Halloween Picture Book Favorites

So some Halloween books are scary and some are just fun. We like a blend of both.

For Fun:

HalloweenSkeletonBig Witch & Little Witch are cooking up something special for dinner. Skeleton finds the list nailed to the tree:

For Dinner
1. Ghost
2. Ghoul
3. Skeleton

Good thing that Skeleton finds out before it’s too late! Cutie Patootie little story appropriate for all ages.

For a bit of creepiness:

halloweentailypoThis one is an old classic. Just enough creepiness to spook a little person, but not so much that there would be any lost sleep. Perfect around the campfire, spooky story feel. This seems to be a favorite for ages 6 and older.

True creepiness in a picture book:

halloweenOlClipclopThis book fuels the fear that all of us have of being alone in the dark. This has a true creepy feel with scary visuals. This is most appropriate for children who are comfortable with scary stories ages 7 and up. If you have an easily frightened child, you might want to hold off on this one at bedtime!

What are your Halloween favorites?

New favorites

20130919-074831.jpg

20130919-074853.jpgRight now I’m loving two things: cheese grits with pico de gallo for breakfast & roasted Brussels Sprouts with every other meal.

I’m a toddler. I remember a time when my daughter would only eat Bob Evans’ green beans or a can of peas. Now I’m in the trenches of parenting a middle schooler. I’ll just bury my whoows in cheese grits. Is there anything you can’t get enough of right now?

Book Review & Menu: The Dinner by Herman Koch

the dinnerAre you looking to sink your teeth into a new read?

How about something meaty?

Then you must read The Dinner by Herman Koch. This book has so many dimensions, it really must be taught. College literature or something. Koch’s writing style reminds me of a writing exercise. Remember those assignments that you had to write some insane amount about some mundane activity? Maybe write 2 paragraphs about taking a breath. That’s Koch. The thing is, he’s actually good at it. Sure he can write a whole page based upon his interpretation of a man’s personality based upon the sound of his urine flow. But you’re so engrossed in the story, you actually enjoy the details. But that’s exactly why as soon as I finished the book, I thought, I have to read this again!

The Dinner is a psychological thriller. The story is of two couples who meet for dinner. The entire story takes place over the meal. Initially the couples make small talk and friendly exchanges. As the meal progresses little glimpses of the reason for their meeting is slowly revealed – through minute details. It’s these details that make me wonder, did I see these plot developments coming? In hind sight, yes, I think I did have hints. But that’s exactly what they were, hints. I think rereading the book I would be able to identify some foreshadowing that I missed. No matter, I don’t think my mind would have ever constructed the disturbing content, or that I would admit if it did.

I also am so intrigued by the author’s descriptions of each course. It took me until the dessert course before I realized how much the description of the plate and food reflected the character and his world view. Perhaps this is just my being extremely late to the party. But I choose to think it’s just the author’s style, a slow build of detail upon detail. Another great discussion point for the book. Oh I have more, but I will withhold them as to not offer any spoiler.

I will say this: this book will make you examine your own ethics. Morally how far will you go for the benefit of your children? Do you know where your line? Do you have a limit to your compassion? Seriously, this isn’t my reading into this book, these issues are raised and confronted head on. Fantastic meaty read – begging to be discussed and mulled over. Having said that, if you have read this book and would like to engage, I would love to!!! So if you haven’t read the book, please avoid reading the comments. There will be spoilers.

The recipes selected are intended to be enjoyed with conversation. We’ll keep it short, but long enough for discussion. Start with a bitter salad and end with vanilla ice cream. If you want to extend the fun, add an entree in the middle and you have a dinner party! I opted for baked chicken and roasted Brussels sprouts. Hopefully your dinner company is less disturbing.

