Aug 18, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Birthday Breakfast of Goodness

Birthday Breakfast of Goodness

Once upon a time, my sister found this recipe for Mandarin Orange Breakfast Bites in one of those cookbooks that’s a collection of recipes from a certain magazine throughout the year; she passed it on to me, and–mmmmm.  Life got a little bit better right then and there.

The amazing thing is that I don’t actually care for Mandarin oranges.  I’m perfectly happy to eat a clementine, but Mandarin oranges have never really been my cup of tea (my girlies love them, though).  I love this recipe, I think, because the strongest flavor is the almond extract, for which I do care (very much!)–that, of course, and the fact that you dip the muffin tops in melted butter and then cinnamon sugar, and that makes almost anything taste amazing.  If you’re okay with almond extract, I’m betting you’ll like these muffins.  And as long as you have a pastry cutter, they are barely harder than an oil-based muffin recipe (and they are moist and lovely and delightful).  They make a PERFECT birthday breakfast.

(Note:  I generally just grease my muffin tins, but the logistics of dipping the still-hot muffins into the butter and cinnamon sugar make cupcake liners a good idea for these.  Who wants to wait to eat them long enough to get past the burnt-finger threat?)

Aug 17, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Half a Birthday

Half a Birthday

Not a half birthday, mind you, but half a birthday.  As in, we have 9:00 church, and so let’s do your birthday breakfast tomorrow, and since Mommy and Daddy are BEAT from moving the entire basement around to move you and your sister downstairs, can we do cake tomorrow, too? It’s kind of lame, I know, and I feel badly for my brand-new five-year-old, but my hubby and I really are completely exhausted.  What did we do today, you ask?  Well, both girls got to try the apple pie bagels for breakfast (I ask you, who could pass those up in the store?), and then the birthday girl got to open her presents before church.  She and her sister played very happily in their new room both before AND after church, and then she got her birthday dinner.  She was, as usual, the last person done…probably because she had FOUR HELPINGS OF GNOCCHI.  (I honestly didn’t know her stomach was big enough for what she ate tonight.)  She picks homemade gnocchi (with homemade alfredo sauce) every year on her birthday, and I serve it with broccoli on the side, both because she likes broccoli and my hubby’s favorite (read:  most tolerated) way to eat broccoli involves dipping it into the alfredo sauce during this meal.  The upside to this, of course, is that I get to make something fairly awful for us once a year without guilt; the downside is that her birthday’s in August, and I have to stand at the stove cooking gnocchi in a pot of boiling water for what feels like about a decade.  Ah, well.  I’m sure it’s karma for all of the years I asked my mother for homemade deep-fried scones on my (July) birthday.  (Item:  my father finally cornered me and pointed out that my birthday was in, well, JULY, and promised we could have scones during a different season of the year if I would just pick something else on my birthday.  I do fully sympathize–we didn’t have air conditioning, and RI is not exactly a dry heat–but I don’t think we ever had scones again.  If you don’t HAVE to do something desirable but labor-intensive and not strictly necessary on a specific day, it has a way of not happening.)

At least we have central air.

Anyway, in honor of my girlie’s birthday, here’s how you make simple homemade gnocchi alfredo.

Gnocchi:

1 C mashed potatoes (with nothing added in–the sauce has plenty of cholesterol and salt already)

1 egg

1 1/2-2 C flour

Combine ingredients in a good-sized bowl and knead until the dough forms a ball.  (This is easier if the mashed potatoes have cooled some.) Roll small portions of dough into snakes on a floured surface.  Cut the snakes into 1/2-1 inch pieces.

Bring a pot of water to a boil; lightly salt it and drop in your gnocchi in batches.  (I shoot for at least 10-15 per batch).  Cook for 3-5 minutes, until they rise to the top.  Scoop out and serve with:

Alfredo Sauce (courtesy of Betty Crocker)

1/2 C butter (yes, that’s one stick)

1/2 C evaporated milk (you can use half & half, but I actually prefer the taste of the other–it’s less warm dairy, which I don’t love.  It’s also slightly less bad for you.)

3/4 C Parmesan cheese

1/2 t salt

Dash pepper

Melt the butter in a pot with the evaporated milk over low heat, stirring frequently.  Add cheese and seasonings (I often throw in a dash of nutmeg as well).  Toss with your cooked and drained gnocchi and serve immediately, preferably with steamed broccoli on the side.

