Archive from July, 2014
Jul 29, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Two Yummy Things I Ate Today…

Two Yummy Things I Ate Today…

I warn you beforehand–all amounts in this are approximate, because I don’t measure with any exactness when I make spaghetti sauce.  I do love homemade spaghetti sauce, though.  Over thin spaghetti.  With obscene amounts of Parmesan cheese.  (I used the canned stuff for this, partly because I seriously like so much of it that I can’t afford to use the other kind!)  And we haven’t had it for a while.  I have NOT been in the mood for chicken, however, so I’ve been doing what I can with other meats, and tonight was a ground beef kind of night.  To make this spaghetti sauce you need:

1 lb ground beef–I get the extra lean stuff at Costco, since I got the shaft in the genetically high cholesterol department

3 quarts tomatoes (this is the best measurement I can give–I freeze garden tomatoes in quart bags and use them for this.  You just halve them and cut out the core and squeeze a little excess liquid out and stick them in the bag–you can cut them into chunks if they’re big–and freeze the bag when it’s full. When you take them out and they thaw, you pour off the excess water before using them.  The ones I used tonight were from, um, September of 2011 and they were just fine, although I wouldn’t keep them that long without a deep freeze.  I sometimes use bottled tomatoes as well.)

1 small can tomato sauce

1 small can tomato paste

1 medium onion

Minced garlic

Sugar, salt, oregano, and basil

Olive oil

Alrighty.  You want to dice the onion and separate it into two piles; one pile gets tossed into some olive oil (enough to saute plus a little extra) and cooked until it starts to get tender.  Throw in however much minced garlic you want–I use the jarred kind because it makes my life easier, and I end up with at least a few teaspoons, I think–and saute for another minute before adding the tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and spices.  You want a couple of teaspoons of sugar, maybe–it helps with the acidity–and a heaping teaspoon or more of basil, while maybe a half a teaspoon of oregano.  (That’s how our family likes things–feel free to change it up.)  If you’re using frozen tomatoes, you want two teaspoons of salt, probably, or to taste, but if you’re using bottled or canned, you’ll want to reduce that, since most of them are salted already.  Bring the whole mess to a boil and then turn it down and let it simmer for at least an hour, preferably an hour and a half.  When you’re down to half an hour or so, brown the ground beef with the remaining onion, drain any grease, and add that in.  Voila!  Enjoy!

As for the second yummy thing, well, it’s much easier.  You take 10 Oreos and 3 of these Vanilla Bean Greek Yogurt Pops (they were sampling them at Costco the last time I was there, and I caved) and stick them in a blender with however much milk you think you need.  I may have added a bit much–our shakes were on the runny side–but my hubby and I didn’t particularly care.  We got two 10-ounce-or-so tasty Oreo shakes out of it, and it was a happy, happy thing.

Jul 26, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on On Being Patricia

On Being Patricia

Okay, so I don’t have any personal experience being a Patricia.  (Which is okay, because I’m okay not being one.)  I was just thinking last night, however, about a sort of coincidence.  It seems odd that there are 3 different authors named Patricia who can (easily) move me to tears.  (I mean, is it that common of a name?)  I LOVE Patricia Reilly Giff and get all teary-eyed just thinking of Pictures of Hollis Woods; I can’t make it halfway through Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker without bawling like a baby; and Patricia MacLachlan’s books (think Sarah, Plain and Tall and Baby) never fail to move me.

It was one of hers I just finished, actually.  Fly Away is new this year, and it’s a lovely little tale of a family visiting a great aunt at a time when the nearby river is flooding and threatening her home.  It amazes me how MacLachlan can create real and detailed characters in such a brief novel (I’ve certainly always been a wordier sort).  I was attached to all of them so very quickly, and once I was halfway through, there was absolutely no stopping until I made sure it came out to my satisfaction.  How does she do this in 108 pages–in a very large font?  It’s a mystery to me.  That, however, is not the point.  The point is that all three Patricias are well worth reading, and you should check them out as soon as you can!