Bitter salad with Crispy Goat Cheese Rounds

thedinnerSalad

4 types of lettuce to include: arugula, endive, radicchio, bibb
1/2 red onion diced
Dressing recipe (see below)
Crispy Goat Cheese Rounds (see below)

photo

Dressing:
2 T red jam, reduced sugar
1 T olive oil
1 T Balsamic vinegar

Do this step first. The dressing shouldn’t be served warm. It’s only warmed for blending. It will stay thin enough to pour with the added ingredients. Warm jam in a glass bowl in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. Just long enough to make it runny. Whisk in olive oil & vinegar. Taste. If it doesn’t taste sweet/tart then add a bit more of the missing taste.

Crispy Goat Cheese Rounds:
1 log of goat cheese
1 egg
1 t water
1/2 c bread crumbs
vegetable oil

Do this just as you are ready to serve so they are still crispy & yummy. Chill the log of goat cheese to make slicing easier. Dental floss is a commonly recommended tool for this. After it’s cut into rounds, place in the freezer to make firm and cold. While the rounds chill, whisk together the egg and water. Dip chilled rounds in egg mixture, turning to coat. Roll in bread crumbs to cover. Return to plate and freezer. The cheese should be very cold so when you drop it in oil, the coating browns and gets crispy but the center cheese doesn’t melt out. Heat an inch of oil over medium-high heat in a shallow skillet. When you can smell the oil it’s ready. If it smokes, it’s too hot. Slip cheese round in oil. When browned, flip.

Sparsely place lettuce on the plate. Top with 1 – 2 T red onion per plate. Drizzle with 1 T dressing. Top with 1 – 2 Cheese rounds. Tell each member of your family what’s on your plate, while pointing with your pinky. Just for fun.

Mother Daughter Book Club Challenges

We are at a point where we are ready to reflect a bit on our Mother Daughter Book Club experience. We have some lessons learned and some challenges we have not yet conquered to our satisfaction. Perhaps some of this will be relevant to you.

motherdaughter_n

1. Size.

We opted to keep the group small so that no one would feel overwhelmed in hosting.

This has a positive in that all of the girls seemed to be open in sharing in the smaller group. I think it helped that the group is full of girls that are comfortable with one another. Huge plus. When we discussed our book selections, I really felt that the girls gave me a glimpse into their thought processes: the good, the bad & the ugly. Which was exactly what I hoped would happen!

The negative is that if one family can’t make it, the conversation takes a serious hit. We opted for just a few families. When one family has an unforeseen conflict with the meeting day/time, it definitely affected the quality of the discussion. Don’t get me wrong, each of the families are completely fantastic. But I think the strength in these sorts of discussions is the multitude of ideas.

Also each family feels serious pressure to be available for the meeting. That’s great because we want everyone to be committed. However, we also want it to be fun and casual. Please come for the fun and great company, but don’t sweat it if you can’t. We’ll catch you next time. It’s hard to feel casual when there’s such a limited number of participants.

2. Middle School.

It’s hectic for all kids.

Our group is made up of girls & sisters that all were in elementary school together. Due to zoning and school choices, they all split up to separate middle schools. We’d hoped that the group would give the girls a safe place to come back together and leave some crazy middle school stuff behind. Thus far this has been positive.

The downside is that no matter what your activities or school, the adjustment to middle school is massive! We are juggling an hour of homework when it was only 20 minutes the year before. Combine that with sports, band, clubs, etc…. free time? That’s an endangered species! Perhaps our group could consider becoming less structured. Instead of all reading the same book, maybe we can come together for general book talk. What we’re reading, why we like it, etc. This still gives a glimpse into their lives but without the ‘homework’.

3. To sequel or not to sequel.

We’ve been working our way through Wendy Mass’ 11 Birthdays, Finally, 13 Gifts. This is a great series and it offered us some great conversation starters. My thoughts about sequelling or not, aren’t a reflection of this series but instead sequels in general.

A positive is that the girls found an author that they enjoyed. They were excited to continue to reading.

A negative is that as we are moving through sequels it becomes more difficult to invite others into the group. This removed some options as to group changes.

