Friday, December 30, 2011

Book bag synopsis

I brought home a book bag filled with a few titles from my school library that I wanted to read over break.  Most of them are from a Scholastic order from the beginning of the year and haven't received much student attention.  I thought I could book talk them in the new year and it would give me my last few titles to reach the 100 mark for books read in 2011.  Here's what I've read over break so far:

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie (2004) by Jordan Sonnenblick;
Steven Alper is a middle school student who loves playing the drums and is annoyed by his little brother, Jeffrey. When the family discovers Jeffrey has cancer things get a little crazy.  Jeffrey suffers through the physical aspects of cancer and Jeffrey wades through how it must feel to be the child left at home, the healthy but ignored child.  Sonnenblick portrays both sides really well and has the middle school lingo down pat-he sounds like he never left middle school really...a bonus for him.  I can't wait to read his other two titles on my pile; Notes from the Midnight Driver and Zen and the Art of Faking It.

Ways to Live Forever (2008) by Sally Nicholls;
This is the story of Sam McQueen, an eleven-year-old in the last stages of leukemia and the story is presented to us through his eyes through an assignment his at-home-teacher gives him and his friend, Felix. My favorite aspect of this tale is that Sam is a list maker.  He has a few things he'd like to get accomplished before he leaves this earth and once he figures out he can do more than just dream about doing them he does!  He learns an important lesson about how one looks at a problem to solve.  The author is English and the story is filled with references like torches, sledging and Mum's and duffle coats-it makes the story interesting but will make it more difficult for one of my students to comprehend.

Radiance (2010) by Alyson Noel;
Wow; three in a row!  Riley dies in a car accident before the book basically opens-wham.  She's trying to figure out where to get in the happy field of flowers; to follow her sister, Ever, back to the Earth plane or across the bridge where her parents and dog have happily gone.  She's an interesting character with very defined thoughts about the world around her as she learns to live where she is and take on an assignment back on Earth.  She meets Bodhi; a nerdy but cute angel in desperate need of a victory and she's able to save a few lost souls along her journey, which is just what she needs to do to rise to the next level.  The next level of what though is a question she can't help asking!  I'm anxious to read the next one, Shimmer, as well as Noel's other series, The Immortals.  This is a fast read-one day-starting early, early this morning when I couldn't sleep.

The Daughters (2010) by Joanna Philbin;
This is a hot series in my library right now so I had to remove it from circulation and hide it for my holiday break-wielding my power as the librarian with supreme force over the hold shelf!  This one gave me a break from all the death and dying of my previous choices and was a perfect light read.  I wouldn't label it fluff though as Philbin tackles the personalities of three famous daughters trying to be themselves!  I thoroughly enjoyed their struggles and thought she had a lot to say about real beauty and celebrity worship.  I plan to read the next few in this series as soon as I can snatch them back from student readers.

Up Next:

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

What are you reading into the new year?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holly Jolly

Loads of game playing. These have all been played or attempted over the holiday.

Lots of eating.

Christmas afternoon-opening family gifts.

We've even redeemed a gift card already!  Groovy Girl felt so grown up, getting her hair cut at my favorite Aveda salon.

We've snuggled up for movies and watched two episodes of Downton Abbey and several 
episodes of Arthur. 

Oh, the joy of everyone together!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

We had a cozy day hanging out today. Even though we hoped to be all done with our shopping we still had a few things to finish up.  My husband and I went out to look at a local appliance store which turned out to be closed so we continued on to get guinea pig food and a few other last minute gifts.  While we were driving around with NPR on the radio David Sedaris read to us from his Santaland Diaries.

So there we are driving around, concerned with our day but laughing our troubles away as Sedaris' recounts his brief (and hysterical) stint as an elf at Macy's.  I can't get it to load on my computer for some reason or I'd have it here for you to listen to but the link is here if get the chance to listen.  It was just what we needed.  And right before that we heard Neil Gaiman on Wait, Wait don't tell me.  Love public radio!

Why, you ask, were we searching out an appliance store on Christmas Eve day?  I know your curious...
The beautiful Sub-Zero that came with our old house died a sad and pitiful death two days ago.  Now if it was a snowy Christmas we could use the outdoors to store our holiday groceries but that is not the case here-it has been balmy!  No snow.  Luckily our friend, Jason, saved us by bringing over his garage fridge and we are using that for the next month or so until we can research the best refrigerator for our galley kitchen.  Thank you Jason!!

I hope you have a wonderful holiday however you celebrate-celebrate in style!
Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Anne Ylvisaker and The Book Club

Author Anne Ylvisaker

I was the host of our book club last night and we had a a fantastic time.  Through a round of chance encounters (one of our members worked with Anne's husband in Cedar Rapids a few years back) and after I'd read and loved Little Klein we cooked up a plan to read a few of her books and see if she would skype with us. We're so happy she agreed.

Ylvisaker grew up in Minnesota; in the St. Paul area, her father was a minister and she spent time in Iowa as an adult as well.  All three of her fiction books take place in these Midwest settings.  She had a lot of good stories to tell; some about her family and some about her writing process.  I particularly loved this one...her writing group at one time gathered words and shared them with each other; using them to write with that week.  She could pick them out of Little Klein and demonstrated how they raised the story up.  She also shared many of the personal family stories that have became part of her books.

