Arbor Day

April 26, 2014 at 8:46 pm (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

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Arbor DayP1010768 was yesterday.  It’s always a nice ending to all the Earth Day celebrations… recycling, going green, celebrating the earth, and then – oh yes, plant a tree.

Of course we had to celebrate in the woods.  So we took to the trails as usual and found our way to a lake.  It was pretty fun teaching the kiddo to read a map – she’s already had a lot of exposure via The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library book about maps.  Putting it into action was a little bit more work than listening to me read clever poetry though.

P1010786We found the lake, a dock, and a pavilion.  The kiddo painted and ate snacks, played with her homeschool buddy, and helped me pick dewberries. (Of course, little girls get distracted by pretty purple flowers.  There were a lot of pretty purple flowers.)

For those who aren’t from the area: dewberries are basically blackberries.  They look the same, taste the same, everything is about the same, they just grow on a vine-like plant (‘small trailing bramble’) that usually stays closer to the ground rather than the larger bush where you’d find blackberries.  They’re of the same genus of plant – Rubus – and taste great raw, cooked, or baked into pies or muffins.

Which is exactly what we did.

P1010801dewberry muffin mixdewberry muffins

Dewberry Muffins

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup vanilla extract

1 tsp. lemon extract

1 tsp. ground clove

1 quart freshly picked dewberries

Mix all ingredients well. Pour into muffin pans, bake for 30 minutes with the oven on 350.

If you can’t plant a tree, then plant any seeds you get your hands on.  Seeds are important.

So, after all the fun and excitement of yesterday, today we stayed indoors.  At Half Price Books…

We attended/ hosted another Half Price Books Humble event today.  It was seed driven and sponsored by the Mercer Arboretum volunteers.  Information about the Arboretum was shared with all the HPB customers, kids were given an opportunity to plant their own seed in little cups and take it home, and packets of free seeds were handed out.

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A Homemade Christmas

December 20, 2012 at 12:30 am (Recipes, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Homemade LifeTitle: A Homemade Life

Author: Molly Wizenberg

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 313 pages

It was the cover that got me first.  I saw a stack of these books and thought, those little white mugs look so lovely against that sage green.  Those crystal glasses look so clean.  I want my life to look like that; I need my life to look like that.

Of course, my kitchen life looks a little more like someone’s rummage sale: hodge-podge glasses; mugs of all shapes, sizes, and colors; I never have any idea what kind of utensils are in the kitchen as they have all been gifts, hand-me-downs, or left behind by various room mates.  (I couldn’t possibly imagine where my waffle iron came from, but it’s ancient, difficult to clean, and I love it.)  I say my ‘kitchen life’ as though it is only my kitchen that suffers from this unfashionably eclectic manner of acquiring my belongings, the truth is my whole life is this way.  The library is not the gorgeous leather bound, gold embossed on mahogany shelves thing of Beauty and the Beast or the Bodleian… instead it’s got some of those and a lot more ratty hard backs and tired old paperbacks, stacks, piles, a thousand different wood grains and colors, and pretty much a hot mess forgiven merely because it is a hot mess of books.  Even my cozy blankets have no continuity: quilts, afghans, fuzzy God-knows what kind; some made by old ladies, some by family, some just picked up at a thrift store, some from my childhood.

But it’s ok.  The cover is lovely and it gives us something to aspire to.  Even better than that, it isn’t fancy, it’s simple.  Molly Wizenberg may have a neat and organized life of homemade goodness, but it’s simple and easily attainable.  Her book isn’t about being the next Martha Stewart, and it isn’t about being a project obsessed Julie Powell, it’s just a cozy little recipe driven memoir – more than a memoir, actually.  Her book reads like little life essays, not life lessons, just life in the ‘and then I fell in love with coconut’ sort of way.  I like knowing these kinds of things about people… I don’t care about your degrees, your successes, your battle for this or for that, tell me how it was you fell in love with coconut.  Tell me your thoughts on white chocolate and all the memories those thoughts unleash.  Talk to me about rotten bananas and french toast, and what your parents were like in the kitchen.  Molly does.  And I love her for it.

