Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Breakfast for dinner!

Meal planning has gone out the window during this busy summer but I've still crafted some inspiring dinners.
I had a bag of organic potatoes and some gorgeous farm eggs from my teaching friend John.  Put them all together and you can make a wonderful crustless quiche!  I sliced the potatoes and cooked them with a mix of unsalted butter and olive oil in my ever-so-useful Lodge cast iron skillet.  I sauteed them for about 10-15 minutes, making sure to stir a few times. You can see the whites of the potato change color as it cooks. Once you think they've cooked enough then your ready for the eggs.

While the potatoes cooked I cracked a dozen eggs into a large bowl and whisked them with a big splash of milk.  I added large sprinkles of sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a seasoning salt from Penzey's
I was so into egg whisking I forgot to snap a photo but look at those beautiful shells.

I added some sour cream to the egg mix but you could also add cream cheese or goat cheese. I poured the egg mixture  over the nicely browned potatoes in the skillet and let it bubble up all together.  I let it sit on a low burner for a few minutes to cook underneath and then popped it into the broiler to finish off the top.  Half way through I pulled the rack out and sprinkled grated mozzarella cheese on top.  

This is what it looks like after sitting on the broiler.  Watch it so it doesn't get too brown.  I sprinkled more cheese on it before taking it to the table.  I used my pie cutter and a spatula and it came right out of the pan in nice pie pieces. There it is all dressed up with salsa, sprouts, a dab of sour cream on the top and a slice of toasted sour dough bread on the side. Should have had a slice of bacon on the side but it was probably already eaten! The four of us ate more than half of this for dinner with just a few slices for leftover lunch the next day. Salud!

These post is linked to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.  Click on her link about Dinner; A Love Story and see what other fantastic food-related posts she has linked to this Saturday.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

Two fun non-fiction titles to get excited about...

Get Dressed! by Seymour Chwast (2012).  The front of this charming book opens up from the middle for a unique twist.   Clothing apparel is presented for two children from the start of their day to the end as they use their imaginations to fend off dragons, rock out in a band, build sand castles, play super hero, and then lose their clothing to take a bath and go to bed.  This is perfect to share with a little one to spur their own imagination and for pure fun.

Art Panels, Bam! Speech Bubbles, Pow!; Writing Your Own Graphic Novel by Trisha Speed Shaskan and illustrated by Stephen Shaskan (2011). This cool book takes the reader step-by-step through the writing process and explains exactly how a graphic novel is written.  Each page introduces one tool that will help students (and adults) move through and understand what makes a good story.  Characters and plot are covered as well as how to draw thumbnail sketches, panels, speech bubbles, and captions.  All children who love those drawing books will love these as well as graphic novel fans.  I learned a new word "emanata"; little pictures or lines that emanate from a character or object to show emotion. Calvin always had zaggy lines bolting from his brain when he was furious. I feel a little smarter today thanks to this book.

Both of these titles will make it to my fall book list because they will attract both teachers and students.   Kids would love a writing lesson based on the skills in this Art Panels and behold the teacher who would be smart enough to use it that way!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Another Outstanding elementary fiction

My friend Tina is an extremely avid reader and usually has great recommendations.  Last time we were at the library together she loaded me up with several good choices.  This was one of my favorites!

Something to Hold
250 pages

Something to Hold takes place in 1962 on the Oregon Indian reservation, Warm Springs.  Kitty's dad works for the government forestry service putting out forest fires in the great Northwest.  Her family lives on the reservation, which is fine, but she and her siblings will attend the reservation school as well.  She's unsure of how this will go as she already feels uncomfortable feelings from some of the local children.  This is such a great description of what Native life would be like then and probably now as well.  The story is based on the author's own growing up experiences and as a reader I enjoyed her recollections immensely. Noe's website has an interesting biographical information about her years on the reservation.

