Sunday, December 29, 2013

My library visit.

I picked up quite a bag full of books the last time I was at the library and have been reading furiously since then and guess what, I still can get them finished!

My life next door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (2012);  Great YA fiction.  Loved the relationship between Jase Garrett and Sam Reed.  Samantha's mother is a piece of work and easily could go down as one of the top ten terrible fiction examples for mothering.  She's a single mom with a big trust fund so she's snooty and has never embraced the more earthy Garrett family, the next door neighbors.   Sam, on the other hand,  is fascinated with the Garrett family and spies on them from her bedroom rooftop.  The Garretts are the polar opposite of Mrs. Reed; messy, loud, affectionate, and kind and Samantha quickly becomes one of them as Jace befriends her.  There are several different surprises in this debut tale.

Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin (2013); Rory McShane has had a tough life so far.  She also has an inssuferable mother who chooses terrible men over motherhood.  Rory takes a job as an errand girl for the wealthy Rule family and even though she hasn't had a parent to look up to she certainly has a strong moral compass. Set against the backdrop of East Hampton, NY Rory learns a few new lessons but leaves with a sense of purpose about her own life and what kind of person she truly is.  Philbin is a wonderful writer and I've enjoyed her Daughters series as well.

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson (2013); Amazing historical fiction, a sequel to Hattie Big Sky, that continues her journey as she heads to San Francisco with an acting troupe.  Hattie is full of spirit as she meets new friends and gets a job at the famous San Francisco Chronicle.  It may not be as a star reporter as she would like yet for now she's just happy to walk through the heavy doors everyday.  Hattie is such an enjoyable character that I would love to see a third book chronicling her next adventure as she moves to the Pacific Northwest!  What do you think Kirby Larson?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas (Eve) to All and to all a good night...

We've had a lovely day amidst the hustle to get everything finished.  I actually had to go to the mall today to exchange something, stop at the pharmacy, and our dairy for fresh cream but it was an easy hour of doing errands.  Most of the grocery shopping had already been done-thank you sweet husband.

We had our early service at church with lots of children involved including Groovy Girl singing  The Little Drummer Boy (a bit of trivia; it is actually called Carol of the drum and has an interesting story to go with it) and her older sister accompanied her on the rum-pum-pum drum.  I made clam chowder this afternoon from this Food Network recipe although I should have doubled it as there was just barely enough.  It was perfect  to come home to on this very chilly night and the only suggestion was that it needed more clams and that they shouldn't have been minced up.  My husband went the extra mile and purchased a pound and a half of good cherrystone clams for my recipe and I guess next time I will not mince them up.  We had big chunks of bread with our soup and a bottle of sparkling cider to share.

It is tradition to read a few of our favorite Christmas stories on this wondrous eve and we did just that; around the table we read The Polar Express, each of us taking a page and passing it around.  My husband does a dynamic job of reading The Grinch and Twas the Night Before Christmas.  All three kids are glued to listening as he dramatically reads both stories.  I love this part of our evening; its our own simple tradition and I'm glad my teenagers still love it.

We had to make the trip upstairs my husband and I to do that last look through the gifts to see what still needed to be wrapped and what will be set out for the big guy to deliver.  Our kids all understand but choose to believe in the magic still.

I hope you have a blessed holiday whatever you choose to celebrate, spending time with family is the true joy.  I'm off to hold my husband's hand as he runs lights for the 11:00 service.  The moment when the lights go out and the candles are lit is part of the magic.  Peace be with you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Baby, It's cold outside; Picture books to snuggle with...

Cuddle in by the fire and read!

I have a few picture books I checked out from the library and they are lovely and perfect gift ideas!

Mo's Mustache (2013) by Ben Clanton

This is a very humorous look at copy cats and trendsetting-a fine line to be sure!  Mo appears with a mustache and all his crazy friends follow along which eventually makes Mo unhappy and feeling very un-special!  He puts his beauteous mustache away and sports a fantastic new scarf.  His friends copy him again.  This is perfect book for the little trendsetter in your family!

Glamorous Glasses (2012) by Barbara Johansen Newman

Bobbie and her cousin, Joanie do everything together so when it comes time for Joanie to get glasses Bobbie wants a pair to wear.  It's always greener on the other side of the fence as Joanie doesn't really want to get new glasses.  The two girls problem solve a solution that ends up mixing both of them up.  This would have been a perfect book for Groovy Girl in kindergarten when she struggled with finding anything glamorous about wearing glasses.

