Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Nook - Best of 2012

One of the reasons I love doing Book Nook is that I really enjoy thinking about the books I read after I finish the last page.  It gives me a sense of closure with the story, and also gives me another chance to hang out with the author & characters.  With a good story, that can be a nice thing, indeed!

So, I thought it would be fun to look through all my Book Nook posts in 2012 and share with you my favorites:

Best book: fictionLord of the Flies (link to post here)

Honestly, I've not read as much fiction this year as I normally do.  As I go through all my post lists, I realize it's only a handful.  I must work on changing that in 2013!

Anyway, I really enjoyed this classic.  There is so much tension in the story, and even though I could predict some events that would occur, I still enjoyed the ride.  This is a great book to mull over after you've read it, and one that I would definitely recommend!

Best book: fiction - kid's choiceHow to Train Your Dragon (link to post here)

The Bachsters loved these books.  They are full of action and adventure, and fun characters such as heroic Hiccup, unstoppable Camacazi and apprehensive Fishlegs.  Night after night, we read this series and when it was over, we were all left wanting more.  I think it might be time to just re-read them all!

Best book: non-fiction:

I read a lot of non-fiction this year, and some of it has had a great impact on me.  So, rather than try to pick just one, here are a handful of my favorites, and the reasons that they made such a difference for me in 2012:

Nourishing Traditions  (link to post here)

This book really opened my eyes about nutrition and is the reason I started eating meat again.  Traditional foods prepared in traditional ways are best for our health, and I need to keep reminding myself of that when I visit the grocery store & am tempted by all the prepared, industrial foods.

The Omnivore's Dilemma (link to post here)

It took me a while to get into this giant book, but once I did, I was so hooked!  The author looks at four different meals and their impacts on our bodies, our society and our environment.  A must-read for anyone who cares about the impact that their food choices make.

The Perfect Scoop  (link to post here)

If you have looked around my blog, you've seen that I talk about this book every Sunday!  And if you look around my freezer, you would also see that this book has had a big impact on our lives (a sweet impact)!

Why We Get Fat  (link to post here)

Remember all that talk about ice cream?  Well, forget it, because it's all carbs.  Sugar, breads and starches all make us fat.  Avoid them and your health will be soooo much better.  They are hard to cut out of my diet, but I keep trying!

Steal Like an Artist  (link to post here)

This is one of the few non-food-related books on my favorites list (I read a lot of foodie books this year).  So, this book didn't nourish my health, but it did nourish my creative spirit.  It's a little book with a lot of energy, and you can't help but want to rush out and make something after reading it.

The Family Dinner  (link to post here)

Just today, the Bachsters and I were talking about keeping our kitchen table nice & clean at all times so that sitting together & eating as a family will be easier.  I am definitely going to work on having regular family meals (thanks to the inspiration from this book) - it's a 2013 resolution!

What's your favorite book (or books) from 2012?  Please share!


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {best of 2012}

Last year during the holidays, I tried to make some homemade ice cream for gifts for family, but the attempt failed miserably (here's the post).

But since then, a few important things happened: we plugged in our big freezer in the basement, the one that had just been sitting around taking up space.  Part of the problem was that our little freezer in our kitchen just couldn't handle it.  The second important even was my discovery of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  This book has the best ice cream recipes I had ever tried, and once I started making some of the recipes, I was hooked. 

What a year 2012 has been for ice cream!  Here are a few of my favorites:

Most surprising: strawberry

(Here's the link to the post).  This ice cream continues to surprise me.  Not only did I have no idea how much I would love it, but also when I made it for my MIL's 80th birthday party in the Fall, I was surprised to see almost everyone at the party choose strawberry over vanilla.  Who knew?  If you make it (and you should), I recommend pureeing the strawberry chunks before they go in.  It makes the ice cream a lot smoother.  This ice cream is perfection!

Biggest crowd-pleaser: cookies & cream and coffee (tie)

(Here's the link to the cookies & cream post).  If I were planning a party & trying to decide what ice cream to make, this would be it.  I can't imagine anyone passing on homemade cookies & cream ice cream!

I can't link to the coffee ice cream, because apparently, I haven't featured it yet!  But it's coming!  The Bachs love coffee ice cream and if I were to ask my Bachsters what kind of homemade ice cream they would like me to make for them, I'm fairly certain each one would say coffee (even the 5-year-old)!  The recipe is from The Perfect Scoop and I promise I'll sing its praises in an upcoming post.

Most assembly required: phish food

(Here's the link to the phish food post).  This ice cream will take you forever to make (chocolate ice cream, marshmallow sauce, caramel and ribbons of chocolate).  But it will only take you seconds to eat it.  It's sooooo yummy!

Most photogenic: malted vanilla with peanut brittle and milk chocolate pieces

(Here's the link to the malted vanilla).  This is such a great ice cream, and we had so much fun doing our photoshoot for it in the backyard.  I'll forever associate this ice cream with warm summer days.