It was one of the best book club experiences we've had and it had nothing to do with the delicious food or the wine.  It was the lively conversation we had with her and the discussion we had after we hung up the camera.
I'm a huge fan of hers and hope you will take time to read any of her fiction books for fun.

I read  Dear Papa recently (2002) a wonderful elementary/middle grade fiction that shares the letters Isabelle writes to her deceased father and other family members as she deals with her grief and her mother's eventual remarriage.  The book is filled with daily joys and disappointments...just like real life.  It takes place in Minnesota around the second World War.
Here's a snippet:
"Dear Papa,                                                                               Jan. 1, 1944 It's a brand-new year.  I have made some resolutions: Help the first time Mama asks.  Hang up my clothes before bed.  Go to church with a willing heart.  Keep our family together.  Your daughter,Isabelle, nine and a half today" (15)

I also read her latest book, The Luck of the Buttons (2011) about a young Iowa girl, Tugs Buttons, who is cursed with an unlucky family.  Tugs changes her stars as she wins a three-legged race, an essay contest and a raffle all at the 4th of July celebration.  She suffers some hard times but in the end she is able to show her family sometimes you got to make your own luck happen.  Tugs is another positive young heroine!
Another snippet to share:
"Tugs shrugged into yesterday's clothes, which still lay in a heap on the floor, slipped past Granny, who was writing a letter at the kitchen table, and collected five pennies from her mother on her way out the door.  Wednesday mornings were Granddaddy Ike's checkers mornings. and in the summer, Tugs was in charge of walking him from his house to Al and Irene's Luncheonette..."(60)
We found out she has two more books in the works about this Button family and the next one up is Button Down, featuring Tugs' cousin, Ned. Read my review of Little Klein here, which features an adorable boy and a dog combo that will make you smile to the heavens.

There was a grand moment for me when Ylvisaker recognized the "Peaceful Reader" name and asked if we were not on twitter together...I was over-the-moon-thrilled!

Thank you to Anne for taking time out of her busy schedule (her children had just returned home for the holidays) to talk with our group and to all authors who make themselves available to us, their adoring readers.
Thank you to my book club friends for willingly taking this leap of faith with me and Kay!
(now I'm thinking why didn't I ask her for a preview copy of Button Down...silly me)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You're A Good Man Charlie Brown

We have a busy weekend.  My husband's play is up and this scene is one of my favorites.  So free and happy, celebrating the joy of Christmas.  Groovy Girl has been Woodstock in two of the four shows and we have family in town enjoying the play.

I did finish two books today; The History of Love by Nicole Krauss-what a beautiful story-I could have started all over again and Lucky Cap by Patrick Jennings, which has been Groovy Girl's story time book but her late nights with rehearsals have delayed our reading so this morning we cuddled in the big bed and finished the last 8 pages.  Love those mornings.  Then I got up and grocery shopped and cleaned house.  My book club meets here Monday night and we are skyping author Anne Ylvisaker, the author of Little Klein, Dear Papa and The Luck of the Buttons.  I'm very excited about this event...I just need to make it through this weekend's performances.

 Have a very love-filled weekend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I did something revolutionary this week!

(photo courtesy of Chez Us)
Don't you get tired of buying cans, boxes, jars or cubes of veggie, beef or chicken stock?  On my ongoing quest to bring less "stuff" into my house, especially the kitchen, I started to re-evaluate my constant need for stock.  While searching through my favorite crock pot book, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson I ran across an easy recipe for stock and thought I should give it a try.

Maybe some people do this all the time but it was a revelation for me-how ding dang easy it was to make and how great it made my house smell.  It made enough for me to use for the next two weeks with some to freeze.

Give it a try-here's the recipe.  I no longer have to worry about purchasing too salty or expensive boxes of organic stock.  Thank heavens.  I also set up my mise en place for this recipe which made me feel extremely cooking cool.  

Light and Easy Vegetable Stock

A 5 1/2-to 6-quart cooker is best.
8 to 10 hours cook time
Low setting
Makes 8 cups

1 T. olive oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, quartered
2 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 celery rib, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 or 3 garlic cloves, left unpeeled and crushed
Peels from 2 large well-scrubbed potatoes (I actually used the whole well scrubbed pots)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
8 cups water
2 tsp tamari or other soy sauce (might be nice to make sure it is wheat-free)
1 tsp salt (I kind of thought this was unnecessary and didn't add it)

1. Drizzle the oil in the bottom of a the slow cooker.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, potato, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns, pour in the water, and add the tamari.  Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours.

2. Allow the stock to cool slightly, then strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a pot or bowl, pressing the vegetables against the sieve to release all the juices.  Store the cooled stock in tightly sealed containers where it will keep for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

As I came down the stairs that  morning there was a delicious smell filling the house.  Now I'm ready to make the several soup recipes from Moosewood that I was interested in as well as the No Hurry Vegetable Curry on my menu for this week.  

How 'bout you?  Do you make your own or buy the box, cube, jar or can of stock?  Do you have a favorite stock recipe?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Porcelain Unicorn; directed by Keegan Wilcox-Grand Prize Winner of Tell It Your Way Competition

My mother sent me this and I love it.  It is emotional and startling to me every time I watch so thought to share it out to you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Moosewood Restaurant; Cooking for Health

I've spent my weekend joyfully running from store to store picking up items for my Secret Santa school family.  I had to hunt down school uniform outfits (not easy since it is not beginning of school, I guess-who would know they would NOT stock all year).  I bought the two-year old a wee baby that cries-my groovy girl said "can I just play with it for one night?"  I must have picked a good baby. It warms my heart to shop for someone in need and I love participating in this program every year.  It always makes me sad when under the mom's wish list are things like this; any  cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, toilet tissue, dish soap.  So I got them all for her and a box of chocolates just because she deserves it.  

