Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {mounds}

When I saw the recipe for toasted coconut ice cream in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, I knew I had to make it.  But marbled with mango sorbet, as it's shown in the book, just didn't excite me.  Then, I got a great idea (because, apparently I sit around and daydream about ice cream...a lot).  How about swirling dark chocolate throughout and making an ice cream version of a Mounds candy bar?  Doesn't that sound delicious?!

And it is.  I made the recipe (and was surprised that there is no coconut in the finished product - the ice cream is only infused with the flavor of the toasted coconut).  Then I drizzled bittersweet stracciatella into the layers of ice cream (the stracciatella hardens into chunks).  It was perfection, way better than the candy bar that inspired it.  So glad I made a double batch.

You could also top it with toasted almonds, or swirl them in the ice cream - and you'd have an Almond Joy version!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Earth Hour - 2013

Did you end up participating in Earth Hour last week?  We did, although we did ours on Sunday!  I sort of forgot until the very last minute Saturday evening, so we pushed it back a night.  Saturday, Sunday, it makes no difference, at least that's what I told myself.

As our Bachsters get bigger, Earth Hour has changed to not only turning off all the lights, but also unplugging.  Thankfully, they really enjoy it, and we ended up sitting around the glow of candles, telling stories, reading books, drawing and making pillows (well, that last part was our craft-loving 7-year-old's contribution).  And some of us did not quite unplug 100%, as there was a great deal of digital photography happening.

Here's the link to the Earth Hour website.  And here's the link to our Earth Hour 2011.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Nook - Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn:

Do you follow the Tournament of Books every March?  I check the results daily, although I rarely read any of the books that are discussed.  I can't help myself listening in on the discussion and commentary - generally, when I hear a conversation about a book, my ears perk up.  Anyway, I have tried reading two novels that I discovered through previous Tournaments and could not even finish them, I disliked both so much.  But, I'm happy to say third time's a charm - the Tournament led me to Gone Girl, which was a winner (in the Tournament as well, at least for now).

This is the story about Nick and Amy Dunne, a thirtysomething couple that have both lost their jobs, their money and their social lives in New York City.  They move to Nick's hometown in Missouri to help take care of his aging parents, and Nick opens a bar with his twin sister while Amy plays housewife.  On their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy disappears under mysterious circumstances and Nick, the local cops and the reader are challenged with putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

That's about all I can tell you about the story.  There are many twists that author Gillian Flynn throws our way.  At one time, I found myself even dissecting every little bit of information I was given down to the title and characters' names.  Flynn doesn't always play fair - sometimes she tricks us by giving us false leads.  Sometimes it's obvious (Nick tells us he puts a clue in his pocket, but doesn't reveal what the paper says, at least not yet), sometimes not (is Nick envisioning a violent act that really happened, or is it just a random fantasy/daydream?).  Everything eventually is divulged, and most of the time in a satisfactory way, but sometimes I resented Flynn's obvious messing around with the reader.

I knew enough about the novel to be on guard from the first page.  Even so, I was surprised by a lot of author tricks that were cleverly employed.  Take Amy's diary entries that comprise the first third of the book (we toggle between Amy's account and Nick's).  I almost didn't make it past that first diary entry and was on the verge of setting down the book for good.  What grown woman writes "diary entries" anyway?  Especially ones that start with "Tra and la!"  Seriously?  I am supposed to believe this?  Approach the novel with some skepticism, because all is not what it seems, even down to things like diary entries.

I love the elements of humor  throughout the novel - "she appeared on our doorstep with a welcome-home egg scramble and a family pack of toilet paper (which didn't speak well for the egg scramble)."  Flynn  also transitions Amy's writing with Nick's in interesting ways, such as "I wonder if I have made a very big mistake," writes Amy at the end of a chapter.  The beginning of the next chapter, with Nick's point of view, starts with "I made a mistake."  To keep us turning pages, Flynn often surprises us at the end of chapters to keep us turning.  It worked - I finished the book at 1:30 am one night last week, and I found it very hard to put down, obviously.  However, I will say that once the book was put down, I was happy to forget about it and the characters for a while.  About the characters: much has been said about how terrible they are (as in bad, not badly written).  They are, but I found them very believable, probably because we can slowly see their true colors as we go through all those twists and turns of the plot.

