Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Nook - Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain:

The other day, I went into our 7-year-old's room to give it a good cleaning while she was at school.  It was a real mess in there: Legos found their way under every step I took, clothes scattered everywhere (some clean, some dirty, all on the floor), broken crayons and chalk, little beads in every corner, papers, get the picture.  And before I started cleaning, I just sat there, among the mess and clutter, and zoned out.  Maybe I just didn't know where to begin.  Maybe I was trying to talk myself out of the task ahead (reading a good book and having a hot mug of tea sounded much more fun).  And perhaps I just sat there because I needed time to process all the stimuli before me...perhaps I was just following my introverted nature. *

I'm sure you're familiar with introverts vs. extroverts.  Introverts are (typically) quiet, reserved, pensive, cautious, and happy to dwell in their inner thoughts in solitude (or surround themselves with a handful of close relationships).  Extroverts are the opposite: they are (typically) boisterous, talkative, energetic, easy-going and happy to surround themselves with as many people as possible.  Which category do you fall into?

Author Susan Cain examines the advantages and disadvantages of being introverted in a extroverted-dominant society, observes the preferences and nature of introverts and presents a great number of studies on introverts.  She looks closely at introverts in the workforce, introverts in the school system, introverts in relationships, politics and leadership roles.  She brings up issues such as cultural influences, nature/nurture and free will.  As a true introvert, I loved every page and found the book both fascinating and enlightening.  But how could I not?  Cain paints introverts in a very flattering light; I wonder how I would have felt about the book if I was an extrovert?  Some of the data might be a little off-putting, for instance: "introverts receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees, National Merit Scholarship finalist positions and Phi Beta Kappa keys.  They outperform extroverts on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal test.....They've been shown to excel at something psychologists call 'insightful problem solving'" (pages167-168).  Maybe extroverts might take away some pointers for dealing with introverts, but perhaps they might be a little put off by reading 266 pages about introvert awesomeness.

It's true, though....we are an awesome bunch.  I particularly enjoyed reading the stories about famous introverts, and some of their challenges and observations: Dr. Suess, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffett, Stephen Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Albert Einstein, and Rosa Parks to name a few.

I couldn't help but think about myself and DH as I read the book.  He is an off-the-chart extrovert.  I've always thought that our opposite nature serves us well.  He loves to talk, and I'm a good listener.  I couldn't help but laugh when I read about introverts and extroverts hunting for homes "with cozy window seats and other nooks and crannies for the introverts, and large, open living-dining spaces for the extroverts" (page 125).  DH and I have had that very same conversation when talking about our dream house!

For introverts, it's impossible to read this book and not see yourself in the myriad of case studies and examples the author provides.  And it's reassuring to know that, although introverts are the quiet minority, we can make our mark in this world, in our own way, whether it's changing people's views on equal rights, creating theories that will advance technology, or even merely cleaning up a child's bedroom.


*Edited to add: in the book, the author discusses lots of studies that show how introverts react differently to external stimulation vs. extroverts.  The differences can even be noticed in babies.  I'm not sure if I was reacting to lots of stimulation that day I cleaned my daughter's room.  I think I was just being lazy & didn't want to start the job, honestly!     

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {cantaloupe sorbet}

If you happened to see my post on mascarpone ice cream (here's the link) then I should tell you that cantaloupe sorbet is in the same category: something's amok with my cantaloupe!  It looks like a big scoop of soft cantaloupe puree, but once you take a bite out of it, you realize it's cantaloupe, just disguised.  Apparently, cantaloupe can be a very sneaky fruit when it wants to.

The cantaloupe I used smelled wonderful, but had a very melon-y taste to it.  I made this recipe in the summer, at the height of cantaloupe season.  And it's so easy to make - chop, blend, cool & churn (the recipe is from the amazing The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, also amazing).

I have come to realize that I'm not much of a sorbet fan.  I mean, I'll eat it and all, but I tend to daydream about ice cream while I'm eating sorbet.  I prefer my fruit straight-up, instead of fruit trying to be something it's not.  However, perhaps that's a little unfair of me - maybe if my cantaloupe hadn't been melon-y I would have liked it more.

So, maybe I'll give it another try when I have a good looking cantaloupe candidate on hand.  And, next time I'll serve a scoop of it in a half-cantaloupe bowl, just to blur the lines of reality and fantasy a little more. 


Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Nook - The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall:

The Bachsters and I just recently finished this book, and the girls loved it.  As I read it, they would squirm around, relating to a character, or declare that they were just like a certain character, and every night they begged to read just one more chapter.  For those reasons alone, it's very Book-Nook-worthy!

The Penderwicks are four young sisters (all aged 4-12, I believe) who have rented a quaint cottage (part of a grand estate) for three weeks during the summer with their absent-minded professor father, Mr. Penderwick.  Roaslind is the responsible, oldest sister; Skye is the tomboy sister who always puts her foot in her mouth; Jane loves both soccer and writing her Sabrina Starr novels; Batty is the youngest, always getting into something, assisted by the family dog, Hound.

Each chapter is a mini-adventure where one or more of the sisters usually gets into some sticky situation.  Batty is almost charged by a raging bull; Jane and Skye ruin the garden party judging; Rosalind embarrasses herself by falling into the pond right in front of her very first crush, the estate's gardener, Cagney.  Through many of their adventures, the girls are joined by Jeffrey, a young boy who lives in the estate's mansion with his high-heel-loving mother, Mrs. Tifton.  Jeffrey is doomed to attend military school, even though he's tried to tell his mother that he really wants to study music.  The girls set out to help Jeffrey, despite their own adventures occasionally messing up their plans.

As I mentioned, the girls loved the book (Little Dude listened to it as well, but he's still a bit too young to appreciate it I think).  I read in one review that it has a bit of an old-fashioned feeling to it, and that is true for the most part.  The pace moves along nicely, but it's not as action-packed as some children's novels.  I loved the dialogue between the sisters, and found their bickering very believable.  The interactions between the characters is probably the book's greatest strength: what these characters do and say (or forget to do & forget to say) makes them seem very real, which is perhaps why my girls could relate to them so well. 

There are, of course, some downsides, tiny plot contrivances (for example, if Mrs. Tifton is so wealthy, why in the world would she rent out the little cottage on the property?) & some of the dialogue (jokes of drowning someone came up a couple of times...enough to make me feel a little uncomfortable).  But on the whole, I would definitely recommend the book.....and I know the Bachsters would, too.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {butterscotch pecan}

Love = ice cream.

At least, that was my thinking when I made butterscotch pecan ice cream (from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop) for Valentine's Day for my sweetie, whose favorite ice cream is butter pecan.  I whispered those three little words in his ear: butter....scotch....pecan.

This recipe is awesome in every way (just like true love).  It calls for dark brown sugar instead of the usual granulated sugar, which imparts a warm butterscotch flavor.  The ice cream would actually be really good as is, but the addition of the buttered pecans really sends it over the top.  They are delicious on their own (I'm definitely going to make them again when I'm trying to be all low-carb), but something about the pairing of the salty toasted pecans with the creamy butterscotch ice's a match made in heaven!

I omitted the scotch whisky, because I knew the Bachsters would want some.  Spread the love, people, spread the love.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day

We've had lots of sugar and lots of fun on this Valentine's Day!  I thought I'd share a few pics from our day.

We've been making "Goombas" as the Bachsters have been calling them:

We've been enjoying lots and lots of kisses - both the traditional and the chocolate kind:

My present to DH (I tore that "Beer Mine" out of a 614 Magazine). Actually, I got him the beer and ballroom dancing classes for couples.  He gave me a strange look on that one, but I thought it would be a fun couple thing.  We'll see!

I thought it would be a big surprise to make a cake for everyone.  However, I didn't take into account the huge amount of candy that the Bachsters got with their Valentines.  So, the cake went pretty much unnoticed when the girls got out of school.  I'm hoping that they'll change their minds after supper.

Little Dude helped me put the frosting on:

The recipe I used is this one, which I've made before and is delicious.  The buttercream frosting is from Martha Stewart - we haven't eaten the cake yet, but as you can see, we have tried the frosting and it's really good:

I added some Smucker's strawberry syrup and a few drops of red food coloring to get it a nice shade of pink - perfect for love day!

I hope you are having a wonderful Valentine's Day too!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Nook - Boy & Going Solo

Boy by Roald Dahl:

You've probably noticed that I just love Roald Dahl.  I've written about many of his books here on Book Nook & I think I've read just about all of them.  But, I had never read Boy, Dahl's account of a few exciting events when he was a child.  I'm not sure what took me so long, but I'm so glad I finally picked up the book.  Dahl is the same engaging storyteller here as he is in his fictitious tales for children.