Year of the Jungle (2013) by Suzanne Collins

Suzy's father heads to Viet Nam and from a child's perspective we hear about how his absence affects the whole family through the year.  Full page illustrations show Suzy's imaginative idea of the jungle. This is short and perfect to use for parents who are deployed today as a way to explain their long absences and may help them to draw their own journals through writing and pictures.

The Littlest Evergreen (2011) by Henry Cole

Full circle for a tiny tree; from the tree's perspective we learn how this tiny shoot no taller than the glass blades transitions into a Christmas tree.  His roots are dug up and surrounded by burlap and purchased by a family.  In the springtime the tree is planted again in a big hole dug just for him.  This is especially relevant to our family this year as this is exactly what we did.  We plan to plant it where another evergreen died around the border of our yard.  Our kids are adjusting to the fact that it is not a full-sized tree this year but we are giving it back to the earth and that they can live with.

Happy Holidays.
I had plans to have many other fantastic Christmas posts done before this but it just hasn't happened.  I did have a great last few days of work handing out cookies and sharing books with students and now I will enjoy my family back together for the next week or so.  I hope the holiday is filled with many blessing for you and your family.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Happy Holidays!

I feel like I've been working in my kitchen all day long!  And I have.  I started my day making several dozen cut-out cookies for the reception of our Christmas play.  And I'm ending my evening making this coffee cake before I head to bed.  The cake baking while I'm typing has me feeling hungry!

Here is my stepmother's cut-out cookies recipe that I've used for years now.  Whip these up and decorate them with a small person.  I guarantee it will put you in the Christmas spirit.

Also I am NOT a fan of cooking with shortening and this time of the year is my one exception as I make many dozens of cookies for receptions and such and then  Janice and I make dozens of cookies for the kids at school so that many sticks of butter is not an option.

"Happy Day" Cut-outs ~{Diane's recipe}

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond
4 1/2 cups flour

Blend together and roll out on floured board.  Bake @ 350*.  That's it.  Easy Peasy.  That's all she wrote on the scrap of paper and I know how to put them together but of course you will add ingredients in increments after creaming together the sugar and the shortening.  I put the soda, salt, and flour together and add slowly to mixing bowl after that.  Decorate with icing and lots of red and green sprinkles!  One might ask why they are dubbed "happy day" cookies? Because this is my stepmother's idea of what to do on a rainy, snowy, quiet, or sunny day and that any day then would be made happier just because you are making cookies!  You knew that, right?

I made these bars this week when my husband needed treats for a Christmas Opening Night event.....Monster Magic Cookie Bars.  They tasted great and looked like one of the elves threw up-perfect holiday treat.  I did discover this great blog, Life and Kitchen, though while searching for the Christmas-looking recipe.

While browsing the internet this week I found this well-written article by Musing Mamma to be interesting and accurate.  Reading the article really made me wonder how we can get toy companies to make changes to be more representative of all children.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme. Click her link to find many other food related posts.  I'm off to bed.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Fresh pizza dough

I made pizza this weekend and it turned out fantastic.  The dough was triple light and airy because I rolled it out early and let it sit on the pizza stones in the oven for 3 hours while I went to another event.
When I came home and pulled the stones out of the oven to decorate the pizzas and let the oven heat up the dough was this puffy, airy mass.  I poured some red sauce on and set it in the middle of the table.

One of our little guests, Jackson, took a break from petting Sadie the rabbit to help me put topics on the pizza.  YES, mother, he washed his hands thoroughly before adding straight  cheese and a few tiny mini sausages to the kid's pie.  He liked helping so much he topped the adult pie as well with sautéed mushrooms, black olives, fresh spinach, and plenty of cheese!  I didn't want to seem like a dweeb as we made these pizzas but they were picture-worthy.  Thank you to Jackson for you pie decorating abilities.

Here is the dough recipe I used

Pizza dough 
adapted from Rodale's Basic Natural food's cookbook

2 cups warm water
2 T. local honey
2 full T. of yeast
3 T. vegetable oil
5-6 cups unbleached flour-can use a mix of white and whole wheat

In a large bowl combine warm water, honey, and yeast and let proof.  (Proofing means let it get active, it will be bubbly) Then add oil and enough flour to make a firm dough.  Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic., adding flour as need.  Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, and turn over to coat.  Cover bowl with a damp warm towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  

Punch down dough, knead briefly in bowl and let rise again. Then divide dough into two balls.  Form each ball into a flat circle and roll out into a circle. I use my Pampered Chef silicone mat for this and it makes it so easy to lift up the dough flip it and turn it over.  

