Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Nook - Matilda

Matilda, written by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake:

I can't believe I've never read Matilda, one of Roald Dahl's best known novels until recently.  Actually, I take that back: about a year ago, I tried reading it to the Bachsters, but they didn't have much interest in it.  I'm glad I tried it again with them - we all really enjoyed it.

This is Roald Dahl at his best: a very sweet protagonist with altruistic intentions, a bad guy that is beyond bad, all mixed with Dahl's humor and wit and Quentin Blake's whimsical illustrations.

Matilda is a very smart little girl.  She loves reading books far beyond her age-range, she can do complex math problems in her head and can compose a limerick for her teacher while her teacher is talking to her in class.  For some reason, her parents do not see her brilliance, and go about insulting her and making her eat her supper in front of the telly.  Even when Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey, makes a special trip to their home to tell them how extraordinary their daughter is, they do not believe her.  But despite having such schmucks as parents, Matilda carries on with optimism (after playing a few tricks on her father).

The real bad guy in the book is not played by Matilda's parents, however: that role goes to the Trunchbull, headmistress at Matilda's school.  She does some very horrible things to various children (like swinging one little girl around by her braids), but when Matilda learns of some horrible things the Trunchbull did to Miss Honey, Matilda comes up with a plan to teach the headmistress a lesson or two.

Roald Dahl's works are controversial in children's literature, and you can see why in Matilda.  Some of the things characters do or say are mean-spirited, but some of them are downright abusive, like the braid-swinging, or the awful things the Trunchbull did to Miss Honey.  My Bachsters can handle it, but for younger or sensitive children, you might want to wait until they are a little older.  There are certainly some opportunities for parents to have good conversations with their kids about some of the heavier actions in the story.

That being said, there are some really great things I liked about this book.  The biggest is Matilda: she's a great character.  She's brilliant, inquisitive, patient, tolerant....and perhaps just a little scheming.  I love that kids can look up to her because she's smart.....I think we need to see more role models like that.  She and Miss Honey have a close friendship that's also nice to see.  Being a bit of a bookworm myself, I also love that Matilda is an avid reader, and I loved hearing her thoughts on some of the books she has read (she says of C.S. Lewis that there's no humor in his books.  Books should have some funny parts).  And I love Roald Dahl's style, as always.  Here, I thought it was so funny that he always refers to Matilda's father as "the father" or her mother as "the mother."  Of course, Miss Trunchbull is "the Trunchbull."  Such a tiny descriptive, but gives the reader a real sense of these adults' relationship with Matilda.

Dahl wraps everything up nice and neat at the end, and we can all cheer for Matilda and her happy ending.  Matilda is another example why children - and adults - love Roald Dahl's books.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {pumpkin}

The past few days here in Central Ohio have been cooler, the leaves have been putting all their efforts into falling and I'm starting to dig out my sweaters.  That can mean only one thing: time for pumpkin ice cream!

Actually, I think pumpkin ice cream is pretty perfect any time of the year, but for this ice cream making mama, it's a must in the Fall.  The wonderful David Lebovitz recommended the pumpkin ice cream recipe from The Craft of Baking, so that's the one I used. 

The ice cream turned out so good - but very spicy and distinctive!  There was no mistaking....this is pumpkin ice cream, not some orange-colored spicy ice cream you may buy in the store.  It really tasted like a "well spiced pumpkin pie" just as the recipe promised.  A scoop of this ice cream, topped with some whipped cream, and you would have yourself a nice pumpkin pie substitute.  Next time I might try the sundae recommended by the cookbook authors: pumpkin ice cream with spiced caramel sauce & gingerbread croutons.....yum!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Pumpkins - 2012

A couple of weeks ago, on a warm Fall afternoon, we all set out to the pumpkin farmer's house to pick out our pumpkins.  It's an annual thing for us - as soon as we saw the pumpkins out in September, the Bachsters have been begging to go. 

