Apr 25, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Snuggles

Snuggles

Tonight my hubby was going to take the girlies to see their cousin dance at a nearby high school, only I didn’t see the texts from my sister-in-law warning me that things were moving along ahead of schedule.  By the time he got home from work and texted her himself, there wasn’t quite time for him to get there before our niece’s dance was done, and so we invited them over for ice cream instead.

When I explained this to the girlies, my oldest was a little disappointed but mostly okay with it (especially since they can still go and see her cousin’s team performance tomorrow).  My middle was more disappointed but looked forward to them coming with great enthusiasm.  

And then they came.  And it was fun for everyone else, but the whole family was there, and my middle doesn’t love big groups of people–she just wanted to play with her dancer-cousin.  Who is five years or more older than she is.  

(I should mention at this point that both my girls were up before 7 this morning.  My oldest had a field trip and presumably walked a lot, but she thrives on social situations, especially when she’s tired.  (She’s more likely to break down once everyone leaves.)  My middle was also tired, and she becomes LESS social accordingly.)  Predictably, she didn’t love the crowd, and when her cousins had to leave for the awards ceremony, she was just so sad that she ‘didn’t get to play.’  (I think she didn’t like what everyone else was doing, but she was the youngest there by almost three years, not counting my 21-month-old wandering around.)  I had to get sharp with her to get her to finish getting ready for bed, and my poor kiddo was just so tired.  She sat on my lap, with her arms and legs wrapped around me, while I sang her goodnight song to her, and I tucked her in with Care Bear, Dukey, AND her Hello Kitty.  Her poor little trembling lips!  She is a master of drama, don’t get me wrong, but she’s also a sensitive little soul, and in that moment I just wanted to snuggle her forever.

And then I got to snuggle her sister while I sang HER goodnight song.  And then my boy, who is talking more and more recognizably every day. They are all sleeping peacefully now.

I am grateful for my children.

Apr 23, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on No Stopping Point

No Stopping Point

Every reader out there knows what I mean–you stay up late to finish the book because “there just wasn’t any good stopping point!”  Right?

Yeah, that was me last night.  And the funny thing was that it was completely unexpected.  I was liking the book ok, but it was falling victim to the dreaded “I’ve only had time to read in 15-minute increments” disease.  (Don’t you hate that?)  The pacing felt screwed up, but it was really my reading and not the book itself.  Then, last night, I picked it up to read, and I was really going to stop…but then I didn’t.  And I ended up really enjoying the book (yay!).  It’s called Winnie’s War, and it’s a relatively short piece of intermediate fiction about the Spanish Influenza pandemic as experienced in small-town Texas.  I was pre-disposed to enjoy it–I love historical fiction, and this part of history fascinates me–but the characters would have drawn me in anyway.  Surely it’s not a spoiler to say that people die–it’s about the Spanish flu–but it’s not so sad that it leaves you broken.  I wouldn’t say the writing was perfect, but it was a debut novel; I was impressed.

(By the way, if that particular time period interests you, I have to put in a plug for A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse (LOVE Karen Hesse!).  It’s thought-provoking and beautiful and poignant and–well, it’s Karen Hesse.  I love that woman!  Even Safekeeping, which is completely not my thing.  If you haven’t read anything by her, PLEASE go remedy that immediately.  From Just Juice to Witness, she never fails to grab me, move me, and leave me determined to find something else by her that I haven’t read yet.)

Winnie’s War


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Apr 22, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on The Best Deviled Eggs

The Best Deviled Eggs

Anybody else out there love deviled eggs?  Because I really, REALLY do.  My parents do, too, and we grew up having them every Easter (or, rather, AFTER every Easter).  My brother, apparently, never liked them–I discovered this a few years ago–but enough of us did that I got my fix on a regular basis.

And then I married my husband.  And I love my husband.  But the man hates, loathes, despises, and abominates eggs.  In pretty much all forms (other than baked into a cake).  And my oldest inherited this loathing–this unadulterated loathing–are you singing yet?  She did, though.  She doesn’t even like desserts like creme brulee.  And then my middle is picky all-around, and I haven’t tried them on my 21-month-old, and so–long story short–I don’t get to eat deviled eggs as often as I used to.