We used most of the dough up last night but the rest is going to be turned into a calzone for tomorrow's lunch box main dish for Groovy Girl!  I'm off to create that with her now.  This holiday time make some dough and have an easy pizza party. I had all my ingredients prepped and in lidded containers so I could just whip them out and let Jackson go to town.  It made for a very easy entertaining trick.

 Have a holly jolly week!

This is loosely linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Knock Knock; My dad's dream for me.

I came home to two brown paper packages on my living room floor.  I ripped into them like it was an early Christmas treat.  Books are like that.  Inside one of the packets was this lovely book by Daniel Beaty and Bryan Collier (on shelves Dec. 17th).

Knock Knock; My dad's dream for me (2013) from Little, Brown, and Company is a beautiful story told well both through Beaty's writing and Collier's illustrations.  A young boy shares his joy of his father's presence in his life; their morning routine and what his dad means to him.  And my first thought was "how nice, the book is going to share the loving relationship between dad and child."  Did not happen; dad is suddenly gone and the young boy is sad,  misses his dad.  He writes his feelings down for his dad in a letter and leaves it on his desk.  I loved this illustration as Collier sends the boy flying up into the sky, searching for his father, on his paper airplane letter.

I was left wondering what happened to this daddy and because of that, as a reader, I was even more affected.  I missed the dad too; I could feel the son's confusion and loneliness.  Dad answers the son back in an letter on his desk, telling the young boy that he is sorry he can't be there too and gives hiim important growing up instructions and we see the son emerge as a young man, wearing his father's ties, maturing into a man.

This story stunned me because I teach all these wide-eyed beautiful children, many of whom have something in common with this young man; they miss their dads.  They easily talk about it often blurting it out during story time or when the topic of family comes up.  "My dad's in jail."  "My dad doesn't live with me." "I don't have a dad."  My heart shudders for them.  Ive read other books about loss to my students but this one sends forth a more raw emotional connection between the reader and the father/child relationship.

End notes are included for both illustrator and author and Beaty writes that his father was his caregiver until he was incarcerated.  I think it is easy to feel that emotion throughout the book.  I received my copy from the publisher and still my thoughts on this book are my own.  Always.  

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weekend Cooking; The holiday recipes

Ohhh, we had a lovely Thanksgiving Day, filled with good food and a visit from dear friends.  I made a simple roast chicken, baked potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, and fresh cranberries.  Everything was easy to put together and I didn't spend much time in the kitchen.  The highlight was putting together 2 desserts; a sweet potato pie (which we much prefer over pumpkin) and bread pudding with bourbon sauce.

Bread Pudding recipe (adapted from an old Vegetarian Times recipe):
Oven at 350*

3 large eggs + 2 egg whites
1 cup skim milk
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
5 cups, cubed day old whole wheat bread (1/2 cubes/I say bite-sized)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Whiskey Sauce:
1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup bourbon

To assemble:

Whisk together first 7 ingredients.  Fold in cubed bread, raisins, & cranberries.  Let stand for 5 minutes or so to allow the custard to absorb into the bread.
Coat 9-in square pan with spray and spread mixture in pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes until no egg mixture is bubbling up.  
While it is baking make the sauce:  In a small saucepan heat the water and brown sugar together. Boil on medium heat for two minutes.  Remove from heat and add in bourbon.  Boil two more minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a small pitcher and allow to cool just a bit.  Serve warm over bread pudding.  Serve in bowls with homemade whipped cream on top.  Yum!

We also started our day with a quick brunch that included homemade Bloody Mary's.  It was a trial run for another Christmas event that we always host that includes family friends and a hunt for an evergreen tree.  Instead of buying Bloody Mary mix I wanted to try  my own and found a keeper in this recipe. If you love Mary's as we do, this recipe will make you smile and it was very easy.

One year I made fresh cranberries and I had a perfect recipe that used less sugar adding orange juice for flavor~I didn't save the recipe (pre-Pinterest) and can't find it but I did find this recipe and I just squeezed in a whole orange from my counter.  I love, love the bright taste of this fruit and wonder why we don't eat this all year long!  I saved this recipe and will make it again at Christmas time for teenage boy who loves this crisp red berry as well.

Happy Weekend cooking!  It's just one short sleigh ride into Christmas...

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme where she gathers together many other food-related posts.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Reviews for You!

