Sunday, December 29, 2013

Music for Sunday in December

It has been a while since I shared some music for Sunday. Today I am posting one of my favorite artists to listen to on slow wintry mornings like today: George Winston's "December."

http://youtu.be/ROX5gUWS7mo This is performed by an independent artist.



I have been so thankful for this long winter break which has given me time to connect with my kids and family without having to worry about the agenda on the work plate tomorrow. A 2 week break is a wonderful thing. I hope that you too are as lucky, or more better inclined than I am to relax and enjoy the time of that you are given.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Return to Holiday Fruitcake

Fruitcake
photo from simpleplate.com
A day for FRUITCAKE!

Yes, believe it or not, December 27 is a day that has been set aside to celebrate this oft-loved or hated (depending on your experience) dessert.

Hated?

Apparently.

At least that is what seems to be the case for some misfortunates in my little part of the world in Northern Utah, where dodging fruitcake has become a holiday pastime. I'll admit I've enjoyed the stories of neighbors and friends who laugh over the gifted loaves brought to their doors, chuckling at the idea of how many times their gift has changed hands amongst their neighbors and wondering if they dare re-gift it, lest it end up in the hands of the very first neighbor that actually baked that particular loaf.

For this reason, fruitcake has become something of an endearing and curious mystery to me. I mean, how could a dessert, that is so varied and so long-lived in the history of cooking, have gotten such a bad rap?

Based on my limited (or lacking) research, I'll simply blame it on commercial-mass production. Makers like Hostess and Edemmann's simply didn't get the recipe done right when they boxed up their hastily made loaves, which ultimately ended up in the public-shunning-of-fruitcake to become engrained in society.

Such a shame.

http://www.amazon.com/From-Rivets-Rails-Railroad-Boarding/dp/0615730426/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1388166897&sr=8-1&keywords=rivets+and+rails+cookbookI grew up in a family where women in both my paternal and maternal lineage loved to bake. And thanks to a grandmother who would send the traditional Kennedy family fruitcake at the holidays, I grew up liking and eating fruitcake. The particular Kennedy to which this savory recipe is attributed is my great-grandmother on my father's side, who cooked for numerous railroad workers and travelers in her boarding house, and spent a great deal of time perfecting her fruitcake recipe. Her hand-written cookery journal held at least five different versions.

And she wasn't alone in her yearly undertaking to bake a good holiday fruitcake. Of the hundreds of cookbooks I've read over the years, I've seen as many different recipes.

Surely, a sweet bread that has been baked through multiple centuries is worth delving into at every opportunity. And with the price of nuts and dried fruit these days, each loaf could literally be worth its weight in gold -- just like this recipe I'm sharing below.

Happy National Fruitcake Day! What do you think? Do you love it or leave it?

Here's a link to some fun fruitcake facts from Foodimentary

Ribbon Fruitcake

Dark Part:
yolks of 6 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 cups browned flour
1 1/2 lb raisins
1/2 lb citron
1/4 lb nuts
2/3 cup whiskey
1 tsp baking soda, dissolved in hot water
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice

Light Part:
whites of 6 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sweet cream
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 lb citron
1 lb chopped almonds
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp lemon extract
1 small slice of sugared orange peel






 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Giveaway on Goodreads!


Enter for your chance to win this cookbook on Goodreads! Good luck!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

From Rivets and Rails, Recipes of a Railroad Boarding House C... by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger
Enter to win

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Relaxing Music for Sunday

Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year.

Despite being busy with activities and chores, the crisp air always leads me to feeling invigorated when I step outside. Today I'm sharing a acoustic clip that is keeping me company while I spend the day going back and forth between plucking away at a few items on my to-do list and sitting down with a book I've been meaning to start for some time now: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

I haven't had much time lately to write or post, and I do miss it: so I've decided that the first step on getting back toward that path is through taking time to read and relax. Relax... Just thinking of this word is already putting a smile on my face.

Enjoy your day and be sure to share at least some of it with those you love.





Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Book and Concert by Tyler Whitesides

Some people go through life never knowing who their neighbors are.

As it turns out, I am lucky not to be one of those people; although I suppose it's hard to avoid stopping and getting to know your neighbor (out of sheer curiosity) after seeing him drum away on a few toilets, desks, and paint cans in his driveway -- and have company while doing it, at  that!

Yes, that is the story of how I came to know Tyler Whitesides, author of the Janitors series.

Apparently, Tyler openly embraces his craziness when it comes to creating music with his fellow band-mates, and I can tell you that he has been practicing quite religiously for his latest "percussion" show in association with the upcoming release of the third Janitors book. So far, his rehearsals have drawn a steady and growing crowd, myself being one among them.

Can I call myself a groupie? Do I dare?

I will say that as far as the show goes, I've heard parts of it, I've seen parts of it, and it's going to be awesome when Tyler finally takes the stage on the 13th at Logan High. I can't wait!

Crazy as it sounds, I've never met anyone who can beat out a really cool tune on a set of school desks or toilets, and I believe I will never meet anyone else in the future who can boast such talents, but I am lucky to know THE ONE guy who can do just that. And the fact that he is an amazing, talented and successful writer, as well as an all-around super friendly person, is simply icing on the cake.

Tyler will be celebrating his upcoming book release on Friday at Logan High School at about 7 pm in the evening. His unique concert will be followed by a book-signing and book-begetting event.

Wherever your interests lie, this is an event that music-lovers and book-lovers will not want to miss.

See you soon!



 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fixing up Fridays with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Today I'm sharing a song from a group called the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I don't know much about them, but I liked this song that was shared with me from a Twitter friend. So here it is! "Hysteric." Enjoy your Labor Day weekend. I know I will be loving the break from Logan High, my new teaching abode. Long weekends are always something to smile about. My assignment for myself? Do something fun.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Music for Sunday

We might not be able to touch the stars, but they are always there to guide us.

