Saturday, June 29, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Desserts {feeding the men}

It has been a crazy week here and some how in the midst of that I made two pretty incredible treats.  While we were out of town my mom stayed at our house to dog sit and garden sit and we thank you for that so much!  She even had dinner waiting for us on Monday night as we drove in to town.  Thank you Mom!

She left us some rhubarb (yes, MORE!) so I made a pie.  When College Boy was young he made this blindingly goofy statement to us that he didn't like pie "never tried it, never will", which is funny coming out of a 5-year-old's mouth.  And then about middle school he tried it.  I don't know what inspired him to try it but it was while we lived in Arkansas.  It is my husband's favorite dessert-especially rhubarb.  I found this wonderful Martha Stewart recipe for rhubarb pie-with a crumb top.  I think this might be my forever-go-to-pie.  It was that good and pretty easy.  I made my own crust.

Then as I cried my eyes out on Wednesday night (see this related post for explanation) I made amazing chocolate chip cookies.  I've spent time looking for a wonderful recipe and this one just might be it.  I found them at The Tender Crumb blog.  I didn't have pastry flour and I did use dark chocolate chunks instead of the chocolate suggested but I loved that this recipe made a large quantity.  They were delicious and I was able to pack up a large box for College Boy to take on his road trip and fishing.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Life is one big emotional roller coaster...

We've been back from our big East Coast trek just two days and now it is time for College Boy to head to the mountains to live!  I've never experienced this horrible emotion of feeling like my time to fill him up with knowledge is over and he's now going to be out there on his own, hopefully putting all that he's picked up to use.

Time flies while you are making dinner, cleaning the house, wiping noses, and working.  Oh, there's been plenty of laughter along the way.  It makes me think a little of playing with play-doh; you're having fun as you mold and shape this intricate human being and then after you look back and think "Hey, he's turning out pretty good!"-he packs his car up and waves good-bye.

Tomorrow is actually when he drives away.  After I have breakfast with him I am going to toddle off to a meeting and try not to cry.  Today he's spent time seeing friends and packing.  I bought him a Garmin GPS. It eases my mind to know that something will be there to help him find his way in my absence.  It's a small consolation.  It's his first road trip on his own and we had to talk him into stopping half way across Nebraska, sleeping in a comfortable hotel, before continuing the journey. His young and determined spirit was thinking it would be much better to drive from Iowa to Colorado all in one stretch.  I'm thankful he listened to us (?) and agreed to stay overnight.  As someone who's made that trek quite a few times I know it can make you stir crazy and sleepy.

I've packed up a box of supplies (toothpaste, yes), some of his favorite foods (crunchy peanut butter, yes) and am in the process of making some dynamite chocolate chip cookies for the road.  He laughed at me when I told him I had a supply box for him-I don't think he's laughing any more!

It's going to feel very strange not having him here.  He makes me laugh and he is easy to converse with on a wide array of topics.  Bless him as he travels and as he settles into his new Colorado life.  He's been waiting 15 years to get back there.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

I brought three books with me on vacation and I finished one quickly (Strange but True by J. Searles), I started another that didn't grab me right off but when I arrived at my in-laws amidst one of our many early book discussions they highly recommended  Chris Bohjalian's book.  It also happened to be the book my mother-in-law's book club would be discussing and also "Would I like to come to book club with her?" Yes! Yes, of course I would.

Always ready for book discussion and the challenge of reading a 293 page book in just a few days I was thrilled to be asked.  I was easily pulled into this engaging and informative book about the Armenian genocide.  What Armenian genocide you ask?  Just what I said and every book club member we gathered with on Tuesday night!  What?  Parts of world history we know nothing about...not that hard to believe, sadly even though we were a learned community of women.  Thankfully Chris Bohjalian chose to write his 15th novel about his Armenian roots so that we could learn more and carry that forth into the world.