Best of 2012: caramel

(Here is the link to the caramel ice cream post).  I debated making this one a tie: caramel ice cream with caramel.  I love caramel sauce & sometimes if I have a bunch of heavy cream in the fridge, I'll make a batch just for the purpose of eating & enjoying it by itself.  The recipe I always use is the caramel sauce in The Perfect Scoop.  But, in all fairness, this is all about ice cream, so if you love caramel sauce, you must try caramel ice cream.  It's got all the flavor, all the richness, just in a slightly different form.  Have I thought about topping my caramel ice cream with caramel sauce?  Oh, that's very tempting, but one thing these treats have in common is that, in my opinion, they are best enjoyed on their own, so that nothing can compete with it.

What's your favorite ice cream?  Please share!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best thing

Earlier this year, I read an awesome book about creativity called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.  In part of the book, the author recommends keeping a daily journal because, to paraphrase, to know where you're going, you have to know where you've been.  In the same vein, he also writes about keeping track of the best thing that happened to you that day, a positive way of looking back on the events of your day.  Both ideas really resonated with me, so since August, I've been doing a daily journal (complete with little cutesy illustrations, just like Austin Kleon's) and a "best thing" section at the bottom of each page.  As I look back on my wonderful 2012, I thought it would be fun to share some of my best things.

As varied as every day can be, so are my best things.  Sometimes, it's a very easy & obvious choice what I should jot down.  Other days, I sit and ponder and try to come up with something.  There are biggie best things and then there are tiny best things.  Only one day so far did I not write down a best thing, and I suspect that I just forgot.  There's always something that's the best thing.  So, here are a few of my favorites:

8/26:  DD's fancy, sparkly fishing dress
9/1: saw a big ball of yarn in someone's dashboard at Giant Eagle - made me smile!
9/20: that I'm not in jail
9/21: 1st place in the OEC contest!
9/23: I got a really great picture of the Bachsters at the park

10/7: eating a bowl of "phish food" ice cream & reading "Cultivating Your Creative Life" - feeling content & inspired
10/10: we love the "roller coaster" road to the farm
10/16: Mommy & Little Dude snuggled in big comfy chair together
10/25: Today was better
11/1: I feel I learn something with every photoshoot
11/4: I woke up this morning composing a poem in my head
11/22: feeling thankful today for family and health and love
12/10: so many good things are falling into place all at the same time!
12/11: drank a glass of wine & ate bonbons while looking at Knitty Winter edition - it's up & DD & my pattern are on the cover!  Yay!!!
12/26: being able to stay home when it's snowy, if I choose

Looking back on your day and your 2012, what's your "best thing"?


Thursday, December 27, 2012

A year of COSI

Last year, my parents got us a wonderful Christmas gift: money to be used towards a COSI membership.  We've gone several times this year and have enjoyed exhibits like Water, Adventure, Body Worlds, Lego Castle and Big Machines.  We've also taken a couple of fun classes - one on weather & the other on animals (in which we came home with 3 live hissing cockroaches!).  It's been such a blast, I wanted to share some pictures of all our COSI fun:

Little Kid Space is awesome - earlier this Spring, Little Dude and I went to just hang out together:

The Water exhibit, earlier this Summer, was so neat.  We had to hurry through & now I'm kicking myself for not taking our time.  Maybe one day it'll be back!

Outside the water exhibit were gorgeous photographs of the Big Darby Creek, by Mark Romesser (this is my picture of his picture.....I wish I had taken this shot!).  The funny thing is, after admiring his photographs at COSI, I met him at my camera club a month or so later, and then ran into him a few weeks after that!  He is seriously talented and dedicated!

Here are a few from permanent areas: an optical illusion and an area on space robotics:

They have a "wild winds" booth that simulates strong storm winds - if I remember correctly, it gets up in the 70-mph-range:

The following shots were from our fun class on weather.  We made "tornadoes" & barometers and then ate liquid nitrogen ice cream (which was very tasty).  The girls and I loved the class & we want to attend more!

The Bachsters are serious Lego fans, so we absolutely had to go check out the Lego Castle exhibit.  It was a small exhibit, but lots of fun:

I'm not sure what exhibits COSI is planning for 2013, but we'll be there for certain.  We're so lucky to have such an awesome, fun & educational place right in our city!


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

26 Acts of Kindness

Have you heard about the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign going on in response to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut?  Here is a link about one person's generous giving.  Stories like these fill me with hope, and encourage me to be a part of a greater good.  I've started to do my own 26 Acts of Kindness, albeit slowly (we gave a bunch of extra Christmas gifts out this year to individuals we normally wouldn't buy for).  But that's only a start: my hope is to do 26 acts, and then keep going and going.  And it doesn't even need to be monetary - there are small chores or kind things we can do for one another that don't cost a dime.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, one filled with hope and kindness!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Nook - Pinhole Cameras / American Grown

This time of year always gets me reflecting on the year past and looking ahead to the upcoming new year, all while trying to be present in all the Christmas activities happening.  I can't help but think Charles Dickens had the same sentiments!