The downsides to the book?  It's very "2012."  I don't think the novel will age well - there are many references to pop culture & modern times (George Clooney is mentioned once). Also, I didn't buy into the diary entries (but be patient, they're there for a reason) and, finally, the feeling that the author is playing not only with her characters, but also her readers.  Despite all that, I had great fun reading into the wee hours of the morning, and it was nice to have a page turner to dive into.

Let me know if you have read any novels from Tournament of Books - was it a winner?


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {lemon-buttermilk sherbet}

I usually try to tell you all about my ice cream adventures right away, so that everything is fresh in my mind.  However, this one slipped through the cracks: lemon-buttermilk sherbet.  I made this ice cream last August (please note the Queen Anne's Lace in the shot).  Do I remember anything about it?  Not a single thing.  I'm pretty sure it was lemony.  And buttermilky. 

Actually now that I think back on it, I remember that I didn't quite care for the creamy caramel sauce together with the sherbet.  Even though this was a recommended pairing, I distinctly recall wanting them separate.  I've made the caramel many, many times since then and I can tell you that's it's the best caramel sauce ever.  And the instructions, from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop are super easy.  Too easy, in fact: if I have heavy cream and sugar just lying around my kitchen, I usually can come up with some excuse why I need to make caramel sauce.  It's a dangerous recipe.

Poor lemon-buttermilk sherbet.  I can't remember anything about it, and then I go on to rave how great the caramel sauce was.  I'll definitely give it another chance, probably in the heat of August with a vase full of Queen Anne's Lace on the table.  It will be a sweet deja-vu.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


New buds...........

New blooms.............

New books..............

New beginnings..............Happy Spring!


Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Nook - Storyteller

Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock:

I always approach a biography with a bit of trepidation.  First, I'm always a little afraid at what I might find out about this wonderful person (I usually only read biographies of people that I find wonderful, inspiring, smart, other words, no bad guys or meanies).  If I find out some rather negative information about my chosen hero, will I still look at them in the same regard. or will it all be tainted?  Or will the truth set me free, and I appreciate them for the complex person as they really are/were?

The other reason I don't read a lot of biographies is because they are so darn long.  I have to really want to know about a person to invest in a 600 + page biography.  Sometimes, a quick look on wikipedia will suffice, or a biography from the juvenile section.  I'm not the only one who thinks this way: on the back cover of Storyteller, Quentin Blake, longtime collaborator with Roald Dahl, writes "a 600-page book with the word 'authorized' on the cover looks to me a rather daunting prospect....."  I couldn't agree more.

But the complex, flawed, adventurous, creative, generous person who was Roald Dahl is definitely worth the investment of reading time.  In fact, after I put the book down I wished it had been longer.  I wanted to know even more about this person who lives on in his stories.  Little things, like what did Dahl think about the Beatles?  Or, what was his favorite color?  Or bigger questions, like would I actually like Roald Dahl, one of my literary heroes, if I met him?  I think this is a sign of an excellent biography: you learn what makes that person tick, and are so engrossed that you want to know even more.  Perhaps a pilgrimage to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre  is the next logical step.

I can't say enough good things about Donald Sturrock's writing.  His research is thorough, his sources are abundant.  He had met Dahl and spent time with him, so he knew him personally.  He just "gets" Dahl, and is not afraid to paint us an accurate picture, warts and all.  Interestingly, Dahl's mentor, Charles Marsh, is discussed a lot throughout the book, as he had a profound impact on Dahl's life.  The more I read about Marsh, the more I wanted to know about him ("work hard, talk little, be truly a miser of time" he once advised Dahl).  Same thing with Dahl's first wife, Patricia Neal - what happened to her after their divorce?  How did she cope with being cast out of Gipsy House?  I'd like to spend some more time with the figures who once spent time with Dahl.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is the relationship he has with his characters.  Readers know that every part of a book is part of its creator: the author's experiences, the author's personality, the author's flights of fancy.  Dahl and a buddy used to go poaching, and schemed a way to score a load of pheasants that is identical to what you'll read in Danny, The Champion of the World.  Dahl once came up with a story about a giant who blew dreams into the bedrooms of little children, to entertain his youngest daughters.  Sounds like The BFG, yes?  And, as Sturrock adeptly observes, one of Dahl's greatest characters, Willy Wonka, is simply a mirror image of his creator.

