Saturday Cooking

What To Do With Watermelon: Saturday Cooking, It Is Hot Edition

It’s June. It’s 100 degrees. You walk in from the sweltering parking lot to the coolness of your local grocery store. You were only in the car for three minutes, but your back is sweaty, your flip flops are like hot tin shingles on your feet, and you wish to plunge your entire self into a mountain river. You grab a cart, pull out your list, and suddenly stop. Because there, right in front of you, practically blocking the whole produce aisle, is a giant cardboard box brimming over with ripe, juicy watermelons. You think, “Mmmm, what could be better than watermelon today?” Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s $6.99 per watermelon, so you pick the biggest one you can find and heave-ho it into your cart. You take it home, get out your biggest knife, slice into it, and eat it. For three days. And then you still have half of it left. Your family will have nothing more to do with it. You even take it to a cookout; you and three other women bring watermelon to the cookout.

Let’s face it: watermelons are just too big. They are tempting and delicious and bring summer to our mouths, but they are huge. So what do you do with all that leftover watermelon? Here are my discoveries from the last two weeks.

First, put on some music. Then, chop up all that watermelon into chunks and get rid of the seeds. Next, find a good watermelon popsicle recipe. I used this recipe and it was delicious. I didn’t have the light corn syrup it called for, so I used honey instead. Also, I only used 2 Tablespoons of sugar instead of the six it called for, because good grief, people, it’s already sweet. My husband said he didn’t enjoy the slight honey flavor, but my son and I loved the taste. My daughter isn’t a big watermelon fan, so I just discounted her vote entirely. I think next time I’ll substitute lime juice for lemon juice just because I like the lime flavor better. Also, the recipe could do with more strawberries. But that’s my philosophy on life in general.

Next, you’ll probably still have some watermelon left over after you make your popsicles. Making sure it’s all de-seeded, throw it in the food processor or blender pulse it a few times. Then, pour your pureed watermelon into an ice cube tray or two. Cover them with plastic wrap, stick them in the freezer, and pull out as many as you need at a time to make fruit smoothies on those hot summer days when the thought of actual food is unbearable. (Note: make sure you add some yogurt to your smoothie, or you’ll be hungry within minutes of consuming it).

Finally, if you still have watermelon, dice it up even smaller than you did before and sprinkle it with a tiny bit of sugar. Put it in an airtight container and the next time you hear that guilty voice in your mind saying “You should really be buying plain Greek yogurt instead of that sweetened stuff,” you can say, “Yes, you’re right!” Then you can go home and mix your sweet watermelon and watermelon juice (thank you, tiny bit of sugar) into your yogurt and you actually enjoy that yogurt. Can you tell I’m not a big fan of Greek yogurt? But I know it’s extra good for me, so I put in smoothies and other stuff whenever I can bring myself to buy it at the store. Seriously, the watermelon helps.

There are also lots of recipes for Watermelon Gazpacho/Cold Soup out there. I am not very fond of foods that have no crunch or chew to them (exception: ice cream), so that watermelon food idea doesn’t appeal to me. But if you find a good recipe for it, let me know; I might be brave enough to try it!

So, now you can go to the grocery store and wrangle that watermelon into your shopping cart with the peace of mind that you will actually use the entire thing. Pick one up for me while you’re at it.

Reviews

The Daring Ladies of Lowell Review

I am a fan of Kate Alcott. I’m afraid I was predisposed to be a fan because of her last name…but I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that. Her first book, The Dressmaker, is one of the most enjoyable historical fiction novels I’ve read as an adult. As soon as I noticed Alcott had a new book out, I snatched it up.

The Daring Ladies of Lowell The Daring Ladies of Lowelltells the story of several factory girls in the 1830s. Alice Barrow, the main character, comes to Lowell, Massachusetts to make a new life for herself. She joins many girls who are part of this shiny, new industry. Reading about their boarding house camaraderie reminded me of Little Women. As Alice lives and works longer in Lowell, however, she becomes aware of the troubles rising between the mill owners, The Fiskes, and the workers. Not only that, but she becomes entangled with the Fiske family in a way she never would have expected.