Of course, if you bother to tell someone how you fell in love with coconut, your memories of the 80’s and white chocolate, your dad’s insights to making the best french toast on the planet, the moment you decided raw cabbage wasn’t half bad if prepared by the love of your life… you end up telling them about more than your food experiences, you basically tell them all the high and low points of your life, the parts that are way more personal than what degree you got in college.

Molly grew up in Oklahoma, being from Houston, TX, I don’t exactly consider that the south, but if you were from Montana I guess you probably would.  Nevertheless, reading something written by an Oklahoman during an 80 degree December feels a little more weather-mood appropriate than reading something written by, let’s say, a Canadian.  For a warm, southern winter, A Homemade Life perfectly fits the bill as it is all about the warmth of family in the kitchen, making a cozy way for yourself, and fabulous but mostly simple recipes… great for the holidays.  But only if those holidays are warmish, because there are several summer and spring recipes that would totally throw me off my game if it was snowing outside.  I’m a mood reader.  For me to enjoy a book to the max, the weather, the house, the book, and the stars all have to align.  Not entirely, I’m pretty good at getting completely lost in a book with absolutely no awareness of what is going on around me, but let’s face it, not everyone can write a 5 star book that doesn’t need ambiance guidance, and not every book is supposed to be read void of ambiance.

A Homemade Life is well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable, but it was written with the kitchen in mind.  I’ve read much of it at the kitchen table over coffee or soup.  Not every book is a coffee and soup at the kitchen table kind of book, but this one is.  This book has made me greatly long for a window seat in my kitchen.  The window seat would have a little garden box attached on the outside for all my kitchen herbs, I could open the pane and inhale the glorious scents of rosemary and green onions.  I don’t have that.  Instead, I read this sitting on a 30 year old, uneven chair with a rip in the leather, looking out the nearby window to my deck and tree.  It’s a great view, but when I open the pane I get a strong whiff of dog, ancient wood, moss, and whatever smell is coming from the water treatment plant in the back of my neighborhood that day.  My good days are in April when my jasmine masks all of that with vengeance.

But in my kitchen, I’m not just in my kitchen, I’m in Molly’s kitchen too.  I’m falling in love with her character of a father, lovingly referred to as Burg.  I’m living his grand moments, his love for breakfast and dinner, his love for his daughter, and his legacy after death.  In Molly’s kitchen I am introduced to her husband, their friends, and their exciting life together.  She shares all of this simply, eloquently, and with recipes.

In the spirit of recipe sharing, which in addition to being a lovely writer, is Molly’s forte, I will share a recent one of my own.  I used to do this more often, but lately I’ve been hoarding my recipes to myself and a few friends, not intentionally, my blog is just book driven and my facebook page is picture driven.  This recipe was birthed from a strong desire for Greek Chicken Orzo Soup and a simultaneous urge to hop in the car and get some Potato Soup from Panera Bread.  I can see your eyebrows raised in suspicion as I type, but I assure you, it came out pretty fabulously and I’ve since made about four variations of it.  I’m pretty lazy in the kitchen and this was all dumped in a crock pot…

Andi’s Greek/Potato Soup-ness:

1 can of cream style corn

1 can of whole kernal corn (optional, depending on the size of your pot)

1 can of water (I use the corn can and fill it with water)

1 chicken bullion cube

(in a vegetarian version we skipped the can of water and the chicken b. cube and used one can’s worth of vegetable broth)

a bit of milk (anywhere from a quarter cup to a whole can, depending on you and your pot)

mushrooms if you like, I’ve done it with and without

lots of chopped potato, just fill that pot up with as much as you can fit

celery, chopped… include the leafy bits, this is a must

and the part that makes it what it is… wait for it… ALL PURPOSE GREEK SEASONING, just shower it in over all those potatoes floating to the top, stir it up and shower some more.  Greek Seasoning is absolutely the most awesome ‘secret’ ingredient to a soup ever.  If you have an aversion to peppery flavors hold back, there’s a lot of black pepper in the flavor, but I have  a black pepper allergy and it didn’t cause me problems so that made me happy

Because I’m from Texas, I put Tobasco in everything

The first time I made this was shortly after Thanksgiving and I added left over chunks of Thanksgiving ham to it, it was heavenly.

