Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 2015 Favorites!

Ohmygosh. My mouth just waters beginning to write this post, because I love donuts. No,really. 
I LOVE donuts.


and even when I am practicing my Spanish:

This has become the treat I ask for every year on my birthday: one, maybe two donuts. Those of you who know me in person know that I regularly say that I am not a sweets person. And I'm not. BUT donuts are my kryptonite. Well, they do make me weak, but I don't indulge very often. Just like my cinnamon rolls that I only make for Christmas morning and the caramel rolls I make for Easter morning, I like to keep my donut noshing memorable, so my indulgences are few and far between.

Keeping those indulgences few and far between got a lot easier when I gave up dairy in 2005. In fact, they pretty much disappeared altogether. It is not easy to find a good, vegan donut. I'm not talking cake donuts. Vegan cake is very easy to make and shaping it into a donut shape is not hard. No, I'm talking about the classic, bakery donut. What do you call that kind anyway? But you know the one of Krispy Kreme fame and the like.

But then my friend, Liz, introduced me to Glam Doll Donuts in Minneapolis last summer and they are so, so, so, SO good!!! Perfect donuts. 

And not just one choice for us vegans (though they carry non-vegan donuts too). They had at least 8 varieties a couple of weeks ago when Paul and I went there after church.

Look. I couldn't even wait to take the picture before I started eating it! I remembered halfway through and so I have this pitiful picture of my delicious chocolate covered, vanilla-bean custard filled piece of heaven.

One of my summer "bucket list" type plans is to ride my bike over there and reward myself with this delicious prize! It's a 15 mile, 1.5 hour ride. I would probably eat all the calories I'd burned just getting there. If I actually rode back home I might have actually accomplished something! We'll see...

The next favorite this month is not delicious to me, but it is to one of our cats. Charlotte has terrible digestion troubles and it's gotten to the point that she has trouble with anything that has any grain in it at all. I think chicken may actually be a problem for her too. 

I'm so thankful that cat food companies have wised up to begin providing choices without grain in the food so that I could avoid paying a visit to a local butcher. Bleh. Even that word, "butcher" is just a little too onomotopoetic for me.

These little packages aren't cheap, but she can keep them down and recently I got them on sale, 10 for a $10, so I bought 20. They are convenient and she likes them. I honestly don't know if our cat's situation is just digestive or is something worse (we've taken her to the vet for blood work and a few other tests that came back normal and beyond doing some invasive surgery to search for cancer, we just have to keep trying what we can), but this food is something that makes her happy and seems to be helping somewhat, so it makes my "favorite's" list for the month!

Now this is more like it! I had the Mint Chocolate variety here at home that I bought from Target a while back. Maia went online to the Harney & Sons site, though, and this delightful tea came in the mail a few days later with two others she ordered. This is the one that smelled the most intriguing and yummy to me though, so this is the one I tried and it's so, SO good. On their website they describe it as, " a fruity black tea with vanilla and caramel flavors, and a hint of lemony Bergamot." Yes! Try some; you won't be sorry!

Finally, here's something not involving food for people, animals, or otherwise.

It's my new ride!

It's still been a bit yucky outside for my taste to ride, but as soon as things warm up a bit more, I'm going to be on it! I'm so excited!

This great guy is my brother-in-law and he knows bikes.

He took me around to some local, used bike shops. We started and ended here at Cycles for Change which is a not-for-profit shop in St. Paul that has a powerful mission and vision for the community:

Mission: to build a diverse and empowered community of bicyclists
Vision: Cycles for Change envisions a Twin Cities region where:
  • Everyone has access to a bicycle and the tools and knowledge to ride safely and confidently
  • Bicycling has transformed the streets and paths of the Twin Cities into places where everyone feels safe and connected to their community
  • Bicycle-friendly communities make jobs, education, and economic mobility available to all
  • Bicycling helps people live healthy, empowered lives
  • Racial and gender equity is a cornerstone of our transportation system
See more of what they are about HERE.  

Well, that's it! What a fast and fun month it has been! On to warmer weather which = more bike rides which = longer bike rides which = well, you know... donuts!

