Archive from November, 2014
Nov 29, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Another Check on the Promo List

Another Check on the Promo List

Remember that box of promos–promotional copies of books–that I still have from my Borders days?  When we were winnowing books–or trying to–a few months ago, my hubby was disturbed that I didn’t want to get rid of any of them.  Here’s the thing, though.  I don’t want to keep them forever.  I just want to read them before we get rid of them.  To that end, I picked one of them for my fourth book this time, and I’m pleased to say that I finished Forever Lily:  An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China.  (And now I’m getting rid of it–one less item taking up space in my house!)

As for what I thought of the book–hmmm.  It was interesting, certainly.  And if you have more interest in reincarnation, karma, and new age/metaphysical reads than I do, it will appeal to you much more than it did to me.  I would have preferred more information about the people and places involved–or about the adoption process–to the author’s dream sequences, but they are, I acknowledge, central to her vision of the story and the book she wanted to write.  The most fascinating part of the book for me was the friend who originally intended to adopt and changed her mind; I found myself wondering how she felt about her portrayal in this book.  I certainly wouldn’t be pleased at having that part of my life or myself aired in any sort of publication.  I also have to wonder how the story would sound if she were the one telling it; a child in need should certainly take precedence over an adult, but the author didn’t appear to have much (if any) compassion for her sometime-friend.  (I suppose if her portrayal of her was scrupulously accurate, I can understand that, but the author’s descriptions of the woman’s actions get less and less balanced as the book progresses.  Which, again, may be understandable; I just can’t help wondering.)

In any case, I’d say that this book is only for you if you are looking for something new age or metaphysical; that aspect of the book was far more prominent than I expected it to be.  It’s as much (or more) of a spiritual memoir as it is a record of the author’s journey to adoption, and my own spiritual journeys are too dissimilar to hers for it to resonate deeply with me.  I wanted to know more about the literal topic of the book, but that wasn’t where the author chose to focus.  Such is life.

Nov 28, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Pie Night

Pie Night

Once upon a time–in the year 2000, actually–my father-in-law pointed out that you’re really just too full on Thanksgiving to enjoy the pie.  He therefore decreed that the night before Thanksgiving would be pie night; we would all bring pie and enjoy it fully, our palates not yet dulled by mounds of turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy.  Pie Night has been a night-before-Thanksgiving tradition at my in-laws’ ever since.

Fast forward fourteen years?  Not only is Pie Night a firm tradition in its own right, it’s also developed into a chance for cousins to have sleepovers with each other.  This year both of my girlies slept at my sister-in-law’s house with the cousin who falls almost exactly between them in age, while my hubby and I slept at my in-law’s with the boy and marvelled at how strange it seemed to go back to only having one child for the night.  (My in-laws live 45 minutes away, by the way, and Thanksgiving dinner is usually between 1:30 and 2; who wants to drive home and back in such a brief amount of time, thereby missing out on my mother-in-law’s biscuits-and-bacon-gravy with orange juice on Thanksgiving morning?)  We were down a family this year–one of my Utah sisters-in-law was in California with her husband and kiddos for the holiday–but we still managed an even dozen pies.  (I believe the record is 15.)  We generally bring 3–one each for my hubby and me, since we rarely agree on desserts, and a third to be either the kids’ choice or mine, depending on the year.  Here, with no further ado, are this year’s efforts:

Raspberry Patch Cream Pie:  This one was a hit, even though the anti-raspberry contingent (of which my hubby is one) and the anti-cream cheese contingent (sadly, my oldest, among others) didn’t try it.  I LOVED it.  I’ve actually been eyeing it for years, but raspberries generally aren’t a fabulous choice in November.  This year,  however, I’d already succumbed to the lovely-looking flat of them at Costco, and when I was looking through pie recipes, I was totally psyched to realize this one was an option.  I only had a few berries left over–it was perfect!  I loved the homemade graham cracker crust (which is unusual for me), I loved the cream cheese layer, and I loved the raspberry flavor.  It was actually the first pie gone on Thursday.  (No pies are ever finished on Wednesday night.  Ever.)

