Sunday, April 26, 2015

Could it really be Spring?

I do hope so. I need warmer weather. I'm tired of the cold.
One tree cut away}

We had warm weather a few weeks ago then it got cold, cold again. I had to get my winter coat back out of the basement storage closet. Yes, that cold.

Today it was warmer and we worked outside on the yard. Last week we had three trees cut down. I had the tree man leave them free standing as I didn't want them just gone. We carried limbs from the front yard to the back and clipped them into smaller parts. They were river birches that had been planted years and years ago. They were tall and majestic and had bark that peeled back creating texture on the trunk.  

Now we have enough logs for family fires all through the summer and fall. Lots of s'mores.  The trees will continue to bring us joy but it's still hard to see them gone.

They were dead though and had to go. Recently we had a large branch fall on a windy day, taking out the garage gutter. Another day, another storm and one of them could easily land on the roof. That would be an unexpected surprise.

I also had a chance to plant a few flowers, herbs, and 3 tomato plants. I'm ready for healthy spring eating and spending more time outside 
{Groovy Girl enjoying new perch}
{My new reading spot}

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Weekly Update

It's been a week of quick meals, crazy schedules and yet I've managed to create a few recipes to share.

{Janssen's granola and photo}

I've been meaning to make Janssen's granola recipe for quite awhile now and when the last few clusters of my TJ's ginger mix landed in my morning yogurt the opportune moment was upon me.  It took me 3 days to gather ingredients and find a space of time to make and bake it.  It's delicous!  Just because it's my nature I will play with it next time. This time I did add in some mixed nuts (cashews + pecans) because they were sitting in our nut jar and some chopped dried mango.

Last night I hosted book club and I gave the granola away in little cloth giveaway bags (that I made from white cotton squares).  It was a combination Earth Day/May Day gift from me to all my book club friends.  Hopefully it brightened their morning yogurt.

I also whipped up a jug of ginger beer this weekend.  Jenny from Dinner; A love story introduced me to the Dark and Stormy and ginger beer is a major ingredient.  I don't like the jacked-up expensive price of ginger beer ($10 for 4 bottles) so I thought it would be worth it to make my own.  Now I know why it's not's hard to make.  I chopped up two large roots and then squeezed it through my mesh strainer to just barely produce 3 tablespoons.  I rinsed cold water through the pulp to eek out 1 more tablespoon.   I thought with the added yeast in this Epicurious recipe that it would be fizzy but it is not.  It does have ginger flavor though and I will use it. Maybe this weekend I will test run it with a Moscow Mule.  I will probably have to add club soda though to give it that extra POP and zing.

I planned to make Dark and Stormys (we've had rain + the last time I hosted we had a tornado warning) for book club but I changed plans when I wasn't happy with my fizz-less mixture.  Luckily we had plenty of wine.  And delicious food.  My favorite was Katinka's Greek salad.

What I'm reading:

Book club:  Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline  ( I read this months ago so didn't have much to contribute)
School: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Groovy Girl: Nest by Esther Ehrlich

Next up: Swamplandia by Karen Russell

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Good Food, Good Friends

{I have no idea why this posts in all caps when it does not look that way in editing.  Strange but I don't have time to keep messing with it.  Enjoy. }

I made a meal yesterday for two musically talented friends who came to town to play a gig.  I offered to make them food as I'm all into this entertaining without cleaning utopia.  I did actually do a bit of cleaning but I just don't get stressed out about it.  I mostly tidied up a week's worth of daily clutter and swept our one hardwood floor that shows all the dust bunnies, dog prints, and crumbs.

I have several go-to meals I pull out of my hat that are easy to put together and still make a good impression.  Homemade pizzas are a big winner~especially if you ask the kids to help scoop the sauce and decorate the pies.  A Mexican burrito or tostado bar is another.  This is the one I did today as I came across this great recipe for a Mexican-inspired quinoa dish from Damn Delicious.  I woke up early yesterday morning and made the quinoa dish so it would be ready and I'd only have to reheat it.

(Sarah Prineas, Maribeth Boelts, and Jill Esbaum)

I spent my day at the public library for a book festival.  We had an amazing time.  There were book characters, yoga story time, music, drama, and three Iowa authors.  This was the first festival and I think a few things we could do differently but in general it was a good time for all.  Groovy Girl had the opportunity to "be" Olivia and she LOVED it.  She hugged lots of small people, posed for photos, danced and generally played it up.  It was hot and sweaty in the costume yet at the end of the day she didn't want to take off the huge costume.

After the book festival it was easy for me to wash some greens, saute a pound of grass-fed beef with homemade taco seasonings, reheat the quinoa dish, and fill little bowls with sour cream, cilantro, cheese, and avocado.  Right before they arrived I heated corn tortillas on our griddle just enough to make them crunchy.  And the best part was cracking open a container of feta cheese to sprinkle over the top.  Mmm.  It was good, not too heavy, and we were able to eat within about 45 minutes so my friends could travel the 8 minutes to set up their equipment.  The most important thing was the lovely conversation around the table between my two children, my two young guests, and myself.  There was storytelling and laughing.  Entertainment bliss.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Little green shoots are popping up in the dark black soil out in my yard.  Birds are chirping and swarming around our bird feeder. Rain drizzles making everything richly green.  Of course it is still freezing and I'm sitting here in my light winter coat because I turned the heat off two days ago.