So, as I look ahead to next year, there are a couple of books I happen to have sitting by my big comfy chair which touch on subjects I'm hoping to put some time and energy into.  The first one is Pinhole Cameras: a do-it-yourself guide by Chris Keeney:


DIY sums up the book - it's all about how to make various pinhole cameras, the materials you will need, how to build your cameras, how to make your own darkroom.  Its focus in on the how-to-do, much more than the final product.  But there is a chapter that showcases some really neat pictures the author did using his pinhole cameras, and some of the shots are simply amazing.  So, I'm hooked, and I'm definitely going to shake up my photography world in 2013 by making a pinhole camera (maybe even more)!  I promise to share my pics!

The next book hits on my 2013 gardening endeavor: American Grown: the story of the White house kitchen garden and gardens across America by Michelle Obama:

Yes, I want to plant a garden in our backyard next year!  Even if it's something small, that's ok.  I buy lots of vegetables at the grocery store....why not plant them in the garden instead?  It will save time and money, and be healthier for our family and the environment.  It's a win-win!

This book is packed with soooo much great stuff: the staff behind the White House gardens and kitchen; programs at schools throughout the nation that focus on healthy eating; stories of other community gardens; tips on gardening and learnings from the White House gardens; garden plans and recipes by season; some history behind Victory Gardens and famous White House gardeners, such as Lady Bird Johnson.....the list goes on and on.  There's a lot of inspiration and can-do attitude here.  I can't wait to start our garden in the Spring!

What are some projects you're looking forward to doing in 2013?  Please share!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {peppermint bark}

Peppermint bark is one of my favorite holiday treats & the Bachsters and I recently made a batch of it to take to holiday parties and munch on at home.  And as I was eating what must have been my 100th piece of pepperminty goodness, I started to think about how yummy peppermint bark would be as an ice cream.  With that idea in mind, I set to work!

My peppermint bark recipe is from Orangette (here's the link).  If you love candy canes &/or peppermint, it's the best thing ever.  Which I do, and it is.  Anyway, why not take the same components - white chocolate, dark chocolate and peppermint - and turn it into ice cream?  Doesn't that sound fabulous?  Yes, I thought so!

I started with the white chocolate recipe from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, which is wonderful on its own, but I added 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract....just enough to taste, but not overpower the ice cream.  When the ice cream was finished churning, I added thin layers of bittersweet stracciatella (which makes thin ribbons of hardened chocolate throughout) and the crushed bits of 4 candy canes.

The crushed candy canes disappeared into the ice cream after a while.  So, I would recommend a fresh sprinkling of crushed candy canes over your scoops, right before serving.  And there you have it - peppermint bark transformed into ice cream.  It's Christmas magic!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Nook - Holiday Entertaining

Holiday Entertaining: inspired recipes & ideas for celebrating the season:


I saw this Williams-Sonoma book on the shelf at the library a few weeks ago & I couldn't resist taking a quick look.  And as soon as I saw it was full of gorgeous photos and delicious sounding recipes, into my library bag it went!

Now, I must admit, I have not yet tried any of the recipes.  But, the book is wonderfully laid out, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, there are recipes, ideas for decorating your table, gift suggestions from the kitchen and lists of necessities for your holiday table, like glassware and serving utensils. 

And even though this is a Williams-Sonoma book, it is not at all an advertisement for Williams-Sonoma.  Never once does the team behind the book even hint that the reader should check out the store.  The overall feeling from the store is present, though - a feeling of making wonderful food for our loved ones.  Somewhat surprisingly, for a Williams-Sonoma book, the focus here is on the recipes (and not the cookware or serving dishes).  In most of the pictures, the food is the star and the plate or napkin or serving platter play a supporting role (and are actually nondescript most of the time).  I just love that the cookbook makers didn't take advantage of their name and try to sell us stuff from the store.  Instead, it's just all about the food (and the ambiance).

I'm definitely going to try the butternut squash soup.  Also, the caramelized onion & sour cream dip sounds delicious.  I really want to eat healthier, so I'm putting the spinach salad with orange and roasted beets on my to-make list.  Along those same lines, the frittata with spinach, roasted red peppers and gruyere sounds soooo good.  I'm always on the lookout for good savory breakfast recipes.  And for times when I can't control my sweet tooth (er, all the time, really) there are loads of great recipes - but I really must try the pistachio brittle.  I've never made a brittle with pistachios....I bet that's great!