I have to admit that Alcott’s strength is in her story telling and her characters. The writing in this book and some of the plot developments seems a little trite at times. This is especially true when it comes to the romantic parts…”he couldn’t help but notice her hair…” yes, that’s going to get an eye roll. But I enjoyed the story, and the fact that much of the plot is based on actual events in Lowell. I appreciate a writer who does her research.  And there were some glimpses of brilliance in Alcott’s wording at times -playing on words related to the textile industry, such as weaving and threads.  Once again, I appreciate how Alcott has put out another book without feeling the need to include any sex scenes. Can you call it a scene if it’s in a book? Well, you know what I mean.

Also, this book is a modern American counterpart to one of my favorite classics, North and South. Written by Elizabeth Gaskell, it centers on the industrial revolution in England and the strikes between workers and owners. There is romance, a strong heroine, tragedies…besides the writing styles being from different eras, North and South and The Daring Ladies of Lowell are like international twins.  I prefer Gaskell’s  genre (Victorian British Lit) to almost any other, but The Daring Ladies of Lowell is a great literature companion in the topic of industrial revolution. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.Put The Daring Ladies of Lowell on your TBR list if you like historical fiction and are in the mood for a light read.

Children's Books

Mice and Rats We Actually Like- Rodent Children’s Books

You know what grown ups don’t like? Mice and rats. You know what children love to read about? Mice and rats. There’s a definite disconnect there, but we just ignore it as much as possible. The hugely popular If You Give A Mouse A Cookie is proof of that.

One of these rodent books is actually treasured in my family. In fact, it has recently been read aloud at a family gathering, to a 883055group of adults, just to make sure the whole family and all its additions appreciate its greatness. Yes, that’s the kind of awesome family I married into. =) And when we borrowed the treasured book and it met with an accident and some Scotch tape, we called and apologized because it is that beloved. Hooway for Wodney Wat is a book about a pitiful little rodent who can’t say his ‘r’s. As a result, he is shy and hides in his jacket as often as possible. He deals with some mild teasing and it looks like he’s doomed to be at the bottom of the rodent chain forever. But when a new bully comes to class who makes everyone miserable, Rodney’s stutter takes a turn from curse to blessing. Read it to your kids and cheer for the underdog…err, rat, and make sure to talk about how it feels to both be bullied and be the bully.

The kids and I stumbled upon the sequel to Hooway for Wodney Wat last week at the library. We had no Wodney Wat's Wobotidea it existed and I can’t tell you how excited my children were to show their daddy. The story line in Wodney Wat’s Wobot is pretty similar to the first book, but it goes a step further in the bullying theme to address how changing whatever it is about yourself that people like to make fun doesn’t really fix any problems. Wodney’s Wobot is supposed to allow him to say his ‘rs without any trouble, but it’s when it stops working that Wodney becomes a hero again.

1997712We’ve also been reading lots of Angelina Ballerina, specifically Angelina’s BirthdayThe original books illustrated by Helen Craig are beautiful. I have to say, Angelina ends up in tears a little more often than I enjoy, but thanks to my own five-year-old daughter, I’m beginning to understand that tears are more of a daily thing than I anticipated when I started mothering a girl. But that’s a whole new post for another day. What I love most about Angelina is that she always figures things out in the end and the illustrations are so detailed. In Angelina’s Birthday, there is a two-page illustration of Mrs. Thimble’s General Store that has so many details, it’s mesmerizing to me. Interestingly enough, my 3-year-old son appreciates Angelina Ballerina as well. Life with sisters, I guess. =)

Those are our favorite mice and rat books these days. Do you or your children have any rodent reads they love?

