Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Nook - The 101 Dalmations

The 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith:

The Bachsters and I were going through stacks of books recently to donate, and I came across a big book with a bunch of Disney stories in it.  I've got to admit, when I saw it I felt a bit smug, because we had recently read the excellent novel by Dodie Smith.  My Bachsters were way beyond the imitation stuff; they had read the real deal.  Call me a book snob, I won't argue!

One can't help but compare the stories, however.  If you've seen the movie version, or read any of those Disney compilations, you'll see that there are only two main Dalmations, rather than the three in Smith's original novel.   Mr. de Vil makes an appearance in the book, but I believe he is absent from the movie.  But other than a few other little things, from what I can remember from seeing the movie years ago, the movie stays true to the novel for the most part.  But as just about all readers know, movies can never compare to novels because of the way you can immerse yourself in a good book.

Anyway, in case you're not familiar with the story, it's about Pongo and Missis (that's right, not Perdita), two Dalmations who have had their puppies stolen by the evil Cruella de Vil.  They journey into the country to save their pups, but when they arrive at the de Vil mansion, they find more pups than they were expecting - quite a few more!

I really love Dodie Smith, and am so glad to have recently discovered her.  Her writing style is perfection, with just enough details, plots that move along nicely, wonderfully believable characters and humor throughout.  I really loved I Capture the Castle & I hope to read more books by this author soon.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {dark chocolate tofu mousse}

I am really on the fence about this recipe.  Normally, I would only put things on Sunday Brunch that I have tried and loved.  This one.....well, I've tried it - can't say I loved it.  But there are some really great things about it, such as - it has no sugar, so it's a pretty healthy dessert.  The recipe consists of tofu, cocoa powder, unsweetened almond milk, vanilla and almond extracts and your choice of sweetener.  That's it.  And the texture is just perfect - exactly what you'd expect a creamy pudding to be like.

So, on the plus side we have healthy for you, easy to make and great texture.  The downside is the taste.  I used Stevia packets, which I can never get used to.  I can taste the Stevia hours after I eat something with it.  So, in this case, I went a little light on the sweetener, and it just wasn't as tasty.

So, the verdict is: if you like non-sugar sweeteners, then this would be a great recipe to try.  If you don't like them, it still might be worth trying - just find a sweetener that you like first.

This one is from Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD, by the way - great book!

Which do you think is better: enjoy all the desserts you like, as long as they are sugar-free, or limit your sweets to the real stuff, only occasionally?


Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Nook - knitting selections

The Handknitter's Yarn Guide: A Visual Reference to Yarns and Fibers by Nikki Gabriel:

I've got a new knitting project in mind, but am having trouble deciding on just the right yarn for it.  I want something light and lofty, easy to work with & all natural fibers if possible (all while keeping it affordable).  So, when I came across this book at a local bookstore, I was thrilled.  It provides a wonderful break-down of all the different yarn options out there.

After a brief description of yarn weights (super fine, fine, light, medium, bulky & super bulky), the book examines the properties of animal fibers, vegetable fibers, synthetic fibers and textured & curious/rare fibers.  Each chapter is devoted to a specific fiber.  So, starting with the ever-popular wool, the author provides a description of the fiber, the specs (like source and relative cost), use and care and general qualities (such as stitch definition, drape, resilience, etc.).  Pros and cons on each fiber are also given, as well as other facts and pictures of swatches knit in fine, medium and bulky yarns.  Then, all the above information is given again for wool blends.  Each fiber has a chapter just like this, and just about every fiber I can imagine is in the book: mohair, camel, angora, rayon, boucle, etc.

There is even a burn test given for each yarn (how it burns, how it smells when it burns) - I thought this was curious information, but considering this book gives you every bit of info you'd ever need, I suppose it's really right at home.  I love that the author includes a sustainability factor for each yarn, something I really appreciated & will definitely consider when buying yarn.  While she touches on how heavy items are with certain yarns, I do wish that was a consistent category for all yarns - this is one area that I usually am concerned about, so I'd like to know which yarns are loftier than others.  There is some information on this, but again, it's not consistent.

