Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Nook - A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby:

I find it difficult to read multiple books by the same author and not compare them, don't you?  That's the case with A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, which I read because I enjoyed About a Boy so much.  And there are lots of similarities: quirky characters, lots of British slang, a plot involving people trying to find their purpose in life.  In fact, one character in this book tutors a young boy, which I thought was very About a Boy-ish.

The novel is about four mismatched people, with one thing in common: they all go to Topper's House, a well-known suicide spot, on New Year's Eve to jump off the roof.  Martin used to be a presenter on a television program, but his life has become a downward spiral, and he's lost it all - his wife, his kids, his money and his dignity.  Maureen has a 19 year old son who is in a vegetative state and can't get out from under his heavy burden.  JJ is an American whose life goal is to be a musician - and his band just broke up and his girlfriend left him.  Finally, Jess is 18 and already has a lifetime of issues, partially thanks to the disappearance of her older sister.

These four unhappy souls meet and unintentionally work together to piece their lives back together, but in a very real way (at one point, Jess tells us that we won't be finding out what happened to her sister - it's just not that kind of book).  Thank goodness, because I'll take realistic versus fake happy endings any day.

For a story about four people wanting to commit suicide, it's remarkably funny.  Throughout the book, any time a character swears around prim Maureen, they apologize with a "sorry, Maureen."  This happens a lot, as there is a lot of swearing.  In one scene, Jess's ex-boyfriend "swallowed this information almost visibly, like snakes swallow eggs: You could see the slow march to the brain."  I love how the author is able to give his observations a humorous spin time and time again.  And he keeps the plot moving in wonderfully unexpected ways - you'd think that these characters would just say their goodbyes and call it a night, but crazy things keep bringing them back together (like an angel who looks remarkably similar to Matt Damon, for instance).

The one downside to the novel, for me, was the character of Jess.  She's wonderfully written, but I couldn't stand her in the least.  It's hard to spend time with someone (even just an on-paper someone) whom you dislike so much - so in a way, I was pushing for the end just so I could get away from her.  Kudos to the other three characters for sticking with her for so long. 

I really enjoy Nick Hornby's writing style.  High Fidelity is next on my list.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {cherry crisp}

Cherry crisp ice cream.....what a brilliant idea!  After all, if you make cherry crisp, chances are you're going to top it off with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, right?!  Why not just make it all at once?  As soon as I saw this combination in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, I had a "why didn't I think of that" moment.

I made the roasted cherries according to the recipe in Jeni's, as well as the crisp streusel (which seemed way too buttery at first, but turned out perfect).  I cut the streusel recipe in half, and only used about half of that, so it makes way more than you need (but the extra streusel is great topped on other ice creams - believe me, I know).

The vanilla ice cream recipe is from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.   I made the Philadelphia-style ice cream with both heavy cream and whole milk - it always turns out great.

Once everything was roasted, baked, cooled and churned, then I layered all the components together.  And it really is cherry crisp - sweet cherries in their syrup and buttery streusel with the perfect complement - vanilla ice cream.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fibonacci Afghan

Way back in Fall of 2010, I got the idea to knit an afghan based on the Fibonacci spiral.  I wanted each square to be a Fibonacci sequence number (which are 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on - each number is the sum of the 2 numbers before it).  I loved the perfect afghan-size these measurements would give me, as well as the visual of the spiral swirling over the clustered squares.

I chose Cascade 128 Superwash for the project in 5 different earth-tone shades (here's my original post on the yarn).  I garter-stitched 9 squares, sewed them together and sewed on an i-cord spiral - it was as easy as pi (er, pie) .


I had submitted the pattern to a knitting magazine in hopes to get it published, but was rejected.  No problem, I thought, I'll self-publish.  But then our computer crashed and I lost the original pictures and the notes from the tech editor.  Since there was a problem with gauge anyway, the wind went out of my sails and I shelved the whole thing.

So, almost two years after completing it, I finally finally am dusting off the project and sharing it.  A couple of weeks ago, Little Dude and I took the afghan to Inniswood Metro Park to try to re-create the original photoshoot (note the wrinkles from 2-years of heavy use - actually, on second thought,  please pretend you don't see them).

Despite all the afghan-drama, I must say, I'm so pleased with how it turned out.  It's on my bed most cold nights, and mathematical sequences combined with the warmth of pure wool lull me to sleep.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Nook - many, many books for kids

It's been a while since I posted about children's books in this space, so long in fact, that you may be thinking that we just haven't been reading.  Au contraire, we've been reading a ton, but lazy Mama just hasn't blogged about any of the great books we've enjoyed lately.  It's about time to do so!  Here are a few that we've read and enjoyed, in no particular order:

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis - this was one of my absolute favorite books as a child, and I was happy to see that it is still pure magic from an adult perspective.  I could not imagine any reader wanting to put it down after the first few chapters.  C.S. Lewis has created a tale so spellbinding, alluring and intriguing....and the Bachsters thought the same.  There is a rather intense scene in the latter part of the book - let's just say that Mama skipped some parts as we read it (just because our little ones are still little).  Such a great book! 