Everyday Life

The Final “May I Tell The Truth” Post…in June

I think it’s safe to say that I started the month of May in a bad place when it came to my housekeeping mindset. I was unmotivated and tired. I wanted to write about my struggles in the hopes that some others of you would be encouraged to be honest about what our everyday houses look like. I hope I’ll always laugh at the day when three- THREE – people on blogs I follow (and I only follow a few) complained about the dust bunnies in their house, and it set me off on a whole blog series about how we’re all liars if dust bunnies are our biggest housekeeping problem. It was kind of a low for me in wife and mother self esteem. But seriously, the Pinterest generation I live in is hard on us all.

The result of all of this thinking about how I keep my house has surprised me, though. I thought I would come to a place where I could laugh at my shortcomings and commiserate with others. While that’s sort of been the case, the  truth is I’ve wanted to improve more than I ever have before. I’ve realized that my problem wasn’t inability, but just plain being unmotivated. I realized this when I was telling someone “Congratulations on graduating from college!” Maybe a weird time to think about housecleaning? Well here’s my final “May I Tell The Truth?” moment on the blog: I am straight up jealous of students.

Students get grades. I love getting grades.

Students have assignments. Please, give me a concrete assignment.

Students get GPAs. ::insert sigh of longing::

Housework ecardYou know what full time moms get? No measurable feedback. Not that I am bemoaning the fact that no one tells me “you’re doing great work!” Because people certainly do. I have encouraging people in my life, as I hope all moms do.

But what I want to tell graduates is “Congratulations, you’ve graduated! Get used to never having any definite gauge of personal success again.”

In our society, we get a lot of mileage out of tests, exams, what have you, when it comes to motivating kids ages 5-22, and then it’s time for everyone to just innately know when we’re doing a good job. Of course, there are the reviews if you’re in that kind of work position, or the raises and promotions and things like that. But even then, how many of us raised in this society are able to step back and independently evaluate what we’re doing with our efforts? We’re not trained to do that. We have tests for that. And I like academic tests! Love them. What I don’t appreciate is areas where it’s more of a pass/fail endeavor, and your work is only noticed when you’re failing. That’s the nature of housekeeping.

Is any of this a good excuse to do a poor job in endeavors without measures? No, of course not. Just because no one is going to give me an A+ or C- on the state of my floors doesn’t mean I should become apathetic about how I take care of what I’m entrusted with. As I’ve recovered from that apathy a little over the past month, I’ve wondered, “where has my work ethic and pride in what I put my hands to been?” The discovery I made through my honest month of May was that my house actually does reflect my state of mind. That is not true for everyone! But it is true for me. So when my house gets chaotic and cluttery, dusty and grimy…well, watch out family, my brain is on the crazy side. Or I’m just exhausted, and my work ethic is gone for the time being.

The past month or so has been one of many improvements. I’ve realized that I do actually care about the state of my house. The fact that three mentions of dust bunny problems made me laugh psychotically was not a reflection on the dishonesty of the writers. It was a reflection of how far I had sunk in my housework mentality. Please note: I still don’t really care about dust bunnies. But I do care enough to wipe off the table after every meal. I do care enough to keep the bathrooms clean, not just tidy. And that’s a movement in the right direction. There’s a new baby coming in four-ish weeks and my house will get very messy for a few weeks after that (or months). It just will. But it will get better and I will refuse to dwell in “a house that appears to be at the bottom of a toaster.”  There are times when housekeeping takes a back seat. A back seat in a school bus. In fact, it should always kind of be in a back seat, right? But it should still be on the bus. So there’s what I’ve learned in May/June.