I've been reading steadily between book club choices and friends' recommendations.  I love having extra days off from work just to read.

M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans:  Read this for book club.  Loved it.  Set in western Australia Isabel and Tom find each other after the war making the lighthouse at Janus Rock their home.  It's not an easy life but one that Tom, in particular, takes to quite easily.  You just know when the bad thing happens that things are not going to end well for anyone so while it is a well-written story be prepared for frustration.  Learning more about lighthouses was a bonus.   Did you know that each light has its own light code that it blinks to?  Yes!  If you haven't picked this one up yet put it on your Christmas list.

A sample:  "Isabel had managed to sit up a little against the wall, and she sobbed at the sight of the diminutive form, which she had dared to imagine as bigger, as stronger-a child of this world.  'My baby, my baby my baby my baby,' she whispered like a magic incantation that might resuscitate him.  The face of the creature was solemn, a monk in deep prayer, eyes closed, mouth sealed shut; already back in that world from which he had apparently been reluctant to stray." {90}

Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train:  My friend Teri lent this to me and I thought it was very interesting.  I liked the two stories merged together and the information relayed about the children forced to travel and auctioned off across the Midwest.  

A sample:  "I try to forget the horror of what happened.  Or-perhaps forget is the wrong word. how can I forget?  And yet how can I move forward even a step without tamping down the despair I feel?  When I close my eyes, I hear Maisie's cries and Mam's screams, smell the acrid smoke, feel the heat of the fire on my skin, and heave upright on my pallet in the Schatzmans' parlor soaked in a cold sweat." {74}

Kline did an incredible amount of research to make this a rich reading experience.  Reading this made me want to go back and investigate the Orphan Train kid's series.  Maybe this is a series I need to recommend more to my students.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blessings counted.

What a beautiful day it is!  I have a farm fresh chicken, nice golden bakers, brussel sprouts, and fresh cranberries all waiting to be cooked.  A simple meal that won't take me all day in the kitchen.  I made a sweet potato pie last night which looks amazing.  I'm going to throw together my lovely bread pudding recipe with bourbon sauce this morning as I watch the parade.  Excessive on the desserts as we are having good family friends come to share them with us and play a game. Perfect day all played out in my jammies. I slept until 8:30 this morning.  Amazing!

I am forever thankful for my husband, my three creative children, my mom, my step mom,  my in-laws, my two sisters, my six brothers, my school family, my friends Barb, Verda, Jennifer, Tina, Diane, Rita, and my new friend Gabbi.  You all bring so much to my life.  Life is rich and full with good food, excellent and bountiful books, and happy memories.  I feel blessed.

Have a grateful day!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Weekend Cooking; The weather outside is too cold

I know it's November and Thanksgiving is just next week BUT I was not expecting this freezing weather yet!  I'm not a big fan of the arctic temps the Midwest ushers in and yet, lucky for me, I love, love, love soup.

In preparation for this very busy weekend of our church Christmas bazaar, the opening night of Junie B., Jingle Bells, Batman smells that features the amazing Groovy Girl as none other than the main character, which is the same weekend that family and friends would descend upon us to experience this starring role I decided to make soup during the week so we could enjoy it for lunch and/or dinner.  And we did.

Of course it was made in a crock pot from a recipe book that my mother-in-law gave me quite awhile ago and it is delicious.

Adapted from Better and Homes and Gardens' The Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes:

Indian-Style Curry Soup

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-in cubes (5-6 cups)
1 pound red potatoes, cut into -1-in. pieces (3 cups)
2 cups chopped tomatoes or one 14 1/2-oz can low sodium tomatoes, cut up
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
2 T snipped fresh cilantro

In a 4- or 6-quart slow cooker combine eggplant, undrained tomatoes, and garbanzo beans.
Sprinkle the ginger, mustard seeds, coriander, curry powder, and pepper over vegetables. Pour vegetable broth over all.
Cover and cook over low setting for 8-10 hours. 0r on high for 4-5 hours.  Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

My modifications: I only used part of an eggplant and I diced it into tiny cubes as I didn't want the children to see the eggplant. I already had yellow organic potatoes so I used those an cubed them into bite-sized chunks.  I had dry garbanzo beans in my dry storage so I prepared those with an easy recipe so they were soft before I toppled them into the crock pot.  

The soup hit the spot as the temperature continued to drop here yesterday.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme. Click to there to find many other food-related posts.  Stay warm out there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Working it all in.