Quote that made me mad as Mr. Nute their teacher "teaches" them about Columbus Day as they prepare for  a celebration honoring Mr. Columbus and the Native children don't know or understand the state song:

"We are all immigrants," he says, "And America is the greatest country in the history of mankind.  It was established on the backs of those who came before us."
Mr. Nute pauses for a second to let that sink in, then he unleashes an oration on Columbus Day and the ideals on which this country was founded.  All made possible, Mr. Nute tells us, because this one man and a bunch of others who came after him had the courage and vision to seek out this empty and savage New World, to plant their flags so that civilized men could tame it, men like our country's forefathers and the great exploreres who made the Oregon Territory safe for the pioneers, all of whom sacrificed so much so that we can have the freedom-the unearned and unappreciated luxury-to sit here and wallow in our ignorance.
"Now, let's take it from the top," Mr. Nute says quietly.  "One more time." (56)

This is a lesson for Native children?  Yes, I know.  The audacity. This attitude is still what gets our country into trouble. This story grabbed me as Kitty deals with friendship, bullying, racism, and attitudes.  She learns so much about herself in this one important year. Tina said it first so I'm just  agreeing and  repeating but this one should be honored with an award this year.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Two magical elementary fiction titles

1. Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver (2011). Summary-A mix-up involving the greatest magic in the world has tremendous consequences for Liesl, an orphan who has been locked in an  attic, Will, an alchemist's runaway apprentice, and Po, a ghost, as they are pursued by friend and foe while making an important journey.  This is a beautiful-crafted magical story, one that has the makings of a new fairy tale mixed with such wonderful characters of good and evil. Groovy Girl and I read this together at bedtime and were entranced by the story Oliver weaves.  One of our favorite "smaller" characters is Mo a guard for Lady Premiere:

The guard's name was Mo, short for Molasses, as in slow as molasses or thick as molasses.  The nickname had been his since he was so young he no longer remembered what his real name was.  And it was true that from his earliest infancy, although his heart was big and as warm and as generous as an open hand, his brain had seemed just a tiny bit small. (59)

He's a lovely character who gets involved  just because he feels poor Will needs a hat!  A true kind heart Mo does possess.  This is a timeless tale for everyone!  Oliver did leave us hanging on just one story thread; what happened to Mo's sister...? Click this link for a book trailer.

2. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby (2010).  As mysterious circumstances bring Giuseppe, Frederick, and Hannah together, their lives soon interlock like the turning gears in a clock and they realize that each holds a key to solving the others' mysteries.

This one came to our library from a Scholastic order and it's been on my mental to-read list all year.  Like Liesl and Po the character's lives are perfectly intertwined as they meet through twists of fate.  I was reminded of Oliver Twist as Giuseppe tries to find his place in a gang of mean street thugs.  He plays his violin for money to turn over to the leader, Stephano:
Giuseppe tapped the pipe against his leg.  This was bad.  The kid would get a beating for sure, and a severe one.  Stephano liked to break them early and hard.  Giuseppe swore and dug into his pockets.
"Here." He pulled out some of his own money.  "Take this.  It's seventy cents."
Pietro sagged with relief and looked like he was going to cry again.
Giuseppe scratched his head.  "You still don't have much.  You might not get supper, but trust me, that's better than the rat cellar." (10)

This will be a great recommendation for both boys and girls when we start back to school.  SLJ's review.
If you are searching for a great book to read with your kids this summer~try either one of these and you won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's for dinner?

I dislike that question from my children. Don't you?  I want them to like what ever is set before them.  Really I do.  They rarely do.  It is one way for them to take ownership of their little corner of the world.  "But Mom....remember I don't like onions [insert food of choice, rotates on a daily basis]"and said in a somewhat whiny voice.  It's okay, whatever I make is good for you and you're going to eat it, said with a smile is my general response.

(Two Lodge skillets with pizza dough)
Pizza is one universal food they can agree on.  Teenage boy has said he could eat it every night of the week without fail.  His second choice of daily meals:  buttered pasta.  I know, right.  So lacking in imagination.  What happened to my boy who loved veggies, and tofu, and ate what I put down on the table 'cuz he loved me!

