What’s On the Nightstand: Fall 2014 Edition

Recent Reads: Books

What have you been reading? I’ve always got several books going at once, and let’s be honest, they don’t stay on the nightstand, so every night I’m frantically looking for the three I want at the moment.

First up, we have The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but so far, it’s very funny, and I’m impressed by the intricate world Udall has created and all the many characters and their complexity.

Next, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I can’t remember if this was a random book I picked out or if it was recommended by a friend, but it’s a goodie I turn to again and again. It has some excellent writing exercises, which I need, because lately I’m feeling a bit depleted creatively.

On to Budget Bytes by Beth Moncel, which you may remember me mentioning before. It’s a good, solid, weeknight cookbook with lots of fresh ideas. Simple but never boring. Currently loving the chipotle black beans, which are quick enough to make myself for lunch. The author also has an excellent blog.

Next: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? which I borrowed from my friend Susan.

This may be my favorite book of the year. By Roz Chast, of New Yorker cartoon fame, it’s the story of the slow descent of her elderly parents. It’s told in handwritten journal-like entries plus cartoons, drawings, and photographs. The story is laugh-out-loud hysterical (yes, I know, sounds strange, but it works) but also sad, poignant, and above all, deeply human. It makes me want to write a cartoon journal book. Think I may have to read it again.

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Under that, The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. I’m just getting into this book, but I really like the way it’s set up and the extensive research that goes into each recipe. The folks behind it test everything to death and make sure it works.

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It includes a DIY gluten-free flour mix (my other go-to GF cookbook does this as well). The hubs made me a gorgeous and delicious apple pie using said flour mix and cookbook. See?

Gluten-Free Apple Pie

Next: Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe

This book kept popping up on quilting and crafting blogs, and I just had to have it (thanks, mom and dad!). It is so completely gorgeous I can’t even tell you. The collection features my favorite kinds of quilts—-improvised, imperfect, and made with the materials at hand.

book

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Unconventional4-001

And finally, we have Williams-Sonoma’s Cooking Together. Sometimes kids’ cookbooks seem to be more about making cute things out of candy and junk food than about real food. This one has a really nice range of recipes and lovely photographs to help kids envision what they might like to cook. My kids like to sit and plan—-but, confession, we haven’t actually made anything out of the book yet. I’m expecting good things, though, because our other Williams-Sonoma books are solid.

Btw, for kids interested in cooking, Chop Chop is another excellent resource for kid-friendly yet healthy, not-intimidating recipes.

Also, just finished Gone,Girl——totally worth a read if you haven’t yet. Can’t waaaaait to see the movie!

Low-Sew Halloween

It’s time for the yearly round-up of costumes, in case you need some ideas. What are you dressing up as? Last year, I was the Prancercise Lady, but it’s going to be hard to top that one. The kids want to be a diva (10 year old) and a bald eagle (7 year old). We’ll probably get started on costumes this week. This always starts with a trip to the thrift store. Our costumes are of the slapdash variety—-altered rather than sewn from scratch, with not too much (okay, almost no) emphasis on perfection.

Here are a few from years past:

Fireman Costume

Fireman

Turtle Costume Front

Turtle Costume

Green Ninjago Costume

Ninja (Ninjago)

Anastasia costume

Anastasia Romanov (Russian princess)

Knight Costume

Knight Tunic and Helmet

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Princess

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Marco Polo

So glad to get my copy of the Budget Bytes cookbook the other day. If you haven’t yet discovered the Budget Bytes blog, you’re in for a treat. The recipes are on the simple side—weeknight friendly, for the most part, but not boring in the least. As the title suggests, the recipes are wallet-wise, but beyond that, they’re just appealing, and in many cases, less-meatarian, which I love. Also many are gluten-free or easily adaptable to GF. I checked the book out from the library and liked it so much I had to buy my own.

Discovered another new-to-me podcast for children’s and YA lit enthusiasts. It’s called First Draft, and it’s interviews Sarah Enni conducted with authors during a cross-country road trip. Good stuff, food for thought.

What about you? Discover anything good lately?

Blueberry Oatmeal Cobbler

Gluten Free Blueberry Cobbler

Hello readers! I’m sorry to have been M.I.A. I’ve been writing and sewing and all that good stuff, and hopefully I can share more about that soon.

In the meantime, here’s a dessert I made recently that was a big hit.

I like to go to pick-your-own farms, especially for apples, but since we couldn’t find a functioning apple farm, we went blueberry picking while in Western North Carolina over Labor Day. It was the end of the season—-slim pickin’s for sure—but still, the berries were delicious. We found the berry patch tucked in the hills. It had just rained, but the sun had come out, and though wet, it was such a gorgeous little spot.

I had planned to make a gluten-free blueberry pie from this book, but I ran out of energy for crust-making and just made the filling along with a half recipe of baked oatmeal. I then combined the two, and voila—blueberry cobbler sans gluten.