We are still consumed with Junie B. rehearsals with only a week to go before opening night.  In order to try to fit so much into the week we've actually eaten out twice.  My tribe loves Jimmy John's and on Thursday we ate there and another night we ate at the deli at our local grocery store so I could fit in a little grocery shopping. I love Jimmy John's but am overwhelmed by the loaf of french bread it is served on until I discovered their lettuce wraps; now I just get a #6 (vegetarian) as a wrap and am happy.

I'm not a fan of the deli food either so I got a small package of sushi from the cooler + a cup of broccoli soup and again I was happy.  Two times of eating out for us though is a lot so Saturday I took the time to really make a meal again.  Six sweet potatoes resting on my counter inspired me to recreate the black bean and sweet potatoes burritos I've made in the past except I already had a refried bean mixture from earlier in the week when I made a quick meal of quesadillas.  I reused that instead of the black bean mixture and it worked just fine.  Served with a fresh green salad it was a perfect meal for the three of us.

This past week my husband made pudding for dessert and Groovy Girl loved it and wanted more. He'd made his from a box but I wanted to make it from scratch (typical me).  I used the recipe below and it went together nice and easy but then it did not set up. Arghh. It's still in the refrigerator like chocolate milk in fancy parfait glasses.  Hmmmm.  What went wrong?

Chocolate pudding recipe.
Sweet potato burritos.

Groovy Girl loves calzones and wants to take them in her school lunch.  We are going to experiment with making them this week (probably next). Does anyone have a great recipe?  I found a few but she doesn't want it to fancy; just tomatoes, sauce, and black olives.  I might be able to sneak a little spinach into the sauce.  Calzone recipe; they all have meat in them and many start with purchased dough.  We want to make the dough.  I think I will just experiment with my pizza dough recipe and stuff it with what she likes.  I also want them to be medium sized as I think that's all she has time to finish.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to read many other food-related posts.

In reading news I just finished The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (enjoyed it!) and I'm trying to think of what to take to our book club buffet that would be Australian-inspired food. The book doesn't mention much about food to help me out.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

For the LOVE of reading.

Last night I was sitting on the quiet side of the dance studio where my daughter gracefully dances and I was reading a book. I'd brought two books with me; The Light between oceans by M.L. Stedman and Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer. I've been trying to read Miller's book for the last two years as I've had many people recommend it to me. I've even had one friend tell me that the book sounds just like me! With that said and after only reading the first few pages I came upon this quote which DOES describe me to a T!
"I am a reader, a flashlight-under-the-covers, carries-a-book-everywhere-I-go, don't-look-at-my-Amazon-bill reader. I choose purses based on whether I can cram a paperback into them, and my books are the first items I pack into a suitcase. I am the person whom family and friends call when they need a book recommendation or cannot remember who wrote Heidi. (It was Johanna Spyri.) 
My identity as a person is so entwined with my love of reading and books that I cannot separate the two. I am as much a composite of all the book characters I have loved as of the people I have met. I will never climb Mount Everest, but I have seen its terrifying majestic summit through the eyes of Jon Krakauer and Peak Marcello. Going to New York City for the first time, at forty, was like visiting an old friend I knew from E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. I wanted to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hide in the bathroom until it closed, and look for angels. I know from personal experience that readers lead richer lives, more lives, than those who don't read."(10-11)
I'll stop there but I could even go into the next paragraph which furthers her (and my) LOVE of reading! I was crushed when we visited this summer and never made it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art but in fairness I was there years ago as a teenager. I ask my children to take a book with them wherever we go-you never know when you might be stuck in the car or an elevator or in line and have just a few minutes to read a page or two. I can't wait to finish typing this post so I can read my school lunchtime book, Ungifted by Gordan Korman. What has you inspired?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Weekend warrior.

Woe is me! I have to spend half my day sitting around Barnes and Noble today, browsing through books.  My daughter is in the local production of Junie B., Jingle bells, Batman smells! and they are performing from 1-3 to happy book shoppers.  I'm sure I won't leave empty handed and I wish I could take a handful of book bloggers with me! I can think of much worse places to wile away my afternoon.

  A concentration camp would be top on that list after spending several hours in the middle of the night reading the end of Elizabeth Wein's finely crafted historical fiction Rose under fire.  Brutal, well-written, but brutal, brutal, brutal.  The bonds she made in the women's concentration camp carry you through the most horrible descriptions.  I loved Code Name Verity and this is a companion novel, making use of the same war, different setting with kick-ass female characters/heroines and a few carry over characters.  Both Wein's novels and Junie B. have nothing in common except they all feature powerful young women.

