Happy 2015/ Favorites from 2014

Paper Stars

Hi everyone! How were your holidays? We had some sickness, which was no fun, but all in all, it was great to spend time with family and to slow down for a bit.

I’m enjoying getting back into the swing of things, though. What about you? I thought I’d start off the year by cataloging some of my favorite things from last year. A few of them are things that were new in 2014, but most of them were just new to me. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of them.

Songs

“At the Beach” by the Avett Brothers

“Just You and Me” by Zee Avi

“The Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs

Podcast

Pop Culture Happy Hour

I think I’ve already talked about this to death—it’s an NPR podcast with pop culture critics sitting around and talking about new and old music, movies, TV and the like. It’s smart but not highfaluting, and it’s very, very funny. I listen to it every week.

(You can find this podcast and the songs on iTunes).

Television

Sure, we watch some network shows, but I figure you know about those already. Here are some you may not have tried:

Call the Midwife, on PBS or Netflix: based on the memoir of a 1950s midwife in London’s East End. She lives with Anglican nuns who are also midwives. The characters are just incredible.

Borgen As far as I know, this one’s only available via DVD. In a nutshell, it’s a Danish West Wing. The acting and writing are terrific, and again, fantastic characters. It’s in Danish with subtitles, so you definitely have to pay attention.

A Chef’s Life (currently airing on PBS)—I just found this one recently thanks to my mom (who also turned me on to Call the Midwife). I can’t tell you how excellent it is. It’s part documentary, part cooking show, part food history program. It follows Vivian Howard, a chef hailing from tiny Kinston, NC, as she and her husband run their high-end restaurant. But it’s more than that. Vivian visits all kinds of local folks who teach her about various aspects of southern cooking and farming. It is totally charming, never saccharine, often funny, and it even won a Peabody. And btw Vivan Howard and the producer, documentary filmmaker Cynthia Hill, are both UNC grads! (that’s where I went for undergrad in case you didn’t know)

Broadchurch via Netflix, a British seaside murder mystery. Beautiful, gut-wrenching, dark, and addictive. Great characters (hmmm…sense a theme?).

Bletchley Circle, again from Netflix, follows a group of British women who were code breakers in WWII. Now they’re reuniting to solve mysteries.

Also enjoyed the BBC miniseries version (with Gillian Anderson) of Bleak House, available via Netflix.

Books

These are all nonfiction, which seems to have been my theme for last year. I read a ton of memoirs and several history books.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first known serial killer

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart, a memoir about moving from the Soviet Union to New York in the early ’80s. Dark, funny, poignant.

My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss, a cooking memoir, complete with recipes, of a half Italian, half American woman who grew up moving back and forth between Berlin and the US. I laughed, I cried, I got super hungry.

Cookbooks

Once I found the Budget Bytes blog, I had to have her cookbook of the same name. It’s a great place for weeknight meal inspiration, and I love her simple-yet-interesting, less-meatarian approach. Many recipes are easily adaptable to be gluten-free if they aren’t already.

I’ve just started cooking out of the How Can It Be Gluten Free? Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. So far, I’m really impressed, and I’ll share some of our favorites soon.

I’m sure there are other things I’ll remember as soon as I wrap up this post, but for now, that’s what I can think of.

In case you’re wondering what’s happening with my writing, I’m still at it! I’m in the process of revising both my YA novel and my middle grade nonfiction book (not simultaneously but back and forth). It’s slow-going, which is why I don’t talk about it much, but I seem to be inching forward.

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Flourless Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Bars

Gluten Free Oatmeal Bar

So these came from Budget Bytes. They are the “Apricot-Walnut Bars,” but I used pecans and dried cherries since that was what I had on hand. They’re super easy, there’s very little added sugar, and I was able to use gluten-free oats—-triple win! My seven-year-old (who has gluten troubles) loves them, which is no small compliment. Recipe here.

You use mashed banana for sweetness and stick-together-ness, which means the bars taste a little like banana bread–yum! We eat them for snacks and sometimes for breakfast.

American friends, how was Thanksgiving? We enjoyed time with extended family down at the beach. Beforehand, the hubs and I got to spend a few days in Mexico (thanks, mom and dad for kid-watching!). The trip was great, but we got stuck an extra day, which was not the most fun. Fortunately we had lots of folks covering for us back home with the kiddos—-I’m eternally grateful.

Christmas is now descending upon me, and I feel only half-ready and half-remembering what it was I meant to do to prepare. I’m going to try to post some round-ups of favorite gifts to give. recipes, and simple crafts, so stay tuned. As usual, I’m spending most of my kids-in-school time working on my novel. Is it getting anywhere? I sincerely hope so!

For more posts on cooking and eating, click here.

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.

photo 3-001

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.

GF cookbook-001

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

Unconventional3-001

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?

Weeds into Toys

Arrowhead Weed toy

Hi again folks. What have you been up to? I hope it’s getting warm and green wherever you are.

Here in Charlotte it’s very warm now, too warm, but it’s been exciting to see all the flowers make an appearance, and inevitably, there are lots of weeds popping up, too. Lately I’ve been thinking about the things my friends and I used to do with various weeds when we were kids.

