Saturday, March 29, 2014

Weekend Cooking; Julie's Falafel-Stuffed Pitas

A few years ago my friend Julie copied this recipe for me after she'd told me how delicious and easy it was to make.  I tucked it away in my recipe box until last week.  During Spring Break I cleaned a few cupboards out including the three different locations of cookbooks.  I was going through a recipe box looking for one from my mother-in-law for her pie crust.  I didn't find that card but I did organize the box better and I pulled this one out to make.  My thoughts were "why haven't I made this already?"

I made it tonight. Sometimes it takes me all week to gather ingredients.  Even though I thought I had everything my husband had to stop and get a lemon and a cucumber to complete the list.  Crazy.


{Super Easy}Falafel-Stuffed Pitas

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 egg
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained

Cumin is one of my favorite spices. I love just the smell of it.  I was bold and added 2 heaping teaspoons.  I only had red pepper flakes so added just one teaspoon of that.  I try not to buy cans of beans anymore preferring to make them myself.  A few weekends ago for fun I cooked two bags of garbanzos and then froze them in two cup bags.  I unfroze a bag and a half for this recipe.  Love garbanzos too, especially freshly-made.

Toss all those above ingredients into your food processor and mix until smooth.  Divide into small patties.  {This was a very sticky step}  Heat a nonstick skillet (I used a cast iron Lodge) with olive oil.  Cook 5 minutes on each side until slightly browned.

Prepare sauce:

1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 T. lemon juice
2 T tahini
1 garlic clove, minced

Mix together.  Serve falafels with whole wheat pitas, curly lettuce leaves, tomato slices, cucumber slices and pile all together.

My husband and I both thought Feta cheese crumbled on top would have made a wonderful addition.  Next time that will be on our serving platter as well.  They were tasty but too much for Groovy Girl who created her own sandwich with her pita bread.

Thanks Julie!  We loved them.  Next time it won't take me two years to make them.

Tonight at 8:30 all the lights in my house will be turned off in celebration of WWF Earth Hour.  Find out more here.  We participate in this worldly event every year and love how it reminds us of how important our earth is and how our resources are truly limited.  Use a flashlight to read by, light a soy-based candle, hold hands, or just look outside.  It was a gorgeous day outside today and I'm excited to end my evening with Groovy Girl this way.

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

Peace out.  Happy eating.

Friday, March 28, 2014


{Home Improvement Half Done}
Time is fleeting.  I just spent ten minutes catching up with what's happening on FaceBook.  I have the house to myself on a Friday night. Both husband and daughter are off acting in plays. Do I clean the house?  My house is a mess with a capital M!  We've been doing a home improvement project in our family area.  Over Spring Break we pulled up carpet, painted, and laid wood flooring down. It's almost done.  But not quite. So we've been living with all our furniture jammed into the dining and living room.  And wood floor planks stacked up until my husband gets it evened out.  It's an old house and certain areas have settled differently.  House cleaning on a Friday night does not sound all that appealing even though several rooms could desperately use my help.

I could sit and write.  I was doing so well over Spring Break blogging on a regular basis and I enjoyed that.  This week has been crazy busy at home and at work.  I've had a ton of lesson plan pieces to put together and it is time consuming.  I also had a nomination paper to write and an application to fill out for an ESL program I hope to be accepted into this year.  Crazy time. Add in that both husband and daughter are in plays (see previous paragraph).

I could go down to my little mini-yoga studio in our basement and do an hour's worth of bending and stretching the wicked kinks out.  That would feel good also.

What I'd really like to do is go take a warm bubble bath with a tall glass of wine and a good book.   Ahhh.  That is the way to end a busy work week.  It is so quiet in the house.  I'd like to come back downstairs and find that the maid has tidied up, dusted, and deep cleaned Groovy Girl's room!  Maybe Mrs. Patmore will have made me a snack as well.

How do you spend a quiet Friday night at home?

I've tried to do a little of all and that has made all the difference.  And with my extra time I'm off to take a that bath.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Breakfast or brunch, whichever.