I love that they put in a diagram of a formal place setting at the end.....I always seem to forget what goes where!  I'll need to know those details as we dig into the holiday feast - perhaps with some of these wonderful recipes on the table.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {mascarpone}

Have you ever seen that movie called Two Weeks Notice with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock? (If you haven't, you should - it's really cute.)  Anyway, there's a scene in the movie in which Sandra Bullock's character gives Hugh Grant's character a slice of cheesecake, & after taking a bite, he promptly declares, "there's something amok with this cheesecake!"  And then she tells him it's tofu cheesecake.

Well, there's something amok with this vanilla ice's not really vanilla, it's mascarpone!  But it seems like it should be vanilla, by the way it looks, and the general flavor.  But there is a definite cheesy aftertaste, and if you didn't know ahead of time, you'd declare something amok indeed!

I liked this recipe, from my absolute favorite The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  However, if I make it again, I would use a better quality mascarpone.  The one I purchased was just your ho-hum average mascarpone.  I will venture into the fancy cheese area of the grocery store next time, because that is a very important ingredient here, so I won't skimp again! 

On a side note, the recipe for mascarpone ice cream is tucked away in a note on the creme fraiche recipe page.  This is another great thing about the book: there are recipes and variations tucked in all over the place, so there are actually way more recipes than it first seems (and there are a ton to begin with).


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Knitty, Winter 2012

I have the biggest news to share: I have a pattern in the Winter 2012 issue of Knitty, which just came out yesterday!  I'm so excited!!!  And what's more, my pattern (and DD) are featured on the cover!

Here is the link to Knitty - you can see more pictures, check out the pattern and also see many other gorgeous patterns - this is a great issue!  I'm already brainstorming ideas for Franklin Habit's Templeton Square challenge.  

I started the afghan last December, in an overambitious attempt to knit the Bachsters something each for Christmas.  Well, DD's Christmas gift ended up being a Springtime gift, but that's ok.  She really enjoys her afghan and snuggles under it every night, which makes this knitting mama very pleased indeed.

I used Plymouth Yarn De Aire, which is light and lofty.  I really hate heavy blankets, so I wanted this one to be light and airy - and it is.

I tried a few different borders, but none of them seemed right.  I liked the look of picot, but didn't like how much yarn a picot bind off used, and wasn't happy with the crochet picot I tried.  After setting down the afghan for a few days, I came up with a French knot picot, basically putting in one knot after another.  I love how it turned out!

When it came time to choose a name for the pattern, "Hibernate" seemed like a fitting one.  Snuggling under a soft, warm blanket seems like the perfect thing to do on a cold Winter day.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Nook - Mason-Dixon Knitting

Mason-Dixon Knitting  Outside the Lines: patterns, stories, pictures, true confessions, tricky bits, whole new worlds, and familiar ones, too by Kay Gardiner & Ann Shayne:


It's been a while since I wrote about a knitting book here, and since I have something big in the works (knitting-wise....check back for more on that), this is a great time for me to dust off one of my favorite knitting books!

My parents actually bought me this book for a present, I think it was for my birthday last year.  Neither of them knows a thing about knitting, so I was pretty impressed that they picked out such a cool book to give me.  First of all, it's a really fun book to read.  Some knitting books are all patterns, with a brief intro before.  But flipping through this book feels like making discoveries, and seeing what fun is in store around the corner.  You'll find titles such as "The Steek: Part of Nature's Plan" or, "A Perfectly Good Use of a Law Degree."  There are lots of patterns, from classic socks and sweaters to eclectic mop covers and knitted cuffs for your rubber gloves.   And, of course, stories.  Ann shared a story about entering a sweater in the county fair, and I also loved her story about her family stocking pattern (and the beautiful updated pattern she provides - I must make that.  6 of them, to be precise, which includes one for the dog).  And there are random bits of fun scattered throughout the book, like a look back at Ann & Kay's personal styles over the years, or "Fair Isle Cam."  I read the entire book from cover to cover because it was so enjoyable and fun.  It certainly lives up to its sub-title!

I thought as a proper thank you to my parents for giving me the book, I would make them something from it: the mitered hanging towel on page 141.  I made one of these for my parents, and one each for my Mom's two sisters.  And then I made one for us.  I just love this pattern!  Want to see some pics?  Here's the post!

I also really like the Metropole knitted coat; the Flapotis scarf is lovely (and I have some of the recommended yarn, Touch just can't stop petting it!).  And the stockings - maybe I'll get to those before next Christmas!


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {cookies & cream}

Late in the summer, I made cookies & cream ice cream, which turned out to be one of our top favorites!  The recipe I used is from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones.  If you like making ice cream at home, you must check this book out (and start with cookies & cream!).  I'm keeping this recipe in a safe place, because I know the need for a crowd-pleasing ice cream will come up again, maybe at the next birthday party or family get together.  Or movie night with DH - really, the opportunities are endless!

