Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Nook - Best of 2013

Looking back at 2013, it wasn't my best year for reading.  I just didn't have as much time as usual to read and I also didn't knit as much as usual (therefore greatly reducing my books-on-CD time).  But, despite this, there were still a few books that I just loved - here they are, my favorites from the year:

Favorite Biography: Storyteller
I absolutely love Roald Dahl's work, and over the past year or two, the Bachsters and I have read just about every book of his that we could get our hands on.  So, it was only logical to move from reading books by Roald Dahl to reading books about him.  He really led an amazing life and was quite an interesting character.  And since reading the book & posting about it on Book Nook, I've discovered his favorite color was yellow!   Here's the link to the post.

Favorite Non-Fiction book: The Creative Habit
Reading books on the subject of creativity was a big thing with me in 2013.  And this was one of my favorite books I read from the year, on any subject.  Twyla Tharp is intelligent, honest, encouraging and inspiring.  Her insights into creativity were real eye-openers for me.  This is definitely one that I will re-read.  Here's the link.

Favorite work of fiction: tie (and both YA)!

The Fault in Our Stars - don't you just love it when you can remember details from a book months after you read it?  The imagery from this book strongly resonated with me: the church basement where the group therapy is held, Isaac's crazy glasses, the back yard swing set, the flowers everywhere in Amsterdam.  What's more, I can remember conversations from the book, as if they were coming from my own life.  The guy who bought the swing set ("I just want them to go outside" he said of his kids) - I can remember a few more, but they contain spoilers!  This book is a wonderful story that will stay with you long after you finish it.  Here's the link.

I Capture the Castle - I loved getting lost in this book over the summer.  I loved Dodie Smith's writing, I loved our narrator Cassandra, I loved the quirky life she and her family lead.  Reading it felt like hanging out with a friend.  Here's the link.

Favorite kid books:  The Penderwicks
We discovered the Penderwick series this year, and had a blast reading the stories at bedtime.  We quickly worked our way through the first 3 books, and are anxiously awaiting the next installment.  This story of 4 young sisters was pure pleasure to read aloud: everyone laughed along with the story, our oldest DD found a character she could relate to (Skye), and we squirmed when a character got herself into a fix.  These are great books to be shared and read aloud.  Here's the link.

Honorable Mention: 

Howl's Moving Castle - this is only an HM because I didn't actually put it on Book Nook in 2013 (it showed up in 2012).  The funny thing is, when I first read it, I loved it so much that I wanted to re-read it right away (which, of course, I did)!  Earlier this year, I read it as a bedtime story to the Bachsters, and it quickly became one of their favorite books, and they also wanted to re-read it again right away (which, of course, we did)!  DD just got her own copy of the book, and she's been reading it again on her own.  This one is one of our absolute favorites.  Here's the link.

Harry Potter - this series has been a big part of our Fall this year.  We're currently on the third book, and I haven't decided if we'll just read them all now or wait until everyone gets a little older (they do get a bit dark later in the series).  Actually, as I write this, I already know the answer: read it now!  Our oldest is going through a big HP phase right now, and if it weren't for her new Howl's Moving Castle copy, she'd be re-reading one of the HP books.  This series is just pure fun to read aloud.  Here's the link.

What are some of your favorite books from 2013?


Sunday Brunch - {best of 2013}

Like most people, at the end of the year, I can't help but do a little reflecting.  Thinking back on the past year, what was good, what wasn't so good, what do I take with me to the next year, and what have I completely forgotten.  This is where having a blog comes in handy, as I can can just peruse through my post titles to jog my memory!

Anyway, every year, I look back on certain features of my little blog and do a "best of" - books, recipes, photos, etc.  My foodie interests were divided this year - half of the year was devoted to ice cream, the other half to other recipes.  So, here are a few of my favorites from 2013......

From Ice Cream Sundays:

Crème brûlée ice cream - I'm especially thrilled about this "recipe" since I thought of it myself - vanilla ice cream treated like crème brûlée, with carmelized sugar on top of rich vanilla ice cream.  Every New Year's Day, I make crème brûlée (solely because it rhymes - I'm goofy like that); perhaps for 2014 I'll branch out and make crème brûlée ice cream!  Here is the link to the post.