Chocolate Cheesecake:  Okay, so pies and cheesecakes aren’t quite the same thing, but it seems to be generally accepted that both work for Pie Night.  (They’re both round, after all.)  There are always several cheesecakes in the mix.  I was afraid this one would be dry, since I have an 8 1/2 inch and a 9 1/2 inch springform pan, but no 9, and I forgot to compensate for that in the cooking time; dry it wasn’t, but man, it was rich.  It tasted like fudge, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but have you ever tried to eat a pie-slice amount of fudge at once?  It needs milk.  (It also needs to be cut into bite-sized pieces.)  Oh, and I had a miserable time finding “chocolate wafers” to make into crumbs for the crust.  I couldn’t find a chocolate version of Nilla Wafers; I found chocolate sandwich wafers, the kind that are the texture of ice cream cones, and I found sugar-free chocolate wafers of some sort.  (No.  Just–no.)  We ended up throwing a few of the sandwich wafers–I bought them in desperation–into the blender with a bunch of chocolate graham crackers.  It worked just fine.  (If we’d decided on our pies earlier, I might have checked another store or two, but that wasn’t going to happen this week.)

Macaroon Apple Pie:  This is another recipe I’ve been eyeing for years and finally got around to making.  And it was good, don’t get me wrong. The problem is that it wasn’t really any more than good–it wasn’t special.  It tasted like a regular apple pie with a blondie crust, only the blondie batter had shredded coconut in it.  Tasty, but not necessarily exciting.  I think it would be improved by upping the apple content (there was room for more, and I was even a bit generous); I also think it would shine a whole lot more in another venue.  (Incidentally, I was texting my sister about the pies last night, and I noticed too late that auto correct felt “Macaroni Apple Pie” made more sense.  Luckily, she’s plenty smart enough to figure that one out on her own…)

There you have it, folks–our pies for Pie Night 2014.  I also enjoyed my mother-in-law’s rhubarb pie–I really just love rhubarb in general–as well as the almond joy pie and the–I think–peanut butter marshmallow cookie pie.  (There was a delicious Samoa Cheesecake, but it had the same problem as our cheesecake–too rich for the night.  I kept thinking how amazing it would be if I’d had a grilled chicken salad for dinner and then just one piece of it for dessert.)  Those were my favorites, mind you.  There were more, and I absolutely tried them all.  I’m not even going to admit to the quantity of pie I consumed in a 24-hour period.

Would you?

 

Nov 23, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on How Did I Not Realize This Earlier?

How Did I Not Realize This Earlier?

Seriously.  It seems pathetic to me that I’d read multiple books by Eileen Spinelli, thinking hey! another Spinelli writer!, before realizing that she’s actually married to Jerry Spinelli.  Well, then.  Interestingly enough, I think I’ve now read more books by her, although he’s the more famous one (Maniac Magee and Wringer are both Newberys); I reviewed Another Day as Emily not that long ago, but my first exposure to her was The Dancing Pancake, which was delightful.  She has a tendency of dealing with serious topics with enough depth to matter, but giving them positive outcomes in a way that’s comforting to her target audience.  It’s true that not every situation turns out all right; it’s also true that in general, kids in today’s world know that a little too well.  I’m okay, then, with books that are reassuringly warm and cozy.  We need stories of all kinds in this world.

Summerhouse Time is about a girl whose extended family rents a beach house together every August; Sophie loves everything about it, and is eagerly counting down the days until it’s time to leave.  Not surprisingly, however, she finds that not everything is as perfect as she assumes it will be.   The reasons why are more creative than I expected, but everything does wrap up rather neatly.  During the wrapping process, however, Sophie realizes that perhaps even the past is not as perfect as we may remember it.

Spinelli’s blank verse is not as lyrical as, say, Karen Hesse’s, but the medium works well for her in a different way; I enjoyed this one.  If you’re your looking for a read that is short and sweet without being saccharine,  Summerhouse Time is well worth your time.