It had almost more of a pudding/ cake-like texture that was really lovely. The filling has the most surprising and wonderful secret ingredient: grated Granny Smith apple. Filling recipe here. At the time I actually didn’t have the tapioca, and it worked fine without it.

Baked oatmeal recipe here. I used gluten-free oats, halved the recipe, added some extra liquid, and did not soak overnight since I was in a hurry. When it was cooked, I roughly layered the still-warm filling with the baked oatmeal and baked (350, maybe?) until bubbly—not that long, maybe 10 minutes, tops.

Have you been reading anything good lately? I’ve been on such a memoir and nonfiction kick that I’m a bit worn out from it and have just started a novel called The Lonely Polygamist. So far, it’s hilarious.

On TV, loving the BBC’s Foyle’s War (WWII murder mystery) via netflix, and Borgen on DVD. Borgen is a Danish political drama featuring a female prime minister. Very smart and engaging, though it’s impossible to multitask while watching (due to subtitles and fast pacing).

Found a new podcast for writers: Narrative Breakdown with Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein. Really good, meaty stuff. Also found a mention of my easy reader, Slowpoke, in Books that Teach Kids How to Write by Marianne Saccardi. The author uses Slowpoke as an example showing kids how to slow down and notice the details they need to enrich their writing. Fun, eh? I’m honored.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a couple of quilts, but they’re slow-going. Nothing exciting to report. What’s new with you?

Harissa/ Hot Sauce

Soaking Chiles

In my continuing quest to recreate the Kurdish/ Turkish food I came to love while in Germany (more on that here and here), my latest cooking adventure was making hot sauce (harissa) to go with my falafel.

Evidently it’s possible to buy harissa at least a couple of places here in Charlotte, but once I found this recipe, I felt I really had to make it myself.

Basically you’re soaking dried chiles (minus seeds), then blending with garlic, lemon juice, spices, and oil. It’s not quite the same as what they served at my imbiss in Hannover, but wow, I do not care. It is OFF the hook! I’d eat it on green beans, corn on the cob, broccoli, oatmeal—–okay, maybe not oatmeal.

The recipe is not really all that hot (as a person who is usually happy with medium hotness salsas and sauces), but the flavor complexity is INSANE.

Harissa

I was short on lemons but long on limes, so I used lime juice. Also, the recipe calls for New Mexico chiles, but I had what I think were ancho chiles, so I used those instead.

The picture below of falafel with peppers and harissa also stars tahini sauce, this time made with lime juice and coconut milk, which was soooooo fantastic. The original recipe is in Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (the coconut variation is a suggestion of his). A similar recipe is here.

Speaking of which, it’s snack time and there are leftovers in the fridge. See ya!

For more food and cooking posts, click here

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Scrap Quilting with a Seven-Year-Old

Scrap Quilt

I actually have three patchwork projects going now. Yes, three. Yes, I have a problem.

Hopefully more about the others soon. But this one started in the most irresistible way. I was making a bed cover for my daughter (10) when my son (7) declared he wanted a quilt, too. I told him he could look at some of my quilting books for inspiration, and he sat down and thumbed through them. He liked the Gee’s Bend book the best (is this kid good at getting brownie points or what? Gee’s Bend is my inspiration for all things quilty). Then he set about arranging my scraps into patterns.

Scrap Quilt 2

It’s been so fun to see what he comes up with. He’s very particular. Also fun to see what surprises come together as the patchwork grows. The way the deep orange pops, the way the blues and greens begin to blend together, the way the prints dance and change character according to their placement and size.

Scrap Quilt

All of these fabrics have a story. They’re bits from friends and family or pieces of other projects, some reeeeeally old.

Scrap Quilt

He seems to want it to be a lap quilt. For more of my patchwork projects, click here.

Finished Call the Midwife (the book). It was very good. I especially love the stories about the nuns. Fascinating people.

 

Spicy Black Bean Burgers

Black Bean Burger

I’d been wanting to try these for a long time but never got around to it until last week. There were a few mishaps, but all in all, I was psyched about how they turned out, despite their less-than-photogenic looks. They even got the hubs stamp of approval—-as in, he not only ate them without complaint (he pretty much always does that) but says he’d like me to make them again. He even chose them leftover the next day instead of grilled chicken.

The recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Here’s the original recipe. I’ve cooked a lot, lot, lot from this book. Check out my archives if you want to see more posts about food and cooking.

1 can black beans, drained

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (I used gluten-free)

1 TB chili powder

1 garlic clove

a generous squirt of Sriracha sauce

a nice blob o’ ketchup

3 pickled jalapeno slices

Pulse everything just a little, not a lot, in the food processor. I accidentally left out the egg, but it didn’t seem to matter much, so I doubt I’d add it back in. I also goofed and blended the ingredients too long.

After processing, let it all rest a few minutes.

Form into patties and chill in the fridge for a little while.

Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium, add oil, then brown the patties on one side, then the other.

