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quotes of the day

February 29th, 2016

“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved — loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” — Victor Hugo, novelist and dramatist (26 Feb 1802-1885)

“In the cellars of the night, when the mind starts moving around old trunks of bad times, the pain of this and the shame of that, the memory of a small boldness is a hand to hold.” — John Leonard, critic (25 Feb 1939-2008)

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” — Helen Keller in “The Story of My Life” (1902)

“Nothing is really so very frightening when everything is so very dangerous.” — Gertrude Stein

Brand-new Monday Book Review! “Balto of the Blue Dawn” (Magic Tree House #54) & “Dogsledding and Extreme Sports” (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker)

February 29th, 2016

Extra, extra: A fantastic NPR story about one Marley Dias, who wants to know why there aren’t more African-American girls starring as main characters in children’s books. I love this kid.
And on to today’s review:

The year: 1925
The setting: Nome, Alaska
Our heroes: Jack and Anna
Our author: The one, the only, our girl Mary Pope Osborne

Yes, it’s time for a new Magic Tree House novel and companion non-fiction book. “Balto of the Blue Dawn” (illustrations by Sal Murdocca, 2016, A Stepping Stone Book, Random House, $12.99 hardcover, 117 pages) is historical fiction based on the true story of the dogsledding teams transporting medicine to Alaska to help stop an outbreak of diptheria. Will they make it in time? Can they survive the freezing cold? And what about our friend Balto? Wonderful book — as always, Mary Pope Osborne comes through with a book that’s engaging and just right for her young readers, with a story and plot that will keep their grown-ups interested, too.

“The wind started to blow.
The tree house started to spin.
It spun faster and faster.
Then everything was still.
Absolutely still.”

I like all of the non-fiction companion books with the MTH series. Subjects have included everything from critters to pirates, from the Titanic to pilgrims, and now, extreme sports. Fun! “Dogsledding and Extreme Sports” (illustrations by Sal Murdocca, 2016, A Stepping Stone Book, Random House, $5.99 paperback, 121 pages). I learned many cool facts thanks to this little book. In the Iditarod, for instance, racers travel more than 900 miles. Get out! The word musher? Comes from the French Canadian traders to called “Marche!” (“Move!”) to their dogs. There’s a section on endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (hero!), the Ironman triathlon, snowboarder Chloe Kim (superpipe hero!) and lots of other fun stuff.

Bon appetit, readers.

— wm

PS — It’s very cool that author-sisters Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Bryce recently donated 5,000 books to Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program in honor of its 50th birthday. (Lots of resources on the author’s site for parents and teachers.)

Thursday Book Review: “Mr. Hare’s Big Secret,” “The Almost Terrible Playdate,” “Weather” & “Solar System”

February 18th, 2016

I kind of love reviewing kids’ books. I do. I don’t know how I was lucky enough to land this gig, but I like it, my friends. First up today:

“Mr. Hare’s Big Secret,” (2015, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, unpaged, $16.99) a new title from Hannah Dale, is a darling book. (Reminds me very much of a longtime favorite, “The Golden Egg Book.” My copy looks a lot like the copy pictured in this blog.)

“In the wild, wild wood there stood a big, tall tree. And under that tree lived a very hungry hare.”

He’s clever, he’s a little scruffy, he looks like our beloved Wacky Cat 2, and he knows “a big, fat, juicy secret.” What is it? Read and find out… You might even be able to dance to it.

This is a really beautiful picture book that the kids will love.

Richard Torrey wrote and illustrated “The Almost Terrible Playdate,” another brand-new picture book (2016, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, unpaged, $16.99). I love it for a few reasons: It’s funny. It has a girl hero and a boy hero, both equally complex and animated. It has a purple and green color scheme, and those are my two absolutely favorite colors of all time.

Yes, they are.

So there you have it: Purple and green for the win. The author grew up in a large family of boys, and says he learned from his brothers that compromise is a big part of play. Smart man. It’s fun to watch how the characters learn to come around to each other’s way of thinking. (He doesn’t want to be a ballerina, frog, or a pony; she, on the other hand, doesn’t care to be a wolf, or a dinosaur, or a race car.) Sweet book, and not preachy.

A pair of new board books just arrived, both by Jill McDonald, both science titles: “Weather” and “Solar System” (2016, Hello, World! series, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, unpaged, $7.99 each). Non-fiction titles are great for even the youngest of readers. Let’s say you know a kid, a little kid, who loves encyclopedias, dinosaur books, books about astronomy or what-have-you, up to the sky and back. Do not give this kid a hard time. Don’t say, Seriously, kid, you want this guidebook for your bedtime story? Be patient. Look at the pictures. Read a sentence (or two or three) from each page.

Some of us are science/non-fiction geeks, that’s all. These two little-kid-sized books are pretty much perfect. They’re reminiscent of Colorforms, all blocky and bright colors. Very cute.

“Is it a crisp, cool morning? (tweet) Bundle up with a sweater, jeans, and warm socks. Your pet might like a sweater too!”

Happy reading, babies.

— wm

Tuesday Recipe Club: Slow-Cooker Moroccan Lentil Soup, Cheddar Biscuits, Mo Indonesian Stir Fry

February 16th, 2016

Those of you who are new to cooking with me, welcome. Those of you who’ve been here before… you know how I am. Bon appetit, babies!

Slow-Cooker Moroccan Lentil Soup

(originally from EatingWell magazine)

2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped carrots
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
6 cups vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
3 cups chopped cauliflower
1 3/4 cups lentils
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups chopped fresh spinach or one 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine onions, carrots, garlic, oil, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and pepper in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add broth, water, cauliflower, lentils, tomatoes and tomato paste and stir until well combined.
Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 4 to 5 hours on High or 8 to 10 hours on Low.
During the last 30 minutes of cooking, stir in spinach. Just before serving, stir in cilantro and lemon juice.