Summerhouse Time


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Nov 20, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Muffins

Muffins

I’ve been big on using up items in my refrigerator lately (possibly because I DESPERATELY NEED THE SPACE!), and last night the remaining half of a large can of pumpkin puree was my target item.  I contemplated waffles, but I was feeling too lazy to get out the Belgian waffler, which is what the recipes that looked the best needed; I didn’t even contemplate dessert, because I needed a meal idea.  Which is how I ended up slicing up some apples, frying up some cheap-brand sausage that I probably won’t buy again, and making these Pumpkin Streusel Muffins.

Have I mentioned how much I really, really love breakfast for dinner?

Anyway.  My oldest didn’t eat with us last night, so she only tried the leftovers, but my picky middle loved them.  (Take note, folks.  This doesn’t exactly happen very often.)  The boy wasn’t overly enthused, but he didn’t appear to be offended, either.  (It’s hard to tell about food when they’re two.)  As for me?  I enjoyed them more than I thought I would.  The streusel was amazing; I didn’t bother with the glaze, since I was in a hurry and it was dinner, but I didn’t feel the lack.  I used almost half whole wheat flour because–I confess–my upstairs white flour container was almost empty and I was in a hurry, and I seriously couldn’t tell.  The pumpkin and butter and eggs give the muffins a lovely texture that’s almost custard-y, if bread can be such a thing, and of course, anything with pumpkin in it stays moist.  (I have to say, I actually liked them left over even better. Weird, right?)  The reason I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy them had nothing to do with the recipe, really; the problem is that as much as I love cinnamon and nutmeg (I tolerate ginger), and as much as I love fall and everything to do with it, the taste of pumpkin itself is iffy for me.  I tend to prefer it in small doses mixed with lots of dairy fat, and when the flavor is too strong, I have issues.  These did taste kind of pumpkin-y to me fresh out of the oven, but as long as I got streusel in every bite, I was okay with it.  And strangely, the leftovers didn’t taste at all as pumpkin-y.

The verdict, then, is a thumbs up…since I just polished off two more during the course of this post.  Give them a try.  And let me know how they are with the glaze!

Nov 16, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Handy Condiment

A Handy Condiment

Do you LOVE strawberries?  Because I really, really do.  And since my birthday is in July, I’ve been known to request angel food cake with copious amounts of strawberries and whipped cream on top for my birthday cake.  (I’ve also been known to request Rhubarb Custard Cake, which involves copious amounts of cream and general deliciousness.)  My poor oldest also loves strawberries, and this was the third year in a row she asked for that very thing; unfortunately, her birthday is today, and we live in Utah, not California or South America.  This year, however, it finally occurred to me that while fresh strawberries aren’t worth the exorbitant price you’ll pay for them this time of year (I’d pay it for her if I thought they’d actually taste good enough to be worth it!), there is this recipe for Strawberry Sauce that we make for pancakes or waffles from time to time, and I’ve made it with frozen as well as fresh.  I posited that to her, and she was sold!  And so, for her birthday cake, we had angel food cake and strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

Mmmmmm.

In the interest of full disclosure, this sauce is NOT the same as fresh strawberries (and how could it be?).  On the other hand, it’s very tasty.  I understand from my friend Andrea that the same recipe is in the Our Best Bites cookbook, but that it doesn’t call for almond extract.  This is a mistake to me, because I love the almond; on the other hand, if you don’t, you should probably go with the cookbook version.  If you do, well…I suspect that this one’s better.  I make it with Costco frozen strawberries more than I make it with fresh (the fresh tend to go to other things too quickly), and it’s still got quite a nice flavor.  You should try it.

With angel food cake.

And real whipped cream.