{Ree's photo, not mine)

My husband would love it if I cooked like Ree Drummond most of the time. He's a fried chicken, grits, biscuits and gravy kinda guy.  I made him a homemade plateful using a recipe for biscuits and gravy I found on her website.  There were delicious.  I'm more of a vegetarian, salad, healthy-type eater so we balance each other out.  I've learned to appreciate something as hearty as this dish as long as it's like eaten not more than once a year and made with high quality, local sausage like Beeler's.

Last night we secretly made him a strawberry-rhubarb pie.  It is hiding in the cupboard waiting for tomorrow night.  I used frozen rhubarb from last summer's crop and some berries my mom brought me the other day.  I don't know where she got the berries and I'm not asking as they were big (and definitely NOT local) but perfect for this pie.  It's his favorite.  I used to be afraid of making pies all because of sticky crusts.  My mother-in-law shared her recipe with me and I finally got the hang of making it.  Last night Groovy Girl and I worked happily together interlacing the pie crust to make a lattice top.

The pie was quite juicy I think because of the frozen rhubarb.  It has settled not and should be perfect for serving tomorrow night.  I always bake it on top of a cookie sheet which saved my oven this time as it leaked right up over the top.  

Here is the pie crust recipe so you to can feel pie-successful:

Phyllis' Perfect Pie Crust

For a double crust pie:

2 cups flour
1 cup Crisco (today I used butter as I was out of Crisco)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cold water

Mix together dry ingredients, cut in Crisco with a pastry blender.  Pour in cold water and mix only enough to stick together.  Roll out one-half of the dough at a time for a double crust pie.  You can sprinkle top with sugar or cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Toss in your fruit of choice and bake.  The lattice top in the photo above does not look as good as we've done before but he is not going to care.  He is going to be delighted that I'm still willing to craft a pie for him! Why all this catering to the husband?  His birthday is tomorrow!

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

First day of Spring!

I went for a walk-about in my yard today to see if I could find any hints of Spring.  Today is Spring Equinox and deep in my soul I needed to see a little sign that it would come.  There are birds on the feeder flitting about, more than usual.  I've seen squirrels getting extra friendly with each other but no real signs of Spring out there to me.  I wanted to see sprouted green things as I marched around the yard in short sleeves, hopeful, but  I froze and didn't see one hint of sprouts.  It is still dang cold out there even though we are seeing the sun a bit more and for longer in the day.

I had to search elsewhere for Spring.  I read this Farmer's Almanac article about the Spring Equinox which made me just want to see the "rebirth of flora and fauna."  I discovered this adorable dress growing over at Macy's-it that made me think of Spring.

I unearthed these gorgeous tulip blossoms at Terrain that make me feel like Spring could be around some corner (not this corner but somewhere).  My grandmother loved tulips and I loved to see hers pop up.  I have bulbs planted and I can't wait to see them shoot up soon, with deep hope that the squirrels did NOT dig them up for winter snacking.  

I found these DIY projects that make me want to get down on my knees and dig in the dirt especially this fairy-looking bird house arrangement.  Groovy Girl will love to help with this.  

Isn't that pretty!  I'm going to gather the materials now so the first warm (really warm) day we can head out and put this together.  I already have one bird house that needs a new home as it got knocked down during a winter storm.  

What has you thinking Spring in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It's Spring Break here!

So I went to the library.  And found lots of picture books.  And found out that Iowa has a new picture book award category for preschoolers as a cool way to encourage reading before you get to school. What a novel idea, don'cha think!

We did not take a glamorous trip.  We are doing something far more exciting; taking out (gross carpet) and putting in (wood floor) into our family room.  This is a much needed DIY project for us as we can't live with the yuckiness of this carpet anymore.  Not one more day.  It's out the door now and we'll be on to step 2 pretty quick here.

In the meantime there are library books to talk about:

I love vacations by Anna Walker (2011);  Sweet little stuffed toy character takes us on a seaside vacation sharing all that is best about the sand, the surf, and a good friend.  Adorable illustrations and easy sentences on each page, making it a perfect book for young readers.