I still make them, though, because I LOVE THEM.  And luckily, my neighbors like them too.  It occurred to me at one point, however, that since I’d collected at LEAST 4 deviled egg recipes from my cooking magazine, I should possibly experiment to see if there were new deviled egg horizons that needed to be explored.  (After all, it would be a crime to miss out on something good.)  And so, one year post-Easter, I went to town.  I halved, quartered, eighthed, etc. to make the number of recipes fit the number of hard-boiled eggs I had, and I made at least four different varieties of deviled eggs.  My neighbors, obligingly, helped me eat them.  (Did I mention that my husband won’t even kiss me after I’ve eaten hard-boiled eggs?)  And their consensus was the same as mine:  the recipe I grew up with was unquestionably the best.  The others weren’t bad–although the one involving blue cheese was so strong that I still get teased about it–but this recipe was better.  And so here you are.  My gift to you.

Deviled Eggs (from a church cookbook)

6 hard-boiled eggs

1/4 C mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)

1 T sweet pickle relish (even if you don’t like sweet pickles, which I don’t; do NOT use dill relish, because it isn’t nearly as good.  I tried once               when I was out of sweet.)

1 t horseradish (not sauce, or mustard, just prepared grated horseradish.  Don’t leave it out–you need it for the flavor.  They sell little bitty               bottles of it in the same aisle as the mustards, and it lasts forever in your fridge.)

1 t mustard (yellow is fine, spicy brown or horseradish mustard is better; I wouldn’t use Dijon)

1/4 t salt

Paprika, preferably smoked (for sprinkling on top)

Peel the eggs (carefully!) and cut them in half (ditto!).  Pop the yolks into a bowl and set the halved whites on a plate, platter, whatever.  Take a fork and smoosh your yolks, add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and mix well.  Dollop the mixture into your halved whites and put a pinch of paprika on top.  Voila!  They’re probably a bit better after chilling for a while, but they’re plenty good immediately.  After all, the one or two whites that tear just have to be taken care of, right?  They’ll never hold up if you try to serve them that way…

And there you have it.  They are flavorful and tangy and lovely, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

 

 

Apr 19, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Homesick

Homesick

I was an insatiable bookworm growing up (like that’s a surprise!).  I’m actually quite glad to see that my oldest, while she loves to read, has much more balanced interests than I did.  I wish I’d diversified a bit, but I know quite well that when my parents did drag me out to, say, play softball in our neighbors’ meadow with the rest of the family, I was kicking and screaming all the way.  All I ever wanted to do was read.

Which is why I’m always so surprised to find classic children’s books that I missed, somehow.  And a single book is one thing, but how did whole series of book escape my notice?  I recently discovered a couple of these courtesy of online ‘lists of classic children’s books,’ and while the All-of-a-Kind Family books were enjoyable (especially the first three), I’m enjoying Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet even more.

I’m familiar with Elizabeth Enright, at least.  She’s got a Newbery Medal winner and a Newbery Honor book, both of which I’ve read and enjoyed. I’d never heard of the Melendy Quartet, however, which begins with The Saturdays (which I read in January) and continues with The Four-Story Mistake, which I just finished.

(By the way, don’t assume that the gap between when I read the first and when I read the second is a reflection on the series.  I’ve had a bunch of books due and not renewable lately, and then of course, there were the new Newberys to read.)

The first book in the series was absolutely fun–it introduces the four Melendy children, as well as their housekeeper/nanny figure and their widowed father.  They live in the city (as in, New York City) and have adventures, one after another.  The second book sees them moving to a house in the country; times are harder, WWII is raging, and life as they know it is changing.  It’s a big old house they move into, however, with a goodly amount of land around it, and they enjoy the setting to the fullest.  And this, of course, is where being homesick comes in.

The descriptions of playing in the woods and exploring the outdoors, of losing power during storms and being surrounded by trees and wildlife–this was my childhood.  I grew up in a small town in RI, with three acres of land.  We cut down trees in order to build our house.  My parents recently sold that house and moved to Idaho, and while I am grateful every day that they now live close enough to have real relationships with my children, I still miss my childhood home (and hometown) with an almost physical sort of ache.  There’s more to it than that, though.  Reading about the Melendy children’s childhood brought home the contrast between mine and my children’s.  And there’s nothing wrong with the experiences my children are having–I love, love, LOVE that they get to spend quality time playing with and enjoying their cousins and having sleepovers at both grandmas’ houses.  It just makes me sad that they can’t experience all of what they DO experience as WELL as what I experienced as a child.  I remember–when I was teaching at Sylvan–trying to describe a fern to a teenager, and being blown away that something I took for granted growing up was not at all a part of that child’s life.  Living in the woods is not part of my children’s lives either, and while I believe I’m living the life I’m meant to live, and I wouldn’t trade it in, there will always be some sadness that I cannot share my (very different) childhood with my children.