Monday, March 30, 2015

March Reads 2015

 Good Monday morning to you! I can hardly believe that it's almost time to flip the calendar page again. Is that what happens throughout the year here in the Upper Midwest- the year starts out slow just like an engine trying to start in the cold and then picks up speed the warmer it gets? Well, nevertheless, here we are and here I am again sharing my monthly reads with you.

Here is one that everyone is reading! How rare it is for me to read a hot book when it is actually hot! :) If all the bandwagon "tidying up" videos on YouTube are any indication, this book really is life-changing, at least for a season. I do believe that Kondo has some excellent advice in this book and actually, I plan to put some of her decluttering advice into practice when I am on break this summer. In a nutshell, Kondo advises her clients and the reader, to look at each item in your home, hold it in your hand, and see if it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, it should be tossed or donated. She also claims that she has no repeat clients and that once her clients tidy up (she advocates a huge, once-and-for-all, tidy-up approach), they never need her services again, because they never go back to living how they once did.

That sounds so harsh and Kondo really is pretty ruthless. But she asks the reader to consider that if an item no longer sparks joy - even if it was expensive at one time, even if it was given to you as a gift, even if it was something passed down to you - it has already served it's purpose. You received what the item gave you at that time, but you don't have to hold on to it forever if it no longer serves that purpose in your life. This is what makes her book so unique, I think, and why it has become so popular. It's a fresh take on an old idea of simply cleaning up.

I am someone who regularly purges things and keeps a generally neat house, but I know I still have things tucked here and there that I just don't look at and just take up space in my house because I simply don't deal with them. I know that when I undertake to approach tidying up this June using her method, it is going to be a large undertaking. I am trying to get mentally prepared! :)

This is a quirky book and Kondo is a bit repetitive, but the message is good, thorough, and powerful. It will get you to think. And it may even get you to tidy up.

Goodreads rating: 5 stars

I was so moved by this book that I couldn't wait to write a review of it here. I felt I ought to thank Charles Dickens by writing exactly what was on my heart the minute I finished reading this work that I had attempted a few times in the past and finally conquered! After rereading the final paragraphs three or four times over, I shared my thoughts on Goodreads:

"So, I "read" this in high school, meaning that I am sure I paid attention in class discussions enough to do well, in combination with Cliff Notes, to do well on my tests. I knew of the circumstances of the ending. Since that time, I have tried, on a few occasions to read it - really read it - for myself, as I now adore Charles Dickens. He may, in fact, be my favorite writer of all time. Up to this writing he has been and to this writing he remains.

I have always had difficulty with the beginning of the book in which so much convoluted information is tossed around with Dickens' masterful vocabulary and allusion that I would never get past it in previous attempts. This time I started with an audiobook, which actually was not helpful. Then, I took to reading it aloud to my daughter to whom I was reading this for our home school. This is what we have done with all of Dickens that we have enjoyed so much together over the years; it has proven fruitful and this book was no different.

I was surprised that I cried as I neared the end. I knew the conclusion, but I cried nonetheless: for the story and the characters, for the aching beauty of Dickens' writing and the gift he was to all of us, and for the depths of depravity to which man can sink over and over again, born out of the seed of oppression.

Highly recommended"

Upon further reflection (instead of the emotional high I was on when I wrote the review!), one of the things I love about this book is that despite this being a novel written in the Gothic style without a happy ending all tied up with a bow, Dickens still manages to give the reader an enormous sense of hope that still lifts the spirit, despite the pain.

Yet another 5 stars to my beloved, Charles Dickens.

I read about half of this not because it wasn't good, but because it is already something I practice and so I wasn't really learning anything new. Ultimately, the author talks about eating quality food of all kinds, but just eating smaller amounts of it.

I would recommend this if you feel restricted by a diet plan, if you feel deprived in your eating and you don't want to live on a restricted diet the rest of your life.  The French are known for their appreciation of quality ingredients, so if you're looking for inspiration to eat well, this might be the ticket. There's no magic bullet here, though. It's still basic math of calories in vs. calories out. You need to exercise and watch what you eat. Have the chocolate cake, but only a few bites worth. If you incorporate exercise into your daily life (walking or biking places, for example), you won't need to spend as much time at the gym.

Francophiles will enjoy this book.