I woke up this morning with pizza on my mind, even though I've cut WAYYY back on bread/gluten items.  Over the winter I'd read an article in MS's Living magazine about making pizza in a cast iron skillet.  I didn't make it then but it's been jiggling in the back of my mind ever since.  Today was the day.

(The big pizza got a sprinkling of black olives and sauteed portebellos)

I didn't have a chance to make the dough this morning because I've been religiously going through my yoga routine first thing and then I had to get to my husband's performing arts camp to help out.  That was alright though as I thought when I bring Groovy Girl home she and I can make the dough and it can have half a day to sit.  Not the best but okay.  I can be flexible.  I regretted this later as the dough was very sticky.

(Just out of the oven)

I used the Mel's Kitchen Cafe dough I've used the last 5-7 times I've made pizza.  How many times does one use someone else's recipe before it becomes their own?  Maybe never!  I then googled pizza in cast iron skillet thinking I would come up with Martha's article but nope I got King Arthur's recipe instead.  I like KA products and as I read through the recipe it sounded good.  The skillets were slick.  The pizza slides right out  I added a garlic olive oil drizzle to the pan before I pressed the dough. The kids loved it, especially the thick Chicago-style crust.  It was a little two deep dish for me and I limited myself to one slice but the flavor was great.  Making the little one for Groovy Girl without the mushrooms and olives was perfect.  She likes crust and red sauce with just a dusting of cheese.  Using the skillet made it less of a production, which makes me think I could whip out a little one for her for lunch.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mini-weekend getaway.

(Freedom Park-butterfly bench)
I left my family for two days (one night) to attend the anniversary party of family friends.  These are the kinds of  friends that have know me since I was knee-high through my terrible teen years, have been there for me through many major life events, and still unconditionally love me.  So nearly family, yes?

They had a beautiful afternoon church service that involved husband and wife speaking and then their three children stood and spoke about their parents' love and respect for each other.  It was a perfect tribute to this couple.  It was wonderful for me to visit with family and friends; some that I hadn't seen for years.  50 years of blissful marriage is something to celebrate and I was so happy that I could road trip to Prescott, Wisconsin for their event.

Oliver; The Musical opened the same weekend of which both my husband and Groovy Girl are involved with so I had to go solo.  I don't mind except road trips generally mean reading and napping in the car for me.  Not so this time~I had to stay alert and drive.   Makes me remember to appreciate my husband's willingness to drive me other times; like this Wed. when we head back to the Twin Cities for a play at the Guthrie.

(The St. Croix River)
The oldest son, Erik, spoke eloquently about his parents and I found myself taking notes; after all aren't we supposed to learn from the wealth of knowledge at hand.

Here's what he gathered from his parents and passed back to us:

Erik said he'd learned three skills from each of his parents and shared short quips about each one of them to us.  I'm going to share them out to you without the quips.

From his mother, Marcia, he learned:

1. Show up; you've got to at least show up, being there is half the battle.
2. Look for opportunities; doors close, others open in a new direction.
3. Stay positive and interested.  (He talked about her amazing ability to engage others easily in conversation which showed him later how to cross-examine-he's a lawyer.)

From his father, Marv, he learned:

1. A do-it-yourself attitude; after all "how hard could it be?"  Marv tried to build a boat using my dad's boat as an actual model. Need I say more.
2. Be Flexible; don't worry about the small things.
3. Intellectual Curiousity is a way of life.

And from both:
1. Mutual respect
2. Be optimistic.
 3. Don't be afraid to fail; the power to embrace failure is the key to success.

All great advice, right!  It is wonderful to have such love spread back to you from your children.  I'll be well in to my eighties if I ever am to celebrate 50 years of wedded bliss but it will be worth it to see what my children have to say!

A little lending library at the park was my favorite site.  I want one now out front.  You can see me reflected back in the glass instead of the books but it was filled with a wide variety of books.

