Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Nook - A few Dahl selections

The Witches by Roald Dahl:

I paused before I began reading The Witches to the Bachsters recently and told them that we are very fortunate: here we had a Roald Dahl book that we've never read before.  Since there are a finite number of them, getting to experience one for the first time is a real treat.

I loved Roald Dahl books when I was a kid (my favorite was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and I'm so pleased that the Bachsters love his books, and that we can share the experience of reading them together.

I'd never read The Witches before.  I can imagine how much fun Mr. Dahl had while writing it, with all the "v" for "w" vords that the Grand High Witch speaks, and her rolling r's (which I just couldn't do justice).  This book just begs to be read aloud.

In the story, a little boy and his Grandmamma, who knows all about witches, happen upon the biggest gathering of witches in all of England.  The little boy (we never learn his name) finds out about their mission to turn all the children of England into mice and he and his grandmother make a plan to give the vitches a taste of their own medicine.

We all loved this book, but a few of the pictures of the Grand High Witch were too scary for the Bachsters, which I think made it a little more fun for them.

Esio Trot by Roald Dahl:

In this novella, Mr. Hoppy, a shy, elderly man, lives in the same apartment complex as Mrs. Silver, just one floor above hers.  Mr. Hoppy desperately wants to strike up conversation with Mrs. Silver, but he just can't bring himself to do it.  One day, he gets an idea that will make him appear to be a hero Mrs. Silver: he will share with her the secret for helping her tortoise, Alfie, grow.  This secret of his involves reciting a poem backwards on her part, and amassing tortoises of all sizes from all of the city's pet shops, on his part.

This story is a nice departure from Roald Dahl's usual style: there are no mean grown ups, no one gets what they have coming to them.  It's really a simple, sweet story of longing for someone and the lengths that we will go to get them.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the Cynthia Rylant series about Mr. Putter and Tabby, and their neighbors Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke.  Their relationship is simply a friendship, but it's still about an elderly pair and their pets.

Very Fond of Food: A Year in Recipes by Sophie Dahl:

In fairness, this one is an honorable mention because I've only scratched the surface of this lovely cookbook, and I have yet to try any of the recipes.  But I was intrigued to check out this book: this is Sophie Dahl, Roald Dahl's granddaughter.  He named the character Sophie (in The BFG - one of our favorites) after her.

There are tons of great recipes in this book, organized by season.  Ms. Dahl gives a little intro to each chapter and recipe, which I've really enjoyed.  I liked her story about her grandmother's chicken recipe - when she called her on the phone to ask her what was in it, her grandmother replied, I don't know baby.  Chicken!  Little stories like this dot the pages, making this a fun book to read, let alone a collection of recipes.  And I really love the photography throughout: many of the recipes (not all) have a photo to accompany it & the look is casual British.  And there are some photos of the author throughout as well, and she seems like a very sweet person.

I can't help but wonder if the shared love the Bachsters and I have for Roald Dahl stories will one day morph into a shared love for Sophie Dahl's recipes.  Instead of reading bedtime stories together, maybe one day we'll be cooking up some scrumptious meal in the kitchen together (like the rice pudding cake - yum).  Regardless, we have a lot to thank the talented Dahl family for.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {strawberry}

I'll be honest - I never eat strawberry ice cream.  If we go out for ice cream, or if I buy some at the store, I'm definitely a chocolate or mint or pumpkin or cinnamon or coffee kind of girl.  Not strawberry.  But, Little Dude asked for strawberry ice cream to go with his birthday cake a couple of weeks ago, so strawberry it is.  What a pleasant surprise to find out that I love it!

David Lebovitz, I am sorry to say that I did not use any of your strawberry recipes from The Perfect Scoop.  Don't worry - I will in the near future.  For Little Dude's special ice cream request, I wanted a rich & creamy ice cream - this recipe uses 9 (!) egg yolks!  And rich and creamy it is.  The recipe is from Karen DeMasco's excellent The Craft of Baking, which I discovered from David Lebovitz's blog - so, I think he would be fine with my straying ways!

Anyway, back to the ice cream - did I mention how rich and creamy it is?  I already did?  Well, it is so delicious - rich, creamy, sweet, strawberry-y.  Sooo good.  I might try it without the chunks of strawberry next time (oh yes....there will definitely be a next time).  They weren't icy per se, but close to it.  Maybe I could omit the strawberry chunks and add a yummy strawberry sauce.  Or maybe hot fudge.  I am, after all, a chocolate girl.  And now, a strawberry girl, as well.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Canal Winchester Farmer's Market

Today, we headed to the Canal Winchester Farmer's Market, one that we haven't been to yet this summer.  It was a smaller farmer's market than others in Columbus, but we still found lots of goodies.