A sample:

Rose explains to her boyfriend Nick her aspirations and frustrations:

Finally Nick said sympathetically, “What’s made you so bloodthirsty?”

“I’m not bloodthirsty.  There’s no blood in a pilotless plane, is there? I’m a good pilot.  I’ve probably been flying five years longer than half the boys in 150 Wing.  I flew with Daddy from coast to coast across America when I was fifteen and I did all the navigation.  You’ve never flown a Tempest, or a Mustang, or a Mark Fourteen Spitfire-I’ve flown them all, dozens of times.  They’re wasting me just because I’m a girl!  They won’t even let us fly to France-they’re prepping men for supply and taxi to the front lines, guys with hundreds’ fewer hours than me, but they’re just passing over the women pilots.  It isn’t fair.” (14)

Have a happy Saturday.  Here in Iowa it is a gorgeous day outside and I have to finish cleaning up my garden.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

I picked this book up from Scholastic about a year ago.  Published in 2010, it is on an award list for Iowa this year and the premise had me intrigued. Also I was fascinated by the fact that the author wrote it as part of her doctoral program.

It proved to be as interesting as it's synopsis led me to believe.  Written as a letter to her captor Gemma pulls us directly into her story.  Frustrated with her parents as they prepare for an international flight,  Gemma takes off to buy herself a cup of coffee and gather her thoughts.  While searching for the right change to hand the barista a stranger comes to her rescue offering to pay for the coffee with the right currency and fixes her cup up with a packet of sugar.  By taking charge of the situation he wins her over with a few soft words and a drug in her drink.  She is swept literally off her feet by Ty to a lone cabin in a remote Australian location.  Gemma attempts to escape several times only to be brought back by Ty because nothing is near.  He has the cabin stocked up with food and he plans to hide away from the world with Gemma by his side.

She's never had a boyfriend and is not real close to the few friends she had back in London so Ty is able to pull her in because she's not sure of her own emotions.  There are parts of him that she is attracted to and yet she never fully forgets that he is her captor.  I thought Lucy Christopher did an amazing job of portraying this precarious relationship with glimmers of kindness mixed with Gemma's true reality of being stolen from her life; bad or good it was still her own life.

"So I followed you.  I don't know why really.  I could say it was because I had nothing else to do except stare at four walls, or that I wanted to try escaping again, but I think there was more to it than that.  When I was trapped in the house, it felt like I'd already died.  At least when I was with you, it felt like my life mattered somehow...No, that's not really it; it felt like my life was being noticed.  It sounds weird, I know, but I could tell that you liked having me around.  And that was better than the alternative, that feeling of emptiness that threatened to drown me every hour of being in that house." (96)

The cover for this book and even the few inside illustrations that lead into the story are really well designed and make perfect sense once you turn the last page. My copy of Stolen has a nice award sticker on the front for the Michael L. Printz ALA honor book. If you haven't picked this one up yet I recommend it.  At 299 pages it won't take you long...

Click her name to find her website:  Lucy Christopher and see news about her new title, The Killing Fields.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

Alice's Mad Hatter
We were invited to a neighborhood party for Halloween-not quite our neighborhood but darn close.  Everyone gathers together and eats first (soup, salad, and bread with a few delicious Halloween desserts tossed in).  I tried to two soups and they were both good and Groovy Girl polished off most of a bowl of chicken noodle soup.  It was fun to do something different in such a nice event.

Chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting.

Groovy Girl decided she wanted to make cupcakes to bring to the party.  We searched online last night and found a perfect recipe and by that I mean a recipe she swooned over.  We made the cake and frosting from Erica's Sweet Tooth.  Instead of the peanut butter cup on top she added one candy corn.  She's become quite an expert froster and the tiny cakes were a hit. 

SuperGirl and the Mad Hatter

 We've sorted the candy and have two large zip locks full, one of chocolate and one "other" and this year she even made a small bag of mom and dad candy-that includes Heath and Snickers  bars.  She truly has enough candy to last her a year. I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween! 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mexican Meal made easy...

This enchilada recipe was a huge hit this week!

I adapted the enchiladas from The Accidental Vegetarian by Simon Rimmer (2004) which I wrote about in this post.  While recipe searching through my own cookbooks to find something interesting to make for my old friends Barb, Robert, and their son Tracy and their exchange student from Guatemala I came upon this one that I wanted to try.  I happened upon this recipe before I knew about the exchange student and figured I would stick with it.  Maybe he would like America even more because of the mole sauce I whipped up!