Goodreads rating: 3 stars

This is the teaser on the book that got me to read this one:

"Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew..."

Then I learned that this book is being released as a movie this summer. Fun! I really enjoyed this book. It made me laugh during the first half so that I came to care enough about the characters to want to find out what happens to them when the book got a little sluggish in a couple of points in the middle. The book picks up again though and Green gives us a satisfying ending. There is some lovely imagery here and a number of themes that will get you thinking. I thought about these characters for days. I didn't like them all, but I thought about them and that's always a win for me.

Goodreads rating: 5 stars

Meh. I'm just not the demographic for this book, despite being a homemaker who knits! Oh, and I blog, which is what Matchar writes about too.  :) But just how my parents were born juuuuust before the Baby Boom generation, I too was born juuuuust before this group of women who are taking their lives at home and photographing and polishing and styling them so brilliantly on social media that it's almost as if they're all actually living inside of a magazine. I read about half and skimmed a bit of the rest. She shares some statistics about this "movement" that are interesting, just not interesting enough for me to want to finish it.

Goodreads rating: 2 stars

I mentioned this book in my post about cooking from my cookbooks. I went ahead and purchased this book, because I've seen enough in here to pique my interest that I knew I needed to have this around longer than the library loan would allow. I've made 4 recipes from this cookbook: one was a flop, one needed improvement (my family sat at the table making suggestions of what needed to be added), and two have turned out nicely and I'll make them again. There many, many more recipes in here that I want to try and thanks to the recipes that turned out, I'm hopeful, because having a variety of slow cooker meals to choose from is a pretty wonderful thing.

Goodreads rating: 3 stars

Even though Susan Spungen didn't solve my space problem, she had a number of clever ideas in this book. She has a number of helpful checklists so you don't forget anything for your event, such as helpful items to bring on a picnic, for example. There are a lot of great photographs here which wasn't something I was expecting. I think my favorite things in here were the desserts that you can assemble at your party. I need to copy a list of those!

Here is the review I wrote on Goodreads:

"Excellent ideas for all kinds of hosting. Much of the book is a bit more grand in scale than what I would do, but Spungen really covers all kinds of occasions from the gala to the wedding to the picnic. A great resource!"

Goodreads rating: 4 stars

My thoughts on Goodreads were as follows:

"Hardly anything new here. A good idea or two, but mostly pretentious snobbery. Redundant terms there, but there is enough of it for both!"

Ugh. I realize that much of this is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but after a while it just gets old and mean and ugly. 

Goodreads rating: 2 stars

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Blessed Palm Sunday to You!

"They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He went along, people spread their cloaks on the road."

"When He came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.

'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!' 

'I tell you,' He replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'"

Friday, March 27, 2015

About Towns :: March 27, 2015

Can you believe we went from this:

to this:


Par for the course in Minnesota though. Yes, buds are wanting to bloom around here, but we always end up with some lingering snowy days before we go all glowy-green around here.

Thankfully, it's mostly acting like spring around these parts which means that this lovely display was actually gone by the afternoon and all the salt spray on my car got washed away by the snow melt.

Remember how I went bike shopping last weekend? Well, I did find a bicycle that I'm hoping will transform my life! Okay... maybe not my life, but at least my riding.

Last spring I hoped for big biking adventures. But my cruiser bike with only a single speed just doesn't lend itself to the terrain around here. And then my dad suffered sudden, complete hearing loss and the whole nature of my summer shifted to helping him get the help he needed (he now has a cochlear implant, by the way, and is hearing again in a whole new way!).

So, this year I'm trying again and we'll see. I have some plans in the works that I'll share in the coming weeks and I hope that I will be able to add to this series from the vantage point of my bike.

In the meantime we're still waiting for Mother Nature to make up her mind and just go ahead and bloom into spring. Apparently, though, we'll be needing our socks just a little while longer!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Please Allow Me to Introduce You: "The Vegan Version"

And speaking of Julie and Julia, we watched it again last week. It was the first time my girls had seen it and it was so fun to share it with them. What a good movie! I don't know if Julia Child was as exuberant about life as Meryl Streep was in portraying her, but her portrayal is something I aspire to!

