Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Children's Book Review: Chocolate Me!

Chocolate Me!

Chocolate Me!
Written by:  Taye Diggs
Illustrated by:  Shane W. Evans
Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2011
40 pages

The boy is teased for looking different than the other kids. His skin is darker, his hair curlier. He tells his mother he wishes he could be more like everyone else. And she helps him to see how beautiful he really, truly is.

For years before they both achieved acclaim in their respective professions, good friends Taye Diggs and Shane W. Evans wanted to collaborate on Chocolate Me!, a book based on experiences of feeling different and trying to fit in as kids. Now, both men are fathers and see more than ever the need for a picture book that encourages all people, especially kids, to love themselves.

* This book is written by Taye Diggs, actor, currently starring in the ABC drama, Private Practice. The main character in this story is five years old, just like my daughter.  He doesn't like his skin, his hair, or his teeth, among many things, because he is teased about them by some boys in his neighborhood.  Throughout the story he calls himself Chocolate Me with a sad frown on his face.  Luckily, with the help of his mother he is able to see how beautiful he is and can embrace calling himself Chocolate Me! 

I liked that this book encourages the reader to love what makes them different from others.  As I read the book I asked my kids if the other boys were being nice and they were able to see how being mean made the other boy feel.  We really try to instill in our kids that everyone is different and special in their own way (the way they look, what they can do, etc.).  I think this book helped to support that with our kids.

Family Rating: one thumb up.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I am a recipe follower.  I am not very creative in coming up with my own flavor combinations and knowing what goes with what.  My husband, a.k.a. "The Weekend Chef" on the other hand loves to throw things together and somehow, more often than not, it comes out amazingly good.  But, don't ask him to make it exactly the same or how much of an ingredient he used!  So, I was very proud of myself when I came up with the following recipe on my own (well, maybe not exactly on my own....)  I know, baking is more exact than just experimenting with something for dinner.  But I knew I wanted to make banana chocolate chip muffins and when I went looking for a new recipe to try, they all called for ingredients that I didn't have.  Looking at many different muffin recipes (not just banana chocolate chip ones!) I kind of combined and tried bits and pieces of many different recipes to get the muffin base.  Overall, I was very happy with this recipe, as were the kids, although as seen in the picture below they came out a little flat!

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
The Busy Mom (my own recipe!)

1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 oz. plain yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Using mixer, beat sugar and butter until creamed, then add eggs one at a time.

3. Combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a small bowl. 

4.  Alternately add the flour mixture and the yogurt into the sugar mixture until mixed well.

5.  Fold in the bananas and chocolate chips.

6.  Bake 15-20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

*This made 18 muffins for me.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

IHOP National Pancake Day: Puffy Pancake with Nutty Banana Butterscotch

Since 2006 IHOP has been celebrating National Pancake Day.  In exchange for a free short stack of Buttermilk pancakes guests are encouraged to make a monetary donation to designated local charities.  Unfortunately, the nearest IHOP is over thirty minutes away.  So, in honor of National Pancake Day I am featuring the recipe for this Puffy Pancake that I recently made.

Let me tell you how quick and easy this recipe is.  And, when I made it for dinner, it was like we were eating dessert. Unfortunately, I don't have a 9-inch square pan, so I used my 8-inch one.  I think I needed to just use a 9x13 inch pan and double the recipe because this was gone in minutes.  My husband and I could have totally gone for seconds, but there were none! We had plenty of leftover sauce that we used to dip strawberries in and to help make a Supper Club bread pudding more "kid-friendly."

Puffy Pancake with Nutty Banana Butterscotch
Every Day with Rachael Ray, May 2008


1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
5 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

1.Preheat the oven to 425 degrees . Add 1/2 stick butter to a 9-inch square baking dish and melt in the oven, about 5 minutes.

2.In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and granulated sugar, then whisk in the egg-milk mixture.

3.Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish; bake until the pancake begins to rise, 15 to 20 minutes.

4.Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cook the brown sugar, salt and 2 tablespoons water over medium heat, stirring, until bubbling, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/2 stick butter, the sour cream and bananas and heat through.

5.Drizzle the pancake with half of the butterscotch sauce and sprinkle with walnuts. Slice and serve with the remaining sauce on the side.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

I shared this recipe with:

Mandy‘s Recipe Box

Children's Book Review: Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?
Written by:  Susan A. Shea
Paintings by:  Tom Slaughter
Published by: Blue Apple Books, 2011
36 pages

A duckling grows and becomes a duck, so can a car grow into a truck? This beguiling book about growth will sparks kids'imaginations, as gatefolds playfully transform a watch into a clock and a shovel into a plow. The interactive format of question and answer will entrance young readers as living things that grow are compared to inanimate objects that don't. Ingenious!

* This is a great book!  Told in rhyme it asks children to answer yes or no, as to whether certain objects will grow.  The kids had a great time trying to guess what the objects in the second part of the rhyme were.  I think this would be a great book to use in the classroom when teaching young children living vs. non-living.  With thick-papered pages that lift and brightly colored illustrations, the book is eye-catching and engaging.  I think that the only down-side to this book is that after the first reading, the kids know all of the answers.  It was nice to read a couple of times together, but not a book that I feel like we need to own.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Meatless Monday: Peach, Basil, Mozzarella, & Balsamic Pizza

Okay, is your mouth watering from reading the title of this recipe?!!  Mine sure was.  As soon as I saw it I thought, "I have to make this!"  Lucky me, peaches were on sale at the grocery store for $1.49/lb!  I was definitely worried that they wouldn't be sweet enough since this recipe was originally posted in the summer, when peaches are in season, juicy, and delicious.  I made sure to pick out the ripest, softest peaches that I could find and they were surprisingly tasty. The original recipe made enough for two pizzas.  I knew my daughter wasn't going to eat this so I halved everything to make one pizza.  Maria and Josh also made their own pizza dough (check out the link below to go to their site for the recipe!). I liked the salty/sweet combo and the balsamic reduction was delicious!  This was also really quick and easy to make.

Peach, Basil, Mozzarella, & Balsamic Pizza
Recipe adapted From Two Peas and Their Pod 
Original Recipe found at:

For the balsamic reduction:
1 cup balsamic vinegar

For the pizza:
1 store bought pizza dough
1 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella-sliced
2 peaches-thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil

To make the balsamic reduction:

1. Pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the vinegar has reduced to 1/4 cup. Set aside, and cool to room temperature.

To make the pizza:
1. Preheat pizza stone in oven at 450 degrees F.
2. Roll out pizza dough to desired shape/thickness. Lightly brush the dough with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Top the dough with fresh mozzarella rounds, peach slices, and fresh basil. Drizzle the pizza with balsamic reduction.