The book covers a bit about his parents when they were young and starting out.  His main focus of the book, however, are the experiences he had as a young boy in school.  These range from happy memories (like the math teacher who preferred to work out crossword puzzles on the chalkboard instead of actual math problems) to the horrible (the times he received a caning from the Headmaster).  Every summer, Dahl and his large family would travel to Norway and spend the summers visiting family and cruising around the fjords.

When you read a Roald Dahl book, it's hard to miss the author's skill in telling a good tale - this one is no exception.  I was totally engaged in his story about The Great Mouse Plot, and the drive in the motorcar that led to Dahl's nose getting practically chopped off.  There was a time when Dahl had to "heat a seat in the bogs" (wait until you find out what that means), and there was an interesting incident with goat's tobacco.

What's really neat, if you're a fan of Dahl's, is that you can spot his inspiration for many of his characters.  His mother calls him "my darling" just like Grandmama in Danny, the Champion of the World.  The Trunchbull (from Matilda) can be spotted in almost every Headmaster, as well as a touch of The Matron.  I spotted the Grand High Witch from The Witches in mean Mrs. Pratchett.

Dahl mentions that he used to love photography and describes his equipment and process, which I absolutely loved, being a shutterbug myself.  There are lots of pictures included in the book, many taken by the author (and many family pictures when he was a little boy as well).  I just raced through his tales of childhood, thoroughly enjoying the stories and pictures (and illustrations by Quentin Blake) and when I was finished, I was a little sad because I wanted the story to continue.  Lucky for me it does.........

Going Solo by Roald Dahl:


Going Solo starts where Boy left off: when Dahl sets of for Eastern Africa to work for The Shell Company.  The book is very similar to its predecessor in that story after story will grab your attention and keep it.  Once, Dahl saw a lion take off with the cook's wife and when someone shot at him to scare him, he set her down (unharmed) and ran away.  Dahl was going to dinner at at a fellow Englishman's house when he saw a green mamba snake slither in - he helped evacuate the family out the window and waited under a nearby tree when the local crazy snake man tried to catch it.  Then  WWII broke out and Dahl had all sorts of adventures as a pilot in the Royal Air Force.

What an interesting life Roald Dahl led before he settled down and began his writing career!  It's so interesting to read about the events that shaped him and ultimately his stories.  When I finished Going Solo, I felt the same way after reading the last page of Boy: I wanted to know what happened next!  I wasn't quite ready to leave Roald Dahl's world.

Which is the reason I have the authorized biography of Road Dahl sitting on my coffee table, waiting for me, at this very moment.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {aztec "hot" chocolate}

Here's what it's like to eat Aztec "hot" chocolate ice cream from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop:

Part 1:  Ooooh, this this so chocolatey and yummy and chocolatey.  I could eat a huge bowl of this stuff.
Part 2:  Holy cow!  Water!  Water!  Quick, somebody get me some water, I'm dying here!
Part 3: Tissues!  I need tissues too!
Part 4: Gosh, that was so chocolatey, maybe I was just dreaming about that spicy part.  Surely it wasn't that hot.  Must.  Have.  Chocolate.

That pretty much sums it up.  Chocolate ice cream, made with chile powder.  If you like hot & spicy foods, you will probably love this ice cream.  I only put in 2 teaspoons of spices (it called for 2 to 3) but they were real doozeys.

As for the photo, I thought the scoop looked a little wonky and considered re-shooting.  Then, the more I looked at it, I realized that the scoop looks like it's up to no good.  And I decided that this shot perfectly represented the ice cream!


Thursday, February 7, 2013


A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a new knitting project that I was starting - a cowl.  Well, I'm sad to say that I had to frog it (for the second time).  I made a tiny little error, which made a tiny little hole, and being the perfectionist that I am, I didn't want that little hole staring at me all the time (never mind all the big intentional holes that the pattern has).

I also wish that I could tell you about all the great progress I've made since I frogged it.  But unfortunately, I keep falling asleep while knitting late at night!  So the last few nights, I've only been able to get a handful of stitches on the needles!

I do hope I can actually finish this cowl while Winter is still here.  Wish me luck (and caffeine)!


Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Nook - The Bridge to Terabithia

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson:

I'm not really sure how to chat about this book without giving away any spoilers.  The spoiler is the crux of the book.  I'll just say that there is a big, bad tragedy that happens to one of our characters,  That's all I'm going to say!

Jesse is getting ready to enter the 5th grade at his rural Virginia school.  To prepare, he wakes up early every morning, right after he hears his father's truck pull away, and practices his running in the family's cow pasture (his goal is to be the fastest runner in his class).  One morning, he is surprised by his new neighbor: Leslie, a boyish-looking girl who will be in his class and who happens to be an excellent runner.

Jesse and Leslie become good friends, and hang out together at school, or at her house, or at their top-secret magical world, Terabithia, which is just across the creek beside a big, scary forest.  Things are going great until that big, terrible tragedy that I mentioned happens.  And then we try to make sense of things with the other characters, and then (rather abruptly, in my opinion) all is back to normal and the story ends.  This is when I set my book down and thought about the story for a few days.  My biggest question was why.  Why did the author, Katherine Paterson, write this book?  What were her reasons, I wondered.  After a quick wikipedia check, it turns out that something similar happened to her son and a friend of his in their childhood.  So, I think Paterson wrote it simply as a re-telling of events, or maybe as a way for her to deal with personal tragedy.  There must be some reason, I can't help but wonder, because basing a book on a big, bad tragedy and then wrapping up the loose ends tidy & quick leaves me a bit in the dark.  So, I looked for clues.

One thing that caught my attention was the "bridge" over the creek - after the big, bad tragedy one character changes it from a swinging rope to a wooden bridge.  Does this symbolize perhaps a preparation or a readiness to go forward into adulthood?  And I'm still scratching my head about May Belle being asked to come to Terabithia at the end - before, guests were strictly prohibited.  Is that a replacement for another character, or perhaps that too has some symbolic meaning - maybe a new openness towards others?  I don't know, but I am trying to figure out what Paterson is trying to get at.  Maybe I'm reading too much in to it and she is just re-telling a tale from real life.  But, this being a Newbery Medal winner (1978) I'm sure there is more than meets the eye.  I'm just not sure what it is because the actions of the characters (the main character, specifically) don't make sense to me after the big, bad tragedy.

However, that being said, I loved the characters and I think that's what makes this a great story.  They are all very real.  Jesse's mother yelling for him, "Jess-see!"  Or her making Jesse do all the chores, while letting the older sisters talk her out of work and excusing the younger sisters because they are too little.  Even the names of the sisters sound true: Brenda and Ellie are the older sisters, May Belle and Joyce Ann are the younger two (I love that there is a progression with their names - the parents must have grown/developed/changed as the years and children kept coming).  The arguments that the sisters have with Jesse seem all too true.  I thought this was really the best part of the book: the family dialogue and interactions that allowed each character to stand out.

I liked the characters of Jesse and Leslie, too and thought their interactions were plausible.  They played and made believe like most 5th graders would.  Leslie's family is also an interesting one, albeit quite the opposite from Jesse's.  Again, the characters in the book are the real strength.

I hope I haven't given too many crucial details.  If you haven't read the book, it might be best to go into it not knowing what to expect.  Unfortunately, I skipped right ahead to the chaper entitled "No!" and quickly read what happened.  Maybe if I knew nothing about the book, I might have been more appreciative of the big, bad tragedy & what happened afterwards.  As it was, I loved the book up to that part, but I still can't wrap my brain around the big, bad tragedy and why it's there in the first place.  Which is how it goes in real life, too.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {baileys}

Last Fall, I made a new recipe from a gelato cookbook called Ciao Bella.  There are a lot of really intriguing recipes in that book, but I was dying to try the Irish Cream gelato.  Doesn't that sound wonderful?

I'm not sure if you need a special gelato maker when you generally make gelato - I just used my ice cream maker.  But from my understanding, gelato usually has less air whipped into it versus ice cream and is more dense as a result.  So perhaps there are special gelato churners out there, but I just couldn't wait that long.  I wanted Bailey's gelato....pronto!

The gelato was very yummy, but I had the expectation that it would be a bit richer than it was.  Maybe if I'd churned it with a proper gelato machine it would have been perfect.  But, it was still yummy and DH and I gobbled it up.  Maybe it just needed more booze?  I'll try that next time!