This song on Sunday is for the people who have touched my life. You are with me always, and for that I am forever blessed.

Shine Right Through by Correatown


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Better Tomato Pesto and Its Secret Ingredient

If you love traditional basil pesto, then you will have to take my daughter's word for it that tomato basil pesto is better.

I suppose I can say she is a reliable source since over the years I have put many varieties in front of her at the kitchen table. Those flavors have included sunflower basil pesto, yellow bell pepper pesto, spinach pesto, white kidney bean pesto, and sage pesto. Tomato pesto is her favorite.

Since tomatoes are ripening on the vine, there is no better time than the present to share this recipe.

As for the secret ingredient, it's grape-seed oil! I love it's light and smooth flavor, which yields a consistent quality. Although olive oil is traditionally used in pesto, I tend to get boggled down and somewhat disappointed in experimenting with all the different shades/designs of olive oil that are available. Usually in choosing between virgin, extra virgin, light or regular, I've found that despite whatever the label says, some olive oil varieties/brands can be heavier in flavor than what I thought I was getting -- or provide no flavor at all. However, Grape-seed oil has solved that! Plus, Grape-seed oil is another one of those oils that is good for you with its high content of Vitamin E and anti-oxidants.

Enjoy! And happy living to you!

Tomato Basil Pesto

1 1/2 cup fresh basil
4 medium tomatoes, skins blanched (removed), seeds and cores removed
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
3 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 cup grape-seed oil
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup pine nuts
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until somewhat smooth. Modify to taste.

Serve with crackers, or as a spread on your next sandwich, or mix into pasta. Creativity is yours!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Loving the Lake in New Hampshire

These are some of the many reasons I couldn't stop smiling after I returned from my annual family trip to Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire a couple weeks ago. From swimming every day to fishing to sailing to tubing and helping my niece water ski for the first time, the list goes on and on. The memories have stayed with me, fueling my days and the inevitable return to work. The water was absolutely beautiful and refreshing this year, inviting me to swim through a half-mile distance in the lake each evening. Despite not having much swimming time in at the local pool, I was so glad I still had the skills and didn't find myself floating belly-up at the end of it all!

I wouldn't give up this annual visit for anything. Some day, I'd like to spend my entire summer here, or at least a fairly good portion of it.

What do you think? Any votes you'd like to share on your own spot of heaven?


 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Better Zucchini Bread


Okay, so if you are anything like me and have a garden, now is about the time when you have zucchini coming out of your ears.

And if you are even a tinier bit like me, you are probably asking yourself why you went ahead put another plant in your garden this past spring.

And if you are perhaps even less like me, but still one to ask further questions, you are also probably asking yourself if it would be possible to put in just 1/2 of a plant next year, because ONE plant is so MUCH MORE than enough.

In the grand scheme of things, what does this foolish questioning all add up to? One thousand and one ways to cook zucchini. Because eleven, or even thirteen ways, were never enough. It's quite possible that one thousand and one ways were necessary to keep family units from tearing each other apart over having to eat zucchini night after night. 1001 recipes might be what has kept neighbors from beating each other over the heads with it when another green-spotted club somehow got placed in the mailbox, or on the front step, or left in the middle of the lawn. 1001 recipes have probably kept children from sculpting shriveled heads from it, or tossing it in the streets, or trying to feed it to the dog. Yes, even the family dog needed that one thousand and first recipe, just to keep that vegetable from ending up in its dish.

Which begs the next question. Why I am bothering to share another recipe? Upping the recipe clutter to one thousand and two? The reason is this: I'd simply like to prove that even the internet--wired and virtual as it is--can't escape prolific production of this plant. You'll find recipes for zucchini galore on the NET and here I am offering one more.

But before you make haste with a shrug of your shoulder and go, let me assure you that this recipe for zucchini bread is very good, and probably a little bit better than yours. Why can I say this? Because this recipe isn't mine. It happens to come from the wife of a co-worker, who pawned (I mean, brought) one of her loaves to a faculty meeting one day. Knowing she was a fabulous cook, I didn't hesitate to give the old zuc bread a try. Surprisingly, it was better than I'd ever had. (Sorry Mom!)

Enjoy!

Better Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar

3 cups flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup choc chips

pinch-fuls of sugar, sprinkled on top of loaf batter before baking.

Mix ingredients in order shown. Grease & flour 2 loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 to 70 minutes, depending on the temperament of your oven. :)

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Forgotten Ones by Laura Howard, a Giveway Extravaganza


 photo TFOAdFree_zps85287f68.jpg
It's a celebration of beauty for Laura Howard's critically acclaimed book, The Forgotten OnesThe author is gifting it to you FREE for two days, July 15th & 16th! On top of that she is giving away a $20 GC for participating in the social media blitz all week! Enter the Rafflecopter each day. New content will be available for sharing across the social media fairyland and you can get an addition 3 entries each day for sharing! 

JOIN THE SOCIAL MEDIA BLITZ!
JOIN the EVENT on Facebook & get a chance for a daily giveaway! Or just enter the Rafflecopter and share your heart away! 
To get the HTML for this post (minus this of course) with all images embedded to enter the Rafflecopter just CLICK HERE and grab the code! Includes Rafflecopter HTML!

What some reviewers are saying:
"“This book is so amazing! It's one of those that speaks so vividly in your mind that you can't help but get lost in!"
"5 Stars and a fantastically beautiful read. I definitely recommend to all who love fantasy, romance, or are just looking for a book to escape into for a while."
"Enter another type of world you never knew existed but secretly wished it did. I can't wait for book 2! Keep em coming out like pure gold Laura :)"

Author: Laura Howard Genre: NA Paranormal Fantasy Romance

Age Group: New Adult Cover DesignerStephanie Mooney

The Forgotten Ones

Allison O'Malley just graduated from college. Her life's plan is to get a job and take care of her schizophrenic mother. She doesn't have room for friends or even Ethan, who clearly wants more.
When Allison's long-lost father shows up, he claims he can bring her mother back from the dark place her mind has sent her. He reveals legends of a race of people long forgotten, the Tuatha de Danaan, along with the truth about why he abandoned her mother.