Brown butter ice cream - Goodness, this ice cream is wonderful!  I tried the recipe back in the Spring, made it for DH for his birthday in June because he loved it so much, and then recently considered making it for homemade Christmas gifts (instead, I went with the far more transportable homemade caramel sauce from here).  But that's the thing about brown butter ice cream.  When you ask yourself what is a really great ice cream to make for a special celebration or holiday, this one always makes the list.  Here's the link.

Peanut Butter Milkshakes - Just the other day, the subject of milkshakes came up, and every single person in the Bach family waxed poetic about my peanut butter milkshakes.  Everyone, including Ranger.  The easiest recipe ever (vanilla ice cream + peanut butter) somehow transforms into this magical concoction.  It was so worth getting robbed out of my fair share of babysitting money just to get the recipe. Here's the link.

From Sunday Brunch:

You might have picked up on the fact that I have a sweet tooth, with all these sweets and desserts I go on and on about!  I do love my sweets, but I'm also trying to eat healthy (er, not until 2014.  You don't have to do your resolutions until after the new year, right?).  Anyway, I'm always really excited when I find a savory recipe that I love - here are a few:

Butternut squash soup - I ate this entire recipe myself, with the exception of one tiny bowl I allowed DH to have (don't worry, it wasn't all in one sitting!).  This is how real cooking feels to me: simple ingredients and a lot of work, with amazing results.  Here's the link.

Caprese salad - DH and I went to a wedding a couple of weeks ago, and they served caprese salad at the reception.  Why had I forgotten all about caprese salad?  It's so simple and so delicious and so good for you.  Here's the link.

Broccoli Slaw - I'm cheating here a little because this recipe was on Book Nook, not Sunday Brunch.  No biggie, because I really need to tell you how great this recipe is.  I make it all the time.  This is the only recipe that will get me to eat raw broccoli, something I've never liked before.  DH commented the other day, "I don't think I'll ever get tired of this."  I agree!  Here's the link. 

Favorite tried-and-true recipe:
Buttermilk pancakes - I make these pancakes probably once a week.  One of these days (soon) I'm going to need to double the recipe for my little big eaters.  I love that I'm passing down happy-pancake-memories to the Bachsters, just like my mom did with me when I was a pancake-eating-kid.  Here's the link.  

 Favorite new recipe:
Butterscotch pudding - The other day, I made traditional chocolate pudding (with milk and cornstarch).  While I was making it, I was actually dreaming about this recipe for butterscotch pudding, and wishing I was making it instead.  It's so fabulous, and delicious, and marvelous (and any other positive -ous words you can think of) that it felt a little sacrilege to be making something other than butterscotch pudding.  Here's the link.

What are some of your favorite recipes from 2013?  


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013

We've made our Christmas lists.............

We've counted down on our Advent calendar (a new tradition for us)...........

We've made our gingerbread houses...................

We've put out the cookies (peppermint bark, yum) and carrots for the reindeer..............

Santa - we are ready!!!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {buttermilk biscuits}

I hesitated to put this picture on Sunday Brunch because when our oldest DD saw it, she scrunched up her face and said "ewww, what is that?"  These are never good comments where food photography is concerned.

But the more I looked at the picture, the more I liked it and the more I realize that it showcases the biscuits at their best - moist and flaky, with lots of honey drizzled on top.

We've been making and enjoying these biscuits for years now.  They are a snap to make, and bake in less than 20 minutes.  They work for breakfast as well as supper, and snacks in between.  Make sure you have lots of honey on hand (we use local honey from Conrad's Hive and Honey). 

The recipe is from Martha Stewart (of course!) - here's the link.  By the way, I never mess with rolling out the dough and using biscuit cutters.  Just plop a big spoonful on your baking sheet, and you're good to go!  Some Bachsters may be a little finicky with how the biscuits look in a photo, but no one has ever turned their nose up at a less-than-perfectly-shaped biscuit on their plate!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Nook - books I'm reading now

I always have a few books sitting around in various stages of being read (ok, it's usually more than a few).  I thought I'd share some books from my latest pile!