Fly Away


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Jul 25, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on “Creepiest Newbery” Title Gets Passed to a New Champion

“Creepiest Newbery” Title Gets Passed to a New Champion

And by “new,” of course, I mean “old Newbery that I hadn’t read until now,” because that’s the way THAT works.  I can only judge what I’ve read, right?  Up until yesterday, if you were to ask me what the creepiest Newbery I’d ever read was, I probably would have said The Graveyard Book.  (The Planet of Junior Brown was creepy, yes, but in a bizarre, surreal, I-can’t-see-this-as-a-coherent-plot kind of way.)  It was a good book, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t exactly sweetness and light.  I was honestly kind of surprised that it won, because the story and the ending seemed a bit of a stretch for an award given to children’s literature.  There have certainly been other ghost stories that have won, and other winners that look creepy as all get out (Doll Bones, anyone?), but I thought The Graveyard Book was on the extreme end of things.

And then I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan–at which point The Graveyard Book started to look kind of cozy.  After all, the kid in The Graveyard Book is being raised by, well, beings who love him, right?  He’s watched over and cared about?  His childhood looks downright warm and fuzzy compared to Tenar’s.  She is forcibly removed from her family at 5 to be the one Priestess at the Tombs; as part of the becoming, she loses her given name and becomes “Arha,” which translates to the Eaten One.  (Because of course, she is given in service to the ‘Nameless Ones’ and therefore ‘eaten,’ so there is nothing left of the person born Tenar.)  She serves those Nameless Ones, performing rites and rituals (including pouring out goats’ blood at the tombstones), for a decade.  Her ‘domain’ is the Labyrinth underneath the tombs, and it is there she meets Ged, the wizard from Le Guin’s previous Earthsea novel.  How that meeting affects both of their lives is fascinating, it’s true; this book gripped me almost from the get-go, and kept me going the whole way through.  It’s just that it has a dark feeling to it, a haunting sense of ancient evil that seems, somehow, less fantastic (as in, related to fantasy) and more just foreign–only not as completely foreign as you’d like it to be.

Hmmm.  I’m not sure that made as much sense as I wanted it to.  Let’s just say that Le Guin is just as good at creating a creepy mood as Daphne du Maurier was (have you read Rebecca?).  The Tombs of Atuan may be a Newbery, but it’s certainly not for the very young or the very impressionable.  In a way, I suppose that’s praise; all the same, I can only recommend this one if you like that sort of thing.  I don’t ever see myself rereading it.

Jul 23, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Quick Review

Quick Review

I can’t remember where I first saw Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine,  but it seemed like the sort of book my daughter might enjoy, so I checked it out for her and stuck it on her over-the-top-bunk bookshelf.  (With, you know, the 15 or so other library books already there.  Not to mention the ones she owns that are there, too.)  It sat for quite a while as she read this and that, but after renewing it for the 3rd time (after which you have to return it and check it out again), I mentioned to my oldest that it was due at the library and she probably ought to pick that up next.  She did–and she loved it–and I had a sudden realization that I didn’t know much about it myself.  I knew enough to know it was age-appropriate, more or less, and the review I’d read made it sound cute, but I remembered my brush with Ivy + Bean, so I figured I’d take a look at it myself before returning it and getting the next book in the series.

(Incidentally, Ivy + Bean both looked and sounded cute, but when I flipped through it as a Christmas gift option last year, it seemed like one of the characters spent the entire book completely ignoring rules, with a serious scarcity of consequences.  I realize a kid might not object to this, but if I’m going to buy a book for my daughter, it’s going to be one I think she’ll like AND that I want her to own.  The kids in Ivy + Bean sounded obnoxious.)

Anyway.  I did a read-through of Clementine the night before we took it back to the library, and it was HILARIOUS!  The title character spends her time getting into, well, scrapes, but her intentions are good and she’s not just ignoring the rules because she doesn’t think they apply to her. (She’s often just making spectacularly bad decisions, in that way that children do.)  She had red curly hair and wanted to be an artist and was completely lovable from the get-go.  I recommend this one wholeheartedly!