I followed the recipe exactly, using Newman's Own cookies and 2% milk instead of the usual whole milk.  Good thing I made a double batch: we devoured it!

The Bachsters had a lot of fun on this in-front-of-freezer photoshoot.  It's not every day that I hand them 3 spoons and have them eat as much as they want:

I also love that this ice cream is all natural (as all recipes from this book, and my other favorite The Perfect Scoop, are).  DD once got sick on a store-bought cookies & cream ice cream and I suspect it was because of all the preservatives, chemicals and yucky stuff that they put in some ice creams (or rather, ice chem).  She remembered that incident and refused to eat cookies & cream ice cream.  That is, until now!


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thanksgiving sweets ( a wee bit late)

Can you believe Thanksgiving was 2 weeks ago?  I can't.  And I'm sorry to say that I've been meaning to show you some of the yummy treats we had at our family get-together, and I'm just now getting around to it.  Well, my intentions were good at least!

First up is a Thanksgiving tradition with me: pumpkin cheesecake.  It's so, so yummy!  This year, I decided to go all crazy and make graham crackers from scratch, which I used for the crust.  It was a lot of work and a lot of dirty dishes, but so worth it.  The cheesecake recipe is from The New Best Recipe and the graham cracker recipe was from The Craft of Baking.

DH's niece made the cutest spice cake cupcakes that looked like fancy pumpkins.  She has a real talent with cupcakes - look at how picture-perfect these are:

My SIL and her husband made a from-scratch pecan pie.  I've made pecan pie only once in my life, and it was terrible.  I'm not sure if it was my doing (I vaguely remember something about over cooking it) or the recipe (it was pecan pie with chocolate, a rather unusual combination).  Regardless, theirs turned out much better than my first attempt did.  I must get their recipe and give pecan pie another chance!

After the Thanksgiving meal, we all lingered at the table, where the desserts were conveniently placed.  So, I know all these desserts very well because we all just talked and munched on them for hours after the main meal.

I'm thinking we should do this sort of thing all the time!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Nook - Treasury For All Seasons

Julie Andrews' Treasury For All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton:

When I was recently reading The Family Dinner, the author encouraged readers to read poetry aloud at the dinner table.  This got me thinking about incorporating some poetry in to our bedtime stories.  I love poetry and there are so many wonderful poems for children.  Why had it not occurred to me sooner?  So, shortly after finishing Laurie David's book, I sought out some poetry books at the library.....and this what I found.

Filled with bright, whimsical illustrations by Caldecott Honor recipient Marjorie Priceman, the book is organized by the months of the year.  The latter part of the book contains poems for "other celebrations & special occasions" (birthdays, new babies, etc.).  I loved the way the book is set up, and if you want to find poems about Fall, or back to school or Easter, it's all very easy to find.  There are poems about various religious holidays and lots of secular selections as well.  There are poems that are funny, and some that are more serious.  There are poems by famous writers and/or poets, and there are some authors that I've not heard of.  Some poems are geared toward anyone, some are definitely kid-territory, like "Sand House" or "Half Birthday."  They are all wonderful, and the Bachsters and I had loads of fun going through the book, enjoying the pictures and reading the poems.

The poems are selected by Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, who both have poems in the book as well.  I can't help but think how well-chosen the name for the book is: Treasury For All Seasons - this would be the perfect book to keep on a coffee table or nightstand and read it over and over, in every season.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {tiramisu}

The other day, the Bachsters and I were having a discussion on what our favorite holidays are.  When DD asked me, I sheepishly admitted that one of my favorite "holidays" is my birthday.*  I've always really loved my birthday, even as I approach milestone birthdays that involve black balloons and grim reaper cakes!  So, for my birthday last month, I did a lot of reflecting on which ice creams were my favorites, and which ones were a must for this ice-cream-making-mama's birthday.

Well, caramel ice cream was definitely on the top of the list.  But I've also been really eager to try the tiramisu ice cream from David Lebovitz's excellent The Perfect Scoop.  Tiramisu has always been one of my favorite desserts, and I went through a period when I was making it all the time, for just about every family function.  But it's been a while since I've made or enjoyed tiramisu, and I was intrigued by the recipe.  So, on the birthday list it went!

This is a very boozy recipe, and as you can see by the photo below, it made for a melty ice cream.  But it really did taste like tiramisu, just without the ladyfingers.  I am definitely making it again, perhaps next time substituting the mocha ripple with the fudge ripple - the mocha had a slightly bitter taste (or, maybe I'll just add more sugar to the mocha ripple).  But it reminded me so much of my favorite tiramisu recipe, that I'm thinking I should dust it off and make it, along with this ice cream on the side.  I love the idea of double tiramisu!

What's your favorite holiday?  Please share!