It begins:

"The young woman, twenty-one, walks gingerly down the dusty street between her father and the American consul here in Aleppo, an energetic fellow almost her father's age named Ryan Donald Martin, and draws the scarf over her hair and her cheeks.  The men are detouring around the square near the base of the citadel because they don't yet want her to see the deportees who arrived here last night-there will be time for that soon enough-but she fears she is going to be sick anyway.  The smell of rotting flesh, excrement, and the July heat are conspiring to churn her stomach far worse than eve the trip across the Atlantic had weeks earlier.  She feels clammy and weak-kneed and reaches out for her father's elbow to steady herself.  Her father, in turn, gently taps her fingers with his hand, his vague and abstracted attempt at a comforting gesture."  (1)

Written in 2012 Bohjalian writes this historical fiction from a female perspective in both 1915, Syria, and present day,  Bronxville, NY   Elizabeth Endicott, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, arrives with her father to bring aid to the displaced Armenian population and Laura Petrosian, a writer who tells the story backwards as she remembers her childhood from her grandparents "Ottoman Annex" home.  Laura discovers mysteries about her own family history as she searches for answers about her grandparents.

I loved how these two stories intersected and became one.  I loved how slowly many secrets were revealed. At first it was jarring to get yanked to the present, to the beginning of Laura's story, as I was so fully engaged in Elizabeth's daily struggles adjusting to her surroundings.  I got used to Laura's interjections as the story continues.  The book does share many repulsive stories of what women suffered at the hands of the Turkish soldiers.  It's gruesome and sadly still commonplace that women bear ungodly amounts of horror at the hands of men in power, or men hoping for power, or men lacking in power.    Highly recommended.  Find Chris Bohjalian on twitter @ChrisBohjalian.

After this tale it's hard to pick my next read.  College Boy just finished and recommended Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and I have Forever by Pete Hamill still to finish.

Attending my mother-in-law's book group was inspiring as they've been together for 20 years and share a common love of children and teaching.  The appetizers were delicious and the company was excellent.  I'm so glad I was here and had read enough of the story to participate in the lively discussion.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ahhh, the bookstores...{NYC}

Of course we ventured into a few bookstores in the city and bought a couple a books but mostly we just loved the comfort zone of books surrounding us.

{G.G. @TheStrand}

The Strand;  Oldest daughter spent last summer in NYC working as an intern and loved pretty much everything about being a New Yorker.  Her favorite book shop was this one.  Groovy Girl and I met up in the children's section and picked up the exact same picture book, read it, set it down minutes from each other and laughed about it when we realized we'd been reading the same book.  I ended up buying the picture book as this was a pretty significant moment and later in life or even tomorrow I can look at this picture book, Tallulah's Tutu by Marilyn Singer, and remember that we had this "in sync" moment.

Shakespeare and Co.:  Big Daddy saw this bookstore just two blocks away from The Strand and we ducked in to see what we could see.  It might have been a quick {ish} stop if he hadn't found the downstairs script area.  I think he bought about 8 plays to review for this coming year.  They had a lovely selection of children's book as well and we loved just browsing.  

{G.G. @Shakespeare&Co.}

We could have spent hours at both bookstores just for the respite in-between walking.  I'd wanted to find Books of Wonder but we never made it there, which means there must be another trip.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

O what foodie fun!

We are now back in DC after three fun-filled days in New York.

{College Boy Relaxing at the Milburn}

Our Highlights:

The Millburn-fantastic, friendly staff especially if you get Adam on the phone. The suite we had was spacious and it was wonderful to have the kitchenette space. I could keep my water bottle cold and save the few leftovers we had. We'd go back if we wanted to be in that neighborhood again. I loved the romantic lounge, the breakfast, and the lending library. My husband picked a book for me from the shelf; Pete Hamill's Forever

{Groovy Girl w/ her Milk Bar Cereal Milk shake}

{Veggie Bun from Momofuko's}
Momofuku's flavors! I loved the veggie bun (David Chang's) with an egg cracked on top as much as the cereal-infused shake. We hit this spot kind of late last night (8:00-Friday) for us and we walked back to the hotel with food in the bag and shakes in our hand. Guess who finished their shake first?? If you think me; you are wrong. (Groovy Girl took that honor as she sucked it bone dry before her dinner)

{Doughnut bench}

Doughnut Plant; unfriendly staff but delicious doughnuts. I loved my vanilla bean and jam but the big hit was the carrot cake cake doughnut! The cinnamon was powerful and made for an aaaamazing flavor combo.

