For all of my thousands upon thousands of loyal readers out there, I’m taking my kids to visit my parents for my oldest daughter’s spring break. I hope you are all able to get along without me…somehow…
That’s Newberys for my Newbery project, by the way. I just finished To Be a Slave, an honor book from 1969, and I’m feeling of two minds about it. The premise is fascinating; the author used excerpts from actual slave narratives (most of them a paragraph or two long) and, adding some narration of his own to bind it together, wrote a book about what it was like to be a slave. (Hence, you know, the title.) There are some chilling bits in here, make no mistake. My biggest issue was reading it as an adult; it would be a great book for a child just starting to think about the idea of slavery, but at 34, I read
“The prayer meetings, the parties, and the holidays did not make being a slave pleasurable. Nothing could do that…”
and I thought–well, DUH. There was a noticeable portion of similar commentary, geared very simply toward a younger audience. I also didn’t quite love the tone of the summation, but that’s probably because I read it in 2014. It was published in 1968 by a black man who spent his teenage years in the pre-civil rights south; given the timing, he was probably doing an admirable job of keeping his anger in check. I respect that. I have a tendency to feel slightly defensive in such situations, I suppose, because my ancestors weren’t owning slaves. They were emigrating from Europe and being driven across the plains by a government that didn’t particularly want them. Will I start a firestorm of controversy if I say that I feel a great and terrible grief at the thought of slavery, and the Holocaust, and the Cultural Revolution, and any other instance of unbearable oppression, but I don’t feel that I should feel a personal racial guilt because I am white?
Anyway. Like I said, it’s a great book for kids. It has fascinating material for adults as well, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the tone works best for kids.
112 left to go.
Tonight my hubby and I gave the boy another haircut, since the sides of his head looked sort of like they were trying to take flight. He’s actually not too bad for them (although that may be because Daddy sits with him to hold him (sort of) still and he ADORES Daddy); what kills me is the forehead cowlick. No matter what we do to his hair, it’s just more and more visible the older he gets. This is a boy that will be forever denied a choice in the ‘on which side shall I part my hair today?’ question. On the other hand, with his daddy’s blue, blue eyes and the killer grin (complete with dimples!), I don’t know that anyone needs to go off the deep end where sympathy is concerned!
The really good news in this boy’s life, however, is that he actually devoured dinner tonight. He’s working on at least one of his bottom eyeteeth, which means his appetite has been really sporadic of late, but tonight he just went to town, and I was thrilled. The funny thing is that I just got a little bit creative with an old standby, and I have to say, it tasted better to me than it has for a long, long time. My friend that I used to cook with a lot–I might just have to make that into an acronym!–brought this recipe for Cowboy Quesadillas to my attention, because while her family isn’t wildly into BBQ sauce, I have more than one family member who loves just about anything within that flavor profile. I tried it several years ago and everyone loved it, so it became part of our regular meal rotation, and then–I got tired of it. For two reasons, really (neither of which reflect badly on the recipe). The first is the classic ‘made too much and ate too many leftovers’ that happens to the best of recipes from time to time; the second is that my methods for cooking chicken for recipes like this weren’t too fabulous (flavor-wise) a few years ago. (It doesn’t matter so much if the chicken is going to simmer in a sauce for at least 5-10 minutes, but this recipe needs stand-alone chicken.) Anyway. The girlies hadn’t loved it as much the last couple of times we had it either, but tonight I had the requisite leftovers in my fridge and I decided to see what happened. Here’s what I did:
1)It calls for white rice, but I always just use my white/brown mixture, and it works just as well. Honestly, the last time I made them I used leftover quinoa, and that worked just as well, too.
2)It calls for cooked chicken, and while I had enough of that in the fridge, I had OLDER crockpot BBQ/pineapple pork chops. I used those first, dicing them very small so that it wouldn’t be a toughness issue from the kids; it ended up being half that and half chicken. I thought it was fabulous.
3)I left out the corn, mostly because the kiddos were having minor tummy troubles yesterday, and I thought beans and corn might be a bit much.