 

Nov 14, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on More Hashbrown Experimentation

More Hashbrown Experimentation

Have I mentioned that I bought a Costco-sized box of frozen hashbrowns a while ago?  All of the hashbrown recipes I’ve tried have used some of those hashbrowns–and I have over a third of the box left.  (Possibly closer to half.)  Anyway…

I needed a one-dish, relatively easy dinner last week, since I took the kiddos to Cookie Cutters so the girlies could get haircuts and we didn’t get  home until close to 4.  When I found these Cheesy Bacon Hashbrowns, I decided they would fit the bill; I left the bacon and the hashbrowns out on the counter to thaw while we were gone and then cooked bacon and threw the ingredients together once we got home.  It does use a can of condensed soup, if you’re picky about that sort of thing, but I have to say, I liked it even more than I was hoping to.  I used smoked paprika instead of regular (I like it better), and 1% milk (because that’s what I have), and I thawed frozen hashbrowns (ditto).  I also did about half and half sour cream and plain yogurt, because I refused to open a 16 oz container of sour cream to use 2 oz of it (not when the plain yogurt was open and available, anyway.)  I don’t know that any of the changes made a significant difference, but I liked it.  My oldest liked it as well; my middle did actually eat it herself, albeit with prompting, and the boy dumped it on his tray but ate it more or less unprompted.  All in all, it’s easy and tasty and worth making.  Who could ask for anything more?

(Well, I suppose you could ask for slightly healthier.  But I have found it almost impossible to manage easy, tasty, healthy, and inexpensive all at the same time.  I just hope for 2 or 3 of the four–and vary which ones I’m hoping for!)

Nov 11, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Different Kind of Fabulous

A Different Kind of Fabulous

Months and months ago, my friend Britt got a copy of Deborah Cohen’s Family Secrets:  Shame & Privacy in Modern Britain for review.  She read it, found it utterly fascinating, and got our library system to purchase a copy (have I mentioned lately that they’re awesome?).  When the copy came in, she put it on hold on my library card–she said it was that good.

I believed her, and I’ve actually been excited to read it for months; on the other hand, three children don’t leave you a lot of concentration for non-fiction, so it took me a while to commit to it.  When I finally did, however, I found that I really couldn’t put it down–it legitimately was that fascinating.  I learned crazy things about the history of the divorce court, marriage counseling, and adoption in Britain, not to mention familial attitudes towards mental disabilities and homosexuality.  (And for the record, I owe the Victorians an apology.  As much as they had problems recognizing women as, you know, actual intelligent beings, they treated the mentally disabled far better than their Edwardian children.  You’d think things would have gotten better and better as time went on; you’d be wrong.)  My least favorite thing about the book was thinking, about every third page–was it like this in America? How can I find out all of this stuff about MY country?  (Sadly, I don’t know that Cohen has plans for a similar look at the US.)

As for a basic summary of the book, well–it explores the history of familial secrecy and privacy, and how the two concepts have developed and interacted in Britain from the Victorian age until now.  I hadn’t ever thought about the fundamental differences between secrecy and privacy until reading this book, but considering the current legal debates about the invasion of privacy, it was past time to start.  On the next-to-last page, Cohen posits that “in the twenty-first century, privacy is not the ability to hide but the right to tell without cost.”  Consider that, if you will.

Anyway.  I realize that not everyone is going to find this book irresistibly fascinating (although part of me feels that everyone really should.)  If, however, you enjoy non-fiction and/or cultural history, please give it a try.  I’ll bet it hooks you as well.

And my fellow English Major geeks will appreciate the tidy paraphrasing of Hamlet in the very last line.

Nov 9, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Short and Very, Very Bittersweet

Short and Very, Very Bittersweet

I just finished Hana’s Suitcase, by Karen Levine, and it was definitely the sort of book meant to inspire mixed emotions.  It serves quite nicely as an introduction to the Holocaust for young readers–indeed, I will probably hand it over to my oldest in the next year or so–and that’s always a mixed experience.  On the one hand, books about individual experiences during the Holocaust  imply that someone survived to tell his or her story; on the other hand, any such book has to acknowledge that many, many others didn’t.  This one was no exception.  It interweaves the story of a Czech family that shrinks as the war progresses with the story of a woman in Japan determined to teach the children of her country about the Holocaust and its lessons for the world.  Fumiko Ishioka asked for whatever Holocaust artifacts that the European memorials could spare; it was from Auschwitz that she received a suitcase belonging to Hana Brady.  Finding that the children who saw it were fascinated by it, she set out to discover all she could about Hana’s life.  What she found makes for a historical mystery that requires a number of small miracles to solve.

