Friday, June 29, 2012


Last week, DD turned 7!  Every birthday, we let the Birthday Bachster choose a fun activity to do on their special day.  And she wanted to go to the Franklin Park Conservatory and see the butterflies!

We all just love the Conservatory (see this post from another trip we took).  Just East of downtown Columbus, there are beautiful plants and gardens to explore.  But seeing the butterflies is always our #1 priority.  Usually we'll visit the butterflies, explore the rest of the Conservatory, and then have another visit with the butterflies.....which is exactly what we did this time!  It's not every day that you walk down lush paths with butterflies fluttering past in all directions.  It's a wonderful place to visit, especially on a birthday!

When we went back to see the butterflies a second time, they had just released more, and a friendly woman had one sitting on her hand.  She asked the Bachsters if they would like to hold it.......of course!

Happy 7th Birthday, my butterfly-loving Bachster!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Nook - Paris in Love: A Memoir

Paris in Love: A Memoir, written by Eloisa James:

One day, I found myself puttering around online, looking at books about Paris.  A few popped up in my search that promised to disclose the "true" Paris.  But I decided I didn't want to read anything negative about my adopted homeland.  I wanted to read all about the beauty, romance, culture, and cuisine that is Paris, in my mind.  So after reading the dreamy description of Paris in Love, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the book.  Take that, realists!

Eloisa James is a 40-something Shakespeare professor (by day) & romance novelist (by night).  When she found out that she had cancer, she decided that she and her family needed a change in their lives - a big change.  She and her Italian husband, Alessandro, and their two kids, Luca & Anna, sold their New Jersey house & cars and moved to an apartment in the heart of Paris.

In the introduction, the author explains that the book is basically her facebook postings from the year they lived in Paris, collected and polished into book form.  But the book really does read like a bunch of facebook postings, making this the perfect beach or poolside read: little snippets of story that you can pick up or set down at the drop of a hat.  Many "entries" are merely a few sentences.  But they all portray a Paris that is refined and delicious, like an exquisite French pastry.

There are lots of observations on the way the Parisian sky looks outside the author's study; many entries about the kids and their new schools; many instances of people watching.  Our author likes to go department store shopping a great deal, so you'll tag along to shop for cocottes, lingerie and umbrellas.  She also likes going out to eat, so you'll hear all about some of Paris' finer, and not so fine, dining experiences.  There are also some trips to smaller museums, which would be very helpful to read about if you are planning a trip to Paris in the near future (actually, at the end of the book, the author lists some of her favorite places in Paris, restaurants, museums, etc).

There are also lots of "entries" about the people in James' life - Luca's struggles with high school math, a kind which he is convinced they don't teach in the United States.  There's Anna's disobedience in her classes, as well as drama with her archrival, Domitilla.  Alessandro is brushing up on his French with a Parisian named Florent, who is first madly in love with an Italian waitress, then a French colleague.

The benefit to the book's format is that it's a quick, fun read.  The disadvantage here is that it felt a little harder to connect with the author and those in her life.  It really does feel like a little snippet of Paris here and there, which personally, I'll take a little snippet over no snippet any day.  It's like a box of chocolates from a Parisian artisan chocolatier.....each little entry is like a bon bon - a fun little escape, a bit trivial at times, but delicious all the same.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Big Cut





Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Nook - How to Train Your Dragon - series

How To Train Your Dragon (books 1-8), by Cressida Cowell:

A while ago, I wrote a post about How to Train Your Dragon (you can find it here).  We enjoyed the first book so much, that we ended up reading all 8 of them.

The series is very consistent: humorous writing, great characters, a quick pace & lots of action.  Hiccup and his friends have all sorts of adventures, like trying to steal a potato from the Hysterics tribe, finding a rare fire stone and throwing it into an about-to-explode volcano & sailing to America, to name a few.  Along the way, they encounter lots of bad guys and assorted dragons.

What the Bachsters (and I) loved about the series was the great story.  Cowell is a talented author & her books are just lots of fun to read.  The Bachsters were really excited every night when we sat down with the story, and would always beg me to read just one more chapter.

