Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Nook - I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith:

This book has skirted in my field of vision for the past several years: I'll see the title or hear something about it in passing and think I want to check that book out and then promptly forget all about it.  Thankfully, I was reminded recently by an article titled 50 Great Books that Will Change Your Life.  I do wish I had read this book as a teenager because I think I would have loved it even more than I did, because of the young age of our protagonist.  But, beggars can't be choosers and I'm just happy that I discovered it at all!

17-year-old Cassandra is working diligently on her speed writing.  To practice, she has decided to write about her life and her family, as things happen.  Lucky for us, she has a very interesting life and a very eccentric family.  They live in a centuries-old dilapidated castle, in poverty.  Her beautiful older sister, Rose, is desperate to find a man and get some money.  Their father, once a great author, holes himself up in the remote gatehouse, apparently reading novels all day.  Topaz, their step-mother, thinks of herself as an artist's muse, but really just does the cooking and cleaning.  Puppy-like admirer Stephen is shy yet hopeful that he can win Cassandra's love and admiration.  Little brother Thomas seems like a studious background figure, until he proves himself to be a person with great intelligence and ingenuity.  Life is pretty interesting with all these characters, but things get even better when the rich, young, handsome Cotton brothers move into the grand estate next door......

The novel is written in the 1st person narrative in a very clever way: Cassandra is practicing her speed writing (sorry to repeat that fact) and so her writing details things as they happen.  Sometimes, she creates tension by purposely holding off on the story, such as "but shall I be able to write about the wicked thing I did on my birthday?  Can I bring myself to describe it fully?  Perhaps I can work up to it."  Reading the book feels like reading a 17-year-old's diary - I really don't think the story would be quite the same if it had been written in a different style.

One thing I really loved about the book is its humor.  Cassandra's insights and musings are full of character: "nobody has sent me a parcel since we quarrelled with Aunt Millicent. (The last one she sent had bed socks in it, most hideous but not to be sneezed at on winter nights.  They are finishing their lives as window-wedges."  Or, "....perhaps dear Mrs. Cotton will prove to be the teeniest fly in the ointment (I should like to know what fly was originally in what ointment.)".  Not only is Cassandra endearing, but there are lots of funny moments in the story too - a mix up with fur coats and imprisoning the father, to name a couple.

This was a delightful story to get lost in for a few days.  I must try to remember to slyly set down a copy of this book for our DDs when they get to be around Cassandra's age, leaving it somewhere that I know it will be picked up out of curiosity (on top of a box of cereal?  Underneath the keys to the car?).  They're going to love it.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {rocky road}

Little Dude just turned 6 recently, and when asked what kind of ice cream he'd like on his big day, he said rocky road.  I'm not sure where that came from, since I don't think he's ever had rocky road before, but hey, rocky road it is.  I used the excellent chocolate ice cream recipe from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  I usually make it with half bittersweet and half semisweet chocolate, and it's always perfect!

There are instructions beneath the chocolate ice cream recipe on how to make rocky road ice cream, and it couldn't be easier: add chopped up toasted nuts (I used almonds) and mini marshmallows (I had big plans to make homemade marshmallows, but ran out of time and figured a little person just turning 6 wouldn't mind either way).

This rocky road rocks!  Little Dude loved it - I have a feeling it will be requested again soon, way before his next birthday.

Speaking of birthdays, Ice Cream Sundays has been up and running for a year now (a whole year of delicious ice cream!).  And it's been a blast sharing my favorite ice creams with you.  Starting next week, Sundays will take a slightly different direction, one that I hope you'll enjoy just as well.  I hope you'll stop by then!


Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Nook - Just Like Me Knits

Just Like Me Knits: matching patterns for kids and their favorite dolls, by Brandy Fortune:

It's been so long since I sat down and looked through a new knitting book, and doing so with Brandy Fortune's Just Like Me Knits was pure pleasure.  While I have not yet knit any of the projects from the book, I think my knitting queue is about to expand!

The idea behind the book is to knit matching items for children and their dolls.  I suppose you could outfit their favorite stuffed animal if they aren't into dolls (the Bachsters never played with dolls much, but have always loved stuffed animals).  The Waldorf dolls in the book are adorable, and I can see how a little boy or girl would be thrilled to have a special handknit for them and their favorite doll.  Of course, you could just omit all the doll patterns, and there are still a ton of wonderful items for your kiddos.

Of all the patterns, the one I like the best is a simple stockinette sock called the James Mixed Up Socks.  As soon as I saw them, I thought how great it would be to make each of my Bachsters handknit socks for the holidays.  Wishful thinking, I know, but I love that idea and I might just go for it.  Hello, queue!

