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.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Nook - Just Kids

Just Kids by Patti Smith:

I'll admit, I've led a sheltered life.  My apartment was never robbed, I've never had a boyfriend who hustled for money, I've never lived in a hotel, I've never had anyone murdered outside my front door, I've never had conversations with famous people like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin back in the day.  On some of these examples, sheltered is a good thing.  These are but a few of the life experiences Patti Smith shares in Just Kids, her story about her relationship with renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Art and the need for self expression are some of the biggest themes in the book.  It's so fascinating to hear of these two young people who are living in poverty, basically, but have such a strong desire to create.  Creating art is almost as important to them as food or shelter.  And it seems that Patti and Robert are so close to one another because they both understand this need and tend to it mutually.  It's an interesting peek inside the lives of true artists, and their various mediums of expression.

I also enjoyed, from a photographer's perspective, the notes about Robert's foray into the world of photography: how much film cost those days, and how that cost affected the work, descriptions of some of his early equipment, and most of all, his search for the right light (reading about this part made me so pleased about my own photography, because I do the same thing!).  Patti and Robert go through all sorts of ordeals on their way to stardom (actually, it seems like they never set out to be famous.  I gather that they just set out to be true to themselves and their art); yet through all the bad times (which include lice, gonorrhea, homelessness, near starvation and some of the other examples mentioned above), making art is the goal.  Smith certainly has an interesting story to tell: so much happened to them as they found their way in the world.

I listened to the book on CD, read by the author, which I definitely recommend.  I loved hearing her accent (yell-a for yellow), and just hearing Smith's voice made the story seemed even more authentic.  I also recommend listening to her seminal album, Horses, to come full circle with the story.



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ice Cream Sundays - {maple walnut}

The minute I got my copy of David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, I was dying to make this recipe: maple walnut ice cream with wet walnuts.  Doesn't that sound wonderful?  I thought so, but I made myself wait until Fall, because it seemed so autumn-y.  I can tell you, it was worth the wait.

This is a traditional custard-style ice cream (by far, my favorite).  I only made a single batch because real maple syrup is like liquid gold.  It's a bit pricy and I get ours from the farmer's market, which is a drive from where we live.  I make sure the Bachsters use it as sparingly as possible on their pancakes, so I thought I should practice what I preach.  However, I could have easily made a triple batch of this stuff & we'd all be perfectly content.  But I must exercise a little self restraint here and there, so a single batch it was.

But what a batch!  A maple syrup metamorphosis (the Grade B is a must) and the walnuts are really the perfect compliment to the flavor.  I only added a half batch of the wet walnuts because I a) usually don't like lots of nuts in my ice cream and b) as mentioned, was being stingy on the maple syrup.  But I think half the recipe was the perfect amount.  You should make it and see which way you prefer it.  No, I'm being serious: you should make this ice cream!  And don't necessarily wait until Fall, like I did.  Just like a big stack of pancakes with maple syrup, you can enjoy it any (and every!) season.