My only problem with this book didn’t reflect on the book at all.  It was meant for a mid- to late elementary school audience, and that sort of non-fiction tends to be written very simply, especially when one has to tread the line between being informative and being age-appropriate.  I’ve read quite a few Holocaust memoirs, however, and so the simplicity of the writing made it a bit harder for me to focus.  I think, though, that it works well for its intended audience.  It’s one I’ll be giving my children to read when they’re old enough to deal with the story involved.

Hana’s Suitcase


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Nov 7, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Missing the Ocean

Missing the Ocean

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Enright for a while now; she’s written a Newbery Medal winner, a Newbery Honor book, and a lovely quartet of books about a family that I finished reading rather recently.  Our (truly awesome) library system only has the quartet, the Newbery winners, and the sequel to the Honor book, but I did manage to order The Sea Is All Around through inter-library loan.  And I enjoyed it.  It’s about a 10-year-old orphan who moves from Iowa and one aunt to Pokenick Island (Nantucket, in real life) and another; she arrives as winter is setting in. Such a seasonal choice makes the setting one of wind and cold and cloud, but this worked for me.  (I don’t particularly like the sun unless it’s under 65 degrees.)  Enright successfully enlivens such a scene with detailed descriptions of the local flora.  (That sentence makes this review sound really academic, but how else do you convey the fact that her books all mention plants/trees/fungi galore?  I’ve rather enjoyed googling the names to see pictures of what she’s talking about.  My late Aunt Eileen–a botanist and the reason for my middle’s middle name–would be proud.)

Anyway.  The book doesn’t delve into the emotional territory of ‘an orphan passed from relative to relative,’ but that’s not surprising for something written in 1940.  It is, however, an enjoyable tale of a girl learning to love a place entirely different from the Iowa she’s used to. Unfortunately, it’s also out of print.  Since I don’t expect anyone to drop $45-$95 on a book solely on my recommendation, I’m linking to Enright’s Newbery Honor book instead.  Gone-Away Lake tells a story that you long to take part in; a pair of siblings discover an abandoned lakeside resort while on vacation and it becomes a sort of summer playground for them.  The sequel (Return to Gone-Away) takes the story exactly where you hope it will go, which makes this pair of books a delightful present for middle-elementary girls.  (Maybe boys.   But definitely girls.)  In fact, I’m pondering it as a Christmas gift for my almost-eight-year-old.  (Who also has a birthday in about 9 days.  Maybe I should get right on that…)

Nov 4, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Sauce Vs. Glaze

Sauce Vs. Glaze

This is a serious issue, folks.  Which side of the fence are you on?  On the one hand, I do appreciate the concentrated taste you get with a glaze; on the other hand, if I’m serving something with rice, I want sauce for the rice.  In the case of these Polynesian Meatballs, that’s why I opted to err on the saucy side.  I ended up one-and-a-thirding the meatball recipe (yes, I know that’s a made-up term, but it’s what I did; I wanted to use two pounds even of ground beef) and doubling the sauce, although there still wasn’t nearly as much sauce for the rice as I might have preferred.  All in all, though, I like these meatballs.  They are on the sweeter side of sweet and sour, and the meatballs themselves have a nice flavor.  They would have more, of course, if I had the patience to actually brown them in the pan the way it calls for.  I know that adds flavor, and it’d be nice to have that flavor, but at some point, cooking with a two-year-old underfoot who no longer naps forces you to cut some corners.  (I’d love to see some of the Food Network chefs cook in some of my real-life conditions.)  Instead, I stick them on a cookie sheet and broil them for 5-7 minutes, shake the pan to roll most of them over, and do it again.  The simmering in the sauce ensures that they’re always fully cooked, and my kids can learn the flavor difference when they’re old enough to either help or stay safely away from the heat.

Life’s all about compromise, right?

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