The first thing I spotted, as we were parking, was a booth with gorgeous bouquets of sunflowers.  We headed straight there, and got ourselves a beautiful, cheery (and heavy!) bunch of sunflowers:

Of course, I just had to play around with photographing them once we got home:

At the same stand, I purchased mint, which I have some big (sweet) plans for.  I purchased three huge bunches for a mere $2 - such a good price:

We also purchased some cute necklaces for the Bachsters, bratwursts from a local farmer, Ohio corn and these lovely peaches, which the Bachsters devoured as soon as we got home:

I really enjoyed the cozy feel of this farmer's market.  I hope we can go back soon!


Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Nook - Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding:

I can't believe I've just now read this classic - I never read it for a class in school or just to read it once I finished school.  So, here I am just now reading it....why did it take me so long?

I'm sure there have been many discussions, papers, theories, etc. made by students & non-students over the years about this rich, complex tale.  One thing for certain, this is a book ripe for discussion.  I could probably write a 10-page paper about the book (due this Friday) but instead I'll just touch upon a few things that really struck me.

First: tension.  The novel is absolutely brimming with it.  It starts off right in the beginning and builds momentum, positively exploding at the climax of the story.  If you ever wanted to study a novel for this aspect alone, I think this would be a good title to offer up. 

I guess this might be a good point to give a brief summary (as my former teachers and professors might suggest I do).  There is a plane wreck, on an uninhabited tropical island.  The survivors are young British boys, no adults.  The boys realize their grave predicament and begin to establish order: they choose a leader (bold Ralph), establish priorities, like keeping a fire burning for smoke signals, and build shelters and search for food.  But over time, their agreed-upon laws start to crumble, and real human nature rears its ugly head.

There are a lot of themes in the novel, so if one were to write a paper on the themes of the story, there would be a lot to choose from.  First we have pigs and hunting.  Having fun vs. responsibilities.  Following rules or setting your own, right or wrong.  There's also the beast - is it real, or is it something inside of us?

Now that I think of it, I'd probably enjoy reading the Cliff Notes for this book!  It probably brings up a lot of good ideas and topics of discussion.  And I don't mind telling you, even though this shows you my true English-class-geeky-self, that sometimes I wish I could be back in high school, discussing books like this with my peers and teachers.  Those were the days!

One thing about the book that I disliked was the ending.  I felt the timing was just a little too perfect for Ralph.  There were only two possible outcomes (thanks to all that built-up tension) but I would have liked to have seen a more realistic (or possibly a 3rd, unexpected) resolution.  The ending was too nice & neat for a story that flirts with dark themes.  But maybe the ending was more metaphor - order stepping in when chaos threatens to overcome, or perhaps the world of adults taking control of the world of children.  There's just so much to think about (and discuss) here.

Have you ever read Lord of the Flies?  Was it for school, or on your own?  Did you enjoy the story?  What are some things that you took away from it?

Answers on my desk by Friday!


By the way - I read this one on Books-on-CD, read by the author, which I highly recommend.  He gives a brief introduction on how he came up with the story (and his wife's approval) and why he set it up as he did.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {strawberry granita}

Today, I bring you strawberry granita, from the wonderful book The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.

Strawberry granita is simply strawberries, sugar, water & lemon juice.  Such a simple recipe & so easy to execute.  I was a little worried that it would be an icy, hard mess, but it's actually the perfect amount of frozen goodness.  And, it wasn't too sweet (I'm sure this depends on the sweetness of your strawberries).

We made ours into popsicles instead of the typical slushy granita.  But for the shot, I went the slushy route:

Now we have another use for all those strawberries we pick at the farm every Spring!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Nook - Girl Walks into a Bar

Girl Walks into a Bar....Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch:

When one of my favorite bloggers (link here) mentioned that she was reading this book, I knew I wanted to check it out.  I love a good laugh, and former Saturday Night Live funny-woman Rachel Dratch has that in spades.  Plus it seemed like a great book to read poolside - easy to pick up, put down and lighthearted - perfect for a summer day.

Well, the book never made it to the pool.  I devoured it in less than a day over the weekend.

Even though I don't watch much (any) TV, I am vaguely familiar with Rachel Dratch.  Like a lot of SNL regulars, she started off at Second City in Chicago, a popular improv group (I only know all this from Tina Fey, and her fabulous book, Bossypants).  There are a lot of similarities between Dratch's book and Fey's book - both are comedy memoirs, both are funny, both give a behind-the-scenes look at Second City & SNL.  But here's where their roads divide: Fey went on, post SNL, to write and star in the successful 30 Rock.  Dratch sits at home and watches Judge Judy reruns.