Even though I was gone for only one night my family was ecstatic to have me back.  I got lots of hugs and kisses from big and small. It warmed my heart to make it back and forth safe and sound and receive such love from my family.  I guess I'll have to leave more often!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Flipping pancakes-summer fun!

(She likes a little maple syrup with sprinkles of powdered sugar)
Summer time is all about time for me.  Oh, don't get me wrong-I'm still beyond busy but I take time to do things like make pancakes and waffles for my children because I'm not rushing off to work.  They sleep in a bit more also so I can get up do a little writing, then make something fun for breakfast.

I made these pancakes just the other day and still have a small stack of leftovers in the fridge for random snacks.  Leftovers~what a great idea!

(adapted from)The Vegetarian Epicure 
by Anna Thomas (she wrote this book while still in college!)
Vintage Books/Random House

Simple Breakfast Pancakes (186)
serves 3-4 pancake eaters

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached white/wheat flour mix
1 T. turbinado sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 T. baking powder
3 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
1/4 cup melted butter

Sift the dry into a mixing bowl.  Beat the egg yolks with the milk and melted butter, and stir into the flour mix.  Beat the egg whites until they are fluffy, but not dry, and fold them into the batter. Heat a large skillet or griddle and oil it lightly.  Drop pancake batter on by large spoonfuls and brown nicely on both sides.  Serve immediately with butter, syrup, honey, yogurt, jam, applesauce, or fresh fruit.
 "Fresh fruit and yogurt are especially recommended for a festive and satisfying breakfast."-those vegetarians-always ahead of their time!!

What do you take extra time for in the summer? 

He looks like he should eat 20 pancakes...
 love that he is reading while eating.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Green Grad Party!

(Two young party-goers)

We had a spur-of-the-moment party two weekends ago now to celebrate Teenage Boy's graduation.  For the last few years he's attended a laboratory school attached to University of Northern Iowa and the president of UNI decided to close this wonderful school for budget reasons or because they didn't believe in it anymore.It wasn't feasible for the school to stay open.  It's all the same end to an awful equation but the outcome is that given a choice to enter the only other local high school or graduate early he chose the later.  His school was funky and small and the other high school is big.

These decisions did not come down the hill until February.  Teenage Boy started one of two online courses he would need to take to graduate early.  I find that fact alone amazing-his school gives them a full load every year so much so that he only needed 2 classes to fulfill state level graduation requirements!  Wow.  After a very rocky start, he adjusted to this on-line Language Arts class and as he got closer to finishing we decided we needed to plan a party.  He only needed to finish one of the two courses to participate in the ceremony.  The physics course he will have to finish by June 18th to get his diploma.

After attending many grad parties in the past we had some ideas of what we wanted from ours. We also had a limited budget to work from but didn't want to skimp.  You only get one chance at a true high school graduation.  We wanted to offer Teenage Boy's favorite easy foods in an eco-friendly fashion.  

(the food spread-inside away from the bugs)

We celebrated with turkey hot dogs purchased from a local butcher shop (96 dogs total), popcorn freshly popped that morning with chocolate treats sprinkled throughout-very festive-, Bugles (blechh-but he LOVES them),homemade brownies, freshly chopped coleslaw, freshly baked buns and the best part...Root Beet Floats made with a keg of 1919 root beer.  We are not big soda drinkers here but we love an occasional glass of good root beer and this is some of the best!  

(me enjoying my own float with my friend, Lynne)

The menu was easy and we didn't need many tools to eat but we wanted them to be green.  I searched a few local stores for paper plate and cup options either made out of recycled materials or compost-ready.  I couldn't find anything in town so I turned to my global market-AMAZON-and found just what I wanted and for reasonable prices.  I hate not buying things locally and if I'd had more time I might have spent time convincing a local market to order these items for me but I was in a time crunch.