Just so you know, though, I really am enjoying the series.  You should try it!

(FYI:  the second book contains a brief reference about “wishing she believed in Santa Claus again.”  My oldest is 7, so I was glad I read it before she did, just so I could think about how to respond to possible questions!)

The Four-Story Mistake (Melendy Quartet)


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Apr 16, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Birthday Brownies

Birthday Brownies

Years ago I started bringing cupcakes into my hubby’s work on his birthday.  I think he might have requested it initially–as in, “hey, some people do this, could we maybe?” in a very low-pressure kind of way–but I like to bake for people, and I was kind of excited at the chance to try some different recipes.  The only problem is–I hate making cupcakes.  HATE it.  My OCD makes trying to fill the cups equally kind of excruciating, frosting them is a royal pain, you waste some of the cake on the wrappers but have to use them to make them maneuverable, and oh, did I mention that they’re kind of evil to transport when you’re hauling kids with you as well?

Anyway.  I don’t know why it took me so long, but about three years ago it finally occurred to me to ask my hubby–does it have to be cupcakes? At the ‘what are you talking about’ look I clarified–could I bring in brownies or something instead?  He sure didn’t care, and it makes my life a heck of a lot easier, so now I bring birthday brownies into his work.  Sometimes I actually make it ON his birthday–that used to be the norm, in fact–but now that we have more kids doing more things, it tends to be a ‘pick a day around his birthday that works the best’ kind of thing.  And today, of course, was the day.  Last night (with a bit of help from him, I confess) I tried this recipe for Oreo Truffle Brownies, and after dropping my preschooler off at, you know, preschool, the boy and I went on to Daddy’s work with the whole panful.  (By the way, last night was sheer torture.  The bottom brownie layer smelled amazing coming out of the oven, all buttery chocolate-y goodness, and I couldn’t get away with stealing ANY, since I had to wait until it cooled and then spread the oreo truffle layer on top.  Although to be fair, my hubby did the spreading.)

From what he said and from what I observed, they were a success.  Really, they’d almost have to be–they tasted remarkably like a sort of oreo brownie fudge.  (One co-worker assumed that they had coffee in them, and all I can figure is that he’s really used to milk chocolate and the semi-sweet feel was confusing for him.)  You really want to cut them small–they’re just too rich for large pieces–but oh, they’re tasty.  And not that bad to make, really (especially if your significant other does the spreading!).  Doing it during the day would solve the “OH MY GOSH, it’s 8:30 and the house smells like homemade (from scratch!) brownies and I WANT SOME” problem, and the recipe’s pretty straightforward.  (As in, other than trying to wait patiently for the first layer to cool, my biggest problem was dealing with my teething son at Daddy’s work.  He was NOT his usual cheerful, genial self today.  (Bonus points if you get the movie reference.))

So there you have it.  Make some tonight!  Or rather, tomorrow.  You’ll be up all night waiting for the brownie layer to cool if you start now!

Apr 14, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on If Only I’d Been in the Mood for Peanut Butter

If Only I’d Been in the Mood for Peanut Butter

That is, indeed, the sad story of these treats.  They sounded good to me when I found the recipe; the batter tasted good while I was making them; they were pretty fantastic when they came out of the oven.  And it really wasn’t their fault that I woke up the next morning and–bam!–was no longer in the mood for peanut butter.

It was a crying shame, really.  These Chocolate Peanut Butter Revel Bars were delightful warm–with a nice cold glass of milk, no less–and they should have tasted wonderful to me the next day.  The problem was that I made treats two nights in a row, and when I woke up Saturday morning, I was definitively in the mood for Thursday’s treats, and Thursday’s treats and Friday’s treats were quite different, flavor-wise!  On the other hand, those attending the baptism for which I made Friday’s treats (including my girlies) had NO such issue.  Neither did my husband.  So on the whole, this recipe still gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from us all!