In between shopping and Groovy Girl's skating lesson I've been nourishing my food soul with Moosewood's latest cookbook.

Packed full of goodness this one has me scribbling down ingredients and recipes.  It also made me drop a HUGE hint to handsome husband that it was on my Christmas list.  He is pretty health conscious and is always excited about me cooking him food so it is a win-win situation for him.  With fantastic intro information the book begins with Organics, Eating Locally, Nutritional Analysis, and a wonderful chart showing pesticide levels for non-organic fruits and vegetables.  Did you know peaches rank the highest?  

As a runner my husband was most interested in "The Glycemic Index; Bad Carb, Good Carb, Fast Carb, Slow Carb section.  Recipes include a wide variety of choices from vegan to gluten-free and food allergies are  discussed as Moosewood as a restaurant now caters to many food choices beyond just vegetarianism.  I was impressed with the amount of tofu recipes and the wide variety of grains they've chosen.  

While I haven't cooked anything from the book yet I will leave you with a sample list of what could become some new favorite recipes:

Scattered Sushi Salad
Ginger Tofu Soup (the veggie's equivalent to chicken noodle soup)
Latin Corn Soup
Sweet Potato, Apple, and Chipotle Soup
Chunky Guacamole Sandwich
Curried Red Lentil Burgers
Spinach-Tofu Burgers
An Easy Baked Tofu (all my years of cooking with tofu-never have I baked it:(I've already bought the tofu for this one)
Quinoa and Collard Leaf Dolmas
North-South Chili
Oaxacan Green Mole Stew
Tunisian Chickpea Stew

See the list goes on and on and I haven't even read through the dessert (Fig and Pecan Baked Apples, anyone?) section.  There is a two-page spread made for busy nights here:  "Fourteen Ways to Embellish Brown Rice."  Each one of these beg to be tried in my kitchen.  

Don't you want it on your Christmas list too??

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking hosted at Beth Fish Reads.  Check out all the food-related posts over there.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Beautiful Holidays

(Nephew with Groovy Girl)

I've recently been holiday bashing because I had to go buy new lights.  Our old wonderful blue lights that have circled our house for a mere four years started to fade to a pale yellow and then blah to nothing.  Went to Target to replace those lights and brought a name brand kinda light.  Name brand is the key word and I was disgusted as I was only buying one set of lights to cover a large-ish bush in our front yard. (we made a new plan to cover some of the greenery out front instead of the's cold here now, you know.)  Truthfully I didn't expect to cover the whole ding dang bush but I did think I would cover more than one fourth of it.  Seriously.  You buy a box of lights that shows an entire big bush covered and you expect certain things. Don't.

(Teenage Boy, College friend, Handsome Husband
walking over break)

Wow.  The light buying business totally sucked the Christmas spirit right out of me for a couple of days.  That was it though.  I'm done with the rant.  This is just my public service announcement, for you.  Don't go buy Christmas lights and expect them to cover what you want.  I  do  remember my parents with this huge long rope of multicolored lights for our large tree.  It does not exist anymore. They now measure what would be half or a fourth of a tree or a bush and give you that amount in the box so you are forced to buy two to four more boxes of lights to decorate said tree or bush.  Ugh.  I'm done.

(My sweet brother) 

To remind me of happier holiday moments I went back to my Thanksgiving photos.   Viola.  I feel better.
p.s. I had to wait a week to write this post so it would not be full of true holiday anger.  This is my tamed down version of today's greed and commercialism.  The photos = true bliss.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

It begins:
The town of Blackwell, Massachusetts, changed it's name in 1786.  It had been called Bearsville when it was first founded in 1750, but it quickly became apparent that a name such as that did little to encourage new settlers.  True, there were nearly as many black bears in the woods then as there were pine trees, but there were also more eel in the river than there were ferns sprouting on the banks.  You could stick your hand into the murky green shallows and catch half a dozen of the creatures without using bait.  If you ventured in waist-high you'd be surrounded in moments.  Yet no one considered calling the village Eelsville...(1)

and so begins the reader's journey into this small village in the woods.  The bears, the eels and the weather all play into the theme of man vs. nature.  The book is filled with short, connected stories about the town's inhabitants; some of the events are linked and some are not but they all take place in Blackwell and they all demonstrate how small towns emerged all across this nation.

Hallie and William Brady lead the first expedition out of Boston with several other adventurous families and Hallie quickly becomes their champion.  William turns out to be a worthless salesman.  Each story goes forth often reminding us of a previous story by some note or wisp of gossip about the crazy town founders.

I found each story delightful-Hoffman's writing is vivid and descriptive and each character human.  There is a magically element with mermaids,, a garden graveyard, and one or two ghosts creeping about the riverbanks but nothing every small town doesn't already have!

Alice Hoffman makes it on to my favorite author list! We read this for our November book club choice and it was not everyone's favorite but other's put it up there with Stockett's The Help.  Happy Reading!