3. Place the pizza in the oven-directly on the pizza stone.  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until pizza crust is golden and cheese is melted.
4. Let the pizza cool for a few minutes and then cut into slices and serve warm.

Mommy & Daddy Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Don't Worry, Douglas!

Don't Worry, Douglas!

Don't Worry, Douglas!
Written by:  David Melling
Published by: Tiger Tales, 2011

Douglas the big, brown, lovable bear is back! His dad gives him a special gift, a new woolly hat! But then something terrible happens. Douglas's hat gets caught on a tree and turns into one long string of spaghetti! How will he ever tell his dad? Douglas learns that it takes a BIG bear to tell the truth in this heartwarming and hilarious follow-up to "Hugless Douglas"!

* Only after reading the author info on the jacket cover did I realize that Douglas stars in another book!  Douglas's dad gives him a nice, new, red hat and tells him to, "Take care of it!" The kids and I were gasping in horror when we saw what happened to the hat.  They were also laughing out loud at all of the illustrations that showed the suggestions his friends made when he asked them for help.  Will he work up the nerve to tell his dad what really happened?  This led us to discuss if Douglas ruined his hat on purpose or if it was an accident.  The kids really enjoyed this book a lot!

Family Rating:  two thumbs up!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Weekend Chef: Ham, Brie, and Pear Panini

The second dinner The Weekend Chef decided to make was a Ham, Brie, and Pear Panini.  We don't have sandwiches for dinner very often so this was a nice change.  This was an adultified (again, I think I'm making up my own words!) version of a grilled cheese, if I do say so myself.  It sounded delicious and it was quick and easy to make.  However, no one was really impressed when eating it.  I felt like it was missing something.  We had talked about possibly adding some caramelized onions and ended up not.  They might have helped a little bit.  We don't think that the pears were sweet enough to offset the saltiness of the ham and brie.  This recipe still needs some tweaking.....suggestions are welcome!

Ham and Pear Panini
Recipe by The Weekend Chef (his own)

Makes 3 sandwiches

6 slices, large-sliced Panella bread (or bread of your choosing)
9 slices deli ham
1 pear, peeled and thinly sliced
6 oz. wedge of brie cheese, rind cut off and cut into 6 thick slices

1. Place two slices of brie on each of three pieces of bread.  Place three slices of ham on the cheese.  Top with thinly sliced pear (to your liking).  Put another slice of bread on top.

2. Butter the top and bottom of sandwich and place in preheated cast iron pan (medium heat).  Cook until browned, approximately two minutes on each side.

Family Rating: So-so.

Children's Book Review: Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn
Written by:  Mac Barnett
Illustrated by:  Jon Klassen
Published by: Balzer & Bray, 2012
40 pages

With a supply of yarn that never runs out, Annabelle knits for everyone and everything in town until an evil archduke decides he wants the yarn for himself.

* Annabelle finds a box filled with colorful yarn and is generous enough to knit sweaters for everyone in town.  When the archduke sails across the sea and tries to buy the box from Annabelle, he will stop at nothing when she refuses.  As you read this picture book, your eye is immediately drawn to the small pops of color from the yarn that Annabelle uses to knit, amongst the dark black and white illustrations. I didn't realize that Jon Klassen, the illustrator of this book, was the same author/illustrator of the story I Want My Hat Back, until we see the animals in the sweaters that Annabelle knit them. It was funny that my son realized it too and commented, "That's the same drawing as the bear that lost his hat!"  Overall, this was a nice read with great illustrations.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Weekend Chef: Chicken Cordon Bleu II

The Weekend Chef's dinners this past weekend revolved around deli ham.  The first dish that he decided to make was Chicken Cordon Bleu.  This is a dish that I like but rarely, if ever, make.  While I don't think that the dish was too difficult to make, the time involved in making it does not make it an ideal weeknight meal.  The sauce definitely made the dish!  This was delicious and looked nice (though the picture below doesn't really do it justice!). He served it with roasted potatoes and honey carrots.

Chicken Cordon Bleu II - by Behr

6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
6 slices Swiss cheese
6 slices ham
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1.Pound chicken breasts if they are too thick. Place a cheese and ham slice on each breast within 1/2 inch of the edges. Fold the edges of the chicken over the filling, and secure with toothpicks. Mix the flour and paprika in a small bowl, and coat the chicken pieces.

2.Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the chicken until browned on all sides. Add the wine and bouillon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

3.Remove the toothpicks, and transfer the breasts to a warm platter. Blend the cornstarch with the cream in a small bowl, and whisk slowly into the skillet. Cook, stirring until thickened, and pour over the chicken. Serve warm.

Family Rating:  two thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: The Bubble Gum Kid

The Bubble Gum Kid

The Bubble Gum Kid
Written by:  Stu Smith
Illustrated by: Julia Woolf
Published by: Running Press, 2006
32 pages

* In this picture book told in rhyme, Billy Bob Glum is a little boy who loves to chew gum.  Unfortunately, he can't blow a bubble and is picked on by Double Chin Dan, the school bully because of it.  With help from his older sister and a lot of practice Billy finally learns to blow a bubble and comes up with a plan to show that bully Dan. 

While this book had colorful pictures and my kids enjoyed the gum theme I wasn't a big fan.  I especially didn't enjoy the ending, where I didn't think the punishment was doled out fairly. 

Family Rating: So-so.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Clam Sauce with Linguine

I've always loved linguine with clam sauce.  This recipe caught my eye with the use of mushrooms.  Did I mention that I also love mushrooms?!  This was super quick and easy to make and a nice change from the normal pasta with red sauce.  Unfortunately, I find that canned clams, small to begin with, seem to shrink when you cook them. I thought you could hardly taste them, though that's probably why my kids ate all of their dinner up (minus the mushrooms!). 

Clam Sauce with Linguine
Recipe adapted from - by Silvia Granger

1 (16 ounce) package linguine pasta
1/2 cup butter
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 (6.5 ounce) cans chopped clams with juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

2.Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and mushrooms until golden brown. Stir in clams with juice, salt and white pepper. Cook over medium heat until hot. Toss with pasta until evenly coated. Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Bark, George

Bark, George

Bark, George
Written by:  Jules Feiffer
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999
32 pages

What's going on with George? Young readers will find out in this hilarious new picture book from Jules Feiffer who has won numerous prizes for his work, including the Pulitzer. 