For me, the downside to the books was the violence in them (although this didn't seem to affect or bother the Bachsters at all).  I think the violence gets a little more serious as you get farther into the series, with bad guys out to seriously kill Hiccup.  He has one-on-one sword fights in a couple of books, and the fact that he is fighting to the death is not glossed over.  Interestingly, he never gets hurt, and no one dies (well, at least not by Hiccup's doing - one bad guy falls off a ship, into the sea with a huge dragon waiting below).  In the last book, Hiccup's tribe (the Hooligans) is camping on a haunted beach and the members are all awoken by the invading Uglithug tribe, holding a knife to each Hooligan's throat.  I was bothered by all the violence, and especially since there were adults that were out to harm kids.  But Cowell manages to create situations where there is violence, followed by an outcome where no one gets hurt (well, except for Norbert the Nutjob who fell off the ship, as mentioned above).  In fact, she usually writes it off in some kind of humorous way (for instance, Hiccup's archrival, Alvin the Treacherous might get hurt, but then pops up in the next book with a wooden nose).  I'm not sure what this lighthearted approach to violence and situations of life-or-death means to our young readers.  Maybe it's a good thing that Cowell doesn't focus too much on the seriousness of it all.  There are different ways to look at it I suppose, but there's a lot of violence in the books, and I questioned myself several times if we should continue the series.

Anyway, I would like to mention that the characters in the book are great.  There's Hiccup, our hero, who is dedicated, loyal, brave....all those hero qualities you would expect.  But he's a great protagonist, and never gets dull.  His little dragon is Toothless, who likes to sleep at inopportune times, eat things he shouldn't (like a magnet), and go poo in the bad guy's helmet.  Hiccup's friends are Fishlegs (who is apprehensive and asthmatic) and Camicazi (a Bog Burglar who can't be kept under lock and key).  Each book brings out more and more details about these characters, and it's fun to spend time with them.

I can't help but compare this series with Harry Potter, so if you and/or your kids are fans of that series, chances are you'll enjoy this one.   They're both a series with great adventures, strong characters and special friendships, not to mention they're a lot of fun to read.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Ranger

Our little tiny puppy is getting bigger (literally, he's now 100 lbs.), and a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Ranger's 1st birthday.  Since no birthday in the Bach house lasts for only one day, we celebrated on his birthday with just us, and then later that weekend, invited family (including his doggie cousins) over for a party.  Ranger loved every minute of it, and knew that something special, revolving around him, was going on.

For his birthday, each Bachster picked out a special present of their own to give the birthday puppy.  The girls both picked out huge bones, and Little Dude picked out a cute gecko toy.  Ranger also got a special treat of a big bowl full of hot dogs....all for him!

And for his party, we got two cakes: one for the humans in the group, and one very special cake that DH made for Ranger: hot dogs wrapped in bacon (the dog seriously loves hot dogs.  And bacon, for that matter).

Happy Birthday, hound dog!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Nook - Nourishing Traditions / Real Food

Real Food: What to Eat and Why, by Nina Planck:

Here are a handful of items that you will learn about in depth from Real Food: omega-3s, omega-6s, LDL, HDL, trigglycerides, monounsaturated fats, oleic acid, oxidized cholesterol.  Sounds like fun summer reading, yes?

I will admit, a great deal of this book is very technical, diving into the world of fats in great detail.  However, despite being a bit cumbersome, there are many aspects of this book that are enlightening.  The focus here is on fats, which ones are good for you & which ones are bad.  The discussion on fats leads to discussions on eating meat, and eating whole foods.  That's the real takeaway here.