While there are lots of funny parts in the book, and Dratch's writing is very humorous, there's also a bit of depressing sadness.  Not being beautiful enough, not fitting in to the right groups, not knowing what to do with yourself when your dream job is over, not having any luck in the dating department - these are some themes that find their way into the story time and time again.  So, apparently a comedian's life is not all fun and games.  I really love how Dratch writes about these things so honestly, so straightforward.  It's not wonder she has a lot of old, close friendships - she sounds like a very cool person.

The first part of the book chronicles her work life, and her rise to SNL.  And, as she promises, the second part of the book is about Not Showbiz - mostly about her trials with dating.  Cannibals, addicts (three of them, actually), no-calls - she tells you about them all.  And then there's this really nice guy named John, whom she meets in a bar and starts up a bi-coastal romance.  They enjoy a casual, fun relationship until.....a very unexpected development occurs.  A development that will take 9 months to complete.

Life is full of ups and downs.  One day, your pants split in front of a live audience (and you've gone commando), your boyfriend tells you how yummy horsemeat is, and your agent only calls with offers for obese lesbian parts in which you have to fly yourself to LA.  But, as Dratch experiences, you learn that your friends have your back, and there are better things down the road towards career and love.  Like a nice guy who turns out to be a great baby daddy.  And a little guy named Eli with cute, tiny toes.  And a book deal.

In the words of Rachel Dratch...."take that, Hollywood!"


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {tin roof sundaes}

Recently, DH & I have decided to go low-carb - cutting out most or all sugar, flour & starchy vegetables like potatoes.  However, as I've been following this diet for a few weeks now, a strange phenomenon has occurred: I've become obsessed with ice cream.  I have found myself - on more than one occasion - actually waking up out of sleep taking a big bite of imaginary ice cream from a dream.  I suppose it's true - we always want what we can't have.

Part of the problem is I just discovered the best ice cream book imaginable - The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz (see Book Nook post here).  So, as I try more and more recipes, I'll be sharing them with you, here in this space.  Sundaes on Sundays!  Maybe not every Sunday, but there are so many recipes from the book that this could turn into a weekly thing.  We'll play that by ear, for now.  I am trying to lose some weight as opposed to gaining some, after all!

Anyway, for this week's Ice Cream Sunday:  Tin Roof sundaes - tin roof ice cream, with marshmallow hot fudge sauce served in meringue nests.  Sounds divine, yes?!

These sundaes had 5 components: the ice cream base, the fudge ripple swirl, chocolate-covered peanuts, hot fudge sauce & meringue nests.  The ice cream is supposed to have the chocolate-covered peanuts swirled in, but we have a 7-year-old whose orthodontist told us no nuts, so we kept them out so that they could be sprinkled on top instead.

The tin roof ice cream is great.  Creamy vanilla swirled with dark chocolate syrup.  It's so good, with or without the chocolate covered peanuts.  DH and I polished the rest of it off today while the Bachsters were busy watching a movie - we're so sneaky!

The hot fudge is yummy - it's very hard to mess up this recipe since it's mostly marshmallows.  I think this would be great on a single-flavor-profile ice cream - it's a little busy (but in a good way!) on the tin roof.  Sadly, my meringue nests (aka vacherins, en francais) got sticky when stored overnight.  The Bachsters loved them.  I threw mine out because it was too sticky and tough.  I'll definitely make them again, but next time will just prepare them a couple of hours before serving, so that I don't have to store them.  Also, I think they'd be great with a fruit-based ice cream or frozen yogurt, even a sorbet.  They have a creamy, indulgent taste (I know, because I totally licked the bowl clean when I made them) that lends itself to these flavors.  Vacherins, we shall meet again under better circumstances, I promise!

DH and I agreed that we would allow ourselves a bit of room from the low-carb lifestyle on the weekends.  You've got to treat yourself every now and then, right?!  The perfect scoop is the perfect treat to look forward to (and maybe even dream about) all week long!


Thursday, July 12, 2012


A couple of days ago, the Bachsters and I went to our favorite Central Ohio park - Inniswood.  It was a warm summer evening, just perfect weather, yet it wasn't crowded at all.  I thought I'd share a few pics from our time there.

First stop - the pond (actually there are 2 ponds at Inniswood):

Our 7-year-old got a camcorder/digital camera for her birthday, so she was very determined to get some nature shots.  This photog-mama is so proud:

From the herb garden:

Inniswood flowers:

The Sister's Garden is one of our favorite areas of the park.  There's an orchard, a prairie and a little play cottage called Granny's House:

This shot was taken near pond #2, where we saw frogs, turtles and fun!

As we were leaving, DD begged to go back to the Sister's Garden because there was something she wanted to explore.  But it was sunset and the park was going to close, so I promised her we'd be back soon.