Other thoughts:

The Halifax Reader
Just Joywriting
Smallgood Hearth

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef and other menu ideas

I browsed the new nonfiction shelves of my local library and came up with two cookbooks and two parenting books in under two minutes.  I had to quickly walk away after that because I go on these binges and bring armloads of nonfiction home only to let it sit and sit and sit until I return it two days late.

This time one recipe stuck out like a yummy thumb just waiting to be cooked.  I had a beautiful small pie pumpkin from the last farmer's market and I didn't know what to do with it;  no one here really likes pumpkin pie.  So I thought what the hey, I'm sure they'll love pumpkin soup.  Ha.

I've enjoyed reading Gluten-Free Girl's blog a few times on my recent quest to explore and understand celiac disease so her name popped out at me as my neck twisted sideways at the new cookbook spines. I would own this book if I were to indeed become gluten-free just for the stories splattered among the recipes. I've enjoyed understanding more about Shauna's journey and their sweet love story.
How can you resist headings like; Grocery Shopping as Foreplay and Honey, remember to eat.

Many of the recipes are too complicated for me or include ingredients unavailable to me in my sleepy small town but there is much more to this cookbook than just recipes.  In a small section at the front Daniel explains the importance of "mise en place"-a perfect three paragraph summary of my cooking life.  He describes Shauna in the beginning like this "she'd put a hot pan on the burner and then start chopping her onions with the oil getting hot in the pan.  She'd run from the stove to the refrigerator while a dish was simmering, always a bit frantic." (14)  That's me-most of the time.  I do not set up ingredients first.  I want to be that organized and now I can name it; mise en place.  Daniel gently reminds the reader that is why the ingredients list tells us what to do; chop, dice, cups, tsps so it can be there ready!  I feel enlightened.

If you are gluten-free this book would make a great holiday gift to yourself!

I made pumpkin muffins last night while I put the finishing touches on the soup and on Wednesday afternoon I had a brownie craving and made a pan of them just like my mother used to.  I thought her recipe was magic when I was growing up.  She admitted to me just a few years ago that she peeled that recipe from the back of the Hershey chocolate can.  How deflating.  I've cleaned it up a bit and made it my own.

Click for recipes:

Pumpkin Soup
Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins
Judy's Chocolate Brownies
Butternut Couscous (tonight's menu with salmon from the co-op)

p.s. my kids disliked the soup but loved the muffins even though I told them (after the fact) that the muffins also had pumpkin in them.  They didn't care.  It's all about the dark chocolate!  My husband, with a more discernible palate, had several bowls of soup and then,  three muffins.

I discovered a new foodie blog this week while searching for the above butternut and Israeli couscous recipe.  Meet Peter and Keith at Feast.  I scrolled through a few recipes and they all look wonderful.  I hope they keep going.

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking.  Click over to Beth Fish Reads for more food-related posts.  Happy eating!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Reading Recap and a few mini-reviews!

Teenage Boy exclaimed the other day: "This year is going by so fast!" and I agree.  December is just around the corner.  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving spent in Deephaven, MN with my younger brother and his family.  The weather was gorgeous and the food was spectacular!  My brother has emerged as quite an eclectic chef and we had a non-traditional meal with King Salmon as the main course.  The salmon was caught in Lake Superior this past summer by my 9-year-old nephew!  A truly amazing feat and he was all smiles as we ooh'ed and aaah'ed over his tasty fish.

My reading in November was quirky:

 Bright Young Things by Anna Godberson (my shelf):  Ugh.  So wanted this to be as good as The Luxe series.  It was not.

 The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (library):  This deserves a much longer review but suffice it to say I loved Hoffman's writing and will search for more of her prose.

 Spellbound (The 2nd book of Elsewhere) by Jacqueline West (library):  I loved this little series-perfectly creepy with a strong young female heroine. I reviewed it here.

 The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own making by Catherynne M. Valente (library):  I waxed poetically about this book here after just a few chapters.  The book stayed consistently superb.  The vocabulary alone puts it in a category all its own.  I had to look words up.  Such a treat.  The author's website offers a preview of the book.  Go on click and check it out!

Organizing the Disorganized Child by Martin L. Kutscher and Marcella Moran (new purchase):  Trying to help my Groovy Girl out a little here-this is filled with many great tools like this clock.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (my shelf):  I don't love it as much as The Lightning Thief but it is a good adventure with mixed race siblings.  I love learning about ancient Egypt.  I've had this on my shelf since it was first published-glad to be finally crossing it off my list.  The same nephew that was responsible for bringing in the salmon was a little disgusted with me-he's read ALL of Riordan's books-some more than once!  He was all like "well, have your read The Son of Neptune??"  Ahh, not yet.

What have you been reading??
Happy December.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Three Unique Picture Books You'll Enjoy!

In between chapter books Groovy Girl and I have had the chance to explore three very cool books.  She is fascinated with Russia and chose to do a report on the country for school.  She brought this book home from her school library:

Russian Girl; Life in an Old Russian Town (1994) by Russ Kendall.  Meet 9-year-old Olga Surikovain in this nonfiction picture book and share a little of what her day is like.  Her family lives in the small town of Suzdal-150 miles east of Moscow.  The photos are lovely and Groovy Girl poured over them, trying to fully understand Olga's life. Even though this title is "older" the information is worthwhile and shares a time in Russia's history.  My paternal grandfather came from a small town on the Russian/Polish border and I love to see my girl explore these interesting roots.  The back of the book includes two recipes, an alphabet of Russian letters,and  a good list of Russian words and names.