{Favorite "Big Nick's" Pizza}

College Boy loved all the easy places to get a slice of pizza and he sampled several "best pizza" spots around town.  We had several on the fly meals from local spots like the fish and chips we ordered at 8:00 for dinner while Groovy Girl had a bowl of chicken orzo soup.  It was greasy (the fish) but hit the spot.

Friday lunch we went to Lupa in Greenwich Village which College Boy had picked as the one BIG place he wanted to go.  He knew about Lupa because Action Bronson worked there as the chef.  I'd made a reservation and had talked to staff there before our visit but once we got there I felt much less excited.  I knew it was expensive so the prices weren't a shock but the staff and the ambiance did not provide a relaxing experience.  The pace was frenetic and the space was cramped but the kids loved their pasta dishes.  I had a lovely spinach salad with roasted fennel and spring peas.  I wouldn't need to go back though.  Once was good.

I loved walking through Greenwich Village and as we window shopped I know I spotted Jane Lynch walking through with a beautiful brown leather backpack on her back. We also completely loved Central Park, which was the highlight when I was a teen as well.  Groovy Girl and her dad rented one of the motorized sailboats at the pond.  We also spent a long time hanging by the Alice in Wonderland statue.  All in all it was a wonderful trip, too brief, but it was like giving the kids just a taste of the big city.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hanging in the City; NYC.

We've driven cross country to visit my in-laws for two weeks. For something completely different we took the bus from DC to New York today. It was College Boy's last vacation request before he leaves his home roost and heads to the great West. 

We walked a lot today; from Madison Square Gardens through Times Square and Broadway trekking all the way over to Central Park West (through the park) and to our hotel, The Milburn. 

 Tomorrow we will head to Greenwich Village for lunch at Lupa owned by Mario B., which will be our only sit down meal for the most part. We ate at a Pizzaria for dinner close to the hotel. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up bagels, cream cheese and fruit for breakfast in our room. The hotel is old but refurbished and has a lovely but tiny kitchenette in the corner.

It is exciting to be in the city. I was lucky enough to come several times while I was a teenager but my kids have never been. It was fun to watch College Boy melt right in with the crowds while Groovy Girl was left hanging with her mouth open for many sites including the huge billboards and lights in Times Square.  

Also it is Freezing here so the weather is pretty much the same as Iowa.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Rhubarb, sweet rhubarb

Even though the calendar says June Iowa is experiencing spring weather.  I have a light sweater on as I type.  Our old brick house stands on a very shady lot and our house is usually cool inside but this cool and rainy weather is throwing our growing season off a bit.  While the farmers are unhappy I'm happy to slow down our growing time as there are two spring crops that I adore; asparagus and rhubarb.  Asparagus is pretty easy to enjoy plucked straight out of the earth but rhubarb takes some time in the kitchen to bring out its essence.

My mom made me a rhubarb cake a few weeks ago; it was delicious but she didn't leave me the recipe and I wouldn't want to repeat anyway but I had several bags of rhubarb from my mom and my friend Janice that needed to be dealt with before we leave on vacation.  I know, I know I could have stuck them in the freezer to deal with later but frankly that felt like a cop-out.  I do well under pressure.