4)I upped the cheese by almost a third of what it calls for. It helped with the sticking together.
5)I used whole wheat tortillas. Sometimes I really prefer regular, but you really don’t notice in this recipe.
Anyway, the boy devoured his, and the girlies ate happily as well. Dinner success! And I used several things that have been taking up space in my fridge, which is always a bonus. Give this one a try, folks. Enjoy.
Tonight my oldest–the food lover–was expounding on things we could have for dinner in the near future. She was by far the most hopefully animated when she pointed out that “we haven’t had BLTs in a while!” (This is true, by the way.) I pointed out to her that BLTs are a hot weather meal, not so much a “getting warmer” weather meal, and that tonight’s meal was using up the last of a package of bacon. BLTs for the family now require at LEAST an entire package of bacon. Her response?
“I know! We can get a pig, and it can have babies, and we can sell all of the babies but one, and we’ll raise that one, and then we’ll have more bacon!”
After a second or two of bafflement, I remembered. Oh, yeah, she’s reading Charlotte’s Web in school. At which point I pointed out that we may not be zoned for pigs in our suburb, and also, daughter with my freakish sense of smell, pigs are smellier than the horses up the road. (I did NOT say that Mommy has NO DESIRE to raise a pig, but Daddy helpfully pointed out that it might be problematic to raise something as sort of a pet and then eat it.) What really killed me, however, is the fact that THIS is what she’s taking from Charlotte’s Web. On the bright side, as my sister pointed out, she’s a problem solver, right? But…but…come on! The whole point is that Charlotte is trying to SAVE Wilbur from getting eaten! And ultimately succeeds! (I suppose that counts as a spoiler, and if there is ANYONE out there reading this blog who has never read Charlotte’s Web, I offer my abject apologies for not alerting you beforehand.) You’re supposed to want the pig to live, right?
Not my daughter, apparently. At least, not enough to give up BLTs.
Very, slightly, really. But I did just finish The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, which is Alexander McCall Smith’s latest addition to his ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series, and I quite enjoyed it. It can be enchanting to fall into a culture that is quite distinctly different from your own, and that is what this series does for me. Africa is a different world, and it’s fascinating to see the differences in how people talk with each other, how people view the world, and what people do on a daily basis. Who doesn’t love to travel by book in the evenings, especially when you’re not exactly in a stage of life conducive to doing the real thing? (And really, if I listen to my skin and my inner thermostat, I may never get to Africa. I DO NOT like to be hot, and the stronger the sun, the more I hate it.) If you haven’t read this series, give it a try!
Anyway, my other slightly multicultural experiences barely qualifies, and it didn’t go over as well as I really think it should have! I tried Mel’s Cheesy Chicken Quesadilla Pie for dinner, and none of the kiddos loved it. It’s true that they all had a late lunch, and the boy’s appetite is on the fritz again, but still! My hubby and I both liked it, and it’s really quite rare for us both to like something that none of the kids eats well. It’s a simple recipe with basic (but yummy) flavors, and I still recommend it.
(To be fair, we had brunch at a friend’s house to celebrate her now-four-year-old’s birthday, and it might just be hard to salvage the day when you start off with brownie batter pancakes topped with strawberries, Cool Whip, and jimmies. (That’s chocolate sprinkles to the rest of the world.) I’d post that recipe, but I haven’t gotten it from her yet.)
To the best of my knowledge, Hawaiian Haystacks are not a thing in Rhode Island…although really, I’m only basing that on the fact that I sure never had them growing up. (RI friends, were you having them on a regular basis?) I didn’t have them until I moved to Utah, and I didn’t make them myself until the last year or two, when I had a small amount of cooked chicken left over and was trying desperately to turn it into a dinner plan. At which point my friend that I used to cook with a lot suggested I make Mel’s recipe for Hawaiian Haystacks, which is really just a recipe for the chicken sauce, since everything else is a topping. I thought to myself, hey, why not, and there it was–a new staple at our house. I love it. I mix white and brown rice for the base, and after the chicken sauce, we top ours with grated medium or sharp cheddar, crushed pineapple, chopped celery, chopped tomatoes, chopped olives (for those of us who prefer olives), chopped green onion (ditto), and coconut (of the shredded and sweetened variety). My girls, I think, would prefer that I buy chow mein noodles, which Grandma has on her haystacks, but I confess–since I don’t miss them, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. (Sorry, kiddos.)