*Edited to add: I like making a big deal out of everyone's birthday, so I love birthdays in general.  Cake for everyone (and homemade ice cream)'s a very good thing indeed!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Nook - A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens:

Our oldest DD has recently been reading the Harry Potter series, and she wants to watch all the movies as well (only the ones rated PG, says her somewhat over-protective mama).  I told her she must read the book before watching the movie, so that it's her imagination and her imagery that she encounters first, instead of what the actors and directors show us.   I think movies are great fun, but I don't think I've ever seen one that topped the book it was based on.  So, around here, it's books first!

But, sadly, I didn't have a chance to follow my own rules with A Christmas Carol because growing up, I saw just about every version of the story.  My Mom would always play one of the movies when she was wrapping presents or just to watch during Christmas season.  So, when I read the book for the first time (what took me so long, I ask?) recently, I can't help but see George C. Scott in my brain.  Or compare different versions of the movies with Dickens' text.  I loved the book, but I'm afraid my enjoyment of it might have been diminished by all these visions dancing in my head.  I want to experience a story first between just me and the author; after that, I'm open to having film crews enter the scene.

I'm sure you are familiar with the Christmas Carol story, so I won't recount all the details.  Perhaps you've seen a movie version or two as well.  But what I will say, after all these years of knowing the story (at least through the movies) I realized, after reading the book, that this story really transcends Scrooge and Marley and Tiny Tim.  It is so very applicable to all of us, in many situations.  Is there a health problem you've been ignoring?  Maybe you've got a problem with a co-worker?  Maybe you've been thinking about taking up a new interest but still haven't done it?  Don't be like Scrooge!  If there's something in your life that needs changing, tend to it, the sooner the better.  I'm not sure Dickens meant this exactly, but I couldn't help but think the Christmas Carol story can be applied in so many different scenarios.

With all those movie versions I've been exposed to (which I enjoyed as a child, don't get me wrong), I found that I relished any line muttered by a character, or sample of witty writing by Dickens, or even scenes that I don't remember from any of the movies......those were the things I enjoyed the most when I read the book.  Because they were the things the film makers didn't (or couldn't) put in the movies, so there was something new and novel to be had, after all.  It's nice to know that as many times as the story has been made into a movie, there are still some wonderful bits that can only be found in the writing.

Finally, speaking of Harry Potter, the reason I chose this particular version of the book (on CD) was that it is read by Jim Dale, who also read all the Harry Potter books on CD.  He is an absolutely wonderful reader, who makes up all sorts of neat voices for the characters.  Listening to him read is a delight, and I'm excited that I have another book on CD read by Mr. Dale ready and waiting for me on our coffee table!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {phish food}

For years, my favorite ice cream has been Ben & Jerry's Phish Food.  So many movies have been enjoyed with this ice cream, so many late night freezer raids.  It's chocolate ice cream, with swirls of caramel and a creamy marshmallow sauce, with little chocolate fish throughout.  It's dreamy, and if you've never tried it, you should.  You must.  Most grocery stores carry it, and even gas stations do (hey, it's good to know exactly where you can pick up Phish Food, in case of a serious ice cream craving emergency).

Anyway, it's pretty difficult to top the original.  And I'm not sure that I have.  But, I will say that I've come pretty close.  Here's what I did:  made the fabulous chocolate ice cream from David Lebovbitz's The Perfect Scoop.  I also made the fabulous creamy caramel sauce from the same book.  I tried very hard to not eat the all of the caramel sauce from the pot.  I also made the stracciatella from the book.  And finally, made a marshmallow cream from Martha Stewart.  And I did my best to stay out of the caramel sauce and the marshmallow cream (not an easy task, I tell you).

Once I had all those components in place (or, what was left of them, ahem), I layered the chocolate ice cream with the sauces, and swirled in the stracciatella.  Oh my goodness, it was good!  Just like the Ben & Jerry's favorite, but something I could make in my kitchen (in large quantities).  Next time, I will do a better job of perfecting the Ben & Jerry's technique of making pools of caramel and marshmallow sauce.  I made ribbons of the sauce across the frozen ice cream, but pools would be much yummier and note worthy.  So, there - I've got the perfect excuse to make this one again!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Nook - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien:

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH won the Newbery Medal in 1972, which is the reason I picked up the book.  I had heard about it here and there, and am always on the lookout for books that I think the Bachsters might enjoy, preferably award winning children's literature!

The story is about Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse who lives in a cinder block in a farmer's field.  She must move her family for the summer, but her youngest son, Timothy, is ill and won't survive the move.  Mrs. Frisby befriends a crow named Jeremy, who suggests she visit the wise owl for advice.  After an exciting ride on Jeremy's back, she puts her fears aside and meets with the owl, who suggests she ask the rats for help.  Mrs. Frisby does as the owl suggests, and in the process learns a lot about her late husband, and about the lives of the mysterious rats.

