Thursday, September 25, 2014

Soothing my soul

This past week I was treated to some amazing music and instead of sitting in a crowded bar with noisy people this concert took place in an apartment. It was a perfect intimate setting at a fellow banjo player that we know.  There were 24 people there on a Tuesday evening and John and his girlfriend had spicy jambalaya and cold beer to serve.  It was fairly casual as people mingled for about 30 minutes before the show getting to know new folks, chatting with old folks, and waiting for the music to begin.

The first band, The Lowest Pair, began around 7:30.  They are a double banjo duo from Olympia, WA and Minneapolis.  Why is that when I meet people from Minneapolis/St Paul I feel like I should know them?  I haven't lived there for years and years but yet I feel this thread of a connection as if they live perhaps in one of my old apartments or have Sunday brunch at the same place I frequented.  Could be but probably not.  Their music was amazing and I would love to hear them again sometime.  The next few days they play several clubs around the Minneapolis area including one venue that I've spent many a night at listening to great music.  

When you watch the video play close attention to Kendl's fingers as her they fairly fly over the strings. This particular video shows Palmer playing guitar and I like this song but the sound of both of their banjos together is pretty cool.

This was my first musical house party and it was a wonderful treat.  I loved that I didn't have to put up with that one annoyingly loud table that just doesn't care that good musicians are on the stage.

In October our church is hosting another cool duo, Jenny and Tyler, and I look forward to hearing them inside the great acoustics of the sanctuary.  I've heard many musical groups play in churches including the amazing Greg Brown a few years back.  Again it provides a more intimate setting but without the cold beer and hot jambalaya.

Jenny and Tyler:

Bring some music into your day...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Who doesn't love cake? A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff offers cake.

Groovy Girl recently had a very big birthday.  She turned 12 on the 12th of September.  She's growing up...I dislike it, I love it-it depends on the day.  She's taking 7th grade in stride, a few bumps along the way.  For example, she forgot her phone at school, in a classroom.  Couldn't get a hold of her for about 35 minutes after school.  So frustrating yet we joked about it on our way home. We walked home from school hand in hand and then shared a cupcake when we got home.  Much of life is grand.

Back to the major birthday party.  For two years she's been awaiting this golden birthday and she'd requested a hotel sleepover party for this illustrious event.  We went hotel shopping in early August to check out their lobbies, their pools, and how they made us feel.  The Hilton Garden Inn won hands down as the pool was warm and they had a lovely outdoor area with twinkling lights and fire pits.  The deal was sealed.  I made two reservations.  The price was pretty reasonable.

I asked her if she wanted cupcakes from our local cupcakery that is so popular.  She said "NO" flat out. "We always make my cake, mama!" she said.  I asked her to look for a recipe.  Weeks went by and then as I was reading an Iowa Children's Choice possible title A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff I found the cake!  It spoke to me because it combined some of her favorite things...chocolate and more chocolate and she loves s'mores! I rushed upstairs to share my discovery and she was like "mm-maybe-" followed by a "maybe" and a little shoulder shrug.  Hmmm.  I stuck with it though and we gave it a try.

Will's S'more Cake
-a cake that always disappears quickly-

For the cake:
small spoonful of flour, for preparing the cake pans
14-oz package of graham crackers (about 26 crackers)
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter (2 sticks) **always use unsalted as it is fresher** at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp good vanilla
1 cup milk, at room temperature

For the frosting:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks) room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
pinch of salt

For the filling:
1 large cup marshmallow fluff
(I did NOT say this cake was healthy in anyway)

For the topping:
extra graham crackers and/or mini-marshmallows **she opted for studding it with chocolate chips**

1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Lightly grease the bottoms of two 8-in. round cake pans with butter.  Using the cake pans as a template, trace two circles onto wax paper (I used parchment paper) and cut them out, placing once circle inside each pan.  Sprinkle the inside of the pans lightly with flour, and tap the pans to distribute it evenly.