And the period costumes in the movie were so great. Julia was such a lady!

In Monday's post I discussed how I am going to focus on cooking from my cookbooks. I mentioned that I don't plan to cook one recipe from one book the way that Julie Powell did for her book and movie, but someone I know is doing just that. As a matter of fact, Teresa is using Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking too, but she is making each recipe vegan!

I have been blog friends with Teresa for a few years now, but I had missed that she had started this blog called, "The Vegan Version". Her blog is really helpful and she shares a lot of pictures of her process along the way. She is a creative cook!

Oh, if only I had the time to peruse all that she has done already! I am certainly tempted to try some. That may be another summertime project. In the meantime, you all can have a go. Or at least have a look! There is much to discover over there; enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cooking From My Cookbooks

Do you have a shelf like this at home? Actually I am aware that many of you have probably have more than one shelf like this, right? I do have a few other cookbooks in another cabinet, books that I use more rarely. But I already know what Marie Kondo would have to say about that and I have a feeling that those books are going to get tossed this summer when I am on break from school. A whirl of decluttering is coming soon folks! But let's not get ahead of ourselves....

I had a few weeks there when my older daughter was still looking for another job when I had her cooking two nights a week, my other daughter cooking one, and I took the remaining two. I haven't cooked on the weekends in a few years unless I want to. For all of you readers with little ones, hang in there; your children do grow up and they can begin making you supper too! :)

But now Maia is back to work and her hours are right during the dinner hour. I still have given her one evening to cook, but if she's at work, then I take it. So that puts me back to at least 3 and sometimes 4 nights a week. It's okay, though the break was nice!

For the most part I enjoy being in the kitchen. It is not my hobby or passion like it is for others, but when I don't have to be rushed, it can be very centering.

To keep things interesting for me I like to incorporate new recipes as I'm sure most of us do. When the schedule gets really busy, I find myself falling back on the tried-and-true. That's usually alright because I have collected a number of these recipes over the years for a pretty good balance of variety. But I begin to feel in a rut if I use them too long. It's not that the food doesn't taste good. I mean, they are tried-and-true for a reason! But if there are no culinary surprises for me, I begin to lose interest.

So, this year I have been doing a pretty good job with staying on track of a goal I've set for myself of trying one new recipe each week. There is risk involved in this of course, because no one likes a flop. I don't think anything new that I've tried thus far has been a complete disaster, but a few have definitely fallen into the -"Well, that was okay, but let's not have it again!" - category.

I recently had this book Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson out from the library. We tried a couple of so-so recipes from it but I also made a good one. But there were so many that looked worth trying that I went ahead and purchased my own copy. When I put it up on my shelf I realized that I have another book of hers sitting there that I purchased last year, 1,000 Vegan Recipes, from which I've only made a very few recipes!

Do you do this too? Do you see a lovely cookbook, imagine making some of the great dishes from it, purchase it, cook from it once or twice and then... move on? There are so many amazing recipes out there on the Internet. I have a wonderful Pinterest board chock full of terrific, vegan recipes that I call "Vegan Deliciousness" and I have a recipe file in my Evernote files. AND I have some old magazines and collected clippings from magazines that I have tried or intended to try, but have not. I don't think of myself as a collector, generally speaking, but I don't think I can say that honestly. I am a collector of ideas and I can see how easy it is to become overrun.

So, while I'm not going to stop pinning good ideas and I may even use a few of those pinned recipes, I am going to actually use my cookbooks at least once-a-week. Isn't that a novel idea? :) That will mean that if I can only get to one new recipe during the week, then it should be from one of my cookbooks. If I want to try something else new, I can take it from somewhere else, but the cookbook comes first. I am going to try this for the remainder of March and on through the month of April. Honestly, I know I could do this for years and still not get to every recipe, but I have to start somewhere. Giving myself some boundaries is actually something I like to do and I always see it as a little adventure. Limiting oneself often produces interesting results. Artists of all kinds do this; Redwork and Blackwork in embroidery is stunning, and Picasso had his "Blue Period", for example.

I know that I am missing out on some great new dishes by being so distracted by all the new and shiny that shows up in my feeds each week. I mean, in one book alone on my shelf there are a thousand recipes to choose from! So, while I'm not going to try every recipe from one book, a la Julie and Julia, I am going to use what I've got that is sitting on that one, little shelf.

