Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Books of 2011: 16-20

16. Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson (from 2008 library list)

I enjoy Bill Bryson's writing, and I enjoyed this short biography of playwright William Shakespeare -- if, in fact, one can call it a biography, since the main point of the book is that historical research proves that we can actually conclusively prove hardly anything about William Shakespeare, including how he got involved in theater. Bryson does not subscribe to the theory that "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare," but does touch on a variety of these conspiracy theories, with a look at the leading contenders for "who Shakespeare really was."

17. Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that's Changing Your World by Hugh Hewitt

Published in 2005, this book is already outdated in some respects (for instance, there's no coverage at all of feed readers and how they impact blog audiences). It has some interesting things to say about blogging, particularly as it relates to commercial/corporate blogging - but it takes a lot of wading through a bunch of politically motivated rants to get there. The author (whom I had never heard of before) is apparently a conservative radio show host in California, who started his own blog to continue his political discussions. So I suppose it makes sense, from his point of view, to continue this discussion in his book -- but he frontloaded the beginning of the book with so much of this stuff that I almost quit reading. He also, probably based on his own perspective, seems to have political myopia when it comes to blogging and the blogosphere -- except for the corporate blogging stuff that is the most useful part of the book, he almost exclusively discusses politically focused blogs.

18. Tea Bliss by Teresa Cheung (received for my birthday, 2008)

it is obvious that this author has no children. Much of the book is about various relaxing, self-fulfilling, self-care things one should do  -- and some of it is fun to read about -- but almost all of them require large chunks of dedicated, uninterrupted time. And, given that she thinks one should get adequate sleep -- and not, I am guessing find such large chunks of dedicated, uninterrupted time between, say, 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., which is the most realistic time slot for such things for me -- one would have to do nothing else but her exercises during the waking portions of one's day. On the other hand, there are some intriguingly fun recipes for tea blends, information on types of teas that are good for certain ailments, etc. I've filed this one in the kitchen with the cookbooks.

19. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (from 2008 library list)

"Eat Food. Not too much. Mainly plants." That's the eater's manifesto - and the book explores a lot of the reasons, research and explanations behind that. My family and I are not wholly healthy foods eaters, but it's a process to get there, and this book is an intriguing help in the process. It explains the "whys" of why refined sugar, flour from the grocery store, excess corn syrup, etc. is bad for you. There's also a lot in there about how research has shown that the introduction of the "Western diet" introduces the "Western diseases" -- heart disease, diabetes and stroke -- and about how the government's supposed instructions for healthy eating and/or farm subsidies have just messed with our common sense about what to eat. For instance, "eat food" sounds simple -- except when the author points out that many things in our common grocery stores are "food products" instead of food. Years ago, you couldn't sell something fake and call it food -- I recall my dad, who grew up in Wisconsin during the 1940s and 1950s, discussing how margarine (or "oleo," as it's called in all the handwritten recipes from my grandma) was sold in white gelatinous packets with a little container of dye that you squirted in and rubbed through the margarine to spread the coloring around so it appeared yellow: it was illegal to sell yellow margarine, a competitor with butter, in the Dairy State. One of the most helpful and intriguing suggestions in the book was "if your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it." For my family, as I said, this is a process, and we have not yet arrived -- but I did sign up for a CSA for this summer during the timeframe around when I was reading this book.

20. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (from 2008 library list -- and, coincidentally, selection for this year's church book group, May)

I put this on my "to-be-read" library list in, well, 2008, evidently, and it is finally not so hugely popular that there were 500 other people on the waiting list ahead of me. Having read it: it's OK. The narrator is a dog, and that's kind of a fun concept, when he gets into doggy perspective on the world -- although he does seem wise beyond dog years. The main character (other than the dog) is a race car driver, and that was kind of a fun aspect for me, too, as there was a lot of discussion of racing in my home growing up (my dad's a fan; I used to go to the races with him as a kid). The plot, which involves the illness and death of the race car driver's wife and the ensuing custody battle for his child, is interesting. Overall, though, it just didn't come together into "great" book for me, as it apparently does for some others -- it was just OK.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

(Almost a Month) in Review-Part Two: The Wedding

We made a trip down to Iowa this past weekend for a family wedding -- the husband's side of the family, but we stayed with my parents, due to the location. I don't know if her genetic farm background is coming through or what, but four-year-old N spent much of the drive down looking out the car windows at the fields and asking "What are they gonna plant in that field?"