2. Place graham crackers in a blender or food processor, and grind until crushed to a fine powder.  (Alternatively, place the graham crackers in a plastic ziplock bag and crush them with a rolling pin which is exactly what Groovy Girl did as it sounded more fun!)  Measure out 3 cups of the cracker powder into a medium bowl, and mix with the baking powder.  Set aside.  Reserve the remaining graham cracker powder to decorate the top of the cake, if desired.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer, starting on low speed then increasing to medium-high, until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla.

4. Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, add about a third of the graham racker mixture to the batter, combining well.  Add about half of the milk and combine.  Then add another third of the graham cracker mixture, the last of the milk, and then the last of the cracker mix, combining well each time.

5. Pour the batter into the two pans, smoothing the surface.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.

6. While the cakes are baking, make the frosting; In a double boiler or a heatproof boil fitted into a saucepan of simmering water, carefully melt the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring often.  Remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10-15 minutes.

7. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer fitted with clean beaters on medium speed until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth, another 2-3 minutes.  Add the cooled chocolate, sour cream, and pinch of salt, and beat to combine.

8.  When the cakes are completely cooled, place one cake layer on a plate and spread marshmallow fluff on top.  If fluff is difficult to spread, microwave it in a glass bowl first for 10-20 seconds and stir.)  Place the second cake layer on top and frost the whole cake with the chocolate frosting.  Decorate with graham cracker crumbs or mini marshmallows.   (44-46)

Almost everyone at the party loved the cake, the flavor was great and it was nice and dense.  I would make this one again with some minor adjustments.  We brought part of the cake home and we've all been sneaking bites here and there and we've also shared a few pieces Grandpa Roger style; in a bowl with some milk.  The best. Thanks Dad.  Miss you.

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff has some memorable moments but the plot was a bit scattered for me. The cakes and Cady's story were the very best part though and I wanted Cady to find a good permanent home with Miss Mallory.  Cady has a knack for baking and it was fun to read about how she created cakes for those around her.  Thank you Ms. Graff for giving us a wonderful birthday recipe!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a young woman who literally is out of chances yet somehow she manages to positively affect change in all the people around her.  In the very first chapter her adoptive parents are killed in a car accident and she is left completely alone. No family friends, no long lost rich aunt, no scheming mad uncle to claim her.  Instead she finds herself with a sad excuse for a school counselor and a brother and sister she never met before but who happen to be visiting the same counselor when she finds out that her parents have died.

The misfit male counselor, Dell Duke, is lost as to how to even take action in this situation even though others are turning to him for help.  Mai and Quang-ha, sister and brother who live with their mother in a garage behind their mother's nail salon and it is Mai who comes to the aid of Willow when it is obvious that she has nowhere to go.  With this blanket of sadness over everyone it would seem this book would spill tears right out of it's pages but there is something magical about Willow Chance.  Her parents were high-spirited happy people who loved her deeply for all her unusual quirkiness and she has thrived in that love.  Now without that love from the two most important people she has to find a way to survive.

I loved I'll Be There Holly Goldberg Sloan's first novel and find that the two books have a similarity in that she takes oddball characters throws them into tough situations and makes us love them.


Jamison Children's Center is the county facility that provides emergency foster care.
Lenore Cole gives me a pamphlet.
I read it, but get the distinct feeling that the place is probably for kids who have parents who hit them or don't feed them real food because they are too busy taking drugs or stealing something.  
As we drive up to the building, I put my index and middle fingers on my carotid artery just behind my ear to take my pulse.
I know for a fact that my heart rate is in some kind of danger zone." (139)

Willow is a genius and knows things that most people don't and she's not afraid to share. Through her interactions with others she pushes them forward even though she herself cannot get past her grief.  This is an amazing realistic fiction book but with such unusual characters that one can only make sure to push it into the hands of many young 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students to see what they take from it.  I can't imagine anyone not cheering for Willow.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Prairie picture book shares great knowledge.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
Phyllis Root and Betsy Bowen
University of Minnesota Press

This is  a gorgeous book.  Every elementary school needs a copy of this bright and colorful work of art.  It begins...