If you are using the recommended yarn for a project, you probably won't need this book.  But if you are substituting a yarn, or would just like to get a better understanding of the different kinds of yarn, then this book is a great one to have.

November Knits: Inspired Designs for Changing Seasons by Kate Gagnon Osborn and Courtney Kelley:

Maybe it's because I'm particularly fond of November since it's my birthday month, or perhaps because November is all about prime knitting.  Whatever the reason, when I saw "November" in the title while perusing knitting books at the library, I grabbed it, and loved it, right away.

These projects are gorgeous.  There are several things in here that I would love to knit - such as the chunky Bozeman Jacket, the feminine Burdock Cardigan, and the cozy Cobblestone Trenchcoat.  I also love the sweet Savannah Cardigan and the flirty Barton Springs Skirt.  Oh goodness, where will I find the time?

The projects are divided into 3 separate looks - farm hands, ivy league and southern comfort.  I found something in each look that I would just love.  I think the editors and designers did a wonderful job of providing looks that fall into each of these categories, but would please just about any knitter.  In addition to all the sweaters I mentioned, there are also patterns for hats, scarves, socks, mittens & such.  Many of the designs are classic looks, but personally, I think that when you spend so much time knitting the item, you want to be able to wear if for years and years.  This is the first knitting book that I've picked up in a long time in which I found so many queue-worthy projects.

Now, as I mentioned, the challenge is just to find the time to knit them all!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {apple crisp}

A few weeks ago, the Bachsters and I went apple picking.  It was a hot day, and I was a little more excited about apple picking than they were, to be honest.  Thankfully, it didn't take us long to fill up our bag and head home with our yummy apples, all set for one of our favorite recipes - apple crisp.

I've made this recipe, from Martha Stewart (of course!) many times and it's always delicious.  Sweet baked apples topped with sugary, buttery oats.  So delicious!  It's really just begging for a big scoop of ice cream, and this time we had Whit's Frozen Custard, which we all went crazy for. 

I think I could eat this every single day and be happy - it's absolutely perfect!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Goodbye, bees

I'm sad to tell you that my bees didn't make it this year.  I'm not sure exactly why - I have many theories, but nothing solid to work with.  My hive was never a strong one - I had gone through 3 queens, and the numbers of bees never expanded much.  All I can tell you is that one day, I had a queen who was laying eggs and lots of happy bees.  A week later, I only had enough to fit into my cupped hands (don't worry, I didn't actually try that!).

After many conversations with experienced beekeepers, I decided to stop feeding the bees because it became apparent that the bees hanging out in my hive were robber bees.  Checking the hive every few days after the feeder went dry, I knew the ones that remained were my girls, and they were doomed.  I figured the least I could do was provide them shelter until the end.  The last time I checked on them, I decided to not wear my jacket and veil, because I knew there wouldn't be many left.  As I opened the outer cover and peered in, I could have actually counted the remaining bees, there were so few.  One little honey bee looked up at me (I swear she did!).  A few days later, all the bees were gone:

My theory is that it was pesticides.  We all went out for ice cream one evening in August, and we saw several honey bees on the patio of Graeter's, writhing around.  Something was clearly wrong with them.  We were so close to our house, for all I know, those were bees from my hive.  I checked the hive the next day and saw that the hive was almost gone.  It also could have been mites or hive beetles (although I never saw anything major happening with those); it could have been that my hive swarmed (but none of the signs of swarming were present); it could have been a bad hive location, weak queen, or many other factors.  I'll never really know for sure.  If you are interested in learning about some of challenges bees and beekeepers face, I really recommend the documentary The Vanishing of the Bees.

The good news is that I learned a lot this year, and I'm going to get bees again next year and try it again.  There are things I'll do differently (like checking them every week instead of every two weeks).  I'm optimistic about having bees again, and overall, it was a wonderful experience.  I never knew I would care so much about them, and feel so much responsibility for their well being.