*  Published over ten years ago, I can't believe that I hadn't heard of this book until recently.  This story is about a dog named George who can't seem to bark, but does make some other funny noises.  His mom takes him to the vet to try to see what's wrong. My kids thought this book was funny.  My son would laugh and say, "He's silly.  Dogs don't say "meow" cats do!" This picture book has won multiple awards including the 2000 Notable Children's Book and the 2000 Charlotte Zolotow Award Honor Book.  The illustrations are colorful and the story is really appealing to young kids.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mussels with Garlic & White Wine

When mussels are on sale at the grocery store, a 2 lb. bag for $2.99, I couldn't resist buying some.  I am a big seafood lover and don't eat mussels very often.  I was looking for a recipe that didn't have the usual wine and garlic, but honestly I don't eat these enough and love the popular style so I decided to go with it.  This recipe was a little different with the addition of cream.  And of course we needed lots of french bread for dipping in the broth.  My son was super adventerous to try a mussel.  I ended up making Clam Sauce with Linguine (see tomorrow's post!) for the kids since I kind of knew they wouldn't eat this.

Mussels With Garlic & White Wine
Recipe adapted from by Tebo

2 lbs fresh mussels
4 cloves garlic , minced
2 tablespoons butter or 2 tablespoons oil
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper

1. In a pot large enough to hold mussels, heat butter on medium heat.

2. Add garlic and mussels, toss and warm for two minutes.

3. Add wine, cream, salt& pepper.

4. Raise heat to med-high, cover and cook 5 minutes.

5. Check during cooking.

6. Do not overcook.

7. Mussels are done when shells have opened.

Mommy & Daddy Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Video Game Review: The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail
For: Nintendo Wii
By: Red Wagon
Released, December 2011

Description from
Westward Ho! Welcome to the Oregon Trail! Your job is to lead your family across over 2,000 miles of rough terrain from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City in the middle of the 19th century. They made the journey for adventure, fortune, or freedom. Now you have the chance to relive history and start your own grand adventure. Will you survive? Will you prosper? It's time to hit the trail! Play The Oregon Trail like never before! Complete achievements to unlock special items. Hunt, fish, and drive your wagon for the first time ever! Play through 4 unique stories, each with 3 different time periods. Customize your wagon with different tarps and colors. Every play through is different and has endless possibilities!

* When I saw that The Oregon Trail was being released as a game for the Nintendo Wii, I put it on hold at the library (yes, at least through my local library system you can borrow video games, great?! Right?!).  I have to admit that I am not a big gamer and borrowing the games from the library works out really great.   I also like the ability to "try before we buy" which more often than not we end up NOT buying.

I remember playing The Oregon Trail in elementary school during computer class, many years ago!  This game was really about the nostalgia for me.  And it got pretty old after a bit.  Recommend for ages 10 and up, my husband and I sat down and played with the kids watching.  It didn't hold their interest for very long and it was difficult enough to manuever that they really couldn't play it.  The movements were very sensitive to the slightest tap of the controller which got a bit annoying.  We played for about an hour, hour and a half getting not even half-way through the game.  However, by then I'd had enough! 

While it was fun for a bit, I definitely enjoyed the game much more in 4th or 5th grade!  Unfortunately, with all of the newer, more action-packed games out there, this probably won't interest the 10+ age group it was originally targeted for.

Mommy & Daddy Rating: So-so.

Children's Book Review: Read All About It!

Read All about It!

Read All About It!
Written by:  Laura Bush and Jenna Bush
Illustrated by:  Denise Brunkus
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
32 pages

First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter, Jenna, team with illustrator Denise Brunkus for this story, in which a young boy and his friends are swept up in a mysterious adventure that lands them in a most unexpected place. Full color.

* I was very curious to read a children's book written by the former First Lady and one of her daughters.  In this story Tyrone Brown dislikes one thing about school....reading.  That is until "visitors" start appearing in the classroom during storytime.  After his teacher finishes the stories and the "visitors" (characters) disappear he goes on an adventure to find them.  This book was a little unrelatable for my kids since they both love reading and listening to stories.  However, I like the idea presented in this book that characters in books come to life and the boy who hates reading realizes that maybe he doesn't after all!

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Children's Book Review: I Always, ALWAYS Get My Way

I Always, ALWAYS Get My Way

I Always, ALWAYS Get My Way
Written by:  Thad Krasnesky
Illustrated by:  David Parkins
Published by: Flashlight Press, 2009
32 pages

This picture book is about a little girl named Emmy who makes some pretty bad decisions.  From borrowing her older sister's new skateboard, making a big, muddy mess of the house, and spilling juice all over dad, Emmy makes her family members mad.  However, her mother always seems to be sticking up for her saying, "but she's only three."  Emmy has used this excuse to get herself out of trouble until even her mother has even reached her limit.  Emmy finally learns that there are consequences for her choices.

Told in rhyme this is a cute story that my kids enjoyed.  While reading we would stop and ask if what Emmy was doing was very nice (it usually wasn't!). In addition to us reading it together, my daughter read this one on her own several times, and had my parents read it to her when they came for a visit. 

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Apple-Sausage Mac and Cheese

What child doesn't love mac and cheese?!  I have to admit, I always have the boxed stuff in the house, so if we have a lunch emergency there's always something to feed the kids!  However, it's always nice and really easy to make homemade mac and cheese.  Of course I'm always looking for new mac and cheese recipes to try.  I liked this one because it incorporated the apple sausage. My kids are big sausage eaters, so I thought by incorporating the two they'd be fans.  Well, I was right about one of them!  My son decided to take one bite of pasta and decided that he didn't like it.  My daughter on the other hand ate all of hers and took some for lunch the next day. This did require a bit of preparation and then had to bake for 25-30 minutes.  If you have the extra time it can be a weeknight meal.  Otherwise, depending on the size of your family, if you make this on a weekend you may have enough for leftovers for another night (or in our case, for lunches!).

Apple-Sausage Mac and Cheese
Recipe adapted from Food Network Magazine, September 2011

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
Kosher salt
1 pound pasta (I used wheel-shaped)
1/2 cup diced onion
6 ounces chicken-apple sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 tablespoons mustard 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups apple juice
1 pound marbled cheddar & monterey jack cheese, shredded (4 cups)
1/2 cup sour cream
35 small butter crackers (1 sleeve Ritz), crushed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 2 1/2 -quart baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes (check package directions). Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage, mustard, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the sausage is golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the apple juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 8 more minutes.

Slowly stir about three-quarters each of the monterey jack and cheddar cheese into the sauce until smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the pasta and sour cream. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the crushed crackers and the remaining cheese. Bake until bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mommy Reads: Killing Lincoln

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

Killing Lincoln
Written by:  Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard
Published by: Henry Holt and Co., 2011
324 pages

A riveting historical narrative of the heart-stopping events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the first work of history from mega-bestselling author Bill O'Reilly

The anchor of The O'Reilly Factor recounts one of the most dramatic stories in American history—how one gunshot changed the country forever. In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America's Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln's generous terms for Robert E. Lee's surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln's dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.