"Once prairie stretched for thousands of miles an ocean of flowers and grasses, a sea of sky, home for bison and elk, prairie chickens, burrowing owls, five-lined skinks, Plains garter snakes, and Ottoe skipper butterflies." 

The book challenges us to think about prairie and its disappearance in our world and challenges us the reader to plant a prairie be it big or small and if we were to cultivate a prairie, what would come and share in that bit of space?  A ruby-throated hummingbird, monarch butterfly, or Dakota skippers might show up...


The last four pages give full descriptions of prairie history, how to actually plant one, and animals that thrive in a prairie eco-system.  This book can be used as a read-aloud or a starting point for research or the beginning of a major project.  Use it, read it, love it.  Betsy Bowen and Phyllis Root: can you add to this title and make it an ecosystem series?

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's a new month! I liked August.

I wasn't even really ready for August to end.  For me August could be a double month.  I've had one major project to accomplish today and it is to clean off our antique blue bench which holds our mail.  Right now it is holding a large basket of unread magazines, a stack of books THREE stacks of books, and a mass of mail.  Mostly the mail we don't open.

I easily went through the mail basket and filled up the paper recycling bin.  Going through the magazine basket was a lot harder.  Old Martha Stewart's called my name, last year's Bon Appetit''s beckoned me to the pages within, and a couple of catalogs caught my eye as well.  It takes much longer to get things into the recycling bin when you page through everything.  It takes even longer when you decide to stop and write about some of what you find.

In an article about Russ and Daughters, a longstanding deli in New York City's Lower East Side, a few recipes were shared.  It doesn't matter that the MSL is circa Sept. 2012.  I'm sure the deli is still there (it is) and these recipes will still be fabulous. Now I need to get myself back to NYC so I can give Russ and Daughters a try.

In the meantime I will satisfy my craving with these two recipes:

{From MSL}

Bagel Pudding with prunes and raisins
serves 6-8

3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup sugar
1 T. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
4 or 5-day-old bagels, crusts removed and cut into 1/2-in cubes (8 cups)
unsalted butter, for baking dish
3/4 cups halved pitted prunes
3.4 cup seedless raisins
vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Whisk together eggs, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl until smooth.  Whisk in half-and-half and milk.  Add bagel cubes, and toss to coat.  Let mixture sit, stirring occasionally, until bread absorbs some of the liquid, about 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 325*. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish (2 inches deep). Stir prunes and raisins into bagel mixture, and transfer to baking dish.  Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour (if top browns too quickly, tent with foil).  Let cool completely on a wire rack.  Cut into squares, and serve with ice cream.

and then this fantastic beet recipe:

makes 6 1/2 cups

5 cups water, divided
2 T. white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh beet juice (from 1 1/2 lbs of beets) (use a juicer)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (5-6 lemons)

1. Whisk together 3/4 cup water, the vinegar, and sugar until sugar dissolves.
2. Combine remaining water, the beet juice, and lemon juice, and mix well.  Stir in vinegar mixture.  Refrigerate 48 hours before using.

Use that mix in this:

{From MSL}

Beet-and-Lemon-Shrub Cocktail

6 1/2 cups Beet-and-Lemon Shrub recipe
12 ounces of vodka
24 ounces of seltzer water
12 wedges of pickled green tomato, for garnish

1. Mix together shrub and vodka.
2. Fill 12 8-ozs glasses with ice; add shrub mixture.  Top off with seltzer, and garnish with pickled green tomatoes.  (I might think to garnish with lemon wedges as an alternative)

What I'm reading other than this pile of magazines is River of Ghosts by Robert F. Gish (father of the ever lovely and talented Annabeth) for my Sept. book club.  I'm going to finish it even though he is

I'm going to link this to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme even though technically the beautifully long weekend is over. Candace has a peach galette on her site.  I'd trade her a piece of my bagel pudding for a sliver of peach galette-we could have a cup of cappuccino and share.