Laura Howard

Laura HowardLike many of us, her obsession began with books at the young age of six when she got her first library card. Nancy, Sweet Valley High and other girly novels were routinely devoured in single sittings throughout the years. Her mom was taking to her library nearly everyday so I could get her fix.
Reading took a backseat to diapers and babies when she had her first a little over a decade ago. She was lucky something she always wanted to be, a stay-at-home mom and stayed her focus until a release of a little saga called Twilight 8 years later and her love of fiction was reborn.
After co-authoring some fanfiction (just for fun), something unexpected happened: two fictional characters began inhabiting her thoughts. Soon after, more characters began to make themselves known. There was only one thing to do: Write the story that was in her heart.
Three years, hundreds of hours + several cups of coffee later, she has created a world for her two characters to live, love and discover. It is still a toss up at who loves the world more, her characters or her!
WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER a Rafflecopter giveaway
This event is sponsored by the author & The Finishing Fairies. This blog is in no way responsible for the gifting of the prizes. Book links are sponsor links and are from an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small fee is earned when purchases are made at Amazon through the link above.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Relaxing Music for Sunday

Beat it with some blues!

Sit back and relax, preferably with a smile on your face and a favorite beverage in your hand.

Today I'm sharing a blues rock jam that was shared between some legends. B.B. King takes center stage with some other crazy guitarists and vocalists. Would have loved to have seen this show! However, this is perfect for my week-long, have-waited-all-year-lake retreat. Woot! Enjoy!


 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Relaxing Music for Sunday, Nature Sounds with Piano

Today, I wanted some piano and found some mixed with nature sounds. Perfect, after spending much of the weekend outdoors doing this and that.

This music video is performed by pianist Tziv Erez. It is titled Tranquility, Time Solitaire.

Enjoy!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Better Garden Salad

A recipe for salad? You betcha. Along with a highly encouraged nudge to visit your local farmer's market to browse, nibble, sample, and pick up some of these wonderful tidbits to go into your guaranteed, bonafide delectable, splashy, full-of-color garden green salad! What do I have in this one?

red romaine (a new variety I can't remember the name of)
arugula
baby spinach
baby Swiss chard
red leaf lettuce
baby green leaf lettuce
baby beet greens (this is what you "weed out" when thinning your beets that may be growing in the garden, but they are extremely tasty and in demand, so savvy farmers now offer them for sale)
snipped baby beets (Why waste the root that you would otherwise eat when it's bigger?)
snipped chives
fresh parsley
fresh mint
dried cranberries
crumbled feta cheese
fresh black ground pepper
balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing

Of course, you can add whatever is available and in season from your own local market, like shaved fennel root or snipped fennel tops. But I encourage you to try something new. Fennel was a new thing for me that I tried a couple weeks ago, but my source was out of it by the time I got to the market this past weekend.

How did I come to be inspired to create, let alone write about what some may otherwise overlook as a common table food? Because I am lucky enough to be a year-round teacher for some special students. In the summer I teach an environmental science class, and during our unit on agricultural resources I always schedule in a field trip to some local farms. Bill Masslich and his wife Penny own a small organic farm named First Frost Farm. I've known Bill for more than 20 years. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Cache Valley, and I can whole-heartedly say that he is one of the best guys I have ever known. His sincerity and honesty and goodness just emanate from within. My students always pick up on this, and always become immediately enamored with him as soon as they meet him. Without a doubt our annual field trip to his farm is always a favorite. And even though I've known Bill for many years, and have talked to him many times about gardening and growing vegetables, I always learn something new.

The most important thing that my students and I take away from our annual visit is that local farms are important. They are vital to communities. They are vital to local economies. They are vital to our health and survival. Good agricultural land is disappearing too quickly. Healthy produce (that won't make you sick, as in recent headlines) is vital to local consumers. People want to know where their food comes from, who grows it, who takes care of the land. Farmers like Bill and Penny at First Frost Farm are doing just that, and we should do our best to support them. So visit your local market and scoop up what's in season. Ask about what you can do to grow your own produce. You don't need a whole lot of space, and local farmers are always more than happy to offer ideas on how to do it, and well as ideas on how to cook whatever they are offering.

For example, this past weekend, Penny talked me into trying fresh mustard greens. She chuckled when I asked her what to do with them. But per her suggestions, I brought them home and sautéed them with butter and fresh scapes of garlic (another new hot item which you can also get right now at your local farmers market). It was quick, easy, and delish!

Just like me, you'll walk away inspired to eat better, and feel great about supporting your local community and the people who are working to preserve the heart of it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Life as a Lumberjack and its Recipe for Omelets in a Bag!


One of the things I love about summer is being able to find quiet times where I can sit in the shade while the sun beams down around me and read a book, especially if it is a cute book--one that makes me laugh, one that takes me elsewhere, and one that I immediately want to share with the other readers in my life, like my daughter and my YA book-loving friends. My Life as a Lumberjack (or How I Fell for the Wrong Guys) meets all of these expectations. It's a fun-tastic read that took me to the heart of an adventure set in the mountains of Northern Utah. Plus, I've got a recipe to go with it! "Omelets in a Bag" is hot off the press (or the pen), from the Lumberjack author herself, Sara V. Olds.
Whether or not you're up for making an omelet lumberjack-style, I'm highly recommending that you add this fun book to the TOP of your "Must Read Summer List!"
 
