Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Art Lab

Monday, January 27, 2014

Blog Recommendation - Wine for the Rest of Us.

Occasionally, I will post recommendations to other blogs. Many will be those of my friends.  Some will just be cool blogs I really enjoy reading. Hopefully these recommendations will help some of my readers find other fun, new and interesting things to read.

This week, I'm giving a shout out to my bandmate, Erik Karlsson, and his new wine blog... the wine blog for non-wine snobs.  Check out Wine for the Rest of Us and let me know what you think.

And since I like to always have a picture with my posts, here's a shot of Erik at our Super Bowl party a few years ago. You're welcome, Erik.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Verrückt in Kansas City

Not just a little no... but HELL NO!  This beast is opening next summer here in Kansas City. I've watched it go up as we headed to Sporting KC games over the last year. And just no... no, nein, niet, ne, non, nahi, ni, abso-freaking-lutely NOT! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

REVIEW: The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoë François

Starting at the title, I was VERY skeptical. I mean, really? Yummy, beautiful homemade bread in 5 minutes a day? Who do they think they're kidding? I have always wanted to bake... to BE someone who BAKES. I even own a top of the line bread machine to help this time-crunched mama (ostensibly) make bread more easily. Even as "easy" as that is, it still just didn't happen all that often. And frankly, bread machine crusts are just not the same as bread baked in the oven.

Skeptical or not, I really wanted to believe that I could fit baking into my daily life. The introduction did nothing to make it sound any less "too good to be true". Then they shared their secrets: 1) "Mix enough dough for several loaves and store it in the refrigerator" and 2) "Pre-mixed, pre-risen, high moisture dough keeps well in the refrigerator." (my emphasis). This dough is WET and as a result, requires no kneading, no proofing the yeast, no resting/rising/resting, no punching down (in fact, NEVER punch it down), no stress or fuss whatsoever. With my trusty kitchen scale and my Kitchenaid mixer, I can put a large batch of dough together in under 15 minutes. The only thing I have to do each day for fresh bread is pull off a ball of dough, shape and bake. There is some resting and baking time involved, of course, but the actual active work required takes mere minutes. I have even cooked a few loaves in the slow cooker (!!!) with zero resting time. You do need to put a slow cooker loaf under a broiler for a minute to crisp up the top but this is a super SUPER easy way to make already super easy bread.

I usually get books from the library first before forking out the cash for them. I will definitely be adding this one to my cookbook collection permanently. They also have written "Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" and "Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in 5 Minutes a Day". This review is for the 2nd edition of their original book and I plan to buy this one as it includes whole grain and flatbread recipes in it, as well as recipes for pretzels, pain d'epi, pumpernickel, rye, beignets, naan and so much more.  There is a sizable gluten-free section as well! If you want to fit baking into your life, do yourself a favor and get this book. I'm not sure your waistline will thank me but your taste buds definitely will. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

REVIEW: Eyestandia, or The way other people might see us By Lynn Shroll

The following is a guest post from my awesome husband, Jason Norbury.

Thanks to for early access to this book.

What would happen if the descendants of the last survivors from Earth, looking for sanctuary, finally reach another civilized planet?

I like the idea of a good, rough satire of the powerful. Afflict the comfortable and all that. I was looking forward to settling down and getting pointed criticism of our modern culture, similar as the British culture is to our American culture. The criticism was there, and it was decidedly pointed.

It was also extremely heavy-handed in the beginning of the book. The first section of the book felt more like a screed against unrestrained capitalism than a satirical examination of our flaws as humans (and bankers). This was done surely to set the stage for the events that followed, but in the main made the first section of the book rather tiresome to get through.

The middle of the book, exploring the development of new culture on the bones of the old, was a good and, I would guess, a fair estimate of what would transpire if people of Earth, warts and all, were suddenly transported to a nearly Utopian world without need or want. But again, it fell short of the promised satire.

The twist to reach a conclusion in this book was clever, if a bit of a reach, and had probably more satirical potential that was realized. Overall, however, I just found the story rather flat, and it would have been difficult to recover from a very preachy and overdone beginning.

Monday, January 13, 2014

REVIEW: Three Heinemann Read & Learn Stay Healthy! Books

Stay Healthy! What Should We Eat? by Angela Royston
Stay Healthy! Why Do We Need to Drink Water? by Angela Royston
Stay Healthy! Why Do We Need to be Active? by Angela Royston

I picked these up for some social studies work for my 6 year old daughter. As a reminder, I homeschool my daughter as well as my 10 year old son. Honestly, I don't remember how I happened to get these three. I know I requested them from the library so I picked them up without having really looked inside them. I didn't know until I got them home that they are readers (books meant for the child to read himself or herself). They were too juvenile for my daughter for me to read to her (which is what I was looking for). She could have read them herself with some assistance.

What Should We Eat? This book was published in 2006 and yet it used the term "starchy foods" instead of carbohydrates. It used other appropriate terms such as protein, fats and sugars so I'm not sure why the choice to use "starchy foods" instead of the more appropriate (and, today, more commonly used) carbohydrates.