[By the way, I reviewed this post for typos and realized just how often I use the word “really.”  I cut out two instances of it, but at least two remain.  (I realize this is not at all relevant, but my 11th grade history teacher, Mr. Bennett, liked the word “really” as well.  When I hear it in my head I hear him saying it, and his accent was inherited from both his Kentucky Baptist preacher father and his Rhode Island mother.  I’ve never heard anything quite like it.)  I’m going to go ahead and NOT review past posts for the same problem–there are some things you just don’t want to know–and I’m hoping for kindness from my occasional readers.  I write my posts a little late in the day for my mommy brain to be in top form.]

Oh, and by the way again?  I’m linking to one of the picture books I mentioned yesterday, because it’s lovely and meaningful and I can’t read it aloud without crying.  Just so you know.

All the Places to Love


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Apr 13, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on I Know What You Were Reading When You Wrote That Book…

I Know What You Were Reading When You Wrote That Book…

Last night I finished a really short bit of intermediate fiction called Gifts From the Sea.  And I enjoyed it, although the pacing seemed a little odd to me.  (112 pages with illustrations, but it covered more than two years.)  I can’t help thinking, though, that the author had just read Patricia MacLachlan’s Baby and Sarah, Plain and Tall, as well as one of those picture books about Abbie Burgess (the one who took care of the lighthouse when her father was away).  The book felt exactly like a combination of the three.  The narrator felt real and sympathetic, though, and the description of mainland Maine at the end made me tear up, and so I both enjoyed it and put another book by the same author on hold at the library.  (I do have library addiction issues, but her books ALL seem to be short, so it shouldn’t be too big of a deal.)

While we’re on the subject–of Patricia MacLachlan AND short books I enjoy–if you haven’t read anything by her, you really need to start now.  Sarah, Plain and Tall is probably her most well-known book, but she’s got a ton of others, and all of the ones I’ve read have been excellent.   One of my favorites is actually a picture book that I bought for my children years ago (or, rather, for me to read to my children).  It’s called All the Places to Love, and it’s because of my fabulous friend Sheri that I’m familiar with it at all.  Once upon a time she and I worked in the back room at Borders together, and we would occasionally sit on the boxes of a half-broken-down pallet of books and have storytime.  I didn’t have kids yet, so my areas of expertise didn’t really extend to picture books (except for the ones I remember liking as a child).  She didn’t have kids either, actually, but she knew much more about children’s books than I did, and she introduced me to some great ones.  I have very fond memories of her voice reading Kevin Henkes’ Julius, the Baby of the World; she read aloud in a quietly expressive kind of way that emphasized the humor and loveliness of the books themselves.  I don’t see her terribly often anymore, but she is one of those friends you are blessed to have as part of your life.  We had good times in the back room, back when Borders was alive and (more or less) well and fun to work at.

And now I’m feeling melancholy.  I worked there for ten years, and I had a lot of fun doing it; I also met some fabulous people and learned a number of interesting things.  The company made some really poor business decisions and pretty much doomed itself, but we still lost a good thing when it died.

To days gone by, friends.  To days gone by.

Gifts from the Sea


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Apr 12, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Last Night For Dinner…

Last Night For Dinner…

(And I do mean last night, not tonight.  Because tonight was pizza and ‘Frozen’ in the living room.)

I was going to come up with some sort of pasta salad last night, I really was.  But time ticked on, and I suddenly realized that my window for making one and having it anywhere resembling “chilled” by dinnertime was, you know, closed.  And I’m not gonna lie…I thought about calling my hubby and suggesting we get pizza.  I don’t like to be rushed when I cook, you see, and I also don’t like to change my plans at the last minute.  (I really, really don’t like that.)  But the fact of the matter was that if we’d ordered pizza last night, it wouldn’t have been an option for tonight, and anyway, I had an idea that would work and almost all of the ingredients required, so pizza would have been a thoroughly lazy cop-out.  And so we tried this 5-Ingredient Bacon Asparagus Pasta, which would have been even simpler if I hadn’t had to choose a substitute for white wine.  (I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or a Mormon; wine isn’t something we ever have.)  I googled substitutes, and I looked at the various reasons behind the substitutes, and then I made up my own ratio of two parts chicken broth to one part good white wine vinegar from Costco.  (I want the tang and the bit of sweetness, so plain chicken broth is never going to do it for me in cases like these.  I LOVE acidity.)

Anyway, once I got that ingredient taken care of, I cleaned my asparagus and went to town.    My biggest problem with the recipe was in this paragraph:

Meanwhile, add your diced bacon to a saute pan. Cook it up in a pan until it’s nice and crispy. Then remove it with a slotted spoon, and                   leave the leftover (about 1 Tbsp.) grease in the pan.