There you have it.  The gnocchi are very filling, so go easy on the portions the first time.  (This is experience talking.)  I doubt it’s amazingly authentic Italian, and I don’t take the time to try and make them look pretty, but oh, it’s a tasty meal.

Even in August.

 

 

Aug 14, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Worthy End to a Series

A Worthy End to a Series

I just finished the last book in Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet, and I truly wish there were more; I find her writing so very enjoyable (and impressively not dated for someone who was writing in the 40s and 50s).  Spiderweb for Two:  A Melendy Maze was a lovely way to end the series, though…we can see glimpses of the Melendy children nearing adulthood, and the ending provides closure in an unexpected way.  This one features primarily Randy and Oliver, since their older siblings are away at school, and they make an endearing team as they follow clues to a mysterious treasure hunt into all sorts of unexpected places.

Unfortunately, even the amazing Salt Lake County library system only has certain titles by Enright–the Melendy Quartet, her two Newberys, and the sequel to one of them.  I put in an inter-library loan request for another title of hers that looks good, so we’ll see how that goes.  In the meantime, all of the ones in the library system are well worth your time!

 

Aug 13, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Thoughts

Thoughts

I confess, I’ve spent more time than usual on the internet in the past few days.  I’ve read tributes to Robin Williams, I’ve read stories about him, I’ve read articles on depression and the idea of it being selfish and why that isn’t true, and I’ve looked at clips of Williams in movies I’ve seen and movies I haven’t.  (I tried a bit of his stand-up, but I generally can’t deal with the f-word well, so that didn’t last long.)  I just about died at the ‘John Wayne does Macbeth’ bit from “Dead Poets Society”–I’d forgotten all about that–and I’ve been continually impressed at the kindness in Williams’ eyes.  Everyone who knew him or met him seems to have good things to say about him, which is impressive for, well, anyone.

This morning I happened upon a reaction to Matt Walsh’s contribution to the current media focus, which I hadn’t seen.  The reaction piece criticized Walsh for choosing to write about suicide being a choice, and since someone I love deeply has struggled with varying degrees of depression for years, I looked up Walsh’s article to see if the reaction piece was more or less accurate (it was).  Now, my feelings about Matt Walsh are mixed.  Sometimes I sort of agree with what he’s saying but not with how he’s saying it; sometimes I guiltily rejoice at his willingness to be harsh (I’m thinking of his post about bad tippers, here–I sure made $2.15 an hour when I waited tables); and sometimes, as today, I think–he’s still pretty young, and he’s pretty free with strong opinions for one who has yet to experience a lot of his life.

And so, since I was strongly moved by the loss of Williams’ battle with depression, here are my thoughts on the idea of suicide being a choice. (The trending articles on depression and suicide not being selfish express their argument too well for me to need to add to them.)  Once upon a time–before I had children, when I still slept a bit more soundly–I had an extraordinarily vivid dream that there was a very, very large bug on my shoulder, right at the base of my neck.  The vivid quality of that particular dream was unusual for me, and coupled with the placement of the bug (bugs too close to my hair = AAAAHHHH in my world) I had the strongest reaction I think I’ve ever had to such a thing; I brought my hand up and RAKED my fingernails across my neck to remove the (phantom) bug from my neck, and in the process scratched myself so deeply that it bled.

Was that a choice?

I don’t pretend to know the motives of every suicide victim in this world, so I’m confining my opinions here to depression-related suicide.  I myself had a bout with postpartum depression after my first child was born, and while it was real and fairly awful while it lasted, it was temporary and–at the MOST–moderate.  (Possibly only mild; it’s difficult to judge after the fact.)  That, I think, is the level of depression Walsh is familiar with, and that, I assume, is where he’s getting his ‘suicide is a choice’ take on the situation.  The problem is that THAT is not the kind of depression, I suspect, that drives most people to suicide.

There is a kind of clinical depression so deep, so all-encompassing, that it alters your mental state in much more profound ways.  My vivid dream WAS my reality in that moment; I did what I felt HAD to be done.  Sure, I made a choice that resulted in a several-inch-long scratch on my neck (bleeding and surprisingly painful, no less!), but it was the only possible choice to be made in my mental state at the time.  The kind of depression that kills is that kind–the kind that alters your mental state in such a way that your perceptions of reality and of your choices are not in any way connected to those of a relatively healthy person.  I cannot believe that anyone who has truly watched someone struggle with that kind of depression would waste his or her time debating the morality of suicide.  (We have a loving Heavenly Father who is far more capable of that than anyone on this earth is; He sees the battle in its entirety.)  Instead, we mourn the tragedy when someone loses that battle–mourn for them, their family, their friends, and the world.