One thing I really loved about this book is Planck's personal stories to go along with her well researched information.  She shares with us the time in her life when she was young, just out of college, & newly vegetarian.  She tells the reader some of her staple meals at that time and, most importantly, how being a vegetarian changed her body and her health (in her case, for the worse).  As I read her tale, I could relate because, after being vegetarian for over two years, I had also experienced some "symptoms" that seemed odd for someone eating what was presumably a very healthy diet.  But, thanks to this book, I now understand how important it is to get animal fats in your diet.  Planck also shares with us details of her life growing up on a farm, and the traditional farm foods that her family ate - like raw milk - that she has to spend a lot of time now to seek out.

Planck's story is one of someone veering from a path to explore different options, only to come back to that original path in the end.  I feel like my vegetarian journey has been very similar to Planck's, and I am grateful for her book for helping to show me the way back.

Next, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon:

This book is huge - 634 pages of solid information.  I've been so excited to write about it on Book Nook, but I haven't done so because I actually haven't finished it yet!  But, Sally Fallon, you had me at hello.  If you read nothing by the introduction, you will understand the overall message: eat real, whole foods, just like traditional societies, and prepared in traditional ways, and you will have optimum health.

Author Sally Fallon is the founder of the Weston Price Foundation (see website here).  Much of her writing is actually the fundamentals of what Weston Price taught.  Price left his dental practice in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1930s to travel the world with his wife, with one goal in mind: visit and study tradition indigenous societies to compare the health of those on traditional diets with the health of those on Western/modern diets (refined flour, sugar, food additives, etc).

Fallon presents these findings in a straightforward, compelling way.  Meat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease, but vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats do (page 13).  Vegetarianism leads to deficiencies in the diet and poor health - but the caveat is that the meat and dairy products you do consume should be sustainable and organic.  Carbohydrates should be eaten, but only prepared in traditional ways of soaking or fermenting the grains to provide the most nutrients to the body.  Pasteurization is a bad thing, and the dairy we consume should be raw, as it is in traditional societies.  I've simplified the message here, but you get the general idea.  Whole foods, prepared in traditional ways is the best diet for our health.

After the lengthy introduction, the rest of the book contains recipes, in categories such as great beginnings; the main course; a catalog of vegetables; luncheon & supper foods; grains & legumes; snacks & finger foods; desserts & beverages.  What I absolutely love about this book (and the reason it has taken me so long to read) is that in the margins on the recipe pages are quotes and academic studies regarding whatever ingredient or food is being showcased (sometimes it's unrelated).  So, for example, (I tried to find a short quote, many of them are very lengthy, hence 634 pages), in the beef and lamb recipe section, here's a quote in the side margins: "There is no society in the world that is entirely vegetarian.  The Hindus of India come closest.  Dr. H. Leon Abrams reports on India, '...the greater percentage of the population, who subsist almost entirely on vegetable foods, suffer from kwashiorkor, other forms of malnutrition, and have the shortest life span in the world.'" William Campbell Douglass, MD, The Milk Book (page 331).

I wouldn't say that the book has a degree of vegetarian "bashing" but I would say that it offers reason after reason why a person should include animal products in their diet.  And these reasons are so convincing, and make so much sense, that I have decided to cease my vegetarian ways.  Since I first read this book (and Nina Planck's book) I re-introduced salmon into my diet (even though I was vegetarian for over two years, I still prepared meat and fish for my family).  And, if I can find a sustainable source for poultry and meat, perhaps I'll start eating that too.  The biggest takeaway from this book is that animal fats are good for you, despite the fact that authorities have drilled "low fat" into our brains.  It's all the rest of the stuff we eat that can do us harm: refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed food, industrial meat.  It's so simple, really.  Eat the foods that have sustained humans for generations: organic, all-natural, sustainable whole foods.

I do have a couple of minor negatives.  First, I think the cookbook would have been a bit better without the dessert section.  The quotes and research that are presented on sugar are pretty damning, but yet there are loads of recipes that use Rapadura, which is just another form of cane sugar.  I think a section on the simplest of whole foods desserts would have been best: fresh fruit with cream, that sort of thing.  Many experts recommend we avoid all sweets, including honey (although I really learned a lot from this book about the health benefits of raw honey), maple syrup (which, as opposed to what Fallon states, is no longer made with formaldehyde - I know, because I talked to a local syrup-farmer about this issue at a local farmers market recently) - other sweeteners like date sugar and jams - it's all a form of sucrose & probably should be used sparingly and only on rare occasion.

