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.

Jul 9, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Inspirational Moments

Inspirational Moments

I sure didn’t cook tonight, because we lost power at 5-ish and just got it back half an hour ago, but as my hubby was blessing the food tonight (food that was graciously prepared by, well, McDonald’s), he was vocally grateful that we usually have power, and it occurred to me–oughtn’t that to be how we look at it?  I do pretty well at being grateful for running water during power outages–I grew up with a well with an electric well pump, and being able to flush toilets without electricity is a beautiful, beautiful thing–but I get cranky in the heat.  I’m grateful for a hubby seeing how wonderful our reality really is.

And speaking of being grateful, my cousin’s daughter just had open-heart surgery and ended up with a pacemaker, and that’s made me grateful for several reasons.

1)Modern medicine.  What a miracle that she is doing as well as she is!

2)My own children’s health.  How can I not be grateful for that?

3)The chance for my children to practice compassion.  This mom just about bawled to hear her four-year-old’s little voice praying ‘please bless Grace with her open heart surgery’ and her seven-year-old’s more specific petition of ‘please bless Grace that the electrical part of her heart will get better.’

4)An awesome family.  The prayers and good wishes poured in, and if you want to get technical, Grace’s mother is my step-first-cousin-once-removed.  Who cares?  Family is family, and I’m incredibly grateful for the love and support they offer.

I’m also, I confess, really, really grateful that the power is back on.  And the air conditioning.

 

Jul 7, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Yippee for Electricity!

Yippee for Electricity!

I say this because last night our power went out just before 8 and stayed out until around 4:30 this morning.  Given that yesterday was in the high 90s in Utah, and my hubby’s sleep machine needs electricity, well…let’s just say it was a restless night.  And then the boy was up before 6, which elicited a “let’s get you back to bed” response from Mommy.  (At least it worked.  For an hour.)

Anyway.  I was DRAGGING today, and so was my poor hubby; tonight will be an early to bed night, if we can manage it!  Really, we were dragging beforehand–still catching up from the family reunion–which is why this recipe for Dad’s Baked Beans was so perfect last night.  We already had leftover grilled hot dogs from the boy’s birthday lunch with my sister’s family.  The rest of the ingredients are ones I keep on hand, and the result is hearty and tasty (and EASY).  Not as good as authentic New England baked beans, made from dry beans and with bacon and other loveliness, but one doesn’t always have time to spend three-plus hours on dinner.  (Not to mention inclination.  Even with central air, the upper 90s makes long cook times undesirable.)

So there you have it.  If you grilled too many hot dogs at your last barbecue, here’s an easy way to use them up.  Come fall I’ll post the one with the longer bake time…

Jul 5, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on I’m Back–With a Twofer!

I’m Back–With a Twofer!

Whew!  Today we got back from my hubby’s family’s family reunion–his parents and their children and grandchildren–and we are TIRED.  My oldest melted down before her (EARLY) bedtime, my middle was contrary and grumpy and disobedient, and the boy–who turned two while we were there, by the way–was hyper and into EVERYTHING.  The kiddos are now slumbering peacefully, and my hubby and I are enjoying the quiet…and looking forward to NOT sharing a room with a two-year-old tonight!

I didn’t try any new recipes at Fish Lake, of course; for our assigned meal, we stuck a really, really large pork roast into two crockpots (initially and unsuccessfully) and then three crockpots, poured in some BBQ sauce, and called it pulled pork.  (I realize any Southern BBQ experts are shuddering, but we were feeding 38 people (only one family didn’t make it) and we were EXHAUSTED (the 2-year-old did not sleep well).  With thin slices of medium cheddar that pork made very decent sandwiches, although once again I was reminded that the family in which I grew up and the family into which I married eat very differently.  (My siblings and I once swept a pudding eating contest, each of us being in a different age group.  My hubby’s family, well…let’s just say that we will be eating the rest of the pulled pork until the END OF TIME.)

Hmm.  Maybe I should go easier with the caps lock from here on out?

Anyway, I did manage to finish two books there, although only because I had 15 pages left in the first one when we got there and the second was incredibly short.  The first was A Wizard of Earthsea, which I remember hearing about as a teenager; at the time it was part of a trilogy (to which the author has now added), and the middle book is a Newbery Honor book.  My hubby bought me the trilogy years ago, and I decided that now was the time and committed myself to the first one.

It did take me longer to get into than I wanted it to, but that’s because I just don’t read much high fantasy anymore.  Historical fiction and/or coming of age novels are my passions, and I find it harder and harder to let myself sink into an imaginary world.  That said, it’s a tribute to Ursula Le Guin that I finally did manage to lose myself in it, and overall all it was a good book.  Le Guin’s writing style was certainly strongly influenced by Tolkien, but her plot was not at all a lesser copy of The Lord of the Rings, for which we can all be grateful.  (I LOVE Tolkien–there go the caps again!–but I don’t want to read someone else’s watered-down attempt at a similar story.  I made it 50 pages into one of the Shannara books before throwing it down in disgust.)  There is a lot of sailing in A Wizard of Earthsea, which surprised me more than it should have (I didn’t pick up on the EarthSEA?).  Ultimately, however, you could also call it a coming of age novel, which probably (partly) explains why I enjoyed it at the last.  We’ll see how I like the next one in the series.

The incredibly short book I finished was called The Year of Goodbyes, by Debbie Levy, and it’s a kind of cross between a verse novel and a documentary novel (if you don’t know what I mean by that, take a look at Deborah Wiles’ Countdown, which is a fabulous book).  The author’s (Jewish) mother escaped Hamburg the year before WWII started, and the book combines her friends’ entries in her poesiealbum (a kind of autograph book) and her journal entries with her daughter’s blank verse descriptions of what she was feeling at the time.  It sounds like the two worked together fairly closely, and the result is a poignant little book that tells a slightly different sort of Holocaust survival story.  If the topic interests you, it’s worth your time.

And that is that.  I am SO DREADFULLY TIRED–I refuse to feel guilty about those caps–and I am desperately looking forward to bed.  I hope you all had a fabulous Fourth of July!

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