Family Read-aloud: Who was….

Have you heard of the Who was…. series for kids? Maybe it’ll help if you see a cover. I think of them as the bobble head books because all of the cover illustrations show a person with a head way to big for their body. I have a thing for bobble heads, so this is endearing to me. I think it’s a good representation of the books too. They are all biographies. While they appear to be serious about the facts, they don’t take the themselves too serious. Each book is written by a different author, but the light hearted tone has been the same in each of the ones I’ve read. We have found them to be good, approachable history. You know, the important people: Martin Luther King, Jr., Neil Armstrong, George Washington. When we decided to give them a shot as a family read-aloud, we wanted one that we knew would hold everyone in the family’s interest. A person that would be relevant and interesting to all of us. Our first read-aloud was:

beatles We’re pretty high brow right? We start most mornings with a CD from my Beatles collection. It’s hard to get off to a bad start with the Beatles. I found this to be true in our literature selection too. Who Were The Beatles by Geoff Edgers was a great start for us in this series. The book literally starts at the beginning. Each band member’s childhood is described as are the early years. Their beginnings in music and the industry are certainly given their due. Band members who didn’t make it into the Fab Four aren’t over looked either! To offer a fair representation of the group, pitfalls of fame and the inter-personal relationships are included too. I guess it’s important to point out at this point that while these books are often light-hearted and not too serious. They are true biographies. They cover the good, the bad, and the ugly. John Lennon’s assassination is described in age appropriate detail, for example. George Harrison being stabbed in his home and his battle with cancer are both also included.

One of my favorite aspects of this series is their inclusion of side bars. The snippits included are often cultural or time period information to give the reader a better understanding of the context of the topic. These side bars were great conversation starters for us as we either shared additional information that we might be aware of or gained better perspective ourselves. We had quite the spirited debate about whether or not ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was truly a song full of drug references or inspired by John’s son, Julian’s art work.

We will continue to read through this series for both the children and parents’ education and entertainment. Now to celebrate this finished book with a little British culture. At least for me, one of the first British foods that comes to mind is Bangers & Mash. Here’s my version:

bangers mashMine is shown with green beans. Your sides might vary.

Ingredients:

Mash

6 or 7 medium potatoes

1 stick butter

8 oz sour cream

Salt to taste

Bangers

Olive oil

5 italian sausages

1 onion, sliced

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

Garlic clove (or 3), minced

4 cups beef broth

Salt & pepper to taste

Peel and cube potatoes. Cover with water. Boil until fork tender. During that time start your bangers.

Drizzle olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss in onions, mushrooms and garlic. Once they brown a bit, include the Italian sausages in the pan. Cook 5 minutes on one side, then flip and cook 5 more minutes. Pour in beef broth, salt & pepper, partially-cover, and simmer for about 12 minutes or cooked through.

While the bangers simmer, drain potatoes. Add a stick of butter, sour cream & salt. Mash the heck out of them.

Enjoy. My family raved. I hope yours does too.

Make a list Monday: Books I Want to Read Now

These are the books, that if I lived in a perfect world, I could lock myself away with for the week. Food and sleep would be optional.

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

What’s on your must read list?

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

The Obituary Writer (c) 2013

Obituary writerThis is the latest novel by bestselling author Ann Hood. You may also know her from The Red Thread, or The Knitting Circle. She’s received many accolades for her work such as Best American Spiritual Writing Award, Paull Bowles Prize for Short Fiction and two Pushcart Prizes. After reading The Obituary Writer, it’s easy to see why. Ms. Hood is a very captivating storyteller.

Like her other works, The Obituary Writer is a novel that speaks to a woman’s spirit. I don’t mean chick lit. This is a thought provoking, emotionally charged, work of literary fiction. The novel has two main characters. We are first introduced to Claire in 1960. Like many women of the era, she is consumed by the Kennedys and their perfect lives. To get a peek into Claire’s struggles, one need not look beyond the first sentence… “If Claire had to look back and decide why she had the affair in the first place, she would point to the missing boy.”

We are introduced to Vivien in 1919, which is another great time period! Vivien makes her life as an obituary writer. Her life is held in suspension as she copes with the sudden disappearance of her lover. Vivien has an inner strength that is an asset to herself and others in her life.

I found The Obituary Writer & Ann Hood’s writing to be completely engrossing. Claire, Vivien, and others within the book aren’t so much characters as people living within my imagination. I found myself loving them, despite sometimes poor decisions. I also celebrated their personal victories just as I would a close friend’s. Each of these women lived in different times and on the surface led very different lives. But at times found themselves traped within roles defined by powers outside of their control. This situation is indeed timeless.

I loved The Obituary Writer. I love Ann Hood’s writing style and I look forward to reading more of her work in the near future.

Throughout the book, food plays an important role. Vivien speaks of the rich foods made within the vineyards of California. Claire shares her efforts at culinary perfection. We were just a second from a green jello salad mold and spray cheese – say it ain’t so!!! But instead we have Crab Louie… and after reading the story, you will have to agree, it couldn’t be anything less. According to the all knowing and ever dependable internet, Crab Louie was a salad popular in the early 1900s. It was included on the menus of finer hotels, which is quite fitting.

crab louis salad

Crab Louie – my components

Lettuce

tomatoes

carrots

cucumber

hard boiled eggs

crab meat

shrimp

bacon crumbles – because I had leftover bacon & frankly, everything is better with bacon

Dressing:

2/3 c mayo

1/3 c chili sauce

2 T sweet relish

Whisk together dressing ingredients. Assemble salad. Top with dressing or serve dressing on the side.