Here are some shots of the hive in happier times.  Each of the Bachsters visited the hive with me at least once, and they all loved the experience.  Here's our 8-year-old on her first beekeeping excursion:

Here's our oldest DD - she wanted to hold a frame with a lot of bees:

Here's Little Dude, who just enjoyed hanging out close (but not too close) to the bees:


Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Nook - photography books

If you stop by my blog now and then, you might have noticed the Sunday Brunch posts, where I chat about a favorite recipe.  Maybe you noticed it missing yesterday.  I do apologize - I was unfortunately up until the very wee hours in the morning, working on a photography assignment, photoshopping like a mad woman.  So, I thought in honor of photography, which has been taking up a lot of my time lately (but that's a good thing, in general - not so much in the wee hours of the morning, however), I wanted to share some of the books on the subject that I've been enjoying lately:

Light: Science & Magic - An introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver & Paul Fuqua:

My assignment was to photoshoot a ceramic mug.  Piece of cake, right?  I have spent two weeks of my life trying to figure out how to photograph a mug!  A mug, people!  The problem is, it's very reflective and curved.  So, when you shoot it, you see yourself, your room, your camera, everything on the surface of the mug.  The very nice guy at a local camera store told me that this is one of the hardest things to shoot.  I was so relieved to hear that, because I thought I was doing something wrong.  He suggested this book, Light: Science & Magic, specifically for a chapter on this very subject.  Straight to the library I went and two weeks later, I have a much better understanding of what it takes to photograph a simple mug.  Better understanding yes; better skills, still working on.  This book is a must for any photographer needing to understand studio lighting.

Pro Secrets to Dramatic Digital Photos by Jim Zuckerman:

I liked this book right away because of the topic of the first chapter: shoot great subjects.  Is a photo of a wild African lion better that a portrait of a house cat?  Why?  The author gets us thinking about our photography in new ways right from the start.  I don't always agree with his opinion, but I really appreciate the debate.

There's a lot of technical tips that you might find in other photography books, like how to work shutter speed, how to compose your shots, etc., but even after years of doing photography, I feel like I'm learning from this book.  And the author has included lots of gorgeous photos to inspire.  Dramatic photos, here I come!

A Beautiful Mess - Photo Idea Book: 95 Inspiring Ideas for Photographing your Friends, your World, and Yourself by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman:

This is a fun book for anyone with a camera, not just pros.  The authors throw out one cute idea after another, anything from how to take a outdoor portrait, how to make your own homemade filters, how to photograph your reflection, wardrobe tips & crafty photo ideas, like making a storybook locket or a photo coaster set.  Our sister-authors have a great eye for photography and they share what works with us.  I got a handful of ideas I'm going to keep in my pocket, and I think just about anyone with a camera (so, everyone then) could get some new ideas after looking through this book.  This one's all about fun with photography - I love that!


Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Nook - Throw Out Fifty Things

Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life by Gail Blanke:

I usually have a good memory for how I discovered or heard about a book, but for this one, I am at a complete loss.  I suppose it was kismet that this book found me: it was way beyond time that I did a de-clutter.

The first part of the book challenges the reader to clean out their physical stuff: all the papers, clothes, books, toys, etc. that pile up and accumulate over time.  Boy, do we have a lot of this around here!  Since I have this thing against throwing stuff away (the equivalent of an eye twitch), I tend to just let it pile up.  Our author encourages us to just let it go, and gives us permission to throw stuff away (as well as giving lots of great tips on how to get rid of your old stuff in an environmentally friendly way).  Blanke walks us through every room in the house, telling us what she's getting rid of, sharing lots of personal stories, and helping us unload.  After that, we head to our office to ditch all the junk from our professional lives.

The next part of the book deals with mental junk that also needs to get thrown out.  Here, she helps us let go of thinking the worst, waiting for the right moment, needing to feel secure, among others.  I enjoyed reading this section, but I think some of these things are much more difficult to let go of, and will take a lot more work than just writing it down on our list of 50 things.