Why Do We Need to Drink Water? Fairly basic information regarding why we need water. It did leave out the fact that our bodies are made up mostly of water. While it did enumerate various body fluids for which we need water (tears, mucus, even pee), it never mentioned that we're really just one big vessel of water. I know my own kids find this sort of trivia entertaining so I noticed that omission. I think that fact also drives home the point fairly well that we need to make sure we stay adequately hydrated.

Why Do We Need to be Active? My one complaint about this book is that it doesn't actually answer the question it poses "What Happens If You Are Not Active?" all that well. It just states simply that your body gets weaker. There are so many more reasons to stay active and so many more consequences to not being active. Regular exercise helps kids feel less stressed, build strong bones and joints, pay better attention at school, and more.

All in all, these books are fine readers if that is what you are looking for. They fall pretty short on educating the reader about the importance of making healthy food choices, drinking plenty of water and staying active. I really feel like they could and should have done both. The books did pose questions and engage the reader to answer them. If read with a parent or educator, these questions can lead to further discussion and learning. My daughter and I whipped through these three books quite quickly and now we're on the hunt to find books with more in depth information on the same topics.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Easy Kitchen "Warmer" with Bonus

I love, love, LOVE my new house. But this recent cold snap has exposed just how COLD the kitchen is in winter. I cook dinner almost every night and do other "warming" activities in the kitchen but it just doesn't stay warm unless I'm in the middle of a four-course meal cooking session. And that isn't happening as often as I need to not freeze in the kitchen.

I decided to give the ol' pot of water trick a try. Humidity plus heat. Win-win. Right? Why not also perk it up a bit with some smell good. I decided to see just how little of the smell good stuff I could get by with and still have a lovely fragrance. This is a 3 quart saucepan with a small piece of cinnamon bark, four cloves and two already-juiced lemon halves. It smelled divine and made a noticeable difference in the temperature and comfort level in the kitchen! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chocolate Walnut Pie

When my grandmother was still living, we would eat at her house most Sundays. She liked to spoil the kids a bit (understatement) and often made or brought home yummy desserts for our Sunday get together. The top favorite was something called Dixie Pie, made by Tippin's and sold at her local grocery store. It was a walnut pie with chocolate in it. For Thanksgiving, I sought to reproduce the Dixie Pie using a combination of my own pecan pie recipe and some ideas I gleaned from other recipes. The Thanksgiving pie was good, but not great. I made some adjustments at Christmas and this one was a winner. Biggest tip?! Use fresh walnuts! The flavor really comes through in this pie so it is NOT the place to use up old slightly rancid or freezer burned nuts.

Chocolate Walnut Pie

1 pie crust (okay, I cheat here and use Pillsbury even though I have a great lard crust recipe)
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup Karo syrup
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbl butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
1 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If using refrigerated pre-prepared pie crust, let it come to room temperature. Roll out the crust, lightly flour and place into a 9" pie plate (i.e. slide your hand underneath, invert the pie plate on top then flip). Crimp the edges as you like. If you are making your own crust, you go for it! You probably already know what you are doing.

Stir eggs, syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Pour into pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes. The pie will not look entirely set after 45 minutes but the heat of the sugar will finish up the cooking once you remove it from the oven. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy! Yum!

Monday, January 6, 2014

REVIEW: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This is my review of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. This book was the January pick for one of my book clubs. Unfortunately, the title doesn't fit either the What's in a Name or Color Coded reading challenges. 

A Moveable Feast is a memoir of the years Hemingway spent in Paris in the 1920s. He wrote it in the 1950s after recovering notebooks he'd filled during the Paris years. In some ways, the book reads as a tabloid magazine with what feels, at times, like heavy name-dropping. Hemingway did spend a lot of his time with well-known writers of the day, such as Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. I got the sense he plucked the most famous people from his notes to reminisce on. While Hemingway brought the book to final draft form during his life, his fourth wife and widow, Mary Hemingway, did the final edits on the book that was published posthumously in 1964. There is a restored edition that is supposed to be more in keeping with what Ernest Hemingway had intended that includes some of his sketches, a foreward by his son, Patrick, and an introduction by his grandson, Sean. I did not read the restored version but the original 1964 edition. I almost would be interested in reading the restored version too to see what differences there are. It is possible that Ernest Hemingway did not feel the need to name-drop as much as his widow? Fortunately, I know some of the women in my book club have read the restored version so I will just settle with the book club discussion on the differences.

My number one comment on this book is that it just didn't stay with me from reading to reading. It may be because it was a memoir and not a novel. I don't read a lot of memoirs so I don't have prior experience to go on. With novels, however, I find myself thinking about the characters and the story a lot throughout the day, even when I'm far from reading time. It may also be that Hemingway's writing style doesn't resonate with me. He was known for a simple, direct and unadorned style. I really like vivid descriptions that paint a full color tapestry scene in my imagination.