Enjoy!

Joe Momma’s Chop Suey from Under the Dome

Have you been ‘Under the Dome’? I’ve done some serious time there, as has my husband. Thank goodness we were there together, I don’t think I could have done it alone…

Of course being Stephen King, this tome is 1200 pages – and every single one keeps you completely captivated. It’s been since high school since I’ve read Stephen King. Back then I was completely mesmerized. I read EVER thing I could get my hands on that he wrote, then passed my books on to friends. One of my favorites was the Stand, it was not so much scary as an epic battle of good and evil. Under the Dome is in a similar vein, well in as much as it’s an epic battle. It also has a Lord of the Flies feeling to it… A dome inexplicably snaps down on a small town. The towns people struggle against themselves, one another, and the dome for survival.

This is Stephen King, so you are going to get the crazy creative, didn’t see that coming, completely creeped out content. Something that I’d forgotten in my hiatus from Stephen King was how completely masterful he is at weaving a tale. And weaving is truly the best descriptor I can think of… He strings part of a story line, then drops the thread. He then strings a couple more. Dropping a few for a bit while he picks up other threads. He continues in this manner until he has constructed a tapestry consisting of both the darkest and most wonderful images. His stories creep me out but his storytelling is so wonderful, I just can’t resist. This is what I absolutely love.

What we didn’t I love… some of the horrible content. Of course it wouldn’t be Stephen King with out some of the unbearable, unthinkable happening. Things I don’t want to read or think about. Things I will think twice about recommending to audiences that they wouldn’t be appropriate for: children, young teens, sensitive souls, those with an aversion to graphic content or offensive language. I’m wondering if television network standards have really loosened so much that this stuff will be included, or the creators and director are so masterful in their relaying of the story. It does have a 10pm air time, so we shall see… June 24th is one of the most anticipated television events in our family’s history.

So what do you eat with this?

Joe Momma’s Chop Suey!

Chop suey

1-1/2 c beef broth

1 T cornstarch

1/4 c soy sauce

1 heaping t ground ginger

1 t garlic powder

Mix all of this together & set aside.

1 # ground beef

1 onion, diced

2 – 3 ribs celery, sliced

1 orange pepper, diced

3 carrots, peeled and diced

2 small cans water chestnuts

2 cups sliced mushrooms

rice

Place ground beef through carrots in a large skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Heat over medium, stirring often until beef is browned and veggies on their way to tender. Add liquid mixture from above, water chestnuts & sliced mushrooms to the skillet and stir well. I covered mine to give a little extra help getting the veggies to fork tender. Uncover and simmer to allow the sauce to thicken. Serve over rice. Top with La Choy Chow Mein noodles if desired. Enjoy!

This was a huge hit at our house and too easy to not repeat in the future, perhaps on premier night 😉

Menu plan for week of 6/2

I am thrilled to report that I have no plan for this week… and that’s my plan 🙂 We have a hectic week of camps and craziness. As luck would have it, this is the week that I discovered Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan. The book has introduced me to her blog, The Clothes Make the Girl, as well. This is just what the doctor ordered! Melissa explains this process that makes perfect sense… restaurants have prep cooks that have everything ready for your order to be cooked. That’s how you can get something completely delish- in an amount of time that you’re willing to make chitchat in a chilly dining room. And she even describes how you can do the same for yourself in less than an hour on the weekend. I’m always up for a challenge and the time limit felt like a challenge to me… not to mention we had some travel this weekend and a book club so time was at a premium this weekend.

Speaking of travel – I traveled to the CSRA Library Conference in Augusta, Georgia this past Friday. I had a wonderful time and met some very inspiring librarians. I am completely motivated and gung-ho on some big projects, if we make it through the throws of summer reading! But boy o boy did they feed me well. I took a picture of lunch but forgot breakfast and snack bar because I was just too busy stuffing my face I guess…

CSRA

My plate consisted of salad, baked ziti, broccoli & brownies. Yummolicious. And a huge shout out to those that planned the menu. As a Catholic that abstains from meat on Fridays, I often find myself struggling to find good eats at events. I love, love, love that I had no worries at the conference!

Now on to my menu for the week, er… prep..

In an hour I was able to chop 1 head of cauliflower, 3 broccoli florets, a pound of carrots, 2 orange peppers, a bunch or two of celery, 3 cucumbers. I also baked 2 pounds of chicken, hardboiled a dozen eggs, ham sandwiches for the kids meals & ground beef. Oh and I washed and prepped a ton of fruit. We have plenty to mix and match over the next couple of days for Melissa’s “hot plates” – read about it 🙂

The cookbook is a fantastic fit for me. I’m always reading a recipe and thinking… that’s a good suggestion, but I’d probably…. in Melissa’s family that’s known as “You Know How You Could Do That?” So who knows what we’ll be eating, but I’m certain it’s going to be something that our family likes.