Here are a couple of quotes that really stood out for me:

"When we throw out the physical clutter, we clear our minds.  When we throw out the mental clutter, we clear our souls."

And this one (in the chapter entitled Letting Go of the Need to Have Everyone Like You):

"The truth is, the world belongs not to the one who fits in, but to the one who stands out.  In music, art, architecture, entertainment, politics, and life, it's the maverick, the one who gets carried away, who wins the day.  Every time."

So, I've been working on getting rid of the clutter.  My focus has been the physical junk, but I hope to attack the mental mess too - Gail Blanke has inspired me.  Here's a shot of our front porch, full of clothes and toys and other stuff we just don't need anymore - waiting for pick up by a local charity.  And guess what?  After this picture was taken, I kept adding stuff.  And even better, after it was picked up, I continued to add stuff.  Now, we need a second pick up!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {portobello mushroom gratins}

If you've read through a few of my blog posts, you probably know that I just love Martha Stewart.  I subscribed to her magazine for a few years, and saved all my issues.  Lately, I've been thinking that I should just get rid of them because all the recipes are online, right?  Well, unfortunately, not this one: individual portobello mushroom gratins.  It comes from Martha's October 2004 issue, which is my favorite one of all (seriously, I keep it with my cookbooks, or on our desk.  A magazine from 2004!). 

Big portobello mushrooms are stuffed with white mushrooms cooked with white wine, parsley, chives, shallots and cream.  Then, they are topped with a cheesy breadcrumb mixture.  So delicious!

I was a little nervous making these for the Bachsters.  Even though they've been wanting to try portobello mushrooms, I was worried this recipe might be a little too grown up for them.  To my surprise, they really liked them.  And so did DH, but I knew he would because he's a portobello guy.

If you do track down the October 2004 issue and make this recipe (sorry I can't link it!), try to get the roundest, most bowl-like portobellos you can.  The flat ones are just uncooperative with the mushroom mixture (but still tasty).

Thank you for another great recipe, Martha! 


Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Nook - Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids

Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids: 175 projects for kids of all ages to create, build, design, explore, and share by the editors of Martha Stewart Living:

Right around the time our first Bachster was born, I discovered Martha Stewart Babies and Martha Stewart Kids magazines.  And I started collecting them - any time a new one was on the grocery store shelf, I purchased it.  And then, sadly, they stopped the magazines.  But, I still collected any that I could find at garage sales, e-bay, used book stores and such.  I never did collect them all, but the ones that I have are still sitting in my bookcase and get perused through from time to time.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled when I discovered this book, Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids.  Inside are all sorts of crafty craft projects found in the pages of the magazines, like Stickville, meringue mice and felted finger puppets.  Even though the magazines no longer run, there are always new craft projects for kids on - and some of those projects can be found in the book, like cross-stitch family portraits.  No matter where they originated from, it's wonderful to have so many neat projects in one book.

The projects that I'd like to try with the Bachsters: water fireworks, glass jar xylophone, those adorable cross-stitch family portraits, tie-dye t-shirts, paper bead necklaces, beach board games........the list goes on and on.  I need to make sure the Bachsters all have a chance to look through the book and pick out their favorite projects.  I wonder if we could do all 175?


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {lemon-poppy seed pancakes}

I'm always a little nervous to introduce a new pancake recipe to the Bachsters - they have some pretty strong opinions about pancakes, and are true pancake connoisseurs.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I made the recipe for lemon-poppy seed pancakes from the Wheat Belly Cookbook and they actually liked them.  You never know how it's going to be with this bunch.

The Bachsters insisted that I leave out the poppy seeds, so I did.  But the pancakes were just as good without them, and the Bachsters gobbled them up. They are so unlike our favorite buttermilk pancakes, but in a way, better for you because they use almond flour and stevia instead of flour and sugar.  DD told me that even though she preferred buttermilk pancakes, she liked these too.   Believe me, that's a big compliment.

I didn't set out to make my picture so similar to the cover shot of the pancakes from the cookbook, but I guess I did.  This shot pays homage to the Wheat Belly Cookbook (cover, top half):