In the midst of the patriotic celebrations in Washington D.C., John Wilkes Booth—charismatic ladies' man and impenitent racist—murders Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. A furious manhunt ensues and Booth immediately becomes the country's most wanted fugitive. Lafayette C. Baker, a smart but shifty New York detective and former Union spy, unravels the string of clues leading to Booth, while federal forces track his accomplices. The thrilling chase ends in a fiery shootout and a series of court-ordered executions—including that of the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government, Mary Surratt. Featuring some of history's most remarkable figures, vivid detail, and page-turning action, Killing Lincoln is history that reads like a thriller.

*In honor of yesterday being President's Day I thought that I'd post a book review for an "adult" book that I've read recently, Killing Lincoln.  My children are still a little young to be reading them books about the Presidents that are simple enough and hold their interest (though I'd be interested in any recommendations!).  Since my daughter started Kindergarten this year I discovered that the school PTA has a book club!  While I belong to an online book club which I love, I had never participated in a face-to-face book club.  The February book pick was Killing Lincoln.  Now, this is not a book that I would normally choose to read on my own.  Honestly nothing about it sounded enticing!

So, I was very surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this book!  Somehow I got through high school not really absorbing my history lessons.  Prior to reading this book I knew very little about Abraham Lincoln.  Not only did I find this book informative, as it recounted the days leading up to and after Lincoln's assassination, but it was written in a suspense-like format, so it wasn't just dry facts being thrown at the reader.

Coincidentally, my husband and DVR and watch Jeopardy every night.  Wouldn't you know that the week after I read this book, one of the answers to the a Jeopardy clue was "Mary Surratt!"  If you asked me prior to reading the book I couldn't tell you who she was.  After reading the book I now know that she was the first woman to be executed by the federal government! 

I enjoyed all of the pictures and illustrations in the book (though I didn't really look at the maps too much!) which helped to give me an image of what the characters looked like.   I know that Bill O'Reilly came under fire for some inaccuracies in this book.  I have no opinion of O'Reilly.  I have neither read any of his other books before or seen his show on TV.  However, for someone with little historical background of Lincoln's assassination I thought this was an enjoyable and informative read. 

If you would like to learn more about an historical event in American History and don't enjoy dry facts, then you may enjoy this book.  Like I mentioned, although I wouldn't have picked this book up to read on my own, I was pleasantally surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Mommy Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Willow and the Snow Day Dance

Willow and the Snow Day Dance

Willow and the Snow Day Dance
Written by:  Denise Brennan-Nelson
Illustrated by:  Cyd Moore
Published by: Sleeping Bear Press, 2011
32 pages

Mr. Larch is not a very neighborly neighbor. He never has any visitors. His gray, gloomy house never has any decorations. He avoids everyone and everyone avoids him.

But now Mr. Larch has a new neighbor. Willow and her family have moved into the bright yellow house directly across the street.

Willow loves her new house and neighborhood. She loves the summer and planting her garden. She loves the fall and sharing vegetables with her neighbors. And when winter arrives, she loves that, too. She can't wait for the first snowfall because she has found the perfect hill for sledding. And it's right behind Mr. Larch's house.

Can Willow melt his cold heart in time to enjoy a Snow Day?

* This book was sitting on display at the local library.  While we haven't had very much snow, and no snow day yet, here in New York, it caught my eye.  Willow is a very likable character.  She is very creative and thoughtful of others.  I enjoyed her notes to the neighbors, in a time when handwritten notes are few and far between.  I especially liked how her friendliness touched her neighbor, Mr. Larch, who everyone else avoided.  The mysterious note in Willow's mailbox with instructions for "The Snow Day Dance" brought back memories of hearing about it (but I never actually performed it!) growing up. 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Homesteader Cornbread

I decided to make cornbread to go with the Honey Baked Lentils (in yesterday's post).  I thought it might be work out nice to help scoop the lentils up.  Plus, like I mentioned, we had eaten a lot of rice recently, which is the usual serving recommendation for the lentils.  Since it was a last minute decision to make the cornbread, I was looking recipes that I already had the ingredients for to avoid a last-minute trip to the grocery store.   Luckily, I found this one and it had received a ton of great reviews.  I highly recommend using a castiron skillet for making cornbread.  Instead of using a 9x13 baking pan as directed in the recipe, I dumped the batter into my 9-inch castiron. You get a nice even cooking as seen in the picture below.  We LOVED this cornbread! It was delicious slathered with some butter.  It made enough in the castiron skillet to last us for a couple of days but we did end up eating all of it!  We couldn't let the delicousness go to waste!  Although I do have to warn, that it tastes the very best warm and moist, right out of the oven. It tended to dry out over the next couple of days, but warmed up in the toaster and slathered with butter, it made for a tasty breakfast.

Homesteader Cornbread - by WILLOWSMOM99

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). In a small bowl, combine cornmeal and milk; let stand for 5 minutes. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

2.In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix in the cornmeal mixture, eggs and oil until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.

3.Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Children's Book Review: Dream Big Little Pig!

Dream Big, Little Pig!

Dream Big Little Pig!
Written by: Kristi Yamaguchi
Illustrated by: Tim Bowers
Published by: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2011
32 pages

Olympic medalist Yamaguchi pens an inspiring tale about a little pig who won't give up on pursuing her dreams. Full color.

* This story is about Poppy, a pig, who wants to be a star.  Unfortunately, she has a difficult time finding something that she's good at.  With the support of her parents and best friend, Emma, Poppy becomes an ice-skating star.  Of course, that's what we'd expect when the author is Olympic gold medalist ice-skater, Kristi Yamaguchi!  The glittery pink and purple cover was appealing to my daughter.  While I like the idea of dreaming big and working hard to make your dreams come true, I didn't particulary like that Poppy first tried being a dancer, singer, and a model.  Or the fact that she tried each once and then was told by the people in charge that she should "try something else." 

Family Rating: So-so.

Meatless Monday: Honey Baked Lentils

One of my readers, 'Becca, commented and left some recipe recommendations on my Red Lentil Dal over Rice recipe, after I noted that I was pleasantly surprised that I liked lentils. Honey Baked Lentils was already a recipe that I had wanted to try and when she posted the link I thought I'd try this version.  If you go to the original recipe, linked below, they offer a link to a slow cooker version.  I had originally wanted to try that one, but I had lost track of time and didn't have enough time to slow cook them.  We had recently eaten a lot of rice, so I ended up making cornbread (look for the recipe tomorrow! and some veggies to serve with.  The lentils had a great flavor and definitely had more "chew" than the red lentils that I had used in the dal.  I was pleasantly surprised that my son preferred to eat the lentils over his peas.  The kids ate enough to earn their treats, but weren't huge fans.  As I'm looking to incorporate new ingredients into my cooking and my children's diets, I am definitely thinking of trying some other versions of this recipe.  Thanks for the suggestion 'Becca!