First of all, I love that the protagonist of the book is a mother.  Now, I know I'm a bit biased here, but I think it's wonderful for young readers/listeners to hear about things from a parent's perspective.  Mrs. Frisby makes decisions based on how they will affect her children, like the need to hurry back home to take care of the children, which happens a few times in the story.  This is not a perspective that we see very often in children's books, and I found it both refreshing and well, relatable!

I also enjoyed the pace of the story, and its structure.  It moves along at a nice pace, albeit a bit slowly.  But it's just enough where nothing feels rushed, nor does it feel stagnant.  There is also a lengthy backstory about halfway through.  I liked this because I think it adds a layer to the story, and challenges young readers to keep the timeline straight.  And the author pulls everything together nicely, so that what's happening in the present makes sense now that we know the past.  And there are some timeless themes in the book - friendship, taking care of family, helping others & working together, to name a few.

I do wish that we learned in the story what NIMH stands for (I don't remember it being in there - but I found out later when I was reading about the book on some web sites).  I also think there are some parts of the story that probably wouldn't interest all readers, like the workings of the rats' elevator or the layout of the fake rat hole and escape tunnels.  These details probably were of great interest to the author (the reason why they are in the story in the first place) and add some nice level of detail to the story, but I personally thought some of it was a bit over-detailed.  But that's probably just me.

I realize that I've read a lot more Caldecott books than I have Newbery books (they are a lot faster to read, on the whole).  But the Newbery Medal books that the Bachsters and I have read recently (like this one or .... this one) have all been wonderfully told, imaginative stories.  I'm definitely going to start seeking out some more.

Do you have a favorite Newbery Medal book?


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {pistachio}

The word I would use to describe this ice cream is not one that you would typically use for a chilly dessert: warm.  The flavor of the toasted pistachios is comforting, complex and, well, warm.

The recipe I used is from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, an ice cream cookbook that I'm loving right now.  The recipe only uses the essence of the pistachios, having you strain them out before churning.  This imparts the wonderful flavor of the pistachios without all the crunchiness (actually, I've read that pistachios get soggy in ice cream).  And what an amazing flavor it is!  I was so surprised by it, and now it's way up on my list of favorite flavors (this list is getting a little out of control).  And like many of my favorite flavors, I think this one is best on its own: no hot fudge or caramel sauce here, please, although a homemade ice cream cone might be nice.  I must try that.


Friday, November 16, 2012

T-shirt yarn

Every Fall, I get the urge to break out the knitting needles and make warm sweaters and scarves and hats.  This Fall is no exception; however, before I get to those sweaters and scarves and hats, I need to finish my less-comfy project in the works: a rug made with t-shirt yarn.

This project stemmed from the seemingly endless supply of t-shirts we have around here.  I was thinking about donating them to a local charity, and have been keeping a box full of old t-shirts for that purpose.  But then I started seeing some really neat knitted things that use t-shirt yarn.  I love the idea of "upcycling" or repurposing things, so that big box of t-shirts was put to good use: t-shirt yarn!

I found a very easy tutorial on you tube.  You basically cut about an inch of fabric around and around your t-shirt until you get to the sleeves.  I use the printed part of the shirt as well, since it usually will curl up just fine and I think it'll give my finished rug some extra do-it-yourself charm.  I've been making balls out of our light-colored shirts first, then if the project goes well & the momentum is still there, I'll make another rug with our dark shirts.  We need a rug in the kitchen, one by the garage door that leads into the house and some rugs in the Bachsters' bathroom.  With that high demand, I suspect I'm going to need every old t-shirt we've got!

My only complaint about t-shirt yarn is what do you do with the sleeves and upper part of the t-shirt?  I've got a big "rag bag" full of them, and still have more t-shirts to cut up.  If you know of a good project using these parts of the t-shirt, please share it with me.  Sleeve sachet sacks?  Quickie car cleaner?  I'm open to suggestions!

Check back, because once my rug(s) are finished, I'll post pics here!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Nook - The Family Dinner

The Family Dinner: great ways to connect with your kids, one meal at a time by Laurie David, recipes by Kirstin Uhrenholdt:

Lately, there's been a tiny voice in the back of my head telling me that I'm falling short on my job to deliver family dinners.  This voice, who is quite the know-it-all, keeps talking about sitting down together every night, getting the husband off the computer, getting the kids to sit and eat their dinner for longer than 5 second bursts.  This voice is very annoyingly correct, and although I hate to admit defeat, I probably shouldn't ignore it any longer.

The truth is, family dinners are hard to deliver, at least they are for me.  Getting a wholesome homemade meal is challenge enough, but then to add to that clearing and setting the table, making sure everyone is there (and hungry and wants to eat what you made) at the same time and then engaging the family in meaningful conversation are hard things to do 7 days a week.  Yes, I would like some cheese with my whine!