It was fairly easy because I divided the tasks up into two different day's worth of work.  I planned on serving it Monday night-a busy night as Groovy Girl had rehearsal for her play and Barb, Robert, my husband and I were heading to a Bonnie Raitt concert.  Saturday I made the mole sauce and Sunday afternoon I roasted the squash. Yes, the name was misleading to me as it is not pumpkin but butternut squash that headlines but i got over it.  You will too.

Pumpkin Enchiladas with mole sauce
(feeds 6)

vegetable oil for roasting
2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1-in cubes
15 oz can refried beans
freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1 red chili, chopped
12 soft flour or corn tortillas  (I used corn)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sour cream, lime wedges and fresh cilantro to serve

For the sauce:

10 red chilis
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 T slivered almonds
5 black peppercorns
2-3 cloves
1 onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 T cocoa powder
vegetable oil for frying
15 oz can chopped tomatoes (I used last fresh ones from the garden instead)
pinch of cinnamon
sugar to taste
2.3 cup stock
3 1/2 best-quality dark chocolate (not unsweetened), grated

1. To make the sauce, put the chilies, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, peppercorns, and cloves in a mortar and pestle and crush. (This was fun!).  Tip into a skillet and dry-fry for a minute or so until lightly charred.
2. In a separate pan, fry the onion, garlic, and cocoa in a little oil for 2 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil, then add all the dry-fried spices, the cinnamon, sugar, and stock, and cook for 25 minutes.  Transfer to a blender and whiz until smooth.  Turn out and fold in chocolate shavings.
4. Preheat the oven to 400*.  Put some oil in a roasting pan and put in the oven to heat up.  Tip the squash into the roasting pan, season well and roast for 40 minutes until soft.
5. Put the squash in a bowl, add the refried beans, cilantro, and red chile and stir well to mix.
6. Divide the mixture between the tortillas, roll up and cut the ends straight.  Put in a baking dish, cover, and cook in the oven for about 12 minutes, until heated through.
7. To serve, put two tortillas on each plate and spoon over some of the sauce (it is heady so not too much).  Serve with lime wedges, sour cream, and cilantro.

Having prepped the mole sauce and the squash mixture previously made this recipe very easy to throw together after work and before our concert.

This is linked to Beth Fish Reads weekend cooking meme.  Click there to find many other food-related posts.
Have a peaceful week!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Deep thinking about food.

Last night my husband and I went to an unusual play at our local university.  The play based on the book, The American Way of Eating, by the same title by Tracie McMillan.  The book was chosen as the school's in-depth everyone reads book choice and the theatre department head decided that in celebration of that; they should workshop it into a play.  From a very unorthodox beginning the play came together and was an amazing display of team work and artistic talent plus the audience members learned a lot of interesting facts.

Even though I haven't read the book which is about Tracie's journey to uncover what happens to produce from field to store to restaurant I get it.  I'm the proverbial choir.  I shop at the farmer's market, I don't shop at Wal-Mart or eat at chain restaurants or fast food.  I did however not know enough or think about it enough what happens in the farm fields where undocumented or immigrants work.  In Iowa I am familiar with disgusting meat plants that pluck workers from other countries in order to create an "affordable" work force.  It is criminal how little they are paid for a long day's work; back-breaking work and they are afraid to stand up for better conditions for fear of losing the little income they get.  The play also touched on women's rights and how easily those in charge take advantage of them.

I don't know how to solve it beyond talking about it, writing about it, and encouraging folks to read her book and many others with similar themes about our broken food system.   We want cheap food but at what cost and on who's back are we stepping on to get garlic at a "rock-bottom price".

Be aware.  Be thoughtful.  Investigate a lot.  Question more.

This post is loosely linked to Weekend Cooking hosted by Candace at Beth Fish Reads.  There you will find other foodies who love exploring recipes.

Other food-related news:

I created this delicious zucchini soup this past week for a quiet dinner for my husband and I.  I plan to make this soup this week to use up swiss chard and zucchini.  I made a mole sauce yesterday for a pumpkin enchilada dish I'm making this week for friends that I'm going to hear Bonnie Raitt with in concert.  I made mini raspberry muffins for my book club kids-they asked for seconds.

Overall it has been a good food week here at our house.