Honey Baked Lentils
Recipe adapted from The Earthlings Handbook, courtesy of 'Becca


■1 cup dry lentils (Green or brown lentils hold their shape and texture; red lentils get softer and taste less “beany”, ideal for people who think they don’t like beans!)

■1 cup orange juice and 1 cup water

■1/2 tsp. ground ginger

■1 clove garlic, minced

■2 Tbsp. dried minced onion (You can use fresh onion, but it all floats to the top and gets a soggy consistency.)

■2 Tbsp. olive oil

■2 Tbsp. honey
■2 Tbsp. soy sauce

■salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a casserole dish. (Measure them in the order listed for tidiest use of your measuring spoons!) You can let it soak for a while before baking, if convenient–this makes the lentils and rice softer and may improve digestibility.
Bake, covered, at 350F until liquid is absorbed and lentils are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Children's Book Review: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
Knuffle Bunny:  A Cautionary Tale
Written by:  Mo Willems
Published by:  Hyperion Books for Children, 2004
40 pages

Merging expressive cartoon network-esque illustrations with beautiful black and white photographs of Brooklyn, this funny story tells how Trixie and Knuffle Bunny's trip to the laundromat with Dad goes terribly wrong when Trixie realizes some bunny's been left behind...! Her attempts to alert Dad all the way home are unsuccessful, until Mum points out that Knuffle Bunny is missing and the family hotfoot it back to the laundromat.

* Our family is  a big fan of Mo Willems.  We have enjoyed all of his work, from his Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series to the Elephant and Piggie series.  In Knuffle Bunny, I liked how Willems mixed real photographs with his cartoon figures.  My kids could relate, since they both have a favorite "lovie" type animal.  As a parent my husband and I could relate, to dealing with temper tantrums, children not being understood, and to Trixie going "boneless" (although in our case I think we found the kids going stiff as a board, creating an equally difficult problem!). 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Overnight Peaches-and-Cream French Toast

Have I mentioned that my kids LOVE breakfast for dinner?!  What's great about this recipe is that it needs to be pre-made and refrigerated for at least 8 hours.  Last weekend we were going out for the day.  So, I got this together really quickly in the morning and let it sit in the fridge while we were out all day.  When we got home, I took it out until we were ready to cook it.  It was quick, easy, and delicious! And even nicer that we didn't have to come home and think about what we were going to cook for dinner.  I served it with some breakfast sausage and also added some canned whip cream to the top.  It was almost like a treat!

Overnight Peaches-and-Cream French Toast
All*You, October 2011

1 8-oz. loaf French bread, sliced
8 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 15-oz. cans sliced peaches packed in juice, drained
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange bread in a tight, flat layer in dish.

2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with milk, sugar and vanilla until blended; pour over bread. Arrange peaches on top and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

3. Remove baking dish from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour cream into a small pan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Drizzle over peaches and bake, uncovered, until casserole is lightly browned on top and just cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blog Hops

Check out some of these blog hops that I've joined.  They are a great way to find some new blogs to follow!

The Blog Entourage

The Weekend Chef: Soy and Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder

We have wanted a Dutch Oven for the longest time and finally got one as a Christmas present from my in-laws.  Knowing we had the oven, I saw this recipe and thought it would be a perfect time to try it out.  I just picked the recipe and bought the ingredients, then left the rest for The Weekend Chef.  We opted for the Asian-style tacos and served the shredded meat in soft tortillas with marinated match-stick cucumbers (in rice vinegar).  This really is a weekend type recipe because it cooks for almost two hours and requires occasional turning.  However, depending on the size of the pork shoulder and the size of your family, you may have leftovers which can either be eaten as lunch or another dinner.  We served ths with some roasted potato wedges.  All I can say is YUM!  The tenderness of the pork with the sweetness of the sauce.  Amazing!  The Weekend Chef is now pysched to cook up some more deliciousness in the Dutch Oven, so stayed tune for more recipes!

Soy and Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder
Cooking Light, October 2011

Serve this East-meets-West pulled pork on hamburger buns or Kaiser rolls with shaved cucumber and carrot ribbons tossed with rice vinegar. Or stuff it into tortillas for Asian-style tacos with matchstick-cut cucumber and carrot.


1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 (3 1/2-pound) bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cola (such as Coca-Cola)
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce
1 cup diagonally sliced green onions

1. Preheat oven to 300°.

2. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan. Sprinkle pork evenly with salt. Add pork to pan; sauté for 8 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Remove pork. Add ginger and garlic; sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in cola and the next 3 ingredients (through soy sauce); bring to a boil. Return pork to pan; cover. Bake at 300° for 1 hour and 50 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. Remove pork from pan, and let stand for 10 minutes. Shred pork with 2 forks. Skim fat from cooking liquid.

3. Place pan over medium-high heat; bring cooking liquid to a boil. Cook 15 minutes or until reduced to about 2 cups, stirring occasionally. Combine pork and 3/4 cup sauce in a bowl; toss to coat. Top with green onions. Serve pork with remaining 1 1/4 cups sauce.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Chilly Milly Moo

Chilly Milly Moo

Chilly Milly Moo
Written by:  Fiona Ross
Published by: Candlewich Press, 2011
32 pages

Milly Moo wants only one thing: to churn out the finest, tastiest, creamiest milk around. But there’s just one problem. She’s always too hot! While all the other cows snicker and bask in the sun, Milly Moo’s milk bucket keeps coming up empty. Nada! Zilch! Just when she’s sure that the farmer will banish her, Milly Moo wakes to a freezing cold morning. It’s her last chance! Will the icy temperature help her make the special milk product she dreams of? With slyly humorous illustrations and a fun final twist, this treat from Fiona Ross will have children begging for second helpings.

* This is the author Fiona Ross' first picture book.  I liked her use of text in the illustrations (text written on the brick wall, on the floor, etc.).  The illustrations themselves were also cute and colorful in a subdued, pastely way.  I liked the message of the story, that we're all special in our own way.  However, the delivery itself seemed a little lacking. 