Said car ride is not short -- at least three and a half hours, generally closer to four -- so it was nice that we had time after our arrival on Saturday to go visit the Y, which my mother has joined in her retirement, and use her guest passes for swimming in the rec pool. Unlike water-aerobicizing Grandma, we haven't been in the water since last summer, so my beach-lovin' little girl was having a ball. She went down the slide into the pool numerous times -- and there was a soft pad in the landing area, which did not have water above her head, so I didn't have to catch her! (It took me a while to recover from the force of catching an enthusiastic slider at an outdoor pool last summer. And she's grown since then.)

The Y's pool also had some communal toys, like soft pool noodles, floating around. After gathering several of them to support her torso, N was actually able to swim -- after a fashion -- with leg kicks and such. This was her idea, by the way.

Back at Grandma's house, there was time spent observing the animals, like the very fat squirrel who sat out on the branch and ate the corn from her squirrel feeder, the gray rabbit who sat outside the window for a few moments, and the raucous birds building their nest inside the holes of a stump -- the one with the birdhouse on top of it.

Inside, the plastic animals were also popular. As the four-year-old sorted them into "families" (daddy, mommy and baby lions, hippos, etc.),, and talked about the names for various baby animals (kangaroo = joey, etc.) she casually asked, "Grandma, did you know I'm an everything expert?"

Nothing like self-confidence. She has it in spades.

Since we were missing the egg hunt we normally attend in Minnesota on Palm Sunday weekend, Grandma created an indoor egg hunt for N, whilst I was keeping her occupied with bathing (and playing some sort of version of hide and seek that involved hiding small bath toys in "caves" -- also known as leftover plastic drink cups from, I believe, fast food promotions of the 1980s. The hunted eggs were rubber and plastic, but there was some dying of actual hard-boiled eggs (pre-bath). The dye kit my mom purchased included sports-themed stickers, which the four-year-old used to create an egg "for Grandpa," full of football, soccer and basketball stickers, as well as egg wraps that shrunk to fit around the egg if heated with a hair dryer.

Our noontime meal on Saturday was the Methodist church's chicken noodle dinner, at which I was served my chicken and noodles and mashed potatoes by my fourth grade teacher. Kids were free for this fundraiser, an unwise choice when it came to my hearty eater of chicken and noodles and mashed potatoes, green beans, pasta salad and a slab of blueberry cheesecake (she traded in her apple pie and passed up the chocolate brownies when she spotted the blueberries).

After afternoon napping, our late afternoon snack time at Grandma's of strawberry shortcake included conversation about the wedding coming up that evening. Our previous wedding attendance was at a reception only, so I had to explain, in the face of the four-year-old's anticipation that there would be eating and dancing and -- her highlight -- "then somebody brings you cake," that, prior to the eating and dancing part, there would be a "sitting and listening" part.

She had a bit of difficulty with behavior early in the evening (in part because the wedding was scheduled to occur during our family's regular dinner time, and then didn't get started on time), but once things got started, and there was in fact, eating and dancing, and also young cousins to play with, she was going strong until we left at nearly 10 p.m. The wedding ceremony occurred in the same park lodge where the reception was held, so we were all seated at our tables as the wedding party walked down the aisle -- and, in the solemn quietness that came about as the ceremony was beginning, I'm hoping not too many people heard the four-year-old's amazed question, "Are they gonna have a baby?"

The park lodge where the wedding took place had, as part of its decor, a mounted deer head -- right over the minister's head as the ceremony was taking place -- as well as a mounted buffalo head framed by two mounted geese on the opposite wall. One of my coworkers commented when I showed him the photos that "every good wedding needs some taxidermy" - and then shared the photo of the mounted porcupine he and his wife had received as a wedding gift.

Back at the park lodge, the little girls found additional nature entertainment in looking for the plants, animals and tracks whose images were engraved into the flags of the lobby's stone floor, and one of the highlights of the bathroom -- in addition to being decked out with floral displays, including tulips (my favorite) was the posters of animals and/or wildflowers on the back of the stall doors.

They spent much time out in the lobby post-dinner, pre-dancing, although there was some excited rushing in to the main room shouting "cupcakes!" after the bride had told them they would be serving them "soon." ("Soon" did not translate to "immediately.") The cupcakes were in lieu of a wedding cake; unfortunately, I just missed the photo opportunity of one of the little girls -- not mine, this time -- showing off her blue tongue after consumption of the frosting.