Running with the Horses (2009) by Alison Lester.  This is a fictionalized version of an event that occurred during WWII; the rescue of the Lipizzaner stallions from the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  Nina, a fictional young girl, works with her father, the stable master.  The academy has closed and the war comes closer every day.  Eventually her father and another stable hand, Karl, decide to take the horses across the border to her deceased mother's parent's farm.  The story is beautifully told and the illustrations are a gorgeous mix of pencil drawings and what look like photographs but may actually be paintings.

An Edible Alphabet; 26 Reasons to Love the Farm (2011) by Carol Watterson and Michela Sorrentino.  I LOVE this book.  Every page stands for something I believe in with all my heart.  It is a kid-friendly manifest of why we need to be eating locally from farms and our own backyards. It has snippets of healthy information swirled into beautiful illustrations.  I've already ordered it for my school library collection. On a personal note  I have an organic kid's book on my computer with this same title-no kidding.  Guess I better get busy and finish it before some else writes the book.

happy reading!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Cooking Love

I live a rich life although I am far from wealthy and I've recently realized how much joy I get from participating in Weekend Cooking, the one meme I participate in all week.  Sometimes on busy weeks it is the ONLY post I make.  Like this week.  I've had many inspirations for posts but no spare time.

I love the community of Weekend Cooking~I love trying out their recipes, I love reading their cookbook recommendations, their inspirations and menu plans.  I've learned a lot about cooking and baking and I've had fun experimenting with recipes I might not have tried otherwise.  It's like going to church for me.  I can find God everywhere in my life but the community of people I have a church is support network for me.  I feel that way about weekend cooking and blogging in general because it makes my life richer.  I like being part of a community of readers and eaters.

We had a church Christmas bazaar today and I made 6 loaves of bread and 12 peppermint whoopie pies.  Yum.  I've made the bread many times but the whoopie pies was a new attempt.  I know, risky, right to try something new for an event but seriously I can't have 12 whoopie pies sitting around my house-I would eat them.  This way I got to share one with my family-yes, we split it three ways (Groovy Girl was at a sleep over and thus was excluded from the tasting).  I got the recipe from So Sweet! a cookbook from Sur La Table I discovered from a Bermuda Onion's Weekend Cooking post.  Of course.  I bought the cookbook as a Christmas present for Groovy Girl.  It's been tucked away for a few weeks and luckily she was at that sleepover so she didn't notice me using it last night.  This compact cookbook is adorable with delectable pies, doughnuts, cookies, and cupcakes.

Here's the recipe.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies
makes about 20 pies (It only made 12 for me; maybe I made the cookie part two big.)

Cake Ingredients
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 425* F and position an oven rack in the center.  Lay 1 nonstick silicone baking mat or a piece of parchment each baking sheet.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
3. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.  (Or leave it in the measuring cup like I did)
4. Cream the butter with the shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed until completely mixed.  Scrape the sides of the bowl well with a rubber spatula.  Add the brown sugar and continue mixing on high speed for about 3 minutes until mixture is light brown and fluffy.  Add the egg and mix.  Scrape the sides of the bowl again.
5. Turn the mixer on low and begin adding the flour mixture and buttermilk in two alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
6. Scoop the batter into tablespoon-sized balls using a spring-loaded cookie scoop or a spoon and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared pan.  Bake the cakes one sheet at a time for 8 minutes, until cakes are puffed.  Transfer to a cooking rack and let cool completely.

Peppermint Filling

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup marshmallow creme
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 T. peppermint schnapps
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies

1. Place the butter and vegetable shortening in a medium mixing bowl of a stand mixer, and beat on low speed with a paddle attachment.  Add the marshmallow cream and increase the speed to medium.  Beat for 3 minutes.
2. Add the powdered sugar and continue beating on medium speed for an additional 3 minutes.
3. Add the peppermint schnapps, beating on low speed for 1 minute.  Pipe the filling between two cakes as directed.
4. Place the crushed peppermint candies on a plate.  After assembling the pies, gently roll the edges along the crushed candies to coat.  Store as directed.

The array of whoopie pie flavors is spectacular.  Key lime, bananas foster, Kahlua and cream, black forest...Wow.  I would like to play with the filling to leave out the shortening which is a fake almost plastic flavor for me and I could taste it. I think if I added more butter and marshmallow cream it could even it out.

Thank you to Candace at Beth Fish Reads for linking together all our food-related posts.

In other cooking news I have an 11 pound locally raised turkey soaking in brine in my grandmother's extra large crock.  We are celebrating tomorrow as a family.  I've also spent the week trying to go gluten-free.  It makes me stop and read the labels even more than I used to and I'm becoming educated on gluten and wheat.  I'm gaining empathy for people who really have to avoid these two ingredients.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Happy the weekend is over (did I say that?!) with recipe

Little Women; The Musical was the play this
 weekend but keep reading for what I cooked...
It's been a busy week with a full rehearsal schedule and opening night was Friday.  I went to all three shows as I don't know when I'll have the pleasure to watch Teenage Boy on stage; he is an excellent actor but dislikes being in plays.

I cooked this week.  I think the zucchini pizza from last Sunday night kick started me off creatively and the rest of the week followed through.

I made this potato soup from Lynn's Cooking Adventures-I found it using the scientific method of googling "creamy potato soup" and then picking the 1 of 5 recipes that matched what I was dreaming of eating.  How many of you use this simple technique to find a recipe?