Family Rating: So-so.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Quick Fix Chicken Paprikash

I grew up with my mom making Hungarian Goulash.  She used beef cubes and lots of paprika!  I found this recipe while looking through food blogs.  The "quick fix" definitely caught my eye and I liked the idea of using chicken instead of beef.  Even better, I'd get to try out the new sweet paprika that we recently bought on a trip to Penzeys.  If you don't know, Penzeys is an amazing spice store.  They have retail stores and online/catolgue ordering. You can check them out at

Unfortunately for me, I never have leftover cooked chicken sitting in the fridge.  So, to add to my cooking time, I had to cook up some chicken breasts to make this.  If I didn't have to do that, this would be a really quick and easy meal!  I left the original recipe below, the only change that I made was that I didn't add the hot paprika (1. because I don't have any  and 2. I wanted it kid-friendly).  The kids enjoyed this enough to eat all of their dinner (minus the red pepper pieces for my daughter) and my daughter was willing to take leftovers for lunch the next day!

Quick Fix Chicken Paprikash
One Perfect Bite food blog

1/4 cup butter
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 can (10.5-oz.) condensed chicken broth, undiluted
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon Hungarian hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 to 3 cups hot cooked egg noodles

1) Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add onion and saute until tender and lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper and cook until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes longer. Stir in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in sweet paprika, hot paprika and salt. Stir flour into sour cream and whisk into sauce until smooth; bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

2) Fold in chicken and noodles. Cook, stirring, over medium heat to warm chicken and noodles, about 3 minutes. Serve hot. Yield: 4 servings.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Moonlight


Written by:  Helen V. Griffith
Illustrated by:  Laura Dronzek
Published by: Greenwillow Books, 2012
32 pages

Rabbit waits for the moon.
But the moon takes its time,
so Rabbit hops back to his burrow and goes to sleep.
What happens in the world when Rabbit isn't looking?
Well . . . magic.
And moonlight. . . .
The goats on the mountainside see it.
The deer, birds, and raccoons see it.
Even the fish see it.
And finally, happily,
Rabbit does, too.
Do you?

* In this story told in rhyme, the author compares moonlight to butter.  The moon shines its light throughout the mountains, streams, and trees to finally wake up little rabbit who has fallen asleep in his burrow.  While the story didn't really interest us or seem to go anywhere, the one plus for this book is the beautiful pictures.  Artist Laura Dronzek used acrylic paints to make gorgeous pictures of the world at night, with visible paintbrush strokes throughout. 
Family Rating: So-so.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Children's Book Review: Wanted: The Perfect Pet

Wanted: The Perfect Pet

Wanted:  The Perfect Pet
Written by: Fiona Roberton
Published by: Putnam Publishing Group, 2010
40 pages

Henry wants a dog more than anything in the world-more than a cowboy costume, even more than an all-expenses-paid trip to the moon. So he puts an ad in the newspaper to find the perfect pet.

Far away, a lonely duck who desperately wants a friend reads the ad. He has the clever idea to disguise himself as a dog and apply for the job of Henry's best friend. But his cover is quickly blown when he isn?t very good at catching balls and his floppy ears and tail fall off. Henry is disappointed for a moment, until he thinks of all the amazing things this duck CAN do, and realizes he's found the perfect pet after all.
 Fiona Roberton's irresistible illustrations and utterly charming characters will win the hearts of readers of all ages.

* My kids have recently been talking a lot about wanting a pet, specifically, a dog or a cat.  I grew up with cats as pets so I'm not against getting my kids a pet.  I keep telling them that they need to convince daddy though!  I saw this book, based on title alone, and thought it would be perfect to read to the kids, thinking that they might relate to the characters.  Henry wants a dog and takes out a wanted ad in the paper.  A lonely duck ends up answering the ad, but disguises himself as a dog, thinking that Henry wouldn't want him if he knew he was a duck.  Henry comes to realize that the duck is the perfect pet for him. Even after reading the story, when I asked my kids, they did not want a duck for a pet!  My daughter noticed and commented that all the pictures were black and white.  I thought that the illustrations were great and helped add to the story.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cabbage and Potato Frittata with Bacon

I had half a head of cabbage left over from the Cabbage Pancakes I had made earlier in the week and didn't want it to go to waste, so I decided to make this frittata.  I ended up making this for lunch on Super Bowl Sunday, since my husband was going out with some friends to watch the game, and I didn't really feel like making dinner for just me and the kids.  (We had a  picnic dinner -Chinese take-out and ended up watching the other blue men....The Smurfs movie!).  This was pretty quick and easy to make, minus the peeling and chopping of the veggies.  The kids really didn't like it, except for the bacon!  There was a lot leftover so my husband and I both ended up having this for lunch a couple of days.  The frittata was still pretty hot when I added the sour cream on top, as seen in the "melty" picture below!

Cabbage and Potato Frittata with Bacon
Every Day With Rachael Ray, September 2010

10 eggs
Salt and pepper
8 slices bacon
2 baking potatoes (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Sour cream, for serving
1 scallion, thinly sliced

1.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees . In a large bowl, beat the eggs with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a large, ovenproof nonstick skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes; drain on paper towels. Crumble the bacon. Reserve 3 tablespoons bacon fat in the pan and discard the rest.

2.Add the potatoes and carrots to the pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cabbage and onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.

3.Stir the eggs into the vegetables. Cook until the edges begin to set but the center is runny, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake until the eggs are set in the center and the edges are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Invert the frittata onto a large plate, then re invert onto a serving platter; cut into wedges. Serve with the sour cream, bacon and scallion.

Family Rating: one thumb up.

Children's Book Review: The Grouchies

The Grouchies

The Grouchies
Written by: Debbie Wagenbach
Illustrated by: Steve Mack
Published by: Magination Press, 2010

A grouchy boy learns how to chase away his grumpy moods. Includes a note to parents.

* This picture book is about a little boy who gets the grouchies. Told in rhyme, the story shows how bad of a day the boy has when he lets the grouchies take over.  At the end of the day his parents tell him everything will be okay and give him strategies for making the grouchies go away.  At the end of the book there's a note to parents with detailed strategies to help their children deal with being in a grumpy mood.  Overall, I think it was an okay read in showing kids the consequences of being grumpy and mean to the people they love. 

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

I think that I've mentioned that I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day.  To me, it's just an overly-commercialized holiday.  However, for my kids, especially my daughter, it's a day filled with hearts, valentines, and candy.  I have to say that I am having fun trying to make the day fun for the kids. 