The next bit was tricky for me. The burgers actually had to be cooked a long, long time to get the right texture. You want the texture to be kind of burger-like. The right kind of chew, not mushy and damp.Maybe I had trouble because I added too much moisture and pulsed the ingredients too long. I don’t know. I may try browning and then baking next time.

What I ended up doing was just turning the heat down to low and cooking them forever very slowly so as not to burn them. I was afraid the whole experiment would be a wash, but lo and behold, they turned out very well in the end.

I didn’t think they were more than mildly spicy, but my daughter (who likes to remind me that children have more taste buds) said the spice factor was too much for her. I hadn’t expected the kids to flock toward bean burgers anyway and had made them turkey burgers instead.

You could totally crank the spice factor up or down. These are definitely going into the rotation.

If you want more detail about all kinds of tips and variations, do check out the original recipe.

I’ve been reading Jennifer Worth’s memoir, Call the Midwife, since I love the show so much. I was surprised that the show actually follows the memoir fairly closely. I’ve been watching old episodes of Foyle’s War, a British WWII detective show. Also tried Outlander (no, I’ve never read the books) and The Knick. I’m definitely on a mostly British historical kick. Not sure what I think of those shows yet. You?

Also doing some patchwork, some of which I hope to show you soon.

Death by Dessert, or How to Watch the World Cup On the Border

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We became pretty solid soccer fans while living in Germany, especially around World Cup time, so on our recent return trip, we were psyched to watch games with our German friends.

For the U.S. v. Germany game, though, we were on our own in France. We planned the whole evening around the game, which aired at 6 p.m. in that time zone.

It was also the only night we could eat at the local Michelin-starred restaurant—and the night they serve a very reasonable prix-fixe menu. So we made a late reservation to fit in both, planning to watch the game at our B & B.

Gourmet Salad

We’d biked 15 miles that day (a lot for us), and I planned to take a shower during half time.

One big problem. After the pre-game commentator chatter, the screen went blank with a message that said something like: “This game is not authorized to be shown in this region.” We flipped around, hoping another station would carry it, but the only game on was the other World Cup match happening at the same time.

Luckily, we were staying right near the German border, so I took a 3 minute shower, hopped into a dress, and we loaded up and drove to the ferry to cross the Rhine. On the other side, my husband knocked on restaurant doors until we found one with public viewing in its little bar area.

The one long table was full of retiree-aged tennis table club members, and the only free seats were at the front with a mustachioed man who’d already had a few too many beers.

He was friendly, though, and when he found out we were American, he told us over and over how much he loved Americans and how the best possible outcome for the game would be a 1-1 tie. He reminded us many times (a few too many) that the German coach and the American team coach (also German) were best friends and how they would both want this.

If you were watching, too, you know the Americans actually lost 0-1. We were disappointed, but after the game, everyone (except the kids) was treated to house-made pear Schnapps while the table tennis team sang the German victory song (is there a name for this?). Everyone was very friendly, and when it was over, we thanked our hosts and dashed back across the river to make our 8:30 reservation.

The restaurant was lovely, with a view to a garden and a stream. The noise level was nearly silent, but our kids were completely awesome and went with the flow.

We opted for the prix-fixe menu and added on the “Festival of Desserts,” which sounded perfect. We envisioned a dessert sampler.

First course (salad above) was great, second course (some kind of meat pie) was amazing. Meanwhile the service was first-rate. Our hostess made sure to graciously inform us when we were missing something, i.e. “You can actually eat those flowers,” and, “Those table decorations are actually pretzels” (in the first photo, the rock-looking things behind the ceramic elves).

Here’s the cheese table, from which we could choose what we liked.

Cheese Course

And then the desserts started. First, a platter of teeny tiny cookies of many kinds. Then, a pastry with gelato. Another pastry with gelato. Another….we were losing count.

French dessert

Surely the cookies had counted as dessert #1. There were supposed to be five desserts in total. Surely the gelato counted for one and the pastry counted for another, right? Wrong. The desserts kept coming, and we slowed down so much that we started getting two at once. The cookies hadn’t even counted as part of the five.

Gourmet dessert

Not only that, but the kids had gotten (included) a dessert of their own, so they couldn’t help us out so much. Still, we were determined to do our duty and eat every bite. On top of the five desserts + cookies + cheese course, there was a tiny truffle course where we could choose our own adventure. How could we say no?

At one point I said, “If they bring another dessert, I’m going to cry,” and we all started laughing, on the verge of breaking the Code of Near-Silence.

Finally we ate our way through the last plate, now having finished enough dessert for about ten people. The last plate was probably my favorite, some kind of cherry cake (pictured above). We rolled out, giggling to ourselves.

My son said the other day, “Let’s never take the circus of desserts next time.” Amen. Maybe just 1/10 of it.

Below is a picture of one of the children’s desserts.

Ice Cream Rabbit

And in case you’re wondering yes, I threw the whole gluten-free eating thing out the window that week. I paid for it the next week, but it was well worth it!