The pumpkin farmer is a sweet old guy who has been selling pumpkins in his front yard for years.  In the past, he's had some very unusual kinds, like "peanut" pumpkins (they look like they have peanuts glued all over them) or green pumpkins.  This year, he had some neat huge white ones - I've only seen small white ones before.  And of course, there were lots of orange ones, too!

Do you have any fun Fall traditions?  Please share!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Nook - AlphaOops! H is for Halloween

AlphaOops!  H is for Halloween, written by Alethea Kontis, illustrated by Bob Kolar:

You know what's really sad?  My days of picture books are numbered.  Our Bachsters are very slowly starting to gravitate towards chapter books and novels instead of picture books.  I've even heard our oldest DD call picture books "baby" books.  Now, they all 3 still read or look through just about every picture book that I bring home.  But I've recently noticed that the picture books are fewer in numbers lately than the chapter books, and our bedtime stories are rarely picture books these days. 

Sniff.  Our babies are growing up!

AlphaOops! H is for Halloween holds a special place in my heart because our Little Dude, who is 5, really likes this book.  Last year, we got it for him at the library and he really took to it, asking me to read it to him again and again.  He is the least book-y out of all the Bachsters, so any book that he loves, I love because it gets him excited about books.  The fact that this book is a real pleasure to read and the pictures are adorable just makes it all that much better.  In fact, he ended up getting this book as a Christmas gift, so he can enjoy the Halloween-alphabet-silliness year round.

Since this is an alphabet book, it starts with the letter A, or it should.  The first page shows us apples waiting on the letter A to make his appearance, but apparently, he's not ready yet and asks H to go first.  Which makes sense, because this is not only an alphabet book, but a Halloween one.   Next, we have "Z is for zombie" and "N is for nightmare.  K is for kraken.  P is for pirate."  Poor B has all of his ideas taken!

Even though the order of the letters is crazy, there's a cute little square-headed guy at the bottom of each page that brings out a pumpkin with the new letter on it and puts them all in order.  He even takes a coffee break at one point.  As you can tell, there's a lot of humor throughout the book.  The Bachsters and I especially love the page where the letter P is consoling a jack-o-lantern, who looks distraught.  P says, "sorry, Jack.  J can't pick you every time."  It turns out that J is for jitters....not jack-o-lantern!

The pictures are all done in a spooky-cutsie style with great colors throughout.  There's a lot to look at on every page, with all those letters of the alphabet all saying funny little things off to the side.  All this makes for a picture book that you'll want to read over and over, no matter if you've outgrown picture books or not.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {roasted banana}

When I made this roasted banana ice cream, from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, I couldn't resist his suggestion to make banana splits with the banana ice cream.  Banana ice cream, hot fudge and homemade whipped cream sounded like a delicious combination - and it didn't disappoint!

The banana ice cream gets its texture from the bananas versus heavy cream (which isn't even added in this recipe).  There's really not even much added sugar.  The bananas do all the work in this recipe - who knew they were such a capable fruit?

We all really liked the ice cream, but the addition of the hot fudge sent it over the top.  If I were to make it again, I'd make sure to have a big vat of hot fudge at the ready.  And the addition of the whipped cream was like icing on the cake.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Palm Oil

A few days ago, I read an article online about orangutangs losing their habitat for palm oil.  Here's the link to the article.  I had no idea about this, so I thought I'd put it up on the blog and help spread the word.

I believe knowledge is power, and if consumers collectively refuse to buy something, together we can change things.  So please, take a look at your cupboards and see if there are any products with palm oil in them and if there are, just buy something different, without palm oil, next time.

The orangutangs thank you!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Nook - Cooking for Friends

Cooking for Friends by Gordon Ramsay:

I discovered this book because I had heard about the awesome photography by Ditte Isager, and I was really curious to see it.  So, I suppose I'll start there, with the photography, which is usually a secondary thought with cookbooks, but not this one.  The photography makes the book.  Isager's photos are both beautiful and simple, and are showcased on heavy, matte paper.  She uses a palette of soft blues and light browns, combining textures of the earthenware plates and wrinkly linen fabrics.  Everything seems to be placed casually, but in the back of my head I know it's painstakingly deliberate.  The lighting is natural and gorgeous.  Isager makes food photography look so easy, and she makes the food look so delicious!