I don’t know what kind of bacon SHE was using, but the ‘leftover’ grease in my  pan was at leat 2/3 of a cup worth.  I drained it down to a tablespoon or so and moved on.  I was lazy about removing the asparagus from the pan before I deglazed, but I regret that–it lost its lovely bright green color and got a smidgen too done.  And then I used cheap Parmesan for the mix-in and good Parmesan for the topper layer.

And the verdict?

Hmmm.  I enjoyed it, but I actually think a bit less vinegar would have been preferable.  My husband was surprisingly okay with it–it’s not really his thing–and the kids, predictably, complained about the asparagus.  (It’s not that they don’t like asparagus at all; it’s that they’re weirdly choosy about how they like it to be prepared.)  Overall, I would lessen the amount of vinegar I used and make this again; its short ingredient list and quick cook time was very attractive, and the kids did like it.  (Not being lazy about the asparagus would probably help in that department.)  I would also use good Parmesan in both places.  (Oh, and I used fusilli springs and liked that; I’m sure linguini would be good, but it’s just too hard to feed to a 21-month-old.)

So there you have it.  If you happen to have asparagus in your fridge and you’re looking for a quick meal with a minimal ingredient list, try this one out for size!

 

Apr 11, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Of Sarah Addison Allen

Of Sarah Addison Allen

Have you read anything by her?  I might have missed her entirely if it hadn’t been for a chance recommendation from a friend (not even a terribly close friend)!  A girl in my more-formal book club introduced me to Garden Spells about the same time as The Sugar Queen was coming out, and I really, really enjoyed both of them.  Their touches of quirky magic add delightfully to the stories without overwhelming the plots, and I thoroughly related to characters in both of them.  (I enjoyed them SO much that I bought Garden Spells for my sister when she was in the middle of a move and stressed out, hooking her as well.)

When The Girl Who Chased the Moon came out, I picked it for my less-formal book club before I’d even read it.  (I hooked more than one friend in that book club as well.)  I related less to the characters in that one, but it wasn’t any less of a book because of that.  (Kind of like Lily’s Crossing, by Patricia Reilly Giff–an author I adore, by the way–which was a Newbery Honor book,  but whose main character wasn’t as sympathetic to me personally as, well, ANY of her others.)  The Peach Keeper was a treat–reminding me, very vaguely, of The Help in spots–and I’m pleased to announce that I very much enjoyed the new one, Lost Lake, as well.  (By new, you understand, I mean ‘it came out in January and I just now read the library copy I received 2 1/2 weeks ago.’)  It felt a little different than SAA’s other books, but that’s probably only natural…its publication was delayed while she was treated for breast cancer.  I imagine that would change your outlook on life, right?

I have to say, I rather enjoyed the ‘ensemble cast’ feel.  The stars of the book weren’t really so obviously stars, and so many of the supporting characters seemed more like main characters than not.  (I don’t know why, but I kept thinking of Beth Hoffman’s Looking for Me while I was reading it.  Something stylistic, perhaps?)  The magical elements in this one were more subtle, and while that worked, I did slightly miss the magical family traits of her earlier novels.  It still hooked me right away, though–and kept me reading–and left me satisfied at the end.  What else could you want from a book?

Lost Lake: A Novel


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Apr 10, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Buttery Goodness

Buttery Goodness

I was looking through one of my dessert boards on Pinterest today (item:  I have 10 dessert boards–don’t judge me), trying to come up with a few bar recipes for the weekend (for three different purposes, mind you), and I found this one for Snickerdoodle Blondies.  It was a nice, basic recipe–I was looking for easy today–and I had all of the ingredients for it, and I love snickerdoodles, so why not, right?

Why not, indeed.  Oh, the buttery goodness with cinnamon sugar on top!  Two sticks of butter in a 9 by 13 pan of bars does give them a lovely flavor, and the only thing I might do differently next time is to up the amount of cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top.  Other than that, well–shoot. They’re possibly EASIER than my family’s recipe for butterscotch brownies, which came from the Betty Crocker cookbook that my mother got for her wedding (in 1965).  It’s been a family standby for years, because they mix up quickly, taste fabulous, and use only ingredients that you’ve always got around the house.  These share all of those qualities.  What’s not to love?