Clementine


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Jul 21, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Oats, Oats, Everywhere–and a Well-Deserved Tribute

Oats, Oats, Everywhere–and a Well-Deserved Tribute

Remember how my oldest does the pleading eyes and asks me to bake something for breakfast?  Well, her sister has joined in with a vengeance, and her pleading eyes are even bigger.  I baked Thursday and they were at it again by Saturday; I put them off both Saturday and Sunday because I was up with kids during the previous nights and was just too exhausted, but I promised them on Monday I’d bake.

That, of course, was today.

We were out of syrup and I was NOT in the mood to make more this morning, so I opted for these Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins.  And while it was an awfully warm morning to be heating up the oven to 400 degrees before 8, I did quite enjoy them.  I must confess, though.  It calls for unsweetened applesauce, yes, but I had homemade applesauce in the fridge.  My homemade applesauce has a lot less sugar in it than the store-bought stuff–I like things tart, as a rule–but it does have liberal amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg and (often) a touch of cloves.  I sure used that instead, and it added to the flavor quite nicely.  And since I have a passionate obsession with nutmeg in general, I cut the cinnamon to 1/2 teaspoon and threw in a slightly generous 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.  (I also subbed in 1/4 cup wheat flour.)

The end result was tasty, and very hearty.  Anytime you have that quantity of oats in a quick bread, it’s going to be chewy, but no one complained; it took fewer muffins to fill them up, though.  (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)  I refrigerated the leftovers and am enjoying them as I type; weirdly, I think I like them even better cold.  (This is unusual for me.)  Bottom line?  I think it’s a keeper, although it usually takes a second tasting to be sure.

I promised a tribute as well, but it’s never as easy to write one of those as you want it to be.  One of the first things I saw on Facebook today was my 12th grade English teacher’s obituary.  I went to a small school–there were 84 kids in my graduating class, and 81 of us graduated–and most of the kids knew most of the teachers, because that’s the way it worked.  You always knew who people liked, and who was good, and who you wanted; you also sometimes knew things about the teachers’ personal lives that probably didn’t come up in larger schools.  I don’t think I ever heard a student say anything negative about Mrs. Mumford.  She was a good teacher and expected her students to work; she was also professional, gracious, and kind.  She taught me how to respect literature that I might not enjoy personally; she taught me to stay focused on my thesis all the way through a paper; she taught me to use the subjunctive tense properly; and she taught me how fabulous and (sometimes) laugh-out-loud funny Shakespeare can be.  When I came back to see her after my first year of college she had taken an early retirement to battle colon cancer; she did so with courage and grace and then opted to enter politics.  (She was proof that it was possible to be intelligent, honest, and fiscally responsible and still get elected in Rhode Island.)  I’ve lived in Utah full-time since I was a junior in college; for years, whenever I returned to Rhode Island to visit, she would take me to lunch.  We ate Italian food and talked about the college paper I wrote about Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre, and what books we’d read and enjoyed recently.  We exchanged Christmas cards.  She sent baby gifts for my children.

How do you draw a portrait of a life fully lived?  There are never enough words.  Carol Mumford was a truly great lady, in every sense of the term.  I am not the only one who will miss her.

Jul 19, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on My Mouth Says More (But My Stomach Says ‘Don’t You Dare!)

My Mouth Says More (But My Stomach Says ‘Don’t You Dare!)

Ahhhhhh.

That’s how I felt about dinner tonight, folks.  You know when something hits the spot so perfectly that you wish you had two stomachs so you could just keep enjoying how good it tastes?  (If you don’t, well, I’m sorry.)  That was tonight.  Normally, you see, I’m a pasta or rice kind of girl, with lots of seasonings and not too much meat.  (A favorite easy lunch?  Toss cooked pasta with chopped tomatoes and grated Parmesan and top with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.)  Lately, however, potatoes have been sounding good, and chicken has not, and so I decided to try this Cowboy Casserole for dinner tonight.  Tater tots were not a food my parents ever fed us, to the best of my knowledge, so this was my first foray into the world of tater tot casseroles; I dutifully bought the ‘crispy crowns’ it suggested and went to work.  Being me, of course, this involved a few recipe changes…