Theo's Mood by Maryann Cocca-Leffler (2013);  It is Mood Monday in Theo's class and he just cannot tell Miss Cady how he feels.  Several children give him suggestions and then Theo is able to put into words how he does feel about becoming a new big brother over the weekend!  Sweetly told and a perfect way to introduce mixed feelings about a new sibling.  Simple sentences and postcard-sized words inside show emotion words, making this perfect for young readers.

Matilda and Hans by Yokococo {Yoko Shima} (2012); Matilda and Hans are the exact opposite of each other and Hans is always getting into trouble.  Matilda saves the day though when Hans goes to far.  This is perfect book to reach for when your toddler is causing trouble; we all have little trouble-makers living inside us.  Bold illustrations and a very quick read.

David Macaulay, Toilet; How it works (2013);  Easy reader nonfiction gives the facts about how that porcelain bowl and our sewer system really works.  With a glossary at the end and great illustrations this book is a perfect way to introduce the toilet and David Macaulay's work to young kids.  I learned a few things about this essential tool but still no easy way to keep the dang thing uber-clean.

These were only the top of the pile and they were all perfect for about the same age range.  I don't have any of these at my school library (it is sooo hard to keep up!) and I will have to add them to my list for next year's order.

Happy Spring Break reading.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Weekend Cooking; Four Favorite Cooking Tools

I love working in my kitchen which is small but looks out on the whole room so I feel open to the room.  I can easily watch tele or listen to music as I cook.  Last night as I soaked and slow cooked two bags of garbanzo beans to freeze I went through a drawer that I thought needed reorganize over Spring Break.  This thought turned into what else could I clean out from my kitchen drawers to declutter.  Probably a lot.  These items are top on my keep list:

1. My mortar and pestle;  This is a cool tool my mom bought for me in Mexico about 15 years ago.  I make guacamole in it, grind spices down, smash garlic, and I recently used it as a serving bowl which I'd never done before.  I like that it takes my muscles to make something happen. My mother-in-law has a very similar one and hers is worn down to smoothness.  Mine still has a ways to go.

2. My immersion blender:  Many years back my grandmother and i watched a lot Food Network especially Emeril.  One day on his show he used an immersion blender and my grandmother said "You need one of those!"  and she literally sent me out to buy one.  I still have that exact same one and I love it.  It is a Braun and apparently it was made to last-as good cooking tools should be.  Mine has a few cracks and dents in it as it is about 15 years old and at some point I will have to buy a new one-my hope is that I can find the same one and it will last another 15-20 years.  If you are still using a blender to puree soup, I beg of you, give this a try. You'll never go back to that blender mess again.  It takes me a few seconds to rinse off this bad boy!

3. Misto oil mister;  In my forever quest to be green this is a newer tool that I can't live without.  I found it on sale at a local store and hoped that it would work.  Lo and behold, it does and I will never buy another spray can of Pam- like substance again.  Who knows what's in those aerosol cans anyway? (chemicals I can't pronounce, of course) Previously I had a love/hate relationship with aerosol oil cans before my Misto (Mr. Wonderful) and did at least buy the olive oil one as you just need one in the cupboard for making cupcakes or muffins with cups, cake pans, or waffle iron, but no more.  This little baby is a keeper!

4. Apple Slicer;  I love this simple tool.  My family groans every time I talk about it though.  I once took it camping with us which they still find hilarious!  I mean, really, it makes them downright giggle at the mere mention of this fantastic tool.  We never bought any apples on that Michigan vacation so they acted as if I'd dragged the kitchen sink with me instead of this portable tool.  Crazy funny.  I still love it.  And when we load up the car this summer for a trip to Yellowstone guess what will be in my food box...(yes, the apple slicer, hopefully we'll buy apples but if not it is a cheap way to make them groan and then they'll have to tell the story...)  I can't wait.

What tools can you not live without in your kitchen?