Aug 10, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Hit!

A Hit!

As of this morning, I was still undecided about what to make for dinner tonight, but that turned out to be a good thing; we went to a lunch at my friend Andrea’s house, and when we came home, my hubby and I were so stuffed that we really couldn’t think about dinner.  I opened up my Pinterest ‘Bread’ board, thinking that breakfast for dinner was a perfect way to end the day, and I saw these Rhubarb Muffins.

Now, I don’t have anywhere close to the amazing rhubarb crop that Mel has–did you see the picture? the wagon FULL of it?–but I do have a lone rhubarb plant in my backyard.  It’s not red rhubarb, which I would kind of prefer, but it’s rhubarb.  I decided that I need look no further for dinner tonight…and then I remembered why I haven’t made these already.

Coconut oil.

I don’t have any.

At this point, however, I really didn’t want to have to come up with another dinner idea, so I decided to forge ahead.  After all, the muffins themselves say ‘or vegetable oil,’ so I was safe there, and as for the streusel, well…let’s just say that I didn’t think anyone would complain if I used butter instead.  (For the record?  No one did.)  I followed the recipe otherwise, although I found I only got about 18 muffins out of it.  They rose impressively, so that was fine, but I would fill one pan of 12 before deciding whether to try to fill a second one or use a 6 instead.  There would be enough streusel for another full dozen, though.

The verdict was fairly unanimous; the girls and I all loved them.  (My hubby didn’t end up eating with us, and the boy was having diaper  issues–his opinion can’t be accurately gauged.)  The one thing I did regret was the coconut oil.  I’ve been told that there are two kinds; one that flavors your recipe like coconut, and one that doesn’t.  Since there was no other spice in the muffin itself (just the streusel), I would have enjoyed some coconut flavor.  I actually added a little bit of coconut extract to the streusel, and that was rather lovely.  If I try them again before I get my hands on some coconut oil, I’ll probably throw a bit of cinnamon in the batter, just for flavor.  All in all, however, we did quite enjoy them the way they were.

 

Aug 9, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Back to the Madness

Back to the Madness

Hello, world!

I really meant to put up a post saying I was tied up with family, because I took my kids to Idaho to visit my parents, and we just got back yesterday.  I was too busy packing for four before we left, though, and then I was tired from the drive, and THEN, well, my parents’ computer is painfully slow.  (It’s one of the hazards of living with a computer guy; most people’s computers feel slow to me, but my parents’ is particularly bad.)  And so I didn’t, but I am back!  The kiddos had lots of Grandma and Grandpa and cousin time–my brother lives 5 or 10 minutes from my parents–and are still kind of tired and grouchy, but hey.  We are striving to get our lives back in order.

The reason that it feels like we came home to madness, incidentally, is that we are in the process of switching bedrooms for the girlies.  The boy is going to need to move out of the crib sometime this winter, and three kids in the same bedroom isn’t ideal anyway, so the girls are moving downstairs into the (former) library/storage/guest room.  Which, of course, involved Mommy and Daddy–and specifically Daddy while the rest of us were out of town–moving all of their stuff out of it and trying to find a place for all of it to go.  (We have SO MUCH STUFF!)  We’ve donated two (large) boxes of books, plus our old cd and dvd racks, and my hubby even partly cleaned out his shoe collection.  (He’s really not much of a shoe guy himself, but his dad likes to try different brands and styles, and my hubby gets all of the hand-me-downs.)  The whole process would feel more impressive if it weren’t just a teeny tiny drop in a very large bucket…

Anyway.  While I was in Idaho–away from the craziness–I did manage to finish the third book in the Melendy quartet, and I found it to be every bit as delightful as the first two.  Then There Were Five begins at the end of the school year, when the siblings have a whole summer awaiting them, and carries them through to the fall.  Along the way they make a host of new friends and have all sorts of adventures–exciting enough to make for fun reading but normal enough to be believable.  They also, as the title suggests, manage to expand their family a bit.  All in all, it was a lovely read; Elizabeth Enright hasn’t disappointed me yet.  You should absolutely give the Melendys a try–The Saturdays is the start of the quartet–as well as Gone-Away Lake, which has an irresistible premise.  I promise you’ll be glad you did!

Then There Were Five (Melendy Quartet)


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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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