The first was a no-brainer–I buy ground beef from Costco, and you get a bag of already frozen 1 pound tubes.  We’re not THAT into meat at my house, so I thawed a pound and called it good.  (I really never do more than a pound of ground beef for a 9 by 13 pan.)  The second was a bit trickier, but you see, the thought of condensed soup didn’t sound particularly good.  (I’m not morally opposed to using it occasionally, you understand; the thought of the taste was just not appealing today.)  I decided to google substitutions for cream of celery soup (because really, I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t loathe mushrooms), and I found this odd web page with a background of removed pictures.  It had a recipe for a condensed cream of celery soup substitute, however, and it sounded good and fairly simple, so I tried it.  (I didn’t add the mushrooms; really, that seemed like a typo.)  Instead of salt and pepper I threw in a generous half teaspoon of chicken bouillon, and while if you like things salty I’d up it to a teaspoon, maybe, it worked for me.

Other than that, I followed the recipe, although it did need a bit more cooking time to get the cheese probably melted on the top.  (Sharp cheddar, because that’s my preferred kind of cheddar.)  And oh, it was tasty!  It was flavorful and hearty and crispy enough to suit me, and I ate an obscene amount of it.  My oldest loved it and asked if we could make it again; my middle said it was “kind of good” in an unenthusiastic tone of voice, which is typical for any new recipe; and my boy refused to eat it at dinner (he’d just had rather large quantities of milk) but happily ate it closer to bedtime.  Since it got a thumbs up from my hubby, I’d call it a qualified crowd-pleaser.  Give it a try the next time you’re in the mood for heartiness!

Jul 18, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Not Sure What to Say

Not Sure What to Say

Let me begin by saying that I think Kevin Henkes is amazing.  Seriously.  We love his mouse books, and we’ve checked out many of them more than once from the library.  (I know I’ve mentioned them at least twice on this blog.)  The fact that he’s the writer and the illustrator just makes him that much more impressive.

His middle grade fiction, however, has quite a different feel to it.  I remember liking Olive’s Ocean fine, but not loving it, although of course, that was quite some time ago; it took me some time to get into his other Newbery winner–that would be The Year of Billy Miller, one of this year’s Honor books–but I liked that more than fine.  It was that one that inspired me to seek out more of his offerings for (relatively) older readers, which is why I picked up Bird Lake Moon.  I finished it yesterday evening, and I sat on it for a day partly because I wasn’t sure what to say about it.

It’s absolutely a well-crafted story.  And the plot interested me quite a bit, which is why I picked it over his others.  The problem is that I just didn’t love it as much as I wanted to–and it’s hard to say why.  The characters are well-written, at least the kids are; the adults aren’t poorly written, but rather seen through the eyes of their children, making them one-dimensional in a ‘this is what kids see when they look at their parents’ kind of way.  I think my problem is that Henkes is a little too good at telling the story from the 12- and 9-year-old boys’ point of view. It’s a purposeful thing, and I think boys will enjoy it more because it will feel more real to them, but I’m the kind of crazy-over-thinker-live-too-much-in-my-head kind of person that wants to know everything.  Ultimately, I don’t think my issues with the book involve weaknesses on its part; I think its strengths just don’t happen to be strengths I seek.

At the end of the day, then, while I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, it’s an excellent choice if you want a book for a boy of perhaps 10-12. On the other hand, I’d recommend the book linked to this post to everyone in the world, because Chester’s Way is really just fabulous.  Gotta love the mouse books!

Oh, by the way, my 7-year-old just finished the All-of-a-Kind Family series, and if you like period books about families (but especially girls), you should look into these.  The last one is for slightly older readers–not inappropriate, just less interesting for younger kids–but my daughter has enjoyed the whole series.  Give it a try!

 

Chester’s Way


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Jul 15, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Homemade Bread

Homemade Bread

Who doesn’t love the smell of bread baking in your oven?  I even like snitching the dough (which completely grosses some of my friends out), and I especially like that elemental and empowering feeling of making bread for my family.  (It makes me feel like I am ROCKING that housewife role!)  What I don’t like is being interrupted by urgent kid business right when my hands are covered in dough, and that’s why I’m fond of this particular recipe for Homemade Whole Wheat Bread.  It uses ‘Vital Wheat Gluten,’ which I buy in the food storage area of my local grocery store (yes, I’m aware that not all grocery stores have such a thing.  I’d look by the yeast.).  The best part of using it is that the bread only has to rise once–there’s no punch down and divide into loaves after an hour to worry about.  Which isn’t a big deal, unless you have kids young enough to possibly need a diaper change in the middle of kneading.  One less step means I can get it all done during naptime, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

(If you’re easy-going like my amazing mother-in-law, this probably isn’t such a big deal to you.  Interruptions during certain processes stress me out, however, and if you’re more like me, well, this is the recipe for you.)

