautéed a zucchini in a little coco oil and it added such a unique flavor.  I have Nature's Gate from Amazon as I don't  have any place that has good oil in town.  I'm sad that it is not going to be available much longer in this version.

Add carrots, onion, and garlic to the warming oil.  Stir and sauté and then add celery and zucchini.  I add this later as they are softer veggies and won't take as long to cook.  Add freshly ground black pepper and  just a little sea salt.  You can add a little turmeric as well or choose to spice it up a bit. Once this base of vegetables are soft I add my cubed tofu.

If you are new to tofu cut it out of the plastic container, drain the water, and place square of tofu in the middle of a clean, cotton towel.  Wrap the towel around the block and place a plate or a pot on top for about 8-10 minutes.  This drains the extra water out of the tofu so it will soak up the flavors of your recipe.  Unwrap the towel and slice through with a sharp knife to make small cubes.  I slice about 5 rows through both ways and then two rows through the middle to create the bite-sized cubes.  Lift the towel up and send the tofu tumbling into the vegetables.  Mix the it all together gently as you don't want the tofu to crumble.  Put a lid on the pot and let everything steam together for about 10 minutes while you create your broth.

Many times I've made my own broth but this night I needed help.  I have two different kinds of broth that I use in a pinch.  One is Better than Bouillon and Orrington Farms Broth base both in vegetable.  Both of these products are easy to mix with hot water.  I added 6 cups of broth once the tofu has had a chance to pick up flavors from the vegetables.

Turn the heat up and once the soup reaches a steady boil add half a package of thick noodles.  Give them a few minutes to cook and take the soup pot right to the table.  This feeds a family of four but my crew (just the three of us now) finished almost all of it for dinner.  I ate the last of for lunch yesterday. When Groovy Girl finishes her bowl there is a pile of celery in the bottom~okay, yet all the zucchini is gone.  Yeah!

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click over and find many other food-related posts.  Happy end-of-the Weekend!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My first book of 2014

I want to do a better job of keeping up with book reviews especially when I'm reading such good stuff. This week I finished The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho.  He is one of my favorite authors because his writing always stretches my own thinking.


A Middle Eastern couple from Beirut travel to Romania to adopt a child.  They have a wonderful life and feel that the only thing missing is a child.  After days of trying to decide on one baby in an overflowing orphanage the woman chooses a gypsy baby and names her Sherine.  A family uncle later reminds them that Sherine, now a young lady, will want to go out into the world with a less ethnic name and he nicknames her Athena.  She adores this new nickname and perhaps that small gesture of a name change helped to transform her.  She has always been a religious child and feels a deep connection to the church.

She marries young,  bears a son but chooses not to stay married and to raise her son on her own.  Her love for her son transforms her everyday life and she begins to look more deeply into her heart and soul.  Coehlo writes so gracefully that you fall in love with this woman as she questions, transforms and believes in something greater in all of us.  Told through alternating points-of-view we get to see Athena from all angles and how each person is affected by her.  Through some of the more learned characters seeking answers about Athena{the witch} we get some profound dialogue:

The character Antoine Locadour, historian explains life and the changes that Athena is experiencing using the philosophy of Carl Jung:

"...we all drank from the same spring.  It's called the "soul of the world." However much we try to be independent individuals, a part of our memory is the same.  We all see the ideal of beauty, dance, divinity, and music." (170)


"Society, meanwhile, tries to define how these ideals should be manifested in reality. Currently, for example, the ideal of beauty is to be thin, and yet thousands of years ago all the images of goddesses were fat.  It's the same with happiness; there are a series of rules, and if you fail to follow them, your conscious mind will refuse to accept the idea that you're happy." (170)

and continues with

"The Shadow is our dark side, which dictates how we should act and behave.  When we try to free ourselves from the Persona, we turn on a light inside us and we see the cobwebs, the cowardice , the meanness.  The Shadow is there to stop our progress, and it usually succeeds, and we run back to what we were before we doubted.  However, some do survive this encounter with their own cobwebs, saying: 'Yes, I have a few faults, but I'm good enough, and I want to go forward." (171)

Athena, through her encounter with Edda learns more about her own female center and to trust in herself and what she understands as Mother Earth, a female God.  I loved the journey this book took me on as I have every book Coehlo has written.  My other favorites are The Alchemist and By the River Piedra I sat down and cried. Find Paulo Coelho at his website.  I picked this one up at a used book sale and I'm making it my quest to read the rest of his books.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cold Day~No School Day!

The temps have dropped to an alarming number of -11 degrees.  It is super, super cold. The dogs don't want to go out to potty and the wind whistles through several of our old windows.

Our traditional snow day breakfast is chocolate chip pancakes with all the toppings and hot chocolate.  Today we substituted hot cider leftover from the holidays.  There were no complaints...

Yesterday Groovy Girl went to the video store with my husband.  He was on a quest to find the next Game of Thrones and she was "just looking." She came back with 2 games; an olympic event game and Little Big Planet 2 so we've spent some of our morning pretending to be Olympic athletes in archery, swimming, and gymnastics.  The results tend to be hilarious as the only true gamer at our house is the teenage boy and he slept until it was pancake time.

I have two books I'm trying to finish today; an ARC of Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint, which is excellent and one of my favorite authors  Paulo Coelho's The Witch of Portobello.  I'm trying to finish it so I can pass it on to my friend Jen in Colorado.  Teenage boy can take it to her tomorrow when he leaves us again for the balmy state.