When the dancing did begin, it was this contingent of little girls who were some of the most enthusiastic participants -- although, again, they kept rushing in to the room upon hearing the music, only to leave again in slight disappointment as the bride and groom, bride and her father, and brides' parents danced.

Post wedding and family time, we went to church with Grandma on Sunday -- where, upon our arrival, the four-year-old announced "Nobody's Palm-ing Sunday-ing!" (Our home church has a Palm parade that begins outside the church, with signs, donkey, Jesus representative, etc.) There was a donkey and palm branches later in the service, however.

Then, it was brunch and time to head for home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(Almost a Month) in Review - Part One

Aaagh! It's snowed again today. I am so ready for this to be done with: I completely agree with the comments posted on a local news channel's weather section, in which someone identified Minnesota's seasons as including Winter, Still Winter and Enough Already!

I do, however, feel vindicated that I had not yet got around to packing away winter coats and boots or doing the seasonal wardrobe switch. Truly, my distrust that snow season is over until some time after Easter -- no matter how late Easter occurs -- has proven wise this year.

We have, however, had some quasi-warm days in the past couple of weeks: warm enough, at least, for the four-year-old to engage in bike riding. Before (most of) the deluge of snow from the winter melted, she was fancying herself a tracker on some of those rides: she'd stop the bike to examine animal tracks in the remnants of snow left near the sidewalk, count the toes, and speculate on the animal that had caused the tracks. (Note: my vote is for a dog going for a walk.) She also directly transferred the sand buckets and shovels from use in the front yard -- where they had been building snow castles, pretend ice cream, etc., this winter -- to the sandbox in the backyard, where she has been spending much time. She gathered pinecones from a neighbor's tree that overhangs our fence and drops them into our yard for use in the sandbox as well; for what purpose, I'm not exactly clear -- although I do know that she's been playing "pirate treasure," which involves burying things and then digging to look for them.

Birds have been spotted in our yard, too -- we've seen robins, cardinals and mourning doves -- and we paid a visit to the Minnesota Zoo for their "spring babies" exhibit, which involved petting a baby rabbit and admiring baby chicks, calves, a camel and more animals. We had several conversations that the zoo would likely not be having any baby horses, since - I'm pretty sure -- all of their grownup horses are "daddies," and you need both a mommy and a daddy to have a baby animal.

I've made some minimal progress on spring cleaning. One thing I did accomplish was cleaning out the Tupperware/plastic dishes cupboard, doing such things as identifying which repurposed containers actually had lids, which lids fit what, and containing said lids of the repurposed containers in a Ziploc bag so they don't spill all over the cupboard. I also found the popsicle molds in the back of the cupboard and had to fend off a request from the four-year-old to make popsicles -- for one thing, it is not warm enough yet for popsicles (see note about snow!); for another, I refused to start on this year's batches of popsicles until I had cleaned up the sticky mess in the freezer from where last year's popsicle juice spilled. (She does not know that I also successfully cleaned out the grime from the fridge and its on-top freezer while she and her grandma were watching the movie "Secretariat" -- again. Complete with pretend horse races starring the four-year-old. It's a shocker that the knees get blown out of so many of her pants, I tell you ...)

Grandma's visit to us was in part to do fittings on the new spring dress and skirt she was making for the four-year-old and me, from matching fabric. (Four-year-old N has been wanting to have matching outfits for a while now, and I figured we'd better do this while she still thinks it's cool. I let her pick the fabric -- within reason -- which ended up being a purple background with a spring floral print.) I was also able to delegate her to four-year-old haircut duty, and to send home my yard waste from bushes trimmings with her (the lazy woman's way of getting rid of it before our yard waste season). Grandma also accompanied us to the movie "Hop" that weekend (meh. It was OK.) and to a spring craft show where I purchased some cleaning cloths and some Easter-themed cloth napkins, my mom purchased a couple of metallic garden flowers for outdoor decor and the four-year-old, after energetic play in the indoor playground of the community center, plus rearranging nearly every single one of the (possibly former kindergarten teacher, or at least blessed with patience) vendor's plastic eggs in her display, convinced her grandma to buy her one of these items: a washcloth folded into a bunny shape whose tummy holds a plastic egg which, in turn, contains a tiny ice pack, to be used as a "boo-boo bunny."