A word about the chicken, though. My leftover chicken didn’t provide nearly as much flavor as either 1)using raw chicken and following Mel’s directions for cooking it as part of the sauce or 2)buying a rotisserie chicken at Costco and using the entire breast for one recipe. I usually go for number 2, ever since I figured out that my 1st grader loves the dark meat from said rotisserie chicken on sandwiches in her lunch (with mayo, lettuce and tomato, or, if you happen to be out of lettuce like I was this morning, mayo and bread and butter pickles). Grilled chicken would, I’m sure, also be delightful, but not the sad, poached, “I need chicken cooked quickly for a recipe” chicken I had way back when. (I’m a bit better with plain cooked chicken now.)
Anyway. I love haystacks and they go over well with all of my kiddos; if you use rice flour for the roux, this recipe is also easily gluten-free!
When I was growing up, cauliflower was pretty much simmered until soft and eaten with butter. End of story. And I liked it fine. I’ve never liked the smell of it cooking, mind you–really, who does?–but I was fine eating it that way. Once I got married, I went years eating it hardly at all, because my husband can’t stand it, but I used to buy it now and then intending to steam some for myself. Sometimes I actually managed to do it, and I discovered that I liked it a bit firmer than my mother used to make it. (To be fair, so does she. It’s my dad who objects to cooked yet “crunchy” vegetables.) It wouldn’t have been a big part of my life again, though, except that my friend and I used to cook together a lot, and once upon a time we tried a recipe she found for Butter Roasted Cauliflower.
And Oh. My. Gosh.
Seriously. I have been known to make this recipe–a good-sized head of cauliflower’s worth–and eat the entire pan myself. (It makes a great lunch, by the way.) It is AMAZING. Unfortunately, no one in my family loves lemon and capers and parsley as much as I do, and so in the interest of branching out a bit I tried this Cauliflower with Tomatoes recipe. And it’s also very tasty. My husband was pleasantly surprised, which is incredible praise from him for a vegetable. My sister experimented with it and uses canned diced tomatoes in the wintertime. (If I’m lucky, she’ll even comment on this post to say exactly how she does it!)
I will freely confess, though, that I don’t always have that much time to spend on a side dish, and so our most common cauliflower method is also the easiest. Here goes:
You take your cauliflower and cut it into florets. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (the clean up is SO much easier), toss the cauliflower with some olive oil and salt and pepper, and place it in a single layer on the cookie sheet. (Don’t stress if it’s crowded, just make sure the florets aren’t on top of each other.) Preheat your oven to 400 and roast for an hour. Voila! (Please pretend you see an accent on that “a”!) My kids and I dip the florets in ketchup, as a sort of cousin to a French fry. (I did actually see this recipe online first, but I never look at the recipe anymore. It’s just that easy.) You do have to serve it with a non-oven main dish, and it wouldn’t be so tempting on a hot day, but it’s yummy! (A warning, though–eat it straight out of the oven. It cools quickly and wouldn’t reheat well!)
How do you like cauliflower?
I just finished An Episode of Sparrows, by Rumer Godden, and its ‘Juvenile Fiction’ label is definitely a misnomer. True, Lovejoy is probably the main character–although not quite in a conventional way–and she’s ‘almost eleven,’ but the omniscient narrator spends a noticeable amount of time on more than one adult. Lovejoy is probably the reason for the label, but Lovejoy’s story is not really a story for children to read; the thought of explaining some of what is happening in this book to my seven-year-old makes me shudder. It’s not offensive or dirty in any way, mind you. It’s just that the characters’ motivations, their actions, their life stories…all of these things are likely to go over intermediate readers’ heads, be irrelevant to their lives, or to bore them because they don’t emotionally understand them yet. There is real tragedy here, the kind that I felt deeply but my children–thank heavens–would not understand. It does end on a hopeful (and thoroughly enjoyable!) note, though.