Curious Critters by David FitzSimmons:


I just love a well-photographed nature book geared for children.  When I spotted this book at the book fair this Fall at the Bachsters' school, I made a beeline for it - that perfect froggy shot on the cover was "croaking" to me.  How in the world does FitzSimmons do it?  Gorgeous photos of animals, all on a white background......but how did he get the blue jay there?  How did he clean up that turtle?  And where did he find a pink katydid?  Luckily, there is a website for the book, and I'm definitely going to check it out.  I was especially pleased to discover that the author/photographer lives in Ohio!

Feed Your Face: Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body in 28 Delicious Days by Jessica Wu, M.D.:

I can't believe that the medical community thought that what you eat has no affect on your skin (until recently, that is).  It seems so logical that our diet impacts our skin.  Yet many doctors don't know this, or focus on diet when meeting with a patient.  And that's where Dr. Wu comes in - her whole focus is on improving your eating habits to improve your skin.  Rashes, rosacea, eczema, wrinkles and other dermatology concerns are all discussed.  Do you have rosacea?  Avoid spicy foods.  Worried about aging and your skin?  Eat anti-aging fruits like strawberries and blueberries.  In addition to lots of great information about specific foods in relation to specific concerns, there's also great advice on topical solutions, a section on cosmetic procedures and lots and lots of real life stories from her patients (& some of her celebrity patients).

How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster:

I keep renewing and renewing this book at my library - it's made a permanent mark on my ottoman because it's been sitting there so long.  But I really want to read it (sadly, I have yet to give it any time other than some quick flip-throughs).  But in those few minutes looking through it here and there, I love what I've seen - well known novels discussed for their plots, characters and other attributes that make a great novel.  I'm hoping to make some time for this book soon (if not, I still have several renewals at my command).

Knit Your Own Zombie by Fiona Goble:

Shhhh....can you keep a secret?  A certain 10 year old might just be getting a knitted zombie made by her mama this Christmas.  If not Christmas, then a New Year's gift (hey, nothing rings in the New Year like a handmade knitted toy.  Even if it is a bit disturbing to look at).  DD loves zombies, and when I came across this book, I knew I just had to make her one.  Zombie is next in line after I finish my current toy, but I'm happy to say that he will be a stash buster!  So, here's a book I've been reading, but a little covertly, and it certainly isn't on display on the coffee table.  It's quietly tucked away in a big pile of papers, where DD's wandering eyes never peek.  Sounds like a perfect place for the zombie apocalypse to begin!

What book(s) are you reading (or intending to read) right now?


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {blueberry muffins}

Have I told you about these yummy blueberry muffins yet?  They're our favorite, and whenever I want to make muffins, this is the recipe I'll pull out. 

The recipe is from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (here's a link to an old post about the book - I knew I had talked about this recipe before!).

The are really easy to make - I use frozen wild blueberries in ours, but I think they'd be just as delicious with other berries.  The batter is especially good - the Bachsters always call dibs on the beaters.

The trick to getting the blueberries not to sink to the bottom of the muffins is to toss them in a bit of the flour mixture.  What a simple idea, and it works like a charm every time.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Nook - Christmas Crafting with Kids

Christmas Crafting with Kids: 35 projects for the festive season, by Catherine Woram:

You know what I love best about Christmas Crafting with Kids?  DD, age 8, picked it out herself at the library and proceeded to find an interesting craft project all on her own, and completed it without any help from me.  How's that for autonomy?

This is really a neat little holiday craft book.  There are lots of fun projects in it, and most of them seem pretty easy for kids to pull off on their own (there are some sewing projects & a gingerbread house that might be a little more intensive).  Most of the projects are easy-peasy, with darling, I-made-this-myself results.  DD's project was a homemade snowglobe from an old jelly jar.  And as I mentioned, she did everything herself (including wrapping it - it's all ready to go for DH to open on Christmas).  Because so many of the projects are simple, and use easy-to-find materials that you probably already have, this is a great book to get crafty gift and decorating ideas from.  And it would be especially handy to have during those several days when the kids are off of school, before Christmas arrives.  They are always looking for fun holiday activities then.....well, here's 35 of 'em!

Of course, I can't not notice the photography, and I really like the photos here, especially because all the child models see to really be enjoying themselves (and also, many of them are concentrating on their project with a lot of intensity!).  They seem to be having a lot of fun, which is what this book is all about.

Have you & your family been doing any holiday crafts this season?