There are plenty of warts here - Dahl cheated on his first wife, he started arguments at dinner parties just for fun and he didn't always clean his matter.  If you love Roald Dahl, you'll love him even more after reading this biography.  Care to join me on the pilgrimage?


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {green tea}

Some people celebrate St. Patrick's Day by going to a parade.  Some people celebrate by going to their favorite pub.  Me?  I celebrate by making green ice cream!

There are several "green" ice creams in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, but green tea ice cream sounded the most palatable (parsley ice cream, anyone?).  This was a really simple ice cream to make, the only challenge is finding the matcha tea powder - I found mine at Whole Foods.  The flavor is very mild - I could barely taste the matcha; and the green color is subdued.  The Bachsters weren't concerned about those things - they just wanted to know if they could have seconds.

So, I mustache you.....are you doing anything fun to celebrate St. Patrick's Day?


Friday, March 15, 2013

A sliver of summer

Last weekend, the weather was crazy-warm.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to get out with the Bachsters and I'm so glad we did because a few days later, it was back in the 30s.  But at least for one day, it was like a little bit of summer.

We explored Blacklick, one of our favorite Metro Parks in Columbus.

We went to the pond first, and saw a turtle and some goldfish.  No dragonflies yet, but I am so ready (and so is my camera)!

After the pond, DH and the Bachsters had a snowball fight in the parking lot.  Did I mention it was almost 70 degrees?

We also hiked in the woods a bit, visited the park's nature center, played on the playground and then went to Graeter's for ice cream.

Just like summer.........only it was winter!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Nook - The Smitten Kitchen

The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman:

The first thing I did when I picked up The Smitten Kitchen at the library was to read it from cover to cover, something I rarely do with cookbooks.  Usually I flip through them, stopping at interesting recipes or photos or stories, but not this one.  I read it first as a book, and then as a cookbook.

Who knew a cookbook could be such pleasurable reading?  Before giving us each recipe, Perelman writes a little story about it.  These little stories are what makes this book so special.  The author is not just giving us a collection of recipes, but recipes with a personal history.  Perelman's writing is full of witty observations, sweet stories about her toddler, and musings about food.  The stories read like blog postings, which makes sense, considering Perelman is the force behind the popular blog smitten kitchen.

In addition to her amusing stories and anecdotes, there are some really great recipes in the book (probably another reason why her blog is so popular).  The peach and sour cream pancakes are really yummy, and an interesting take on pancakes.  They are almost like a pancake-upside down cake hybrid.  I had to use canned peaches since I made them in the middle of winter, but I can't wait to try them again when peaches are in season.  Also from the breakfast chapter, I made greens, eggs & hollandaise, which was good, but a little lemony.  I love the idea of a creamy sauce with eggs, so I'm going to give it another try with less lemon juice.  Also on my list: the cheddar swirl breakfast buns.  They look like cinnamon rolls, but are savory, with cheddar and dill.  I must try these!

Taking something that is traditionally savory & making it sweet (or vice versa) is a theme that comes up a lot in the book.  There's the aforementioned cheddar buns, as well as a butternut squash galette (I think of galettes as typically sweet); buttered popcorn cookies, red wine velvet cake and the shortcakes that use tomatoes and whipped goat cheese instead of strawberries and whipped cream (featured on the cover).  I love this topsy-turvy way of looking at food!

In addition to the pancakes and greens, eggs & hollandaise, I also made the leek fritters with garlic and lemon.  They were a little bland the first try, so on my second attempt, I added gruyere cheese to the mix and they were perfect.  The wild rice gratin with kale, caramelized onions & baby swiss was also excellent, but I was the only one in our house eating it, not sure why.  The recipe calls for 5 cups of cooked wild rice, but I assumed that meant 5 cups of wild rice mixed with regular rice, so that's what I did.  I also used baby swiss and gruyere instead of the Emmantaler cheese, which was pretty pricy at our local store.  I figured you can't go wrong with any kind of cheese and rice!