Tips & Notes:
Make Ahead Tip: Stir in spinach (Step 3), cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months. Stir in cilantro and lemon juice just before serving. Equipment: 5- to 6-quart slow cooker
For easy cleanup, try a slow-cooker liner. These heat-resistant, disposable liners fit neatly inside the insert and help prevent food from sticking to the bottom and sides of your slow cooker.

OK, that’s from their website, and I’m sure the recipe is super-good that way. But I had to free-style it, like always. First of all, I skipped the slow cooker because I didn’t feel like using it. I carmelized one onion, not two, along with the carrots, the spices (which I doubled because of course I did), and the garlic. And you know I didn’t use a measly two teaspoons of olive oil. Because I was out of olive oil (wth?). So I used vegetable oil and butter and omg so good.

I added in a small can of tomato paste and fried that up, too. Then I turned the heat down a bit and added the canned tomatoes. Only I was out of the regular kind, so I used what I had, along with a can of Rotel. Hello, Rotel, I love you, baby.

Then what? Then things went to hell, and Steve got involved, so you can imagine. No cauliflower: I subbed a bag of frozen broccoli. No fresh spinach: Added a frozen package of spinach. Then I had to turn up the heat again, because of all the frozen stuff. Water to cover, plus a little extra, plus two vegetable bouillon cubes. Half a package of lentils, but was it 1 3/4 cups? I have no idea.

Then I let it simmer simmer simmer and dear God, this was the best soup I’ve ever made. We ate it all up and didn’t even share with the kids. #letthemeatpizza


Cheddar Biscuits, a la Steve & Betty Crocker

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening (why use shortening when you can use butter?)
3/4 cup milk
add: a big pile of shredded, extra-sharp cheddar cheese


Heat oven to 450°F. In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Stir in milk until dough leaves side of bowl (dough will be soft and sticky).

On lightly floured surface, gently roll dough in flour to coat. Knead lightly 10 times. Roll or pat 1/2 inch thick. Cut with floured 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. On ungreased cookie sheet, place biscuits about 1 inch apart for crusty sides, touching for soft sides. (We just used teaspoons and made drop biscuits.)

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Serve warm with what’s left of the soup.

Mo Indonesian Stir Fry (from OSU Extension Service)

I swiped this recipe from my students at the Young Women’s Academy, many years ago. It’s been my go-to ever since.

4 cups water
2 packages (3 ounces each) ramen-style noodles
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in thin strips
1⁄4 cup peanut butter
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1⁄2 cup water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
2 carrots, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1⁄2 large head cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
1⁄4 cup green onions, thinly sliced

Bring 4 cups water to boil in a 2 to 3 quart saucepan. Add noodles, cover, and remove from heat (do not add flavor packets). Wait one minute, drain noodles and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, and 1/2 cup water. Heat over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat (350 degrees in an electric skillet). Add chicken and cook until no longer pink when cut, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Add red pepper, ginger, and carrots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add cabbage and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until cabbage is crisp-tender.
Stir in green onions, cooked noodles and peanut sauce. Toss and serve immediately.
Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.

To avoid peanuts or peanut butter, try this stir fry with sunflower seeds or sunflower seed butter.

Tuesday Book Review: “The Witches” and “Boy” by Roald Dahl, any books about sloths, “A Color of His Own/Su Propio Color,” Baby’s First Comic Books! and “Cat Naps: The Key to Contentment”

February 9th, 2016

Let’s start first with a nap. My ma gave me a copy of “Cat Naps: The Key to Contentment” for Christmas. (Sellers Publishing, Inc., 127 pages.) She’s always telling me to take a break and this was a clever way for her to get the point across.

She’s right, I do need a nap. This is a darling book, all cat pictures and quotes about relaxation.

“I don’t look for bliss, just contentment.” — Alison Krauss

“How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterward.” — Spanish proverb

“…there is a luxury in being quiet in the heart of chaos.” — Virginia Woolf

One of my former students loved sloths. I mean, love is not really a strong enough word here. He liked to walk “like a sloth,” smile “like a sloth” (“Look!”), make jokes “like a sloth.” I adored this kid, he was a lot of fun. So I bought these two books and donated them to our school library: “A Little Book of Sloth” (Lucy Cooke, author and photographer) and “Sparky!” (written by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans). They’re both wonderful, just like that sloth fan.

I’m a big Roald Dahl fan, but had never read “The Witches” until recently. It’s hilarious; I highly recommend. I’m also re-reading “Boy,” Dahl’s autobiography. I love the hell out of this book. Read it if you have a chance. Here’s a unofficial review from one of my former students (4th grade): “It’s so stereotypical! He was bullied as a child.” I’m going to miss that kid, too. Genius and so funny. OK, I’ll tell you what’s going on. I’ve retired from teaching. Done, finished, happy about it. I’ll miss it, but oh my God, the drama?!? Will not miss that, at all. And sometimes, the kids have a little drama going on, too.

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (who brought us the series “Squish” and “Babymouse”) have just released a couple of new titles under the “My First Comics” series: “I’m Grumpy” and “I’m Sunny!” (Random House, unpaged board books, $7.99). Grumpy Cloud, you are soooo grumpy! Will happy Sunny be able to help? We’ll see…

Another board book that came my way: Leo Lionni’s “A Color of His Own/Su Propio Color” is a beautiful book, in English and Spanish, all about colors and critters (Alfred A. Knopf, $7.99).

Have a fantastic Tuesday :)

— wm