One thing I know for sure. Pizza rolls. That’s right, Totino’s Pizza Rolls. That is the food that the girls cannot have book club without. So whether we are holding a book discussion group or talk… the Pizza Rolls will be there.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Girl You Left BehindLooking for a great book club book? Well look no further. Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind has something for everyone with great conversation starters. The book begins in German occupied France during World War I. Sophie is one of two sisters helping to keep the family inn operating and the home fires burning until husbands, fathers, and sons return from war. Sophie’s husband is a man full of love for life. As an accomplished artist, he sees the world in vivid color. Sophie captivated him from the start. This blessing turns into a curse. Like The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood, this novel spans two time frames. Moyes transitions between past and present seamlessly. Each time she gives just a hint to the unraveling of the many mysteries wrapped within the pages. There’s questions about art work, the aftermath of war, and love.

I greatly enjoyed Moyes’ writing style. There are points within the book that the writing is so vivid and the choices of the characters so demanding that I could physically feel their pain or joy in my own body. These are the decisions, and there are more than one, that would create great discussion within a book club. If you enjoyed either The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood, or The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, you would definitely enjoy this as well.

The recipe for this selection is an excellent tie in – at least in my head. The book has an opening scene in which the Germans are conducting a late night search of the hotel. They are in search of a pig. With food in short supply, all livestock was required to be turned over to the military of sustenance. Bread is also a commodity within the town of those withering away and used as a tool to designate those whom are considered lesser. Combining these two, I bring you one of my favorite memories from Europe. At Coleman Barricks in Mannheim, if a soldier stayed through on the weekends, it was necessary to go to the military prison to eat. The regular mess hall was not staffed during the weekends. Well, no one wants to eat in a prison, so we booked butt out of the area for each weekend, grabbing breakfast on the road. Bakery stands offered this fantastic selection which I love to treat my family with now:

Girl Pretzel

Pretzel bread (courtesy Fleischmann’s) with swiss cheese & bacon

Dough:
1 c milk
2 T butter
2 T brown sugar
2-1/4 t yeast
2 t salt
3 c all-purpose flour

Boiling solution:
3 quarts water
3/4 c baking soda

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 t water

Toppings:
crumbled crisp cooked bacon
sliced swiss cheese

Heat milk & butter until between 100° to 110º; butter will not melt. Combine with yeast & brown sugar in a large bowl. Stir in salt & 2 c flour, beat for 3 minutes. Gradually add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let rise in a greased bowl for 1 hour, or until double in size.

Preheat oven to 400º

Combine boiling solution and bring to a boil. Punch dough down and divide into equal pieces. Form into a tight, smooth ball. Boil each loaf for a total of 2 minutes (1 minute then flip 1 minute longer). Remove loaves from pot using slotted spoon and place on greased baking sheet.

Brush with egg wash & cut down the middle (this will hold your bacon later). Bake for 15 minutes then reduce temperature to 350º for an additional 8 – 10 minutes. Fill center of the cut mark with bacon bits. Top with a slice of swiss cheese. Pop back into the oven until cheese melts.

Food Destination: 2 for on Food Icons

Planning a trip to Atlanta? Add these two icons to your must-do list:

The World of Coca-Cola & The Varsity are just blocks away from each other. These two together make a fantastic trip. Many folks we saw combined these two destinations with an Atlanta Braves baseball game. You just cannot get any more Americana than that!

coke varsity

Our first stop was The Varsity, a longtime local icon. It gained national status after being featured on the Food Network. We’d traveled past it on the highway numerous times but never seemed to have just the right opportunity to stop. I may have been a bit hesitant because I’ve been told they yell at you. There certainly was some yelling, but none of it was at me… or even the people around me. I think the yelling is just a result of this place being slam, packed with people. It’s an effort to communicate, not aggression, though it is also a bit of their schtick.