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {butternut squash soup}

Actually, the name of this recipe is butternut squash soup with brown butter, sage, and nutmeg creme fraiche.

Or, if you want to get really technical, soupe de courge au beurre noisette et a la creme fraiche muscadee.

The recipe is from Bouchon by Thomas Keller, and it is, I'll admit a more complex recipe.  As I was making it, DH kept asking, "are you still making that soup?"  But sometimes, complexity yields amazing results and this is one of those times.  It's a remarkable soup, sweet from the butternut squash, with lots of flavor from the "back of the house" ingredients.  I've tried other butternut squash soups before, but this one's a keeper.

I did things a little different on some of the steps.  I forgot all about the "bouquet garni" (see, I told you it was complex), so a quick google search led me to a dried-ingredient version that I ended up using.  I also didn't allow the soup to cool and reheat - I'm far too impatient for that!  Finally, the addition of the creme fresh with nutmeg was nice, but not a must.  Serving the soup plain, with no creme fraiche or sauteed sage leaves was fine by me, in fact omitting them just got me to the soup faster.

And since it took so long to make, that was just fine by me.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Nook - The 13 Clocks

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber:

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do a photo shoot at the Thurber House here in Columbus, Ohio.  This is the home where writer and illustrator James Thurber once lived (more about it here).  As soon as I got home, I immediately got online to check out two things: first, to see if any historical homes were for sale in our area (seriously, I just fell in love with the house and all its nooks and crannies).  And secondly, I logged on to my local library's website to check out books by James Thurber.

Published in 1950, The 13 Clocks is a wonderfully inventive tale, a sort of dark-fairy-tale I suppose.  There is a princess locked up in a castle; there is a threatening villain; there is our hero, a prince in disguise.  But even though the premise has been done before, what makes it inventive is Thurber's wit and confidence in his words.  Seemingly out of nowhere, you'll get a sentence like this: "the brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets."  It's like the equivalent of characters bursting into song in a musical.

Here's another good example of Thurber's fine writing: "her voice was faraway music, and her eyes were candles burning on a tranquil night."  Even Thurber's foreword is endearing: "Miss Williams, who is four, insisted on oleanders in the Princess's hair instead of freesias, and there were several grueling conferences about this, from which I barely emerged the winner."

My biggest take-away from this book is that it reminds me just how much an author infuses (is that the right word?) the work with themselves.  To enjoy a good book is almost like enjoying time spent with a good friend - the work is merely an extension of the person who created it.  Reading one of Thurber's stories, spending time in his childhood home, it all helped me figure out who James Thurber was.  I like him very much and look forward to the next adventure!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {thanksgiving edition}

Oh, what a great Thanksgiving this was!  We visited both sides of the family (which meant a lot of driving around the state of Ohio, but also lots of car knitting - bonus!).  Because we had two dinners, we made twice the amount of goodies as usual.  And because the Bach family is usually running late, we offered to bring desserts!

One of the things we brought to both family dinners were these cute Oreo turkeys.  They were a big hit with the family.  The Bachsters and I had a blast making them (and eating all their pieces and parts) the day before Thanksgiving.  I got the recipe here.

I made this wonderful apple coffee cake for the dinner with my side of the family.  The recipe is from the September issue of Country Living.  In fact, this is the shot that ran in the issue!  This cake is so moist and super-sweet, and it actually holds up for a few days.  I was so happy we had leftovers!

DH made sourdough bread for the dinner with his family.  His bread is always amazing, and he never needs to look at a recipe, which boggles my mind!

I've got to admit - I was so excited about my turtle cheesecake that we took to DH's family dinner.  It's the one thing I was really looking forward to.  And it did not disappoint.  I made a fabulous cheesecake that turns out perfect every time, from The Best Recipe.  I substituted their crust for a crust with Newman-O's and melted butter.  Then, I topped it with toasted pecans, a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate, and (the best part) creamy caramel sauce from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  Seriously, if all we were having for Thanksgiving were creamy caramel sauce, I'd have been happy.  But it did make quite a pairing with the cheesecake - it was wonderful!  I hoarded all the leftovers for myself!

And, our families both had big, wonderful meals for everyone with all the traditional dishes.  It was a very delicious day!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!