And there's another plus! Since this book is currently on tour, we've got a contest that you can enter to win cool prizes, like a copy of My Life as a Lumberjack! Click here to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway

 So buckle your seatbelt! Wrap yourself up in that apron you know you've got tucked in a kitchen drawer, or go out and kindle that fire. Here we go!

Omelets in a Bag
 
Ingredients:
Eggs
Onions
Tomatoes
Pre-cooked bacon or ham
Mushrooms
Shredded Cheese
Salt and pepper
 
Supplies:
Quart-sized freezer zip bags
water
multi-quart pot
tongs
knife
cutting board
Dawn Dish Detergent
 
  Before using the cooking pot, smear a thin layer of Dawn on the outside of the pot—it will make it easier to clean up and keep it from staining in the fire. Fill the pot about one-half to three-quarters full of water. Set on heat source (fire or propane burner) to boil. Chop fresh ingredients while water is coming to a boil. (If this is for your first breakfast in camp, your ingredients could already be prepared if you thought ahead to pack them in so they're ready to use).
  With a partner, break eggs at least two—into one of the freezer bags, then add all other ingredients as desired and squish up eggs in the bag to mix. Squeeze as much air out of the plastic bag as possible (**VERY important!).  Zip and drop flattened bag into boiling water. It WILL expand! Boil for 2 to 3 minutes and fish the bag (or bags) out, using your tongs. Carefully empty your eggs onto a plate and eat! Use the boiling water that remains for hot chocolate or tea. Use the hot leftover water for cleaning any dishes.
 
(Isn't that so smart?!)
 
Who is brave enough to try?
 

Author Sara V. Olds

Visit Sara's website here
 
Find Sara on Facebook here

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Music for Sunday

My daughter introduced me to Boyce Avenue that does acoustic covers of popular songs, some with upcoming young artists. Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" is done here with Alex Goot. I think he has a really unique, yet cool voice.

Boyce Avenue is already hugely popular. I'm not even sure if they can be called "Indie." But nevertheless, they do a lot of acoustic covers with other new artists, so it's neat to see who may be about to break out on the scene. Plus, if you like Boyce Avenue's vibe, they are going on a Pacific Coast tour this fall.

One other artist that caught my ear in one of Boyce Avenue's videos was Megan Nicole. I love her voice. So pure and crystal clear. I loved her take on Skyscraper by Demi Lavato. Both of these singers, Alex Goot and Megan Nicole, have their own channels on YouTube.

Here you go. Have a great Sunday (it's Father's Day!), and enjoy some Indie Music surfing!




Sunday, June 9, 2013

Music for Sunday

Today I'm sharing "Clouds" by Zach Sobeich.




My youngest son introduced me to this song. It is one of his favorites that he has saved on his phone. The story of Zach inspired him, and I'm touched that he shared it with me.

Zach was diagnosed with cancer about four years ago. Facing this disease, he tackled a bucket list, so to speak, and lived his life to the fullest. One of the things he accomplished was to become a successful singer and song writer. Clouds is one of his songs. You can also check out more of his songs, like Sandcastles and Fix Me Up, and his story on YouTube. His story is tremendous. Be sure to bring tissues. It did make me cry.

Zach left this world about three weeks ago. Without a doubt, he and his talent will be missed.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Better Rhubarb Pie?

We're about at the end of rhubarb season here in Utah, but just in case you happen to be lucky enough to snag a handful of tart stems and are wondering what you might do with them, I'm going to tempt you into trying what I'm calling a "Better Rhubarb Pie."

Why? Because this recipe comes from grandma, of course, and who else would have a recipe that I could say is BETTER than anything that is already out in this big yonder world?

Yes, I know we all have grandmas.

And we all have favorite recipes from grandmas.

So if you happen to already possess a favorite, better recipe for rhubarb pie from your own grandma, then I'll simply say this: Here Is Another Rhubarb Pie Recipe Worthy of Trying.


Doesn't it look pretty?

And different?

That's because this recipe happens to have a sweet custard base for the filling. Kind of like pudding. Remember Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie? Ring a bell? No?

Sorry, I digress. Let me just say that these two great tastes go great together. Rest assured, I get yearly requests for this pie from people that are not members of my own family. Some have even crossed state lines for it (at least when I put gooseberries in it, which taste just like rhubarb when they're baked). So, it's good. At least, I have always liked to think so. Enjoy!

Better Rhubarb Pie

3 cups chopped rhubarb
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon cornstarch

Line a 9 inch pie pan with pastry, then set in fridge to keep cool while prepping batter.

Mix eggs, sugar, flour, nutmeg, milk, and cornstarch together in a large bowl. Stir in rhubarb.

Pour batter into the pie shell. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour at 400 degrees. Remove from oven and dot with butter. Cool. Chill. Serve.





 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cover Up! (Or, Thoughts on Skin and the American Dime)

Back in the fall of 2010, I wrote a post about a freckle I had above my right eye, my thoughts on lightening it, and how my son changed or enlightened my mind to take a more positive view. Basically, I let the freckle remain, and decided to cherish it for the heart it was and what hearts tend to represent.

However, on one recent trek through the school's cafeteria, a co-worker pointed at my face and said something along the lines of, "What's that on your face?"

Uh, my face is on my face?

He didn't smile at my lame attempt at humor. He tapped his own eye, indicating he meant the spot above mine.

I knew what he was talking about and tried telling him that it was my beauty mark, my heart-shaped freckle.

"No," he said shaking his head. "Not any more. That spot has grown. You better get that checked."

For the next few days, he continued to remind me of an appointment I needed to make. And I finally relented, because he was right. My tiny heart was no longer a heart. It had morphed into a blob that was the size of a dime. In fact, if one looked closely enough, one could see a strong resemblance between the face on our lowly American dime* and this newly emerged spot over my eye.