Do you have a favorite cookbook from which you have made many dishes? Or do you have many cookbooks from which you have made a few?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Celebrate Spring!

Hello and happy spring to you! Oh, the turning of the promise to this glorious season! You just can't beat it. :) Do you have any special plans?

I have employed the services of my trusty (and wonderful) brother-in-law to take me shopping for a bicycle tomorrow!

I have ridden and loved my cruiser since I got it for my 30th birthday 16 years ago. But that was when I lived in much flatter Minneapolis. Florida is flat as a pancake too and the cruiser was fine there as well. But now I live near the mighty Mississippi and we have hills all around that direct our course down to that fair waterway. So, I am in need of something with gears and speeds if I want to ride regularly, which I do!

The remains of my Christmas gift money will go farther if I find something used. Cute or pretty would be most welcome, but it is not at the top of my priority list. This is why I am bringing the bike expert along with me.

Martha Stewart featured her own bike expert on her channel the other day and (if you can get beyond the annoyance of Martha continually interrupting her guest) they share some great tips for a wonderful season of riding.

The one thing I would like to learn that would help me to feel more secure when I am out and about on my bike is to learn how to change a flat tire. Thankfully, I've never been in that situation, but wanting to ride more, I don't think it is something I will be able to avoid forever!

We are warmer this spring than we have been since the unusually warm spring of 2012 when we moved back here from Florida. Still, our trees will not be blooming like these photos until May for certain.

Do you have any special plans to usher in this season of delicate beauty?

Images 1, 2, 3, 4

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hosting in the Step-Aside Kitchen

 Here you can kind of see the distance between my working counter space and my dining table.

 I want to have more people over for dinner. I'd actually like to host a dinner party one of these days. But here's the thing: my kitchen is the "Step-Aside" kitchen. That was the name I gave it shortly after moving in, because it is true. If more than one person is standing in the kitchen area or dining area at one time, you very quickly ending up asking them, "Could you move please?" or "Step aside, just a second," or "Can I get in there for just a moment?"

I knew this when I moved in. In fact, my husband even said to me, "Are you sure?? The kitchen is awfully small...." But I was so smitten with my little cottage that I said it was NO problem. That's right. I accepted the wee space that sometimes makes me believe I am cooking or eating on a boat.

This gives you an idea of the space between the table and the wall and the bakers rack. The counter is also right where I'm standing with the camera. If someone is sitting in that first chair on the left we always need to ask them to scoot in when someone needs to walk through.

Really, it is okay. I have cooked in various sized kitchens over the years and I always manage to turn out yummy food. I think more than the cooking space (which is actually convenient, since everything is pretty much in arms reach, or at least only one step away) that is the challenge is the dining space. And here is where I lay my complaint to Mr. or Ms. Architect of 1953: Why is it that the rest of my house very comfortably suits this family of 4 - and could even accommodate a couple more children - while the kitchen and dining space, the most used space in the house, is the smallest, apart from the bathrooms? It's just a little odd.

You can see how quickly my counter space fills up. Also, here you can see the location of the bakers rack. I keep all my cookbooks and spices in there for lack of cabinet space, so I don't feel I can do without the bakers rack in my kitchen.
This is the only part of my house that I want to change. Someday, I imagine, that great remodeling project will be undertaken (I am not looking forward to it!). But until that day arrives, I don't want to miss out on having people over for dinner. I know the power of the table for relationships and I love that Jesus spent a great deal of time with people around a table. One of the descriptions of our heavenly home is as a great banquet. Also, I think it is interesting that we were made, as human beings, to need food. All of us alike, must stop a few times during the day to eat. I wonder how our relationships would be if we didn't have to eat? I know that there are days when I find having to fix a meal - even just for myself sometimes - an inconvenience. I want to remain in work mode or play mode and don't want to have to stop what I am doing to eat. Other times, though, the meal is the highlight of the day. I love that eating can be an event or just simple fare. And I love that no matter which of those it is, it is always better when done with friends.