Yes, we will certainly be back soon!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Nook - Good to the Grain

Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, photographs by Quentin Bacon:

I discovered this cookbook at a very inopportune time: right before I decided to go low-carb.  So, I've made and tried a few things here and there, but since low-carb means very little grains, I'm afraid I haven't been making any of the scrumptious goodies from the cookbook.  However, for anyone who loves baked goods (and really, who doesn't?) this is a great cookbook that might introduce you to some grains that you've never cooked with before.

The chapters are divided into types of grains, with recipes following: whole wheat, oat, quinoa, teff & amaranth, to name a few.  In each chapter intro, the author describes the grain, how it smells, how it looks, how it works with other grains or with specific fruits, etc.  These insights are great to read because you really get a feel for what you're working with.  It's nice to know why you are putting certain ingredients and grains in the recipe and have a better understanding of why it all works.

We've tried the oatmeal pancakes, which are a great way to use up leftover oatmeal, something we always seem to have.  My 7-year-old and I really love this recipe, but the others in our household  weren't so excited about it.  Probably because they are heavier pancakes than the light & fluffy ones I usually make.  But, if you are looking for a healthier pancake alternative, this is a great recipe.  We also tried the granola bars, which is a good recipe, but unfortunately, I overcooked them a bit.  I would definitely give this one a second chance.  I made strawberry jam this Spring, using Boyce's recipe, combined with another.  I wish I had just used the recipe from the book, because she uses much less sugar than the other recipe I was using.  Next strawberry season, I am definitely making the strawberry jam.  Also, I made the quinoa porridge & it is very tasty, but I must admit I prefer my quinoa in savory recipes.   

There are some recipes in the book for quinoa flour (and some of the other lesser known flours), which my grocery store doesn't sell.  Some of the flours are at my local store, and some I would probably need to go to a specialty store or order online.  And almost every recipe uses the specialty flour in combination with white flour, something to keep in mind - if you're trying to eliminate white flour from your diet, this probably isn't the cookbook for you.

Alas, now that I'm trying to stick to a low-carb diet, I'm not making any of the recipes.  But, if I want to splurge, I will definitely try the chocolate chip cookies, made with whole wheat flour.  This recipe got rave reviews on amazon and these cookies sound heavenly.  I read about the crumble bars on this blog and had to get the cookbook to get that recipe.  But I never did make them, so they are on the list, for a "splurge" day.  The olive oil cake and the quinoa and beet pancakes are on the list too - don't those two recipes sound so intriguing?  Oh, and next time we have a bonfire with s'mores, I'm making the graham crackers - these are all natural, while the store bought kind have some yucky ingredients in them, like partially hydrated oil, i.e., trans fats (see a great article here about how food companies sneak this in & still say their product has no trans fats).

A note about the photography: it's awesome!  Seriously, it's my favorite part of the book!  Quentin Bacon (great name for a food photographer, yes?) knows his stuff.  Every photograph is done in natural light, and they all remind me of waking up and coming into the kitchen to find that my Mom made me some yummy breakfast treat.  They have that feel to me.  Not every recipe is shown, but I love each and every photograph.

Good to the Grain is very good, indeed!


Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Nook: The El Paso Chile Company Margarita Cookbook

The El Paso Chile Company Margarita Cookbook by W. Park Kerr:

I'm about to share a big secret with you: my favorite margarita recipe.  Back in the day, I would make homemade, frosty margaritas at parties and gatherings whenever I could.  I became somewhat known for them.  Now that I'm a bit older, and a bit more parental, I don't make my favorite marg very much (well, ever) but a few nights ago, we went out to celebrate DH's birthday, and I had a frosty margarita with dinner.  It got me thinking about my mini-bartender days and about the perfect recipe, from the Margarita Cookbook.

So, here's the secret: page 29, My Frosty Frozen Margaritas.  Use a top quality tequila.  Have some friends over.  Enjoy!  

I'm not sure why I've been stingy with certain recipes: my favorite margarita, or my buckeye ball recipe, for instance.  But I recently read this book, in which the author encourages us to share recipes because every recipe is really just a tweaking of another, and the more we share, the more we learn, and the more great food we all get to enjoy.  So true!

Anyway, back to the cookbook: besides the frosty margarita recipe, I've also made the margarita 101 recipe (but I like the frosty one better).  It's a good, classic recipe & you can't go wrong if that's where you start.  There are also some really great-sounding fruity margarita recipes, like watermelon or pineapple.  I've not tried them, but they sound great.  The book also has recipes for tequila cocktails - the Pink Limeade and the El Toro Blanco are calling to me.  And there are chapters for little meals and desserts too (margarita pie, anyone?).

Many of the recipes have photos, all of which will make you want to have that drink now!  The photos give some great ideas on how to garnish your concoction, so your drink will have serious verve.

This book is one that I own, but it has been sitting on my cookbook shelf for the longest time.  I think it's about time to dust it off and start making some seriously good margaritas and cocktails for the hot days of summer.  And now that you know the secret, you can too.