So while my tendency is still this:

Ecards | Library book deadline takes priority over housework

…I’m working on it, and enjoying my cleaner home. I really do have to finish that library book, though…

 

Saturday Cooking

Saturday Cooking, Edition 5

I like cookbooks. I know that the convenience of online recipes is staggeringly in favor of never opening a real cook book again, but photo (14)I still have a shelf full of them. The fact that I am not a foodie is something my husband discovered PWD (post wedding day) and he is still getting over his disappointment. No, not really. But it is a distinct difference between us. I have come a long way in the cooking realm, but I don’t view dinner time as this wonderful opportunity to make something new and breathtakingly delicious. On his part, he’s come a long way in appreciating the fine qualities of granola. Because I don’t have ideas for dinner just fly into my head at random, I like to have a physical book to flip through and follow. I have to admit, though, I use allrecipes.com as much as anyone. So here are two cookbooks and two online recipes to whet your appetite and maybe give you a few menu ideas for the summer months:

The Cookbooks:

Grilling, Williams-Sonoma Collection: the recipes for grilled potatoes, grilled pizza, and hamburgers are stellar. Especially the grilled pizza one–that herb crust is delicious!

Monday to Friday Cookbook: My MOPS group had the privilege of having a guest speaker who both loves food and understands the crazy busyness of life. She shared some recipes and also told us about this cookbook. It has so many great ideas for quick meals! I have this on my “to buy” list, but for now, the library copy is great.

Williams-Sonoma Collection: Grilling Monday-To-Friday Cookbook

 

The online recipes:

Baked Pesto ChickenBaked Pesto Chicken: The other day I planned on leftovers for dinner but found out my husband was coming home instead of working late at the last minute. He had already had leftovers for lunch, so it was time to think of a plan B fast. I opened the fridge and for once in my life, saw a potential meal instead of a bunch of food items. If you have chicken, a jar of pesto, parmesan or mozarella cheese, you can make this main dish in minutes. It’s supposed to be low carb recipe, but I served it over pasta. I really love carbs. My kids still ate leftovers because “that chicken is green!” but my husband and I have added it to our top 20 recipe list.

Strawberry BreadStrawberry Bread Recipe: This is what you do when you go strawberry picking and your eyes are bigger than a strawberry’s expiration date. I made it with frozen sliced berries as well as fresh berries, and it was great both times. (Thanks, Janice, for introducing me to this now staple of spring baking in our house!)

Cooked anything good recently? Share it with me in the comments!

More bookish cooking here!

Reading, Reviews

Novellas for Your Beach Bag (Or Nightstand)

This week was a successful reading week, finally! The previous weeks were filled with book busts. I’ve discovered one of the best things ever for a beach reader, weekend reader, or a busy mom: novellas. The novella, a short novel or long short story, is a great form of literature because it gives a succinct plot, fewer characters to get to know, and the opportunity to be powerful and poignant without getting bogged down in details. I finished two last week.

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader was delightful. It’s written by Alan Bennett, much better known for his plays and screenplays than his novellas, but I wouldn’t mind if he writes more literary fiction. The Uncommon Reader is an imaginary account of Queen Elizabeth’s discovery that reading is a pleasure. From the beginning when she steps into the travelling library (we call those bookmobiles here in SC) parked at Buckingham Palace, to the end of the book, Bennett gives his readers a fun and witty glimpse into how books and reading changes lives, even uncommon ones. Of course, it’s all made up. But it’s still a fun read and even insightful at times into how reading widens a person’s ability to empathize or notice the small things.

Stella BainIn Stella Bain, a very short novel that I am classifying as a novella, author Anita Shreve ventures into the historical fiction realm, and does a decent job of telling the story of an American woman in World War I. Stella Bain wakes up in an army hospital in Marne, France in the middle of The Great War, not knowing how she got there or who she actually is. All she knows at the beginning is that she has the abilities of a nurse and ambulance driver. Going only on a strong feeling that she needs to make her way to London, she unravels the mystery of her past and finds the strength to put together her present. Warning: this plot is implausible. If you read books because you want them to be as close to real life as possible, don’t read this book. But if you read because it’s fun to go on an imaginary adventure and maybe learn a thing or two, this is a good book. I liked it better than Shreve’s other novels I’ve read, though I can see by the reviews that most of her fans prefer her other work. I was reminded strongly of the book Maisie Dobbs while reading Stella Bain. There were many similarities in themes relating to the horrors of the field hospitals and soldiers’ recoveries during The Great War. When I’m immersed in a book or even movie (Downton Abbey, Season 2, for example) set during that time, I actually get nightmares about it. May trench warfare never occur again. But that’s only a small piece of Stella Bain. If you enjoy historical fiction, it’s a good read written by a good author.