I host Christmas at my house for my side of the family and sometimes my husband's side too. Like I said, the other rooms are nice sizes. But when it comes to having food, I always end up having to have the food served buffet style and people end up with plates in laps. It's fine. But it's not what I prefer.

July 4, 2013. You can see what one of the buffet tables looks like. We had a lot of family over on that day. Look how much room my brother and nephew take up just standing there! lol! 

We also have had couples join us for dinner a few times, as that's all we can manage around the table: one couple and us. And then the girls don't generally eat with us. We did have them at the table with us once and I had to sit in a strategic end spot (more like the corner of the table!) so that I could get up and down to fetch dishes, dessert, coffee, etc. But it was a lot of fun; I would like to do more of it. Ideally, I would like to have guests once-a-month. I don't know if that is realistic with my school schedule, but it's something I think about and would like to do.

I am hoping that this book, What's a Hostess to Do?, might help me out a bit. It looks like she might have some good ideas for unconventional dining arrangements (hopefully?). Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen inspired me to try again with this post and it's there that she mentioned the book. So, we shall see! I have requested it from the library and am looking forward to perusing its pages to see if there is some magical thing I can try to make having people over more often. In the end it may be that I'll just have to settle for one couple at time for intimate dinners until the day we say, "Westward Ho!" and expand the kitchen onto the deck!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Inspirational Podcasts

You know, there is just SO much good content being created in the world. I love the access to creativity that the internet brings. There are now so many outlets for creative expression as well as outlets for engaging with and just appreciating the creativity of others. One of my favorite methods of doing this is listening to podcasts. In fact, back when I got my first iPod as a Christmas gift from my husband in 2007, I believe, it was podcasts that I listened to more than anything else. Some of my old favorites have now faded into podcast history, some are still going strong, and some are brand new.

I love that new podcasts continue to be created. As with blogging and vlogging, there are some podcasts that are professionally created (as in recordings of professionally produced programs, such as This American Life, etc.), those that have achieved a great deal of success over time, those that are just for fun, and those that are somewhere in between - those folks who manage to make a little income off their podcast to often simply help support the production of the podcast itself. I like all kinds. I can count on the professional ones or those who have achieved a more professional status to produce content regularly and of quality. On the other hand, personal podcasts are enjoyable due to their often quirky nature and feel more like a conversation with a friend.

The ones I'm listing here today are more on the professional side of things but that's partly because I've talked about podcasts before and you will find some of those linked in my sidebar. Today I am sharing some that are newer to me and that I have been enjoying for only a little while, but that bring a lot of food for thought and inspiration to my days!

The Simple Sophisticate Podcast

Shannon Ables is the name behind the long-running, successful blog, The Simply Luxurious Life. Last year she ventured into podcasting and produces a terrific show each week that she uploads on Mondays. This girl is a list-maker and she always has "10 Ways..." or "8 Tips..." or "15 Things to Try..." to share with her listeners. She is thoughtful and thought provoking and does her research. If you love her blog, you'll love her show and if you haven't tried either, you should!

Happier With Gretchen Rubin

This is a brand new podcast - only a few episodes have been produced! As soon as I heard about it, I knew I wanted to subscribe and not miss an episode. Perhaps you are familiar with the name, Gretchen Rubin? She is the author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home and her new book, Better Than Before, is set to be released soon and is taking pre-orders now.

Gretchen produces this podcast with her sister, Elizabeth, who lives and works in California writing for television. If you know Gretchen's work, she is often doing experiments (just like ME!) in the pursuit of happiness or just trying new things out with life. She challenges listeners in the podcast to do the same and she and Elizabeth follow along and report on their successes... and fails. It's a fun listen; highly recommended!

Book Riot

And speaking of books - which I may have been know to do from time to time - Book Riot that I mentioned in an earlier post has a few, fun podcasts that they produce. There is Book Riot Podcast of the same name where they review books and discuss events happening in the book world ~ LOVE! They also produce, Dear Book Nerd, in which listeners write in with bookish questions like an advice column ~ really fun! And they have Reading Lives, in which they interview public figures who share what they're reading and how it influences their lives. All good stuff! Dig in!