Someone at school left two Real Simple magazines in the lounge and I paged through one of them while waiting for my lunch to heat in the microwave.  I found this Broccoli-Quinoa Pilaf recipe-I did not make the cod but used it two days in a row for my lunch.  Heidi at 101 Cookbooks has lots of recipes listed for this power grain.  It is one of the grains I purchase from the bulk section of my local organic store, making it always available in my pantry.

I have more chickens and a turkey coming from Tim, my local farmer/meat man so I decided to make one of the last chickens from my freezer.  While I made this recipe I pondered just how I came to cook meat in my kitchen, which for years, had been vegetarian-but that's a whole 'nother post.  I wanted to make a BBQ chicken from homemade sauce someone gave me when I found this recipe instead as I paged through Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand and found Pot Chicken and Potatoes Baked in Cinnamon-Saffron Milk.   Her recipe is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.

To finish the weekend off we had a potluck at church today and I wanted to bring a side dish-this one is from Durand's casserole book.  The pan was cleaned out before I made it through the food line-I was toward the end after cleaning up the nursery-other people told me it was good though.  One grandmother even said it was her grandson's favorite dish.  A success at the church potluck does not always happen for me!!

I had to hunt down the chef's of two dishes that I loved (one of the great things about a potluck-trying new dishes)-one was a heavenly caramel brownie dessert served in a trifle bowl and the other was a 3-squash bake, this one was made by a friend and she shared some of the leftovers with me (hello, Monday lunch!) but the guy who made that amazing caramel dish did not share the leftover layer at the bottom.  I'm just sure he took that dish home and licked it clean!  I've asked for both recipes and will pass them on as I get them.

Luscious Oven Creamed Corn
casserole dish: 9 x 13-in baking dish
bake time: 45 minutes

2 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
4 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels (about 26 ozs), thawed
1 tsp salt
1 T. sugar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 T. all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  (I never do this step at the beginning to save energy unless I'm baking) Lightly grease the baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
2. In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat.  When it foams, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in the corn and cook just until the corn is hot.  Stir in the sugar, salt, and pepper.
3. Stir in the  milk and cream and bring to a simmer.  Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chives and cornmeal. Spread in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.  Casserole at this point could be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
4. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Click on all the recipe titles to find their links.  Happy cooking!
This post is linked to Weekend Cooking hosted by Candace at Beth Fish Reads.  Click her link to find many delicious food-related posts.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sufficiently Creepy; The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West

One day at work our lovely library volunteer was reading behind the desk.  If I didn't have to teach classes I'd be doing the same thing.  She had a book checked out from the public library from their "Just Arrived" shelf and she was fascinated.  It was elementary fiction and one that I hadn't heard of at that time.  It was The Shadows, the first book in West's new series. 


Olive and her parents move into a creepy old house on Linden Street.  The house has some history as the previous elderly owner died while living there and all the household stuff stayed right there.  Olive, a curiuos girl, finds  a pair of old fashioned glasses that help her enter the oil paintings stuck to the wall all around the house.  She meets the people in the paintings, she meets three cats who belonged to the previous owners and life gets downright creepy as she tries to solve one little boy's mysterious existence inside a painting of Linden Street.  As per adventure stories her parents are busy with their own lives, leaving Olive plenty of free time to explore. 

It begins like this:
Mrs. McMartin was definitely dead.  It had taken some time for the neighbors to grow suspicious, since no one ever went in or came out of the old stone house on Linden Street anyway.  However, there were several notable clues that things in the McMartin house were not as they should have been.  (1)
Great first sentence.  Perfect hook for young readers. 

The second book in the series, Spellbound, has Olive drifting around the house aimlessly, trying to think of ways to rescue Morton, the trapped young boy.  She meets another young boy, Rutherford, who is visiting his grandmother right down the street.  He gets her thinking about a spellbook-a grimoire-as he puts it.  Olive now has a purpose as she tries to find a way to release Morton and she thinks the spellbook might be the answer. 

A little further on:
There was another reason Olive didn't tell anybody about the cats or the paintings or the McMartins.  She always put this reason second, even in her own head, but the truth was that her secrets would be a lot less fun if she shared them with anyone.  Sure, a candy bar tasted good if you ate one half and let your dad have the other, but it was much, much nicer to eat the whole candy bar by yourself.  (5)
Perfect thoughts for an eleven-year-old girl to have.  There is so much mystery and excitement in both these books.  I hope West is hard at work on the third-I think we've only touched the surface of this new amazing Elsewhere! 

Wonderully illustrated by Poly Bernatene.  I've easily been able to read these and book talk them as we have them in our library collection now.  It's wonderful to have someone here helping me everyday who likes to read and shares that with me and students.

Find Jacqueline West at her great website.

Other reviews:
Kimberly at Cool Kids Read
Jennifer at Jean Little Library

*Not to be read late at night or by yourself*

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Shaking things up with a new pizza recipe

(Our zucchini pizza straight out of the oven)

My husband has been very tied up this week both at work and directing a high school production of Little Women; The Musical.  He was called in to save the play when the directer originally hired for the position up and quit.  She deserted right after she'd picked the play and cast it!  Then zip, gone!  Our son is a student at the school and they've asked handsome husband to direct before but it's never worked out.  This time he said yes.