Ok, this is a particularly vague review, isn’t it. To be more specific, then, An Episode of Sparrows was inspired by The Secret Garden, and it takes place in (immediately) post-World War II London. The ‘sparrows’ of the title are the street children, and their lives and experiences are contrasted (rather vividly) with those of the few wealthy adults in the story.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that. It’s hard to avoid spoilers for this one, so I’ll leave it at this–I absolutely enjoyed it, but it was nothing like what I thought it would be. It’s also got a quirky sort of tone, but I got used to that. If the subject interests you, go and read. It would actually make an excellent book club pick!
And by THOSE, I mean the kind of recipes that are fine–not amazingly delicious, not at all bad, but fine–and totally worth keeping, because they are EASY and the kids ALL ATE IT HAPPILY. (Ok, I promise, I’ll give Caps Lock a rest now.) But you guys have those recipes too, right? The kind that aren’t overwhelmingly incredible, aren’t really underwhelming…(can something be just “whelming”?) Anyway, that’s how I felt about this 20 Minute Skillet Lasagna recipe, which, by the way, was neither a true skillet meal (which I define as being made all in the same, you know, skillet) nor lasagna (bow ties instead of lasagna noodles–farfalle if we want to be precise!–and only mozzarella cheese, and sour cream). It didn’t taste like lasagna, particularly, but it was tomato sauce-y and a little creamy and meaty and it was pasta, and it’s pretty hard to mess up that combination so badly that I don’t still enjoy it. I did change out the Italian seasoning for just basil and oregano–we don’t care for thyme and I prefer to grind up my rosemary so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating pine needles (which I would have done if I’d had the time!)–but otherwise I made it as is. (Unless, of course, you count looking in the sour cream container, realizing there was less than a half a cup but not much less, and just dumping it all in.) And both girlies gave it a thumbs up. The Boy ate it perfectly happily as well, and so it’s going in the ‘quick and easy and successful dinner’ pile.
So to speak.
(Really, it just means it’s getting moved to my “Keeper Recipes” board on Pinterest.)
Apparently I’m on a new recipe kick this week, because last night I tried these Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Taquitos, and I’m pleased to report that EVERYONE–my parents, my husband, and all the kids–gave them at least a thumbs middle (and most went thumbs up!). (That’s on the ‘thumbs up, thumbs middle, or thumbs down’ scale of ‘how do you like this new recipe?’) I actually doubled the recipe, because I didn’t think there were going to be enough for four adults and three children, and I’m glad I did. What I didn’t do was double the red onion, and although I’m glad I didn’t–there would have been a LOT, and the kids probably wouldn’t have done so well–it could have used a tad more (in my opinion, at least). I kind of wish I’d picked a gigantic onion and used the whole thing, instead of sticking to the smallest one I could find (although the smallest red onion at Macey’s wasn’t small, not by ANY stretch of the imagination). My only real complaint with the dinner at all wasn’t the recipe’s fault; I used whole wheat tortillas because they are healthier and more filling, but I still miss white flour tortillas. Just like I still miss white rice, instead of white-and-brown-mixed. Unfortunately, eating straight white rice as part of dinner means I am STARVING again in two hours, and since I really can’t afford to be eating two dinners a night–there will be undesirable consequences–I mix white and brown. I don’t dislike either the whole wheat tortillas or the rice mix, you understand. I do like the white kind better, in both cases, but I’m almost 35, and I’m trying to be healthy where I can, and I’d rather make this compromise than give up buttery, home-baked desserts.
(In case you’re curious, I’m not sure THAT sacrifice is EVER going to happen. We’ll see.)
Anyway, these were tasty, and in case you’re curious, a large can of pineapple tidbits (cut in half with a knife) equals about two cups of diced pineapple. Give them a try!