I tried several recipes from the book, starting with a few of the desserts (of course!).  The almond coffee cake is actually made with coffee, a fact that really pleased the Bachsters.  It is not a very sweet cake, but they loved it.  We served it with sweetened mascarpone cream on the side, as suggested, but I wish a recipe would have been given for this.  I searched the internet for one, but it seems that the author would have put one in the book.

I also made the dark chocolate marquise, which also happened to be not-so-sweet.  I had some reservations about cooking the mousse by beating it over a pan of simmering water - mine never seemed to get warm.  So, if you are concerned about under-cooked eggs, this might not be the recipe for you.  Also, I served ours with frozen yogurt....big mistake!  The tangy yogurt was all wrong for it.  This rich, chocolatey dessert begs for vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream on the side.

I've been trying to cut back on making pasta, but the recipe and Isager's beautiful photo sold me on the farfalle with bacon and peas.  I made it, intending to give most of it to the Bachsters.  But I had a taste here and there, and I was so surprised how the flavor developed as it sat for a while.  I think this dish would make great leftovers.

I also made the braised red cabbage with apple, but sadly, it didn't work out for me.  Unlike the desserts I tried, this savory dish was super-sweet.  And DH complained that it shouldn't have cinnamon in it.  But, oh, how wonderful it made my kitchen smell!  I love braised red cabbage, so I might give this recipe another chance, cutting way back on the brown sugar and eliminating the cinnamon sticks next time.

Some other recipes I'd like to try are the penne with baked pumpkin and rosemary, mixed mushroom salad and the chocolate swirl cheesecake.  Seriously, the gorgeous photos will have you wanting to try everything!

One odd thing about the book is the high number of photos of Gordon Ramsay.  It seems as if every few pages there's a shot of him.  I don't mind one or two, but it's a bit overkill here.  Perhaps Ramsay was so taken with Isager's photography, that he couldn't help but jump in front of the camera.  I'm sure I would have done the same, bringing all my favorite dishes into the shot with me.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {ice cream sandwiches}

When the Bachsters went back to school at the end of August, I wanted to make everyone a yummy treat to enjoy when they came home.  Homemade ice cream sandwiches seemed like just the thing to celebrate back-to-school.  I used the chocolate ice cream sandwich cookies from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop and filled them with vanilla ice cream (Philadelphia style).  They were indeed  a very yummy after-school treat, even for those of us who are no longer in school.

The funny thing about these ice cream sandwiches is that they provoke the pinky-effect:

So if you make them, watch out for those pinkies!


Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Nook - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling:

I don't watch much TV, so I've never seen The Office (but I have heard of it) and I can't tell you the last time I watched Saturday Night Live (10 years ago, maybe).  But for some reason, I've been reading lots of funny books by ladies who write for and perform on these shows.  First it was Bossypants by Tina Fey and then recently, Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch - both were books than I really loved.  And through online reviews and comments about those books, I discovered Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

I wouldn't call this book "funny" (for that, 1st place goes to Bossypants).  But the author, Mindy Kaling of The Office, has lots of humorous observations about her life and the people in it.  I think I only laughed out loud towards the end, during the fake eulogy, which I think was actually written by someone else.  But, even though it's not laugh-out-loud funny, I certainly smiled and nodded my way through the book and could definitely relate to her on many, many occasions (being scared of the high dive, not fitting in with the blonde cheerleader crowd and others).