My toaster and my crockpot are huge on the list also and I've never even considered taking them camping! Oh and my Lodge cast iron skillets.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme. Click her link to find many other food-related posts.  Happy weekend.  As I'm finished writing this it has started to snow outside.  I'm on Spring Break.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Summer I found you by Jolene Perry

This YA novel has a wonderful premise; young soldier returns from serving his country with his arm missing and meets a young high school student who is quirky, blunt, and is adjusting to life with diabetes.  I liked that part.  It was very interesting hearing Aiden's side of the story in alternating chapters.  His struggle with how to fit back into society as an one-armed 18-year-old who has had buddies die around him is no easy task.  I'm happy when he and Kate meet because it seems like they could be friends-Kate's high school boyfriend breaks up with her in the opening pages.  They meet through Kate's best friend Jen who happens to be Aiden's cousin.  Aiden is living with Jen's family as his mother is newly remarried with small children and not enough room for him.

I thought Jen's character was about as whiny as they come in high school or out.  Everything is a problem for her and things do not match up.  She is crushed that Shelton breaks up with her yet later she talks about how they really weren't that close.  She spends a lot of time angry about having diabetes which results in her not paying attention to her levels and what she eats.  Because she hates having the disease she chooses to shield this knowledge from Aiden even after she sleeps with him.

My two favorite characters were Aunt Beth and Uncle Foster; Jen's parents, as they go above and beyond to help Aiden get through life.

A good quote:

"I don't want to remember this forever.
I don't want to be without my arm.
I don't want to do nothing for the rest of my life.
I don't want to be pitied."  (Location 142)

I like this quote as it shares the turmoil that Aiden encounters every day.  How do you put shoes on or open a jar, drive a stick shift car?

Half way through the story though I thought I might scream every time either Kate or Aiden would say some form of the word "distraction."  It could be a drinking game it is said so frequently.  Case in point:

"I sort of want an excuse to see him again.  For him to see my new hair and improved cheekbones.  And maybe to distract me from the weight that's been pushing on my chest since the doctor's appointment.

I stuff my phone back into my pocket, biting my lip to hold in the beginnings of a ridiculous grin, and Shelton's watching me.  Watching me in a way that makes my heart jump.  The problem is that I don't know if that's good, anymore because I'm definitely distracted by someone else.  And God knows I'm in desperate need of distraction right now so I look back to my desk. Where it's safe.  For now. (Location 881)

And Aiden also repeats the word and the litany "I open my mouth to argue, but I suddenly feel pretty dumb for not thinking about it earlier.  And I'm completely distracted..." (location 910)  and it goes on and on-this distraction-I should have counted them.  It sounds like a little thing but it is a character flaw for both that they only think in this one vein.  It's like a constant push me/pull me event.  High school emotions are like that I understand yet this went beyond for me and I was forced to not care about either character.  The name Aiden is also interchangeable written as Aidan in the text and I hope that is a change that was made before it came out officially (March/2014).  I was also confused by the title as it is the Spring season for the whole book-summer is on it's way-yet never arrives.  My ARC came from Net Galley.  Jolene Perry's website.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Books are magical

and this one Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (Jan. 2014) by Karen Foxlee shines with a story told in two parts.  Ophelia is a factual kind of girl; scientific and curious but not magical nor does she feel particularly brave yet on her first day in the museum she meets a young boy locked away behind a small door with a golden keyhole.  Her father, a sword expert, has come to help with a museum display and Ophelia and her sister Alice are to keep out of the way while he works. Alice is too busy missing their recently deceased mother to explore with Ophelia so she goes it alone.  After finding the young boy locked away she struggles to work out the tasks the young boy asks of her and her mother begins to talk to her, urging her onward.  It's a lovely way to demonstrate how our subconscious guides us and keeps her mother close to her.

Ophelia is plucky and perseveres even though she doesn't like needing to be brave. Her basic instinct is to help because it would be unkind to leave the boy locked up so she pushes herself to to find the key to unlock his door. I love that this little heroine needs glasses and a "puffer"to keep her going.