When I was growing up, our family had meals together at the dinner table almost every night of the week.  This is a nice memory for me, and is something that I had always envisioned doing for our family, once everyone graduated to solid foods.  The reality of it is, however, that most nights I do make a wholesome, homemade meal - just the logistics of eating together at the table I can't seem to pull off.  The kids do eat quickly, and usually after I set down their plates and start getting mine and DH's plates together, they are done with their meals and off and running.  Lots of times, I'll make something different for myself than the rest of the family, or something different for the Bachsters.  Often, DH likes to putter on the computer as he eats his supper.  And many times, I end up eating by myself, because I'm rather poky at getting my dinner together in time to join everyone else.  So, I might sit by myself at the table and read while I eat.  Maybe I might even read a book such as The Family Dinner.

I loved this book, and now that I've read it from cover to cover, I can't wait to start some new traditions around the Bach house, traditions that involve eating together as a family every night.  I'm inspired by what I've read in the book and I know that it can be done - it just takes a little planning and maybe some help from the family.  But it is so worth it in the end, for all the great conversations you can have over a delicious meal, the closeness you can have with your kids, the security in knowing that we are all present and connected with each other.  It's hard to achieve these things if a family doesn't sit down and share supper with each other.

The book has chapters on how to make family supper time work, fun games you can play at the dinner table, and lots of recipes for meals that will please everyone.  There are lots of pictures, great quotes (oh, I just love quotes!) and stories from Mario Batali, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Dr. Maya Angelou, to name a few.  Written by Laurie David, an environmental leader who produced An Inconvenient Truth - I really applaud her interspersing lots of earth-friendly advice into the book (like how to start a compost pile, or the suggestion to use cloth napkins instead of paper).  I also thought her chapter on the family dinner after divorce was so honest and from-the-heart.  The author's tone throughout the book is casual, friendly and honest....I felt like I should be sitting at her table having Taco Tuesdays along with her family!

As I mentioned, the book has given me new inspiration to start having more family dinner times.  Really, getting the food there is the hardest part, and I've got that part down.  I just need to work on the last bit, the logistics.  But that should be the easy part, and I've made a resolution (I know, it's not New Year's) to get started asap.  I've also been thinking about inviting some of our extended family over on a regular basis (there's a chapter on that, too), now that we have more family in town.  It doesn't have to be 100% perfect 100% of the time, but the important thing is that we'll be together, eating good food and enjoying each other's company, like a family should.

What are your family dinners like?  Do you & your family eat together at the dinner table every night?  What was your family tradition when you were growing up?


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {vanilla}

Vanilla may seem like a rather dull flavor, and might be one that most people only enjoy as a means to an end (turtle sundaes or malted milkshakes, for example).  But this vanilla, it's not like the others.  It's got real personality and stands on its own.  In fact, I would recommend you only eat it alone - no hot fudge or fancy toppings, because they would only detract from the star of the show.  Vanilla's day has finally come!

Of course, the recipe is from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.  It's a traditional custard style ice cream, which means it's got egg yolks in it (hence the very yellow color).  It's also infused with a vanilla bean and vanilla extract.  It's got a wonderful flavor that would be a shame to drown in any sauce or topping; however, it partners very well with birthday cake, as our family can attest - I made 4 batches of vanilla ice cream recently for my MIL's 80th birthday celebration.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Our October

There were so many fun activities we did in October that I had every intention of writing about on my blog, but for some reason or another never got a chance.  So, I thought I'd go ahead and share some pics from our October, even though they may be just a tiny bit late. 

Little Dude and I went to Slate Run Historical Farm early in the month for a field trip with his preschool class.  It was cold that day, but lots of fun:

Pumpkin pancakes are one of our favorite breakfast treats in the Fall.  I've already made them several times this season.  Recipe from Martha.

Our oldest DD won second place in the children's category of this year's Columbus Metro Parks photo contest!  I didn't win anything this year, which is ok because this was her year.  She was so excited when she got her ribbon that she took it in to school to show her teacher!

After viewing the photo contest pictures, we hiked around Inniswood, our favorite park.  It's so beautiful there in the Fall:

We discovered a field nearby where Ranger can run around, and there are always deer.  Of course, his favorite activity is chasing deer!  This shot, while obviously a big unintentional blur, is kind of neat, the more you look at it.  At least, that's what I keep telling myself:

We were fortunate that Hurricane Sandy only brought strong winds and some light snow to Central Ohio.  The kids had a blast playing in the snow before school that day:

And of course, there was Trick or Treat.  This year, we had a goth princess, a dementor from Harry Potter & Commander Cody from Star Wars Clone Wars.  And it was a chilly, rainy, cold beggars night, so the Bachsters were back home in a flash, content to eat their goodies in the warm, dry house and let our jack o'lanterns brave the cold instead:

We had a nice October - I hope you did, too.