(TB with his Grandma Janice-she and Gpa Dean flew in from Colorado to surprise him)
The Eco-Section...
All the materials we used were either reusable like the spoons, which were local purchases, and the plates, cups, and napkins (made from sugarcane/corn/wheat).  After attending other grad parties we just knew we couldn't have this large trash can overflowing so we found a way around it.  We had a small plastic tub under the outdoor table where the root beer floats were served and had explanation cards on the bins; one was for the compost items and a small one was for the spoons.  I have all the compostable stuff in the same bin now with water in it to help it break down before I add it to our own compost ball.  A few plates and cups made it into our regular garbage bin and that's okay as I know eventually they will break down as well.  The spoons we have set aside for camping and next year's home-to-school lunches.

I'm so glad our party is done-it was exhilarating and exhausting! Score one for green grad!  Now if we could just find a physics professor for free tutoring we'd be in great shape!!

(Future Graduate or two down one to hurry though!.)

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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Picture Books delight! (quick they're overdue!)

Ollie the purple elephant by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2011).

The McLaughlin children have always been promised that if they came across a purple elephant they could keep it and one day while strolling in the park they do!  ""Well... a promise is a promise," said Mr. McLaughlin and the children ask Ollie to come home with them.  Everyone's happy except the family cat, Ginger.  Ginger hates Ollie and plots with the downstairs neighbor Mr. Puddlebottom to get rid of Ollie.  Their plan works and Ollie is sent off to perform with Mr. Puddlebottom's cousin's circus!  Will the McLaughlin family ever see Ollie again...?  The illustrations are lively with bright vivid colors.  Watch this short video of Ollie by Random House.

Otto Carrotoo by Chiara Carrer (2000).

Otto muses about his rabbit siblings and their quirky habits.  His sister will only wear red shoes and his brother is obsessed with his blue roller skates.  Otto isn't obsessed with anything until he decides one day to eat only carrots; carrots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, carrot soup, carrot pizza, carrot cake...he eats so many carrots he doesn't pay attention to his appearance until his brother and sister start munching on his carroty ears. He swears off carrots and switches to spinach!  What will Otto look like after too much spinach?  Great for sharing food stories with children.  Maybe if Otto loves carrots and spinach, picky eaters might give them a try-but just a little.  Too much of even a good thing can be bad.  The illustrations in this one are funky collage pages that will appeal to children.

I had a whole big beautiful bag of picture books to read and these were the top two favorites.  The entire bag was a day (or two) overdue.  Yikes.  So today took them back and paid my $10.00 fine!  How do I so easily let that library date escape my mind?  Any tricks to remembering to return books on time...?
Please share.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Relaxing Summer? Yes!

I've had plans all laid out around the time of the time of Teenage Boy's graduation we "remodeled" the backyard, making way for this very quiet corner to read in or work on the computer.  I'm about two weeks into summer and I've only had the time to sit in that chair twice-yes, exactly twice.  A positive like myself might say "Well, at least you've had the opportunity to recline elegantly twice!"  Right.  But I want to do it every day!

I have tended my garden and spruced up other areas of our yard.   You can see three squash plants, lettuce,
three tomato plants, and five basil plants growing there.  

 We've attended a fabulously gorgeous wedding of a friend. The wedding and reception took place at a local bed and breakfast, which was a perfect setting for this down-to-earth young couple.  They planted a bonsai tree together during the ceremony.  Ahh, it was lovely.

I'm taking two classes for re-licensure this summer and one is an on-line course about Personal Learning Networks (PLN's).  We've learned about diigo, twitter, RSS Feeds, and Google Readers, all of which are to help us set up a community of "friends" we can learn together with.  I already had experience with each of these social networking tools but I'm sure to learn more  as we keep exploring.  Even as we set them up I can't help but wonder about the effects of reaching out to a cyber-community instead of real people in our schools, neighbors on our own blocks, and retailers in our own local stores.