Coffee Break Spanish

As I have mentioned, I am working on increasing my Spanish speaking skills this year. One resource I'm using is to listen to Coffee Break Spanish. This one has been around for years and is really terrific. You can go back into the archives to listen from the very beginning or, since I am not an absolute beginner, I looked at the topics covered and started where I felt would be best for me. You can download and listen for free, as is with most language-learning podcasts, or you can pay to receive materials that will help you along with your studies, such as worksheets, transcripts, etc. I haven't chosen to do that just now, but I think I would have considered it more if I were an absolute beginner.

So, give one of these great shows a try and let me know what you think if you listen! Do you listen to podcasts? Which are your favorites? Please leave me a comment below or let me know on Facebook. Enjoy the rest of your week!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Easy Vegan Peach Cobbler

It really is surprising how a body adapts to the cold. As we were leaving this morning at 9:30 to go to Eve's cooking class she said to me, "I think that maybe the temperature is stuck on my weather app. It keeps saying that it's just 31 degrees out here, but it can't be." So I checked mine and it was, indeed, a mere 31 degrees. In anticipation of the predicted 61 degree day, I had my light jacket and - of course - my 15 year old daughter was not wearing one at all. It was chilly, but not uncomfortable. I can't help but think back on my Florida years when 70 degrees meant I was wearing a cardigan and between 50 and 60 meant that my girls brought out their winter coats!

But spring is definitely in the air today! I have already seen people in shorts; capris without socks; and a short dress, no tights, and sandals. I'm sticking with my tights which are still a treat for me. And shedding the jacket by mid-morning feels delightful, especially when getting in and out of the car without all the bulk!

This weekend, with the sun streaming in and the promise of warmer temperatures to come, I decided to make a quick, peach cobbler. This recipe is so simple and so delicious that every time I make it I wonder why I don't make it more often? It's a wonderful recipe to share for an after-dinner dessert with friends or even to bring along to a brunch. Fresh peaches will make this recipe shine in June, but canned peaches are delicious too. That's what I had on hand and that's what I used. We enjoyed ours after we got back from a Sunday afternoon stroll - the first of many more to come now that spring is nearly here. I'd set the caramel coffee on to percolate when we left and it was all ready to go when we returned.

My recipe is a simple adaptation from this Betty Crocker cookbook that someone left behind in our second home when we moved into it in 1999. I have a feeling a few of the first pages are missing; there is no copyright date that I can find for it. It looks to me like it was published in the 80's, perhaps the early 80's.

I've wondered if I should get rid of this because of all the recipes I don't use in it as well as all the recipes available online today. I adapt animal-based recipes all the time though, so despite the fact that this cookbook has a lot of meat recipes, I find it to be handy, especially for desserts and baked goods. They always turn out so delicious and there are a number of tried-and-true recipes in here (birthday cakes and Strawberry Shortcake come to mind) that are like old friends. The Peach Cobbler is no different. But before I share the recipe with you, have a look at some of these photos! Even though I'm can't come close to pretending to be a food photographer, these just crack me up; food styling and photography has come such a long way!

Check out the mushroom sandwiches. The garnishes... so appealing...

 I like the melon balls on the lettuce leaf in this one:

And here's our friend, Peach Cobbler. She doesn't look too bad!

Easy Vegan Peach Cobbler
(Adapted from, and with special thanks to, Betty Crocker's Cookbook)
1/2 c sugar
1 T cornstarch
1/4 t ground cinnamon
3 cans/6 fresh peaches
1 t lemon juice
3 T shortening
1 c unbleached flour
1 T sugar
1 1/2 t aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond... but I bet a vanilla non-dairy milk would be terrific in here too!)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the 1/2 c sugar, cornstarch, & cinnamon in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the peaches and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Pour into ungreased, 2-quart casserole; keep peach mixture hot in oven.

Cut shortening into flour, 1 T sugar, the baking powder and salt until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in milk. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto hot peach mixture.

Bake until topping is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm. This is delicious on its own. Vanilla soy ice cream is also a perfect accompaniment (Trader Joe's makes a great one) or homemade, vegan whipped cream made with coconut cream. There are many great recipes for that to be found online. Enjoy!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Watching in March


Daylight Saving time is upon us! Aaaah! I LOVE Daylight Saving time. Being an early riser and lover of mornings, I am never bothered by the "loss" of the one hour. I love the extra-long light for the days. Our weather is matching the time change; we'll be in the 50's F all week here and even better, it is my spring break from school too! Rarely does the weather play nice with spring break around here, but it looks like this year it will relent.