The other thing is a personal preference - Fallon devotes a chapter to organ meats, which I had a tough time getting into!  Her research is well done and the reasons she gives to encourage us to eat organ meats is sound, but I just cannot see many modern families sitting down to a meal of heart kabobs (page 309) or a brain omelet (page 312).

Even though there are literally hundreds of pages of recipes, I feel like the real asset of this book is the information on what we should eat and why.  If you know a vegetarian or vegan, recommend they read this book.  I see so many comments from vegetarians who put-down meat eating, but I suspect they don't have all the facts.  I didn't (although I never was disparaging toward meat-eating.  As I mentioned, I prepared many, many meat dishes for my family during my years as a vegetarian).  This book is a real eye-opener, not only on the vegetarian issue, but also the foods of modern society.  We can learn what we're doing wrong by studying traditional societies that have great levels of health, and learn what they are (and were) doing right.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hot air balloon adventure

Once when I was a kid, a hot air balloon landed in the big field behind our house - I remember running up to the basket and talking with the people inside.  I don't remember how old I was, but it was an event that has permanent residence in my memory.

So, it is with that memory in mind that when a hot air balloon sailed over the Bach house a couple of days ago, remarkably close to the treetops, that I spontaneously grabbed my car keys and the two Bachsters who happened to be with me to chase it down, in hopes of watching it land.

First, we drove to a field at the edge of our neighborhood, thinking it might land there.  But when we got there, we could see that it had sailed into the distance, so we followed it, down a country road, past a field where a couple of horses and a pony graze (and they were freaked out by the balloon.  In fact, when it floated over our yard, Ranger kept barking at it!).  After a stop at another neighborhood & an elementary school, we could tell the balloon was going to land soon - it just stayed very low to the ground the entire time.  Luckily, it was big & bright yellow, so it was pretty easy to follow.

And after a few more turns, our efforts were rewarded: a small patch of grass surrounded by older ranch homes, a line of cars doing the exact same thing we were doing, and a great big 'ol yellow hot air balloon, making a slow descent (but not before touching the tops of the trees so everyone in the basket could reach out & pick a leaf or two):

The balloon pilot fueled it up once more before letting the balloon slowly sink to the ground:

And then for the best part: the balloon pilot invited all the kids watching to come and roll on the balloon, to help them get all the air out.  What fun!

Within minutes, something that had floated in the air and commanded everyone's attention was flattened & rolled up into a gigantic canvas bag.  It just didn't seem probable that this big piece of fabric was the same balloon we had just been marveling at.

On the way home, DD exclaimed, "this is the greatest adventure of my whole life."  Which might be a tad overstated, yet it certainly was an adventure, one that I hope they'll think back on with a smile when they're grown up.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Exploring the creek

Today is the first day of summer vacation for the Bachsters.  It's a warm, sunny day in Central Ohio, but not quite warm enough for a trip to the pool.  So I suggested we all head to the creek, to look for the resident snake & whatever else we might find.

We didn't see any snakes, but there were tons of damselflies.  Absolutely everywhere, damselflies were flying, resting on leaves or mating. 

The Bachsters desperately wanted to catch something - a fish, a crayfish, a damselfly - they tried everything.   Fortunately for all the creek critters, they didn't have any luck.

It's been so nice today, not having to be at any certain place at any specific time.  It was a great start to what I hope will be a great summer!


Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Nook - The Perfect Scoop

The Perfect Scoop: Ice Cream, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz:

This cookbook comes to me at a very inopportune time - I'm trying to eat better, lose a bit of weight for swimsuit season and go low-carb.  But recently, we plugged in our big 'ol freezer in our basement, thus making a perfect excuse to freeze my ice cream canister that refuses to work in our kitchen freezer (see the sad post here).  And last weekend our air conditioning decided to take a little vacation, so homemade ice cream was the only thing that got us through the days with temps in the upper 90s.  So, maybe it was perfect timing.