There are lots of cute sweaters and vests, hats, a skirt, a shrug - even a mermaid tail!  I'm reminded, as I look through the book, that I should try to get more handknits on my Bachsters - they are growing so fast, and I should make the effort now, while their bodies are little and require less yarn!  I'm kidding, but this is just the book that would inspire any knitter to grab their needles and knit up something special for a loved one.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {basil ice cream with honey pine nut pralines}

When I went to the Worthington Farmers Market a week ago (here's the link to the post), I brought home a big bunch of basil.  It was so fragrant and plentiful, I used it in a couple of recipes, but still had a ton left over.  What to do, what to do?  Make ice cream, of course!

The basil ice cream recipe is from David Levobitz's The Perfect Scoop.  When I first saw the recipe, I thought I should give it a try when I'm feeling a little adventurous.  Then, I saw a basil ice cream recipe in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home that added honey pine nut pralines in the mix.  I just had to try it!

So, the basil ice cream recipe is from The Perfect Scoop and the honey pine nut pralines are from Jeni's.  They go fabulously well with each other: the ice cream has a hint of lemon, which pairs nicely with the basil, and the honey pine nut pralines add wonderful sweetness and texture (I loved that the pine nuts were sort of soft, too).

The pairing was so delicious, that DH insisted on taking some to a colleague at work (and they do culinary research & development, so they know their stuff).  His colleague liked it so much, he took some home to his pregnant wife.  Pregnant women know their stuff, too!

Now, I must get back to get to the Farmers Market to get some more basil while it that I can make more ice cream!


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Visions of Metro Parks exhibit

For those of you in the Columbus, Ohio area, come check out the Visions of Metro Parks exhibit, which runs through Saturday, July 27th.  The exhibit is at the High Road Gallery in Worthington, in a really neat old house.  There are some seriously beautiful and inspiring photographs of scenes in the Metro Parks of Columbus.  I have a couple of nature shots in the exhibit, my first time participating.

Don't live in Columbus?  Can't get to the gallery?  Here's the link to all the photos on flickr.  Enjoy!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Farmers Market

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to head out to the Worthington Farmers Market, one of the larger farmers markets here in Central Ohio.  I can't believe that I haven't visited this particular market up until now, as it is my favorite!  (Here is my post from last year's market.)

What fun it was!  As always it was so crowded but in a great way, like this is the place to be way.  It makes me so happy seeing so many people buying from local farmers!

I did the market by myself, and all in one trip - I just didn't feel like making a pit stop to drop things off at my car.  So, by the time I was all done, I was carrying the following: a few pounds of grass-fed beef, a couple of pounds of pastured pork, a pint of blueberries, a peck of peaches, half dozen ears of corn, a big bag of green beans, a big bunch of basil, a bunch of kale, a bunch of beets, a zucchini, a bunch of nectarines, a quart of maple syrup and a frozen cold pack.  I'm amazed that I was able to hobble to my car carrying all that stuff!

Oh, and my camera....I also had my camera:


Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Nook - Annie Leibovitz At Work

Annie Leibovitz At Work by Annie Leibovitz:

I really messed up: last Fall, the Wexner Center here in Columbus, Ohio had an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz's portraits, and I never made it.  I had all the best intentions of going, even had the ad for the exhibit posted on the fridge.  But life (or laziness) just got in the way.  When I was chatting with a fellow photog and he mentioned that he had gone, I was resolute to at least take a peek at some of her most famous portraits, including the session with Queen Elizabeth II that my friend had told me all about.

Hence this book, Annie Leibovitz At Work.  Yes, just about all her famous portraits can be found here.  But what's even better than viewing all the portraits are the stories behind them that she shares on just about every shot in the book.  Anyone interested in photography would do themselves a favor to read this book, because she reveals so much of the process behind her work, the technical details and, perhaps most importantly, the things she learned along the way.

Leibovitz recommends that photographers do their homework: if you are photographing a dancer, for instance, check out that person's performance, study all that you can ahead of time about that person.  Now, this advice is most applicable to photographing celebrities, but it could certainly be applied in many areas of photography (I'm thinking nature photography especially - learn all you can about dragonflies, for example, if that's what you're shooting.  Portrait photography and editorial photography can also benefit from that advice).

Sometimes, it's just a random interesting thought that morphed into an iconic shot.  When she photographed The Blues Brothers, she pondered how interesting it would be if they were actually painted blue.  Sometimes, her research led her to these interesting thoughts, like when she watched Whoopi Goldberg's stand up comedy act and thought about photographing her in a tub of milk based on a part from Goldberg's act.  Time and time again, Leibovitz invites us in to her creative thought process, and shares with us what she learned from specific shoots and specific celebrities: "John [Lennon], who was a legendary figure, someone I revered, taught me that I could be myself."