Two years ago when we had the pleasure of vacationing on The Outer Banks, NC my mother-in-law brought the MOST delicious rhubarb-ginger jam with her for our toasting pleasure.  I stumbled  upon this jam recipe the other day as I went through my recipe folders.  I made it that day adding almond flavoring instead of ginger because I didn't have any.  I made it again Friday night because the first batch was licked clean from its glass container.  The recipe is so easy.

Try it:

Rhubarb-Ginger Jam
(makes about 5 cups)

8 cups rhubarb in 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
zest of 1 lemon

Combine the ingredients in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over med.-high heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Reduce the heat to medium to medium and cook at least 20 minutes (it may take a little longer) stirring often, until the mixture thickens and mounds on a spoon.

Store in the refrigerator or put in sterilized jars to can.

Changes:  I used brown sugar instead of white and I didn't have crystallized ginger but I did have ginger root so I grated it but used probably only two tablespoons.

And here is my mother-in-law's notes:  "This can be eaten warm as a compote or chilled as a jam.  I suggest straight out of the jar with a spoon.  It would also make a great topping for ice cream or cake."

It is just that good.  I love it on a good piece of wheat toast or straight out of the jar!

{big fat rhubarb-lemon muffins}

That took care of two bags of rhubarb but I still had one more large bag and I took that and turned it into delicious rhubarb-lemon muffins.  Oh, they are so good.  Groovy Girl's comment, "The rhubarb makes them so moist and the lemon makes them tart," as she gobbled one up for breakfast.  I replaced white sugar for brown sugar in the recipe as well.

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

Friday, June 7, 2013

First two books of summer...

I've been on summer break for four days so far and I've finished two fantastic books.  I've also deep cleaned parts of my house that are regularly forgotten.  I made a few delicious meals while my stepdaughter was here.  I'm also packing for our upcoming trip to the East Coast.  In between all that I managed to finish these two:

Defending Jacob (2012) by William Landay is our book club choice for June.  I won't be here for the gathering but the book was so highly recommended by my friend Sue that I had to read it anyway.  One morning I was reading it at the breakfast table and after checking out the cover she said "That does not look like your kind of book Mama."  She's right...The cover looks adult and mysterious; not fun but read it I did and loved it.  Perfect reason to be in a book club as I'm pushed to read outside my normal reading zone.

The story, narrated by Andy Barber, assistant DA, revolves around the murder of a young man, a classmate of Barber's son, Jacob.  Andy is a loving father and a great lawyer and eventually both those attributes are called into question as his son is arrested for the boy's murder.   This is a precise look at what can happen to a family when they are pushed to the brink of despair.  Defending Jacob is filled with plot twists and interesting character portrayals.  Landay is a former District Attorney himself so the courtroom drama and lawyer speak is accurate and intense.


"Worse, the eighth graders at the McCormick were not especially competent liars. Some of them, the more shameless ones, seemed to believe that the way to pass off a lie convincingly was to oversell it.  So, when they got ready to tell a particularly tall one, they would stop all the foot-shuffling and y'knows, and deliver the lie with maximum conviction.  It was as if they had read a manual on behaviors associated with honestly-eye contact! firm voice!-and were determined to display them all at once, like peacocks fanning their tail feathers."  (48-49)

If you are looking for a great crime story Landay's book is definitely worth reading.  It would make a great Father's Day gift for a mystery buff.

Same is true of Boy Still Missing (2001) by John Searles.  My husband read this and couldn't stop chatting with me about it.  At my last book club meeting he even mentioned it to them with a slight tone that eventually I would get to it on my PILE.  So after I finished Defending Jacob I shocked him by picking Boy Still Missing next off the large stack.  I read it in under a week and will add John Searles to my growing list of favorite authors.  He told  a most interesting story without bogging it down with too much detail and he seamlessly snuck in some important feminist rhetoric weaving it right into the story.

Dominick helps his mother track down his wayward father whether the father is out drinking or sleeping it off with a trail of women.  Dominick gets caught up with one of his father's cast-off girlfriends, Edie, and his life is forever changed as he turns his back on the mother that needs him. His chance encounter with Jeanny, a young protestor for change,  pulls him back to earth as he struggles with the direction his life has taken.  Sexual explicit details make it not for everyone but fit with Dominick's experiences.