After a few years of sitting on my shelf (this is pretty typical unless the book is sent to me by an author or publisher to review), I picked the book up for the HPB Humble Book Club, we will be discussing it in January.  I’m hoping the other members of the group enjoyed it as much as I have and maybe even tried out some of the recipes.  I still can’t decide which concoction to bring on the first Monday in January, but I plan to make something of Molly’s to celebrate the joy of a life homemade.

Don’t forget to check out Molly’s blog, the Orangette.

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A Quilting Event Gone Lovely

November 4, 2012 at 3:54 am (Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Quilts are such cozy, beautiful things.  Think of a quilt and immediately images of your favorite colors and patterns combine with aromas of cinnamon, ginger, coffee or cocoa, pine, and crisp air.  Think of a quilt, and you’ll usually imagine yourself in your favorite chair, maybe near a fireplace, in that old worn out sweater you’ve had for ages.  You’ll hear a fire cracking, winter birds chirping if it’s an early morning, the sounds of snoring pups or purring cats if it’s evening.

Take all that and put me in a bookstore or library, and man am I in heaven.

Then, just for good measure throw in the divine flavor of cake balls.

That’s a bit of what happened today in Half Price Books, Humble, with Melinda McGuire, Jo-Ann’s, and The Martin Epicurean. Well, all that minus the fires, bird chirps, dogs, and well, pretty much the rest of it. That part was all in my head.

Melinda McGuire is a Texas author who mainly writes southern historical fiction, but recently branched out and edited a quilting anthology called Rich Fabric. Today the Half Price Books in Humble had the pleasure of hosting her for a book signing where she sold and signed copies of the anthology whose profits will go to the Twilight Wish Foundation.

Many people are involved in the creation of this anthology. This book, Rich Fabric, focuses on the culture, tradition and symbolism of quilting with both historic accounts and modern stories.  McGuire, handpicked the contributors, and they have come together to create an anthology full of vibrant stories, poignant memoirs, beautiful photographs and touching quotes.

Customers who purchased the book (or any home arts title in Half Price Books) during the signing were eligible to enter a raffle for a gift basket full of quilting supplies that was donated to the event by Jo-Ann Fabrics and Craft Stores. The lucky winner, Doris, went home with quite a treat!

Speaking of treats! The Martin Epicurean catered the entire event and served the most delicious cake balls you could imagine. Chocolate were available, but I repeatedly devoured the delightful rich flavors in the vanilla desserts. They were a bit of Heaven in a baked good, I assure you.

Be sure to stop in the store as often as possible, you never know what might be happening! But, if you do want to plan your trips in advance visit the store’s website: http://www.hpb.com/074.html

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Gift Ideas for the Masses

November 30, 2009 at 8:02 pm (The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Half Price Books has these fabulous little polar bear reuseable bags for $1.98 and all these cool odds and ends (like cards and calendars) to go with them.  My idea: buy the bag and stuff it with goodies and put a big matching bow on the top.  You’ll probably save lots of money (only buy one bag per person on your list) and you wont have to wrap a thing.

What I plan to do with the bags I buy (shhh, don’t tell my friends and family – good thing they don’t read this!):

Find a book at Half Price that you think they might enjoy, its Half Price – so it wont cost you much!  Find a movie to match the theme of the book.  Ie: if you buy them a copy of Atonement by Ian McEwan, buy them the movie with Kiera Knightley as well!; if you buy them a Civil War Coffee Table book, get them a documentary too!   For kids, maybe get books that have Polar Bears in the story or on the cover: Pullman’s The Golden Compass series and maybe the movie to go with.  Obviously, there’s still space in these reuseable bags.  Bake some cookies, fudge, or candies (don’t know how, I bet Half Price or Amazon has a book on that too!).  You might also want to add a small bit of artwork from Bryan Collins, he has small easily frameable prints for sale at bryandrinkscoffee.com.  This will make these gift bags more personalized and family friendly – and you’ll still save lots!

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