  • There was the weeds-into-pop-guns trick, pictured above (arrowhead weeds, I just learned they’re called).
  • Clover chains
  • Trying to make a grass blade whistle (okay, not weeds, but still counts)
  • Of course making a wish on dandelion heads

Know any others?

I’ve been so focused on my writing goals that I haven’t been doing a lot of crafts and (interesting) cooking, though I do have a few things l’d like to share in the coming weeks. Our last day of school is today, which means my schedule will be quite a bit different from here until the end of August.

I’ll try to be here as much as I can, but you may find me more frequently on Twitter and Instagram, since those are easy for quick snippets. My Twitter handle is @emilysmithpearc and I’m on Instagram as Emily Smith Pearce.

Good news! I reached the goals I set for myself with both my nonfiction and YA novel manuscripts. This is big. So much writing done this year, though it’s easy to wish I had gotten even more done.

Currently reading: The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger and The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson (both purchased at Park Road Books). Currently watching: Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black.

 

Horse Pinata

Horse Pinata

My daughter wanted a horse piñata* for her party, and I decided I wasn’t spending $25 for a tiny unfilled horse-shaped one from Party City. I thought I was making things simple by making a balloon-shaped pinata with a horse on it, but of course it all ended up taking a lot more effort than I realized.

Still, though, I loved the thing while it lasted. I started with the instructions here, but somewhere along the way I went off script and in the end, the mechanics didn’t really work. It was too heavy, and there was no way to hang it, so I wedged it into the v-shaped crux of our neighbor’s tree trunk. It worked, what can I say?

Drawing the horse on the balloon shape turned out to be the hardest part since I couldn’t see the whole animal at once and had to keep rolling it back and forth to look at the different parts. I followed the drawing guidelines in Sachiko Umoto’s Let’s Draw Cute Animals. Such a fun drawing book, btw, for kids or adults.

Speaking of drawing and painting, my new neighbor came over for the party with all her polish paraphernalia and painted nails for any of the girls who wanted it. Wow! There was also a round of Pass-the-Parcel and Tap-the-Pot. Lots o’ prizes.

My boy (6) has recently gotten turned on to reading via sister’s recommendation of early reader versions of The Boxcar Children. Mind you, not fabulous literature, but boy is it fun to see those “I love this book!” sparks fly. I always loved the Boxcar children myself.

Proud moment: he read while walking home from school. No injuries—I was right there with him and it was really just a moment until he finished the book he’d already started. I just ordered him several used Boxcar easy readers as an end-of-the-school-year present. And I’ll figure out some version of a similar gift for my daughter. We go to the public library a lot in the summer, but it’s always handy to have a large stash of used paperbacks for travels. Goodwill and the used bookstore are great for that. Anything to keep them feeling excited about reading, really. The school is doing a book exchange, too, so I’m hoping especially Little Miss will trade out some of her old fairy books or whatnot for some new-to-her stuff.

I’m still enjoying Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure and just bought a copy of The Divorce Papers, which I’ve been told is in the vein of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (which I love love loved). What’s on your summer reading list?

*Sorry, folks, neither WordPress nor my keyboard will let me type a proper ñ in my title text box.

 

 

 

Why May Is Like December

Tree Costume

Well hello again! I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. It’s been a very busy month with not much promise of getting less busy anytime soon. Is it the same for you? I’m betting yes.

I’ve decided that the end of April through May is really just December all over again, with better weather. All the end-of-year events, school testing, gift-buying obligations opportunities, etc. etc. etc. General nuttiness. With that in mind, I’m trying to give myself permission to buy some ready-to-eat meals, to not bargain-shop every last little thing, to split infinitives, and to volunteer at the school only sometimes and not for every single event.

That said, I do love the weather, the flowers coming up, the outdoor meals, and time with extended family. Our daughter also (10) had her theatrical debut in a full-length play at our church, which was so, so fun to see. My most recent sewing project was tree costumes for the play. In the rush I forgot to take a photo of the finished costumes, but the photo above gives you an idea of the look.

Meanwhile, I’ve been very serious about moving forward my nonfiction book and my YA novel. Nose still to grindstone! Both are going well, but I’ve got a few more goals to reach before school lets out. Wish me luck.

Currently reading Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart. Such an interesting and funny read with a quirky, wry voice that I love. It’s a memoir detailing the author’s move from the Soviet Union to the U.S. in 1978, when he was a child. Thanks, Christina, for the loan!

Also, listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour podcasts and now All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts.

If you’re a kidlit person, maybe you followed the uproar over the lack of diversity at BookCon and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that followed on Twitter and Tumblr. One of the coolest things to come out of it was a lot of buzz for a forthcoming book by Varian Johnson, The Great Greene Heist. Billed as Ocean’s Eleven meets middle grade, it sounds like such a fun read and *bonus* has a diverse cast of characters. So excited for Varian, who is a fellow Florence, SC native (though we’ve never met in person, only virtually). I’ve read one of his previous books (My Life as a Rhombus) and was very impressed. If you want to diversify your shelves, join the #greatgreenechallenge and pre-order Varian’s book from your local bookstore.

Hope to see you here again soon before long.