We've also remembered this month to get out our Easter books for our seasonal reading basket, and we made a plastic egg garland -- as suggested in Amy's Notebook of March 16 -- for a household decoration. (Plastic eggs saved from previous years' egg hunts, plus the four-year-old's crafts stash of yard sale yarn, provided easy supplies for this.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Menu Plan April 18

(Find lots more menu plans at Org Junkie.)

Well, our "as yet undetermined" food from a couple of Saturdays ago ended up being Spaghetti, along with some Orange Muffins, which used up some of the oranges in the fridge from a good sale -- others of them were converted into grated orange peel (for use in our faux "tartar sauce" and other recipes) as well as orange slices for future smoothies. Both these parts of the disassembled oranges are now residing in the freezer.

We followed that up on Sunday with an after-church (and before-movie) meal at the Chinese buffet, then DH and I had another dinner out while my mom babysat the four-year-old and they consumed Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup.

Last week's menu used the remaining spaghetti that hadn't gone into Saturday's meal (which, in turn, was left over from the large box I used for making Spaghetti Pie), plus some other pasta, and some leftover garlic to create Garlic Shrimp Pasta Monday. Served with Lettuce Salad with orange slices (not the frozen ones). Tuesday for was for "Taco Salad" -- a quick purchase of some refried beans mixed with some previously browned and frozen (then subsequently thawed) hamburger, salsa, lettuce, chips and sour cream. Wednesdays are normally taken care of with Church Supper; and Hot Dogs were on the menu for Thursday, along with --- some sort of side item that I've forgotten (although it wasn't the Fruit Salad that I had at one point intended to make). We did actually have pizza on Friday, but I don't count it as part of my menu plan, since it was not part of our household's food preparation -- we were out of town visiting.

We got home Sunday afternoon, for an evening meal of still-good leftovers of Hot Dogs, plus Banana Bread, Strawberries and Hard-Boiled Eggs that had traveled home with us.

This week's tentative menu plan is:

Monday: Sausage Spaghetti Pie. Removed from the freezer, thawed, cooked.

Tuesday: Goulash. Incorporating leftover pasta from the box opened for last week's Garlic Shrimp Pasta, more hamburger thawed from the freezer, and probably some cheese and tomato sauce and stuff from the fridge/pantry.

Wednesday: Unfortunately, there is no church suppper this week, although we still have activities. It will probably mean a trip through the salad bar of a nearby restaurant.

Thursday: Fish Sticks, and perhaps the elusive Fruit Salad.

Friday: Pizza. (These two may be switched around, in recognition of Good Friday.)

Saturday: It's still a mystery to me.

I am thinking, however, that we may do some of our home egg dying early, so that Potato Salad can be worked into the week's menu. (Hey, if I get it made in time, it could go with the fish.)

Sunday (Easter): I've actually had this special meal planned for a while: Ham (although I haven't picked a specific recipe/glaze yet); Asparagus (a favorite of the husband's); Strawberry Jello Salad (a favorite of the four-year-old's), using some strawberries picked last summer from the freezer; Resurrection Rolls (a favorite participatory activity of the four-year-old -- placing the marshmallows in crescent roll dough, then rolling them up to form a tomb; as they bake -- in an oven guarded by Roman soldiers, aka stuffed animals -- the marshmallow melts and the tomb is empty as you open them); and Rice Krispies Nests. (These are the Rice Krispies treats recipe -- another recent request from the four-year-old -- formed into nest shapes. To hold egg type candy; we'll be using the candy coated Robin Eggs, I think they're called.)
Plus actual Hard-Boiled Eggs, in some form, I'm sure.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Menu Plan April 4 (Plus Catch-Up. Or Ketchup.)

(Find more menu plans at Org Junkie.)

I'm a couple of weeks behind on posting menu plans, but I'm writing down the already-eaten meals anyway, because it makes life easier for me. (I don't save the menu plan sheets of paper that I post on our refrigerator - they go into the recycling at the end of the week -- so this gives me a record of what we've eaten when.)

I did indeed make Morning Glory Muffins (shredded carrots, apples, raisins) a couple of weekends ago, served with Fried Chicken (made with olive oil in a hand-me-down Fry Baby, from a recipe from an old Taste of Home magazine). DH asked if the small chicken pieces were "gizzards"; I believe they were actually thighs from a previous sale of Gold 'n Plump. (I have now become pretty brand-loyal in my chicken buying, in large part because of the lack of hormones in this brand. Plus, the frequent sales don't hurt, either.)