All of the desserts look great, but I've only tried one: the apple cider caramels.  I made a batch to take to Thanksgiving, but ended up not taking them because DH and I both thought the apple flavor was a little weird with caramel.  However, the strange apple-ness of them did not stop us (ok, mostly me) from eating all of them.  I really should have taken them with me to Thanksgiving and put up a tiny sign that said apple caramels - very tart.  It would have spared me a great many carbs.

Normally I'm a dessert kind of girl, but my favorite chapter by far is the salads chapter (I've failed to mention that all the chapters are organized by course - breakfast, salads, main dish - vegetarian, main dish - seafood, poultry & meat, etc.  You've probably already gathered that, though!).  Two salads in the book have become my old standbys, favorites that I'll probably be making for years.  First, we have kale salad with cherries and pecans.  Oh, this salad is so delicious!  I've started making it with my food processor to speed things along: the toasted pecans go in, followed by the dried cherries, then the kale.  It makes the salad prep go a lot faster and DH and I don't care how our salad looks, because we inhale it anyway.  It's so good.  To quote the author: "we not only ate this salad, we had seconds.  Seconds!  Of raw kale!  Who are we?"  Yep, that's how it is!

The second salad recipe that we've come to know and love is the broccoli slaw.  It's healthy, it got wonderful flavors, and it would be perfect to take to a family get-together.  I often just add florets to it and ignore the part about chopping up the stalk, although the food processor might come in handy here as well.  I've never been a big fan of raw broccoli, but I've changed my tune with this salad.

There are so many great recipes from the book that I've tried, and many more on the to-try list, that I have a feeling I'll be referring to this cookbook (for not only the recipes, but also the charming stories) for a long time to come.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {vietnamese coffee}

When I'm in the check out line at the grocery store, I can resist buying the candy bars and I can resist buying the magazines, but I always have to talk myself out of getting one of my favorite treats from those little check-out-line fridges, Starbucks Mocha Frappaccino.  Sadly, my attempts at resistance are not always successful.

And, to my surprise, I've discovered an ice cream that tastes remarkably like my beloved Frappaccinos: Vietnamese coffee ice cream from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.  I would have thought that the regular ol' coffee ice cream recipe from the book would be the one to conjure up Frappaccino yumminess, but something about the Vietnamese coffee recipe is what did the trick.  I think it's the super-sweet taste from the sweetened condensed milk that does it.  I used coffee (as opposed to brewed espresso) in the recipe, so maybe that flavor is what reminded me of the Starbucks version.  I guess it really doesn't even matter - sweet + coffee, that's all you really need to know.

It's a divine treat, and hard to resist.....just like its inspiration.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

At-home dentistry

A few weeks ago, Little Dude came up to me and said "Mommy, my tooth is loose."  Was it was on the verge of falling out, along with the one right beside it.  Well, his older sister heard this and got right down to the business of getting that tooth out for him.  All afternoon they worked on it:  Little Dude holding his mouth open while his sister (I mean, dentist) wiggled and twisted the tooth.

And that hard work paid off: later that day, tooth #1 came out (followed by tooth #2 a couple of days later).  Our resident dentist stayed with her patient the whole time, even ensuring his recovery was comfortable.  She didn't even ask for payment (the loot from the tooth fairy), only asking for a hug.

If only every dental procedure were so enjoyable!


Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Nook - The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall:

The Bachsters and I finished The Penderwicks on Gardam Street just last night, so I figured this would be the best time to write about it, while it's still fresh in my mind.  This is the second in the Pendewick series by Jeanne Birdsall (here's the link to the Book Nook post on the first book).  So far, we've really enjoyed this series and have reserved the third book at the library.

In the second book, the four Penderwick sisters (Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty) concoct a Save-Daddy-Plan in response to their Aunt Claire's insistence that their widowed father start dating (which was the wish of their mother before she died).  The girls plot to set him up on dates with really horrible (but not too horrible) women so that he will see how awful the dating scene is and they'll never have to face the prospect of a stepmother.  Amidst all this plotting, the girls find themselves in situations like fainting due to stage fright, hiding out in Daddy's car while he's on his way to a lunch date (with none other than Marianne Dashwood), extracting a car battery, foiling a computer thief, realizing your new life's ambition and kissing a boy (on the cheek!).