It certainly is the perfect scoop, as the title promises.  The ice cream recipes in this book are all-natural (no weird ingredients at all).  There are classic recipes, like chocolate, as well as variations on that classic, like chocolate Philadelphia-style, Aztec "hot" chocolate, milk chocolate, Guiness-milk chocolate, white chocolate, etc.  So, you could make a tried & true favorite or branch out into the gustatory unknown, depending on your mood & occasion.  And there are some very unusual recipes in the book, like parsley ice cream, avocado ice cream, olive oil ice cream - I'm so curious to try all of them!  Don't worry, there's tons of everyday favorites here as well - chocolate, vanilla, peach, tin roof, etc.  And there are loads of recipes for frozen yogurt, sorbets & granitas too - but let's face it, it's all about the ice cream for the Bach family, so that's what our focus will be on!  If you try the other recipes, let me know how they are, please.  Based on the few ice cream recipes I tried, I bet the others in the book are excellent.

Speaking of, let me share the recipes we tried.  First up was vanilla ice cream.  This is a traditional, egg-yolk custard style ice cream, and it didn't disappoint.  The day I made it, the Bachsters had a friend over for a playdate & they all had a little bowl of the fresh-churned ice cream.  Their friend declared, in a satisfied sigh,  "this is delicious."  And she's quite picky, so there you go.  And it was delicious - rich, creamy, vanilla-y.  Just perfect.  I also made peanut butter ice cream.  This recipe was super easy, just put all the ingredients (no egg yolks this time) in the blender, chill & then churn.  It was very sweet (but not overly so) - I think a drizzle of hot fudge on top would have been heavenly.  I'll have to do that next time.  I also made a double batch (I'm learning we are double batch people) of chocolate for a game night we hosted last weekend.  My sister-in-law and her husband gushed over the ice cream, and were talking about it the next day at a graduation party we all went to.  (I think I know what might make a perfect little hostess gift next time we go to their house - a pint of yummy chocolate ice cream!)  And it was superb if I say so - rich & chocolatey, with a smooth texture & just the right balance of sweet & chocolate.  I'm making that one again for sure.

I've saved my favorite for last: coffee ice cream.  Whenever we go out for ice cream, I almost always get coffee (which is funny, because I'm not a coffee drinker).  The Bachsters have followed suit, and they usually get coffee ice cream too!  Even the author takes notice of this, writing that it's "one of the few 'adult' flavors that kids seem to like as much as grown-ups."  So true!

This recipe (a traditional custard with egg yolks - yes, we've used a ton of egg yolks recently) infuses the cream with whole beans - a rather clever way of adding the flavor, I think.  It was the best coffee ice cream ever.  I could have quite easily eaten the whole batch myself.

One thing I love about this cookbook is the author's witty introductions to each recipe.   Many of the introductions tell a little story about the recipe, or some component of it & often the stories are lighthearted.  So, this is a cookbook that's just fun to read, even if you never make any recipes (but really, how could you resist?).  I found the first chapter of the book, devoted to "basics" to be very helpful, so don't skip it if you do make the recipes.  There are also great chapters on sauces (I'll go there for that hot fudge recipe next time I make the peanut butter ice cream), mix ins (yummy nuts, pralines, etc) & vessels (like crepes, or cookies to make ice cream sandwiches).  But I never ventured to the back of the book, I was so enamored by all the ice cream recipes.  Next on my list?  Maple walnut ice cream, using our Ohio maple syrup we just purchased at a local farmers market; cinnamon ice cream this Fall with our pumpkin pie & apple crisp, as Lebovitz suggests; and anise ice cream, all for me, since no one else around here likes anise very much.  I'm going to pretend I'm in France while I eat it!

I borrowed my book from the library, but with over 235 pages of recipes, I think this is one I'd like to own.  As far as ice cream recipes go, it's the only one a home cook would ever need.  It's perfect!