I've also made quite a dent, over the past couple of weeks, in the frozen raspberries picked last summer that have been taking up space in the freezer. Still working on cleaning out the freezer so I can give it a good defrosting -- and then start filling it up again when summer produce comes into season. (We've signed up for a half CSA share this year for the first time, so we'll see how that goes.) Some of the raspberries went into Raspberry Muffins (a recipe that I think originally called for raspberry jam, but I substituted), eaten with our leftover Fish Sticks that same weekend.

And then, we had an uninspired week of: Blueberry Waffles (made with the last of last summer's frozen blueberries), takeout from KFC, church supper, some kind of concoction in which my husband mixed up pasta and rice and some spices and stuff and called it a Soup, Pizza, and Turkey Florentine, a recipe from a Quick Cooking compilation that used up the last of the ground turkey leftovers I had in the freezer (although there's still another whole turkey in there -- I need to get that cooked this spring). Also in Turkey Florentine were pasta (from a very good sale), broccoli (they called for spinach but I substituted), sour cream and gravy -- the last of the jars of gravy I bought during the Thanksgiving-time deals.

The following week, I actually got out my bulk purchase of beef and started browning away, creating a Sunday evening dinner of Sweet and Sour Meatloaf (Quick Cooking compilation, a microwave recipe) and Raspberry Cornbread Muffins, and seguing into meat already browned for the next day's Crockpot Lasagna, served with a salad made with Spinach and Orange Slices. (Bags of oranges and grapefruits were on B1G1 deals at my visit to the grocery store a couple of days earlier, and I figure it's getting to the end of their season -- and any relatively low prices on them.) Also consumed that week were Vegetable Stuffing Bake (frozed mixed vegetables, the last of the Stovetop Stuffing mix from Thanksgiving-time sales), church supper, and Fish Sticks with Orange "Tartar" Sauce (a dip recipe clipped from a Miracle Whip ad years ago, that uses orange zest, Miracle Whip and sour cream -- we use it for fish and, sometimes, veggies or crackers. You know, I suppose I could put cream of tartar in there and actually have a reason to call it tartar sauce...). Plus Pizza.

DH threw his back out over the weekend, and, at my quick grocery store run post-church, I forgot to pick up one of the ingredients for my planned meal...so we had some improvisations over this past weekend: leftover Blueberry Waffles from the freezer, or leftover Eggnog Pancakes (that's what we did with the leftover eggnog we had at Christmas before taking off for our travels), from the same source, served with Raspberry Citrus Compote -- raspberries (from the freezer), oranges and grapefruit. The next day's main meal (following the "everybody clean the leftovers out of the fridge" one) was "Spinach" Frittata and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. (Sort of. We tried some new greens, which neither the four-year-old nor I -- the ones who actually eat green salad -- liked as much as the spinach, but we needed to do something with the rest of them. Also, I really should have thawed at least two bananas from the freezer, instead of one, for those muffins. I did use up a a couple of partial bags of chocolate chips, though.)

Which brings us to this week. Here's the tentative plan:

Monday: Cranberry Chicken and Rice, Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins.

Tuesday: Sausage Spaghetti Pie.

(This was what I was going to cook this weekend, but didn't have enough tomato paste -- and then I depleted my egg supply, also an ingredient, making the Frittata.) This is a freezer cooking recipe which makes three pies -- the plan is to have one to eat and two for the freezer, either for the family in the future or to be prepared if I get called upon to provide food for a funeral at church. I figure it's a good way to use up the bulk package of spaghetti from a recent pasta sale.

Wednesday:  Zippy Macaroni.

I have an evening appointment, and this is an easy dish that stretches a box of Kraft mac and cheese and adds some grownup taste to it (with salsa).

Thursday: Little Smokies, Hashbrown Casserole.

People in my household who don't really like cornflakes cereal nevertheless chose to purchase a box of it. I do like this hashbrown casserole recipe that my grandma used to prepare frequently, and it calls for cornflakes (and there have been good sales on hasbrowns recently as well). There is still a package of little smokies in the freezer from Christmas time, and it's an easy crockpot recipe that will also use some barbecue sauce from the pantry.

Friday: Pizza.

Saturday:  Some sort of food, as yet undetermined.