About six weeks later I found myself sitting in the dermatologist's office. She informed me that given the spot's rapid growth in the last little while, it had to go. I had two options, freeze it via liquid nitrogen with no biopsy and hope for the best, or slice it off and biopsy and still hope for the best. And just to give me a "no-option-taste" of what being squirted at by a canister of liquid nitrogen feels like on a relatively tiny piece of skin, she gunned me without too much warning in order to zap what she called a pre-cancerous growth on the bridge of my nose.

After that short blast of pain and being scared by the C-word, I chose option 2 for removing the dime from my forehead.

Following a small shot of pain killer, and few slices and dices that covered all compass directions, George Washington and I were dearly departed.

On second thought, maybe it was Franklin D. Roosevelt with whom I parted ways.

I don't know... I get around... (NOT!)

Just kidding!

Of course, I'm just kidding.

At any rate, now I wait for no news (because no news is good news in my book), and hope that this scar that remains won't be too bad after it heals. I tried telling my son it looked like the sign of Batman, he couldn't say he agreed. To him, it just looked like a big white spot.

In the meantime, I'm here to remind you to cover up! Wear sun block and sleeves and hats and all that. Because if you're like me, you'd probably rather keep all resemblances to currency OFF your skin and IN your pockets (or wallets), instead.

Happy summer, everyone!

* What I referred to as the "lowly American dime" actually is not that lowly at all. It first appeared in 1946 with FDR's image one year after his death. Citizens had written the Treasury department requesting a coin in his honor. The dime was a good choice because FDR supported the March of Dimes program which raised funds to find a cure for polio. FDR had contracted polio at the age of 39.

 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Better Chocolate Chip Cookies

May 15 was chocolate chip cookie day!

Since we make chocolate chip cookies regularly, it was easy to catch this day without even trying. The tricky part for us though, turned out to be dealing with the stock in the cupboards. Having all the ingredients can be a problem in a kitchen when you have a head cook who doesn't make it habit to always shop with lists (i.e., me). Which is how we happened to stumble into a better way to make chocolate chip cookies.

Our problem was finding a substitute for brown sugar. And what we came up with was a tasty end result. I highly recommend what I'm calling a Better Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, especially if you've been wondering what the new trend toward using raw sugar is all about!

Here goes:

1 cup of your favorite butter or margarine (I use 1 stick each)
3/4 cup of granulated white sugar
3/4 cup (nearly) of raw sugar, topped off with white sugar, which will fall down in between all the spaces around the raw sugar
3 teaspoons molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 bag real milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (not too fine, unless you really like that nutty flavor in your cookies)

This is the order I usually work with in combining my ingredients: creaming the butter and sugars, followed with adding the wet ingredients, and then mixing in the dry. I've used molasses and granulated sugar as a substitute for brown sugar before, so I had some inkling of an idea of what I was doing. The raw sugar is a new thing I've been using in the house, particularly in making my morning cup of coffee. But using it in the cookies gave a pleasant texture and taste that combined really well with a reasonably soft cookie. We baked these on a cooking stone at 375 for about 11 minutes, then dropped it to 10 minutes for later batches after the stone warmed up. Also, we usually use only 2 1/4 cups of flour for the traditional recipe, but for some reason, in this go-round it didn't give enough heft to the batter, so we had to add more. Was it the molasses? Or unusually large eggs? Who knows. Use your best judgment in getting to the final consistency of a batter you prefer.

If you decide to give these suggestions a try, let me know how it goes!

I endorse the idea that chocolate chip cookie day can be celebrated any day!

Happy cooking!
 

Friday, May 17, 2013

We click! And other thoughts on Follow Friday


If you're on Twitter, you're probably familiar with Follow Friday, a recurrent theme where tweeters spread good cheer by raving about the fellow followers they are either smitten with, or have just met, or think are incredibly cool in regards to their ability to share mind-pausing worldly wisdom or highly acclaimed foolishness -- all in 140 characters or less. Whatever the case may be, these folks have come to be respected for one reason or another within one of thousands of tweeting-networking streams; and thus, they get a shout-out on Follow Friday.

In my experience, Follow Friday comes loaded with the proverbial basket of good feelings. For one thing, it's always nice to realize that you were remembered by another person in a Follow Friday tweet. At the very least, it makes me smile to know that someone was thinking of me. At the very most, it provides an opportunity to venture out and mingle. It's like Speed Dating, without the uncomfortable face-to-face encounters that some might otherwise endure.

Whenever I'm mentioned within a group of #FollowFriday tweets, I consider it to come with a nod from the Tweeter to go ahead and see whom I'm grouped with. I've been lucky enough to have met some great friends this way--friendships that have been fed by sharing silly streams of off-the-wall-jokes, nudges of encouragement for goals being sought or accomplished, and virtual hugs when support has been needed.

For these reasons, I've come to think of Follow Friday more than just Speed Dating. I prefer to think of it as Match-Making. When I send a #FF tweet, I like to pick and chose Tweeters that may not know one another, but might be a good fit. And if folks in my tweet already know one another, then I like to think of it as waving a group flag, and bringing the attention back around to people I think are wonderful.

All in all, I love Follow Friday, because beating at the heart of it all is a resounding message of "We click!" You never know what might be waiting behind that twitter handle door.

With whom do you click? Feel free to share your own faves here.
 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Children's Book Week, May 13- 19th

I love children's books. Of course I do.

As I grew up, part of me learned how to connect with the world through reading books. And when I became a mother, my connections with my kids were made stronger in sharing books we read aloud together.

So to celebrate Children's Book Week, I'm sharing a list of 5 titles I highly recommend. These are books that I have read in the past year and thoroughly enjoyed.