Again! by Emily Gravett - Little Dude and I loved this picture book.  Even from the first page with all the publishing info (which is duplicated - going with the theme again).  We laughed our way through it and enjoyed it over and over.  Just like little dragon in the story, you'll want to read it again and again.

The Music of Dolphins  by Karen Hesse - thanks, chickadee, for recommending this book - we loved it!  I always know when our oldest is taken in by a book because she takes it back to her room to read ahead after we finish reading for the night....and she did so with this one.  Mila has been raised by dolphins, and we learn through her journal of her challenges to become human in a human world.  There is a chapter in the middle of the book that recollects her life with the dolphins - if only every one could read that chapter, I think we'd do a lot more to clean up  and protect our oceans and environment.  I loved the author's creative use of font size!

A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke - it's not every day that your 7-year-old is actually brought to tears because you returned a book to the library.  Yet such was the day I returned A Little Book of Sloth.  I thought she had already had her fill of baby sloths in a bucket and baby sloths cuddling with  stuffed animals.  For weeks I heard all about baby Matteo, baby Cosmo and Buttercup.  She would giggle and coo every time she opened the book.  So, yeah, I felt a little bad when it was due at the library - I ended up buying her the book so that she can get her fix of baby sloth cuteness anytime she pleases.

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke - this book has everything the Bachsters enjoy in a good book: magic and fantasy, a strong protagonist, humor and a good storyline with a quick pace.  I loved the book because there is nothing bad in it at all (which is getting harder to find, even in children's books).  The only thing that might be construed as violence would be a joust (in which no one gets hurt).  I loved that Igraine wants to be a knight, and this ambition is perfectly normal in this book (as opposed to the hundreds of "princessy" books out there).  We all really enjoyed this one.

Worst Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure: Amazon by Hena Khan - this is a very different book for us, but I knew our 9-year-old would enjoy it.  It's one of those books where the reader chooses the outcome and turns to a specific page based on the choices they make.  This book is neat because you learn a little bit about survival in the wild - what to do if you accidentally disturb a bee nest, what to do if you need to set up camp in the rainforest, what to do if you are being chased by a wild boar.  We read this as a read-aloud, but it was too difficult - we could never come to an agreement on which path to take.  There's a series of these books, and our oldest DD enjoyed them all.

Holes by Louis Sachar - you know how people joke that schools teach to the lowest common denominator?  Well, it's sort of the opposite at our house - I get books for our oldest, and expect (or hope) that the younger two can keep up.  That was the case with Holes - I saw it sitting on our bookshelf, we were in need of a read-aloud, I had already read it and knew it to be a great story....why not?  It's not geared to a 5-year-old per se, but that doesn't mean that he can't be exposed to good kid-lit at an early age.  The Bachsters were fascinated by the story.  There are a few scenes that were a little harsh for little listeners (one character hits one of the counselors) but we talked about it openly & I didn't think it was too much for them.  This book is well deserving of the Newbery Medal.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall - we just love the Penderwicks series, and the third book was just as much fun as the first two.  Some of the main characters have small roles in this book, such as Rosalind and Daddy.  The focus is on Skye, Jane and Batty's adventures in Maine with Jeffrey.  Young love blossoms, family secrets are uncovered, golf balls are collected, moose are spotted, all while Skye does her best to ensure that Batty doesn't perish on her watch.  We're anxiously awaiting Book 4!

The Spiderwick Chronicles - The Field Guide by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black - this is a real page turner and for once, I was the one who wanted to stay up late and read just one more chapter.  Twins Simon and Jared and their older sister Mallory move into a dilapidated old house with their mother after their parents' divorce.  Strange things start to happen, and Jared is determined to find out the house's secrets.  There's a series of these books, and even though they loved this book, the Bachsters didn't want to read the second book; perhaps I will.  Side note: because of this book, DD wants to take up fencing. 

The Kingdom of Fantasy by Geronimo Stilton - this book gets an honorable mention, simply because the Bachsters enjoyed it so much.  Mama didn't think too much of it (sorry, Geronimo), but they loved it.  There's a lot of action in the story, and every single page has colorful illustrations.  There are 4 books in the series, and the Bachsters are begging me to read Book 2.  So, even though it's not my ideal book, it gets my kids reading and excited about books - on that alone, it's perfect.

Have you & your kids read any good books lately?


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {chai-spiced milk chocolate}

I can't decide whether I like chai-spiced milk chocolate ice cream or not.  It's very exotic tasting, and the spices really make their presence known, especially in the first few bites.  But it might be a little too much, especially if you're expecting sweet-and-familiar milk chocolate. 

The recipe is from one of my favorite ice cream books, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones.  Since I love chai (the drink), I was excited to try this recipe.  Peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise are all infused in the base - you can detect hints of each as you eat the ice cream.  And the milk chocolate imparts a wonderful texture.  After eating several bites, the spiciness mellows; but even so, I'm on the fence about whether I like it or not.  If you try it, let me know what you think!


Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Nook - The Repurposed Library

The Repurposed Library: 33 Craft Projects that Give Old Books New Life by Lisa Occhipinti:

Last weekend, we went to a local farmer's market, and discovered a really neat shop - I'd call it an antique store, but it was much more than that.  A creative shop would be more appropriate.  It was one of those stores that had some interesting, one of a kind &/or brilliant "why didn't I think of that" item around every corner.  Like huge fire pits in the shape of giant bowls, a set of interesting shaped vases that nestled with each other, big antique skeleton keys and old books cut out into letters and numbers.  It was this last one that made me think of the book I had at home on the very topic of crafting things out of old books: The Repurposed Library.

This book is full of neat ideas on how to transform an old book into something new.  I particularly love the bookshelf idea - simply 3 books, attached by mending plates to make a long shelf, glued to painted corbels.  What a perfect "book" shelf!  There are clocks, lamps, mirrors, bracelets and even book sculptures to make.  You can make a super-secret place to keep a stack of cards a a couple pairs of dice, all hidden in what would appear to the average eye as merely an old book.  There's also an adorable kitchen utensil holder crafted from old cookbooks (see cover picture, above).

If you are a book lover who loves the occasional crafty project, this is a book you will adore.  Who would have thought there would be so many uses for old books, besides just reading them!?


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {turtle cheesecake}

When I saw the picture of the cheesecake ice cream pie in the book Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, I knew I had to make one.  But the one featured in the book was topped with blueberries, which got me thinking, what's my favorite way to top a cheesecake?  For me, not blueberries.  But what?  I gave it some thought for a day or so, when I was hit with inspiration: turtle cheesecake!  Oh yes!

I made a single batch of the cheesecake ice cream recipe, which was very straightforward and easy to do.  The only change I might make would be to eliminate or reduce the amount of lemon juice added at the very end - it gave the ice cream a lemony flavor that would be a perfect match for a berry topping, but was a bit much for what I had planned.  Note to self.

I followed the instructions in the book for ice cream pie with a cookie crumb base.  I used Newman-O's, which made the perfect crust.  The authors call for sugar added to the crumbs, but I only added half of what was called for, and could probably get away with not adding any of the sugar at all next time - the Newman-O's were plenty sweet.  Another note to self.

Once the crust had cooked and cooled, I added the just-churned ice cream and let it sit for a day in the freezer.  Then, for the toppings I toasted some pecans and chopped them.  I melted a few ounces of semi-sweet chocolate over a double boiler.  And I made my absolute favorite, creamy caramel sauce from The Perfect Scoop (which I think is my all-time favorite food).  When we were ready to eat it, I sprinkled and drizzled everything on top.  It was heavenly.

Must make this again - note to self.  


Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Nook - Beekeeping for Dummies

Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston:

This is the only book to be here on Book Nook that I haven't read from cover to cover; however, the reason for that is a good one.  The book is so comprehensive that so far, I've only immersed myself in the chapters that are pertinent to me now.  I'm sure there will be a day when I've read - and used - each chapter and piece of information.  I've skimmed over the entire book and there is a lot to be learned.  This is such a thorough book on beekeeping that it's likely to be a resource that I turn to many times.

I took a beekeeping class a few months ago, and this is the book that was given to all the class participants.  The title is very accurate, at least for me, because I knew nothing about beekeeping at my first class.  Between this book, and the wonderful instruction and hands-on demonstrations through the Central Ohio Beekeeper's Association, I feel a lot more prepared to take care of my new pets.

Pretty much everything you wanted to know about beekeeping is in this book.  Complete instructions, helpful tips, photos, you name it.  Every time I open the book, I learn something new or stick post-it-notes on the pages to help me remember specific information.  I even brought the book out to the "beeyard" with me when I installed my bees - it was reassuring to know that all this expert advice was there with me, in case I forgot about something or needed some help.

I highly recommend this book for any beekeeper, or anyone interested in learning about beekeeping!


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {honey}

In celebration of my new beekeeping endeavor, I thought it would be fun to make honey ice cream.  I used honey from our favorite local beekeeper, Conrad's Honey, and I was amazed how the flavor of the honey came through.  The honey really takes center stage here, so if you make it, make sure to use a honey that you love.

The recipe is from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop - I modified the lavender-honey recipe by just omitting the lavender.  Some books say that simple honey ice cream is too delicate on its own, that it needs another flavor profile, but I disagree - I loved that honey was the prominent flavor. 

I can't wait to make it again using honey from our own bees!


Saturday, May 4, 2013

New pet(s)

I thought it would be fun to show you our pets here at the Bach house, and introduce you to our newest ones.  Here they are.....

Most likely to be found sleeping in unusual or prohibited spaces - Cosmo, our 16 year old cat:

Most likely to outweigh Mama soon - Ranger, our 2 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback:

Most likely to be the same color as a Cheeto - Tiger, our Leopard Gecko, a present to our 7-year-old from Santa:

Most likely to provide tasty honey for biscuits and toast - our 30,000+ honeybees - our newest pets:

I promise to share more about my new beekeeping hobby soon!