In addition to sharing almost 200 photos and the insights and processes behind them, Leibovitz also discusses her evolution with equipment, and 10 most-asked questions.  Also, there's a really impressive chronology of her professional accomplishments and awards.

Perhaps I did myself a favor after all by missing out on the exhibit.  Reading the stories behind the photographs and hearing the lessons she's learned has greatly enriched the experience of viewing her portraits.  As DH and I always say, sometimes it pays to procrastinate.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {brownie sundaes}

Brownie sundaes are the ultimate treat, aren't they?  If I found myself stranded on a desert island, this is the one food I'd want with me (or at least, the one food I would daydream about most).  Tropical location and brownie sundaes?  I think I'd be pretty content to stay there.

For the ice cream, I made the Philadelphia-style vanilla from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop - oh, I love that ice cream!  It's a perfect compliment for sundaes or milkshakes, any recipe where the ice cream needs to share the stage.  I also had some leftover praline sauce, also from the same book, sitting in the fridge, just in case anyone else wanted praline sauce (I did share my brownie sundaes, although it was difficult).  I didn't use the praline sauce on my sundae however, because brownie sundaes are only proper brownie sundaes (in my humble opinion) when generously drizzled with hot fudge sauce.  Alas, I tried a new recipe for hot fudge that wasn't up to par, so I won't share it here.  I'm still on the lookout for the best hot fudge sauce ever, so please let me know if you have a great recipe you'd be willing to share!

I topped the sundaes with a big plop of homemade whipped cream (beat heavy cream in a bowl - when it's close to being done, add some powdered sugar and a little vanilla extract.  Beat some more & taste, adding more sugar or vanilla if necessary).  And, in a nod to Peanut Buster Parfaits from Dairy Queen (love those), I added Spanish peanuts.

Oh, the brownies, I can't forget about them......I love the fudgy chocolate brownies from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook & have made them many times (often for the purpose of brownie sundaes).  This time, I used half semisweet and half bittersweet chocolate, as opposed to all bittersweet as the recipe calls for.  The brownies were much sweeter and still heavenly.

Pile it all together, and you have a sundae that is the stuff of daydreams, no matter where you are.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Nook - Please Excuse My Daughter / Saved

Please excuse my daughter: a memoir by Julie Klam and Saved: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World by Ben Hewitt:

You know how some things are just fine on their own, but when paired up with something, take on a completely new dimension?  Chocolate and peanut butter.  Seinfeld and Newman.  Red paint and blue paint.

So, it was interesting that I read these two books back to back, because, while at first, they seem like they are worlds apart, they actually have a lot in common and make an unexpected pairing.

Julie Klam's memoir, Please Excuse My Daughter, is about her privileged upbringing, which left her unprepared to cope with the real world.  Her parents' expectation of her was that she would marry well and be set for life.  Except that didn't happen.  She struggled to finish school (her mother would frequently pull her out of class to go shopping) and when she finished college, her parents bought an apartment and gave her a generous monthly "allowance."  She tried to find work, but when she did, it didn't always go well (she accidentally hung up on Harvey Keitel in one funny incident).  She tried to find a meaningful relationship, but that also didn't go as planned - she dated an ex-convict who managed to get thousands of dollars out of her.  When she finally landed her dream job - writing for a pop-up video show, and met her dream guy - her boss - her parents cut her off.  In the years that followed, she struggled with money while finding contentment with her life.

Saved is very different in that it dwells more in the present than the past, but I would still classify it as a memoir.  Ben Hewitt and his wife lived in a tent in Vermont while trying to save a big chunk of money to put down on land to buy.  When they found the right land, they lived in a little shack/cottage/structure on the property until the loan was paid off and they were ready to take on the expense of building a house.  But Saved is much more than Hewitt's personal story of frugality: he intertwines the tale of his friend Erik (and his extreme frugality) with musings on our current money culture and how we can stop chasing money and find contentment with less.

And there's the commonality: finding contentment with your life as it relates to money.  Both books gave me a lot to think about, related to money, but in very different ways.  Klam struggles to make ends meet when her husband has trouble finding steady work.  In the process, she learns that she must apply herself to her true calling to find happiness - and money.  Hewitt struggles to support his family of four on an unsteady paycheck, but he questions the big picture of the struggle: instead of trading in your life now to meet uncertain future needs, perhaps we need to rethink our ways and find a compromise that can meet those needs now and for the future (our future and those needs of future generations).

These two books are very different from one another, but the theme of money is so strong in both, that it's interesting to take them as a whole to examine that theme a little further.  Is it better to take money given from your parents to survive, or is it better to stoically endure a Vermont winter living in a tent?  Is it better to make money from doing what you love, or is it better to spend your time with those you love and build a "wealth" through your relationships?  These books are very interesting reads, but when read back to back, I really found more to ponder.