One personal struggle I had with reading it is that I really have no clue on how to pronounce French words. I have no background in the French language at all except for singing Ah! Je Veux Vivre in college. And in that case, I only learned how to pronounce the French in that song. An audio version would have helped with the pronunciation but then I wouldn't have seen the word spelled out. I should probably start looking them up online as I'm reading. I have friends who read with little tape flags to mark words they want to look up. I might need to take up that habit... at least with books with French in them. 

I read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms ages ago (assigned high school reading). I certainly don't remember them being favorites. Maybe I will reread one of his novels at some point. Or try another one. This was a quick read, but if it hadn't been a book club selection, I probably would have put it down a few chapters in and moved on to something else. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Holiday Tea Party for Kids (courtesy of Pinterest)

My 6 yo daughter is a gymnast and part of a whole team of adorable tiny gymnasts. The girls are all good friends and love working out in the gym together, competing together AND playing together. Risa is an apple who has not fallen far from the tree. Just like her mama, she LOVES to entertain and have friends over. Any excuse will do. A holiday tea party and book exchange with her gymnastics teammates was a perfect way to blend a love of entertaining and love for her teammates.

The Saturday before Christmas with a winter storm on its way, we had her teammates over for "tea". (Only the grownups drank tea. The girls preferred hot chocolate.) Risa's guests all wore their holiday finery.We started the party at our dining room table making Christmas ornaments. A quick trip to Michaels had netted a kit to make adorable Creatology Felt ornaments, including a reindeer, Santa and penguin. I also set out some metallic pipe cleaners and pony beads in holiday colors. My review of the felt stickers for the ornaments is "pass" in the future. I'll stick with foam stickers instead. While the ornaments were super cute, the paper backing was very difficult to get off the felt. Most of the girls just couldn't manage it so the other parents and I spent the whole time taking paper sticker backings off and cursing under our breath. I did find that using a pin to slice the backing a bit made it nominally easier to get off. That wasn't always easy though given the tiny size of the some of the stickers.

The girls then played freely about the house while making frequent trips by the snack buffet Risa and I had prepared. Though very cute and perfectly fancy for a tea party, none of the snacks were difficult or time intensive to prepare. I'll list each separately with a link to the blog where we found the idea to give credit where credit is due. The pictures are my versions.

We didn't use mini marshmallows. Not because I was opposed to them. But our toothpicks were too short.

Ours were more inspired by the linked version. We cheated with Pillsbury sugar cookie dough and used dark chocolate M&Ms for the eyes and nose. Have I mentioned the one thing I hate about our new house is the stove? Expect to see a lot of OGB (overly golden brown) baked goods until I get that darn thing replaced. 

Broccoli & Cherry Tomato Christmas Tree
We found lots of inspiration for this tree so I can't give credit to any single blog. We picked vegetables my kids like. On the day of the tea party, the veggies were barely touched. The next day with close friends over to celebrate, I recreated the tree and it was GONE in an hour with a different set of kids. 

Once the snacking started to die down and the running rampant through the house was getting boring, the girls asked to play the games we'd prepared. Again, these were very simple with little prep work. The first game was Penguins. Prep work... gathering a stack of white paper. Penguins is like musical chairs but instead of chairs, the "penguins" move between "ice flows" (the sheets of paper). Everyone starts on an ice flow then the music starts. I used the Christmas music channel on our cable service. I gave each penguin a candy cane as she was eliminated. The final two were so close to hitting the ice flow at the same time we decided to call it a tie and they each got two candy canes. 

Next we played Animal Charades. I had printed up pictures of common and popular animals before the party. As each girl had a turn, she would draw a picture from the stack and then act out that animal. The animals weren't too difficult and all were fairly easily guessed but the antics while pretending to be the different animals garnered a lot of laughs. 

The final arranged game was the book exchange. Rather than making everyone responsible for yet one more gift to purchase, we did a "previously loved" book exchange. Everyone brought a wrapped book selected from her own library. For the game, the girls sat in a circle, each with her own book in her lap. Starting with my daughter and moving clockwise, each girl rolled a die. I put the die in a small, clear plastic container to keep track of it more easily. Depending on the number rolled, the girls did something with the books. We used one die and the following number instructions:

    1 - Freeze your gift (keep it for the rest of the game) OR switch with anyone. 
    2 - Switch your gift with anyone.
    3 - Switch with the person on your right.
    4 - Everyone pass to the person on your right. 
    5 - Switch with the person on your left. 
    6 - Everyone pass to the person on your left. 

We went around the circle twice rolling the die. After two passes, three girls had wound up back with their own books so we continued on until everyone had a different book. Then everyone opened her book. 

Alas I have few pictures from the actual festivities. I am just awful at remembering to take pictures while I'm hosting a party. For the kids' birthday parties, I have assigned friends who take the pictures for me. I forgot to designate a photographer this time. Fortunately, one of the parents here got this great shot of the girls during the gift exchange game.

 I would encourage anyone to jump right in with entertaining. A "fancy" party doesn't have to take a lot of prep work. This party took me about 3 hours for all the invitations (, planning and prep... 3 hours that were spent with my daughter enjoying each other's company.