We started the day with heart-shaped waffles (just used a cookie cutter on some Aunt Jemima waffles!).  For lunch, my daughter requested a sandwich because she remembered last year that I cut her sandwich in a heart shape and wanted another one (how cute! And what a great memory she has!).  I had my husband write a little valentine love note on a heart-shaped piece of paper to surprise her at lunch.  We spent yesterday afternoon writing out all of her valentines and attaching the heart-shaped Jolly Rancher lollipops.  So, I know when she comes home from school today she will be super excited to show the family all of the valentines that she received from her classmates.  For dinner we'll be having steak, mashed potatoes, and broccoli rabe with a special sweet dessert treat.  After dinner I've organized a special valentine's scavenger hunt where the kids are going to read clues and search for "kisses" (Hershey's kisses). Overall, I'm hoping the kids have a great day!  How are you celebrating today?! 

Children's Book Review: A String of Hearts

A String of Hearts

A String of Hearts
Written by:  Laura Malone Elliott
Illustrated by: Lynn Munsinger
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books, 2010
32 pages

Valentines come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are homemade and some are store-bought. Some are funny and some are not. Sam wants to give just the right valentine to the most popular girl in the class, Tiffany. But what kind is the right kind? Mary Ann helps Sam figure out how to make all sorts of valentines. But will Tiffany even notice Sam if he gives her a special valentine?

Laura Malone Elliott and Lynn Munsinger's charming story shows how the best friends are often the ones you may not know you have--until Valentine's Day --and even a simple string of hearts can show a friend how special he is.

* As we were reading this, part of the story reminded us of Roses are Pink, You're Feet Really Stink where the teacher wanted the students to write something nice about each classroom, and Sam couldn't find something nice to say about some of his classmates.  For a story geared towards 4-7 year olds, I wasn't a fan of the use of the "popular" girl in the story or the fact that Sam had somewhat of a crush on Tiffany, yet she barely acknowledged him.  I do like how Sam realizes how important his true friends are to him, but even the ending hints at possible romance?!!  Overall, not a big fan of this story.

Family Rating:  Thumbs down!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kid Craft: Birdseed Biscuits

Over the years I've gotten various Parenting and Family magazines.  I'd see lots of great craft ideas and recipes, rip them out, and stick them in a folder.  I've gotten semi-organized recently but sorting the articles into folders.  Finally, I decided to actually make one of the crafts with the kids!  Since the weather in New York has been unseasonably warm for winter, and we see and hear the birds outside, I thought it might be nice to make these heart-shaped birdseed biscuits. I ended up doubling the recipe.  We used various sized heart-shaped cookie cutters that I have, as seen below, to make six biscuits.  After all was said and done, we ended up with four good ones.  They are pretty fragile/crumbly and when I was trying to thread the ribbon through the hole two crumbled.  We have one hanging on a tree on the front lawn, but have yet to see any birds actually eating the seed.  We are giving the others to the grandparents as small Valentine's Day gifts.

Birdseed Biscuits
FamilyFun, February 2009

3/4 cup of birdseed
1 tablespoon flour
Cookie cutter
Cookie sheet

1.Our recipe makes two 3-inch biscuits or a single 4-inch biscuit. Mix together the birdseed, flour, and 2 tablespoons of water.

2. Spray or wipe a cookie cutter with oil and place it on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Pack the mixture into the cutter, inserting half a straw near the top to create a hole for hanging.

3.Bake the biscuit (with the straw) in a 170º oven until the biscuit is hard, about one hour. Let it cool.

4.Remove the straw, thread a ribbon through the hole, and hang it outside in a sheltered spot.

Children's Book Review: Amelia Bedelia's First Valentine

Amelia Bedelia's First Valentine

Amelia Bedelia's First Valentine
Written by:  Herman Parish
Illustrated by:  Lynne Avril
Published by: Greenwillow Books, 2009
32 pages

Amelia Bedelia is sure she will love everything about Valentine's Day.

The sweet surprises
Cards to give and receive
A party at school
A big, long family hug

 Amelia Bedelia can't wait.
What could be better?
Valentine's Day
Hooray for Valentine's Day

* As a special education teacher, I often used Amelia Bedelia books to help with teaching idioms and literal meanings.  Since the passing of Peggy Parish, the original author of the Amelia Bedelia series, her nephew Herman has continued writing books in the series.  I have to say that I don't think that they are as good.   Amelia Bedelia's First Valentine looks like it's geared towards young children, as it's written in a hardcover, picture book type format, and the inside jacket says ages 4-8.  The book did not hold the interest of my 3 year old son and I think my daughter was drawn to the book because of it's pink cover and heart/Valentine's theme.   I would question my daughter, what do you think that really means, when we came to some expressions that Amelia took literally and she looked at me totally confused.  I tried explaining them to her, but it seemed to be a little over her head. 

Family Rating: So-so.

Meatless Mondays: Jack Quesadillas with Pear Salsa

Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

I'm not a big pear fan.  They have a grainy texture that I don't like.  But I do like fruit salsas and quesadillas.  So, this seemed like a winning recipe.  We have a quesadilla maker that my parents gave us.  Although it rarely gets used, on busy weeknights it can make tasty quesadillas in minutes. I ended up enjoying the pear salsa.  Mixed with all of the other ingredients the pear didn't taste as grainy as eating it by itself.  My kids are big fruit lovers so they were willing to try the salsa.  They ended up eating it as a side, rather than on the quesadilla, itself, but did eat all that I had given them. If they had their choice though, they'd just eat a plain cheese quesadilla!

Jack Quesadillas with Pear Salsa
Cooking Light, January/February 2000

Pear salsa:
4 cups chopped peeled Anjou pear (2 pounds)
1/3 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried mint
1 tablespoon grated lime rind
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped

8 (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup chopped green onions

To prepare salsa, combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl; cover and chill.

To prepare the quesadillas, place 1 tortilla in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, and top with 1/2 cup cheese. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons onions; top with a tortilla. Cook 3 minutes, pressing down with a spatula until cheese melts. Turn carefully, and cook until thoroughly heated (about 1 minute). Repeat procedure with the remaining tortillas, cheese, and green onions. Cut each quesadilla into sixths; serve with pear salsa.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Children's Book Review: Panda's Valentine's Day

Panda's Valentine's Day

Panda's Valentine's Day
Written by: Tara Jaye Morrow
Illustrated by: Aaron Boyd
Published by:  Sterling, 2011
24 pages

For Panda, Valentine's Day means making the best card ever for his Mama-one that's pretty and fun and with lots of love inside, just like her. But nothing he does works out quite right: the heart's uneven, the red ribbon tears, and the beads won't glue. Then Mama shows him: it's the love you share that really makes a card-and Valentine's Day-special.