And in preparation for winter I've been cleaning out the gardens by making two more batches of pesto with basil from my mother's garden; it is beginning to freeze here at night and neither one of us wants to lose any basil.  I think I'm also going to freeze mint leaves in cubes.  I'm watching my zucchini and butternut squash plants carefully as I have several there to bring in.

Have a bountiful week!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Interesting YA titles

I finished both of these in September and what ties them together is love and the power of acceptance; something most humans desire. One uses that power and the other makes it into a curable disease.

The List by Siobhan Vivian:

Filled with the craziness of high school it brought back memories of how BAD it can be.  I thought it said a lot though for all that high school student’s experience-being popular is weird and being unpopular is just as weird.  If only all high school students could learn to be themselves;  a very difficult concept because most teens have yet to truly find themselves as it often takes years to figure it all out. 

Mount Washington H.S. has this tradition of a published list plastered all over the walls right before homecoming.  The list shares the prettiest and the ugliest female student in each class.  At any level it is difficult to appear on either side of the list; yet both sides display negative behavior because they are on the list.

Siobhan Vivian relays the stories of all eight young women affected by the list and we learn just how being a member of this small group changes them.  In order to ignore the list you’d have to be a very mighty girl!  I was not a brave soul in high school and would have found it heart-breaking to be even mentioned.  Even the young women chosen for the pretties side struggle with how to keep up with the image they think every one expects.  My first thoughts were that the list must be written by a guy or a group of guys. The ending left me shaking my head and praying for a second women’s movement!   

A quote:

She lifts her chin a few degrees.  ‘I’ve decided not to take a shower for a whole week.’
‘For real?’
‘Yup,’ she says, making the p pop.  ‘I’m not showering, I’m not brushing my teeth, putting on deodorant, anything.  I’m wearing these same clothes, not just the shirt, but the jeans, the socks, the underwear, the bra. My last shower was on Sunday night, before I went over to your house.’  She folds her arms.  ‘I won’t participate in any kind of hygiene until Saturday night.’ It feels good to say her plan out loud.  Now there can be no backing out.
‘What’s on Saturday night?’
‘The homecoming dance.’ It sounds so utterly ridiculous, but she keeps a straight face.  ‘I’m going as smelly and disgusting as I can possibly make myself, dressed in these clothes.’
Milo laughs and laughs, but when Sarah doesn’t join, he stops.  “Wait.  You’re not serious.’
‘I am.’
‘Why are you letting that stupid list get to you? You hate the girls at this school, obviously for good reason.  And now you want to show up at their dumb dance? This isn’t like you at all.’ (101)

Even the young women chosen for the pretties side struggle with how to keep up with the image they think every one expects.  The ending left me baffled and praying for a second women’s movement! 

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (2011):

This is a glorious look at a future world where love has been deemed a disease.  Can you imagine?  They make a good case for why love could be perceived as a sickness.  Lena is an orphan living in her aunt’s household waiting for her treatment that will prevent her from getting the disease. Many good plans fail to work out though and Lena meets someone that makes her feel all the effects of love which confuses her.  Does she feel this way because she is now sick or are the people protecting her lying to her?  As love often does her life becomes complicated as she balances her quiet life at home with her new desire to break the rules and see Alex as much as she can.  

I enjoyed the relationship between Lena and her best friend Hana.  They are good to each other but have a few struggles and conflicts throughout the story but in the end they find they can count on each other.  

A quote:

I was named after Mary Magdalene, who was nearly killed from love: “So infected with deliria and in violation of the pacts of society, she fell in love with men who would not have her or could not keep her.” (Book of Lamentations, Mary 13:1).
We learned all about it in Biblical Science.  First there was John, then Matthew, then Jeremiah and Peter and Judas, and many other nameless men in-between. 
Her last love, they say, was the greatest: a man named Joseph, a bachelor all of his life, who found her on the street, bruised and broken and half-crazy from deliria.  There’s some debate about what kind of man Joseph was-whether he was righteous or not, whether he ever succumbed to the disease-but in any case, he took good care of her.  He nursed her to health and tried to bring her peace. (87-88)

I enjoyed how Oliver twisted our own biblical stories to create and re-enforce this new history and makes a convincing argument against love.

Both books were borrowed from my local library.

I'm reading Maggie's Stiefvater's sequel to The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and love it.  I downloaded it to my kindle to encourage myself to finish a book on this device.  I love using it as a mini-computer and as a game device but have yet to finish a book on it.  Dream Thieves will be my first and I'm proud to say I'm half way through or in Kindle-speak 48%.