  I discovered this article through another classmate about the Waldorf school sans any technology at all.  Hmmm. I have to admit I love the idea of waiting to give youngsters any technology at all until middle or high school and this article explains it perfectly.  My own daughter reaches for my school issued tablet like it's a drug and wishes to play with that more than anything. I think it saps her creativeity just having it in the house.  She spends all day playing with the idea that she'll later be able to get her hand on the tablet for a few tries at Temple Run to beat her "top" score.
What say you?  Should we leave technology for later or is an Apple iPad the perfect learning tool for young students?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Secret Kept by Tatiana De Rosnay

St. Martin's Press

I read Sarah's Key a few years back and liked it.  It had an interesting mystery to it and the back story was historical fiction which was great for me, a lover of historical fiction.  I didn't enjoy the modern story as much I liked the Holocaust and the same goes for A Secret Kept, De Rosnay's second book.

"It all began with a simple seaside vacation, a brother and sister recapturing their childhood.  Antoine Rey though he had the perfect surprise for his sister Melanie's birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach.  It had been too long, Antoine thought, since they'd returned to the island-more than 30 years since their mother died and the family holidays ceased.  But the island's haunting beauty triggers more than happy memories; it reminds Melanie of something unexpected and deeply disturbing about their last island summer.  When, on the drive home to Paris, she finally summons the courage to reveal what she knows to Antoine, her emotions overcome her and she loses control of the car."  (jacket flap)

When I read the flap at the library the intrigue over what scandalous thing would make someone lose control of the car piqued my interest.  The Parisian setting, the analysis of Antoine and Astrid's marriage, the teenage strife, Antoine's girlfriend, Angele, the back story of June and Clarisse, and the Rey's family all add to what could be an interesting and uniquely done story.

It doesn't work though.  Antoine is filled with such painful agony over his recent divorce and his relationship with his children.  His sister Melanie who worked in publishing before the accident seemed like an unique character but turns out to disappoint.  I found very little redeeming qualities for this family both past and present.  I'm not going to spill the story of what exactly happened with Antoine and Melanie's mother but it sadly goes no where.  I wanted some kind of resolution.  Perhaps Antoine should have had a conversation about his mother with his father to fully understand and maybe through that conversation some family healing for both men could have occurred.  This would have tied things together for Antoine to move forward with his future life, having connected with his father about their happier days.

More than the story's elements it was De Rosnay's writing style that made me cringe.  It was stilted, repetitive, and overly dramatic.  Instead of telling a simple story she gives us complex with too much blah-blah.  She tells us so many times that Antoine and his father haven't gotten along since their mother's death that I felt De Rosnay must think her audience dense.

"Melanie has opened her eyes.  Our father grabs her hand, hanging on to it for dear life, as if this were the last time he will ever touch her.  He leans toward her, half of his body on the bed.  The way he clasps her hand moves me.  He is realizing he has nearly lost his daughter.  His petitie Melabelle.  Her nickname from long ago. He wipes his eyes with the cotton handkerchief he always keeps in his pocket.  He cannot say a word, it seems.  He can only sit there and breathe audibly.Melanie is disturbed by this display of emotion.  She doesn't want to see his ravaged, wet face.  So she looks at me.  For so many years now, our father hasn't ever shown his feelings, only displeasure or anger.  This is an unexpected flashback to the tender, caring father he used to be, before our mother died." (79)

As a budding book blogger "psychologist" I would say their father has been angry for so long because his first wife, their mother, the love of his life died tragically!  And they never talk about it, never attempting to heal themselves or their father.  Everything De Rosnay tells us is that the he was an adoring father and husband but yet Antoine stays angry with him throughout, never discussing any of his new knowledge.  And Melanie completely shuts down and tells Antoine she doesn't want to know anything more, tucking her head in the sand, choosing to live in limbo about her family instead of knowing at least some of the truth.

Read more:

The Garfield Review

Another point-of-view at

Brain Candy Book Reviews.

*just a quirky note-did anybody else notice that both De Rosnay books have similar titles (Sarah's Key, A Secret Kept) both S,K* Odd to me or just odd I don't know.  You be the judge.