There are chapters titled "my favorite 11 moments in comedy" and "the day I stopped eating cupcakes."  Also, "why do men put on their shoes so slowly?" and "revenge fantasies while jogging."  So, obviously, this book is not for everyone.  But I loved the lighthearted musings and felt like I really got to know Mindy Kaling by the end of the book.  And of course, now I see her everywhere (well, on the internet at least).  She talks about how close she is with her mom, so when I saw in a recent interview that her mom died of cancer, I was genuinely saddened by the news.  I also learned that she has her own show now - even though I don't personally know her, I'm rooting for her success.
One thing to note: there are a few f-bombs in the book.  I listened to it on book-on-CD (narrated by the author), so just beware if your kids are around to overhear.  She also mentions to the book-on-CD listeners that there is a section in the hard-copy version in which there are a bunch of pictures.  She encourages listeners to swing by and flip through it next time you're in a bookstore.   I'll have to do that!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {chocolate}

Author David Lebovitz refers to his chocolate ice cream as "the ultimate" in his book, The Perfect Scoop.  And, seriously, it is.  I know because I've made it 3 times in the past few months.

The first time I made it was for a family party, and everyone kept raving over how delicious it was.  So, naturally I took that as a good sign and now make it whenever I have a good excuse!  It's so rich and chocolatey, almost like pudding magically transformed.  The recipe calls for either bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, and I usually do half of each.  You could always tweak it to your own idea of chocolate-perfection and I can guarantee that it will be a delicious experiment.

I think this chocolate ice cream represents just how good all-natural, homemade ice cream is.  You will have a difficult time returning to any other store-bought chocolate ice cream after having this.  Consider yourself warned.


Friday, October 5, 2012


I've had this project completed and the photo on my camera since June, but I had envisioned taking a funny shot of DH wearing his new socks, so I never posted it.  Alas, I never got around to the photoshoot.  So, in the spirit of closure, here are DH's knitted socks that I made him for his birthday:

This is my first pair of knitted socks, and it wasn't too hard.  I had a great "pattern" which was more like a tutorial really, called Silver's Sock Class.  I'd recommend it to any knitter who wants to tackle socks.  Here's the link to my Ravelry projects page, for Rav members. 

I knew I'd be pushing it a little to get 2 socks done in less than 2 months (I'm a sock-knitting-newbie and a slow knitter).  But, thanks to taking the project with me to the pool a couple of times, and some last minute knitting during a power outage on DH's birthday, I managed to get them done.

Now I just need a pair for my own feet......of course, I could always "borrow" DH's socks!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Nook - The Art of Non-Conformity

The Art of Non-Conformity - Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau:

If I had to pick one word to describe this book it would be inspiring.  Author Chris Guillebeau has such a great forward-thinking way of looking at life and work.  Here's a person who has basically been an entrepreneur since his first days of work, and now lives an unconventional life - writing, blogging & doing speaking engagements, all while tackling his personal goal of visiting every country on the planet.  All before he turns 35.

There are a few discussions from the book that really stuck with me.  The first one is about monkeys.  He writes that if we have several monkeys in a cage, and train them gradually to not go after the bananas dangling from the top of the cage, eventually they won't try.  New monkeys replacing existing monkeys are taught to not get the bananas and eventually, none of the monkeys knows why they can't get the bananas, they just know they shouldn't.  Of course, the monkeys in this scenario are your 9-to-5-workers.  Throughout the book, Guillebeau offers encouragement for us to get those bananas!

I also loved the self-directed graduate program he suggests.  Guillebeau doesn't sugar-coat his college and graduate school experiences.  He felt like most of it was a waste of time and money.  So, he suggests his own "course," which includes things like a round the world trip, joining a toastmasters club and reading a bunch of classics.  He asks: are you looking for a piece of paper in the end, or are you looking for an education?

I was also taken with the notions of being proactive about your own destiny, don't allow a company to drive your bus.  When times are hard, shouldn't we rely on our own resources, not the whims of a corporation?  I also really enjoyed his discussion about laying the foundation for your own legacy, starting today.  It got me thinking about what I want to leave behind one day, and what I want to be remembered for.  Don't wait until you're too old to do anything about it - now is the time.

Page after page I was nodding my head, and reading ideas out loud to my DH.  I wouldn't say it's a real hands-on kind of instructional book, and realistically, many people could not live the kind of life the author does.  But if you want to be in charge of your life - maybe through being an entrepreneur or pursuing a creative dream, this book is packed full of inspiration that will get you motivated to make a change, and stop "sleepwalking" through life.