What does all that have to do with my cooking week?  Our schedule has been off.  He and my son, who he sweet talked into playing an old man,  have been busy with rehearsals making this week an easy cooking week, filled with leftovers and warmed up pasta.  I did make patty melts one night with some brat burgers I found at Hansen's, my around-the-corner dairy/local food selling utopia.   Last night we had a classic go-to comfort food dinner of refried bean burritos adding in  roasted cubed eggplant to spice it up.

Earlier in the week I'd clicked on one of Janssen's posts at Everyday Reading to see her menu line-up and found a recipe for zucchini pizza she shared from Perry's Plate.  I love making pizza and find it far superior to any pie purchased over the counter.  Yes, I am a pizza snob, even shredding my own mozzarella.   I have two round stones, a great pizza wheel and a recipe for dough from an old Rodale cookbook that I've used for years.

After reading the zucchini recipe I knew I had to try it. It is my new favorite!  My husband and I ate all of it-I saved out one square to share with my amazing library volunteer.  She and I love trading recipes and this will be good for her to try.  My kids hated it though so it is not necessarily kid-friendly.  Luckily the dough makes two pies and the second one I just tossed sauce and cheese on top and they ate it and smiled big pizza-smiles.  What they did love though was smell of the kitchen during the pie-making and baking process!  What a great tradition to pass on.


Other baking news:

Perry's Plate (at the Tasty Kitchen) has a gluten-free apple, ginger, and spice scones which uses almond flour.  I'm going to make these soon just to experiment with gluten-free.

I signed up to bake whoopie pies for our church bazaar-something Christmas-y.  Maybe a peppermint/chocolate combo.

Weekend Cooking is a weekly meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  Click there for many more food-related posts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lists and Life-Crossing off my to-do list

(Not an exact image of me)
I have a mental picture of myself, the librarian, juggling a variety of tasks every day.  I wish I could draw so I could make that image appear on paper-it must be so cool to make that happen.  I got so much accomplished at work in the last two days.  I love it when I can cross off all the way down the list-items that have been hanging over my head for a week, maybe two.

1. Mandatory Training-took all of it in one day-the day before the deadline!
2. Extra Pay form for Intensive After School teaching filled in and handed to principal
3. Three Little Pig versions to Pre-K
4. Next to Love review (seriously attempted to write it all week long...)-at home project
5. November lesson plans-fun ones-better to entertain me as well as students
6. Book Fair financials called in to Scholastic and money handed to Sandy, our school secretary
7. Book Fair new books cataloged, bar coded and out on the shelves for new week's classes

I know, whew!  It feels great even though I know my list come Monday will be long again but for this weekend I can focus on my house which needs a deep clean, go to lunch with a friend,  read and do some minor tweaking to lesson plans for next week.  Oh, and I must remember to skype with my brother tomorrow night-add that to the list.  See how easily it grows!

I finished the second of the Books of Elsewhere, Spellbound, and will write a review soon of both books.  I hope your weekend is peaceful whether you have a to-do list or not.  Peace.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

War is not the answer; Ellen Feldman's Next to Love

Next to Love; A Novel 
289 pages

I read 2 adult fiction books in October-rare for me. Both were outstanding!   Next to Love focuses on three young women, all childhood friends, and the men in their lives during World War II and after.   Each woman's story captivated me.  Grace, Babe, and Millie experience the beginning of the war through the departure of the men they love and the end of the war with what they are left with and, as a reader, we are privvy to what direction their lives take, and how they get on with the business of living.

Grace, already married with a daughter, is mad at her husband, Charlie:
Talk to me, she wants to throw open the window and shout.  Tell me.  Are you afraid?  Are you secretly thrilled, a little boy with a stick playing at being a soldier, a man going off on a great adventure, leaving us behind, breaking my heart?  No, that isn't fair.  He is not enjoying this either. (27)
Babe and Claude are a mismatched pair who meet accidentally at the Carnegie library .  Claude checks out books for her in an act of  kindness, demonstrating his rebellious nature to her early on:
Three years later, they began going together.  By then he was teaching at the high school, and she was selling ribbons at Diamond's.  His mother, sensing a rebellious nature as well as an inferior bloodline, was brokenhearted; his father merely disapproved.  The town was full of nice girls from good families.  Why did  their son have to get mixed up with one whose father worked in the hat factory and who had to work herself? (20)
Millie and Pete are newlyweds, adjusting to life, when he enlists. His last night in town they've had cocktails and dinner with their friends all at Grace and Charlie's home.  Later, Pete sleeps while Millie lies awake worrying.
She looks at the clock.  It is four-thirty.  She gets out of bed and goes down the hall to the bathroom.  By the time she comes back, he is awake.  And she is bathed and dressed and wearing a big perfectly lipsticked smile. Nobody likes a gloomy Gertie. (37)
Millie, Babe, and Grace have very different journeys to travel throughout the story yet each leads to the same conclusion-war is a miserable way to solve conflict.  Feldman's story takes the reader deep into how WWII affected the lives of these women but on a greater whole how men and women were torn apart.  Marriages and families were destroyed. The children of soldiers were forever changed because their father came back and struggled or didn't come back at all.  I don't know if the author is a peace activist but she makes the point very clear:  War is not the answer.

Think of the soldiers of today and what they've seen and what they've been ordered to do in the name of freedom.  Fighting against any enemy causes irreparable damage to a person's psyche, making it extremely traumatic to re-enter civilian life.  I hope many read this book and take it's message to heart.  It is simply an excellent historical fiction.  I plan to read more by Ellen Feldman. -click to check out her website. 