I love a day off yet I have a lot of work to get done at school plus I feel like it can be a hard day for many of our students who are left unattended and don't have delicious pancakes for brunch or even a bowl of cereal.  What's the temperature in your neck of the woods?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Weekend Cooking; Alice Waters and The Art of Simple Food II

Our holiday break includes two untraditional traditions; a shopping trip to Goodwill to find excellent second hand sweaters, flannels, etc. and an extended trip to Barnes and Noble to use gift cards and explore new books. I had a gift card from last year begging to be used. I love gift cards so much that  I tend to hang on to them until the perfect book is found.  Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food II is just such a masterpiece that I didn't mind trading gift card for book. I've been a fan of hers for years and am happy to add this book to my collection.  I'm sure my mother will want to borrow it as well.

Alice Waters is a chef, author, owner of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, CA. She is an American pioneer of a culinary philosophy of good, fresh ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally.   In 1996 she created The Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School; a one-acre garden, a kitchen classroom, and a curriculum to pull everything together.  She is also the Vice President of Slow Food International, a nonprofit that celebrates local food traditions and boasts 100,000 members. (adapted from Chez Panisse’s website)

The first thing that drew me in is this list from the inside front cover:

 Treasure the farmer, Nurture the soil,  plant wherever you are, learn from nature,  cultivate your palate, make your own, eat whole foods,  share the harvest,  teach children the art of simple food.  These are all a part of my belief statement as well.

I haven't cooked anything yet from this book but I've read through the herb section and have selected several recipes to try.  Most of all it makes me hungry for Spring!

Look at the chapter headings and try not to get hungry for warmer weather...

1. My Kitchen Garden (growing what I love)
2. Fragrant and Beautiful (herbs and herb flowers)
3. Tender Leaves (lettuce and salad greens)
4. Hidden Flavor (garlic, onions, leeks, and scallions)

It is not categorized into seasons as many locavore cookbooks are yet she does have seasonal chapters. The recipe format is also unique as Waters' writes them as she might to a friend with the ingredients integrated into the recipe not set apart.  An example:

Basil Mayonnaise (15)
makes one cup

Pounded basil makes a beautiful green mayonnaise.  Serve it with a gilled fish or a tomato salad.

Pick the leaves from
     1/2 bunch of basil (about 1/2 cup lightly packed)
Coarsely chop the leaves and pound them to a paste in  a mortar with:
     1 egg yolk
     1 tsp water
Whisk the yolk, water, and basil together.
Into a cup with a pour spout, measure:
     1 cup olive oil
Very slowly dribble the oil into the egg yolk, whisking constantly.  As the egg yolk absorbs oil, the sauce will thicken, lighten in color, and become opaque.  This will happen rather quickly.  Then you can add the oil a little faster, whisking all the while.
     If the sauce is thicker than you like, thin it with a few drops of water.  Taste and add more salt, if necessary.

The bonus for this style of recipe is that it forces me to read the ENTIRE recipe to get the ingredients and to look at the recipe as a whole not as just a list of ingredients.

Other interesting recipes:

Rocket (arugula) Pesto, Corn and summer squash soup, Roasted brussels sprouts with sesame seeds and ginger, Lime syrup, Summer squash pizza with marjoram and fresh ricotta.

The last large section in the book is about gardening and that will be read and reread before Spring so I can be ready.  I'm sure she has some new tips and strategies that I can use.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads weekend cooking meme.  Click her link to see many other food-related posts.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My life in books; 2013

2013~gone.  It was an exciting year though and I read some excellent titles!

One child turned 21 and another turned 18. One child starred as literary children's favorite Junie B. and is in her last (sob) year of elementary school.  Next year at this time she will be half way through 7th grade.

I've spent another year working and reading my way through my teacher-librarian job.  I want to read and discover even more fantastic books this year and desire to stay on top of what's new and plus do more writing.  Here are my stats for the past year.


I read 62 books (chapter and nonfiction).  My blog total is different from my Goodreads total (68) as I added a few excellent picture books to my lists.  My highest reading months were January, June and July and December with 7 books each.  I never read more than 7 in a month. My lowest month was September-I only read two books-which makes sense as it was the beginning of school and I was probably doing a lot of lesson planning and deep thinking!

I can never pick just one.
Here are my absolute favorite 5-star books for 2013:

The Snow Child
Ender's Game
I am J
The Humming Room
Angry Housewives eating bon bons
The light between the oceans
Boy still missing
Strange but true
Code name Verity
Rose under fire
Mr Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore
Navigating Early
Eleanor + Park
Bud, Not Buddy
Between shades of gray

I love looking back at my list and remembering all those great stories.  My two favorite authors of the year would be John Searles (Boy still missing, Strange but true) and Elizabeth Wein (Code name Verity, Rose under fire). My favorite elementary fiction was Bud, Not buddy; an old one but I hadn't read it and had the opportunity when one of my 5th grade book clubs picked it.  My favorite YA title was Eleanor + Park and I am J.  Best historical fiction was Between shades of gray and Wein's companion books about WWII female pilots.

I read several great titles with Groovy Girl this year like One White Dolphin and Patrick Carman's series The Dark Hills Divide.  And I read a few great titles over my lunch time as well-Wonder tops the list, a book everyone should read as well as The one and only Ivan.

I read 18,100 pages, down from last year, which totaled 19,759.  And I love that Goodreads configures all  this for me!   I wonder how many words that is?

What were your favorites in 2013? What goals have you set for 2014?