1.Chicken Big by Keith Graves. A laugh-out-loud funny twist on Chicken Little that gives a whole new meaning on what it means to be a chicken.

2. The Monster Under the Bed Loves Chocolate Chip Cookies by Judith E. Torres. This one will leave your little ones giggling under the covers after you try to tuck them in at night. (Notice I said, "try?") Just kidding! All kids and monsters do end up in bed by the end of this story.


3. Frankenstein, a monstrous parody by Rick Walton and Nathan Hale. This is not your tried-and-true Madeline, at least not the way you remember her to be.... Cute, cute, cute!


4. The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, a middle-grade novel for older readers about an orphan boy who might or might not want to become king. Full of twists and turns that both boys and girls will love.



5. Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver, a fantastical ghost story from an author who is multi-talented in writing both MG and YA. Again, one for both boys and girls.


6 - 1,100,101 What titles would you like to add to the list? Add them here!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Music for Sunday. Indie Artist Guitar Rock Ballad

Yesterday was a beautiful morning at the ball park. The combination of the warm sunshine and breeze reminded me of a day at the beach and times at the lake I've spent with my family on our trips to New Hampshire. Our annual family trip can not come soon enough!

My memories inspired me to find relaxing music for Sunday that reflects on this theme. I found a talented indie guitarist / composer named Bard Kvale to share with you today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and are inspired to start planning your own family get-aways.

Have a wonderful Sunday! Enjoy!

 

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Risk Worth Taking?

The other day my daughter stated, "Whoa! Listen to this. When someone appears in your dreams, it's because that person misses you!." She asked if I thought this was true. After all, it had been tweeted from @MindBlowingFacts (or some such account on Twitter). "Does the world really work like that? Does that kind of energy between people exist?" Her blue eyes were wide with hope.

Wouldn't it be nice to believe that? Wouldn't it be even nicer, if it were true? Not knowing if her declaration was rooted in a new-found crush or a renewed interest in someone from her past, and not wanting to influence any possible actions on her part that might lead to some unrequited declarations of love, I opted to answer with a left-brained approach.

First of all, I told her, if you're dreaming of someone, then most likely, it is because either YOU'RE the one that misses them, or you have unfinished business, or you have a mind that tends to wander. There is absolutely no way of knowing or proving if it is also because they miss you, unless you want to explore that possibility by sounding like a crazy person when you ask them. Second of all, dreams happen all the time, but not all of them hold much meaning. For example, the other night I dreamed about a bag of Hostess powdered donuts. Yes, Hostess Donuts. They were sitting on a small round table in front of me. And an old friend in the dream was asking me if I wanted one. I am quite certain that while I miss those bite-sized powdered donuts from Hostess, it is doubtful that they were thinking of me. Even more doubtful that the old friend had any interest in my dietary preferences or inclinations at 3am.

But my daughter can be relentless. And she wasn't impressed by my donut dream. A couple hours later she said, "Guess what, Mom. Here is another Mind Blowing Fact. If you are thinking about someone all the time, then there is an 80% chance that the other person is thinking about you, too." With a laugh, she asked me what I thought about THIS tweet -- another one from her Go-To Source for Advice on Life on Twitter.

Looking at her, I wanted to proceed with my answer carefully. With some 40+ years behind me, and some 40+ years yet to be lived by her, I wondered whom she might be thinking about. If her crush were being returned. If there were any way of finding out if this Tweeted Fact might be true.

At first, I didn't have an answer to her second question. Was it likely that the main reason you thought of one person incessantly was due to the fact that they were also thinking of you? Was fate so sadistic that two people such as this would go on thinking of each other throughout the rest of their lives, being left with the other only in their thoughts? Or would one eventually break the silence and embrace the irrationality of their obsession by trying to bridge the gap and reach out? The writer in me voiced, Sounds like a great story for fiction!

As I said before, I wondered if I could shield her from the disappointment that sometimes follows from taking risks?

No. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't. In the end, my answer was simply this. "Anything is possible." Boring, I know. And not earth-shattering in any way. But I hoped it was general enough to help her nudge open the door to opportunity, if that was what she wanted. After all, I do want her take some risks. Some risks do lead to rewards.

As writers, we force our characters to take risks all the time. Should life be any different? IS life any different? In the end, I suppose not. Because in the end, fiction is written around characters that live through situations that readers can relate to; and characters face risks that readers should ultimately understand.

Does life have risk? I hope so. Although realistically, I hope it's the least foolish ones that gain our attention. Which begs the question, Where is the risk in that?

On that, all I can say is, I have absolutely no idea. I'm hoping that my daughter's Twitter friend will have the answer. And that she will be forging blissfully through life, happy with the risks she's taking on her own.

What do you think? Where lie the limits to the power of the mind? Where lie the limits to risk?

Monday, April 8, 2013

More on Classroom Visits

As a teacher, I have the benefit of being able to understand both sides of an author visit. In today's economic environment where schools have tighter budgets and fewer teaching days, providing an author visit that meets and exceeds expectations is more crucial than ever before. It's not enough to simply think that carrying the title of "I''m an author," and waving your books is all you'll need to bring your audience to their knees in rapt attention. And in today's multi-media, multi-tasking world, unless you are a professional storyteller, the reality is that being just yourself by yourself probably won't be enough. Plus, it may not be enough to entice an invitation in the first place.

So, how do garner those invitations? Here are a few ideas.

1) Identify your target audience. i.e., what grades would you like to visit? What age do you write for? What group size would you like to speak to? You'll want to specify this in your contact materials.

2) Identify the genre that your books fall into, and identify some of the other books/authors that will you be talking about in your presentation (aside from your own). Some schools are leary of bringing in authors that view school visits simply as a means to sell books. Your visit should go beyond this goal and include an obvious agenda of wanting to inspire young readers and writers as a whole, coupled with the realization that not every student will be a fan of your genre and writing style (and that's okay).