Other reviews:
Charlotte's Web of Books
Diane at Bookchickdi
Alyce from At Home with Books

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Road Trip to peace.

Yesterday I had melted Brie, fresh bread and apple slices. 
 There was chaos getting to that peaceful spot though.

Groovy Girl began the day sad causing waves of tears and snappy answers from her.  It took us a bit to convince her she could take charge of her own mood.  She did and we went off to skating a bit late but still there.  After her skating lesson, Husband and I had a planned road trip with friends and I was excited to go.  A few days earlier husband found out about a peace walk and wanted to participate.  Of course, the timing of the event squeezed it right in between skating and our intended road trip, which makes handsome husband think "oh, great we can make it!"  Ugh.  Love peace, Hate rushing.

I often walk laps around the arena while Groovy skates and I needed a shower and I had less than 30 minutes to get ready for the walk and the road trip.  Could I have planned more the night before?  Yes.  Did I? No.  In my rush I spent 3-4 precious minutes trying to get new milk from Hansen's into the refrigerator cramming it between various water bottles.  I should have taken water bottles out but instead somehow managed to spill the small pitcher of margaritas I'd made the night before.  I cried as the mason jar spilled it's contents all over the kitchen rug. Now I had to stop and wipe it all up.  What a waste.  It wasn't the loss of the drink (well a little bit) but I dislike rushing and the affects of rushing.  I did make it up to take my shower and even though I was sad about spilled "milk" I knew it wasn't the cause but I still managed to have another mini-meltdown as I was driving back down the highway previously traveled for skating.

Meltdown's are rarely about what started it and I knew I was nervous about leaving my children for the day and for my husband cramming something more into our day.  I sobbed to my handsome and understanding husband-he said "Ill listen as we go..."  He did listen yet my feelings still hadn't resolved as we arrived at the gathering spot.  While praying for a peace I realized these things:

1. My children are old enough to be on their own together but it was my first time leaving them for the day without my mom or someone else to consult.  They would have to take care of chores, and lunch and dinner on their own.  They survived.

2. My husband and I have walked, prayed, rallied for peace from Arkansas, D.C. and Iowa.  Of course he would want to walk this walk.  The walks purpose is to highlight a Dr. King park we hope to have built in our church neighborhood.

Even though my tears and my brain fought it; the walk healed me and reminded me of what I know to be true.  My life is good and we need more peace in our communities both locally and worldly.  I left my grumpy bugs behind.

Our road trip with friends to the Amana Colonies was fantastic.  We went to Fireside Winery for a tasting,  shopped, (I bought pecan maple syrup at the General Store) and root beer here and enjoyed the company of our friends and the fantastic autumnal weather.  At both winery and Millstream we were able to sit on the patio with just sweaters.  We had a delicious family-style dinner at The Ronneburg Restaurant, which included sides of sauerkraut, German potato salad, beets, coleslaw and dark rye bread. My grandmother would have loved it!  The meal was good but the Brie on the patio was my favorite part of the day.  Sunshine, a light white wine and laughter made me forgot all about my meltdown.

The margarita recipe:

12 oz can frozen limeade
12 ounces of tequila
12 ounces of water
8 ounces of triple sec (2/3 can)
1 can domestic beer
Ice and Limes as desired

Use the frozen limeade can to measure ingredients.  Mix well in a gallon pitcher.  If you would like to blend them; don't add the water and blend.  Either way serve in a small glass, with limes and salt.  Perfect.

Fall is not margarita weather here but our school published a new cookbook (our second one) and my school friend, Stephanie, had this brag-worthy mix.  We toasted together on Friday night while we watched the Cardinals win the World Series. Yeah!!!

This crazy long post is linked to Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just a minute...

After completing all my chores for the day for work and home and the list is long-I feel like Santa with a list curling out for miles-I have just a few minutes to write.  Breathe.

The Secret Lives of Princesses by Philippe Lechermeier and illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer is a joyful tongue-in-cheek look at princess behavior.  There's Princess Molly Coddle who's a real handful and Princess Claire Voyant who sees far into the future.  Each page is a full spread of information if not about a princess then about a princess's garden, friends, forest (where many a princess has hidden) and a guide to determine true princess behavior.  Groovy Girl and I poured over each illustration and the corresponding notes.  I'm glad I was there to explain a few words and why it made each character funny or interesting.  Eco Princess was one of our favorites:

The court of the Eco Princess is made up of amazing subjects: snakes, zebras, tigers, cheetahs, and panthers.  She is at home in all parts of nature-jungles, savannahs, rainforests...She ties up her beautiful hair with vines from trees.  It is a very elegant look.  Birds nest in her gorgeous hair and whisper secrets to her of princesses of long ago.  She spends her evenings chatting in her tree palace with her closest confidantes and animal protectors.  She will only accept a prince who is not afraid of heights, lightning or beetles.   (48)

After we'd read most of the book Groovy Girl came up with her own,  Princess Miss Alainy; one who does a little of this and a little of that as in miscellaneous.  I thought she was pretty clever.  This book would make a excellent holiday gift for every princess who is extraordinary!
(Princess of the Sands)

The 1st daughter reviews it at There's A Book.
The Secret Lives of Princesses website.
(Princess Quartermoon)
(Princess For-A-Day)