Neighbors are already beginning to emerge from their cozy dens to walk dogs or just stroll about. Nobody is doing yard work yet - there's still a little bit of melting to go on - but I did see two men, at two separate locations, shoveling what was left of the snow in the shady parts of their yards, just to help the thaw along! :) I expect we'll still have some cold days and even a snow shower or two. I'm not trusting enough to bid farewell to winter completely. But this time of year at least it is safe to employ "solar shoveling" with the remaining snowfalls!

With spring in the air, I have just begun bringing out a few springtime decorations. I don't do too much rearranging of my tea cup shelf in the dining area of our kitchen, but I do like to change the top shelf to go with the seasons. I had some Valentine things up for last month and this month, I brought out my great-grandmother's serving dish, dated 1891 on the back! It's such a pretty, springtime color that will carry through perfectly into Easter. I should probably find some little flowers to put in the top containers next to the dish.

Although I have matched my home school calendar to my college calendar as far as spring break is concerned, Eve still has a few classes this week via our co-op involvement and music lessons. So, I'll still be driving quite a bit. But I'm really going to try to relax and do a few of the things I enjoy without having to squeeze them in: letter writing, reading for pleasure, watching a few foreign films, and taking in a little guilty pleasure, YouTube watching.

I watch a few YouTube videos every day, usually while I'm getting ready in the morning or when I'm folding clothes. With 77 channels (!!) I've subscribed to, I have plenty of choices to choose from! Even with all those channels, I really only watch less than an hour a day, generally, picking and choosing from videos that are under 15 minutes most of the time.

I like finding new content that is interesting to me... and now that Downton Abbey is over... you may be looking for something new too. Here are just a few that I like and I figure I'll share more in the future!

Book Riot

Probably the favorite of my favorites right now: Book Riot. Actually, Book Riot everything. :) They do great reviews, giveaways, and all kinds of things all over social media: YouTube, Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, podcasts (yes, plural!), and Twitter. If you love books, you'll love Book Riot.

The Art Assignment


This is a new channel for me. I only just discovered it a few days ago. It's a PBS production that profiles an artist and his/her art. At the end, the artist challenges the viewer to make some art similar to that which the artist makes. Seems like this could be cool for home schooled students as well as those just looking to do something out of the box with our time. It could be fun for ideas for summer vacation too. I'm looking forward to seeing more of these!

Crash Course
And speaking of channels that would be good for school, I'm probably way behind the bandwagon on this one, because it's new to me too. This is a very cool channel that covers many topics in fun ways. From their channel "about" page:

Tons of awesome courses in one awesome channel: John Green teaches you World History 2; Hank Green teaches you Anatomy & Physiology; Phil Plait teaches you Astronomy; Craig Benzine teaches you U.S. Government and Politics.



I love watching Steve Dotto. He has been instrumental in helping me learn how to navigate my way around the productivity tools that are available for (mostly) free online. His specialties seem to be Google Apps and  Evernote, but he's always on the lookout for new tools and shares them with his viewers. I always learn something here and his thoughts have helped me make decisions about the kinds of apps I want in my life.

Do It On a Dime

Kathryn is all about organizing on a budget. She's a teacher and mother of one little boy who stars in a number of her videos. She also has a family vlog, but I mostly look at this channel, because she amazes me with her clever tips. Her videos are always brief, but chock full of great ideas!

Yoga Workout for the Ultimate Bikini Body|Class Fit Sugar

Finally, this is not a channel, but one video put out by Pop Sugar that I love doing again and again! This is a total body workout: 30 minutes of yoga that will get your heart racing and your arms super toned if you stick with it. Try it once and trust me, your arms will let you know that you've gotten their attention. I don't know (or care, really) about an ultimate bikini body, but it's a great, free workout nonetheless!

Well, that's it for today! Let me know if you try any of these channels and let me know what you think. And share with me your own favorite YouTube channels that you like in the comments below or on Facebook!
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