"I peeled back the rug where I had been skimming money for the last two months.  Ever since the radiator broke, most of the usual smells of our apartment-canned food, cooked beef, furniture polish-had been muted. But beneath the rug the musty earth scent was as strong as ever. I grabbed three stiff hundred-dollar bills and shoved them into the pocket of my sweatshirt.  'Just a few Bennies,' I said under my breath, thinking it sounded cool." (51)

Both stories feature young men as they struggle through rough times. Boy Still Missing is told from Dominick's point-of-view and Defending Jacob is shared from his father's narration.  Both have unexpected surprises in store for the reader.

Last week I took both College Boy and Groovy Girl to our local library to check out books for summer and our approaching vacation.  I found The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan which I started late last night and continued reading early this morning before I hoisted myself out of bed for some yoga and breakfast.  Ahh, summer sleep-ins are treasures.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What's up?

Boy did May fly by or what?  I cannot believe the last time I posted we were in Green Bay, WI.  Since that wonderful trip we've had many graduation open houses (lots of food), baby showers (more food), and two weddings (more food and drink).   For all this extra food and drink one might hope I'd done extra yoga. Sadly no.  I'm too tired from all that extra food and drink and over scheduling.

I  hosted book club two weeks ago, in fact the day after we returned from Green Bay.  I like to host book club with something special and this time in connection with our book, The Snow Child,  I made adult snow cones. If you've read this book you know the two mothers in the book often relax together with some homemade hootch and I replicated that idea with my own.  I took a little from several different online recipes, waded through many snow cone pins and came up with a basil-infused simple syrup, mixed with a lemon-lime vodka and a twist of raspberry puree mix to give it a two-toned affect.  Groovy Girl churned snow from ice cubes in a borrowed snow cone maker and I layered the mixture over.   We had about six or seven pre-made drinks served in martini glasses and waiting in the freezer for the guests to arrive.  This made it easy to hand them out as people shed their coats.  We'd also stock piled some extra "snow" so all I had to do was pour over the lemon-lime mixture and the fruit puree.

I did not take any pictures although I should have.  The book club members said they liked them and asked for more.  We had a great time discussing this book as we sipped our icy drinks.  We all liked the fairy tale quality mixed with the harsh background of 1930"s Alaska.  I look forward to more from Eowyn Ivey.  According to Good Reads she has another book in the works, something to do with wolves.  I hope that is another fairy tale connection.

{King Arthur Flour}
I also hosted the first annual Memorial Day waffle breakfast for my friends Rocky and Mary Kay.  The greatest part of hosting a casual brunch is that I stayed in my red plaid flannel pajamas for pretty much the whole day.  I'm not one to wear my comfy's all over town EVER but on a day off from school it just felt right.  The waffles were delicious.  My kids are little foodies when it comes to waffle or pancake toppings.  The middle of the table was filled with fresh whipped cream, syrup, my Pampered Chef sprinkler filled with powdered sugar, peanut butter, TJ's chocolate almond spread, a cinnamon shaker,  and a bowl of sliced, fresh strawberries with just a little bit of sugar sprinkled on top.  Oh, the possibilities were endless and you needed to have more than one waffle to try new combinations. The perfect a accompaniment was our white wine and orange juice mimosas served in new glasses, a gift from MK.

So we've been doing a lot of eating around here.  I have a hard core yoga boot camp planned for this week to counterattack.  Now that I'm technically done with school I can focus on other projects for a bit.  {jumping up and down mentally for the end of this school year}

After The Snow Child I read the ARC of The Real Boy by Anne Ursu (loved it) and Defending Jacob by William Landry (excellent mystery!) -all reviews to come.  My summer plan includes more reading mixed with my yoga boot camp.

Happy June!