As for my changes to the recipe, well…I see no reason not to use half oil and half butter, instead of all oil.  (I’m all about the taste.)  I tend toward sugar instead of honey, just because honey is expensive, but I’ve done both.  And I sure use regular yeast from Costco instead of instant.  I’ve never had a problem.

I also knead by hand; I sort of enjoy it that way, but I also don’t have a stand mixer big enough to handle the whole recipe, and halving it just means half the result for about the same amount of work.  Considering how quickly my family can consume a loaf of homemade bread, I’d rather knead by hand and get four loaves for my trouble.  I usually keep one out as part of our dinner and freeze the other three in gallon ziplocs; they keep very nicely for at least a month or two.  I do grind my own wheat, but I imagine it would be fine with purchased whole wheat flour.  If I run out of that, I top it off with white, but we’re just as happy with all wheat.  Try it slightly warm with honey butter.  It’ll make your day.

 

Jul 12, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Satisfying Adventure

A Satisfying Adventure

That’s exactly what I thought of Amy Timberlake’s One Came Home.  It was the last of this year’s Newberys for me, which is exciting in and of itself, and I enjoyed it even more than I’d hoped.  I hadn’t anticipated the narrator to be quite so amusing, and I definitely hadn’t anticipated the sorts of twists and turns her journey to look for her sister involved.  I was expecting something, well–I don’t know how to describe it.  I’d say more dramatic, but there was drama; I’d say more serious, but many serious things happened.  I suppose the coming of age process just happened a bit differently for Georgie than I expected.

Georgie, of course, is the narrator who goes off in search of the sister that she can’t believe is dead.  She’s got more than a little Tillerman in her, for all you Cynthia Voigt fans, but it’s mixed with something softer.  Her view of life is direct and often humorous–I about laughed out loud at her soliloquy on thumbs–and the things she learns about herself during the course of her journey kept me guessing.  I’d like to share more about the plot, but it’s the sort of story where you can either tell a little or a WHOLE lot; there’s not a good way to go in-between.  Not wanting to spoil the surprises for you, I’ll just say I was expecting True Grit, and instead got something a bit closer to The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. I was certainly not disappointed, so  I recommend it wholeheartedly.  Don’t miss this one.

One Came Home


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Jul 10, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on The Best Waffles Ever (of the Not-Belgian Variety)

The Best Waffles Ever (of the Not-Belgian Variety)

I love waffles.

I really love waffles.  They’re crisp on the outside, and moist and tender on the inside, and they have lovely pockets to hold butter and maple syrup (or strawberries and whipped cream, or other loveliness of your choice).  And while both varieties of waffles are delicious in their own right, I make regular ones frequently and Belgian waffles rarely.  (It’s the whipping and folding in of the egg whites that trips me up.  It’s just more work when I’m HUNGRY.)

At any rate, these are the waffles we always made growing up, and I have still never had their equal.  They need to be eaten hot and fresh–they get soggy if they sit, and only taste half as good in the toaster the next morning–but if you manage that, they are heavenly.  The whole wheat flour gives them a lovely texture and so much more flavor, while the white keeps them from being too heavy.  We are huge fans at our house, and while we generally go the butter-and-syrup route (homemade syrup for me and mine, always), we’ve been known to throw some homemade applesauce on top as well.  Bottom line?  Don’t pass these up.

 

Waffles

2 eggs

2 1/4 cups sour milk (add a generous two tablespoons of vinegar and fill the measuring cup to the appropriate line with milk)

1/3 cup of vegetable or canola oil (be generous)

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white flour

Combine wet and dry ingredients separately, then mix together with a whisk.  Pour 1 cup (plus) into a hot waffle iron.

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