* Panda and Mama always exchange Valentine's cards, but he can't seem to make the perfect valentine.  He ends up throwing out his work, minus the words for the inside.  When he goes out to play he doesn't realize that he's made a valentine.  Paired with his words of love (which I loved!) Mama shows him how he unexpectedly has the perfect valentine for her.  Overall, a cute, sweet, Valentine's Day story. 

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Sesame-Soy Meatballs

I recently watched an old episode of Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern and discovered there's a restaurant in NYC called The Meatball Shop that, guessed it, meatballs, in all kinds of variations!  I'm a big fan of meatballs, meatloaf, etc. so this recipe definitely caught my eye.  It was super easy to make, quick to cook, and even better, tasted really good!  We only made 16 meatballs, but they were so good that my husband and I finished them all (minus 4, 2 each for the kids).  The kids complained that they were too spicy (due to the chile paste) but I was hoping the sweetness would balance it out.  I will definitely be making these again for me and my husband! We served these with spicy rice and some peas.  Delish!

Sesame-Soy Meatballs
Cooking Light, November 2010

1/3 cup minced green onions
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon chile paste (such as sambal oelek)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 pound ground sirloin
Cooking spray

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl. Add beef; mix gently to combine. With moist hands, shape beef mixture into 20 (1 1/2-inch) meatballs.

3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the meatballs to pan; cook 4 minutes, turning to brown meatballs on all sides. Arrange browned meatballs in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining meatballs. Bake meatballs at 400° for 7 minutes or until done.

Mommy & Daddy Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Children's Book Review: Love, Ruby Valentine

Love, Ruby Valentine

Love, Ruby Valentine
Written by: Laurie Friedman
Illustrated by:  Lynne Avril Cravath
Published by: Lerner Publishing Group, 2006
32 pages

Deep in the heart of Heartland lives Ruby Valentine and her trusty parrot Lovebird. Ruby's favourite day of the year is Valentine's Day - she loves to say "I love you" and make cards and treats to deliver to everyone in her town. But Ruby is so exhausted that she sleeps right through the holiday. Although Ruby's worried that she'll have to wait a whole year to tell everyone that she loves them, Lovebird convinces her to deliver her treats and messages of love even though it's a day late. To Ruby's surprise, no one minds. In fact, they're thankful for her sweet wishes and kind heart, leaving Ruby with the realization that every day is the best day to say "I love you"!

* If the glittery front cover didn't catch my daughter's eye, the first pages with the all of the hearts certainly did!  The house, the trees, the flowers, even the cow had a heart on it that caught my daughter's attention.  The story was okay.  Ruby works so hard in prepartion for Valentine's Day that she's so tired and accidentally sleeps through the holiday.  The lesson Ruby learned, that you can say "I love you!" any day, not just Valentine's Day seemed like a no-brainer.  I tell my daughter I love her every day before she gets on the school bus and she is always writing notes to my husband and I about how great we are and how much she loves us. My 3 year old son didn't seem very interested in listening to the story.  He got up while we were reading and started playing with his cars.  Laurie Friedman is the author of the "Mallory" chapter book series which we'll probably be checking out soon. 

Family Rating: one thumb up.

Indian Pizza

I love making pizza and trying new toppings.  This one looked interesting and I had 1/2 pound of ground turkey leftover from making the turkey-cranberry strudel.  I made a plain pizza for the kids since I thought the jalapeno would be too hot for the kids.  It took a little time to make: making the paste, browning the turkey, cutting and sauteing the veggies....basically, this is not a quick pizza to make!   I would say this was only okay taste-wise, since I felt like it was missing something, but can't figure out what exactly.

Indian Pizza
Every Day With Rachael Ray, April 2011

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 pound store-bought whole wheat pizza dough, at room temperature
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 large jalapeno chile, seeds discarded, chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 pound ground dark-meat turkey
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1/4 large red onion, sliced

1.Invert a 13-by-18-inch baking sheet onto the bottom of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees . Oil a second baking sheet and stretch the pizza dough to fit the pan.

2.In a mini food processor, pulse the cilantro, jalapeno and 2 tablespoons olive oil until a paste forms; season with salt. Spread the paste on the dough, then sprinkle with the cheese.

3.In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the turkey, season with salt and cook, breaking up the meat, until just barely cooked, about 2 minutes. Stir in the zucchini and onion. Top the pizza with the meat mixture. Place the baking sheet on the preheated baking sheet in the oven and bake until the crust is golden, about 20 minutes.

Mommy & Daddy rating: 1 thumb up.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Children's Book Review: Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink

As much as I was never a big fan of Valentine's Day, having kids changed that. It's a lot of fun watching the kids write out their valentines and bake special treats for class parties. Valentine's Day is approaching soon and we are busy reading lots of Valentine's Day books to get us in the spirit of the holiday!  Here is our first read:

Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink

Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink
Written by: Diane deGroat
Published by:  HarperTrophy, 1996
32 pages

When Gilbert writes two not-so-nice valentines to his classmates, his prank quickly turns into pandemonium. But there's always time for a change of heart on Valentine's Day.

* Although this book is an oldie (published more than 15 years ago), I was pleasantly surprised to find out it is a goodie!  The valentine poems that Gilbert writes to his classmates are cute, although two are not so nice.  I think that this book also has a good message that if you do something mean, other people may find out and may not like it.   When Gilbert's friends found out that he wrote the mean poems no one wanted to eat lunch with him or play with him at recess.  It also shows that if you make a mistake you can be forgiven, as Gilbert finds out when he makes two nicer valentines.  The kids enjoyed this book.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Turkey-Cranberry Strudel

I've been saving this recipe for awhile.  Since I had the phyllo dough (and finally had the time!) I decided to give it a try.  Again, my fault, a recipe that I didn't read the entire way through before I decided to make.  So, we ended up eating later than we normally do the night I made this!  This took some time and effort to make.  Don't think that I'd recommend this for a busy weeknight meal.  However, I thought the cranberry and turkey complimented each other well and had good flavor.  We all enjoyed this one.

Turkey-Cranberry Strudel
Every Day With Rachael Ray, November 2008

7 tablespoons butter, 5 tablespoons melted
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 pound ground turkey
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon bread crumbs
6 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed

1.In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cranberries, thyme and 1/2 cup almonds and cook for 2 minutes; transfer to a bowl.

2.In the same skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the onion m mixture. Stir in the breadcrumbs; let cool.

3.On a work surface, lay out a sheet of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Place another sheet on top and brush with m ore butter. Repeat with the remaining phyllo and more melted butter.

4.Mound the turkey mixture lengthwise onto the center of the phyllo. Fold the short ends over the filling and brush with butter. Fold a long end over the filling, then loosely roll up the strudel to enclose. Transfer, seam side down, to a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with more butter and sprinkle with almonds. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.