We arrived around 11:30, right at lunch time before a baseball game. This ordinarily would not have been my m.o. but it ended up being fun. My family was a bit overstimulated though. A quiet dinner date, this place does not offer. But the food! I selected a slaw dog, onion rings & orange drink. Official member of JFH. (Junk Food Heaven). Real battered onions. Freshly dipped. Still hot. Juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside. My family went cheese dog & french fries. The praise for these fries did not stop. Mr. Hero just could not get over the fact that this schtick-y place had fantastic food – granted not 4 star, chef-prepared masterpieces. But great dogs, fresh junk food & the orange drink… what is that stuff? Fantastic. It’s worth the extra calories. Skip the Diet Coke, get the Orange drink. You’re at the Varsity eating dogs & onion rings… will it really make a difference? I think not.

One final big thumbs up to the atmosphere. First, I loved the commotion, hustle & bustle. Mr. Hero, not so much. But he was completely won over when we entered the ESPN room. That’s right. I said it. ESPN room. The room is row upon row of school desks lined up facing a large screen tv that stays tuned to ESPN. Being lined up in rows like a classroom minimizes the intimate discussion but definitely sparks fun school day memories. Days of spinning around and getting some juicy gossip from the kid behind me before returning to what I’m supposed to be doing, in this case, eating!

courtesy of wikimedia commons

courtesy of wikimedia commons

Bellies full and pep in our step, we headed out to the World of Coca-Cola! One perk before we even entered was that Mr. Hero was free. Love the military appreciation. Even if we would have paid full price for everyone in our family, this attraction would have been worth every single red cent. The World of Coca-Cola is an interactive playground covering the history and iconic status of Coke. I will be honest, I am a dedicated Coca-Cola drinker from long before we moved the Georgia. My step-mother only drank Coke and I remember the red case always in the fridge. She also always had a jar of chocolate chip cookies available on the counter, but that’s just gushing now. With my already sealed dedication to Coke, I didn’t mind the feel that it was a big Coke commercial. In fact, we enjoyed seeing the Coke advertisements from around the world and also through the ages. The plain ol’ good fun of trying to enter the vault to see the original recipe was a hit.

coke vault

Probably the most fun for the whole family was the 4D movie which offered plenty of laughter and excitement.  But this is made a true food destination by the Tasting Room. In this space there are fountains of soda offerings from throughout the world. Some were fantastic, pretty much Fanta anything. Some were absolutely HORRIBLE, let me hear a Beverly! We had to laugh from the sour faces passing us. We’d come to call the facial expression, “the Beverly.” It’s quite a bitter flavor. It is no surprise to me at all that it is rumored to had been discontinued.

As a family visiting, it was obvious that planners put a lot of thought into making the visit enjoyable for guests. Restrooms are centrally located and plentiful. Each attraction is about the length of an elementary child’s attention span, though there are plenty of details that could have occupied our older child and us adults for quite some time. There were a few locations that we encountered a wait, but those were quickly filled with fun. Sometimes a tour guide threw a beach ball in the air to bat around, or another form of entertainment was created either by screen or person.

It was definitely an afternoon of fun for our whole family in Atlanta. Each of these activities was money well spent. Not only will we recommend them to others, but we’ve now expanded our list of destinations for visitors from back home. If you’ve been to either of these destinations, I’d love to hear your experiences. And if any of you enjoyed ‘The Beverly’ – I’d love to hear from you!

Better Late Than Never…

So last year I participated in a blogger Christmas Card exchange. I thought it would be a fun way to meet another blogger. It certainly introduced me to a fun blog: Fiction State Of Mind. Nearly a year later, I’m still stopping back. Obviously the blog is beautiful. Beyond that, Kai is a breath of fresh air. Her literary tastes sometimes run different than mine, which makes her a wonderful resource for me to stay current on readers advisory. BUT we certainly have some common interests: Star Wars, YA & a little Jane Austen for good measure.

Fiction State Of Mind

There are a number of regular features that I enjoy. One is the reoccurring guest posts from other bloggers. It gives me a great opportunity to find new book blogs and also rounds out her blog with additional genres. She also joins in multiple challenges. I don’t know how this girl finds the time! She’s not a full-time blogger, she holds down a successful career as a massage therapist! I wish I had time for these things, but I live vicariously through her for now. OOO I can’t leave off the contests! She offers contests too! Yi yi yi. This girl has it all.