Just as with the first book, the characters are a delight.  Here, we come to see them on their home turf, which provides more insights into the characters.  Skye and Jane share a room, Skye's side pristine and Jane's an utter mess; Rosalind is in charge often, and even picks up Batty from daycare; Batty insists Rosalind read her a bedtime story each night because she's the best at it - usually it's a story about their mother.

In regards to their mother, there are flashbacks to scenes with her, and I've got to admit, my eyes started tearing up with just about every reference to her or scene with her in it.  As a Mom, it's just unthinkable to not be with your family - ever.  Yet, here the Penderwick sisters and father must carry on without her.  It tugged at my heartstrings every time, and I had to rush to find a box of tissues at the end.

So, while I was asking myself, could I be so selfless as Elizabeth Penderwick was?, I think my oldest DD was asking herself, could I pull out a car battery?  Our other DD was probably asking herself - could I star in a play?  As for Little Dude, he was probably asking - when is everyone going to leave my room so that I can go to sleep? (in his defense, it is a lengthy book).  It's a book we all enjoyed, and are all looking forward to book #3!


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {crème brûlée}

I've been so excited to share this recipe with you....crème brûlée ice cream!  It was inspired by an annual tradition at our house - crème brûlée on New Year's Day!

It's so easy to make - start off with the recipe for vanilla ice cream (custard style, not Philadelphia style) from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.  After you churn it, separate the ice cream out into several ramekins and smooth out the tops as flat as you can get them.  Cover each ramekin, then freeze for at least a day.

Then, when you're ready to serve them, take the ramekins out of freezer and cover each with a thin, even layer of granulated sugar.  You can swirl the sugar around and then dump the excess out to ensure it's nice and even.  If you have a kitchen torch, torch them as you would for regular crème brûlée.  Our kitchen torch is out of fuel, so I put mine under the broiler in the oven.  You'll have to put the ramekins in when the oven is cold, then turn on the broiler - this will prevent your ramekins from cracking under a sudden temperature change.  Using the broiler works just as well as a kitchen torch, just make sure to keep a close eye on the ramekins so they don't get too burnt!

If you used the broiler, you'll find the top layer of ice cream has melted, so stick the ramekins in the fridge after you've browned the sugar to your liking.  After about 5 minutes, put them in the freezer, for about 5-10 minutes.  Then, you're ready to enjoy crème brûlée like no other!


Friday, March 1, 2013

Comfort food

I love comfort food in the winter, especially the kinds of food that aren't so healthy: sweets and breads.  But a few weeks ago, I just got into a big comfort food kick, probably due to all the cold, gloomy days.  And even though some (ok, all) of the things I made aren't super-healthy, there is a lot to be said for giving your body just what it craves.

I had not made my homemade soft pretzels yet this season, so I simply had to make them before Spring.  These pretzels would be great any time of year, but are just about perfection in the winter.  They are best right out of the oven, so don't let them sit around too long (don't worry, that won't be a problem).  I like mine with lots of mustard, but I am outnumbered around here on that particular preference. 

(Here's where you can find the pretzel recipe):

I love crisps of all kinds, but since I had lots of blueberries at the time, that's what I made.  And, I used store-bought ice cream (gasp!) but I really wanted to save some time and extra dishes.  It just wasn't the same, but still went beautifully with the blueberry crisp.

(Here's where you can find the blueberry crisp recipe):

I love this recipe for Macaroni and Cheese.  It's so easy to make, and really delicious.  The toasted bread crumbs add a lot to it, so if you make it, don't skip them!  Beware though - I always get carb coma after eating this, because it's so easy to eat way more than I should.  I can't help it - it's so yummy!

(Macaroni & Cheese recipe is from The Best Recipe):

What would a post about comfort food be without breakfast?  This is where I love comfort food most of all - pancakes, waffles, potato casserole........the list goes on and on!  But pancakes are probably tops around here, because I love to make them and the Bachsters love to eat them (seriously, they count how many they've eaten and compare their results with each other).  When I was a kid, my mom would always make us homemade pancakes, and even though she made them fairly often, it was always such a special thing when she did.  I have such fond memories of those breakfasts, that I can't help but carry on the tradition with our family. 

(There are several pancake recipes that we love, but I think this recipe is our absolute favorite):

What are some of your favorite comfort foods?