Other notable novellas I’ve enjoyed:

Ethan Fromme – not so much in a “what a delightful book sense” but in a “that is a fine piece of art” sense

The Blue Castle – a “grown up” book from the author of Anne of Green Gables

Breakfast At Tiffany’s – yes, it’s as good as the movie

Happy Summer reading!

 

 

 

 

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Recent Book Busts

A friend asked me last week, “What are you reading lately? You haven’t posted much.” Sigh. She is right. I haven’t posted much about what I’ve been reading because apparently my selections have been pretty sub par lately. I’ve started and not finished three books in the last three weeks that were maybe not my type of books or maybe just awful books.

Lost, Jacqueline DaviesThe first book I started and didn’t finish is Lost by Jacqueline Davies. I haven’t completely given up on this book, which is set in 1911 around the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The idea behind the book still intrigues me:

Essie can tell from the moment she lays eyes on Harriet Abbott: this is a woman who has taken a wrong turn in life. Why else would an educated, well-dressed, clearly upper-crust girl end up in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory setting sleeves for six dollars a day? As the unlikely friendship between Essie and Harriet grows, so does the weight of the question hanging between them: Who is lost? And who will be found?

(goodreads.com)

The plot seems good but it starts off very confused, with Essie having delusions about her baby sister and chaotic thoughts about what is real and what is not, including whether she herself is still real. I wasn’t expecting such a psychological experience when I checked this book out at the library from the Young Adult display table. I may go back to it at some point, but usually once it’s back at the library, I’m not checking it out again. =)

When Audrey Met AliceThe other book I picked up off the YA table was a complete bust. When Audrey Met Alice drew me in with the promise of including snippets of Alice Roosevelt’s diary. I’ve always thought her an interesting person in American History. However, the now-and-then setting of this book was terrible–Audrey is the current First Daughter and her mother is President. She is struggling with some petty teenage troubles and when she finds Alice’s diary, she turns to it for comfort and ideas on how to cope. I held out hope that the book would get better when Alice’s part came in, but as soon as excerpts from Alice’s diary became part of the story, it was clear that the diary was all made up. The language was all wrong, the opinions were far fetched, and the writing style was not at all what it would have been if Alice Roosevelt had actually written it. I turned to the back of the book and, sure enough, there was the disclaimer stating that the diary was actually written by the author. I would have been spared a lot of wasted reading time if that disclaimer had been at the beginning. I wouldn’t recommend this book for adults or young adults.

Still Life with Bread CrumbsFinally, I tried out my first Anna Quindlen book and downloaded Still Life With Bread Crumbs from my library’s eBook site. Quindlen is clearly a writer whose strength is imagery. I thoroughly enjoyed her word pictures and the way she describes her main character’s renowned photography. However, this character driven novel didn’t really have characters that grabbed me. Still, it was an enjoyable read until about halfway through, when the two main characters become love interests. I realize that happens in a lot of books and is often a very good thing, but I couldn’t handle it in this book. It seemed all wrong for the characters and some parts of it were actually wrong. But I can’t say anything bad about Quindlen’s ability to write, because her prose is beautiful. If her book hadn’t included so much infidelity, I probably would be raving about it. I just can’t enjoy books centered on extramarital affairs, or really unhappy marriages. Still, I wish the photographs described in the book really existed–I would probably buy the calendar based on them to hang in my kitchen.

So, right now I’m not reading anything. And it’s not a terrible way to live. Any suggestions? Fiction or non-fiction, I’ll take any ideas.