The curator of this massive dilapidated museum is Miss Kaminski, The Snow Queen, and the one who imprisoned the marvelous boy long ago.  The young boy was sent to warn of the Snow Queen and no one believed him.  The King kept him around though because he was just so marvelous.  Even though much time has passed and his friend the King has died he still remembers his story and knows he needs to re-locate the sword that will strike down the Snow Queen and end her icy grip on the land.

A quote:

Ophelia could have walked away.  She could have picked herself up and walked backward from the room.  She could have followed her feet all the way past the stone angels and across the sea monster mosaic.  She could have run down the long hallway of painted girls and squeezed through the crowd in the Gallery of Time.  She could have raced down, down, down the damp, creaking stairs to her father cataloguing and classifying swords.  When Mr. Whittard would ask her what she'd been doing, she could have said, "Absolutely nothing.  It's very boring here."

But she didn't.  She walked on her knees slowly toward the keyhole.
"What do you want? she asked. (15)

She thinks about giving up several times yet the idea of the boy locked away keeps her going.  Lucky for us she finishes her task. With plenty of action and a thoughtful heroine this book was an exciting read and it is perfect for 3rd grade-6th grade students interested in fantasy or fairy tales.

Karen Foxlee, an Australian writer, had worked as a nurse before going back to school for her writing degree.  Publisher's Weekly has this great interview with her.  I'm sure she made a wonderful nurse but I'm quite happy she began to write...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bring on the soup...

No hint of Spring here.  It snowed more over the weekend-it WAS beautiful and slippery and yes, cold.  Our house is cold.  It is getting a bit depressing.  

To tackle this depression I made a somewhat unhealthy soup recipe that my friend Mary Kay shared with me. She passed the recipe on to me from her daughter-in-law who creates the soup at work with friends; they each bring an ingredient and then share for dinner or lunch.  I love that idea and would love to find someone at work who would like to do the same.

 I used a pound of ground beef from my friend Farmer John and I created my own taco seasonings using this video.  I've got to get better at snapping photos of my own food!!

Taco Soup

1 pound ground beef
1 package taco seasonings 
1 package ranch dressing (I omitted-I didn't have it and don't know how to recreate)
1 can of pinto or kidney beans
1 can diced tomatoes or can of Rotel
1/2 bag of frozen corn (I added a can of corn)
1 can diced green chilis
1 can black beans

Brown the hamburger in a skillet, draining any excess grease.  Drain beans and can of corn. Combine all ingredients in to crock pot and stir.  Cook on low for 4-5 hours. Serve warm with toppings; avocado, sour cream, blue chips, cilantro, or sprinkles of cheese.  

Pretty easy. Next time I would double a few ingredients as I love leftovers for lunch.  I made it on Sunday before I left for a play in the afternoon so it would be ready for dinner.  I was happy I could substitute  many items.  I didn't have even a a can of diced tomatoes so used the tomato juice my mom  made from her garden tomatoes last Fall.  I did have cans of black and pinto beans in the cupboard, which was perfect for this last minute choice.  When I make it again I will try and soak my own beans first.

I enjoyed making the taco seasoning packet from spices I already had in the cupboard and if anyone knows how to make a healthy version of ranch dressing seasonings I would add that.  I'm curious how the ranch packet would taste in the soup but not curious enough to buy a packet as they are just little containers of chemicals and flavor nubs.

The soup was delicious and we ate it during the Oscars; a very down home meal for such a festive occasion!  And then last night Groovy Girl and I ate it again over baked potatoes (with small-ish dollops of sour cream).

Did you watch the Oscars?  I thought for awhile Gravity was going to sweep it (one of them that I have not seen) and was pleasantly surprised when Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett won.  I am extremely happy that 12 years a slave won and loved many of the speeches starting with Jared Leto's tribute to his mother.  Amazing.

We saw a lot of good movies this year and I loved in particular Philomena (and was sad it didn't win anything), Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska (Bruce Dern was amazing also) and 12 years a slave.  I have yet to watch Gravity but I will.  I was sad Lone Ranger wasn't nominated for enough as I loved that movie also. Our favorite dress was Lupita Nyong'o's floating blue dress.  She was a breath of fresh air!