3) Identify the core curriculum that your presentation supports. Exploring your state's core curriculum can help you identify how your presentation will supplement educational requirements. For example, my book, Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Forest Again, which is a fractured fairy/folktale, fits in with the 3rd grade language arts program that strives to cover fables, folktales and story structure. Therefore, part of my presentation includes having the students identify the elements that make my book a fractured folktale. A google search of Core Curriculum for your state will bring you to web sites where this information is available. An example is shown here (Scroll down to page 11 in the pdf to see where the curriculum gets into specifics.)

4) Provide a suggested schedule that is streamlined, specific, and succinct. For example, if the heart of your presentation is 20 minutes, follow it with 10 minutes allotted for questions and/or a writing exercise.

5) Keep the duration of your program age-appropriate. For example, it's difficult for some kindergartners to keep their attention glued to the reading of even one story; so these types of visits will be shorter and more engaged. Actually, engagement for any age-group is a must, but for kindergartners, allow no more than 5 minutes to read your story, followed by 3 minutes for questions, and then 10 minutes, if class time allows for coloring a related picture or putting together a story puzzle. Judy Torres, author of Duck, Duck, Moose and other picture book titles, follows the reading of her story with a sing-a-long, where she teaches the students a simple repeating and rhyming song that centers on her book and its characters.

6) Incorporate multimedia. This could include an accompanying power point or book trailer, even if it's not your own, to highlight a discussion on plot elements or theme, for example. Again, use of everything, including multimedia, should be used as an educational tool, not simply a sales pitch.

7) Above all, don't forget to find connections with the students you are visiting. Use student volunteers to help show specific concepts, such as demonstrating or acting out certain characteristics that the students would then need to put into words in an interesting way. Ask them what they like to read and write. Ask them who their favorite characters are and why. Plant the seeds for discussion and do a little digging, if you have to, with your own questions to get them thinking about writing style and the infinite varieties that are published.

Showing an interest in the students around you, rather than showcasing only your own work, is the greatest gift you can bring into a classroom setting. The best outcome will be that your inspiration will set the students moving forward with giant moon-steps as they pursue, develop, and share their own stories.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fixing Up Fridays with Indie Music, an Indie Book, and Darn Good Food

My daughter brought an acoustic version of Neyo's "Let Me Love You" to my attention today, which we found covered by a lot of different artists on YouTube. Here is one my favorites that combines two songs together: "Let Me Love You" by Neyo and "Diamonds" by Rihanna. Can't go wrong with this one! It's sung by Indie Artist Maria Zouroudis.





As for the week's latest book suggestion, I'm not much of a romance reader, but I have been lured into buying a few titles lately for my Kindle. Here is one that I am about to dive into: Sand Dollar by Indie Author Sebastian Cole.  Basically, boy meets his soul-mate girl, but circumstances keep them apart. The boy is introduced to us on his death bed, yet, we don't know if his life ever brought him back to that soul mate girl, whom he could never stop thinking about. Could be an interesting read! It's earned an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.



Now for the food.

I can't promise that it is anything very good for you, other than the wee bits of vitamin C provided in the form of lemon zest. But if you like sponge cake with a bit more heft, this may be the treat for you:
 
Railroad Cakes.
 
 

This recipe is taken from my latest cookbook: From Rivets and Rails, Recipes of a Railroad Boarding House Cookbook, which is based on the cookery journal written by my great grandmother, Elizabeth Shade Kennedy. She ran a boarding house for railroad workers on the NY and Pennsylvania Railroad line. If you'd like to learn more about the connections between American cooking from the early 1900s and the expansion of the American railroads, I highly recommend you grab a copy of my cookbook! Chef John Malik at the Huffington Post book reviews says, "It’s a delightful slice of Americana and a glimpse into the life of a hard working cook at a time in our country’s history when self-sufficiency was a matter of life and death."

Railroad Cakes

1 cup white sugar
1 cup flour (or more to make batter thick like cookie dough)
3 eggs
butter, the size of an egg
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
zest of 1 lemon
a little milk (as in a smidgen, or drop, (not much!) )

Mix these up and bake at 350 degrees until done. Since these cakes were meant to be individual cakes that were commonly purchased from vendors at the railway stations, I baked them in small tart pans. This recipe gave six 4-inch cakes. Delish!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ready for Spring

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.” --Virgil Kraft

The crocuses are blooming, the sky has returned to its pure bright blue, and once again, my heart is smiling when it wakes with the day. Yes, I do love spring time. It always seems to come just when I think I may float away with the obscurity of too many days of gray.


Hello, Spring!


 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Relaxing Irish Music for Sunday

Happy St. Patty's Day! Enjoy

Davy Spillane on the Ulilean Pipes. Very cool!




And here is a nod toward Braveheart.

 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fixing Up Fridays

Today is a very good Friday. Yes, a very good Friday, indeed.  I learned a couple days ago that my book, Reality Bites, has been selected as a Finalist in Juvenile Fiction for The Book of the Year Award given by ForeWord Reviews magazine. Since St. Patty's Day is just around the corner, combined with the fact that I am a wee bit Irish, I'm hoping that St. Patty will shine his luck down on me and help me win a medal in the final rounds of judging. Of course, that luck will need to be generous and extend for 3 months, since the final winners will not be announced until June. Despite the fact that I'm up against some tough competiton (Brandon Mull, Candy Shop Wars book 2), I have to believe that Anything Can Happen.

Perhaps this calls for a nod at the song. It is Friday after all.



And since it is Friday, I suppose I shall have to suggest something good to eat as well. However, that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be cooked. Avocados have been great lately, and there is nothing better than slicing one open, sprinkling it with lemon pepper and eating it slice by slice. Following it with a tall glass of fresh squeezed OJ, makes it even better.