Have you ever read two books back to back and found a complimentary relationship between them?


Ice Cream Sundays - {peanut butter milkshakes}

I woke up this morning, and as I groggily made my way downstairs, a thought jolted me awake: "oh no, I forgot to do my blog yesterday!"  Yikes!  I can't think of a time that has ever happened on my regular Sunday or Monday posts.  And I know exactly why I forgot (2 reasons actually): I have been fighting a nasty cold the past week, so my brain is a little slushy right now.  And also, DH just discovered a new computer game, so my time at the computer has been minimal (ok, nonexistent.  He really likes this new game).  My apologies, dear friends!

Better late than never, right?  "Sundaes" (or, in this case, peanut butter milkshakes) are just as enjoyable on Mondays.  And this recipe, I hope you'll find, is worth the wait.  It's not really a recipe per se, but more of an experiment or concoction.  But before I go into the details on making it, I want to tell you about how I learned to make them.

When I was tween, I had a few steady gigs as a babysitter.  A couple of families started calling me to babysit all the time, and then they would pass my number along to their friends.  It was a fun job, but didn't pay very well (if I remember right, I only got a few dollars per hour).  One time, I had just watched the 4 kids of a family that I babysat for often.  The mother started to make the kids peanut butter milkshakes, and this is how I got the recipe.  I remember it was summer, and how quickly she made them, and how quickly the kids drank them.  I have a vague memory of getting paid, not in cash, but in peanut butter milkshakes that day.  At the time, for a skinny tween with a wicked sweet-tooth, this was totally acceptable.  Of course, reflecting back on it years later, I'm completely outraged.  Oh well, at least I got a really great recipe out of it!

Peanut Butter Milkshakes
1/2 cup milk
5 generous scoops vanilla ice cream
2 heaping tablespoons creamy peanut butter (I used Jif)

Put all ingredients in blender, starting with the milk.  Blend them together, adding more milk if it's too thick.  Taste - add more ice cream or more peanut butter, as needed.  Makes about 3 cups.
*All measurements are approximate - this is what I used when I made them last.  Think of it as a starting point.

That's it!  These milkshakes are so simple, yet the ingredients blend together to make this divine treat.  I've never tasted anything that compares to them - the sweetness of the ice cream somehow mellows out the peanut butter and they sort of work together (I know that sounds strange, but that's the best way to describe it).  These are the best milkshakes ever, hands down!  Definitely worth giving up a fair wage for.  And I hope you'll find, worth the wait.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mid Year Resolutions

I recently read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and I've got to say, it really motivated me.  It gave me that nudge I needed to get my act together, to get moving, to make my dreams a reality (such a big task for a tiny book).  But after I read it, I felt energized and ready to make a change in my life, to do what needed to be done to become the person I'd like to be.

I know that all sounds quite dramatic, but it was the right book, the right message, the right time.

So, I decided that July 1st would be my big day.  My Mid Year Resolutions would begin!  And, I'm happy to report that they have: sort of.  Unfortunately, I've got a really yucky cold (thanks to DH passing it to me) and my energy level has dropped.  But, I've started eating right and I've eliminated a bunch of bad habits from my daily routine (like compulsive internet surfing - I'm so guilty of that!).  I have not done the more proactive things that I want to, mainly tending to my creative ambitions, mostly because I just want to sit and be a blob until this cold goes away.  But, at least it's a start, and a step in the right direction.

I can't recall what my New Year's Resolutions were, and in a way, it doesn't even matter.  I've got new goals and ambitions, and it all starts now.  I am so very ready to tackle my Mid Year Resolutions!

Do you have any Mid Year Resolutions?


Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Nook - D is for Dahl

D is for Dahl: A gloriumptious A-Z guide to the world of Roald Dahl, with illustrations by Quentin Blake:

I adore Roald Dahl, so this little book is a real treasure.  Packed full of Roald Dahl trivia, tidbits of info and random facts, it's lighthearted enough to keep young readers entertained, while giving Roald Dahl-ophiles new information about their favorite author.  Did you know Dahl loved onions?  Did you know he kept his diary tied up in a huge chestnut tree?  Did you know that Dahl was incredibly generous - he auctioned off the rights to one of his books (The Vicar of Nibbleswicke) to raise money for the Dyslexia Institute?  Or that his favorite color was yellow?

There are so many neat stories, facts, photos, illustrations - even recipes - in this little book.  If you are a fan of Roald Dahl, you will greatly enjoy this collection (not a biography, we are promised).  It's great fun!