I had an amazing arugula salad for dinner tonigh with pecans crumbed on top. I bought the arugula this time with hopes that soon I will have some growing in my backyard.  I love the flavor-it has so much more to offer than lettuce.  Mixed with lettuce it's all pretty good.  

We've had our first backyard fire of the year and it was fantastic. We roasted Hebrew hot dogs, turkey dogs, and bratwurst. We had all the trimmings:  suaerkraut, mustard, ketchup, buns, homemade pickle relish and wasabi. We had bad-for-you-chips and bottles of crisp cider. It was all delicious.

Something about spring makes everything just crack open in an exciting way.  Life begins anew.  It's refreshed and earthy.  In the midwest we treasure it because we've been hibernating just to keep warm.  I, for one, am ecstatic to have warmer weather here and to share time outside with family. 

{Young Hansen gardeners}

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hello April; Meet my March reads...

I had a great reading month because of Spring Break.  Think of what I could get read if every month had a week's vacation nestled right in the middle. Let me plan the school calendar for next year!

1. A place at the table by Susan Rebecca White (2013):  Interesting story that involves a unique cafe and 3 very separate characters who come together.  Some of it I liked (Bobby story made an impact with me) and some of it did not fit or felt forced.  Three stars on Goodreads.  Read for reading retreat

2. Dramarama by E. Lockhart (2007):Two outspoken Ohio teenagers bond at school and then head to summer drama camp at a nearby college.  They both have very different experiences while away from home and mixing with other campers.  I liked what this book had to say to young adults; it's okay to be out there, be you no matter what. Four stars on Goodreads.  Read for reading retreat.

3. Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner (2014):  Interesting story about grief as Circa and her mom learn to live without her dad, the glue that was holding the whole family together.  Circa's mom suffers from depression and isn't good in some social situations.  They are religious and have help in their church family + a neighborhood family steps up to really help out.  In the middle of their grief a young boy shows up and needs Circa's help as well.  Three stars on Goodreads.  Read with Groovy Girl.

4. Prodigy by Marie Lu (2013):  The second in the exciting series with Day, the rebel, and June, the once elite turned rebel, escape to the Rebels and then escape again away from the Rebels.  The twists and turns in this one were surprising and I liked hearing more about the collapse of the U.S.  Waiting to read Champions now.  Four stars on Goodreads.  I read this with my 6th grade book club at school and wanted to do something interactive socially with them. I included Lu in a tweet asking if we could visit with her via twitter or any other social media just to talk and ask a couple of questions. She never answered and my young readers are a little disappointed.  If anyone knows how to get this accomplished please let me know.

5. A hundred pieces of me by Lucy Dillon (2014): This is the one that I read all the way to Arkansas, through the afternoon bluegrass fest, and then on to Greers Ferry.  It was a great story and has all of us comtemplating what brings us joy.  What 100 pieces of your life do you hold dear?  Five stars, reading retreat.

6. If you find this by Matthew Baker (March, 2015): I received this in the mail right before we left for our trip and I, of course, stuffed in my already stuffed book bag.  I'm glad I did as I started this on the reading retreat.  The cover pulled me in and A. and V. were interested in the title for their boy's book club.  I preread it for them and for any of you with an adventursome child looking for a good book.  I'm going to write a proper review for it soon because someone at Little, Brown kindly sent the book my way.  It's totally worth it.  Five stars, gift from publisher

7. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson (2012):  This one has been haunting me for a few months.  I wrote a blog post about this book, you can read it here, and the road trip back from Little Rock gave me the perfect opportunity to finish it. I wasn't disappointed in this fantasy adventure and I plan to read the second one soon.  Four stars, for me

8.  El Deafo by Cece Bell (2014): I've read only a handful of graphic novels and this one was excellent.  Cece's life journey was tough and she is able to make light of in the pages of this book. I imagine it was cathartic thinking about her early years with this big box and ear plugs to help her hear.  Every child wants to fit in and have friends as part of life-Cece does a great job of bringing this message home.  I'm so happy to have read this.  It was an honorable mention for Newberry but it's truly V's daughter's recommendation that made me pull it from our book cart of new books and read it.  Extra bonus: I chatted with a few students about how much I liked it and it's been in constant rotation.  Five start, for me.

9. The Ghosts of Graylock by Dan Poblocki (2012): Up for Iowa Children's Choice Awards we showed a Prezi of all the nominees and this clip was pretty creepy.  I had to read the book to see for myself just how scary it was.  Don't read it right before bedtime is my suggestion.  I thought it had great connections.  The brother and sister work together to solve the problems they are having thanks to a visit to Graylock, the local closed down asylum.  I liked Poblocki's writing style and will look for more from him.  Now I know what to recommend to that rotating group of kids who ask the question "where are the scary books?"  Four stars, for investigative purposes.

10. Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur (2011): Also an Iowa Children's Choice nominee and the perfect book to clear my mind of swamps and ghosts.  Elise is struggling with the leap into middle school as well as the family she misses.  She's not interested in doing homework and there's a bully at school making her miserable.  She just wants to fit in and her old friend Franklin makes her feel more like a baby than a middle schooler.  This was a well-told tale with many layers.  Four stars, for school.

How much reading were you able to accomplish in March?

Our weather is cheering me up and the garden is calling my name so April might not be as readable as March was.  I've already started several good ones though and I got a package again from Little, Brown...treasures await!