So there you have it. I've walloped you with four great things for Friday in the short span of a couple paragraphs. Enjoy your weekend! And if you've read Reality Bites, and enjoyed it, let me and others know by sharing your review on line.

Make it a great day!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Music for Sunday

First up, is a selection to melt your heart, and make you smile. "I'm Yours"



Still with me?

Wasn't he cute? Definitely can play,... the singing will surely come along some day.

Okay. Here's another that is a bit slower in pace. Have a great day!

 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Relaxing Music for Sunday


I love the music by Annie Rapid. Here are two of her songs. Enjoy!

"True Green"


"Tales of Spain"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fixing Up Fridays

Hello again! It seems like I haven't been here a while. Since it's Friday and I feel like I finally might be coming up for air after a whirlwind tour in stupidity and the details of life, I thought I'd share a video that is akin to how I'm feeling. Plus, it's worth a good laugh.



As for the rest of this post, a few Friday's ago I thought I'd close the week on Friday with a recommendation of a book, a recipe, and a drink. The book is easy. Right now I'm in the middle of The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen. It's a quick read and entertainning for young readers or the young at heart like me. My son read this book recently and liked it, so I thought I'd give it a go. So far, so good. Although I must say, I am starting to develop a pet peeve for books for young readers that have violence in them (one of the kids in this book is murdered within the first few chapters.) I don't get it. Is this really what our literature for young readers has come to? Are we as a society unable to identify with any else? Nevertheless, the story is good. Thus, the dilemma to my thoughts.


Moving on to food. Tonight I shall be travelling to see our local high school basketball team (Mountain Crest) battle it out with another local high school basketball team (Logan High) for some sort of semi-final match. What does one eat when one must travel during dinner time for such occasions? I don't know. Probably nothing, which is why there will be no recipe with this post. On second thought, if you're in rush like me, there is this thing called Bruschetta, which involves topping sliced bread with tomato, garlic, basil and mozzarella, and sticking it in the oven at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. How's that for a recipe that you can literally run with? Here's a pic where I actually had time to make it look pretty. And yes, it is almost waving at you like a flag, because I didn't have time to flip the pic.





The drink? The other day I enjoyed mixing Pomegrante Juice and Lemonade. And no, Chef John, it wasn't fresh-squeezed. :)  (He likes the good stuff, and has reprimanded me on this topic in the past.)  The drink is Quite yummy with a splash of, well.... let's keep it Rated G and call it 7-UP.

Any one seeing Jack the Giant Slayer this weekend?

 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Words

For a species that has been communicating for as long as it has existed, you would think that we would have the whole idea of relationships figured out. After all, you would think that communication through using something as simple as words, expressions, gestures, and actions should be second nature by now. But a mere glimpse outside the window, or a look across our own living rooms may show that it isn't. Practice does not always make perfect. For all the eons that we have been talking and doing and acting-out in order to communicate, the world is still full of families, couples, friends, and even strangers, trying to figure it out.

Yes, for the most part, I like to think that we all get along. And for the most part, we do. But I also know that finding the right thing to say, or do, or show doesn't always come easy. Relationships do become strained. And for some, as easily as they begin, relationships can end.

In even the best relationships, the ones so well-intended, and even the ones that are joined by blood and birth, somehow what we mean to say or do simply isn't always enough. Sometimes, as much as we would like to take our well-intentioned words like, I love you, or You are amazing, or Don't let what they say bother you, or I know you can do this, if you only try, or Don't give up, not now, not ever -- words like this -- as much as we would like to take the words we are speaking and hold them in our hands and wrap them around the other person's heart and mind and make them stick there with steadfast glue so that the other person will not only believe what we are saying, but will act on it as well, we can't. No matter how hard we try, we can't always make the other person believe what we say. Mainly because there is this whole other person on the receiving end that is wrapped up in their own history of personal experiences -- what some call baggage -- that anchors them in place, keeping them from moving freely in the present, or even walking without a limp into the future.

Unfortunately, this baggage, whether we realize it or not, stands between us in all of our relationships. It shadows and distorts and rearranges the words we hear -- words that are spoken from the heart -- so they can't be fully realized and understood, unless we are in our own moment of clarity. Moments where we have knowingly left the baggage at the door. Only in these moments, where we have consciously welcomed an idea of trust that is both unconditional and whole-heartedly felt, can we truly listen and receive words like, Yes, I really like who you are, or Yes, you make me happy.

Have we ever known this kind of trust? I believe so.

I believe we are born with it. We are filled with trust in the moment we first open our eyes and when our first breath is quickly followed by another. In the moment we are born we learn that upheavel can be followed by serenity as soon as we are placed in the arms of our parents. In that moment we feel and begin to believe we are safe, and we immediately trust that these loving parents whom we don't even know, will meet our needs for living. In that moment, trust is all we hold.

However, maybe the trust we gain when we are born is immediately coupled with the potential for its loss. We do, after all, have a will to survive. It is inherently part of the fight-or-flight-mechanism that most species possess. As we grow and become increasingly indepedent in learning to survive on our own, we begin to realize that not everyone can be trusted. We start to lose faith in the intentions of those around us. And this loss of faith and trust exists in every relationship and interaction.

Is it a paradox that in living and surviving, a loss of trust is coupled with the need for it, as well? Is this why it is so often said that trust is paramount to all healthy relationships? That if you believe in trust, the rest will follow?


Perhaps this why when our words are not being heard, or when we, ourselves, are choosing not to listen, we need to pause, step back and see where the baggage lies, and if trust was left at the door.

Words. Communication. Trust. Can you have any one of these without the other?
What do you think?
These are, after all, just words typed on a page, one after the other. Words, words, and more words, begging for trust and perhaps some interaction.