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!